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For a long time, I didn’t really ‘get’ CRKT. When I first got interested in knives, the company was well behind the curve. It seemed stodgy, outdated. Companies like Spyderco and Benchmade opened my eyes to what a modern pocket knife could be; CRKT just confirmed the pedestrian image I had of knives before I became a nerd about them. My only CRKT purchases were the requisite Drifter and a secondhand Tribute that I paid too much for.
This was back in 2012ish, and I don’t think my dismissive attitude then was totally unwarranted. But when CRKT had its renaissance a year or two later, turning to collaborations with trendy designers to give their lineup a shot in the arm, I continued – wrongly – to ignore them. Probably this renaissance coincided with the height of my own knife snobbery. I was laboriously ascending the ladder of production knives, one incrementally more expensive purchase at a time, and didn’t think I’d ever want to come back down.
But this year, my and CRKT’s wavelengths aligned – I finally understood the appeal of what it does. There is huge merit in putting out really good designs in universally affordable trim. It doesn’t move out of this zone – like, at all – but I would argue it owns it. Even other makers that trade in the affordable knife market lack either CRKT’s sheer range, commitment to price point, or both.
The Pilar, undisputed star of CRKT’s 2017 lineup, seems to embody all of the company’s strengths. It seemed like the perfect knife to reacquaint myself with CRKT, so I picked one up. It’s an intriguing, fun knife, but does it measure up as a tool? Let’s take a look.
General Dimensions and Blade Details
The Pilar has a blade length of 2.4” counting the choil, and an actual cutting edge of 2”. The handle is 3.5” long, and its overall length is 6”. It weighs 4.2 oz. and is made in China.
I’m going to spend some time discussing the appearance and style of the Pilar. While normally (and rightly) secondary to a knife, they’re a central part of the Pilar. Its very best qualities are intangible, non-performance things and it would be a disservice to the designer not to talk about them.
So, yeah: this is a great looking design from Jesper Voxnaes. His tamer designs don’t move me, but when he cuts loose and gets a little weird I’m interested. One thing I wonder about is whether designers save their “best” designs for high-end collaborations. In this case, though, there’s no question Voxnaes gave CRKT A+ material to work with. Swap out the low-end materials for ritzier ones and the Pilar could be a GiantMouse or Viper release without missing a beat. It’s fun to look at, fun to hold, and fun to use. There’s a reason the Pilar is all over social media. It’s a gear geek’s knife, a knife nerd-seeking missile. Quirk is our catnip and this one has character for days.
The Pilar’s blade shape is a combination between a cleaver and a wharncliffe. As an all-purpose EDC tasker I find it adequate, never inspiring. There’s an ergonomic issue that plays into this (see below), but the blade presents two issues of its own. The first is length – there are common chores that the Pilar’s blade won’t be big enough to accomplish. This wouldn’t be a huge sticking point, but at 4.2 oz. I really think we need more utility. A lack of an acute tip also hurts. Opening bags or clamshell packaging, you’re going to have to fiddle with the Pilar to align its snubby tip where you want it.
I think we need to start considering 8Cr13MoV an unacceptable choice for EDC steel. Yes, it is easy to sharpen, but so are all bad steels. Edge retention is poor, and it discolors and smudges with any contact with skin. My prediction is that we’re about a year or two away from either CTS-BD1 or 14C28N becoming the default budget knife steel – and that day can’t come soon enough, because I’m done with 8Cr13MoV.
Handle, Ergonomics, and Pocket Clip
If you count the half-and-half choil, the Pilar is fully 2/3 handle – and I’m not complaining. The thick scales are made from a lightly textured stainless steel, held together with an aluminum backspacer. The entire handle has been given a generous chamfer, addressing virtually all potential hotspots
At the risk of splitting hairs, there are two major ways in which a knife can be ergonomic: 1) is it comfortable to hold? and 2) do the ergonomics facilitate actual use of the knife? The Pilar excels at the former and somewhat flubs the latter. When you look at a picture of its handle, you think “Yes.” When you buy one and hold it you think “YES.” But then you use it and think, “Oh. Hm.”
