Thursday, July 23, 2015

Knife Review: Kershaw Scrambler Review

The Kershaw Scrambler, designed by RJ Martin


The Kershaw Scrambler is a knife that I have had for a while, and I have been meaning to write a review of the knife for months, but I am just finally getting around to actually writing the review up.  A big part of the delay on my part is due to the simple fact that I have no major criticisms of the knife, and even find it aesthetically pleasing, but I find myself feeling ambivalent toward the knife.

The TL;DR review summary:  The Kershaw Scrambler is a well made, aesthetically pleasing knife at an affordable price point.  The assisted opening deployment is possibly the best feeling assisted open I have experienced.  The drawback to the knife is that somehow, in person, this knife seems to scare people, making it problematic for daily carry in mixed company.

The Kershaw Scrambler is designed by the award winning knife maker, RJ Martin.  RJ Martin has won the award for Best Tactical Folder at Blade Show (the biggest industry show, in Atlanta annually).  He has actually won the award on four separate occasions (2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010).  The Scrambler is visually similar to the Q-36 which is the knife that won the award in 2007.  The Scrambler is significantly different knife (swedged blade, framelock, G-10 scale, different steel, etc.), but the design lineage is apparent.  The Scrambler is also available in the $30-40 price range, which is roughly 1/20th of the price of a Q-36.

RJ Martin was an aircraft designer for 17 years, which I think explains why his designs appeal to me on a visual level.  Aircraft design encourages the avoidance of design features that do not serve a function.  This means that the design aesthetics need to be consistent with function.  I do not like a lot of extraneous doo-dads on my knives, and RJ Martin's designs tend to be sleek and fairly minimalist.

Let's Start With the Specs:

From the Kershaw Website

  • SpeedSafe assisted opening
  • Frame lock
  • Flipper
  • Reversible pocketclip (tip-up/tip-down) (This is incorrect, there is no tip down option)
  • Steel: 8Cr13MoV, titanium carbo-nitride coating
  • Handle: Textured G-10/steel bolster front, 410 steel back, titanium carbo nitride coating
  • Blade length: 3.5 in. (8.9 cm)
  • Closed length: 4.4 in. (11.1 cm)
  • Overall length: 7.9 in. (20 cm)
  • Weight: 5.2 oz. (147.4 g)

The weight of this knife is listed as 5.2 oz.  This knife is not a lightweight, but is not a total brick either.  The weight falls into a middle ground for me where it does not feel like I constantly have something tugging my pants down, but I never forget that I have a knife in my pocket.  I'd say that, for me, the weight is not a deal breaker, but it is not a selling point either.  The weight helps provide a solid feeling in the hand, but it is a little more than I ideally like from a folding knife.

The Titanium carbo-nitride (TiCN) coating is a hard wearing coating that has a Vickers hardness in the 3000 range (Diamond is 10,000, Zirconium Nitride is 2800, steel usually falls in the 55-180 range).  This provides a very tough exterior coating that reduces shine and protects against damage.  Additionally, unlike Zirconium Nitride which has a friction coefficient on par with unlubricated steel, TiCN actually has a lower friction coefficient of 0.4 (unlubricated steel is around 0.5, teflon 0.04, and rubber 1-2), which means that the coating actually provides a kind of dry lubrication.  This is handy for slicing tasks since less friction means easier cutting.  I'm not crazy about the darkness of the coating, but it is a functionally excellent choice for a blade coating.

The steel is the perfectly acceptable, often Chinese made, 8Cr13MoV.  The name 8Cr13MoV describes the composition of the steel, 0.8% Carbon, 13% Chromium (which is what makes it stainless), Molybdenum, and Vandium.  8Cr13MoV was supposed to be the Chinese equivalent to 440C steel, but in actual performance is more comparable to 440B or AUS-8.  These are all perfectly respectable stainless steels with good performance, but they are not science-magic-super-steels like some of the other knives I have reviewed.  My experiences with 8Cr13MoV have been positive.  I have had some knives (Kershaw Cryo G-10) where this steel has far exceeded my expectations, but for the most part the edge retention and toughness of this steel has been very good, but not revelatory.

This knife has a flipper tab, which also serves as a finger guard when the knife is open, as it's means of deployment.  There are no thumbstuds on this knife, and it really doesn't need them.

