I have followed CRKT (Columbia River Knife & Tool) since they first came on the cutlery scene many years ago. CRKT was actually formed by a couple of former executives from another knife company. It is now solely owned by Rod Bremer. We’ve been great friends ever since I first met him. Rod is now mostly retired. However he has an outstanding management team who runs CRKT and I’ve met most of them – all great folks to work with. As a disclaimer of sorts, CRKT produced my OC-3 double edge fixed blade fighting knife that I did as a collaboration with custom knife maker Brian Wagner. The OC3 was discontinued a few years ago. But folks still contact me, wanting to purchase one. The best that I can do is direct them to the Internet, to see if they can find one for sale.
Origin of The M16 Folders
The late Kit Carson was a custom knife designer/maker in his own right. He passed away in 2014. However, he left CRKT with a good number of knife designs, and his best work was his M16 lineup. Those have been in production for as long as I can remember. A really good knife design, usually lasts about 2-3 years on the market, and then it is discontinued. The M16 line is still going strong, with different versions and designs – a credit to the creative mind of Kit Carson – he knew what he was doing when he designed these knives.
I sure won’t take credit for anything Carson did with the M16 design. However, during one of my visits to CRKT, I was shown some of Carson’s designs, long before they came out. I immediately saw a few changes that could easily be done by CRKT. I thought they could produce these folders with different colored handles, to wit: Olive Drab green for military destined folders, orange for rescue personnel, and blue for law enforcement. It took CRKT a year or two, but they started producing some of the M16 line in those colors.
On to the current M16 lineup: These are, in my opinion the best they have produced. Oh, to be sure, these are still the famous and most sought-after designs. However, they all have a couple things in common. They are assisted opening, and one of the best assisted opening folders that I’ve seen. This assisted opening was designed by world-famous knife maker/designer Ken Onion, in Hawaii. Then, we have the Dead Bolt locking design, and this came from Flavio Ikoma – also of Hawaii and then throw in the IKBS pivoting ball bearing – also from Ikoma, and we have some of the slickest opening folders ever, That Dead Bolt locking system – just might be the strongest lock on a folder ever! And, I’ve tried my best to defeat this lock – couldn’t do it. You can destroy the knife, before the Dead Bolt lock will give way.
All three knives have blades made out of D2 tool steel, and this is some super tough steel. However, it has to be worked and heat treated “just so” and in the end, a proper angle on the blade, so it comes to you sharp and holds an edge a good long time, and can be resharpened without too much effort. CRKT has succeeded in this. All three knives I tested have a nice, evenly applied black coating on the blade and handles – very business-like. The handle material is Aluminum to help keep the weight down.
Right now, as far as I know, this new M16 line will only have a plain edge on the blade, and I have no problem with this. All three knives open with a little pressure applied to the “flipper” on the blade and it doesn’t take much effort to get the blade moving out of the handle, and then the assisted opening device takes over and the blade completely opens and locks solidly in place. Then, to close the blade, you simply press on the Dead Bolt button on the side of the handle and the blade closes – very simple, very easy to do.
BTW, you can watch the video on Ken Onion’s assisted opening method, on these three blades – and you’ll be saying the same as I did “why didn’t I think of that?” sort of thing.
The Big One
Up first is the biggest of the three folders, and it is the M16 – 04DB. It has a blade 3.89-inches long – but it looks longer and more massive. I like it – a lot, and it has a Tanto-style blade – which I also happen to love. A Tanto blade style actually penetrates deeper when used in a “stabbing” move. I forgot to mention that, all three of these knives have holes drilled into the handles – this helps lighten the weight of the knife – not that any of them are overly heavy.
I wouldn’t hesitate to carry the 04DB if I were back in the military – but my military days are far, far behind me. However, this folder would be a great companion to your kit when you go afield, or just going about your everyday routine. It is strong and stout and will hold an edge a lot longer than you think.
Next up is the M15-02DB and this one is the smaller brother to the 02-DB however, it is still a full-sized pocket knife with a 3.12-inch long blade, and it has a Tanto-style blade as well. This folder would be great for everyday carry, for civilians as well as law enforcemen. Its size doesn’t scream “tactical” to a lot of folks and it will do all you ask of it.
The last of the three knives I tested is the M16-03DB and this one has a dagger-esque looking blade. However it is not double-edged, but it looks like it. Many places have made it illegal to carry a double-edged knife blade for some reason. Like the other two folders, this has a blade made out of D2 tool steel, with a length of3.58-inches – not too long, not too small – still it is a full-sized folding knife, that will get the job done for you.
The 04DB has a full retail price of $140, and the little brother 02Db retails for $120 – and ditto for the 03DB – great prices on all of them. And if you shop the ‘net you will find them for less money – CRKT products can usually be found discounted by many Internet sellers.
I’ve been more than a little familiar with the Kit Carson M16 line ever since they first came out many years ago. And, I’ve liked every updated design ever since. However, CRKT outdid themselves this time around. I’m not sure which new feature I like the best. I certainly like the assisted-opening feature – makes them just as fast as an automatic opening folder if you ask me.
The Flavio Dead Bolt Lock – what’s not to like? It locks the bolt open when you get the blade fully extended, and it is just as easy to unlock. Lastly, is the IKBS ball bearing pivot – man, does that ever make opening and close the blade butter smooth.
So, I guess that in the end there was no one single thing I liked the “best” on these folders – all three improvements (changes) make the M16 lineup all that much better in my opinion.
I didn’t do any sort of torture testing on these knives, I know what they are capable of from past experience. I did do a lot of cutting to see how long the D2 tool steel blades would hold an edge – I never did get to the point where the blades actually “needed” to be re-sharpened. However I did touch up the blades, to bring them back to factory sharpness – easy enough to do.
I did test the assisted-opening on all three knives – just sat on the sofa and would press on the “flipper” to open the knives – did this hundreds, and hundreds of times – the blades never once failed to fully open and lock open – my index finger got sore from all the testing.
Editor’s Note: Beware that assisted opening knives are banned in some jurisdictions. In some states you can own them but not carry them. In even fewer states they are illegal even to possess. Check your stae and local laws before ordering an assisted-opening knife.
I like the pocket clips on all three knives. They are reversible from one side of the handle to the other and the blade tip is carried tip-up. Plus the clips are nice and big and stout, It would be tough to break them off.
It will be more than a little interesting to see what other changes that CRKT might come up with for the M16 line. But I’m betting good money, that they find something else, to really make these folders shine even more than they have over the years. Kit Carson was a man who saw the future and he did this collaboration with CRKT knowing that they would bring out the best of the best in these designs over the years. And, yes, they sure have.
From such small beginnings, and a very limited financial process, I’ve watched CRKT grow from just a few designs – good designs – to where they are at today: One of the leaders in the cutlery field. I always look forward to testing their many new products.