The Loveless Drop Point Hunter (DPH for short, not because I am going all Nutnfancy acronym crazy on you but because I am going to write it a lot in this review) is one of the finest cutting tools made by man. After more than 30 years of constant refinement, it is the apotheosis of a fixed blade knife. Because of Bob Loveless’s relentless focus and his unwillingness to compromise, it is a tool of absolute beauty and performance.
I know because while I don’t own one, I have handled more than a few. Thanks to purveyors and collectors at my local knife show I have had the chance to pick up and hold more than one Loveless DPH and all were supernal examples of the form (including one with stag so perfect it seemed to emit its own light). I also had a chance to handle a Loveless Big Bear and that was a mind blowing experience until I was told the price tag, at which point I gently and lovingly return it to its glass case (at the time it was marked for sale at $21,000…still the most expensive knife I have handled to date).
In many ways the Loveless DPH is the bar that all fixed blades are measured against, the lodestar for quality. Loveless is an unquestioned master craftsman and the DPH is his crowning achievement, not because of its complexity (the Big Bear is markedly more complex) but because of its influence. No knife, aside from maybe the Buck 110, has a broader influence on knives than the DPH—from its titular blade shape down to Bob’s preference for green micarta and red liners. If it is a fixed blade made in the last 40 years, somewhere along the line it was influenced by the DPH, either as direct inspiration or as a conscious rejection of the form. The DPH is Loveless’s 9th Symphony—a work of stunning insight and power that is, somehow, still wonderfully accessible.
And part of that is the utility of a smallish fixed blade. Of course, the DPH was originally sold and marketed as a hunting knife, but in my experience, this size knife, 8.5-9 inches overall with a 3.5-4 inch blade is just perfect for an all around knife. I have had a knife of this size on my pack for ten years and I have been thrilled with the performance. But the DPH was always out there, a grail, a Sisyphean goal…the never obtainable work of a Master.
“Master,” however, is two things—a label indicative of superior skill and a challenge to those that come after. Tom Krein has taken that challenge and developed his own drop point hunter, the TK-3 Whitetail. It is, in many ways, a twin of the Loveless DPH—same use case, same design philosophy, and same size. But like all challengers worthy of dueling with a master, Tom has made this knife his own. It is undeniably a Krein, right down to the lanyard hole. The TK-3 is also a knife that exudes quality in the same way that the DPH does. And so when I had by chance to grab one, at a great price mind you ($295), I did. The fact that it had the Loveless handle material pairing of green micarta with red liners, was a huge plus.
Let me put an end to the suspense—this is an unquestionably superior design, one of, if not, the best pieces of gear I have ever owned. It is absolutely without question perfect. Here is the logo to prove it:
Keep reading if you want to see how to challenge a master and come away his equal. The TK-3 is an absolute marvel of knife making, great in its simplicity and restraint.
There is no product page. It costs $295. There are no reviews of the Whitetail, written or otherwise. Here is my video overview.
And here is the review sample:
Twitter Review Summary: Utterly perfect in every way.
Erich Ochs, in a statement made for the release of his Lynx collab with Drop, said that if you don’t have a good handle you don’t have a good knife, and this is completely true. A corollary of this rule should be: the better the handle, the better the knife. If the corollary is true, which I believe it to be, then the Whitetail is one of the best knives I have owned because its handle is simply spectacular. But the handle is emblematic of greatness elsewhere in the knife too—the drop point blade is beautiful, the grind is immaculate, the sheath is snappy and secure. This is a simple knife that revels in details and if you know anything about my preferences, that formula hits them head on.
Fit and Finish: 2
Like the polish on the shoes of a military dress uniform, the Whitetail has been gone over again and again to the point where it is without flaw or defect. The micarta handles for example aren’t left rough as they often are. Instead, they are absolutely perfectly finished. There is still a bit of texture there, but not much, think of it as a matte polish. Tom talked about how gets this finish on an episode of Mark of the Maker (which other makers should listen to)
Handle Design: 2
With a marvelously simple handle and a finger entrancing texture the Whitetail is both great in every grip and wonderful in hand. There is nothing like a hotspot, a warm spot, or even a luke warm spot regardless of how you hold and use the knife. It is unquestionably great.
People love to make fun of S35VN. They claim it is no longer a premium steel. If that is the case, then what is D2? D2 was high tech in World War II. So, howl at the moon folks because I think, as implemented here, it is a truly superior steel, regardless of its mere chemistry.
We know that recipes aren’t performance. Some S30V and S35VN performs worse than average. We also know that that the opposite is also true. Buck’s 420HC performs bettern than other versions of that steel. So does Buck’s S30V. Similarly 1095 treated by Rowan performs quite well in ESEE knives. TM Hunt’s O1 is yet another entry on the list of knife steels where chemistry is not destiny.
Adding to my belief that this knife’s D2 steel is better than average is Krein’s lineage. Krein learned his craft in Bob Dozier’s shop and if anyone knows how to wring every last drop of performance out of D2 it is Bob Dozier.
If this was just a logical argument about why Krein’s D2 steel is great, it would be moderately convincing, but over and over again the knife performed like one with a steel birthed in the last five years. This is a great version of a historically good steel and so while I am not inclined to say all D2 is a 2 on my scale, I have no hesitation in saying the D2 on the Whitetail never leaves you wanting.
