I’m not a fan of gimmicks. But there’s sometimes a very fine line between innovation and gimmick, and in my opinion it comes down to a combination of usefulness of the innovation/gimmick and the execution quality of all other surrounding aspects of the item/product/service in question. For instance, there’s a version of the LionSteel KUR (a pretty great knife I’ll be reviewing at some point) that comes with a body heat activated color changing handle; it appears black, but once it’s been in your hand for a few minutes, it changes to a classic military woodland camouflage pattern. While the rest of the knife is well designed and finished beautifully, as LionSteels usually are, the color changing adds absolutely nothing useful to the function of the knife. Yes, it’s something nobody has ever done before and is kind of neat, but there are lots of things nobody has ever done before because they’re pointless, and if you have to describe something as “neat” when there are so many more compelling adjectives available, it’s probably not all that interesting.* Verdict: gimmick.
However, LionSteel also makes the TRE (another pretty great piece that will grace the site eventually), which is a more gentlemanly knife than its big brother, the KUR. The special feature of the TRE is that it offers three different removable, interchangeable opening methods: thumb disk, flipper tab, and removal of both to make it a two-handed opener and therefore legal in many more places than it would otherwise be. The rest of the knife is well designed and well executed, and the ability to configure the deployment method to your liking is actually very useful. Therefore, the TRE is an example of positive innovation rather than a gimmick.
Now, before anyone thinks they’re reading a mistitled review of a LionSteel knife, let’s get back to the star of this particular review: the CRKT Homefront. This is one that occupies a very uniquely interesting point in the space between innovation and gimmick. The idea behind the Homefront is to have a knife that can be fully disassembled and cleaned without the use of a single tool, which is an awesome concept, and the mechanism whereby they accomplish this is equally awesome in its simplicity and effectiveness. Unfortunately, though, that’s about where the praise ends.
The innovative concept of the Homefront amounts to little more than novelty junk due to poor execution of nearly all of its other aspects.
1. BLADE – 3/10
So I think it’s fairly obvious to most people that the blade of a knife is a pretty important component. It’s kind of what separates a knife from other tools like chisels, screwdrivers, and spatulas. As obvious as this is to me and you, it has apparently escaped CRKT in this instance.
This blade is just badly done. The edge came ridiculously, unevenly ground (I improved it a bit). There’s a deep fuller that serves no functional purpose, is too short to serve the original purpose of a fuller, and is placed too far from the back of the blade to serve as an opening method. There’s so much print on the blade that it looks like a friggin’ billboard. Worst of all, though, is the sharpening choil. Or, I should say, the inexplicably fake sharpening choil. There’s a cut-out at the base of the blade that appears to be a choil at first glance, but upon closer inspection you find that the front of this “choil” was never ground down to finish the edge, and the actual edge stops a few millimeters from the sharpening farce. I don’t understand why anyone would do this. There are many makers who don’t include sharpening choils on some or even any of their knives because they don’t like the way it breaks up the lines of the knife, or in the case of Spyderco, they don’t like the fact that choils can tend to catch rope and other materials when cutting, which can be a nuisance at best and downright life-threatening in some usage situations. That I get, even if I don’t always agree. But to include something that looks like a sharpening choil and then not finish the grind so as to make it usable is just baffling. Someone had to make that decision, and I just can’t comprehend what kind of person would make that decision.
Right behind the faux sharpening choil in terms of awfulness is the steel. It’s AUS-8, which is a pretty lame steel at this point in the knife game anyway, but this has to be the most poorly heat treated (or maybe impure or fake?) AUS-8 I’ve ever encountered. I would love to assume that I just got a factory fluke, but from what I’ve seen online, my experience is more typical than not. The edge on this thing will dull if you look at it too hard, and it got small chips in it while cleaning shavings off the inside of PVC water lines. You read that right; little plastic shavings that are left over from cutting the pipe with a saw and are barely hanging on as it is were more than this blade could handle without chipping. Shortly after that, the tip broke off in a 2″x4″ as I was boring out a small groove. My Kershaw Injection (reviewed previously) — which is running 8Cr13MoV, a more “budgety” steel than AUS-8 — reamed out dozens of PVC and DWV lines without any issues. What the hell, CRKT?
The really sad thing is that the overall design of the blade is pretty great. I could’ve done without the almost-but-not-quite recurve at the rear portion of the blade, but the stock, hollow grind, and generously bellied shape of the blade would’ve made this an excellent, versatile work knife that would likely have fared very well in a hunting/meat-processing role as well. As it is, though, this blade is good for only the lightest duties, which is simply not what it would seem to have been designed for.
