I’ve been a fan of Kershaw knives for a while now and I’ve owned quite a few over the years. Probably what I appreciate most about Kershaw is that their knives are relatively inexpensive. Kershaw has probably made hundreds of knives over the years that are well under $50.
I recently picked up a Kershaw Brawler and I’ve been putting it through the paces these past couple months. Got to say, for the small price tag this isn’t a bad pocket knife. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its flaws, because it does, but we’ll get into those in a bit more detail later on. For now though, here’s a quick rundown of what I like and don’t like about the Kershaw Brawler.
- Tactical style
- Secure grip
- Good overall performance
- Not in love with the Tanto blade
- The oxide coating can wear off
- Pocket clip is tight
Kershaw 1990 Brawler has a custom American Tanto style blade, with Speedsafe technology. The Brawler has a full length of 7.1 inches and a closed length of 4.1 inches. It has a quad mounted pocket clip so you can carry it comfortably in your pocket.
The handle is a little more than a half inch in width, .56 inches to be precise, which is a bit more than my other folding knives. I tend to wear loose fitting jeans so it has been an issue for me yet. However, I could see this being a problem if you wear tighter jeans.
It weighs around 3.8 oz., similar knives like the Ontario Rat and Spyderco Tenacious are a bit lighter. But, I don’t mind the extra weight of the Brawler because it still feels good in my hand.
Underneath the FRN handle scales there is the stone washed liner. As expected, the knife employs liner locking mechanism.
One important thing to note about the Brawler, this knife is made in China. If you’re not into Chinese made knives, this obviously isn’t the knife for you.
As mentioned, the Kershaw Brawler has a tanto style blade. Tanto’s have never been my favorite blade style. Not from a cosmetic’s stand point, I do like the looks, but from a user stand point I prefer longer cutting edge belly.
But, because they haven’t been my preferred style, I haven’t bought many nor have a used them very much. Having now carried the Brawler for the past couple months I’ve been pleasantly surprised with this blade.
First thing I noticed is the tip is incredibly strong. The blade has a thick spine and it’s carried out to the tip. I was concerned that this blade wouldn’t be a great piercing knife, even though that is the purpose of this blade. I compared the Brawler’s Tanto with a drop point on a doubled up piece of cardboard. The drop point pieced deeper, but the Tanto left a bigger would track.
I expected these results, the Tanto is originally designed to pierce armor and other tough materials. That is why a sturdy and thick point is necessary on this blade.
The blade is made of 8Cr13MoV steel, a common and cheap tool grade metal used heavily in Chinese products. Many popular budget knives make use of this steel including Spyderco’s Tenacious, Persistence and Kershaw’s Cryo & Cryo 2.
Due to this steels less than stellar reputation for preventing corrosion, the blade is coated with a black oxide giving it a slick and tactical style finish.
Although 8Cr13M0v has some flaws, I find it to be a more than adequate blade steel for this type of budget edc knife. So while it may lack certain properties for edge retention and corrosion resistance, being a beater blade you can easily re-sharpen it when needed.
The handle is made up of glass filled nylon or fibre reinforced nylon (FRN). The scales have a mesh like textured design, I find the grip pretty comfortable in my hand and it believe it has the right amount of texture.
The handle is a bit thicker than other similar class knives, and I like it. The shape, thickness and some well placed gimping on the thumb ramp make the knife sit comfortable in my hand. I don’t think anybody would be unimpressed with the handle ergonomics of the Brawler.
The handle is also equipped with a quad carry pocket clip, pretty standard feature with most knives made from this material. It doesn’t take much to drill them so why not do it.
I do have a couple nit-picky issues with the pocket clip, it’s incredibly tight out of the box. You have to really work to get it broken in and loosed up. And tip-up carry is a little showy, I wish it sat a little deeper in the pocket.
The Brawler is an assisted opening knife with a liner lock. The flipper also make its really easy to open the blade. A simple pull on the flipper and the Speedsafe whips the blade open and it locks into place with the liner lock.
The blade does have a dual thumb studs, but don’t get confused, these are technically blade stops. You can certainly open the blade with the “thumb studs”, but I find it more difficult and always use the flipper.
I’ve never had a problem with liner locks and durability, I find them to be just as strong as the many other type of blade locks. One issue I do always have with liner locks, they are difficult to use with a gloved hand. You’ve either got to remove the glove or really get your finger in there to depress the liner.
Another thing I would like to mention, I’ve seen many knives in this price range that the blades do not center up in the linings. That leads me to believe there has to be some blade play. The blade on the Brawler is perfectly centered, whereas my Kershaw Cryo 2 is way off center. You can see the difference in the pictures below.
The blade aligns with the liner pretty efficiently upon deployment as well and I haven’t noticed any blade play on this knife as of yet. I’ve done some pretty heavy duty cutting with it also so this was pretty impressive to me.
Some would say a major fault in Chinese products are their durability. However, my experience with this knife over the past couple months, durability hasn’t been an issue all. I’ve said it before, but I don’t abuse my knives just to see what they can take. I use my knives for everyday tasks, same as anybody else would. Food prep, opening boxes or similar tasks.
I did do some more heavy duty cutting on thicker boxes for testing purposes for this review and the knife performed ok. It cut thought the boxes without issue early on, but did dull out a bit later on in the cutting tests.
I was able to restore the edge with just a little bit of work on a honing rod. So if you don’t overly damage the edge doing tasks not meant for this knife, it’ll perform well for you.
The specifications of Freefall and Brawler are almost identical. The Freefall is actually a bit bigger than the Brawler though. The handle scale is textured with unique ‘K’ design. If one is interested in a slightly larger sized version of the Brawler with a stonewashed blade rather than the black oxide, you should look into the Freefall.
Cryo can be identified from a mile away with its distinct full metal body. It may actually be Kershaw’s most popular knife. It comes in 3 different models; the full metal drop point version, the blackwash drop point version and the blackwash Tanto version-most similar to the Brawler. The Cryo is smaller than the Brawler overall- both in the blade length and the fully deployed length. It is a bit heavier than the Brawler due to its full metal body. The blade itself is a bit arched against the straight edged Brawler.
If one is looking for a knife mostly for outdoor tasks, then the drop point blade of Cryo is hands down better than the Brawler. It is also more convenient to carry due to its reduced size. But if one wants a knife for day to day errands then Brawler is a winner for its reliability, feel and handling.
Ontario Rat 2
If you are looking for a knife that would be flexible enough to be an all-rounder then Rat would be your go-to knife. It is almost similar in many aspects with the Brawler. In contrast to Brawler, Ontario Rat can only be opened manually. The drop point blade of Rats is much more versatile than Brawler. The Rat feels almost the same as Brawler; even though the finger grooves in the handle of Rats give a much firm grip than the mechanical design of Brawler. Although, Brawler is by far the best in looks and style quotient.
So, the equation is clear. If you want a kick-butt foldable knife at your disposal, then Rat should be your choice; and if you are a black blade fanatic and want an overall performer, then Brawler is your go-to knife.
So, would I recommend the Kershaw Brawler as an EDC folder? Absolutely I would, I believe it’s a great little budget EDC.
This knife does have its limitations and may not be everybody’s cup of tea. I find the knife to be incredibly durable for a Chinese made blade. The thick blade spine and sturdy tip make piercing tough materials safe and easy.
But perhaps the best feature the Kershaw Brawler offers is the price, it’s a very affordable EDC and can fit most people’s budgets.