The Kershaw Leek, designed by respected knife guru Ken Onion, is without doubt one of the best selling pocket knives of all time. Kershaw ships eye-popping volumes of the Leek each and every year to the envy of big-time rivals Benchmade, Gerber and Spyderco. But how can the knife that’s named after a vegetable be so popular? In this article I’ll tell you why.
The Kershaw ‘Ken Onion’ Leek has certainly made quite a name for itself over the years. Many of you will already be aware of Kershaw which has fast become one of powerhouses in US pocket knife production. Pete Kershaw, formerly of Gerber Knives, launched his own business, Kershaw Knives, in 1974 to make knives based on his own designs. By 1977, Kershaw Knives was bought up by the KAI Group and manufacturing of the knives moved primarily to Kai USA’s Tualatin, Oregon factory. Today, some knives are made in Japanese and Chinese factories, but many, including the Leek are 100% US-made.
- Blade length: 3.0 inches
- Overall length: 7.0 inches
- Closed length: 4.0 inches
- Weight: 3.0 ounces
- Blade material: Sandvik 14C28N
- Handle material: Stainless steel
- Locking mechanism: Frame Lock
- County of origin: USA
- Price range: About $40
If you want the best price on the Leek you’re probably going to find it at Amazon who sell tons of these.
Given the massive popularity of the Leek, Kershaw has naturally introduced a mind-boggling array of variants with different colors, steels and finishes. It’s a master stoke on Kershaw’s part because now the Leek appeals to collectors.
There are simply too many for me to list here but rest assured that whatever you’re looking for is most probably out there. Mother of pearl handle? Damascus blade? Tanto Leek? Don’t worry, Kershaw has you covered.
The standard Kershaw Ken Onion Leek, model 1660 is the most common variant out there and forms the basis of my review below.
So, why all the the fuss about the Leek? The first reason for the Kershaw Leek’s popularity is that it hits the sweet spot of sizing in the EDC market. The Leek features a blade length of exactly 3 inches, with a 4 inch closed length and an overall length of 7 inches. Perhaps more importantly, it weighs a mere 3 ounces in your pocket. If you look up EDC in the dictionary, a picture of the Leek would not be out of place.
Without the pocket clip, the knife is only 0.4” thick; the pocket clip adds a bit more width to the knife, but not by much. This is a knife that will slide neatly into your pocket to the point where you may just forget it’s there. The gentleman’s folder box is well and truly checked.
Kershaw has been using Sandvik 14C28N steel, made in Sweden, for some time now, and with good reason. If you’ve read my guide to knife steels, you’ll know that Sandvik 14C28N stainless steel sits firmly in the upper mid-range category. Basically, it represents a formidable price-to-performance ratio and one of my favorite steels in this category. The edge performance of this steel is quite impressive, and it maintains a high level of hardness and resistance to corrosion. 14C28N is a fine choice for an EDC knife of this type, being easy to sharpen but retaining its edge better than many other choices for the price. Seriously, you could sharpen this thing with your eyes closed.
The shape of the Leek’s blade is close to a wharncliffe style with a very flat edge and little to no curvature (or ‘belly’). It narrows to a very fine point which is perfect for precision tasks but presents a flaw in other situations. Herein lies the single biggest problem with the Kershaw Leek: the thin blade tip.
The tip can be incredibly fragile, snapping off with even moderate pressure. The knife blade is also prone to rolling, which is a terrible thing to have to come back from with a blade this thin. I managed to roll the blade on my review unit, even though I was only using it for light slicing work, and had to use a quality kitchen steel sharpener to restore the blade to its razor sharpness. Getting rid of the roll probably took an hour of work on the blade. Kershaw has resolved this problem with the Random Leek, but most of the Leek variants out there right now still suffer from a poor blade design.
Handle and Ergonomics
The handle on the Kershaw Leek is constructed from 410 stainless steel with a bead-blasted finish. In my guide to knife handle materials I point out that a stainless steel handle is strong and durable but can be slippery in the hand. The Leek is a shining example of these characteristics. In fact, the handle is so slippery that I found it difficult to maintain a safe grip on the knife during my tests. Perhaps if the choil was a bit better textured, the knife would be easier to keep a grip on. The way this knife’s handle is constructed, though, I’d have a difficult time, from a safety standpoint, recommending the knife for moderate-to-heavy duty usage. Stick to the basic EDC-type tasks and you’ll be fine.
