Table of Contents
1. Monterey Bay Knives Slayback Flipper
Knife fans are certainly no stranger to the name Ray Laconico by now—a man whose knives have been available as customs, as well as mass produced by the likes of Kizer, Alliance Designs, Artisan Cutlery, and most recently though Monterey Bay Knives, which was founded by Laconico and Sanford Owen in 2017. The brand initially relied on a high level overseas manufacturer (unnamed), but they are moving to US-based manufacturing with a new model known as the Sea Otter that will be available soon.
For now, the Slayback Flipper, is the indisputable EDC champ of the brand. The compact linerlock knife features titanium scales, a milled pocket clip, and a Japanese imported San Mai ZDP-189 steel blade. Measuring four inches when closed, and sporting a three inch blade, the Slayback is slim and easy to carry. Its high ground swayback blade profile makes this blade a fantastic slicer, and lastly its opening action is just fantastic.
Pros/Great design both functionally and aesthetically
Cons/Doesn’t come cheap, and not always in stock
Bottom Line/Good reason this thing won Best Factory EDC Knife at Blade Show West
2. Kizer Steven Kempa VK1-FL
A new designer to the market, Steven Kempa’s VK1-FL belies the fact that this is his first ever production knife. Clean and simple, aggressive looking yet quite refined, this knife very much reads as something built by a longstanding maker. The titanium framelock knife runs on bearings and has a concealed flipper tab that delivers incredibly smooth deployment. Kempa’s experience in building handmade fixed blades prior to this build is readily apparent in the ergonomics of this knife as well. You can hate the expression all you like, but the VK1-FL easily lands in the “punches above its weight class” category. On the larger side for the category, the VK1 has a blade length of 3.33 inches, and measures shy of eight inches when open.
Pros/Superb construction and action
Cons/Pocket clip is a bit long for some
Bottom Line/A fantastic knife from a maker that we’ll definitely be keeping tabs on
3. WE Knives Thug
Of the many knives we’ve handled this year, the WE Knives Thug goes down as the biggest little knife out there at the moment. With a 1.13 inch blade width, and a cutting edge of only two and a half inches, this tanky little tanto blade is a serious tool in a compact package. Buttery smooth opening is achieved via a dual thumbstud on the blade, and the blade glides open on ceramic bearings. Available in a handful of finishes, the hefty yet modestly sized framelock is one of many knives from WE that make us appreciate the capabilities of Chinese manufacturing.
Pros/A big knife that’s small enough to past most state carry laws
Cons/A bit heavy in the pocket
Bottom Line/Built like a tank, despite its size
4. Civivi Pintail
As many of you know, Civivi is the more budget-friendly sister brand to WE Knives, and a brand that consistently offers great value. This year much of the knife world was busy losing their mind over the Civivi Button Lock Elementum, but to mix things up a bit, my vote goes to the Pintail. It’s slim, it’s light, it feels great in the hand, and it snaps open effortlessly regadless of whether you use the thumbstuds or its flipper tab. Though it’s on the budget end of the spectrum (under $100), its blade is made of S35VN steel, which we tend to prefer over cheaper D2, VG10, or other entry steels.
Pros/Good steel and great deployment
Cons/Might be too lightweight for some
Bottom Line/A smart entry-level buy with a quality steel blade
5. Tactile Knives Rockwall
The name Tactile will ring a bell for some, as the brand has been around for quite some time now as a Texas-based manufacturer of high quality overengineered pens. The Rockwall is the brand’s first entry into the knife space, and I can say with confidence that Will and the team sure know how to pay attention to manufacturing details. It’s a simple knife, but everything is finished extremely thoughtfully. This knife is simple, clean, functional, and extremely well manufactured from clip to blade tip. They’re currently still working through the order waitlist, but it’s unquestionably worth the wait.
Pros/Slender profile, clever clip, great action, and clean finishing
Cons/Can take a while to get one
Bottom Line/If a slim, non-threatening daily carry is what you’re after, this is it.
