Columbia River Knife and Tool’s ‘Tuition’ flipper is one of the first knives from young designer Gerry McGinnis. He’s the youngest designer CRKT has ever worked with (he’s still in college) and the Tuition’s name gives you a hint where he spent his contract money.
A Sheepsfoot blade may not fit your needs, but McGinnis’ freshman effort is in every respect a comfortable and well-executed knife as well as a great value.
In dry technical terms, the U.S.-made Tuition is a folding liner-lock pocketknife with a modified Sheepsfoot blade, flipper opening, and hand-figured Micarta scales. It weighs 3.4 ounces, and has a removable, right side, tip-down pocket clip.
The Tuition’s 2.88″ blade is made from a thick .12″ slab of 8Cr14MoV with a slightly modified Sheepsfoot profile. The beveled tip, slight belly, and thumb jimping distinguish it from your grandfather’s Sheepsfoot, but it works pretty much the same way when you’re cutting things.
The stainless-steel liners are treated in a very attractive multi-colored Titanium coating, which sets off well against the dark green and black of the laminated Micarta scales.
The blade tightness is adjusted with a small Allen screw. The blade was a little wobbly from the box, but the flipper worked very smoothly. I had to torque it down about 1/8 turn to eliminate the wobble; this made the blade difficult to open, but a drop of extra-fine gun oil soon had it flipping smoothly again.
The Tuition is more than 1/2″ thick; this is a bit chunky for an EDC but its rounded corners make it more comfortable than you’d expect. The swell of the Micarta scales gives it a firm, comfortable feel in your hand, and the deep choil and finger guard means you’ll never lose your grip and find yourself holding the naked blade.
This comfort and control comes despite the fact that you’ll only be able to fit three average-sized fingers on the short-ish grip. The grip may be stubby, but it’s comfortable.
Opening with the flipper is quick and easy, but I occasionally wished that Gerry McGinnis had added some opening studs on the blade as well. There’s plenty of room for them when the blade is folded into the deep finger choil, and sometimes (depending on your grip) a thumb stud is just easier to use than a flipper. If I had any skill with tools I’d drill and tap the blade and add them myself, but that’s just me. And I don’t have any skill with tools.
The blade is easy to get started opening, but don’t go soft on the flipper lever when you open the Tuition. The heavy blade requires a solid flick to throw it open, and there are no thumb studs to fall back on if you don’t put enough muscle into the flipper.
I usually like tip-up pocket clips, but the Tuition’s large flipper and easy-opening blade would probably open itself if you wore it tip-up.
I evaluated the Tuition’s sharpness, cutting ability and edge retention using the three-part test suggested by our resident knife maker, Will Woods.
The Tuition ‘s thick, sturdy blade didn’t excel at shaving through the pages of my local Sports section. The knife was reasonably sharp out of the box, but couldn’t cut the newsprint cleanly.
I dulled the blade in the cardboard test, and I touched it up with my Smith’s diamond steel/ceramic sharpener. (I was careful not to re-profile the edge.) After a quick leather stropping, the touched-up edge did much better on the newsprint. It could slice the newsprint edge much of the time, but not as reliably as the sharper Kershaw Skyline.
As before, I laid 3/4″ manila rope on a wooden cutting board and cut through it with a variety of strokes. No matter how hard I pushed, pulled or chopped, I couldn’t cut through the rope in a single stroke.
Non-serrated blades are rarely great at cutting through rope, and the Tuition’s lack of any kind of belly made it even less great. Clean cuts of any kind were difficult to achieve, and I really had to saw through the 3/4″ manila. It was exhausting.
(Note: The Tuition is also available with CRKT’s nifty ‘Veff’ serrations, and the half-serrated Tuition would likely have kicked some serious ass in this test.)
The Tuition’s thick blade doesn’t cut cardboard terribly easily, but it cuts it cleanly. And it keeps on cutting basically forever without any blade damage. As with other knife tests, I pulled the blade (across the grain) through 20″ strips of corrugated box cardboard until it became noticeably duller and began to tear the cardboard instead of cut it.
The blade felt slightly less sharp after the first 40 linear feet. Although it kept cutting cleanly, it required even more cutting effort than before. My slicing hand didn’t mind too much (because the grips are so comfortable) but my cardboard-holding hand was cramping pretty badly by the time I eventually called it quits.
How long did the Tuition cut cardboard before I gave up? 73 linear feet, before it even started to tear. This is substantially longer than our previous record-holder, the excellent Kershaw Skyline. Even after 73 feet, the Tuition’s blade was only tearing the cardboard a little but, but slicing was taking an awful lot of effort. When I finally said no mas, the cutting friction had made the blade too hot to touch but there was no visible blade damage. It wasn’t turned, notched or rolled; it was just a little dull.
Grade: B+ (A for durability, B- for effort)
My favorite feature is the comfort of the Micarta handle.Although it’s only three fingers long, it gives a firm and very comfortable grip for extended use. They also look absolutely awesome, and they don’t get impossibly slippery when wet.
I also appreciate the Tuition’s solid lockup and good fit and finish.
I’m just not a Sheepsfoot kind of guy. The Tuition’s blade is fine for many cutting tasks, but the blunt tip doesn’t pierce well and the lack of a belly takes away some of its versatility. It’s purely a matter of personal preference, but if I had a grinder I’d move the edge back at the tip and give it a drop point.
I really wish I’d tested the serrated version, and it would be nice if the pocket clip were reversible for left-side carry.
RATINGS (Out Of Five Stars)
A very attractive, organic-looking knife. The only flat notes are the dull-finished Allen screws and the black plastic liner spacer.
It’s reasonably sharp, nearly unbreakable, and holds a half-decent edge basically forever. It’s also easy to sharpen. On the negative side, it pierces poorly and it’s not very good on fibrous cutting tasks like rope. Add half a star for the partially-serrated version.
Easy opening with a comfortable grip. However, the clip only works for right side tip-down carry.
One of the strongest folders I’ve seen. You’ll never worry about breaking the blade, even at its tip.
Overall Rating: ***1/2
A very rugged and comfortable knife, but a Sheepsfoot isn’t the best all-purpose blade shape. The serrated version would get four stars for its improved cutting performance. It’s a hell of a deal for less than $30.
Here’s Gerry McGinnis himself, introducing several of his knives. I think we’ll see a lot more from him in the future.