Kershaw designed the Leek for right-handed carry only, but you can choose from tip up or tip down carry by repositioning the pocket clip. The slippery handle makes it easy to slide this knife in and out of your pocket, and the pocket clip is small enough to be unobtrusive but hefty enough to hold the knife in place without letting it flop out when you do your tumbles and somersaults.
The knife rides low in your pocket, and the stainless steel handle makes it almost disappear when you slide the knife down into your pants pocket. I do wish, though, that Kershaw had drilled the knife for ambidextrous carry; while I carry right-handed, a lot of EDC folks prefer left-handed carry and this knife leaves them out in the cold. If you prefer to carry your knife on a lanyard, though, you’ll be happy to note that the knife is drilled for a lanyard.
The light weight of the Leek gives the knife a delicate overall balance, once you get past the slipperiness of the handle. During light usage, the knife felt great in my hand other than being a bit on the thin side. Front to back balance, though, was almost perfect in my testing of the Leek. This is minimalist design at its best.
Deployment and Lockup
When Ken Onion designed the Leek, he designed it with Kershaw’s SpeedSafe assist mechanism, allowing you to quickly and easily open the knife with a push on the thumbstud or a pull on the flipper. This is not a switchblade people! The knife deploys just quickly enough to be efficient, but is quiet enough not to raise any alarms when you flip it open.
The SpeedSafe assist mechanism is one of Kershaw’s most famous innovations, and it makes the knife so easy to open that it might just come close to skirting the line between legal and illegal assisted opening mechanisms. Note that if you’re not a fan of the SpeedSafe you can easily remove the spring and have it function unassisted.
The standard Kershaw Leek is designed with a frame lock, so the handle moves behind the blade to lock it into position during use. This particular safety feature works perfectly on the Leek, keeping the blade safely locked in the open position but still an easy one-handed close when you are done with the knife. A thumb slot on the bottom of the blade provides a bit of help in gripping the knife, as well as giving a second way to ensure the knife doesn’t flip closed on you during usage. No issues whatsoever with the lockup – nice and tight.
The last factor which makes the Kershaw Leek so very popular is, of course, the price point. A quick search at Amazon shows that I can get the Leek today for under $40. That’s tremendous value! Considering some of the junk people splash that kind of money on these days it’s refreshing to see a knife like this in the mix. Kershaw’s pricing model has hit a winner in this one and it’s bringing the customers in droves.
No knife is perfect of course. The Leek’s slippery handle and thin blade are worth noting and make this knife ill-suited for moderate or heavy-duty usage. You’ll be fine sticking to ‘normal’ utility use and fine detail work on soft woods.
To clarify, this knife is certainly very good but not what I’d call a great knife. Still, the perfect balance of price-to-performance has allowed Kershaw to establish impressive distribution channels for the Kershaw Leek, making it available at everywhere from Sears to Wal-Mart. With these types of retail giants behind you the game changes dramatically and Kershaw is undoubtedly sitting on a gold-mine with the Leek.
Kershaw Leek vs Skyline: The Skyline is a similar size and also made from 14C28N but the Leek has ‘assisted opening’ so it deploys a little quicker. The blade shape of the Skyline is, in my opinion, better suited to EDC tasks compared to the Leek. The Leek’s somewhat slippery steel handle is also outclassed by the G-10 handle on the Skyline. Now, these are both excellent knives but the Skyline comes out on top in my book.
Kershaw Leek vs Blur: The Blur comes in 14C28N but also S30V but that’s a whole other league. The standard Blur is certainly heavier and beefier than the Leek which makes it a better choice for heavier duty usage. The Leek is much more delicate and sleek looking. In you prefer a gentlemen’s style EDC then stick to the Leek. If you’re going to be out whittling spears and pretending to be Rambo go with the Blur.
Kershaw Leek vs Cryo: I consider the Cryo to be a ‘lesser’ knife overall. It’s cheaper, made in China, no SpeedSafe and just not made as well as the Leek. I rate the Cryo as a great knife for the money but it’s dirt cheap and if you can stump another $10 or so then you should be able to afford the classier, better performing Leek.
The Kershaw Leek is a true gentleman’s EDC knife. Its stunningly simple and sleek appearance makes it look just as apropos sliding into a jeans pocket or a suit pocket, and the knife is discreet enough not to draw too much attention if you pull it out to slice the olives in your cocktail. In a world where the ‘tactical’ market dominates, the Leek is a refreshing example of how knives used to be.
The Good: Slim, sleek, well made and great value
The Bad: Thin blade tip, slippery handle
Bottom Line: Excellent dressy starter knife which won’t break the bank