This is a Tough $30 Folding Knife with Great Steel
Rugged flippers are a rare breed, but Ken Onion has made a pretty interesting knife in that category.
I say “rugged” mostly because that’s what the CRKT product description pushes. And I agree the thing is pretty rugged, but that’s not the first thing that came to mind when I saw it. Ken Onion has almost never made anything that looks rugged. He makes blades that you want to stare at all day and connects them to aggravating handles, generally resulting in a solid knife that you wish was a little different in just a couple different ways.
The CRKT Shenanigan Z is no exception.
- Overall Length: 8.25″
- Blade Length: 3.25″
- Handle Length: 4.875″
- Blade thickness: 0.12”
- Blade Steel: AUS-8
- Blade shape: Drop Point
- Blade Grind: Hollow
- Handle Material: GFN
- Weight: 4.1 ounces
- Manufacture Location: Taiwan
- Designer: Ken Onion
- Blade looks great and cuts well
- Good action
- Surprisingly tough
- Pretty reasonably priced
- Awkward in the pocket / hard to take out
- Hotspot from pocket clip
- Handle needs better texturing
I can’t say enough good things about the blade. I looks nice, it cuts great, it’s a solid AUS-8 steel with a good heat treatment, and a shallow hollow grind that even I should be able to sharpen without too much trouble.
It’s a little longer and wider than what I usually carry, but if I wanted a smaller Ken Onion knife with a similar design I have plenty of other options. I got the Shenanigan because I wanted a longer knife to replace the Kizer Begleiter that I lost in a very responsible way, and while this doesn’t match up in terms of looks, it definitely beats the Begleiter in cutting.
Durability and Edge Retention
I was skeptical about CRKT’s claims about this knife was designed to be rugged, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by what it can do.
I did a paper test when I first got, and it did pretty well. I managed a clean enough cut about halfway down a standard piece of paper placed horizontally. Then I cut some cardboard boxes and did it again. It seemed to cut about the same. Then I went out back, picked up an old branch off an orange tree and tried feathering the end for a while. Then hacked off the twigs, then I started straight hacking at the branch just to see how far I could get with it.
The following paper test made it a little over a third of the way down the page. There are no burrs or rolls on the edge, and the finish actually came through clean, which is pretty remarkable after shaving wood.
I will say the blade didn’t seem to do great at hacking the branch. The blade stood up to the impact okay, but progress was slow. The Shenanigan is definitely not optimized for batoning. I didn’t buy the knife for that, because that would be stupid. But at least now we all know.
The action is good now. I want to be clear about that, but I also need to be clear that I had to work the knife in and adapt to how it feels in general.
When I first got this thing it was stiff in a weird way. It opened and closed okay (mostly), but it felt like something was trying to catch it or just rub somewhere it shouldn’t be. Maybe the washers needed to be worn in, or maybe they started a little out of place. Something definitely didn’t feel right.
After a week or so of working with it, the action smoothed out just fine; it just didn’t stay that way. The flipper tab and the size of the blade both work pretty well to deploy the knife smoothly even when it felt off. Once I got it worked in it felt fine for about a month, but then I kept flipping it out compulsively and now the action is starting to feel a little loose.
When I close the knife and hit it against my leg I can feel the blade move a little and when I flip it out, it feels like there’s quite enough friction on the heavy blade. So instead of feeling smooth, it feels kind of unhinged. Honestly, I was expecting it to get to this point, and anyone who buys a knife this size for $30 should expect it as well with torx screwdriver in hand.
The Lock Up
The liner lock has ended up bothering me a lot more than I expected. At first it seemed to catch something at the base of the blade (I’m guessing the detent) that stopped it from closing all the way if I didn’t push the liner over far enough.
If you’re visualizing along with me, you might see the possible issue here. If the blade gets caught halfway through closing, the instinct is to push on the blade harder. When closing one-handed this means a death sentence for your thumb.
This is solved easily enough by just making sure you push the liner all the way to the side. On most other knives this wouldn’t come up as an issue. The reason it does with this knife is because the liner rests halfway across the base of the blade when it’s deployed, as opposed to just on the left side like most liners. And since the blade stock is so wide, the liner has a comparatively long way to travel before the knife is safe to close up.
To top it off,the jimping on the liner is so aggressive, it tends to resist that much force. So the first dozen or so times I tried closing the Shenanigan, it would stop because I was applying about as much force as I do with most other liner locks, getting the blade halfway and then getting confused when the blade stopped closing.
The liner lock itself is also pretty thin. That’s not so unusual by itself, but the Shenanigan blade is pretty big for a folder. Seeing the difference in size between the liner lock and the blade is just kind of uncomfortable to look at. I’ve smacked it pretty good to make sure it actually holds, and the knife isn’t really designed for rough hacking or stabbing. But it does make me worry that the structural integrity of this knife won’t hold up well over years of use.
The Damn Pocket Clip
I really like the way the pocket clip looks, and I still do. It’s a nice break from the straight-down pieces of tin we see all the time. It’s a little different when you start actually using the Shenanigan, though. In fact, the shape and sugness of the clip create a couple different problems.