Blade Shape: 2
While nearly everything else from the DPH is different on the Whitetail, the eponymous blade shape is the same and for good reason. The drop point bladeshape is the best general purpose blade shape on the planet. What’s more this is a very good version of a very good blade shape. Its a classic for a reason.
Krein made a huge splash by regrinding production knives. Those knives cut through wood like its fog. And a full custom, where Krein controls blade stock thickness, is a cutting tool of breathtaking performance. I have no qualms in saying that this is the finest, most skillful grind I have ever seen. It can do some serious chopping, in hard, knotty oak and it can still slice food like a kitchen knife.
Sheath Carry: 2
This is a small knife with a small sheath footprint and a Tec Loc. It doesn’t ride all that high on the hip and it isn’t wide enough to give that “leg splint” feel that a lot of sheathes, even on small knives, do. Loveless believed that a sheath was just as important to a fixed blade as the edge or the handle and Krein apparently sees things the same way. This is a great sheath on the hip.
Sheath Accessibility: 2
With a clean insertion point and a very positive snap, this is a full one-handed blind in and out knife. You ca drop this in and go in a trio of seconds. The sheath’s hold is excellent, grapping the handle without so much as touching the blade. I have resheathed most of my fixed blades (or in the case of my Busse, simply sheathed), but there is literally no reason to change this set up. Its simply perfect.
With handle that invites your hand, a positive but not abrasive texture, a balance that rivals that of a Russian ballerina, and a blade that gives you absolute apodectic certain as to where it is this is the epitome of a useful knife. More than any other aspect of the knife, its pure utility is what convinces me that this is an all time great design.
With a decent stock thickness of a high durability steel and simple synthetic materials on the handle and in the sheath you can use the Whitetail without concern. Only your fear of wrecking the knife’s superb bright satin finish will hold you back. This knife can handle everything you can ask a 3.5 inch bladed knife to do.
Fidget (Fondle) Factor: Very high
With a lustrous finish to the satin grind and a positively fascinating finish on the micarta, there are very few objects like this. It feels great and fidgets well. If Krein made worry stones of just the handle, I’d buy five. Fixed blades aren’t as fidget friend as folders, but this knife is so superb it defies the norm.
Fett Effect: Low
With non-primpy materials, it is hard for the knife to show wear, but the blade will pick up a few marks. Its not bead blasted titanium, so its never going to do that worn-in thing. If that is what you want look elsewhere.
I know, I know $295 for a fixed blade made with materials as common in the knife world as sand is on a beach can’t be a high value item. But here, it is. In knives, production or custom, you are really paying for design work and labor and here, what you get on those two fronts in astoundingly great.
Overall Score: 20 out of 20, PERFECT
The Loveless DPH is the knife world’s Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. That would make the Whitetail something like the knife world’s Kind of Blue. Kind of Blue isn’t better or worse than the 9th Symphony—it is different. But in terms of mastery they are the same—the absolute zenith of their form. If you want an old school fixies with stag so barky you could lose a quarter down there, its the DPH. If you want something smooth and simple and classy, its the Whitetail.
I absolutely love this knife. I love using it, carrying it, holding it, looking at it…hell, even writing about it. Tom Krein is unquestionably a master of the form and the Whitetail is his work at is most essential. More than critic-gushing and analogizing the knife to high art it might be easier to say it this way—if you want to cut stuff, I can’t think of a better way to do it than with this knife. Without a pivot to break or a liner to gunk up, this knife is a cutting machine. And you can be a machine too thanks to a handle that is my favorite of any knife ever. $295 is a lot of money for a slab of steel that was high tech in World War II that has handle materials even older than that. But $295 is a theft of Oceans Eleven proportions for the most iconic work of a master craftsman.
There is a lot of competition out there, even in this price bracket. In the production world Bark River’s stuff is in the same price range, but it lacks the crisp finish of the Krein. The plunges are a bit muddy and the handles just simple high gloss (see my video overview for a comparison). A smidge of refinement is lost. In the custom world, there is a bunch of good stuff. I’d love to run this up against a Gallardo (thanks for the rec Jonathan), but I have yet to land one of those. There is another knife out there, I’d like to test against, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise. Keep an eye out. While I am sure lots of stuff is great, I am not sure, despite all of the comparisons, if anything else, other than the DPH is in this league. Lots of stuff is prettier, but something tells me I will go a long time before I find anything as useful.
One thing to note—the CRKT Mossback Hunter is clearly based on the Whitetail. The differences are pronounced (as one would expect when comparing a $300 knife to a $30 knife). The handle on the Mossback is fatter and the G10 material is nowhere is nice as Krein’s matte micarta. The grind on the Mossback is not as thin behind the edge. The jimping is not as finely cut on the Mossback. Krein’s D2 is leagues better than the SK5 on the Mossback. The tube sheath on the Mossback is not even close in terms of performance when compared to the kydex sheath. All that said, if you want to see how the Whitetail will fit in your hand, buy a Mossback Hunter, as the dimensions (but for handle thickness) are the same. And if makes a lot of sense to buy a $30 knife to see if you will like a $300 one.