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I have been on a bit of a high value folder kick recently, focusing especially on the $30-40 segment. I’ve neglected this part of the market over the past year or two, favoring fixed blades and higher end folders, but a good deal of interesting stuff has come out in the $30-40 arena, hence the recent reviews of the Ontario Rat II and ESEE Zancudo, and I have a few more in the works.
Buy the CRKT Swindle at BladeHQ
While the knives I have handled at this price point are solid and very functional, they are somewhat formulaic, and have a heavy emphasis on being tools rather than design objects. There is nothing wrong with that, as many seeking out a $35 folder want a good tool knife, but something has to be said for interesting design.
That is definitely not the case with today’s knife, the CRKT Swindle. Designed by Ken Onion, the Swindle pays homage to the classic swayback jack pattern, but features many modern touches like 3-d machined handles, a flipper, IKBS, a framelock, and a very interesting pocket clip. Ken and CRKT have definitely pushed the envelope in what is possible with a $30 folding knife, and we are all the better for it.
General Dimensions and Blade Details
The Swindle has an overall length of 7.5″, has a 3.2″ blade, and weighs 3.3 ounces. The long thin design really stretches out the blade and the end result is a practical gentlemanly type folder that works well for EDC, but also stretches into dress knife territory as well.
The full steel handles (gun metal gray with a matte texture to look like titanium) give the knife some extra heft, but it is still very carryable. And while it isn’t a “tactical” knife by any means, the long narrow blade comes to a very fine tip. It’s plenty stabby and I wouldn’t want to be on the business end of it.
The blade is an elegant modified wharncliffe design. Again, it’s a throwback to the swayback jack pattern of yore, with a high hollow grind, neatly applied edge, subtle belly and needle fine tip. Out of the box the Swindle came screaming sharp and ready for work. The narrow blade is plenty capable when put up against cardboard, and it makes for an ideal letter opener at the office. I also used the knife with some success when breaking down a chicken carcass. The upswept tip requires some extra flexibility, but it is fine for detail work. I really like that CRKT went ahead and rounded the spine. That’s a high end finish that I really like. I also like how they went for a satin finish over a cheaper bead blast. It shows off the nice even grinds and is more resistant to rust.
CRKT offers the Swindle in 2 blade steels: 8Cr14MoV on this model with the plain handle scales, and 12C27 Sandvik on the more expensive grooved version. I’d prefer 12C27 on the plain handled version honestly, but this 8Cr14MoV isn’t bad for the price. Similar to AUS8, this is a proven steel found on other budget folders like the Spyderco Tenacious. It’s a softer steel but it sharpens easily, takes a nice satin finish, and holds a reasonable edge. At this price point it’s hard to find much else, and I do like how they give you the option of 12C27 if you want to spend a little more money.
Handle, Ergonomics and Pocket Clip
The handle is plain stainless steel finished gunmetal gray to resemble titanium. I love how the handles are 3D machined, and I am impressed with how well made this knife is. CRKT has all their product manufactured in Taiwan, and the Taiwanese manufacturers really have their act together. 3 screws hold the handle together: one for the pivot, one for the pocket clip, and one for the backspacer. The end result is very elegant. Even the lockbar cutout arcs gracefully, and when the knife is closed the blade tucks completely inside the handle. This kind of stuff you just don’t find on $30 folding knives. Compared to my clunky Tenacious, Ken Onion and CRKT have thrust the value folder into rarefied air.
From an ergonomic perspective the Swindle works very well for an EDC knife. The handle is large enough to accommodate a 4 finger grip, and the curved shape fits naturally in the palm. I’m not usually a big fan of jimping, but CRKT found a great balance of grip and comfort in the jimping on the spine of the Swindle. The jimping here very much reminds me of the jimping found on a Sebenza’s, and the rounded spine furthers the connection. If you throw the knife in reverse grip a second run of jimping on the backspacer catches your thumb nicely.
The pocket clip is quite unique, and is more something you would find on a pen than a pocket knife. It sits on the back of the handle, kind of like an extended backspacer, and is spring loaded to provide tension. I won’t go so far as to say it’s my favorite pocket clip (because it isn’t), but it works, and it fits well with the theme of the knife. No doubt this will be a polarizing point for some folks. I think it’s a bold touch on an equally bold knife, and it has been well executed and further distinguishes this knife.
