Kershaw has been stealing the limelight as of late due to its amazing custom collaborations with notable knife designers like Rick Hinderer and Ernie Emerson. Personally, I feel that Kershaw really knocked it out of the park with the Thermite. It’s got a great set of features with the very special “Hinderer” feel, all for less than 30 bucks! Not my cup of tea in terms of aesthetics, but after using it, I am definitely appreciative of the Thermite, even if not quite a full convert.
Right off the bat, we’ll have to talk about size. The Thermite is a pretty large knife. Its slim design (especially when compared to the Cryo II) masks its sheer presence, as this is definitely not a small EDC. 4.9 inches (12.4 cm) closed length says it all, although I think its general heft in-hand maybe makes me feel like it’s a bigger knife than it is. Sometimes, it’s quite shocking comparatively when I go back and hold the Spyderco Endura, as the Endura is quite a sizable knife, but its lightweight construction makes me think it’s much smaller than it is. I think the Thermite has the opposite problem.
The most notable design quirks of the Kershaw Thermite are the milled out G-10 scales on the non-locking side. They feature a very futuristic, almost circuit-like texture, that looks pretty unique, and whilst it doesn’t offer any real-world benefits (doesn’t add traction in my experience), it does give it a unique flourish that is refreshing.
I think Kershaw missed out on a good opportunity to use a two colour G-10, like blue/black for instance, as the milled out pattern would have really made the Thermite pop. Some food for thought – perhaps a Halloween orange/black G-10 edition with a blacked out blade? Would certainly be nice!
The locking side of the Thermite is a very nicely finished stainless steel frame lock. The steel used is 410, which in my short time with it has performed just fine. I haven’t noticed any lock bar travel, although I will say I am surprised that they didn’t go with 420 steel.
With that said, lock up is solid (more on that later) and the general construction is pretty darn nice with a very even stonewash finish and nicely chamfered edges.
The blade is 3.5 inches (8.9 cm), although with the design of the knife, it does feel a lot longer. When held in a traditional saber grip (check out the pictures towards the end of the review) you will see that the amount of reach is quite substantial and it’s a pretty good choice for those of you who want a longer blade that carries like a much shorter one.
There’s quite a sharp aesthetic contrast between the locking side and non-locking side of the Kershaw Thermite. This does bother me a bit, as the framelock side looks premium (if someone said this was a $200 knife I wouldn’t be surprised), and yet the G-10 side is a great deal more boring and makes it glaringly obvious that this knife is a budget option. Maybe that’s just me though, but I do wish the G-10 was textured and thicker to match the premium feel of the rest of the knife.
The lockup of the Kershaw Thermite is rock solid. One of the advantages of the speedsafe (assisted opening) mechanism is that deployment and full lock engagement is all but assured even when you crank down on the pivot. It literally has zero blade play. In contrast, the Kershaw Chill does develop a touch of side to side blade play if you want to retain an easy deployment by not tightening the pivot down fully.
Obviously, the ideal would be a bearing system like IKBS (like the CRKT Foresight, the Zero Tolerance 0562CF, and the CRKT Swindle use), with very tight tolerances, but for sub $30, I think the speedsafe system is a good compromise.
Like with many Hinderer designs, Kershaw threw a lockbar stabilizer into the Thermite. It works by not allowing the locking bar to overextend, which helps keep the tension strong. Personally, I have never over-extended a framelock, but I can see how it can happen.
It’s a nice feature that works well with no downsides – so why not! It also looks pretty damn cool.
The spanto blade offers a reinforced tip by design, and practically speaking, I think it’s a good compromise between a tougher beater blade and a slicer. Part of me wishes the blade was a touch wider, but I think that’s my love of leaf blades (like the Sage II!) talking, and not due to any perceived performance issues.
That spanto tip is really quite nicely ground. I always have trouble explaining what a spanto tip is, though I think the photograph below explains it perfectly. It’s the best of a Tanto grind (in terms of toughness) whilst keeping a smooth cutting edge all the way down the blade (no hard transitions). In practice, it looks damn cool, and whilst I never noticed any difference when using it, it does seem like it can handle more abuse compared to a regular drop point blade. Taking into account that this is a budget blade with 8Cr13MoV steel – you can afford to throw it around more than you would with a more premium (or delicate) knife as well.
But mostly, I love the way it looks, and there’s nothing wrong that. Cool as hell is a feature all by itself.
Fit and finish is very tight. A lot of that is due to the heavy sandblasting and then stonewashing, as any defects (hard machining cuts, etc.) are pulverized, leaving what feels like a very smooth, even slab of steel. Yes, it’s a cost-saving feature compared to offering a hand-rubbed satin finish, but frankly, I think people sometimes expect too much taking into account economic realities. The more manufacturing steps, the higher the cost!
As is obvious, the Kershaw Thermite uses an assisted flipper to deploy the blade. I should mention that in Canada, this assisted deployment is perfectly legal, but customs and the police don’t always know the law. This knife can deploy very aggressively, so if you live in a state (or country) with ambiguous knife laws that can be subject to interpretation, then please be aware that the Thermite ain’t your grandpa’s whittler. The blade whips out with authority and the styling is less than subtle in nature.
One of two little niggles I have with the Thermite (the other is yet to come) is the pocket clip. I love the deep carry aspect, but unfortunately, the 2 screws used to mount the clip with the scales happen to be proud. I’m aware that cost is always the defining factor when deciding what to include, but I feel that having recessed screws would have made this knife almost perfect. The two screws stick out enough that if you’re wearing jeans with a thicker lip on the pockets, it can be a struggle to push the knife down far enough so that it carries like a true deep carry clip.
