The CRKT Swindle is not your typical modern tactical folder. Let’s be honest, the market is fairly saturated with a lot of cookie-cutter knives these days. It’s not that there’s anything inherently wrong with a lot of this stuff, but it does follow a pattern. A beefy drop-point blade, a stamped steel pocket clip, maybe some G10 – maybe some Titanium? A high flat ground stonewashed blade with a swedge, a thumb stud, a lanyard tube, a thick frame lock. How many knives does this describe that you’ll find any number of enthusiasts fawning over? After a while it all gets a little… same old, same old. I’m not saying I don’t like a LionSteel SR-1 or a ZT 0562, but variety is the spice of life.
The Swindle is delightfully weird. The idea was to make a modern rendition of the classic swayback pattern that’s popular in the slipjoint market. The world of slipjoints is quite different in theory than more modern blades, with less of a focus on individual designs and more on iterations of classic designs referred to as “patterns.” Patterns like the Trapper, Muskrat, Barlow, Stockman, Peanut, Jack, and dozens more have been produced by a staggering variety of companies and custom makers for decades.
There are infinite permutations of these basic patterns, and everyone does them slightly differently, but a Trapper is usually recognizable as a Trapper regardless of if it was made by Case or by GEC. The Swayback is an interesting pattern, one that could be inadvertently held backwards by those unfamiliar with knives to obviously detrimental effects. The swayback pattern is quite distinctive, with the handle typically having a pronounced convex “belly” and the blade following the shape of the handle sweeping upward in a gentle arc, usually in a modified wharncliffe shape. The CRKT Swindle follows this swayback pattern very closely but adds a number of modern improvements, most notably flipper deployment, a bearing pivot, and a clever sprung clip positioned on the spine.
Key Specs: CRKT Swindle
The Swindle is available in two versions: the standard Swindle has a smooth stainless steel handle and an 8Cr14MoV blade with a $60 retail price. The Grooved Swindle is an upgraded model, with textured stainless handles and an upgrade to the excellent but infrequently seen Sandvik 12C27 steel, tested here, with a $70 MSRP.
The standard Swindle goes for about $35 on Amazon while the Grooved handle is about $50, the cheapest I’ve been able to find online. As far as dimensions go the Swindle is small enough to disappear in your pocket, with a 4.25” handle and a 7.50” overall length open, weighing 3.3 ounces. Handle thickness is 0.43” at its widest point, getting narrower towards the top and bottom.
The grooved swindle uses Sandvik 12c27 steel, which was more commonly used about 10 years ago, mostly by Kershaw. Sandvik isn’t a super well-known steel supplier in the US, but they supply a wide variety of industrial steel to Europe from Stockholm, Sweden. 12c27 is a chromium-enriched stainless steel, comparable in performance to AUS-8 or 8Cr13MoV. While it has less Carbon than either of those, the Chromium content is higher yielding a better resistance to corrosion. In my experience it takes a better edge than 8Cr13MoV, and holds it a little longer while being slighter harder to sharpen – but hardly challenging.
The blade shape is unique, a slender wharncliffe profile with an upswept edge. It’s right in the sweet spot for size, 3.25” long and with a rarely seen feature – a full sharpening choil at the tang. It does have a bit of a “beard” but it’s still a pleasant blade to sharpen. Blade thickness is relatively thin at 0.12” at the spine. A mid-height hollow grind thins the blade out nicely behind the edge allowing it to slice well, and the primary grind terminates pretty far up the spine giving the Swindle a narrow-angle, needle point tip. The spine itself is rounded all the way from tang to tip, with a relatively long run of fine jimping running out past the termination of the choil for a forward grip.
The factory edge wasn’t great, with a toothy not-particularly-sharp finish but nice even grinds. Some time spent on the Spyderco Sharpmaker, mostly on the fine stones, brought out a deep shine and an edge that scythed easily through paper and cardboard. In this regard 12c27 is similar to steels like VG-10 or N690Co, in that it’s not a powdered-metallurgy alloy but it can still be refined down to an impressively clean edge without a ton of effort.
Deployment & Lockup
Both versions of the Swindle feature IKBS (Ikoma Korth Bearing System, named after its creator Flavio Ikoma) which is a bearing-pivot system. Unlike bearing pivots used in many other knives – like KVT used in Kershaw/ZT, MRBS used in Shirogorov, or the bearings in the Buck Marksman, IKBS does not use a self-contained bearing race. The bearings instead are loose, and sit in a channel cut around the pivot hole in the blade. While this is a massive pain in the ass for the purposes of disassembly and cleaning, it theoretically makes the knife thinner, as well as cheaper. The bearings sit in a thick grease rather than a thin oil which can be a dirt magnet, requiring occasional disassembly and cleaning.
Deployment is good for the price point. It’s not the best flipper out there, but its miles beyond what you’re usually getting at this price point – which from Kershaw would be an assisted opening knife with a torsion spring making up for sloppy tolerances and a gritty pivot. It’s so much more pleasant to use than something like a Kershaw Cryo. If you’re expecting Shirogorov or CKF perfection you’ll be disappointed, but a bearing pivot is a nice touch at this price point.