The problem is, the choil puts your forefinger right up against whatever you’re cutting. There’s no ‘dead zone’ between the end of the choil and the start of the cutting edge. Your knuckle drags across cardboard as you slice it. Cut up an apple and you’re going to have to wash your hands afterwards. With only 2 inches of cutting edge, you really need to be able to leverage every last centimeter, and the interplay of the finger choil and the cutting edge makes this hard to do.
Although configured solely for righties, the tip-up/tip-down pocket clip is straightforward, unobtrusive, and durable. One nice detail is that it is set into a cutout, eliminating side-to-side wiggle. But yes, 4.2 oz. is way too heavy. Weight distribution can make heavy knives seem reasonable, but when you have a blade this compact, those four full ounces have nowhere to go. In lighter clothing like shorts it felt like I had a hockey puck clipped to my pants. Often it was easier to carry it loose in my pocket. This knife should have had a G-10 front scale.
Deployment and Lockup
CRKT and Voxnaes buried the Pilar’s thumb oval as far down as they could while still making it accessible for both right- and left-handed people. It works well, flicking out with ease and not so detent-heavy as to make slow-rolling impossible.
The no-fuss deployment works alongside a well-executed stainless steel frame lock. Engagement is comprehensive, with nearly the entire lock face meeting the tang and no play in any direction. Bonus points for the stylish little cutouts on the lock bar for disengagement – they look cool and work well.
One issue of note here is the slickness of the scales. The Pilar is a small knife, and when closing it there really isn’t anywhere for your fingers to go. The barely-there texturing on the scales makes finding reliable purchase difficult. Glaringly unsafe? No, but annoying – and again, a G-10 scale would have fixed this.
CRKT Pilar Review – Final Thoughts
I have to applaud CRKT for this knife. With a design this good, many other companies would succumb to the temptation to bedizen it with all sorts of trendy features and materials, and price it in the $150-$250 range. This is clearly their best design of 2017 and it isn’t even the most expensive.
And yes, this knife cries – sobs, even – for a material upgrade. Me, I’d like to see a minor upgrade to G-10 scales, a liner lock, and CTS-BD1 steel. But the tradeoff with the current materials is that CRKT priced the Pilar at a stunningly low $25.
So check it out. It’s a deeply cool knife that I enjoyed reviewing, even when it wasn’t performing as well as I hoped. At $25 I can give it an unreserved recommendation.
- Ambidextrous: Thumb slot allows blade opening with either hand
- Classy Appearance: Satin finish blade has a modern look
- Brute Strength: Frame lock utilizes a thick lock bar to secure the blade
- Designed by Jesper Voxnaes in Loegstrup, Denmark
- Limited Lifetime Warranty covers any defects in materials or workmanship, see company site for details
I recommend purchasing the CRKT Pilar at Amazon or BladeHQ. Please consider that purchasing anything through any of the links on this website helps support BladeReviews.com, and keeps the site going. As always, any and all support is greatly appreciated. Thank you very much.
James Mackintosh says
I agree on being tired of 8Cr13MoV. I have a Kershaw Agile i’m carrying for review and i was just surprised at how fast it got dull, not “oh it won’t shave hair” dull but “I’m hacking this box, not cutting it” dull. Of course it took 5 minutes to get it screaming sharp, but it’s annoying. Also it does rust too easily.
These knives look really cool and seem to sell out very quickly. It’s too chunky and heavy for me. I think the 2017 star of CRKT was the Crossbones. What a knockout!
Benjamin Schwartz says
Yeah, it’s a huge bummer, and does make it harder to like knives that are otherwise good designs. With any luck, 8Cr13MoV will soon be a thing of the past. Even on cheap knives I shouldn’t feel a massive decline in sharpness after breaking down one or two boxes.
The weight is an issue, no two ways around it. Definitely one of the reasons for the Pilar ending up in the “Fun, but not the most practical” category for me. I was kind of surprised we didn’t see at least an FRN-handled model if not a CF or Ti variant as with the Squid, but CRKT could still surprise us with those at some point. If the price was right on such a one I would be tempted to purchase it again.
Oh yeah, the Crossbones was definitely another standout in the CRKT offerings this year. The design is great and it seems like the quality is quite high – I’d love to see CRKT continue to expand into that mid-tier price point, they’ve been doing good work in it lately.
While I could be contrarian and say “not all 8Cr13MoV is bad, etc.,” I really agree with Ben: it’s time to move on.
