Last Updated: December 27, 2016
In my opinion the wharncliffe is one of the most under-appreciated blade shapes out there. Many may write the shape off as a novelty, but in my experience a wharncliffe blade can be incredibly useful for a lot of every day tasks. That’s why I wanted to make sure I eventually got down to reviewing one of my favorite production knives with a wharncliffe blade, the Kershaw “Needs Work” (NW).
At first glance this knife appears to be more at home on the set of an “Aliens” sequel than in your pocket. This is another Ken Onion design, and one of his more radical blades. I’ll admit, the look of the Needs Work had to grow on me a little, but I quickly warmed up to it. Today I really like the looks of this knife and the performance as well. I think Ken and Kershaw did a great job representing the “wharnie” here.
To provide a little context, I would mainly classify this as a utility knife. That is, a knife that is used to cut a lot of boxes, leather, carpet, etc etc – a dedicated work knife for your shop or tool box, or to be carried while working a physical job with a lot of cutting tasks. The wharncliffe shape essentially provides a 3 inch razor blade, and the fine tip allows for unmatched precision.
I am hesitant to classify (or recommend) this as a full blown EDC knife, mainly because it doesn’t carry particularly well. However, it all boils down to what you want to use the knife for.
General Dimensions and Blade Detail
The Needs Work has a 3″ blade, a 4 1/8″ handle and weighs 3.5 ounces. This is a stout little folder designed for light and medium duty use. As you are well aware by now, the NW has a wharncliffe shaped blade. The NW’s blade is .12″ (3mm) thick – this is a thick piece of metal for a small folding knife.
From a design standpoint, Ken Onion gave this blade some of his characteristic flair. The blade includes gentle sloping curves and a nice little swedge. It’s a simple design that I really like. A hollow grind begins about half way down the blade.
The tip on this knife is exquisite, and will let you make very precise cuts. If you go through a lot of boxes, or cut stuff like carpet I highly recommend this blade shape. The angled handle only accentuates this feature. On the flip side, the fine tip means it could break – if you do a lot of thrust cuts or want a “hard use” knife I’m not sure the tip will hold up.
My Needs Work came with that gray matte finish popular on a lot of Kershaw knives (like the Skyline). You may also be able to find this knife with a black titanium nitride coated blade as well.
Kershaw went with Sandvik 14C28N stainless steel for the blade here, a steel I am very familiar with. It holds a very nice edge and sharpens easily. My only advice would be to keep an eye out for rust, I’ve noticed a couple small spots form on my Skyline.
Handle Ergonomics and Pocket Clip
The Needs Work has a beefy handle with glass-filled nylon scales over full stainless steel liners. The thick handle offers good grip, but makes the knife a little harder to carry. The scales have been given a really unique pattern. It’s got a kind of organic alien looking vibe to it. I am not crazy about the pattern, but it’s not really seen as a negative either. There is a full backspacer and the liners have not been milled out.
The ergonomics on the Needs Work are pretty good. I noticed a lot of people raving about the ergos, but I found the handle to be a little small for my relatively large hand. I can squeeze all 4 fingers on the grip, but realistically, this is a 3 finger knife for me. It’s still a comfortable knife but my pinky does feel a little lonely there. The thumb ramp and choil are well defined and there is adequate jimping on both. The thick handle does feel good and the textured pattern provides some response. For some reason I really like throwing the NW into a reverse grip; the handle is well suited for it.
Perhaps the biggest ergonomic feature is the angle of this handle. This allows you to take full advantage of the fine tip. The Needs Work could be a great knife to cut dry wall, carpet or similar flat materials. I found it to be very convenient when I had to trim some posterboard for the background on my little photography studio. More conventional blade shapes (and handle angles) would make you rotate your wrist further to use the tip of the blade for precision cuts. The Needs Work is a much better design for those kinds of tasks.
Sadly, the pocket clip is something of an abomination. Right off the bat, you are limited to right-side tip-down carry only. Furthermore, the large (ugly) clip rides high in the pocket, adding insult to injury. In practice, I actually found the tip down carry to be OK given the flipper and assisted open. I’d much rather see some mounting options and a little more conventional looking clip. The clip and thick handle are the two main reasons why I am hesitant to recommend this as an EDC blade.
Deployment and Lockup
Deployment on the Needs Work is awesome. This is a speedsafe assisted opening knife, and the spring on this the NW shoots the blade of this knife out like a gun. This is a wicked fast deployment that makes an awesome cracking sound as the blade locks open. This is one of my favorite assisted openers; the cool blade shape and rapid deployment are too much fun.
Opening is only accomplished through the flipper – not an issue here at all.
Lockup on the Needs Work is equally impressive. The NW uses a very interesting liner lock that requires no stop pins. The tang of the blade locks into the liner at two different places. It’s hard to describe but very solid in practice. There is zero blade play in this knife, which is awesome when you consider how much force this lock is put under by the assisted opening.
Kershaw Needs Work – Final Thoughts
I really like this one. The unique blade, the chunky design, the lightening fast deployment and super solid lockup – these are all major plusses. Also, I found the wharncliffe blade to be uber useful. That tip allows you to do detail cuts like no other knife. I also love how the Needs Work was made in America, and can be found for right around $30. Also, the fit and finish on mine is great. Blade centering is perfect, the grinds are smooth and even – everything was well put together. This is a knife I am proud to add to my collection.
That said, I do ding the knife a little for it’s pocket clip – that’s my only real issue here, and to be honest it still carries pretty well considering. If you want a rugged utility knife, or are searching for something a little different I totally recommend the Needs Work.