Sometimes being a knife enthusiast can be… tiring. The industry likes to find a bandwagon, get on it, and then proceed to ride it until the wheels fall off. I don’t have a problem with titanium framelock flippers with drop point blades, but there are a lot of them. 10 years ago, there sure were a lot of aluminum handled assisted opening knives with liner locks. In a few years I’m sure we’ll all be tired of “modern traditional” knives too. Maybe not, but it’s nice to see something different every once in a while, isn’t it?
The Crossbones caught my eye from the first time I saw a press photo of one. I reached out to the unfailingly friendly folks at Columbia River Knife and Tool (CRKT) and inquired about getting one for the purposes of a review. Tellingly, there was a bit of a wait – it seems I’m not the only one that wanted a Crossbones as the initial allotment of this knife sold out extremely quickly. It seems like this is happening with CRKT quite a bit, which is great news – they also had issues making enough Pilars to satisfy demand. That’s the kind of problem you want to have as a company!
The Crossbones is designed by Jeff Park, which may be an unfamiliar name but judging by this effort won’t remain that way for long. Jeff has spent the last twelve years working with Ken Onion (heard of him?) in his shop in Hawaii, and after a decade of learning he put out his first custom design. Thanks to CRKT’s close relationship with Onion, the design was picked up and a production version debuted at the 2016 SHOT Show. I was able to reach out to Mr. Park and ask a few questions about this interesting knife to provide some insight into its design and purpose. It’s a fascinating interesting design from tip to clip, and it’s a refreshing departure from the endless stream of “me too! Me too!” folders that’s permeating the market these days.
Key Specs: CRKT Crossbones
The custom, called the Bones, was designed with input from Onion – “Ken did have a lot of input in this design. He’s understanding of the knife industry is an amazing thing to the point he can tell you if a knife will sell or not but better he can tell you how to make an ok knife into a great knife.” The name comes from the shape of the handle – it’s supposed to resemble a dog’s bone. The idea was to create an ideal EDC knife – one that “cut meat real well, opens mail real well – heck, what else do you do with your knife?” according to Park in his video on the knife on CRKT’s website.
Normally, when a company makes a production version of a custom knife there are some significant changes. Not so much with the Crossbones. According to Jeff, “CRKT really did a great job on translating the custom version “Bones” folder into the production “Crossbones”. CRKT used my CAD file and had a custom prototype to work with so looks wise there is not a lot of difference.” While the custom and midtech versions of the Bones are made from titanium handles and CPM-154 steel, the Crossbones was made in aluminum and AUS-8 to keep costs down.
The Crossbones blade is interesting. In his video on CRKT’s website about the Crossbones he describes it as “modified semi-tanto shape” but to my eyes it’s more of a trailing point – the tip being above the pivot and rising steadily along the spine. Some would describe it as a folding filet knife or a folding steak knife – that’s not far off the mark considering the physical attributes. About the blade, Park says: “The blade on this knife was originally a clip point but sort of evolved into what it is. Went with a slightly Asian flavor since I’m Asian.”
Slightly over 3.5” long, the Crossbones blade is cut from 0.13” blade stock that’s full flat ground all the way up to the spine for maximum slicing performance. Blade steel is AUS-8, a well-known stainless steel that’s similar in composition to 8Cr13MoV or to VG-10. It’s not the latest greatest hypersteel with edge retention like a lightsaber, but it’s got good corrosion resistance, it’s easy to sharpen, and it takes a fine edge much like 8Cr or 14c28n.
The geometry of the blade gives the Crossbones a very fine tip, but ergonomically it’s not the easiest to use (as we’ll get to the Field Test section of the review.) Grind lines on my example of the Crossbones were clean and even, and the edge itself was symmetrical but could have benefitted from being taken down to a finer grit on a grinder, with a visibly rough finish. A few minutes on the fine stones of a Sharpmaker were enough to get the Crossbones quite keen.
Deployment and Lockup
The Crossbones is a flipper and uses a liner lock to secure the blade open. Deployment and lockup are a mixed bag, good in some circumstances but not great in others.
The pivot uses IKBS (Ikoma-Korth Bearing System) bearings, which are not contained in a plastic bearing race like, say, Kershaw’s KVT or Shirogorov’s MRBS setup. The upsides of IKBS versus a thrust washer setup are obvious: less friction means a smoother deployment and closing. The case versus caged bearings is more give-and-take, though. IKBS run directly on a channel cut into the blade and the handle, so there are less parts, less cost, and less machining complication and expense. They’re also thinner enabling their use in smaller products. The downsides are somewhat nitpicky. In my experience it’s possible to overtighten an IKBS pivot and create binding that slows the movement down and potentially damages the ball bearings or the handles themselves. They’re also more prone to dirt and junk intrusion and fouling of the action because the bearings and races aren’t protected.