AUS-8 should mark the start of the “budget but not gas-station” steel tier. BD-1 is also fine, and 14C28N is legit.
That said, some renditions of 8Cr13 are better than others. I have noticed that it holds edge and resists corrosion better on my A.G. Russell folders than on, say, Kershaws. I suspect the AGR blades get a harder heat treat and they feature better finishes, often mirror polish. I wonder if they also include fewer impurities? Just speculating.
PS: CRKT Crossbones is gorgeous. One of the few knives I’ve been tempted to impulse lately.
Benjamin Schwartz says
Agreed, AUS-8 is where the conversation of acceptable steels needs to start – although I would love to move past that even to BD1 or 14C28N. With the evidently growing availability of good steel around the world, there’s no reason for any manufacturer to be slumming it when it comes to budget blades.
Heat treat does play a role, though, too – but I’d still rather see CRKT (and others) drop 8Cr altogether and move on to greener pastures rather than tweak their heat treat protocol.
Patrick L says
I spoke to Sal Glesser at Blade about something to do with blade steels in this range, and he was telling me about how some of the reasons why certain steels end up on certain knives. For example, the Polestar and Alcyone are from a Chinese maker that Spyderco has used before, but this maker was willing to buy the equipment and learn the skills to be able to heat treat CTS-BD1, which led to those new budget folders using a better steel. He also told me that another of their makers in China didn’t want to do that, so that’s how the first maker ended up with the knives instead (I think the one that said no was the maker of the Tenacious family, but I could be mis-remembering that fact).
So for CRKT or Kershaw or any of them, if they want to move on from 8CR13MOV to something a little better as their baseline steel, they’ll have to convince their OEMs to upgrade equipment, invest directly in the OEM to upgrade the equipment, or change OEMs (easier said than done). I’d be interested to see what path Cold Steel took with their Taiwan OEM to enable the extensive upgrade to not just a budget-level steel but something as nice as CTS-XHP.
I’d like CRKT to do better design/implementation/build quality/materials on some of their knives, at least the flagship stuff.
Not like how Kershaw pairs carbon fiber with say a Leek. At the end of the day that’s an 8CR13MoV blade with nice scales – lipstick on a pig.
But if they took a little more time to design out the flaws, a little more money on a better steel, & a little more on build quality, they’d have a great line of knives. Not Spyderco, but a lineup that could look Kizer Vanguard in the eye.
I’d pay $5-$20 dollars more per knife (depending on which it it) on that. Right now it seems like they are just depending on licensing interesting designs, but not good implementations.
Maybe they should be like Spyderco – have a budget Byrd line, a mainstay line, & a higher end line. Kai has Kershaw, ZT, & Shun. The budget/big box buyers have their stuff while those who spend more on quality/usability can get it on a relative budget compared to other companies.
Benjamin Schwartz says
I will say that recent CRKTs have exhibit very nice build quality. A few years ago it was a different story, but today the general quality is high. But I agree with your idea of competing in that mid-tier space – the more I think about it, the more I come to believe there really is a missing link there. Most companies focus their energies above or below that Kizer Vanguard price point of $60-80.
They may be working towards that. Dunno if you’ve seen it yet but three new additions to the M16 lineup for 2018 have 12C27 blade steel, a new pocket clip design, and better washers. They have MSRPs right around $60 – maybe CRKT is testing the waters?
I thought the Crossbones AUS-8 & price was an outlier. Maybe they are testing the waters.
I see the mid-tier market as $50-$100 dollars and I only see a couple companies there. I think there is a large market there of people who are ready to graduate from budget knives, those who aren’t buying a bunch $150 TFFs, enthusiasts who aren’t as dedicate – or crazy – as the IKC, and married people/people on more of a budget who do want to try new designs. Paychecks aren’t growing fast these days.
Who is there, really? Spyderco’s backbone of Dragonfly/Delica/Endura. Benchmade Mini-Grips.
Kai goes all the way from Kershaw’s budget knives to $150+ Zero Tolerance. The Buck 110 as long in the tooth as a mammoth – for most it’s literally their grandfather’s knife.
