While the common saying “You get what you pay for” often holds true, in the case of the Spyderco Byrd FRN Cara Cara folding knife, you get a lot more than that. The Byrd brand from Spyderco is their inexpensive line of knives built to Spyderco’s specifications and intended to be an affordable user that won’t empty the buyers bank account. In this review, Woods Monkey takes a look at the Byrd Cara Cara, a large, one hand opening folding knife built for use.
The Byrd line of knives from Spyderco are designed to be cost effective, hard using, lightweight folders that deliver performance beyond their price point. Normally, the cost of the knife is left until the end of the review to discuss. But in this case I feel like the buyer is getting so much for their buck, it’s important to talk about cost up front. The Cara Cara’s MSRP is $30.95 from Spyderco, but retail price can be found as low as $23.00 from major online retailers. If you’re familiar with Spyderco’s products, you’ll no doubt know the Endura. The Cara Cara bears a striking resemblance in handle shape and overall size to the Endura. Spyderco seems to know the lesson well, “if it ain’t broke, don’t screw with it!” The Cara Cara is a lockback design, utilizing a David Boye dent in the lock to prevent accident release of the lock under heavy pressure, or while wearing gloves. Made of Fiberglass Reinforced Nylon (FRN), the handles are contoured to fit the hand well. Molded into each side of the handles are grooves that angle toward the center ‘byrd’ logo, providing positive traction during both pushing and pulling the knife. For strength, the Cara Cara’s handle incorporate stainless liners for nearly the entire length of the handle, stopping just short of the lanyard hole.
One definite area where you get way more than what you pay for with this knife is that the handles incorporate four attachment points for the pocket clip. The Cara Cara is easily modifiable by the user to carry either tip-up or tip-down on the left or right sides. As someone that often carries a knife set up for my off (weak) side, I appreciate this feature. I‘ve owned some very high dollar knives where the clip was fixed in one position, and if you didn’t like it, you just had to “make do”. Well, there’s no “making do” with the Cara Cara. And, you don’t need a fancy screwdriver bit to change the clip. A simple, small Phillips bit changes the pocket clip to wherever you like. For strength, the screw holes are drilled and tapped into the stainless liners, an excellent touch.
The blade on the Cara Cara comes in at 3 7/8” in overall length, with 3 ¼” of cutting edge. My version is partially serrated, but the knife is also available in a full plain edge. At 3 ¼” of edge, the 8Cr13MoV stainless blade is big enough to contain equal 1 1/8” sections of both serrations and plain edge. I’ve had one other knife that used this steel, and I’ve found it to be a good stainless that balances toughness and wear resistance nicely. It’s been my opinion as long as I’ve been around the knife culture, that the steel the knife is made of is secondary to the blade shape. The Cara Cara uses a drop point style blade, with what Spyderco calls a ‘Comet’ shaped hole to facilitate one hand opening. This works well, and makes the Cara Cara down right fast. I was very impressed with how quick the knife was to get open.
Although branded under the Byrd name, the serrations on the Cara Cara are all Spyderco. They’ve built their reputation on serrations that cut, and cut, and cut. While there are arguments both pro and con, the serrations provide some power long after a plain edge goes dull. As someone that prefers plain edges, if I’m going to carry a serrated knife, it’s going to be a Spyderco. The blade is hollow ground on both sides of the blade, but as is common on serrated knives, the edge is sharpened from one side only, even on the plain edge section. I was a little let down over this at first, but after some hard use, the Byrd proved to be an excellent cutter. When sharpening needed to be done, it was a straight forward job. The serrated section was sharpened with a tapered diamond rod, and the straight edge was sharpened equally well with the diamond rod as well as a ceramic pocket stone.
The first place that any new knife goes with me is into the shop. There’s still a lot of work to do on the ’70 Bronco I’m restoring, so testing ground is abundant. A fuel line needed to be shortened, and the Cara Cara zipped through 3/8” fuel line without a problem. While Spyderco makes no claims on the chemical resistance of the FRN handles, gasoline didn’t bother it. Over the course of several weeks use, the Cara Cara had carburetor cleaner, gasoline, and several types of grease caked on it. A quick wash in warm water and a drop of Break Free oil on the pivot was all that was needed to get it back presentable. Along with the fuel lines, the Cara Cara also cut and spliced dozens of wire. That’s right, it cut stranded electrical wire. The use in the shop over a couple weeks did cause a little edge rolling in some spots, but the 8Cr13MoV steel was easy to resharpen.