The big issue with IKBS is disassembly, though. After accidentally (I swear…) putting the Crossbones through the washing machine, most of the factory grease was removed and the knife had a gritty, sad feel. I disassembled it and discovered that all the stories people tell about IKBS maintenance were true: it’s a legitimate pain in the $^% to clean and reassemble one of these knives. You must use a relatively viscous grease, not a thin oil, that is capable of holding the ball bearings in place since you’ll need to arrange them on one side of the tang, assemble the scale and pivot, and then arrange them on the other side of the tang without them sliding everywhere and disappearing. I used synthetic high-temp brake/axle grease (what was available) and felt after reassembling that it was the wrong viscosity for properly smooth operation.
Deployment is good though, all quibbles about grease viscosity aside. It’s not as snappy as the CRKT Swindle despite having a heavier detent, which may just be down to blade weight or to production tolerances. It is still a reliable flipper, being basically impossible to “mis-fire” and does not require any wrist movement to deploy the blade. It’s funny, we’ve gotten so used to bearing pivot flippers that sometimes they don’t draw the amount of “oohs and aahs” they used to, but they’re still fun and effective.
Not so impressive is the lock, unfortunately. It’s a thin liner lock that sits entirely inboard of the handles, and it’s prone to heavy lock stick which didn’t improve with wear-in and use. Normally this is only a result of flipping the knife open too hard or forcing the blade further open when using it, but the Crossbones is prone to lock stick even when just flipping it open normally. Because the lock is almost totally covered by the handle, getting the lock to “unstick” in these situations can required something like a pocket screwdriver, which is irritating. Apparently this isn’t an isolated issue as other people have reported this elsewhere. Blade play is nonexistent, though – primarily a benefit of the large surface area of the bearing pivot.
Features, Fit & Finish
Like a lot of CRKT’s recent offerings, the Crossbones looks and feels a lot more expensive than it actually is with the handle being the most noticeable element. It’s made of aluminum so the knife is fairly light (2.4 ounces) and the handles have a unique two-tone finish. The raised surface in an X-shape is smooth satin finished, while below it’s been tumbled, bead blasted and anodized grey. A series of raised peaks provide traction, while the top and the bottom of the handle (on the outsides of the “X” pattern) is fluted in a tight radial pattern that makes the knife more comfortable in hand. The backstrap forms a lanyard hole where the rear of the handle is cut away and is also DLC coated to match the rest of the design. The handles are extremely well made with no visible defects and a very even, symmetrical appearance. The pocket clip is a polished stainless spring clip, deep carry style, that’s configured for tip up right hand carry only.
Hardware is thankfully conventional, with a pair of stainless torx screws serving as body screws and a single sided pivot screw with a large, domed blank pivot on the show side. Like a lot of CRKT products, there is entirely too much branding on what is otherwise a very tasteful and attractive blade – a large CRKT logo on one side, and “CROSSBONES” with the IKBS symbol on the other, with “park design” in small letters below. It’s not a functional issue at all, but the relatively large branding seems a little tacky. The blade itself is beautiful, with an even satin finish on the grind and – praise the lord! – a perfectly shaped sharpening choil at the ricasso.
The Crossbones arrived nicely centered, and went back together with good centering after disassembly and cleaning – thanks again to the bearing pivot. The flipper tab is also nicely though out, with a slightly rounded-over peak and an angle that’s biased towards the front of the blade to give you a more positive purchase on it when flipping. There’s jimping on the flipper tab but it’s soft enough to not chew your finger up, hard enough to be easy to get a hold of. The tab isn’t much of phone-destroyer in the pocket thanks to its relatively low profile and soft peak – this is good design. Beyond that, there’s not a lot of additional features to mention – this is a pretty basic knife!
Boy does this thing cut great. Let’s not beat around the bush: a full flat grind, 0.13” blade stock, and a smooth satin finish on the primary grind means that the Crossbones just sings through stuff. After tuning up the edge a little bit on the Sharpmaker the Crossbones could easily slice diagonally through printer paper, whittle wood with ease, and broke down cardboard boxes like a champ.
What it’s really good at is cutting food, though. The filet knife shape works great when you pinch the pivot with your thumb and middle finger and use your forefinger to press down the spine, which pushes the handle up into the palm of your hand for detail work, and it does fantastic at cutting up apples, slicing sandwiches, and other high-end culinary tasks like piercing the film on a Lean Cuisine microwave dinner (I kid, I kid.) The fine tip is also great for piercing cuts, such as stabbing the sidewalls of scrap tires for disposal, but the Crossbones is quite thin behind the tip and this is more of an academic exercise – not recommended for regular use this way to avoid snapping the tip off!
The ergonomics are a little harder to get your head around. The handle is very straight, thin, and box shaped, and there’s no forward or rearward finger choil to lock into – just the nub of the flipper tab to butt your forefinger against in a “full hand” grip versus the pinch grip described earlier. In this way the Crossbones is more like a traditional knife in that it doesn’t force your hand into a set grip because it doesn’t have one. During his video about the knife on CRKT’s website, Park talks about how the rear of the handle is kicked up so that when you’re pushing down on the spine with your forefinger it helps to lock the handle into your palm – an unusual but effective technique when doing detail work like cutting tape. Beyond the neutral grip, the Crossbones has a great feel in hand – the aluminum handles are a tactile sensation, devoid of hotspots that make work uncomfortable.
