Knife Review

Review: Ontario RAT-1 Folding Knife

ontario-rat1-hero1

The Ontario RAT-1 may not look like much, but is mentioned frequently as a solid, budget working knife. The price of admission is low, but is this a case of “you get what you pay for,” or is it better than that? To find out for myself, I borrowed one to put it to the test. In this review, I found myself asking the question, “Can a great knife be less than perfect?”


Detailed Specs
Manufacturer: Ontario Knife Company
Blade: Drop Point, AUS-8 Steel, Full Flat Grind, Satin Finish
Rockwell Hardness: 58-59 HRC
Scales: Nylon
Pivot: Adjustable
Locking mechanism: Liner Lock
Opening method: ambidextrous thumbstuds
Clip: 4-Position Right and Left Handed, Tip-Up or Tip-Down
Country of Origin: Taiwan
MSRP/Street Price: $36.95 / $25

Dimensions (measured on this test sample)
Overall Length: 8.6 ”
Handle Length: 4.983”
Handle Thickness: 0.515”.
Blade Length (tip to scale): 3.615“
Sharpened Length: 3.3625”
Blade Thickness: 0.114”
Weight: 5.0 oz


ontario-rat1-hero2

Overview

If you can see past the fugly, you will find the RAT-1 to be a solidly built little workhorse. The knife has dual full liners that are joined together by, count ‘em, five sets of screws.

The blade is flat ground out of AUS-8, my favorite entry level steel, providing a good compromise between edge holding and ease of sharpening. The thumb jimping is large enough to do the job when gripped with or without gloves.

ontario-rat1-jimping

Dual thumbstuds provide ambidextrous opening and the black-painted, four-position clip ensures that any carry preference is accomodated.

ontario-rat1-clip

Like the rest of Ontario’s RAT lineup of knives, the RAT-1 toes the line between a clip point and drop point, featuring a broad blade with a flat grind and pronounced, upswept belly. The main focus of the RAT knives is outdoors performance, and the RAT-1 has features that should appeal to campers and hunters alike.

ontario-rat1-choil

The only thing I dislike about the overall design is the length between the end of the finger guard and the start of the sharpened edge. There is a full 1 ⅛” of unused space, putting the edge far away unless you choke up (mostly an issue while whittling). I say, bring the edge further back or emulate the RAT fixed blades and find a way to give the knife a finger choil like the one found on the Spyderco Cat.

Fit & Finish

It has some. Not a lot, but just enough.

ontario-rat1-back

The liners and scales aren’t particularly flush with each other, and yet there are no gaps and nothing that will raise a hot spot, at least no more than any folder will. Moving on to the blade, the grinds are precise, but the jimping was a little iffy.

ontario-rat1-lock

The liner-lock however impressed me. When closed, the blade centering was near perfect, and I could not discern any blade play, up/down or side to side, when opened.

ontario-rat1-centering

All in all, quite good for a $25 knife. Everything but the lock is adequate, and the lock hits a home run!

Ergonomics

At the core of the way the RAT-1 menuevers is the weight in the handle; the balance point sits just behind the index finger. This is down to the full liners which are not skeletonized, imparting a sturdy feel.

ontario-rat1-balance

The nylon scales however let the knife down. Despite being textured they are fairly slick. On one hand, they wont shred your pockets over time, but they also do not inspire confidence when gripped.

ontario-rat1-closed

Donning work gloves helps, and there is plenty of real estate on the handle for my size-large wearing mitts. Unfortinately opening the blade and disengaging the liner-lock both become more difficult. Even without gloves I found the opening action to be a little stilted. I would not say the knife is difficult to open, but neither is it the easiest to deploy. Your mileage may vary.

ontario-rat1-saber

In hand, a saber grip feels secure and comfortable. Due to the handle weight, a pinch grip on the blade feels clumsy, but moving back and pinching at the pivot brings things back into balance.

Despite not having a true choil, you can choke up and use the area behind the edge as such and doing so feels natural. Just be mindful that there is nothing to keep your first finger from sliding forward.

ontario-rat1-whittling

Despite the size, the RAT-1 carries easily in the pocket. The clip provides just the right amount of retention. Insertion and removal is easy thanks to the smooth scales and I never found the weight to be unpleasant.