Deployment and Lockup
For deployment you have a flipper on IKBS bearings. The detent is well tuned and the blade flies out with the push of a finger. The action is very nice. The flipper is a low profile design, but it’s jimped to provide a little extra traction. Again, CRKT has managed to find a sweet spot in cutting jimping that is practical without being over the top aggressive. I am still not sure if bearings are 100% necessary on a knife, but here it has been well implemented and I certainly am not complaining. The Swindle, with its relatively light blade, flips with the best of them.
For lockup you have a stainless steel frame lock. It locks up early and securely and I did not experience any play in my knife. Lockup has settled in right around 25%, which shows that they paid attention to the tolerances and geometry of the frame lock, and suggests that it will hold up for a long time. Blade centering is also dead perfect, which, while not a requirement on a $30 knife, again elevates the sense of pride of ownership, and my overall appreciation for this tool.
CRKT Swindle – Final Thoughts
I have had a number of really nice high value folders cross my desk these past few weeks. Knives that I enjoy and recommend. The Swindle is truly something else. Not only is it functionally a very solid knife, it has so many details and little upgrades that I find myself examining it from the perspective of a higher end folder. I haven’t loved all of Ken Onion’s designs, but this one truly deserves accolades. It’s outside his typical work, and has allowed him to showcase his talent as a designer. The pocket clip may not be “perfect” by everyone’s standards, but it works well in the context of the overall knife. Barring that I find very little to complain about the knife.
I decided to photograph my Swindle next to my Kershaw Cryo on purpose, to show what is possible for a $30 folder, and two steel framelock flippers at that. Both knives feature big name designers, but beyond that the knives quickly diverge.
With the Swindle you have a graceful and balanced knife, whereas with the Cryo you have a stubby little brick. The Swindle features a rounded spine and 3-d contoured scales, while the Cryo is slab built with sharp edges. With the Cryo you get an off-center blade and shitty assisted opening. With the Swindle you get a manual action knife with a beautiful detent and an IKBS bearing system. With the Cryo you get a coated blade, with the Swindle you get a nice satin finish. The Swindle is an exercise in minimalism and restraint, while the Cryo is pockmarked with holes and screws.
I don’t mean to turn this into Cryo bashing, after all, I felt that the Cryo was an OK knife for what it was (although disappointing in many respects). But next to the Swindle there is no comparison in my mind; the Swindle is a superior EDC knife, and CRKT has redefined what’s possible with a $30 folder.
The design of the Swindle may not be for everyone, but if the knife interests you at all I suggest buying it. I wish I jumped on mine earlier. Highly recommended.
- Fast Opening: IKBS ball bearing pivot deploys the blade fast
- Brute Strength: Frame lock utilizes a thick lock bar to secure the blade
- High Tech: Tensioned clip secures knife to the pocket
- Designed by Ken Onion in Kaneohe, Hawaii
- Limited Lifetime Warranty covers any defects in materials or workmanship, see company site for details
I recommend buying the CRKT Swindle 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.
J DV says
I agree the swindle is an exceptional knife for that price point, but I don’t think it’s comparison to the cryo is good , it’s a totally diffrent knife used fir diffrent purposes. If fact the only thing in common is the price. Apples and oranges my friend , comparisons should be fir like models , author john
Thanks for taking the time out to comment. I can see where you are coming from, but I don’t entirely agree. I think there are enough similarities beyond the price point to pit them against eachother. I use both as EDC knives, although I could see some people trying to argue that the Swindle is a pure gents folder, and the Cryo is a “hard use folder”. Personally, I think it is an unconvincing argument, but that is just my take on it. I would be curious to see what others think and appreciate you voicing your opinion.
We must be on the same value folder path: I, too, own the Rat II, Zancudo and Swindle. Mine is the upscale Swindle with grooved handle and Sandvik steel.
The long, thin blade will not appeal to everyone. And the design is so unusual, it is hard to compare the Swindle with other knives.
What is obvious is that the Swindle shows a level of f&f that is rare in under-$50 knives.