While the basic square shape isn’t God’s gift to ergonomics, it does make the Crossbones carry exceptionally well. According to Park, “I like nice slim, light, smaller profile knives and really wanted the Bones to be something that you could carry and not notice it was even there til you needed it.” The deep carry clip is just right: wide enough at the top to comfortably fit over the seam of jeans, enough of an angle at the edge to slide easily into a pocket but not so much that it scrapes on anything you walk near, and not overly long or super tight considering the light weight. When closed the blade is almost entirely concealed into the body of the knife creating a very slim profile in pocket, taking up much less room than – say – a Manix 2. The lack of different carry positions doesn’t bother me, but southpaws may take offense. The light weight and slim profile make you forget you’re even carrying the Crossbones – an excellent EDC in that regard.
Care and maintenance is a mixed bag. I personally hate disassembling IKBS knives, but like anything with practice and patience you get the hang of it. Sharpening is a snap, with a nicely shaped sharpening choil allowing you to reach the entire sharpened edge. Standard Torx screws are a relief for disassembly and fiddling.
The Crossbones retails for about $70 on BladeHQ and at the time of writing was about $60 on Amazon, with a $99 MSRP from CRKT themselves. This is a relatively sparse section of the knife market, with most things either being down in the $30 range or above the $100 range, but there are a few candidates that stand out as being similar in execution and price.
The most similar in terms of profile and concept is the Brad Zinker-designed Boker Plus Urban Trapper in its standard 3.5” size (Boker also makes a 2.75” “Petite” and a 3.8” “Grand”). Like the Crossbones, it’s very thin and relatively straight, making for a sublime pocket carry. The blade shape isn’t quite as adventurous – a hollow group clip point – but it’s also exceptionally light (under 2 ounces) and flips on IKBS ball bearings. VG-10 steel is in my experience comparable to the Crossbones’ AUS-8 blade. Prices are higher, though – $70 for G10, $85 for Titanium, and $100 for carbon fiber – and in my experience Boker’s build quality isn’t as good as CRKT’s.
From CRKT itself, the Crossbones has some competition from the Onion-designed Swindle, a modern interpretation of the classic Swayback pattern popular on slipjoint knives. With IKBS ball bearings, a slick flipping action, and a unique pivoting pocket clip on the spine the Swindle is a fascinating knife for not a lot of money. The standard flat-handled version retails for about $40 with 8Cr steel, while the upgraded version with textured handles and 12c27 steel is around $60. The blade is a hair smaller at 3.25” and it doesn’t carry as well, but it is a cool piece of work for sure.
Kizer’s Vanguard series (G10 handles, VG-10 steel) offers up some very compelling values, and the Begleiter (German for “Companion”) seems like a great comparison for the Crossbones. The 3.5” blade is DLC coated VG-10 steel, with a choice of black or OD Green G-10 handle scales. A thumb stud opens the knife up, and a liner lock secures the blade. It’s a bit heavier at 3.80 ounces but it’s not going to challenge your belt at that weight. Kizer makes excellent quality knives, and this one at about $50 seems like a screaming deal.
Finally, who knows more about slim, light EDC knives than Al Mar? And while you’re certainly not going to get an Al Mar branded knife for this kind of money, you can get an Al Mar designed knife for about half what the Crossbones costs. The Kershaw AM 4 offers a 3.5” spear point blade with a prominent swedge that does a remarkable impression of Al Mar’s “talon” blade shape made out of 8Cr13MoV steel. At $30 the feature set is remarkable: there’s SpeedSafe torsion bar assisted opening, a flipper and pair of thumb studs, contoured G10 scales, flow through construction with red anodized standoffs, a deep carry pocket clip with the Al Mar logo (so you can fake the funk) and a steel framelock. It’s much heavier than a real Al Mar at 3.02 ounces, but that’s still light by regular standards!
If this is the first design Jeff Park has made, then he’s bound for greatness, because it is really quite good. A combination of clean but fascinating design, sublime carry, great materials, and a uniquely honest MO make the Crossbones a compelling EDC option for anyone who’s into knives, and even people just getting into knives. True story: after carrying the Crossbones for purposes of this review, I sent it off to an internet friend who was enamored with its design and in need of a new knife to replace a beat up old Kershaw as he moved into a new house. The seed of knife enthusiasm has already been planted – CRKT’s recent offerings seem to have that effect on a lot of people, like the Pilar, Squid, Batum, etc.
The Crossbones is a nice option if you’re looking for a general purpose day to day knife and you’re not pretending you use your pocket knife to split logs or fight ninjas. It’s fun to fidget with, it feels nice in the hand, and it slices extremely well. At the price point the issues present with the knife aren’t a no-sale for me, and if you like trying out different things I highly recommend adding the Crossbones to your rotation.
- Textured two-tone aluminum handles feel great in hand, smooth flipping action, excellent pocket carry, super light, unique blade shape is suited to day-to-day tasks, great slicer, reasonable price
- Lock stick is irritating, taking apart IKBS is a major frustration, odd ergonomics
Review by James Mackintosh