CRKT updates their already popular M16 and M21 lines with some practical new features and Woods Monkey takes a look at those changes to see how they came out.
Columbia River Knife and Tool is a company synonymous with innovative design and custom collaborations. They have an extensive line of blades designed in conjunction with well-known custom makers and a plethora of models. Some of the more popular ones are their M16 and M21 series designed by renowned knife maker Kit Carson. The M16 and M21 have developed a reputation of rugged dependability and are a mainstay of the CRKT line. As a police officer, I always like to take note of what my fellow officers, EMT’s and other folks I encounter on a professional basis are carrying. Quite often it’s a CRKT product with one of these two lines being the most common of all. Not one to rest on their laurels with a good design, CRKT has taken the opportunity to upgrade an already good product line with the introduction of some new features, notably G-10 scales, the patented AutoLAWKS safety, and the new Veff Serrations.
The M16 and M21
I received a variety of the new G-10 based models for testing including three M-21 variations and two M-16SF versions. All share some traits in common including the G-10 scales, the new AutoLAWKS safety, and some models came with the Veff Serrations. The AutoLAWKS is a safety that prevents the liner lock from moving while engaged and, as the name implies, activates automatically when you open the knife. The folks at Columbia River Knife and Tool state that this turns the folder into a virtual fixed blade when opened. The Veff Serrations are a new style of serrated edge developed by Tom Veff who has a long history in the knife industry in both sharpening and design.
All of the knives reviewed use blades of 8Cr14 stainless steel, have G10 scales and a stainless steel InterFrame. The M21’s and M-16’s have non-reflective titanium nitride-coated blades, which also add additional corrosion resistance. In addition to dual checkered thumb studs, the knives also carry the “Carson Flipper” blade extension. Two of the M21’s had a single flipper while the M16’s and the Desert Tan M21-14DSFG had dual flippers that act as a full double guard when the knife is opened, an unusual feature on a folding knife. All five test knives also carried a subdued metal clip positioned for tip down, right hand carry. The scales on most models are drilled to allow you to swap them out for tip up carry as well if that’s you’re preference.
Impressions from the Squad Bay
The M16 and M21 designs were familiar to me, so it was mostly a matter of getting to know the new features of these knives. I rotated carry between the various models over a couple months in the course of my job as a police officer. I also took the knives with me to work and passed them around to get the impressions of my coworkers. Pretty much everyone liked the G-10 scales. They felt the texture and grip would be beneficial, especially in foul weather. The Veff Serrations were also well received. My law enforcement colleagues liked the aggressive styling and felt that they would work well on rope, webbing and other tough materials. Some of the models tested had the dual Carson flippers on both the front and rear of the knife. I received mixed impressions on this unique feature. Some of the guys really liked how they provided extra protection for the hand, while others felt that they got in the way a bit. They felt that the rear flipper interfered with being able to place your thumb on the spine of the blade when choking up for detail work. Luckily, CRKT makes models with the single flipper as well, so they’ve got both camps well covered! The AutoLAWKS was also a feature that received mixed reviews. Some of the guys felt that it required too much manipulation to close the blade since you have to deactivate the AutoLAWKS and work the liner lock at the same time. They conceded that it did get easier with a bit of practice, however. It was pointed out by others, though, that while you might occasionally need to get your knife out in a hurry, rarely do you need to put it away quickly so the extra time it might take to disengage the safety was irrelevant. Regardless, everyone agreed that it provided an extra measure of safety and appreciated that it seemed virtually impossible to have one of these AutoLAWKS equipped folders close on your hand during use. That’s an important consideration on a blade that may be used in adverse or life-threatening situations.
I spent most of my time with the two CRKT M-21’s, the large plain edged M21-04G with its 3.875-inch blade and the smaller M21-12G, which had Veff Serrations on its 3-inch blade. The smaller M21 worked best for me in my every day work attire of dress slacks, shirt, and tie. It was comfortable to carry in my usual location, my back left pocket where it’s accessible to my off hand. Off duty, when in jeans or cargo pants, I’d usually switch off to the larger M21-04G. Both knives handled all my daily tasks without issue. Cord, tape, packages, plastic packaging and banding straps all easily fell to the M-21’s. Although I view the M-16’s and M-21’s as more tactical knives than woods knives, I ended up doing a fair bit of whittling with the large one anyway. I was pleasantly surprised at how well it did on hardwoods. I was getting nice, fine curls out of the wood and had very good control. This got me to thinking a little bit further, which is always dangerous…
CRKT compares their AutoLAWKS knives to fixed blades, and I started to wonder if they might make a good substitute for a fixed blade in the woods. There are occasions when you might prefer a fixed blade but are limited to a folder due to organizational regulations. I know many Boy Scout troops prohibit fixed blade knives these days and I even know military units that have done the same, at least while on state- side deployments. With that in mind, I started using the large M-21 on many of the same chores I would usually use a fixed blade for out in the woods. I whittled, made stakes, pried tinder out of old stumps and even batoned with it. Now, while I don’t get real crazy when I baton, I still won’t generally do it with a folding knife. I usually only work with smaller materials just to get enough tinder to get a fire started. Still, I’m not keen on beating on the spine of a knife that I know is designed to fold in half! While a solid locking folder might stand up to the light batoning I was doing, it was reassuring to have the AutoLAWKS present as an added measure of safety. Lock-up was rock solid with absolutely no play both before and after the testing.
I jotted down a couple of general observations about the M-21’s as well as the M-16’s as I used them. First off, let me say that I like textured G-10. It provides a great grip even when your hands are sweaty or wet. It also doesn’t conduct the cold like an aluminum or titanium handled knife would. Second, I was very impressed with the actions on all of these knives. They all pivoted open quickly and smoothly when you tapped the flippers. The larger dual guard models in particular seemed to really snap open, possibly due to the additional mass of the flipper and the nearly 4-inch long blades. Lastly, I found that the AutoLAWKS becomes second nature once you get accustomed to it. I’ll admit I was a bit hesitant at first. I’ve used the old manual LAWKS system and liked it. I could apply it if I wanted to and it was easy to disengage prior to closing the knife. With the AutoLAWKS you have to pull back on the LAWKS lever and release the liner lock at the same time. It seems a little tricky at first and it’s what caused some guys to be a little hesitant about the feature. What I found in practice was that with just a little bit of practice, you soon become accustomed to the maneuver and it doesn’t really take any more time, or much more manipulation, than just releasing the liner lock by itself. New and different concepts are often met with some resistance but like many other new things, they just take some getting used to.
A Legacy of Quality Working Knives Continues
Columbia River Knife and Tool has established itself as a company with a tradition of making top-rate, working-class tools at affordable prices while continually pushing the envelope with new designs and upgrades to existing models. The addition of G-10 scales, Veff Serrations and the AutoLAWKS system to the immensely popular M-16 and M21 lines is just another indication of CRKT’s commitment to bringing practical innovation to its customers. Even if you already have one of the older models, it would be well worth checking out what these new ones have to offer.
Columbia River Knife & Tool
18348 SW 126th Place
Tualatin, OR 97062
Toll Free: 1-800-891-3100