The detent on the Swindle is fairly weak, and the action feels more hydraulic that frictionless, but in my time using it the successful open rate is probably 99% – it’s hard to screw up. The light detent and the light blade combine to make an easy action that doesn’t require a ton of pressure on the flipper tab. With such a narrow handle, the Swindle relies heavily on proper finger placement for smooth opening, much like the ZT 0450 – if your middle finger wraps all the way around the handle and rests on the lock bar, you’re putting additional tension on the detent and can make the blade hard to open. Resting your middle finger higher up – above the lock bar on the handle – avoids this problem.
Another unexpected nice touch at this price point is the surface of the handle that your finger runs along after you push the flipper tab, which has a mild chamfer to the inner edge so the pad of your finger doesn’t get torn up – an annoying and frequently overlooked misstep with flipper knives. Closing is a different story, with a strange grittiness to the action when swinging shut that comes from the detent ball rubbing on the blade, almost feeling like it’s binding. You can unlock the blade and get it past the detent ball in the open position then ‘shake’ the blade closed, but it’s not nearly as easy as some more high end folders are, and in practical use the Swindle requires you to close it by putting your finger on the spine of the blade after unlocking it.
Being a stainless steel frame lock, lock stick isn’t an issue with the Swindle. Lockup is surprisingly late, with the entire surface of the lock bar interface resting inside the tang of the blade, and maybe another 20% of the tang remaining untouched past the inner edge of the lock bar. There is barely noticeable side to side blade play when opened, and no vertical to speak of.
One thing the Swindle lacks and could really benefit from is some form of lockbar overtravel stop a la Hinderer. Being a very thin piece of steel with a fulcrum point relatively far away from the tang, it’s entirely too easy to push the lock bar past the point you need to release the blade and outside the shape of the handle. While stainless steel doesn’t suffer from the same drastic loss-of-tension issues that Titanium does when it’s hyper-extended, in my testing over the past few months I’ve still noticed some loss of tension from mild over-extension due to the lack of an overtravel stop – which is disconcerting for safety reasons. While a Hinderer-style “bullet casing” lockbar stabilizer doesn’t fit with the design of the knife, a hidden stop on the inside of the lock bar would fix this problem.
Features, Fit & Finish
As has been my experience with newer CRKT knives like the Batum, the Swindle seems a lot more expensive than it actually is. The blade itself is quite nice, with a clean satin finish, even, symmetrical grinds, and a smooth rounded spine. Jimping is cleanly applied at the rear of the spine, and a smooth sharpening/small forward choil bridges the gap between cutting edge and flipper tab. The handles on this up-level Swindle are a visual and tactile delight, with machined grooved running the length of the handle matching the curvature all the way. The lockbar cutout also follows the grooves in the handle, terminating in a neat 90 degree angle right before the pivot.
The most noticeable feature of the Swindle – besides the shape and the snappy action – is the unusual pocket clip. The pocket clip is integral with the handle, running from the butt up the spine. It’s tensioned with a concealed torsion bar and has a nice snap to it for strong retention, and there’s a knurled thumb stud on both sides – just barely protruding from the scales – that allows you to pull the clip up and slide it over your pocket. It’s a neat party trick, but a mixed bag when it comes to execution as we’ll discuss later.
The Swindle has flow-through construction and is held together with Torx screws – a T8 for the pivot and two T6 body screws that pass through the handle, backspacer (a short section behind the clip) and the pocket clip to hold everything together. The knife is equally sleek closed as it is open – the spine of the blade matches the curve of the handle as it goes around the pivot along the belly. When closed, the blade rests entirely inside the handle (other than the flipper tab, obviously) but due to the narrow shape of the handle one must exercise care to not brush their finger against the sharpened edge of the blade between the flipper tab and pocket clip when closed – the sharpening choil gets very close to the surface of the handle.
Ergonomically, the Swindle is an interesting knife. The Swayback pattern doesn’t look like it would work in your hand, but it does in most instances. It’s not an especially large knife but the swell to the handle gives it some substance in hand, allowing an even four finger grip behind the flipper tab. Normally I’m ambivalent on thumb jimping on the spine of knives, as that’s not how I grip things, but on the Swindle the jimping forms an important part of the grip, since the shape of the handle naturally has the top of your hand canted forward.
The clip is a hit and a miss at the same time. I appreciate the effort CRKT and Onion went to in order to create something different. Beyond the aesthetic appeal – the tensioned clip is a polished stainless contrast to the matte grey finish of the handles, and is a neat visual addition to the knife, somewhat resembling the tail of a scorpion. The clip being integrated into the spine means that it doesn’t create a hot spot in the hand during use, and there’s no “lopsided” feel that small knives with big clips sometimes get. This makes it feel more like a traditional swayback when you’re using it, since the vast majority of slip joints don’t have pocket clips either.