2. HANDLE – 5/10
Like the blade, the overall shape of this handle is really good. That translates to some pretty fantastic ergonomics, which is one of the only things the Homefront has going for it. The index notch is sizable enough to accommodate a reasonable variety of finger/hand sizes, and the handle swells smoothly and subtly towards its base to really fill the palm nicely. There isn’t a single hotspot on this thing, not even at the clip, so it is a knife that’s very comfortable to hold. Unfortunately, this is yet another aspect of the knife that could’ve been great, except it wasn’t very good.
That is, while it’s certainly comfortable to grip, this comfortable grip doesn’t translate to an easy grip. At least, not in the environments and situations for which the Homefront was ostensibly designed. The scales are aluminum, which is usually not a good thing, and here it’s some of the most slippery I’ve ever encountered, in spite of the lines cut in the scales and even when my hands are completely dry. Wet? Don’t think so. Muddy? Good luck. Bloody? Forget about it. I personally didn’t attempt to use this for any game processing, but judging by how difficult it was to hold onto when my hands were wet, I can only imagine how challenging a little blood would make it.
Seriously, why would you make a knife whose purpose is to be easily field strippable and cleanable — something you don’t really need if you’re not planning on taking it into austere conditions and situations — and then make the scales smoother than Bruce Willis’ freshly shaven head? Who needs to get into the guts of their knife and clean it top to bottom who isn’t putting it through some kind of hell? It makes no sense. Yet again, we have a production choice that seems to fly completely in the face of the design. I can’t understand it, and I hate it. The ergos are so good, but they might as well not be when the scales are more slippery than a moray eel coated in baby oil.** To be fair, there is some decent jimping along the upper back of the handle and the backspacer, which is the only thing keeping this knife from flying out of your hand if a single bead of sweat comes between your palm and the scales.
3. LOCK – 8/10
The lock here is actually not bad. It’s a liner-lock and it works quite well with only the slightest bit of side to side blade play, although I believe that’s more a result of the unique disassembly mechanism and not a fault of the liner-lock itself.
Something that does concern me, though, is just how petite the liner portion of the liner-lock really is. The Homefront doesn’t actually have any liners; the aluminum scales connect to each other via the back-spacer and pivot/disassembly mechanism, and that’s it. The liner-lock, such as it is, is actually just a lock bar screwed into the very thin clip side handle scale with two very shallow screws. This seems like a pretty major potential failure point to me, as the lock bar isn’t a flexible part of a much bigger, solid whole, but is relying on the two tiny screws and tiny threads to bear all the pressure of the flex when the lock is being manipulated and when the knife is closed and holding the lock pressed up against the scale. Maybe I’m just nitpicking here, and I’m not removing many points for this since I had no issues with the lock even after more than a month of beating it to hell and now after having owned it for over a year, but it really does seem like just one more way they took the cheap, crappy route. It wouldn’t have been that hard to nest a real liner on this side of the knife so as to give the lock bar some tried and true durability, or simply use better materials and make it a frame-lock.
4. CLIP – 5/10
Whoever it was that oversaw this production had the right idea with the clip, but like most points on this knife, they ruined it in the execution. It’s a matte black, deep carry, stainless steel spring clip, it has a decent ramp to get it over your pocket fabric, and all edges are chamfered so as it make it disappear painlessly into your palm. I always appreciate a deep-carry clip, and I generally prefer spring and wire clips to sculpted, so it really checked all my boxes when I first handled the knife. However, there are some pretty significant problems that I’ll say more about in the carry section, but for the moment I’ll mention that the clip must be made out of aluminum or some other softer metal because it started to warp and loosen up after a couple of weeks of carry. Also, the space between the clip and the scale is very wide at the top of the deep-carry loop, and as a result there isn’t actually much of the clip gripping your pocket. A pocket clip that has trouble clipping to my pocket? This should be fun.
5. DESIGN – 10/10
For all the many faults in the execution of this design, the design itself is pretty clever. This CRKT Homefront is a production version of the original, custom Homefront designed, built, and carried by the legendary Ken Onion. Ken Onion is obviously no slouch in the realm of knife making and is a legend for a reason, so I’m frankly a bit surprised and perplexed that he would’ve licensed this design to CRKT with apparently little oversight or guarantee that they would produce it well.
