CRKT Pilar Review

In this Golden Age of Gear we have experienced new highs about every three years.  The first wave crescendoed with the ZT056X series and the second wave with the Steelcraft series.  And now, as we prepare for the third wave, we are seeing more innovation in the lower price brackets.  Between the Pilar and the Spyderco Efficient, the Golden Age of Gear has finally brought bounty to those that don't want to spend a substantial portion of their paycheck on a pocket knife.  The CRKT Squid and some of Kershaw's offerings were good, but I like these two knives a lot more than any of the other recent budget offerings (though the Drifter still has a place in my heart in this regard...).

The strange thing about the Pilar is that it reminds me of the Spyderco Lava with all of the problems fixed.  If you remember, I had hunted the Lava down, as it was an OOP Spyderco (one of the many I have hunted), and when I got it I was so disappointed by the knife in hand.  It was awkward, the lock was way too stiff and snapped uncomfortably in place, and the blade shape was a misery.  But the deep half-and-half finger choil paired with the index notch was very good.  Its just the rest of the knife great.  Simply put it was my least favorite Spyderco, ergonomics-wise, I have ever used.  But the Pilar has a similarly great grip and drops the lockback for a good framelock.  The blade shape is also a bit more useful.  And the sharp snap in the spine of the knife when the lockbar clicked into place--the Lava's source of actual pain--is gone.  And all of this comes to you somewhere around 1/3-1/5 the price of the stainless steel Lava.     

The Pilar is a supremely competent knife.  CRKT and Jespers Voxnaes, the designer of the Pilar, did a great job here.  

Here is the product page.  It should cost around $26 street.  There are no reviews, because the knife not being sold yet. CRKT sent me a press preview review sample prior to SHOT Show and I have been using and testing it ever since.  Here is my video overview.  The Pilar is not yet available for sale on the date this review was released, so no link.

And here is the review sample:

Twitter Review Summary:  Quite a good little blade for quite a good little price.

Design: 2

If you didn't know who designed this knife but you were familiar with the work of knife makers in the business right now, you'd probably have guessed Jespers Voxnaes in your first three guesses, if not your first guess.  There are so many features and touches that scream Voxnaes that it is hard to avoid--the chamfered edges around the handles, the thumb oval, the chunky blade shape.  This is a Voxnaes design through and through.  And for me, that is a very good thing.  Voxnaes designs are something like a combination of Hinderer and Anso designs--robust with flashes of organic shapes.  It is an aesthetic I truly enjoy, derived from two aesthetics I also enjoy.  In particular, on this knife, I really love the blade shape.  Its just a cool variation on a modified wharncliffe and one heck of a cutter.  This is a small, chunky, knife that looks very stylish.  

Performance ratios are, well, what you'd expect for a slab-handled steel knife.  The blade:handle is .68, which is Delica territory.  The blade:weight is .57 which is anvil territory.  But, with a knife this shape and size, the performance ratios are a bit misleading.  Its one thing to have a .57 blade:weigh with a 4 ounce knife.  Its another thing entirely with an 8 ounce blade.  Its the inverse of a .400 batting average for a guy that has 10 plate appearances.  In some instances, like here, ratios can be a bit misleading.

Fit and Finish: 2

The grinder satin, as you can see in the first picture, gleams.  The bead blasted handles are smooth to the eye, but slightly grippy to the hand.  The blade is dead center.  The deployment is snappy and smooth.  The chamfer is clean and even the entire way around the handle, except for the places where it is not supposed to be, like around the screw heads.  In all, this is a very well made knife, an example of just how good Chinese manufacturing has gotten in the past few years.  This is on par with some of the better Taichung knives in terms of fit and finish.  Its only in the materials that you see the cost savings necessary to get the price down to the point it is.  I am very impressed here.  

Grip: 2

There is no simpler (or more accurate) way to describe the grip than superb.  The knife's curves drape the entire body of the tool over your fingers in a way that is nature and comfortable, both during tough tasks, like cutting cardboard, and in less high force tasks like slicing grapes.  As small as the Pilar is, and it is quite small, it feels just right in the hand, plenty of room for medium sized mitts.  This is, of course, thanks to the good half and half finger choil and the good, but relatively neutral index notch.   This is what the Lava was, but a bit better.  Aside from the aesthetics, which I really enjoy, this is my favorite part of the Pilar. 

