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.
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.
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.