FDCam Reviews: The CRKT Big Dog, M16-14Z Emergency Rescue

Blade reprofiled by Arin at FDCam

QUICK LOOK-

Price:

$54.99 – $89.99

Overall Dimensions:

  • Weight:  6.2oz (confirmed)
  • Open Length:  9.25″
  • Closed Length:  5.5″

Blade:

  • Style:  American Tanto
  • Primary Grind:  Hollow
  • Cutting Edge:  Combination Plain/Serrated   (V-Grind/Chisel Ground Serrations)
  • Length:  3.75″
  • Thickness:  .138″ (3.5mm)
  • Steel:  Aichi AUS-8

Other Features:

PROS-

  • Excellent value
  • Solid build quality, durable blade design, and rock solid lock-up
  • Carbide glass-breaker works effortlessly
  • Generous proportions make for easy handling with thick gloves
  • Fast blade deployment

CONS-

  • Large flipper and pointy carbide window breaker make this M16 a real pocket hog
  • Our test knife was not shaving sharp out of the box (though FDCam will pre-sharpen any knife we sell, free of charge)
  • While very sturdy, the Auto-LAWKS safety makes one-handed closing basically out of the question
  • Handles need more texture for better grip

BEST USES-

  • Duty knife for firefighters, EMTs, and police officers
  • Glove-box knife for self-rescue from vehicles
  • Light duty survival knife
  • Tactical/self-defense

COMPETITION-

If you don't have to use the knife with gloves, one of the smaller Emergency Rescue M16's would be easier to carry.Intro:  Formed in 1994 by two former Kershaw employees, Columbia River Knife and Tool (CRKT) has gained a reputation for building quality knives and tactical/rescue tools.  Partnering with some of the most talented knife designers in the country, many of CRKT’s knives have become industry staples.

One of the designs that was critical in getting CRKT off the ground was Kit Carson’s excellent Model 16 (M16).   Released in 1998, it helped establish CRKT as a one of the top manufacturers in the country.  The versatile design of the M16 works well in many different sizes, configurations and applications.  That has allowed CRKT to market it as anything from a smaller, everyday pocket knife to a large, tactical/military folder.   The subject of this review will be the latter.  An emergency services version of the substantial M16-14Z, known as the “Big Dog”.

Overview:  A pocket knife is an absolute must have for any well prepared first responder.   A knife that also has the tools you need to begin the extrication process, enhances your effectiveness on-scene.   The CRKT Emergency Rescue series of knives incorporate these features (namely a seatbelt/webbing cutter and a tungsten carbide glass breaker) into an already proven platform, the M16.   The Big Dog is the largest knife in this series.

The index finger opens the big M16

Simply pull down on the large flipper and the blade will snap out quickly

Action: Like all M16’s, the Big Dog is a manual folding knife with a “flipper” style opening mechanism.  With a flipper action, the operator uses his index finger to pull down a protrusion of the blade tang on the back side of the knife. This causes the tip of the blade to swing out and lock in the open position.  This method of opening is easy to master and perfect for operators wearing gloves (which any responder should be, if working any kind of rescue or extrication).

The action on the M16-14 is smooth and quite fast for such a big, heavy blade.   As it is not spring assisted, it achieves this by way of excellent balancing of the blade, proper positioning of the pivot (which rides on copper and teflon washers), and the leverage provided by the large flipper extension.

CRKT Big Dog bites.

Watch out for the seatbelt-cutter if you use the thumbstuds…It’ll getcha!!

The knife can also be opened using the thumbstuds.  This method will swing the blade out with authority, if you can get the hang of it.  But the arrangement of the thumbstuds against the handle make this nigh on impossible, especially with gloves on.  While the studs themselves are nicely checkered, you just can’t get much purchase on them because they are situated right against, and flush with, the frame.

The other big problem in using the thumbstuds is that if you don’t change your grip to choke way down on the handle, the unradiused edges of the seatbelt cutter will bite painfully through the skin of your index finger as the cutter flips around with the blade.

Also visible is the aggressive checkering on the thumbstud.

The Auto-LAWKS system present on all M16 series knives. This lever must be pulled to the rear before the liner lock can be disengaged to close the blade.

