Over the past few years, pocket cleavers have been quite the rage among the knife enthusiast community. Unfortunately, most examples focus on style at the expense of practicality. While the CKRT Pilar‘s blade is technically a sheep’s foot, it is purposely overbuilt to function as an impossibly ergonomic and effective little pocket cleaver.
The Pilar is a budget-minded design by Jesper Voxnaes. Aesthetically, the clean and elegant lines of the Pilar are a bit off the beaten path, but are rugged and handsome in their own right. The knife features a short blade and a 50/50 forward finger choil, making for a very comfortable four finger grip on a knife that folds into a small 3.5 inch package. Lock up is provided by a full stainless steel frame lock that keeps the extra-beefy blade stock locked in position and free of play.
Voxnaes has loaded the Pilar with his trademarks: stoutly over built blade stock and stainless steel scale slabs, sweeping arks and flowing curves all connected by his elegant modern lines. In fact the Pilar takes the best cues of the highly successful CRKT Squid (Amazon) and updates them into a much improved cutting tool. To put it mildly, on release the Squid took the knife community by storm. Even the most jaded and grumpy pocket knife enthusiasts were instantly reduced to titters and coos by the adorably disarming Squid. Unfortunately, the Squid was not the most ergonomic tool in hand: with its limiting three finger grip and less than stellar ergonomics. Voxnaes has taken the best design elements of the Squid and blended them with nearly perfected ergonomics and functionality.
Key Specs: CRKT Pilar
The Pilar features a 2.4 inch satin finished 8Cr13MoV stainless steel sheepsfoot blade with 2 inches of sharpened edge. While this does not make for an overabundance of cutting edge, the heavy blade stock and high saber grind make for a very potent cutting tool. The Pilar easily cleaves through tasks bigger than a knife this size should have any business tackling. Pruning, cutting heavy banding, and even splitting plastic sheeting are all easy tasks for the Pilar thanks to its fantastic ergos and chunky blade stock.
Sharpness out of the box was good, and with some pressure could shave a little arm hair. However, it does wear quickly. The 8Cr13MoV blade steel was clearly chosen to meet a price point. While 8Cr13MoV is generally a great functional choice for a budget priced knife, here I wish a tougher material was chosen. A knife like this begs for hard use, and I found myself having to do much more blade maintenance than with other budget knives in the same 8Cr13MoV. Partly due to the fact that, inch for inch, the Pilar has to do twice the work as a full size 4 inch knife. Furthermore, the tasks the Pilar encourages are much more abusive than the letter opening and apple slicing most EDC knives are generally tasked with.
On the plus side 8Cr13Mov is very resilient steel and rolls instead of chipping. As such, stropping does wonders for this sort of wear. While stropping any knife greatly extends the time needed between proper sharpening I found myself stroping the Pilar more often that is typical. Expect to care for the Pilar diligently, and it will take just as good of care of you. When the edge does deteriorate, sharpening is quite easy. The original blade geometry is good, and both free hand and fixed angle sharpening are very easy with the short blade, shallow belly, and flats above the saber grind for your fixed blade sharpening systems to attatch to.
While tougher steel like D2 would hold an edge much longer, ultra-hard steels tend to chip before rolling. Chips need to be fixed by removing metal with a sharpening tool. As such you would be forced to go to the stones more often than the strop in your edge maintenance. 8Cr13MoV might not be ideal for this sort of knife, but it is far from the worst steel they could have chosen.
A sheep’s foot blade is a very functional choice for a mean little blade of this sort. The point on the Pilar is very strong with plenty of material. You will be hard pressed to break the tip beating on this little pocket monster. While the blunt end of the sheep’s foot does limit its raw piercing ability, the Pilar still has enough point to do many finer tasks with ease. In fact, the thick blade stock makes it a surprisingly excellent letter opener. A second drawback is the stubby blade hampers the Pilar in food prep. It will likely not slice apples well (save for quartering) or scoop mayo gracefully from a jar. The trade off is that the brute force you can wield through the beefy little chunk of steel is nothing to be trifled with. A rounded blunt front end of a sheep’s foot blade does allow the user to get under or between layers. For example one could get under and safely cut a seat belt off a person, with much less danger than a knife with a more acute point. Used in its intended role, the Pilar is as good as budget blades get.
Handle and Ergonomics
The Pilar’s ergonomics are easily its strongest attribute, and in my hands are among the best of the best. The knife just melts into the hand. I have handled more knives than I should care to admit, and precious few can compete with the Pilar for its comfort in hand. The most impressive fact is that it does this in such a small package. Knives at this size all too often suffer from a compromising three finger grip leading to poor overall ergonomics. The Pilar avoids this pitfall with its generous 50/50 finger choil and sweeping curves that match the whole of the human hand.
The Pilar gives up some cutting edge in the exchange, but it more than makes up for it with the comfort and the leverage it allows the user. Both the hammer and saber grips work excellently with the Pilar. Reverse grip is a bit troublesome though, as the back end where your thumb rests is somewhat angular, making for a hot spot. Though, to be fair, a sheep’s foot blade is far from ideal for stabbing tasks, so a compromised reverse grip is far less of a hindrance than it might be on blades with a more traditional point.
Further contributing to the all star ergonomics of the Pilar is the thick blade stock that gives your thumb plenty of real estate to rest on right on up to the very tip of the knife. Combine this with the sweeping thumb scoop on the spine, and you can generate tremendous leverage directly above the cutting edge. Thanks to its rock solid construction the Pilar can take all of the brute force you channel into it.