The Hot Spot
The upsweep on the pocket clip pokes at just the wrong spot. When I first held the knife I didn’t think it would be an issue. There’s enough meat on my hands to cushion most hot spots on a knife, but over time this thing really starts digging in. It leaves an indentation after a while, and starts to irritate my palm.
It’s Too Snug
Of all the pocket knives I have, the Shenanigan is the hardest to get out of the pocket. One of the main reasons for that is the pocket clip is not only very rigid, it doesn’t leave a lot of space between it and handle. Just about the whole length of that clip is gripping the pocket, so when I want to take it out, I have to grip hard, and usually have to reach farther down on the knife get a good enough grip to bring it all the way out securely.
That’s great when it’s just sitting in the pocket. If I’m hiking or sitting down I’m rarely worried about losing it, and if it does start slipping out (generally when I’m climbing up something) I feel it happening long before there’s any danger of it actually leaving the pocket. The problem comes up when I actually try to take it out of my pocket.
Comfy Handle, Mostly
This handle is big, so if you’re a small person, or just wear pants with small pockets for some reason, this is going to get in the way. It’s going to feel bulky, and you’ll be reaching around it every time you go for your phone.
Aside from that, the actual shape of the handle is great. It’s nice to see a fat handle on a pocket knife sometimes, and the Shenanigan in particular has a well-shaped handle that fits pretty seamlessly into the hand aside from the hotspot from the pocket clip.
There’s just enough molding in this handle that it actually feels like it’s fit for my fingers to rest in. I see a lot of modern knives over stylized in this way, where the finger grooves are so extravagant they just end up getting in the way. This knife keeps it pretty simple, and the result is a good grip.
The handle itself does feel a bit cheap, but that’s one of the dangers of GFN scales. I wasn’t exactly expecting it to feel like a leather recliner, especially when CRKT commissioned the knife as a work horse.
But it Needs Better Texturing
The texture on the handle doesn’t really feel like it does much beyond irritate my hand. I know that it’s giving me a better grip than if they had left the scales smooth, but the little range of bumps they molded in is not doing enough. It helps my grip a little when I change grips in the knife, but it really feels like minimal help when I’m actually holding and using the knife. More importantly, they didn’t texture the handle where they really need it: at the top.
I’ve already talked about how the pocket clip makes it hard to take this out of the pocket. Well, the handle itself doesn’t help because they left the scales smooth right where my thumb goes when I try to grip it. Any amount of texture here would help speed up the process, but as it is I either have to grip harder or reach farther down the knife.
The Price and Alternatives
The price makes the Shenanigan pretty competitive. In the roughly $30 and 3-inch blade category, it’s up against things like the CRKT Caligo, the Kershaw Atmos, and (in a different direction) the Ontario Rat 2.
What makes The Shenanigan stand out from these knives is the blade. It provides a lot of versatility in how you cut because it’s so curvy and the tip is a lot more severe, where the Rat could get thrown against a brick wall and probably walk away without a nick in the blade (especially if you get the D2 version of the Rat). The Caligo and Atmos might be close in cutting ability at first, but the edges aren’t recurved like the Shenanigan, and both have 8Cr steels that put them way behind in hardness and edge retention, so I would probably recommend the Shenanigan over the Atmos and the Caligo (although I do like the way the Atmos looks).
But would I recommend the Shenanigan over the Rat 2? It depends on who I’m talking to. It’s a stylistic choice, at the end of the day. Someone who goes camping a lot or works outside in general should probably get the Rat, because despite CRKT insisting the Shenanigan is a rugged knife made for working, it’s just not going to beat out the Rat 2 in toughness. The Shenanigan blade might be better suited for skinning, but ultimately does better where you just need to cut up something really quick and get it the hell out of your hand.
2021 Update: The spring assisted version of the Shenanigan comes in at $50, which puts it in roughly the same range as some of the better knives in our hard use blog. I’d say if you like the blade style at that price, you might be better off going with the Kershaw Emerson CQC10K. Unless you really like assisted open knives, in which case, the new Shenanigan is actually a pretty good option for the price.
Conclusion: Yeah, Get It I Guess
I’m still carrying this knife, because I really like the blade. I can do a lot of different things with it when I’m walking around town or doing things around the house. I like how sharp it is, I like that it’s pretty sturdy for a hollow grind, I like the steel, and I really like the way the blade looks. It’s fun to flip out, and the action feels good considering how cheap the knife is. It’s a slicey tool where most of the knives I own are straight edge beaters. On the whole it’s a good knife.
I just can’t get myself to like the knife a lot, and it probably won’t take many more purchases before I replace it in my EDC rotation. That has a lot to do with the tight pocket clip and the texturing. I don’t like the way it feels in my hand at all. It’s just on the verge of feeling nice and comfortable, but the pocket clip and half-assed texture are so unpleasant to the touch and it’s a chore to actually take out of the pocket,
If you’re looking for a flipper in the $30 range, then absolutely get the Shenanigan. Especially if you want one with better steel than 8Cr13MoV. It will more than get the job done in pretty much any EDC situation. Just don’t expect to fall in love with it.