Locking Mechanism: The CRKT Big Dog is a tough knife with an equally tough locking system.  It uses a basic liner lock to ensure the blade does not close on the operators fingers, but adds an extra measure to further enhance safety.  While liner locks alone can be very stout, with a blade this large, lock failure could be a life-changing event, so all of the M16 Emergency Rescue knives come with CRKT’s proprietary Auto-LAWKS safety.  It consists of a steel tab that falls between the liner and the lock to block any accidental disengagement of the liner lock.  Closing the blade requires two steps:   The operator must first pull back the Auto-LAWKS safety, then press in the liner lock.

Personally, I’m kind of ambivalent about the additional safety.  I don’t like having to use two hands to close the blade.   Plus, I mostly carry a knife for convenience and the added step just feels like it detracts from that.   And if you are using a knife as it is supposed to be used, the lock should never really come in to play anyways.  But, the M16-14ZER is really more of a tool than a pocket knife, so for its given role, I suppose the lock really does make sense.  Also, a recent incident has me further re-thinking my feelings on the safety.   About a month ago, the liner lock on a co-worker’s Kershaw Blur collapsed, doing considerable damage to his fingers.

A very tough tip.

The “american tanto” has a kind of drop point to it. Not quite as strong as a traditional tanto tip, but still capable of withstanding a good deal of abuse.

Blade:  The blade on the Big Dog is a large, hollow-ground slab of AUS-8 stainless steel.  It has a combo-edge, meaning that it has both a serrated section and a plain section for greater versatility.    The tip is an “american tanto” which basically means the knife has two separate edges.  The edge on the tanto section in front is ground at a higher angle which can can give greater tip strength when combined with the proper overall blade design.  In my use, I have found the tip on this knife to be very strong.  It has withstood some light prying and been stabbed into tires and wood without any sign of damage or bending.

The M16-14 is an excellent choice for fire/rescue personnel

After some serious abuse, the edge had to be re-profiled. But surprisingly, the chips were all fairly small, and the knife is back to hair-whittling sharpness.

The primary bevel on the plain-edge section is an unequal v-grind, that almost cuts like a chisel ground edge.  Great for making shaving/whittling type push cuts, but not as adept at making nice, smooth draw slices.   The flatness of the tanto style blade lacks any “belly” for making nice draw cuts, but this kind of cutting is not so important in emergency services.  A straight edge keeps firm contact with the material being cut and is better for cutting rope and webbing.  As on most knives, the serrated section is chisel ground  with a two-step pattern of one large serration followed by two small serrations.

CRKT’s choice of blade steels is a good compromise between performance and cost.  Made by Aichi Steel Corporation of Japan, AUS-8 used to be considered one of the top performing knife steels.  These days it has been surpassed by higher tech American steels, like Crucible’s ubiquitous S30V.   Coming from a knife snob, AUS-8’s edge retention is not amazing, but good enough.  But if you’re normally used to inexpensive Chinese made knives, you will certainly notice the difference.  Sharpening the Big Dog is exceptionally easy.  Its blade has no curves or “belly” to make sharpening difficult.  And AUS-8 will take an absolutely surgical edge if you have the skill (or the right equipment).

Thankfully AUS-8 isn’t all that brittle, and the chips were small enough to allow the blade to be as good as new after a reprofile.

I did a fair amount of testing of the edge holding on the knife.  At a recent extrication, I had occasion to cut through about 2ft of windshield with it when our sawzall broke down.  Anyone who has tried this can tell you that glass is absolutely brutal on a knife’s edge.

While the M16-14ZER made quick work of the first foot, it slowed significantly after that.  The serrated portion was still cutting somewhat, but the plain-edge part of the blade was trashed.  A knife with a tougher steel and a fully serrated blade, like Spyderco’s Assist, would work a bit better for this.  But really, this only applies to a self-rescue situation, as we who are in emergency services should be using the correct tools for such work.

Even after a regrind, the v-grind is unequal. Not a knock against it, just a characteristic.

The large, tanto blade on the M16-14ZER makes it great for tactical and self-defense applications. As a pure rescue blade, however, I’d like to see it the point ground off.