A recent trip to the shooting range had the Cara Cara doing quite a bit of cutting. I took down and cut up tons of old targets the previous owners didn’t see the need to clean up. I cut up old milk jugs that were used as targets, as well as cutting off jagged edges of target stands in dire need of replacement. Even though our range has stands every 50yds out to 200yds, I sometimes like to shoot at semi ‘unknown’ distances both for practicing with a mil-dot reticle, and for visual range estimating. I sharpened nearly a dozen tomato stakes and used those as target stands, sticking them in the ground randomly as I walked out to 200yds. Over the course of two trips to the range the Cara Cara did everything I asked it to. One especially nice aspect I hadn’t thought about until I got to the range the second time, was that the FRN handles don’t get nearly as cold as the aluminum handled knife I normally carry. Not having to grab onto a cold knife when you just need to do a quick job is very nice.
The major testing ground of any of my knives is the outdoors. The Cara Cara came along on several hikes thinly disguised as antler shed hunting expeditions. No sheds were to be found, as is getting to be typical of these expeditions of mine, but opportunities to use the Cara Cara were easy to come by. During the early spring time, dry tinder to build a fire with is difficult to find in my area. After a winter of being soaked in snow, if you need a fire, you’ll have to do some work to get at the dry stuff. One of the best sources of tinder to be found in central Colorado, is the dry inner bark of Juniper. If you’ve seen Juniper, you’ve probably noticed that it seems like its constantly shedding. Well it is, and the dry inner stuff is fantastic. I used the Cara Cara to get at the dry inner bark by piercing the bark horizontally, then relying on the strength of the knife to pry the bark away from the tree. This is a task I usually reserve for a fixed blade knife, at minimum, and often use a machete or hatchet to accomplish. After separating the fibrous inner bark from the tree, the knife is pulled out and the bark cut away from the tree. For your peace of mind, in moderation this does no harm to the tree, and I usually only do this to branches, not the trunk of the tree. The serrations were surprisingly helpful in cutting away the tough bark, and I was actually surprised at how well it worked. After performing this process four times, on four different trees, I could observe no blade play in the knife. The full length stainless liners seemed to do the job of keeping everything together nicely.
After the tinder gathering tests were done, it made sense to do a fire building test. I gathered up the Juniper bark, along with a bundle of dry grass, some standing dead branches, and a few good sized rocks. I also got my ferrocium/flint sparky rod out of my kit. I quickly discovered that the Cara Cara’s spine would strike the ferro-rod and produce a nice shower of sparks with the knife closed. This is always nice, as it increases safety to the user. The Cara Cara ‘chopped’ up the juniper bark into small pieces nicely, and I got my tinder bundle together with the camera standing by. After about three or four good sparks from the ferro-rod, I got the juniper bark to catch a spark, and with a little blowing, the tinder bundle was burning nicely. Getting a decent picture was a little tricky, but I managed to get one before the tinder bundle went out. A second attempt on another tinder bundle yielded equal results, and a quick and easy fire to cook my lunch time Ramen over. Rubbing on my Carhartts removed the majority of the ash from the ferro-rod. Although some scratches were suffered in the process, the knife came home dirty, but relatively unscathed.
Carrying and using the Cara Cara for over a month and half has been impressive. I’m pleased to see that even though the knife is built in China, Spyderco has been able to keep quality up to par with the rest of their products. For a knife that can be hand delivered to your door for under $30.00, the Cara Cara would be a great buy for some looking for a knife that needs to deliver performance without breaking the bank. There’s even a G10 handled version available for just a few bucks more. I haven’t had a chance to get my hands on that one, but after seeing what the FRN version is capable of, I’m looking forward to trying one out. If you need a good, light weight, hard working folder, give the Cara Cara a look. You’ll get plenty of bang for your buck.