Your comparison with the Cryo is dead-on. I will take an IKBS folder over a “shitty” assisted opening any day. The Cryo was a big hit before it was even on dealers’ shelves. A Hinderer design for $30 — wow! But who wants a small blade that kicks out with such force? Kershaw should go back to designing assisted knives with detents that allow them to be turned into manual knives. I like the size and shape of the Cryo but the heavy construction feels like a rock in my pocket.
The Swindle isn’t perfect. I prefer the designs of the Rat II and Zancudo. But there is no doubt who has the better product: in quality, the Swindle is a home-run and not just for the $$.
Thanks for the insightful comment. I agree, it’s a tough knife to compare with others in it’s price point, and practically speaking, I’m with you. I carried a Zancudo while working in the yard today. Can’t say the Swindle is that kind of knife at all. Still it’s a very special blade and it has its place in my rotation (and collection).
I probably could have used a less colorful adjective when comparing it with the Cryo. That may be slightly unfair as I’ve enjoyed plenty of assisted folders in my day. But this IKBS flipper is in another league than the Cryo, and ultimately that was the point I was trying to make.
Earl Sweatpants says
IMO you can find a lot of excellent knives in that sub $50 range and the upside is that you can USE them with little fear of damage or (even worse) loss, unlike that top of the line $300 folder. Don’t get me wrong, I love a beautifully crafted prestige knife as much as anyone, but I’m always a little hesitant about toting my finest blades around day-to-day.
I totally agree, Earl. You can’t beat a good high value EDC blade for daily use. That is typically what you will find in my pocket. The Swindle is an elevated design that you can actually justify carrying. It’s a nice change of pace for a sub $50 knife.
How slippery is the grooved handle version?
Honestly I haven’t handled the grooved version so technically I have no idea, but it can’t be any more slippery than the smooth version. The smooth version isn’t that slippery.
I have had the smooth handle version of the Swindle and have used it daily for many months and it functions just as good today as the first day. The blade has not yet been sharpened and is still relatively sharp. I do have several $200+ knives and I would compare this knife with them because functionally it does the job just as well for the uses I have with the Swindle( Fruit cutting,card,paper etc)
The opinion I have on comparisons is that it is possible to compare a $50 knife with a $300 knife if the function and quality is similar, anyone who thinks a $300 knife is better simply because of the price are deluding themselves. A $50 knife that feels better than $300 knife for the user is a better knife for that person. Quality and function is always a personal thing. Money is the market
Thank you for stopping by and sharing some thoughts on the Swindle. I am glad to hear you are enjoying your knife. Your thoughts on function and quality vs price are interesting. I agree that price can be irrelevant in many situations – especially given how nice some of the imported knives are getting.
I disagree with the gents knife comment. I am a climbing telephone lineman and picky as heck about my pocket knife. I carry a buck 110 skinner with the end filed down or a case trapper in cv steel because it’s ease to make razor sharp and reliability. And I’m super impressed with my swindle. Love how sharp I can make it the lock works better than I had thought it would and the pocket clip is the only one I’ve ever had that keeps a knife in my pocket hanging upside down and rubbing my climbing belt. 2 months and the blades in tact and still straight and I’ve used… Not abused…. This knife day in and day out. I give it a B+ and every other lineman that sees it likes it
Thanks for the comment and the insight as to how the Swindle can be used in your line of work – that is hugely impressive, and I appreciate you taking the time out to share your experience with everyone.
That said, I don’t think functionality and the label of “gentleman’s knife” are mutually exclusive. I think it can fall under the gents folder category (potentially, if you want to view it that way), and also be a great tool. Ken Onion himself labels the knife as a gent’s folder so that’s where the comment came from. With that said, it’s great to hear the Swindle can do more than ride around in a suit pocket. Thanks again.
Michael W says
I found the comparison of the Swindle and Cryo and the responses to it to be interesting. It is clear that there are two very different philosophies of design here: the Swindle is Federation and the Cryo is Klingon.
Thank you, Michael. Hah! I like your analogy.
I have both the grooved and smooth version. They have turned into my everyday carry and almost eliminated rotation to my other EDCs. The plain is my home and about town carry while the grooved is my “dress” carry. Both sharpen with relative ease and always get attention from other knife people. For me the design element is the reason I smile whenever I deploy either.