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Wednesday, 4 July 2018

CRKT Saker Review



About eighteen months ago Columbia River Knife and Tool kindly sent me their Saker bushcraft knife to feature in a series of articles I was writing for The Countrymans Weekly on bushcraft and outdoor knife skills. The Saker is currently their sole offering in the 'bushcraft genre' and on paper looks like it would be close to the perfect bushcraft knife. However in practice it proved to be a bit of a disappointment. 

The specs as cited by the CRKT website today describe the Saker as follows;

Blade Length 4.53" (115.06 mm)
Blade Edge Plain
Blade Steel 1075 Carbon Steel, 50-55 HRC
Blade Finish Brush
Blade Thickness 0.14" (3.56 mm)
Weight 5.3 oz
Handle Walnut
Style Fixed Blade Knife w/Sheath
Overall Length 9.19" (233.43 mm)

I wasn't fully aware of these specification when I received the knife, particularly the rockwell hardness of the blade steel and it is that which proved to be a disappointment, before I explain why it will be important for you to understand what rockwell hardness is, so that will be today's lesson;

Rockwell Hardness

The ‘hardness’ of a knifes blade is measured on the Rockwell Scale, which measures hardness by applying first a small load and then a larger load to the steel and measuring the difference between the indentations. When testing knife steel the Rockwell hardness is denoted by the letters ‘HRC’ and the indentations are made with a 120° spheroconical diamond indenter. 


Rockwell hardness tester 001.jpg
A Rockwell hardness tester by; Three-quarter-ten - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, Link



Knives will generally have an HRC of between 55 and 65, the higher the number the harder the steel, but my requirement for a bushcraft knife is for something in the 58-60 range. Much harder than that and although the edge will be very hard and won’t dull quickly it will be more likely to chip under hard use. Much softer and rather than chipping it may roll and blunt very quickly. Knowing the Rockwell hardness of a knife is important so you can pick a knife that is in this ‘sweet spot’ to avoid picking a knife that blunts too fast and or is too hard to sharpen in the field or that is so hard it chips.

If we go back to the Sakers Specs you will see that the HRC of the knife is 50 and 55 which is very soft, even before I found this out though it was clear that the blade steel was very soft. Even after very light use, carving willow for example, there would be significant rolls on the edge and it would have become very blunt. While it is important to strike a balance in blade steel between it being brittle and too hard to sharpen and good edge retention the ease of sharpening this particular knife was not worth the inconvenience of it blunting so often and so severely.

The grind may exacerbate the rolling and blunting of the knife; It is marketed as a Scandinavian grind, a grind I highly recommend and which is perfect for working wood, you can read more about them in our 'knife' page which is part of our bushcraft basics series.

Scandinavian grinds are normally no more than a third of the height of the grind like on this Casstrom knife, the high grind of the Saker might make it even more fragile. 
However Scandinavian grinds normally start at a quarter or a third of the way up the blade from the edge, this one you can see strait away is at least half the height of the blade making the edge angle very fine and more susceptible to rolling and blunting. 

Even light work like making notches in relatively soft wood caused the Saker to blunt very quickly. 
This soft steel is a real shame, and the 1075 steel for it's retail price of over £100 seems very steep. If it wasn't for the soft steel the design would be near perfect. The sharply pointed blade is really useful for whittling and carving, the handle is incredibly comfortable and the overall shape and design is very pleasing to the eye.

The CRKT Saker on the left features a much more ergonomic handle than the slab sided micarta handles of the Camillus Bushcrafter and Tops C.U.B on the right but they are both superior knives purely because of the well heat treated and excellent quality blades. 
If it was available in a decent steel and with a proper heat treat and hardness I'm sure this knife would become one of my favourites but as it is I dropped it from the Countrymans weekly articles after attempting just a couple of tasks with it as I can't recommend this knife at all. 

I've tried to find it's redeeming features but the quality of a knifes blades is a make or break criteria, however ergonomic, aesthetically pleasing or attractive a knife is if the blade doesn't perform then it's not worth having and mine hasn't been used now since I discovered these issues, it's just not worth the hassle of using because it will need sharpening in a matter of minutes. 

There are some other features of this knife which the designer seems to make a big deal of, infact the little 'tool' that comes with it gets more air time in the video CRKT released about the designers 'vision' for the knife than the knife it'self;


I'm really not sure why the little 'tool' got so much screen time, it's a gimmick and serves no useful purpose, yes you can strike a firesteel with it but you can do that with the back of your knife, a key or a piece of broken glass. The serrations are pointless and it's just the kind of little add on that impresses people who are easily impressed or who have limited or no experience. The sheath also is a bit of a disappointment, the leather is heavy and seems to be good quality but it is roughly stitched and the retention of the knife in the sheath is poor. 

In short the Saker looks the part but fails to deliver, I don't know if that is because corners were cut in steel selection and heat treating to reduce manufacture costs or if the makers and designers sincerely thought that an HRC of less than 55 was justifiable and desirable. If the former is true then I can blame the failure of this particular knife on corporate greed, if it's the latter then it is unfortunately down to  a complete lack of understanding of the requirements of a hard working outdoors knife by the designer and maker. 



A great disappointment. 

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