The Pilar’s deep 50/50 choil keeps the cutting edge close to your work. In fact this is one of the deepest forward choils I have seen on a folding knife. Most competitive offerings are notably shallower, further hampering the already short reach of knives in this configuration, as most of your finger is between you and the material you are cutting. Compromises have to be made some place on a knife this small, and the Pilar navigates this one with more grace than its competitors.
With its semi-closed back construction and large gap between the scales, the Pilar collects more dirt than I would like and consequently requires more cleaning. Luckily washer knives run relatively well dirty, and will operate more smoothly than ball bearing knives could. As such the Pilar will tolerate a fair amount of gunk and grim in its action before it slows down.
The Pilar weighs in at a solid 4.2 ounces and that heft gives the user a sense of confidence in hand; it also prevents it from melting unnoticed into the pocket. Other than the weight, the Pilar carries very well as it is narrow and has quite a small footprint. The smooth stainless steel scales easily slides into and out of the pocket. The clip is medium deep carry, though the logo and shape do strongly suggest “knife”. Thankfully there is not a whole lot of knife hanging out for the world to view.
The clip itself is a little on the strong side, and on pants with the thickest of material (i.e., extra thick cargo pants) it did take some effort to situate. However, work jeans are still thin enough to avoid this issue. While not overly aggressive in appearance or size the Pilar might not lend itself well to gentlemanly office carry; the weight is even more noticeable in thinner dress slacks.
The pocket clip is two way adjustable for tip up or tip down right hand carry. Sorry lefties! The tip down option is ever so slightly more deep-carry than the tip up option. Generally I frown upon over the top design elements like chrome skulls, flames, demons, and the like. However, the Pilar tastefully sneaks a cartoon skull into the shape of its pocket clip’s sockets. It’s somewhat subtle and not completely tacky and just puts a smile on my face every time I happen to notice.
Fit and Finish
The Pilar is mostly very well finished, though there are some blemishes in the otherwise divine satin blade finish. Ignoring the minor blemishes on the finish, the soft luster and beauty the satin finish has is uncanny. There is an almost holographic quality in the way it catches the light. The blemishes are an unevenly finished streak on the lock bar side of the knife, and a similar streak under the finger choil. Blade centering came near centered, but after a month of heavy use, the centering has shifted to the presentation side but does not hit the scales. This is likely due to the soft Teflon washers wearing in. That said the action has smoothed out quite well over this time.
The grinds, finishes, and milling work on the Pilar are all very well done. The bead blast on the steel scales and aluminum back spacer are all even and attractive. The only knock on this front is that the back spacer is not excruciatingly perfectly aligned with the steel scales. You can just barely catch a finger nail on a few edges that are not completely flush. However, even in hard use I will never come close to noticing. Overall the fit and finish is great for the price, and the issues are purely cosmetic.
What else to consider at this price point? Here’s a selection…
CRKT Squid (Amazon) – The Squid is the slightly smaller, slightly lighter predecessor to the Pilar. While the Pilar is not as disarming as the Squid, it does boast a comfortable full 4 finger grip, as opposed to the Squid’s cramped three finger grip. Beyond that, materials are identical, and the looks of both are striking even if in different ways.
CRKT Pineapple (Amazon) – The Pineapple features a faster opening than almost any other knife we have tested, and as such is the fidget king of this group. It also weighs in a full ounce lighter than the Pilar. The ergonomics are decent, but cannot hold a candle to the Pilar, plus in hand the GRN scales just feel cheap compared to the stainless steel used on the Pilar. And that name…ugh.
Cold Steel Tuff Lite (Amazon) – The iconic Tuff Lite is, as the name suggests, likely tougher than the Pilar with its nearly unbreakable triad lock. Plus, it weighs in at just over half the weight of the Pilar (2.5 ounces vs 4.2), and can be found in a large number of color options. Neither the ergonomics nor the pocket manners of the Tuff Light are as good as the Pilar mostly due to the bulky plastic handle profile. The biggest determent though is that the Tuff Light is mostly a two handed knife to operate, as the triad lock is somewhat cumbersome to use one handed.
Kershaw Shuffle II (Amazon) – This liner lock knife is the wild card (or maybe odd duck) of the round up. In its own way the Shuffle II is quite handsome and comfortable in hand. It boasts a bottle opener and screw driver/pry tool integrated into the back spacer. At three ounces with a narrow profile the knife disappears into the pocket, but only tip down. This unorthodox package is well-rounded but does beg the question, “Do you need extra utility or pure brute force?”
Byrd Robin 2 FRN (Amazon) – The Byrd weighs in at just a scant 2.2 ounces, and is every bit as nonthreatening as the Squid. The ergonomics of the Byrd are good, but again not as good as the all-star Pilar. It does not feel as well finished as the Pilar, and the action is mostly two handed with the lock back design. If you want a light low cost EDC that is right at home in dress slacks, this is likely the best choice for you.
If you’re interested in another home run from CRKT and Voxnaes, see our review of the Batum. Also, while you’re into CRKT check out our guide to the best CRKT knives you can buy for a more complete roundup.
With the Pilar, CRKT and Jesper Voxnaes have created a sublimely ergonomic “pocket cleaver” for the every man. The Pilar will elegantly carve through every last thing you put in front of it while putting a smile on your face. It could have better materials or been a bit lighter, but in doing so it would lose some of its bad to the bone magic. This is a small low cost knife that somehow defies common sense and induces feelings of confidence and power. It is a knife that won’t leave our pockets anytime soon. If the Pilar has any appeal for you, we give this knife our highest recommendation. It’s bad to the bone….
- Oh those ergo’s, great value, deep choil, decent fit/finish
- Steel is so-so, design susceptible to collecting dirt, small cutting edge
Review by Seth Gunn