CRKT M16 Knives - Meet the Family
By Gary Zinn
Columbia River Knife and Tool (CRKT) was founded in 1994 by two former Kershaw employees. Ever since, the Tualatin, Oregon company has stirred the cutlery marketing pot by introducing a large number of knives and other cutlery items. The company has a reputation for marketing relatively inexpensive knifes, many of them of innovative design. Some of the biggest names in the knife industry have designed knives for CRKT.
When I say that CRKT stirs the marketing pot, I mean that they are constantly introducing new knife models and discontinuing others. For instance, currently (February 2018) the company website lists over 70 new product models or variants, with more than 60 models or variants being listed as discontinued. Products come and go, so your favorite CRKT knife from a few years ago may no longer be in production.
However, there is one CRKT knife design that has endured. The M16 model is clearly the flagship of the company product line. Designed by the late Harold "Kit" Carson, the M16 has been marketed by CRKT for many years and has developed into a large family of variants, with a total of 37 currently listed.
With so many variants, summarizing the M16 offerings is a complicated task. I studied the specifications for the various M16s for a while, before I decided on a way to organize them that would be informative, without getting overly detailed and confusing. I decided to sort the knives into two general categories. The first category is descriptively titled "Classic/Utility" and the second I call "HD/Tactical/Rescue." (HD means heavy duty). All but two of the 37 variants fit comfortably into one or the other of these categories; we will get to the two unique knives later.
The 23 knives in this category are classic in the sense that they all have key features of the original Kit Carson M16 design. They are ambidextrous one-hand opening knives, with blade deployment via either a flipper or thumb studs. Moreover, both the flipper and studs serve a dual purpose. When the blade is deployed, the flipper protrudes below the front of the handle, thus serving as a finger guard; meanwhile, the thumb studs serve as a blade stop, as they match up with indents in the front of the handle, to index the blade in both its deployed and parked positions. Also, the handle profile is the same for knives throughout both the Classic/Utility and HD/Tactical/Rescue categories.
M16 knives feature only two blade profiles, a spear point and a drop point tanto. Both plain blade and combination (partially serrated) variants are available, with either of two serration patterns used on selected blades. The majority of the Classic/Utility knives have combination tanto blades, followed by plain spear, plain tanto and combination spear blades.
AUS 8 is the most used blade steel, followed by 8Cr13MoV and 8Cr15MoV; one blade in this group is AUS 4 steel. Most blades have a bead blasted finish, with a few sporting EDP or titanium nitride (TiNi) coatings. Blade lengths for knives in this group range from 3.0 to 3.99 inches.
M16 handles are built around stainless steel liners. The majority of Classic/Utility handles have glass filled nylon (GFN) scales, followed by aluminum, stainless steel and titanium scales. The metal handles may be bead blasted, or EDP or TINI coated, depending on variant.
All M16 knives have blade lock mechanisms. Most of the variants in the Classic/Utility group have liner locks with an AutoLAWKS "automated liner safety," while a few have conventional liner locks (without the automated safety), or frame locks.
All M16 knives come with pocket clips. These can be mounted on either side of the handle and allow tip-down carry.
Here are the specs for one of the basic knives in the Classic/Utility group. This is a no-frills, all steel working knife.
The term "utility" in the Classic/Utility M16 knives label is meant to convey the idea that these are good general purpose knives. They are handy, versatile and economical tools, useful in the workshop or at a job site. They could serve satisfactorily outdoors around camp. I would not consider them good hunting knives, though. The blade patterns, especially the tanto, are poorly suited to such tasks as field dressing and skinning game.
I have grouped 12 knives into this category. All are solidly built for heavy use; eight have a distinguishing feature that leads me to classify them as tactical knives and four are designed for emergency rescue applications.
I looked at the flipper designs to identify the tactical and rescue knives. The tactical knives have enlarged twin flippers milled onto opposite sides of the blade tang, which effectively form a dual hilt when the blade is deployed. The rescue knives have a single flipper, but it is enlarged, with a seat belt cutting hook milled in. The hook is designed to be used with a pull stroke, with the blade closed. These knives also have a glass breaker pommel on the butt of the handle.
All but one of the knives in this category have combination tanto blades, with one rescue model having a combination spear blade. AUS 8 is the most used blade steel, followed by 8Cr14MoV. All but three knives in this category have titanium nitride blade coatings. Blade lengths range from 2.94 to 3.99 inches.
G10 is the handle scale material on six of these knives, with GFN on three, aluminum on two and one stainless steel. All but one of these 12 knives has a liner lock with AutoLAWKS added; one has a frame lock.
Here is a typical knife in the tactical group.
This knife is robustly built, with blade treatment and handle material that enhance durability. It and the others in the category are capable of handling heavy work and standing up under rough use.
MSRPs and street prices
Knives in the Classic/Utility category have MSRPs ranging from $47 to $150, with the majority priced at $80 or less. The HD/Tactical/Rescue knives range from $50 to $135 MSRP, with most in the $80 to $100 range. Major Internet vendors routinely discount M16 knives between 30 and 40 percent.
Two special M16s
The M16-02D Commemorative is a limited production knife featuring a 3.084" plain tanto blade of acid etched Damasteel Damascus. The knife has a titanium handle with a frame lock.
The M16-04A is an automatic. The blade opens at the push of a button and is secured via a plunger lock. The 4" plain tanto blade is CPM154 steel, DLC coated. The handle is 6061 Type III anodized aluminum.
Each of these knives is listed at $300 MSRP. Both are limited production items; visit the CRKT website (www.crkt) for information on availability and ordering options.
The longevity of the M16 design has been matched by few, if any, other knives of its type. Further, I am not aware of any other one-hand opening knife model that is offered in nearly as many variations as the M16. The design is simple, practical, versatile and CRKT has managed production and marketing of these knives in such a way that they are comfortably affordable.
The company has a pattern of introducing new designs, riding them for a time, and then moving on to the next big thing. The M16 has been the exception to this pattern and has not only survived, but thrived as a featured product in the CRKT lineup.
Note: Guns and Shooting Online contributor Schuyler Barnum did a detailed review of the Columbia River Knife & Tool M16-13Z. I recommend it to anyone who wishes to take a closer look at M16 knives.
Copyright 2018 by Gary Zinn and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.