A Note on the Clip:

The Scrambler has a tip up carry clip.  The company specs claim that it is reversible to tip down, but the only pre-drilled holes are for right/left tip up carry.  This means that for practical purposes the knife can be carried in either front pocket (depending on which side you put the clip on), but it is not appropriate for back pocket carry.  It is always a good idea to either carry a folding knife so that the blade would open into a seam in your pocket rather than opening up into the pocket itself, for safety.  If you reach into your pocket and the knife has opened up you can cut yourself badly.  I personally feel that this consideration is especially important when dealing with an assisted opening knife.  The other option is to carry the knife in a sheath.

The clip itself is a standard Kershaw clip.  The retention is adequate.  It is easy to clip on and off from your pocket.  The clip is fairly unobtrusive in the hand, but it does not add to the ergonomics of the handle.



As already described, 8Cr13MoV is a decent steel.  The biggest benefit of this steel is that it is a near optimal value steel.  The steel is a solid performing steel that allows for a good quality knife to be made at a relatively low price.  This means that you can afford to get a knife designed by RJ Martin for around the $30-40 range, and be confident that it will perform well.

Blade Finish:

The TiCN coating replaces any textural finish to the steel.  The steel is stainless, so it doesn't require a coating, but the coating does provide additional scratch resistance and slight lubrication as described earlier.  The dark color of the coating adds to the "tactical" appearance of the knife, which can be either a positive or negative depending on your perspective.


The blade shape is sleek and stylish in overall appearance.  The primary bevel is hollow ground, which means that you may want to avoid prying with the edge of your knife.  Of course you shouldn't be prying with the edge of any folding knife, unless you like having a wobbly knife.  The hollow grind makes this knife an effective slicer while allowing for a thick central spine for lateral rigidity and a swedged spine for a diamond shaped cross-section to aid penetration.  This provides a useful balance between tactical design and real world functionality.  The blade is an effective stabber, but also slices things like packing tape effectively.

The hollow grind optimizes slicing for thin things, but not necessarily thick hard things like carrots.  That is why many hunting knives are hollow ground, but most kitchen knives are full flat ground.  The hollow grind allows for a stout blade that slices really well to about a half inch, whereas a full-flat grind is better for a knife that needs to pass fully through things.

The blade edge is very slightly recurved, which looks cool, but can make sharpening the knife a little more challenging.  I did not find the slight recurve to be a significant problem during resharpening, but your mileage may vary.


The handle has a sleek appearance.  The back spacer has some file work that adds a neat subtle decorative touch (I actually didn't notice it until I had the knife for about a week).  The G-10 scale on the presentation side provides decent grip, but is not so rough that it would tear up your pocket.  The frame-lock side is a metal frame-lock...  It is what it is.

Locking Mechanism:

The locking mechanism on the Scrambler is a frame lock, which means that one side of the handle is an all metal frame, a portion if which acts as a spring which slides into place holding the blade open.  I purchased this knife specifically because I wanted to try a frame lock.  The frame lock style is quite popular among high end knives (pioneered by the Chris Reeve Sebenza).  This frame lock compares well to other frame locks I have used.  The handle is big enough that your fingers don't interfere with the lock-bar.  The lockup is solid, though the lockup is fairly deep, around 60%.

One of the attractive things about a frame lock is that when you are holding the handle your hand places extra pressure on the lock-bar.  The exposed lock-bar also looks cool.  The thickness of the metal also makes the lock appear and feel very strong.  However, I don't think that the frame lock is actually any stronger than a liner lock since the cut-out where the lock bar is bent is just as thin as a well made liner lock on every knife I have seen.  Ultimately this means that at the likely point of catastrophic failure there is no real difference in strength.  That said, if you are not being stupid with your knife, the point of catastrophic failure is not going to be an issue.

It's a folding knife, use it as such.  If the frame lock apeals to you then this lock is definitely a plus.  I personally am partial to the liner lock because I like to have non-metal handle scales on both sides of my knife.  I don't really like metal handles, which is why I have personally moved away from frame locks for the most part.  But based on the popularity of frame locks I am pretty sure I am in the minority on this topic.


The Scrambler is an assisted opening knife.  That means that when you press on the flipper tab, a spring helps propel the blade to fully open.  Pressure from the lock-bar against the blade keeps the knife from opening by itself, this pressure that needs to be overcome is called the detent.  Your finger pressing on the tab (which is a part of the blade) overcomes the detent and the spring does the rest of the work.

