First Gear | Columbia River Knife And Tool

posted on March 6, 2016
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There’s nothing like familiarity to put a little extra spring in our First Gear step, and with Columbia River Knife and Tool, we have about all we can make realistic use of. 

This is mainly because we’ve liked and used their products practically since the founding of the company in 1994. Excellent materials and functionality are just part of what’s kept us in the fold, but more than anything, we like the delicate balance CRKT always seems to strike between innovation and “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” We can even offer a couple of proofs. 

If it looks like it’s been used a lot, that’s ’cause it has.

First would be our—we think—original year of availability Ed Halligan-designed “K.I.S.S.” (keep it super simple). This classy two-piece, locking, tanto folder initially spoke to our architecture school dropout sense of design: a semi-skeleton beaut, the bead-blasted finish, exceptionally versatile clip (money/cards, or pocket), and still easily top-of-class opening and closing made it a no-brainer pick. 

Only later did we come to appreciate the simplicity of maintaining the edge and the soft contours that are ultra-gentle on suit/dress pants pockets (it’s our “dress” knife, and a sure advance on the nifty, classic John Watts “Easifold”). There’s also an easy left-handed method of opening it, which escapes many folks. A little noodle power and practice has it rivaling right-handed availability in no time. 

Another rare joy occurred to us juuuuuust as we put fingers to keys: In 18 years bouncing around in our pockets, we’ve never taken a tool to it other than for sharpening. With a pivot pin, two clip attachment screws, thumb (opening) and stop studs in play, not a single one has ever worked loose. ($39.99-$44.99) 

A “mini” version, the P.E.C.K. by name (precision engineered compact knife; here, a P.E.C.K. in the dark), we’ve gifted so many times we’ve lost count. Gents, once you show your lady how easily this knife opens with no actual risk of shaving the thumb or damaging the “paint and bodywork” on those fingernails, this will be a favorite with them, too. The very precise point and straight edge are what seems to appeal to women, though we can’t say with precision quite “why.” No matter: Mother’s Day isn’t that far off … just saying. ($29.99-$34.99) 

Another long-timer, and probably our favorite all-around knife is a CRKT, too. The parameter here is simple: When our kit has to be as compact as possible without surrendering actual utility, and no known, knife-specific duty commends something else, what do we grab? This

We favor partial serration on a general duty knife—think “rope.” The lock is extra-sure, yet easily one-handed on the M16.

Blade Magazine Hall of Famer, retired U.S. Army MSG and knife-making teacher Harold “Kit” Carson contributed the M16 Z design to the CRKT stable, and it fairly reeks of a no-nonsense utility obviously reminiscent of Eugene Stoner’s rifle design of the same name. 

High-carbon stainless blades (ours is the half-and-half 10KZ) and glass-reinforced nylon handle scales make it tough and good looking, but the best feature is the absolute nature of the ambidextrous use for the M16: The only difference righty vs lefty is a half-turn of the wrist coming out of a right-side carry. The trademark Carson Flipper opening method and AutoLAWKS complete the package, and keep it flawlessly one-handed opening and closing

Considering there are 14 variations of blade type and size that CRKT sees fit to offer, it seems we’re not alone in our opinion that this a winner. ($46.99-$79.99) 

But new knives like the Pangolin make it very clear things aren’t standing still there in Tualatin, Ore. A new tactical fixed-blade design from Ryan Johnson of RMJ Tactical of Chattanooga, Tenn., it’s a there’s-work-to-be-done knife if we ever saw one, no questions asked. 

Don’t let a photograph dissuade you from considering this design, especially if you’ve got a folder bias as we concede we do: Our estimation ran to “huh, cool,” when it came in, but that was about it. When we clipped the glass-toughened sheath (both provided) to our belt and put it to work in a couple of range training sessions, however, our estimation changed in a hurry. 

The first benefit is obvious: This knife is put rapidly to work. While the sheath won’t contain it against absolutely all assaults, we had to contrive a fairly brutish one to shake it loose unwanted. Otherwise, it was extremely solid yet available in a variety of belt positions and attitudes. We even found ambidextrously available belt positions that were still comfortable even repeatedly in and out of a vehicle. It might dig in a little after 200 miles, but we had no trouble on 50- to 60-mile out ’n backs. 

It’s in the box: a very sound sheath and versatile belt clip.

It’s also an exceptionally comfortable knife to use hard. The upper thumb rest and lower finger guard are perfect, at least for our hands, and the grip is palm-filling enough to be secure in our biggish mitts, yet unlikely to be a problem for women or others with smaller hands. The handle texture plainly evokes the namesake critter—an interesting story in itself—and remains secure in the hand when thoroughly wet. 

Speaking of hard use, we’d say the Pangolin practically invites it. The large blade proportions, broad, strong tip, and powder coat finish shirked everything we threw at it, including some probably-unwise prying (but it’s a test, right?!), and zip-zip-zip reshaping of a bunch of cardboard targets. It still easily shaves the fingernail after repeated plunge cuts with the tip. 

Given a fair trial, we predict lots of folks will see what Ryan Johnson and CRKT saw when they added the Pangolin to the catalog. ($69.99) 

Contact Columbia River Knife and Tool here, or phone them at (503) 685-5015.


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