Regular readers may recall I’m attempting to step outside of my comfort zone and review more automatic knives. I started with a couple high end Microtechs, swung down to the Boker AK-74, and have now changed course towards something resembling the middle ground: The Kershaw Launch 4.
The Launch 4 is one knife in a series of Kershaw Launch automatics. The Launch series was released a few years ago. These are simple, USA made knives with clean lines, and aluminum handles that come in a number of colored anodization choices in addition to a more standard matte black offering. The knives in the series appear to hover in that $75-$125 price point. So it’s a premium offering, but won’t break the bank.
I selected the Launch 4 due to it’s unique size and profile. It’s unlike anything else in my collection. Kershaw has plenty of Launch knives with 3-3.5″ blades, and I may check one of those out later on, but there was something about the diminutive Launch 4 that caught my eye.
General Dimensions and Blade Details
The Launch 4 has an overall length of 5.10″, a 1.9″ blade, weighs 1.98 ounces, and is made in the USA. The Launch 4 is a “Cali Legal” automatic with its sub 2″ blade. Cali Legals are an interesting class of automatic knives, that feature blades that are 2″ long or less. This is a category I wouldn’t mind exploring further.
At any rate, this small knife, suitable for daily carry, assuming it’s legal for you to do so. As always, please check your local laws before purchasing an automatic knife. In many places these sorts of knives can be either illegal to own or carry. Be careful.
Here is a size comparison with the Spyderco Dragonfly 2 so you can see how small this knife is:
The spear point blade is stout, and made from blade stock that is just over 3mm thick. Adding to the ruggedness is the partial hollow grind and partial swedge. The end result is a knife with a sharp yet meaty tip. Kershaw offers this knife with both a black DLC coated blade as well as uncoated versions.
Blade steel on this knife is CPM154, a tried and true American blade steel I have grown to both know and love over the years. CPM-154 is easy to sharpen and holds a nice edge. It’s the powder metallurgy version of the classic. The powder metallurgy process results in a finer grained steel, and is an upgrade over standard 154-CM. I have noticed some of my 154CM blades will rust on me if I’m not careful, so I’m kind of glad I got the coated version here. At this price point I’m glad to see CPM-154 stamped on the blade. That’s not a steel I recall seeing Kershaw or ZT work with before. It’s a nice surprise and a great choice for this price point.
In practice I have had the chance to use my Launch 4 as a daily carry utility knife. I bought this knife around Christmas, and like most households we received a lot of packages during that time period. The Launch 4 has gotten a lot of work with cardboard. It cuts cardboard capably. Not the absolute best slicer with its short stout blade, but it gets the job done. It’s not my choice of knife for cutting apples, or for food prep in general, as the blade is too short and the juices end up flowing into the pivot area, but then again this knife probably wasn’t designed for preparing apple slices.
I’m pleased to say the DLC coating has held up really well. DLC is my favorite blade coating because it is so durable. Cardboard is highly abrasive and can mar up the look of a coated blade easily. Here, there are a couple micro scratches on the finish but that’s it. Also, I found the knife easy to sharpen on my Spyderco Golden Stone.
Handle, Ergonomics, and Pocket Clip
The Launch 4 features beautifully machined aluminum handles that have been given a brilliant royal blue hard anodization. This is a two piece handle with an integrated backspacer. I am impressed with the handle of this knife. The design is extremely clean and thoughtful, the engineering is top notch, and I love the contrast with the black hardware and blue handles. The handles have an almost iridescent quality to them, shimmering in the light. However, the ultimate beauty lies in the simplicity of this knife.
That same simplicity carries over to the ergonomics. The coffin shaped handle clocks in at 3.2″. There isn’t much to grab, but the knife still manages to fill the hand and disappears into your palm. You can comfortably hold the knife in both forward and reverse grips. The knife probably does best in a reverse ice-pick grip. In that way it feels very shank like. But you can also hold the knife normally and it will certainly open a letter.
There is no jimping on this knife, or any aggressive texturing. However, the hard anodization has a light texture that provides some nice tactile feedback, and the Launch 4 doesn’t feel slippery. Still, those actively seeking out knives with “traction plans” may want to stock up on skateboard tape, or pick something else to shower with.
The pocket clip dominates the back handle of this knife. It’s a standard Kershaw clip given a black parkerized finish. The handle is drilled and tapped for right side tip up carry only, but you can hardly fault Kershaw for that given the diminutive size of this knife. Really, that’s the only place where you can place a clip and not interfere with the deployment button.
In practice this is a discreet knife. Kershaw has pushed the clip as far back to the pommel as they could without opting for a full on deep carry clip. I think the knife is small enough as it is, and I’m not sure having it completely buried in the pocket is a good idea. That said, if you get the all black version of this knife my guess is that it would be pretty stealthy. Especially if paired with some black leather pants for a black on black on black effect. Just sayin’.
The Launch 4 is easy to carry. Sub 2 ounces and tiny, it’s a little thicker than a Dragonfly 2, but in practice I didn’t notice it much.
Deployment and Lockup
This is a push button auto with a coil spring. It’s just like the Microtech Stitch and Boker AK-74 I have reviewed in the past. A tried and true design that should offer years of trouble free use. The action is stiff and snappy. Not quite Microtech levels, but pretty damn good. You need to pay attention or the knife could fly out of your hand whilst deploying the blade. I haven’t taken this one apart yet, but it appears to be a washerless design where the aluminum frames act as integral washers. That is similar to some of Hogue’s designs.
There is no safety of any kind, but the button requires a good deal of travel to open the blade. Opening the knife accidentally is unlikely, but like any knife you need to treat this tool carefully and with respect.
Lockup is secure and play free thanks to the stout button lock. The one nice thing about reviewing autos is that you do see a lot of button locks with this category. I’ve warmed up to good button lock knives over the years. They aren’t as in vogue as frame locks, but done right they are strong and practical. This Launch 4 is no exception.
For our parting shot, I have selected a size comparison with the Benchmade Bugout. My streak of buying blue knives has continued…
Blade centering is perfect on my knife.
Kershaw Launch 4 Review – Final Thoughts
The Launch 4 is dialed in. The clean design, tight tolerances, and excellent choice of materials give the knife a premium feel.
In an age where you can spend a lot of money on exotic materials and design flourishes, there is something refreshing about buying a knife that strikes that perfect balance of form and function. Kershaw didn’t go super cheap, and they didn’t gild the lily either. They managed to find that sweet spot and allocated their budget to good blade steel, tight tolerances, and durable finishes. The end result is a rock solid small format auto for well under $100.
If you are looking for a premium Cali legal auto, then I think the Launch 4 is an excellent option. It’s reliable and durable. I can see why this is a popular choice.
Kershaw Launch 4 – From $79.95
I recommend purchasing the Kershaw Launch 4 at BladeHQ. Please consider that buying anything through any of the links on this website (including Amazon) helps support BladeReviews.com, and keeps the site going. As always, any and all support is greatly appreciated. Thank you very much.