The difference between an assisted opening knife and a switchblade is that a switchblade is activated by pressing a button or switch on the handle.  It's a silly arbitrary distinction, but it is the difference between a knife that is legal most places where people are allowed to carry pocket-knives and an illegal switchblade.  The difference is silly and arbitrary because there is no real difference in function, but the laws against switchblades are silly and arbitrary because the laws were passed essentially because of mid-20th Century hysteria about the scourge of teenaged gangs and movies like "On the Waterfront."  If you want a little more info you can find it here and as a more in depth and entertaining article here.

Out of the assisted opening knives I have used, the Scrambler is the nicest feeling.  I prefer the assisted opening on this knife to assisted opening knives that cost five times as much.  The opening is swift, easy, and smooth.  There is a satisfying authority to the opening, but it does not feel like it wants to jump out of your hand, it's kind of a magic medium.

Fit and Finish:

The fit and finish on this knife are excellent for the price.  I did not find any flaws with the knife.  The blade was centered.  There were no scratches or mistakes on the knife when I got it.  There was no play to the blade (there is a very slight side to side play now after moderately extensive use).  Lockup is good.  I would be happy with the fit and finish quality of this knife if it were four times as expensive easily.  Of course if it were a Chinese made knife that cost four times as much I would expect a super steel and titanium frame, but I am looking at the quality of workmanship, not materials.  The materials are appropriate to the price point, and the workmanship is excellent.

Use Review:

This knife worked quite well whenever I used it.  The blade sliced things well.  The handle is ergonomic and the deployment was quite nice.  Ultimately however, I did not find myself using this knife a lot.

I strongly prefer back pocket carry, which is a big part of why I didn't carry this knife much.  I feel like if the knife had been tip down I would have probably carried it a lot more.

But ultimately what kept me from using and carrying this knife more, and the reason that I feel ambivalent about the knife, is the reactions this knife in particular provokes.  When I would pull this knife out to cut cords or open boxes people would flat out jump sometimes.  When I loaned this knife and the Kershaw Cryo to a friend so that he could try out some different options, he gave me a great quote, "This knife [Cryo], I pull it out and it is a little pocket knife.  This knife [Scrambler] makes children cry."  When I look at the knife it does not seem particularly threatening or over the top tacticool.  But for some reason people act like you just pulled out a chainsaw/machete/uzi when you open it.  It also seems very big in person, even though I have larger knives that do not seem to inspire fear.

My regular EDC knife is the Lone Wolf T2.  The T2 is bigger in all dimensions than the Scrambler.  The T2 has extensive jimping.  And yet for some reason the T2 does not seem to scare people.  Maybe it's because the T2 has wooden handle scales vs. the Scrambler's dark coated blade.  I don't know.

Ultimately, for whatever reason, I got negative reactions when I would use the Scrambler.  I think it is pretty, but it just bugged me too much to have to people scared of my pocket knife.  Some might argue that it is not my problem if people are irrationally scared of my knife, but I prefer to avoid scaring people.  I am a big bearded guy, I prefer to give people as few other reasons to be scared of me as possible.

The knife cuts well.  Sits in the hand well.  It also makes kids cry.


So there you have it.  The Scrambler is affordable.  It has a nice level of refinement in an aesthetically pleasing package and it won't break the bank.  It has a handle big enough for a large handed guy like myself, but not a huge handle.  The blade is a very useful length of 3 1/2 inches (though it somehow seems bigger).  The knife feels big and solid, but is not actually terribly large or unusually heavy.

And it scares people.

I don't know why it does.  It is not actually huge.  It doesn't have skulls on it.  It doesn't have extraneous spikes sticking out of it.  There is no reason that I can see for the reactions the knife got when I and my friend carried it.

The quality of the knife is top notch for the price.  It's a good knife.  But if you pull it out to open a letter and people act like you are threatening to go on a rampage for no reason, don't say I didn't warn you.  And that is why I am ultimately ambivalent about the knife.  The knife is very good.  Based solely on knife quality, I would absolutely recommend it.  But considering the rather large size and weight of the knife combined with some people's reactions to the knife, I feel torn.  But you could do a lot worse for the cost.  So if the look of the knife appeals to you, I'd say go for it.


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