TESTING

Sharpening

The more I use it, the more I am sure AUS-8 is the gold standard by which other entry level steels should be judged. It is easier to sharpen than 420HC and holds its edge just as well or better for me.

The simplicity at which a razors edge can be achieved meant I quickly had this knife passing through newsprint with ease.

ontario-rat1-rope

Likewise I could push cut through taut ¾” manilla rope without much trouble, although gloves were appreciated to keep the open scales from digging into my hand.

Food Prep

The blade is just fine for slicing and dicing, especially when using the pinch grip at the pivot point. The high flat grind makes short work of cutting potatos, onions, meats, etc.

ontario-rat1-potatos

The handles however tend to get in the way. Apart from being large for the blade size, the weight is a hindrance when paring vegetables, making things just a little bit clumsy.

On the plus side, the open backed construction makes it hard for detritus to accumulate, making cleanup a breeze.

Woodwork: Tent Stakes, Feathersticks, Drilling, Batoning?

For a knife aimed at outdoors enthusiasts, it had better do a good job at whittling.

ontario-rat1-feathersticks

I started out making some feathersticks and was able to make some pretty good curls. I had no problem getting them to light with a ferrocerium rod. The spine of the knife is just barely good enough to throw sparks from the firesteel, but if you plan on doing this regularly it could stand to be sharper.

ontario-rat1-chest-lever

The knife conforms to my hand in a chest lever grip, but the distant edge was less than ideal for making the points on tent stakes. Still doable, just not as easy as it could be. Choking up on the blade helped to refine the points and notch out the guyline anchors.

The almost-straight-clip of the point is a good shape for drilling, and the rounded pommel makes bearing down on the knife easy.

ontario-rat1-drilling

The tip held up well to the twisting motions as I made a half-dozen divots in a 2×4. Even after drilling into a knot, there was only the teeniest roll right near the tip that straightened out after a a few swipes on the Spyderco Sharpmaker.

As to other types of wood processing I am leaving out a biggie. I did not attempt to split wood with this knife. I do not recommend batoning without a properly sturdy fixed blade, but part of me did want to see if the RAT-1 could handle a light pounding. However, the knife did not belong to me and I didn’t think its owner would appreciate me subjecting the knife to that kind of abuse. So it goes.

Cardboard

Following a round of honing on the Sharpmaker for consistency, I tucked into a pile of cardboard to see how long the RAT’s edge would last on such an abrasive medium.

As always, cuts were made on corrugated cardboard going against the grain.

ontario-rat1-cardboard

I tallied my slices and when I got to the point where things slowed down and the fresh cardboard was crumpling before the blade, I had gotten through exactly 342 linear feet – surprisingly the exact same amount that I cut with the CRKT G.S.D. with the same steel.

Although we strive for consistency, our cardboard test is far from scientific, making the identical result a cool thing to see.

I checked the remaining edge on newspaper, and the blade could still cut as long as I held the right angle.

Conclusions

With the Ontario RAT-1, you are not getting an heirloom that you would be proud to hand down to your children. What you get is a solid, working tool for not a lot of money. And yet, it doesn’t feel designed down to a price point. Rather, it feels like Ontario said “Let’s build the most solid folder possible for $25,” if that makes any sense.

ontario-rat1-hero3

Is there room for improvement? Sure.

G10 handle material would be nice but I’d happily settle for a little more texture on the nylon scales. I would like to see skeletonized liners as well. Manufacturing cost would go up, but it would go a long way towards improving the balance of the knife. Also, give me a proper choil or a little more sharpened edge.

It wouldn’t be my first choice for food prep (the handle is too heavy) or the construction site (too hard to open while wearing gloves). The blade shape should make the knife attractive to hunters and fishermen but the handles would be too slick unless you mod them for more texture.

As is, the RAT-1 is a great beater knife or glove-box backup and is a good option for everyday carry and the outdoorsman on a budget. You can’t ask for better steel in this price range and the lock on this example is as solid as they come.

So, back to the question I asked at the top of this review. Can a great knife be less than perfect?

I think the answer is yes, but this is not the knife that answers the quesion. Despite its shortcomings the Ontario RAT-1 is very good, but not particularly great.