Leaving out traditionals:
Kizer isn’t well known outside the IKC & dedicated internet shoppers. There just aren’t knife stores around in many places, so the average buyer doesn’t know the name.
RealSteel is even more obscure.
Ruike isn’t jumping into that space & are just getting started here.
Moki has the Fishowl models & some others, but only the IKC knows about them & most overlook workmanship while complaining about the (excellently heat treated) steel.
The big companies haven’t taken the manufacturing lessons from making high end/almost mid-tech knives & let the technology trickle down, or they just aren’t putting in the design time.
From what I can see, the whole mid-tier market is there for the taking. A big name can leverage their repuation, marketing, & resources. But unfortunately I think Kizer will have all the time in the world to establish their name & just dominate that market.
The one thing most of us so called”knife nuts” tend to easily forget is the fact that an average person looking to buy a cutting tool,such as a knife,isn’t particularly worried about It’s grade of steel,it’s heat treatment,etc.,usually the ONLY things on their mind are…LOOKS and PRICE…Most people will NOT pay $100 for a knife,but they will pay $25-45,and that’s the “niche”where brands like CRKT,KAI,Buck,etc.,fill.Cold Steel found this out when using the same grade of steel for their Voyager and Recon line of folders.The Voyager line in Aus8 were almost 1/3 of the price of the Recon line,although the only differences basically were blade coating and Handle material.Sales for the Voyager line took off,while the Recon line dropped off immensely.Now CS offers Xhp steel for their Recon line,which justifies the difference in price.I wish CRKT would upgrade steels,something like at least Aus8 for their budget line,and N690,or 154cm,for their mid-range line,but I’m not going to hold my breath.As long as there’s a market for all these $25-45 line of folders using cheap steels,it’s not going end anytime soon..Matter of fact,with our economy like it is,it wouldn’t surprise me one bit of all the brands started reverting back to using low cost steels for the majority of their knives.
Actually, I realize most of the market is sub-$50. But I also believe that some are ready to graduate to better knives. There is a reason I said $50-$100 for mid-range. The jump from that to $150+ for an Osborne or ZT is largely insurmountable.
Also, I think that even for most knife nuts those $200 knives are only an occasional buy. The quirks of the human mind make it easier to buy 4 $75 knives than one $225-$250 knife.
The margins in any budget market, knives or otherwise. are brutal. A lot of competition, but you have to move huge volumes to make real money.
There is obviously some market that exists, Spyderco hasn’t kept the Dragonfly/Delica/Endura in that price range without a reason.
I believe it is unrealistic to think that the knife market is all budget buyers & knife nuts with deep pockets and nothing in between. You also aren’t moving anybody to higher end production knives without an intermediate mid-tier market.
Also, isn’t n690 fairly close to VG-10? That’s already common in mid-priced knives, with a lot of CPM-30V & 35V creeping in.
I’ve said for several years CRKT has some of the nicest designs in the industry,but sadly it’s for not,because of the low grade of steels they use.One of the best designs CRKT ever produced in my opinion,was the Eraser folder.The Eraser was discontinued eventually,and never received the popularity it deserved,in part due to It’s steel(Aus8)and price.If CRKT produced the Eraser in something like N690,154cm,etc.,and it didn’t have that “flipper” style,it would still be produced today imo.That’s my other pet peeve about CRKT…CRKT needs to STOP producing sooo many flipper action folders.For awhile,it was neat and fun,but now,every brand and their brother produces them,and they’ve flooded the market.CRKT must return to what made them a popular brand back in the beginning.Start by using quality steels,move away from so many China made knives,and prices that are comparable to the materials used.
Sean Weisser says
Hi Benjamin Schwartz,
Excellent very little knife for each day carry. nice for cutting into packages and gap cardboard boxes. This knife is sweet to hold once you don’t desire to fill your pocket with a three to four in. knife. Granted there are days and even jobs that you just may have a bigger knife and typically you recognize the prior to the time of these things. But, if you do not want the massive knife this is often a dandy very little knife to hold. This knife came terribly sharp out of the box then so much stays sharp when some everyday use. once you get this knife you get a pleasant simple to open and simple to shut frame lock that may meet most everyday tasks.
Thanks for Sharing.
My Pilar is solid but ok steel need better blade steel common cpm154 steel maybe or s35vn both hrc 60.5