The Kershaw Leek is a well-crafted, elegant knife. The slender blade is made with excellent steel and careful attention to detail. The assisted-opening feature can be deployed with either thumb or index finger.
Blade and Edge Integrity
Like the Benchmade Griptilian 551, the blade of the Kershaw Leek bears the brand of its designer. Well-respected pocket knife guru Ken Onion (Hence the Leek moniker… many Kershaw models have onion-themed names) signs off on the overall blade design. Evaluating knife blades is a difficult task, especially when trying to apply objective terminology. Sharpness alone is difficult to assess in quantifiable terms. Adding in consideration for the edge's wear resistance and ability to withstand traumatic deflection and degradation makes objective and comparative assessment virtually impossible. Thankfully, though, quality blades feel good when cutting. Even sharpening a quality blade is a pleasant experience. The most casual user will notice the intelligence and integrity of the Leek blade. It is a sophisticated tool, and the user's experience reflects that.
Now, the Leek blade isn't perfect. The edge withstood a great deal of routine use. However, at some point early in the testing process, a portion of the Leek blade "rolled" over. The thin leading edge of the blade bent over, at a virtually microscopic level. The tester only noticed this well after the damaging event. The tester cannot put his finger on any single traumatic event, nor does he recall any specific heavy-duty cutting task. Generally speaking, this sort of edge wear is a function of a blade that has been ground to too acute of an angle. However, the aforementioned dulling event took place with the edge still in factory-delivered condition. Effective blade maintenance, in this case honing with a standard kitchen steel, brought the knife back into visual and functional shape.
Close examination reveals the section of "rolled" edge, near the tip. Blades inherently must strike a balance between thin and cutting easily, and thicker and more durable. The Leek uses high-end steel and a thin profile, but sometimes the edge will roll
Our award-winning knives tend to have thicker blades. For "everyday carry" and usage, thicker blades seem more appropriate. For game dressing and kitchen use, the thin blade of the Leek is great. The thick blade of the Benchmade Mini Barrage is more durable than that on the Leek.
The Kershaw Leek is thin and small. It is about the same length as Editors' Choice Benchmade Mini Barrage 585 and similar in thickness to Top Pick Victorinox Classic SD Swiss Army Knife. The length, as testified to in our Editors' Choice review, is just right for everyday carry. We awarded the Top Pick award to the Classic Swiss Army Knife because of its ability to virtually disappear on a set of keys.
As an everyday carry pocket knife, the thickness of the Leek is a little too slim. Extended usage and heavy cutting tire the hand with a knife of these dimensions. The blade can be opened much like the other knives in the test, with a thumb stud for either hand. Additionally, the assisted opening spring can be engaged with a not-so-standard index finger flick. Brilliant. The blade locks open with a simple and efficient liner lock. The other Best Buy Opinel No. 8 is a little thicker in the handle, for better grip.
Action series documenting the assisted opening function of the Leek. The blade of the Leek can be deployed as shown here: the user uses his or her index finger to get the blade started. The user only needs to get it moving, then quickly, as shown here, the blade opens the rest of the way with assistance from an inner spring mechanism.
Even more elegant is the mechanism that locks the blade closed. A simple slider blocks the tip of the blade in the handle. If one doesn't require the blade to lock closed, the slider can be left disengaged, or removed entirely. Finally, the pocket clip can be switched for either tip up or tip down carry. If the user carries the knife clipped to his or her right front pants pocket, this means that the knife can be arranged to pull out and deploy in a seamless motion, just like the Editors' Choice winner and the Benchmade Griptilian 551.
The blade-closed lock of the Kershaw Leek. This simple plastic tab holds the blade closed until the user slides it out of the way.
At no point in our routine usage, aside from the blade mentioned above "edge rolling," did the Leek show even the slightest weakness in construction. We carried, cut with, and dropped the Leek all over the US Mountain West. The assembly, weight, and materials inspired confidence and never let us down.
Since we pore over a vast market and select only the best knives available, we tend to get a review subset that is exceptionally well made. There are simply no highly regarded knives on the market that aren't well constructed. We had no problems with the construction quality of any of the knives we tested. That being said, some companies achieve robust construction with the sheer mass of materials, while others do so in more sophisticated fashion.
The Leek is in this latter category. It is thin, light, and smooth. On the other hand, the CRKT Squid and Buck 110 Famous Folder, among others, achieve robust performance at a significant weight penalty. These others just throw more material into the mix for maximum strength and durability. The blade of the CRKT is 72% the length of the Leek, while the overall package weighs 110% of the Leek. They are both well made, but the Leek is lighter with a longer blade. The Opinel No. 8 also accomplishes high construction quality in a more elegant, light-weight fashion.
Portability and ergonomics are generally at odds. Sound ergonomic design, especially when the knife is used for extended periods or heavy cutting, requires a handle with a rounded profile in a radius large enough to fill a loosely clenched fist. On the other hand, carrying a knife in one's pocket is more comfortable when the knife is thin and flattened. The Leek puts a mid-length blade in a thin handle. It virtually disappears in one's pocket. The pocket clip keeps it up out of the mess of change and keys. The frame of the knife can be threaded with a lanyard for other carrying options. We were very pleased with the portability of the Kershaw Leek.
Only the tiniest knives in our test are more portable than the Leek. The Top Pick Victorinox Classic scores better because it is smaller and includes a keychain loop for easy carriage there. The Old Timer 180T Mighty Mite is much smaller than the Leek but has no pocket clip. In overall bulk, the CRKT Squid and the Leek are similar. The Squid is shorter but fatter. Both have great pocket clips. The clip on the Leek can be moved for your preference, while the Squid clip is fixed in one location.
The Leek is best put to use in everyday carry for the discerning user. Even if one pulls out the Leek in a more cosmopolitan company, the polished steel look won't turn anyone off.
The Leek is not inexpensive. In fact, it fits almost exactly in the middle of our price range. However, given the plethora of usability upgrades (locking open and closed, assisted opening, reconfigurable pocket clip) and impeccable construction, this is a knife that will last and last while encouraging more-than-daily use. Considering the balance of cost, durability, and usability, the Leek has earned our Best Buy award.
You can undoubtedly find budget knives for tiny fractions of the cost of the Leek. However, none will come even close to the function and quality of the Leek. It is best to think of the Leek in the category of boutique knives, with budget "gas station" products in an entirely different realm. As compared to the boutique knives, the Leek is on par with the quality at half the price. As compared to budget knives, the quality difference is such that they may as well be different products entirely.
The Kershaw Leek is a finely crafted interpretation of a common tool. It strikes a balance of form and function usually reserved for equipment far, far more expensive. The fact that it comes with a signature blade design and very durable construction merely sweetens the deal. Our testers have become firm converts to assisted opening style knives, in part due to the Leek's elegant variation on this theme.
2016 OutdoorGearLab pocket knife award winners. From left to right: Benchmade Mini Barrage, SOG Trident, Kershaw Leek, and Victorinox Classic.