Still, again, the design is clever. The blade and handle shapes both demonstrate an insightful eye, as mentioned before. What’s much more interesting and genius in its effectiveness and simplicity, though, is the disassembly mechanism. The pivot pin has a switch on the presentation side of the handle, and when you push that switch forward it unlocks the top portion of the scales. Then you turn the small wheel subtly nestled in the jimping of the backspacer and, voila, the scales separate and you have access to everything. This is a wonderful concept. I tend to put most of my knives through the ringer, and the ability to disassemble this easily, in the field, without the need for any tools means that if it gets full of dirt, mud, or any other crap, I don’t have to wait until I’m done with a job or until I get home to get the offending and potentially damaging junk out of it. It seems like a less brilliant concept in the context of outdoor sports and recreation though (what it was seemingly marketed towards), as a fixed blade could accomplish all the same tasks and not need to be disassembled and cleaned in the way a folding knife would, even this one. But for people in work environments/situations like my own — plumbers, HVAC technicians, electricians, residential contractors, etc — carrying fixed often isn’t doable, and a knife like the Homefront is therefore incredibly convenient and awesome. Well, it would be if the production had lived up to the design.
However, I can’t help but feel like this is an enormous missed opportunity; not just in the crappy production but in the small scope of the production as well. What we have in the Homefront is, essentially, a modular knife. There’s no reason for this to be a single knife with a single set of parts (yes, I am aware of the other CRKT knives out now with the Field Strip mechanism, but they don’t accomplish what I’m getting at). This aluminum scaled, AUS-8 bladed knife could be the base knife, with alternative, upgraded blade options available for purchase in, say, CPM-154, S35VN, and a premium option in M390. The blades could also be purchased in various finishes, such as stonewashed, satin, polished, DLC or PVD, and so on, with a couple more shapes like tanto and spearpoint that would still fit in the same handle as the current drop point offering. They could even offer different grind types, up to or including compound grinds. And it would only make sense to offer scales in other materials as well. The usual suspects — titanium, G-10, FRN, and micarta — would all be awesome, and offered in a variety of colors and finishes. Of course, this would only work if the fit and finish of the original product and all upgrade parts was excellent, but so long as it was, this would easily have the potential to be an overwhelmingly dominant force in the knife market. But, unfortunately, none of this exists beyond this paragraph. CRKT is inexplicably playing small with a design that could possibly make them the most successful knife company out there.
As it is, though, the Field Strip mechanism is still very cool and useful and it works the way it’s supposed to, so I have to give credit where credit is due.
6. DEPLOYMENT – 7/10
Deployment on the Homefront is actually pretty good. The action is dialed in well enough that you can’t flip the blade out purely with centrifugal force but it also reliably deploys every time you hit the flipper tab, and it takes concerted effort to get a partial flip. Opening and closing are both fairly smooth; it’s not going to drop shut for you, but it can be closed reliably with a reverse flick once the lock has been disengaged. The flipper tab is on the more unique side in that that it’s completely round; the tab comes straight out and then forms into a circle with a smaller circle cut out inside it. My hunch is that this is intended to resemble the barrel mount on a bayonet since the rest of the knife seems very G.I. Joe/WW2 themed, but I don’t know that for a fact. Either way, it’s actually not a bad way to make a flipper tab as the tip of your finger tends to fall in on the inside of the round tab, which makes slipping off difficult. If you miss a little though, there are cuts made in the tab that aren’t quite jimping but are still generally enough to grab your finger. The one significant flaw is the thumb rest jimping in the back of the scales. While they’re somewhat helpful in keeping this slippery handle in your grip, they also are right in the path of your finger as you switch the tab, so that every time you open the knife you tenderize your fingertip a little bit. It’s not like we’re talking about serious bodily harm here or anything, it’s really no more than an annoyance, but the fact is that it could have been done much better and, once again, CRKT either didn’t know enough or care enough to do it right.
7. FIT & FINISH – 7/10
I already mentioned how poorly the blade was finished and adjusted the score accordingly, so I’m not going to include that in this category.
As much as CRKT is commonly known for fit and finish issues, the Homefront (or at least, this particular one) is put together pretty well and has no huge issues. The first and most significant fit issue that I noticed is that the disassembly mechanism doesn’t hold together quite as tightly as it should, so when the knife is open there’s just the slightest bit of side-to-side blade play. It’s not awful, but it’s there, and light blade play usually leads to more blade play, which is obviously a real problem. The only other issue I noticed was that the angle at the top of the scales is not even with the angle of the back of the blade, making for inconsistent lines when the knife is closed. In comparison to many of the knife’s other sins this one isn’t so bad, but it’s still worth mentioning.
8. CARRY – 3/10
The “Carry” and “Clip” categories are pretty dependent on one another generally speaking, although there is a large enough number of exceptions in my experience to warrant the separation into two categories. This is not one of those exceptions.