As far as retention goes, the Swindle grips your pocket strongly, with the combination of strong spring tension plus the grippy knurled thumb studs making sure it doesn’t accidentally slide out of your pocket. But the clip being on the spine means the knife sits perpendicular to your leg rather than flat up against it. You can place the knife further away from the seam of your pocket and lay the knife over flat, twisting the top of the pocket, but the knife will naturally work itself over anyway. If you lay it over flat with the clip against the seam of your pocket, the blade is facing out into your pocket, which is potentially dangerous considering the soft detent.
As far as actual use goes, the Swindle makes a great around-the-house cutting implement, but you wouldn’t want to press it into heavy duty use in the same way you wouldn’t ask a fish to climb a tree. The narrow blade stock and hollow grind leaves the blade thin behind the edge, and the satin finish helps to minimize drag cutting through materials. It’s almost letter opener-esque in its abilities at fine cutting tasks. The modified wharncliffe blade shape has a more organic curve of the spine down towards the tip, and the shallow angle of the blade means the tip is extremely fine and needle-like. You do not want to pry with the tip of the Swindle at all, and even using it to pick at something seems risky considering the thin geometry at the tip. It does extremely well piercing plastic packaging and packing tape, and also does an admirable job at food prep tasks like cutting up an apple or slicing a bagel in half.
Edge retention has been fairly good with the Sandvik steel, which is heat treated on the softer side and is more prone to rolling than chipping – easy enough to sharpen out on a Sharpmaker. It’s a joy to fondle and flip open – a perfect knife to tuck in a pocket when you’re around the house getting small things done.
The most obvious alternative to the Swindle is actually another Onion design – the sleek, snappy Kershaw Leek (reviewed here). It’s available in a mind-boggling array of varieties, and there are even more that have passed in and out of production by now. Like the Swindle, it also features a modified Wharncliffe shaped blade and a flipper tab, but uses Kershaw’s SpeedSafe assisted opening rather than a ball bearing pivot. Prices range from $40 for a steel handled framelock model in Sandvik 14c28n, up to 85 and 90 for a carbon fiber/CPM-154 model or a Damascus steel model.
From CRKT itself, the large model Eros – also another Ken Onion design – fulfills a similar slim gentleman’s folder role. With a narrow, needle-tipped 3” drop point blade in AUS-8, a snappy IKBS bearing and a unique clip, the Eros seems a great value at about $48. There’s also an upgraded model with sculpted titanium handles and a blade made from Acuto+ that’s nearly half the weight of the steel handled version. It’s a hard sell at $165 retail, though.
Another interesting knife to consider in this price range is the Vanguard-series Kizer Begleiter, a thin EDC oriented liner lock/thumb stud folder with a 3.3” VG-10 blade. At $52 it’s worth taking a shot. Hope springs eternal for a Vanguard Series version of the extremely popular Kizer Feist, which is a minimalistic front flipper with a bearing pivot, titanium handles, and a 2.9” S35VN blade. At $168 retail it’s well out of the purview of the Swindle, though.
Spyderco doesn’t have a ton of products that compete directly with weird stuff like the Swindle, but the old-but-gold Centofante 3 folder definitely comes to mind. Sleek, thin, and light (at 2.50 ounces) the Centofante has a curved 3” clip point blade in VG-10 and contoured FRN handles with a reliable back lock. It’s a little pricier at $70 retail. There’s also the UK Penknife, a lightweight slip joint with a 2.94” blade in CTS-BD1 steel – in either a drop point with a curved spine, or a classic Spyderco full flat ground leaf shape blade. A deep carry wire clip and textured FRN handles are nice touches for the $52 price point that this inoffensive knife carries. A great slim EDC option.
And finally, if you want a genuine classic Swayback, the GEC #47 Viper is an old-school slipjoint with absolutely top notch fit and finish. They’re produced in small batches in a variety of handle materials, my favorite being the minimalistic linen micarta versions. A full flat grind and a variety of easily managed steels – like 440C or 1095 high carbon – make the Viper an excellent user knife, and you’re getting a shocking amount of quality and character for around $80.
The CRKT Swindle is a knife I’ve wanted to get my hands on out of pure curiosity for some time now, and I was glad to get the opportunity to do so because it’s a fascinating piece of equipment. The combination of the unusual shape, the snappy action, and the weird sprung clip make it a great conversation piece. It also cuts really well thanks to the thin blade and helpful blade geometry.
It’s not without its issues, though: this is a framelock that really needs a lockbar stabilizer for safety reasons. The tensioned clip is great in the hand but irritating in the pocket – which is sort of like buying a ¾ ton pickup truck as a daily driver because you tow a boat twice a year. But overall, like a lot of the unique things CRKT puts out, the bottom line is this: it’s a cool, useable knife for not a lot of money. You might not carry it every day but on the occasion you feel like throwing a light, funky pen knife in your pocket you’ll enjoy it. A recommended buy for knife nuts.
- Slick, modern take on the classic Swayback pattern, IKBS pivot opens super smoothly, remarkable fit and finish for the price, cuts well, no hot spots from clip, it’s something different
- Gritty action when closing, weak lock bar and no overtravel stop, clip doesn’t work well in pocket, ergonomics can be strange at times, a huge pain to disassemble and clean due to uncaged ball bearings