I know that was a convoluted explanation, but just check out the photograph below for a clear view.
The screws for the clip do snag, and it can be a touch annoying. My other pet peeve is the choice of using a steel liner on the non-locking side. The speedsafe mechanism does need a liner so that the spring can be held in place, but I wish they used either aluminium (to save costs) or, ideally, a nested liner.
I think designing a knife for mass production using very tight profit margins must be a thankless job because of people like me who have very specific tastes and priorities. Most people care a lot about the steel, design, and lock.
I prioritize ergonomics, balance, and grind. I have never had a high quality liner lock fail on me, and never had a knife made in the 90’s+ with steel so bad that it wouldn’t last a week. Thus, this endless macho contest about how many carbides are in X steel, and how much strength X lock can take just goes right over my head.
When reading my reviews, bare in mind that I write them from my perspective and my perspective only.
The balance is off significantly enough that I find it bothersome. Even though the Thermite has superb ergonomics (superb in a saber grip), I find myself wishing that the weight was balanced (it weighs 4.9 ounces) at the pivot. When a knife is balanced properly it can feel almost like a natural extension of your hands when actually using it. Weight is very important for comfort and it’s one of the principle reasons why I will always love lightweight EDC options like the Spyderco Delica.
If, for some reason, a knife has to have a weight bias, then I would much rather it was blade biased, as blade-biased knives are nice for downward cuts.
My 2 cents.
Flipper design naturally means that you have a nice guard should the lock fail. I am not sure what people do with their knives that forces catastrophic failures on their folders (chopping with the spine of the blade?), but it’s never happened to me.
Obviously, this is not a Cold Steel Rajah II, and thus clearly designed for EDC/tactical/general cutting tasks and not as a replacement for a fixed blade. That’s common sense. But for the record, if the lock fails on the Kershaw Thermite, your digits will have another layer of protection by virtue of a flipper tab.
In a traditional saber grip the general feel of the knife is unbelievably natural. The handle-to-blade ratio is very even. If you have larger hands, you should be just fine. If you have XXXL hands, then attach a lanyard and make do with what you’ve got! ;)
The spine of the blade has about 1 inch of very soft jimping. The steel parts of the knife feel like they have been left in the beadblast cabinet overnight, as all edges are broken and very soft to the touch. Not sure if the jimping is useless or not, but it’s comfortable and when the knife is in use, I don’t over think it.
Choking up on the Kershaw Thermite is a pretty terrible idea, as is the case with pretty much all flippers. No (substantial) choil, but a very sharp ricasso.
Reverse grip is also very natural. The Thermite has a ridged backspacer that runs alongside most of the handle, and the ridges do protrude out somewhat, which aids with in-hand retention, especially in reverse grip.
The spanto tip blade is very stabby, very sharp, and very mean.
Definitely a good choice for tactical applications (self defense, etc.), as the deployment is very natural, with minimal reliance on gross motor skills. The blade offers a lot of reach for its size.
Pinch grip is, again, a mediocre choice. Theoretically viable, but not ideal, and only included for review format consistency.
I almost forgot to mention the thumbstuds (mostly because they are useless). No one will buy this knife to deploy it with thumbstuds so why are they included? Not too sure. They are not used as a replacement for a stop pin and deploying the knife with them is both annoying (blade doesn’t always deploy fully) and scary (assisted mechanism takes over before your thumb has cleared the edge). Almost cut myself twice until I stopped trying!
I think the knife would have looked better with those thumbstuds gone, but that’s just me. Let me know in the comments if you own this knife and have ever used them!
The Kershaw Thermite is, in my opinion, the best introduction to Rick Hinderer knives without the scary price tag. I reviewed the Kershaw Cryo II a while back, but after owning the Thermite I really do feel like this is the knife that will give you a sense of what Hinderer wants his knives to feel like without dropping crazy money on his own productions (not going to debate the whole custom vs midtech vs production nonsense, that’s an article for another time).
Think of the Thermite as a very Hinderer handle (in terms of feel) done on the cheap with an FXM 3.5 blade stuck on for good measure. I don’t say this as a criticism, as I think getting a very clean interpretation of a Hinderer spanto blade for 30 bucks is a privilege in itself, and frankly I am not sure what could be changed beyond removing the thumbstuds without drastically altering the price tag.
Does that look like a $30 folder to you? The Chill can be perceived as cheap and the Cryo is very boring with its drab, grey coating, but the Thermite has a stonewash finish that I have seen on knives upwards of $200 – it’s very, very clean with nicely broken edges (no sharp transitions on the framelock or anywhere else except the edge of the blade!).
From the back, it actually reminds me strongly of a ZT 0566, what do you think?
I was asked a few weeks back what happened to all the Spyderco reviews, and whilst I still love Spydercos, I’ve gotta be honest: knives like the Kershaw Thermite is what happened.
When you have amazing value full sized knives designed by industry heavy hitters like Rick Hinderer coming out on the market at sub 30 buck price points?? Don’t be surprised when I focus on them – even if that means no Spydies for a while!
The amount of value you get is completely bonkers, and if you want a large folding knife with a consistent flipper deployment, super nice ergonomics, and no real manufacturing flaws then this is it. I would place it a notch above the Cryo II in pretty much all categories.