The Homefront isn’t a lightweight knife, sitting at 4.8 oz, so it would be helpful for carrying purposes if the clip actually worked. But alas, that would be too much to ask. From the moment it went into the pocket of my work pants it slid and bounced around with every step due to the lack of actual contact between clip and fabric. The one part of the clip that’s tight enough against the scale to do anything is so miniscule that it basically becomes a pivot point for the weight of this hefty knife to travel every time you move your leg. But it gets lovelier. After about two weeks, the knife started sliding out of my pocket whenever I was horizontal. That’s right. The lousy design and material of this clip, coupled with the weight of the knife was all it took. If I were, say, in a crawl space working on my back, this thing just started slipping right out of my pocket and into the dirt. I guess it’s a good thing it disassembles so easily since you can’t count on it to stay in your pocket and out of the grime. Is the quick disassembly really saving you any time though, if you’re having to clean it five times as much as other knives because it won’t stay in your pocket?
9. VERSATILITY – 3/10
Without taking into account the fact that “versatile” isn’t a word that could ever be used to describe something that mostly fails to adequately perform its primary functions, the Homefront still isn’t a versatile knife. It’s large and heavy and looks very military-esque, while also looking a little bit like a toy. It’s not going to dress up or be at home in most boardrooms or offices, but it could probably hang at a tailgate or barbecue without raising any eyebrows. Thanks to the not-too-chunky stock and hollow grind, it’s actually a decent slicer when sharp, just be aware that cutting anything tough (which includes cardboard as far as this knife is concerned) kills the edge in no time, and if you were to use it to process game then you’re talking major dents and rolls in the edge if you so much as nick a bone. Food prep is doable, but it could only pass the tomato test with a brand new edge and some careful cutting motions.
So with all that said, I don’t really know what you would use this for regularly that wouldn’t also require daily sharpening. My usage mostly involved cutting cardboard, plastic sheeting, various kinds of plastic pipe, small roots, stripping wires, and light wood carving, with food prep only for the sake of review, and it didn’t shine in any of those tasks or consistently go more than a day without needing the edge touched up in a major way just to be usable again. It’s not a good tool, and it’s not good pocket jewelry; and that’s all I have to say about that.
10. MAINTENANCE – 10/10
Obviously, this is the only place where the Homefront truly shines. I’ve heard that some of them don’t fit together properly, and therefore can be a nightmare to disassemble and put back together, but mine has not had that problem at all, thankfully. I can tear it down in five seconds or less, and reassembly only takes a second or two longer.
With the field strip mechanism, the knife separates into three parts: the blade, and the right and left scales. You can also remove the clip, the lockbar, the backspacer, and the disassembly mechanism itself with the removal of a few torx screws of various sizes. Which, let’s be real, you’re probably going to want to do anyway if you’ve actually gotten this knife dirty. Water, mud/dirt, blood, oil — they all like to get in grooves and crevices, and can cause problems if not dealt with. And while that sort of calls Field Strip Technology’s real efficacy into question, removal of these other parts is simple and easy, and thankfully CRKT seems to have avoided using soft screws on this knife.
Something else that’s a bit different about the Homefront, and actually a good idea in this case, is that the blade rides on two integral Teflon washers. They’re secured (probably glued) to the scales so that they can’t fall out and get lost when field stripping the knife, which would obviously be a good idea no matter what sort of washer they were going to use. However, I really believe Teflon was the right choice here, as it will not only bond to the aluminum scales better and for longer than a disparate metal would, but will also not be significantly affected if water or some other chemical gets stuck around/behind/under it. CRKT didn’t do a lot right with this design, but this was a good idea.
FINAL SCORE – 61/100
The Homefront is a major disappointment. It could have been a very good knife, and the design has the potential to become a truly great knife. Whether CRKT were to take my advice and turn this into a modular knife with the ability to upgrade multiple components, or simply improve production quality and get the basics right, there’s plenty of room for added value. And if they really want to make their Field Strip Technology make more sense, they’ll need to ditch the liner lock, turn the clip side scale into a frame lock, and maybe integrate the backspacer a little better, thereby easily eliminating most of the current water/chemical/gunk collection points that wouldn’t require a major overhaul of the Field Strip system.
But as it stands, the Homefront, with its pioneering Field Strip Technology, is a gimmick. A gimmick with potential, yes; but in its current iteration, a gimmick nonetheless. There’s nothing you can do with the Homefront that can’t be more easily accomplished with a fixed blade knife, which is the more capable and durable choice in outdoor situations anyway. In both my outdoor pursuits and my work in plumbing, I can honestly say that this knife added nothing to my life but frustration; and unless your usage doesn’t extend beyond opening the occasional box, cutting an apple here and there, and/or Instagram, I feel confident in warning you that it won’t add much to your life either.
*With the exception of my mother-in-law, who uses it very sincerely.
**Speaking from experience.