I’m glad it exists though. In my time carrying the RAT-1, I never felt “under-knifed.” It is still a good choice when budget is a primary concern, and I could see myself recommending it in the future. The world could use more knives that are this good for this cheap!

Epilogue

I couldn’t end this review without talking about one other thing.

Some knives simply scream out as a perfect starting point for modification, and this is one of them. Like the literary ugly duckling, the RAT-1 can be more than it seems, but you may have to help it get there. It has solid bones and with a few tweaks, the knife can become something even better.

My biggest complaint with the knife is also the easiest to fix. Stippling the scales with a soldering iron or scoring some lines in them with a hacksaw blade would go a long way to adding needed grip.

You want a nicer looking knife? I have seen some excellent upgrades out there in the wild blue yonder internet. Custom scales, stonewashed pocket clips, etched blades, you name it. The RAT-1 truly does provide an excellent platform for the mod-inclined.

So whether you are looking for a capable knife without breaking the bank or a great starting point for your next project, the Ontario RAT-1 has you covered!

Discussion

13 responses to ‘Review: Ontario RAT-1 Folding Knife

      • an image search always yields inexplicably linked extraneous random other.
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  1. I have owned this knife for quite some time, and I really do appreciate how well it is built. I don’t see it breaking any time soon.

  2. I like mine. I find the easiest way to open is to dig my nail in underneath the thumbstud and flick it open. Mine flicks open really fast.

  3. I don’t see “fugly”, I see plain, unadorned, solid competence. As for not being an heirloom to pass down, it will still be “dad’s knife that he carried a lot”. And likely “granddad’s knife…”. I don’t like thumbstuds for opening; holes and flippers work better for me. The Axis-lock works for me, too.

    • All things being equal, edge retention ought to be similar, but AUS8 will sharpen more easily. I hear 440C is also less forgiving during the heat treat process and is a bit harder to work with. On the spectrum of stainless steels, neither seem to be the best at corrosion resistance.

  4. I love my Ontario RAT-1!
    Solid, sturdy, very ergonomic. All surfaces and edges on mine are even and flush. There are some minute details that I find very interesting and useful: as you can see on the first picture blade is not straight, but rather angled;
    it’s funny that you didn’t like the space between finger guard and start of the sharpened edge, and few pictures down you use that space to choke it – I found that “choke grip” ability rather accidentally and remember I chuckled and thought “oh, sweet”, but, yes, you have to be careful.
    If you look at the lock you’ll see that blade base and lock cut at the angle so as both (supposedly) wear out they retain firm contact and firm lock.
    Overall very solid knife, worth every penny!

  5. This knife replaced my small neck knives. It does every camp chore like food prep and opening bags. It also carves notches for traps, marshmallow sticks, tent stakes and even a frog/fish gig. We usually use dead branches for fires which just break by hand so it really makes big knives a waste of money and weight. A fiskars hatchet will out chop and split “big” wood better than 9″ chopper style knives any day of the week. Thanks for sharing a gem.

  6. Have carried a number of large, hefty folders over 40 years. This Randall’s knife was purchased when they were first released (got black serrated blade) and has been my only EDC since. Nice concise review, my thoughts ditto A. Rice, Sam C. & Sam L. Still a top quality work-horse. Just ordered 2nd. RAT-1 W/plain blk. blade & OD green scales. Also offered in other color scales & blade finishes, as well as a smaller version – RAT-2. Get one & enjoy.

  7. I just picked one up at Walmart on clearance for $7. What an outstanding buy! I love this knife. I put the strop to it on my belt sander and a couple drops of 3 in1 and the thing is like a razor, and opens as smooth as butter.

  8. So the non clipped side for my knife says, “Ontario Knife Co. | RAT | Knives” and in the triangle it says “Randall’s Adventure Training”. At the base of the blade it says “Model 1” and underneath that it says “AUS-8”. However on the side with the clip, I can’t find anyone with the same blade. The clip has the RAT triangle on it, but the blade (after the base saying Taiwan) has “First Production Run” stamped into it. My dad gave me this a few years after he retired from the Navy and he spent 7 years in the special forces. It’s got a black handle with black blade and I haven’t seen anything like it for sale other than like “bootlegged” versions. I’ve been trying to ask my dad about it but he doesn’t seem to know or really care. If anyone knows I’d appreciate some help.

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