Carry: 2

This is a chunk of steel, for sure, but it is not uber heavy at 4.20 ounces.  Its weight is nicely distributed by the pocket clip.  Think of this as a steel handled Techno and you won't be too far off the mark.  Like the steel Squid before it, this is a substantial hunk of stuff in your pocket, only avoiding the boat anchor label because of its small size. On a bigger blade, this much steel would clearly be something that challenges your belt or suspenders when in your pocket. 

Steel: 1

Its 8Cr13MoV.  The steel is decent, not great and not bad. Its probably the very epitome of a steel that scores a 1.  Overall, I have found the steel to be okay in terms of edge retention and okay in terms of corrosion resistance.  Its big plus, at least for me, is how easy it takes an edge.  Its not hard to get 8Cr back to shaving sharp relatively easily.  Its never going to blow you away, but it probably won't disappoint you either.  This is an easy way to keep costs down. 

Blade Shape: 2

Part wharncliffe, part drop point, with a cool swedge that makes the knife look like it might have something of a harpoon shape it it--the Pilar's blade shape is intoxicating for the eyes.  This is what drew me to the knife in the first place. 

I have found the tip to be plenty pointy, a place where the Pilar outpaces the Lava significantly, and I like the amount of belly shown here.  Its all very promising and I can tell you, having used the knife, that the promise is carried forward in cutting tasks.  You never lose the tip and you never feel like you need more belly.  It would be nice, of course to have more blade length, but this is a small knife.  Kudos to CRKT and Jesper Voxnaes for letting the edge go all the way up to the choil.  There is no awkward transition like there is on some half and half choils on Spydercos. 

Grind: 2

 The grind here is a nice, clean flat grind and it is competent when judged by any performance dimension.  But the cool thing here is all of the other grinds.  I am not one for ornamental grinds, but the swedge is just beautiful.  And like some other grinds, it stays out of the way when cutting is concerned. 

Deployment Method: 1

The oval is okay at opening a knife, but compared to things like the Spyderhole, its just second class.  My thumb pad tends to get trapped through the opening arc.  In the end, this is what I think is a drawback.  It is not a fatal flaw, not by any means, but it could be better.  Over time though, you can use it like a ledge or a thumb disk and just pop the knife open with a push as opposed to a roll through the entire opening motion.

Retention Method: 2

In tip down configuration, as shipped, the clip got in the way a bit, but when flipped around it not only got out of the way, it also helped with opening.   

 If its tip down or nothing, then drop a point off the score.  If you aren't so committed, then the clip is quite good.  

Lock/Safety: 2

Smooth engagement and disengagement, no blade play, and good access for disengagement--the framelock here is very, very good--one of the better versions on a budget blade.

Overall Score: 18 out of 20

Its hard to complain about knife this solid, this pleasing to look at, and this cheap.  You get a real knife with real design chops for way less than $50.  The steel is what you'd expect and the place where the price tradeoff makes the most sense, but there is nothing all that terrible about 8Cr.  Its not going to run with the big dogs like M390, but it takes an edge, holds an edge, and gets it back quickly.  I am also not a huge fan of the thumb oval.  Its not as smooth through the opening arc that an circle would be, but beyond those two smallish points, this is a sweet blade.  Its basically the Squid from last year Voxnaes-ized--same materials, same size, and similar price but all Danish and stuff.  If you liked that knife and want another or you have a fixation with finger choils and sweet blade shapes the Pilar won't disappoint. 

This is also a very good sign after CRKT's stumble at the end of last year.  They seem to have taken that in stride and moved forward with an awesome 2017 line up, part of which is the Pilar, an excellent entry into the budget market.  This is a great example of what to do after a mistake to help your brand--make awesome stuff, sell it cheap. 

And yes, Mr. Hemingway, it is time to go sailing.

The Competition

The Burnley Squid is an obvious competitor and for me, given the similarities, it all comes down to which look you prefer.  The Drifter will probably be cheaper and its not clearly worse, but the visual panache of the Pilar is hard to ignore.  Rarely are budget blades this stylish.  Compared to the gas station knives you can find for only a few dollars less, the Pilar is a dream tool.  A premium version, with better steel and titanium handles would do quite well in the market, but the version we have ain't so shabby either.  If you like the look, the materials are basically the same as any other knife in this price range, and the fit and finish is great, so why not?