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?”
Manufacturer: Ontario Knife Company
Blade: Drop Point, AUS-8 Steel, Full Flat Grind, Satin Finish
Rockwell Hardness: 58-59 HRC
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
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.
Dual thumbstuds provide ambidextrous opening and the black-painted, four-position clip ensures that any carry preference is accomodated.
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.
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.
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.
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.
All in all, quite good for a $25 knife. Everything but the lock is adequate, and the lock hits a home run!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!