6. Blaurock BRB3 V2 Recurve
As it stands, this is one of only a handful of knives to make the list that I haven’t personally handled, however the response his knives have been getting easily earn it this bit of recognition. Only in business for a year thus far, these knives are all designed and manufactured by Jan Ole Blaurock in his own facilities, and are released in limited batches. This recurve is the second variation of the knife, using Bohler M390 steel for the blade and titanium construction for the handles. Its blade is a hair under three inches long, which remains the sweet spot for a good daily carry.
Pros/Low volume production with great attention to detail
Cons/Again a difficult knife to get your hands on
Bottom Line/Though expensive (compared to others on the list), it’s effectively a custom knife at a mass-produced price
7. Demko AD20.5 Shark
At first glance, it seemed like the novelty of Demko’s new locking mechanism—the Shark lock—was the reason behind all of the hype that surrounded this knife in 2021, but there’s much more to it than that. Yes, the back-mounted sliding lock system is novel, but the way it contributes to the knife’s easy opening and closing is kind of genius, and the overall fit and finish of the knife is well worth its $150 sticker price. Thanks to all of this attention online, the Shark is yet another knife that can be a pain to track down for sale.
Pros/Great new locking system
Bottom Line/Good quality in a tool-focused design
8. Vero Engineering Neuron
Vero Engineering is another relatively new upstart in the knife world, Joseph Vero releases knives in relatively small batches, with manufacturing completed by Bestech. Now several years in the business, Joseph has added a compact double detent slipjoint to the roster. The Neuron is fitted with a compact 2.75-inch sheepsfoot blade, and is available in an assortment of handle finishes including everything from G10, to micarta, to carbon fiber. The original pre-order for this model came and went back in August, but there should be more stock arriving in the next couple of months.
Pros/Compact, non locking, and loads of handle options
Cons/On the smaller end of the scale
Bottom Line/A good option for those who don’t want a locking blade design
9. Grimsmo Rask
To be fair, the Rask has been in production for a good while now, but it’s a design that the brand keeps evolving, and one that’s seen a fair bit of changes in 2021. To the untrained eye it may look the same, but the current generation Rask is fitted with a new lockbar insert, the blade choil has been redesigned, and its inner frame has a new X-brace design that was not present on prior models. It is still fitted with a cryo treated RWL 34 steel blade, and every last component is manufactured in Grimsmo’s workshop located in Hamilton, Ontario. To get yourself one of these, you’ll have to sign up to the brand’s list and patiently wait your turn, but it’ll be worth it.
Pros/Extreme high precision manufacturing, quality control, and attention to detail
Cons/Another potentially lengthy waitlist
Bottom Line/Big bucks and a long wait for a knife that you’ll have for the rest of your life
10. Olamic Whippersnapper Bolsterlock
The Olamic Whippersnapper itself is not a new design for 2021, however the announcement of an upcoming bolsterlock version gave me just enough of an excuse to give the brand a little nod here. Yes, we’re also in custom knife territory here, but the Whippersnapper’s shape, size, quality, ergos, and plain old charm make it such a good daily carry knife for those willing to spend a pretty penny. When it comes to design, Eugene and the team will tell you that the sky is effectively the limit. Whether you want something blacked out and plain jane, or something with bespoke sculpted/engraved inlays, they can get it done.
Pros/Stunning unique knives that are as functional as they are aesthetically pleasing
Cons/Beware the sticker price
Bottom Line/Not for everyone, but that’s pretty much the point
11. Keanison Knives Stray Pup
So, if you take the customization of Olamic, bring even more unique materials to the mix, and complete 100% of manufacturing in house, you end up with Keanison Knives (for the record I mean that in the best possible way with respect to both brands). Keanison is another Texas-based powerhouse that has garnered a ton of attention lately, to the point where the team decided to close the custom order books entirely. These days, you’ll find maker’s choice builds of their knives surfacing on EDC Foundry, as well as through a few other retailers. Otherwise, you’ll have to track them down at some of the larger knife/maker shows throughout the US. The Stray Pup, is the brand’s latest release for 2021, available in either a flipper or non-flipper three inch blade configuration. More often than not you’ll see exotic blade materials, including Nichols Damascus from Blue Springs, Missouri.
Pros/Full custom knives done right
Bottom Line/A great team, building top-tier American made knives
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