I would like to see CRKT come out with a more rescue-oriented blade shape.  Something like a sheep’s foot or even better a flat point for prying like the Spyderco Assist or Benchmade Triage.  But that would decrease the knife’s usefulness in a tactical role.

Webbing/Seatbelt Cutter:  The webbing cutter on the Emergency Rescue series is incorporated into the flipper on the blade.  It is intended to be used with the knife in the closed position but can also be used with the blade open.  However, because the blade on the M16-14Z ER is not blunted, the knife should never be in the open position when in close proximity to patients.  This means that the webbing cutter is your only option for removal of clothing to assess injury.

Also effective on patient's clothing for inspection of injuries.

The cutter is made to be used with the blade in the closed position.

I’ve used the cutter a few times now, and it works as advertised.  It zips through jeans and seatbelts with ease, while keeping the patient safe from the other cutting surfaces of the knife.  Keeping it sharp may be difficult if you don’t have the right tools, but I can’t see many people using this feature enough for it to need sharpening.  In addition, you can simply send the knife back to FDCam.com if your cutter needs sharpening.

The only small downsides to the cutter are the previously mentioned pinch point it creates when using the thumbstuds and that it can eat up the edges of your pockets if you aren’t careful with how you clip it.

Glass Breaker:  Anyone involved in emergency services long has been at extrications where someone got owned by a side window.  As a rookie, I can remember taking a hard baseball swing at one with a pick head axe and my shock at having it bounce right off the center of the window.  Now, an axe or a halligan can work fine with the proper striking technique, but it is not a very controlled maneuver.  The more professional way is to use a center punch or in this case, a carbide glass-breaker.

Found on all CRKT Emergency Rescue knives

The carbide glass breaker works like ceramic, easily shattering the toughest tempered glass.

It works like this: Tempered glass is heat-treated in such a way that as it cools, tremendous internal stresses develop in the glass.  Tensile forces in the core and compressive stresses in the glass’ surface.  This strengthens the glass to more than 5 times the strength of normal annealed glass.  In fact automotive window glass may be rated to withstand impacts generating over 9,000psi.  However, if you can cause a crack in the surface, the entire paine will shatter.  To make this happen, you simply need to strike the surface with a harder object.

Unfortunately for us in the rescue field, there are only a few common materials that are harder than toughened glass.  However, tungsten carbide happens to be one of those few. With only a light tap on the glass, the tiny carbide tip causes a disruption of the glass’ surface and the massive internal stresses do the rest.  When the forces are released, cracks instantaneously propagate throughout the window and it shatters into hundreds of little pieces.

The glass-breaker rests in the spacer between the liners.

The glass-breaker is molded into the frame spacer. A steel pin (not visible) sits behind it and prevents any backward movement when striking.

The glass breaker on the Big Dog is one of the best I’ve used.  It requires only the lightest tap on the glass to break it.  It is also quite well suited for police/tactical work, as the tip can also be used as a compliance tool or (God forbid) a striking tool.  Also, unlike some rescue knives, the glass breaker can be used with the blade in the open or closed position.

Seems small, but works well.

The pocket clip is very stiff and holds the big knife securely. Just watch out for the seatbelt cutter. It can do a number on the edge of your pocket.

Pocket Clip:   The M16-14 comes with a quality pocket clip.  At first it seemed a bit narrow for such a large knife, but it is very strong and I have not had any issues with bending.  If you should bend the clip, CRKT includes an extra clip in the box, just in case.

Handling/Ergos:     This is kind of a mixed bag with the Emergency Rescue.  On the plus side, it has very generous proportions.  With its large flipper extension, the Big Dog is one of only a handful of folding knives that can be opened while wearing your bunker gloves.  With tactical/work gloves it is an absolute breeze to open.

The  handle is long and gives you plenty to hold on to when working with the knife.  The bright orange scales are your basic fiberglass-reinforced nylon (a generic form of DuPont’s Zytel), which is extremely tough and resistant to nearly everything, but kind of slippery compared to more modern materials that have become common on other name brand knives.

The orange Glass-Reinforced Nylon handle scales are modestly textured.

The bright-orange handle scales make the Big Dog easy to spot in your gear bag or bunker coat pocket. I would, however, like to see a more aggressive traction scheme on the knife.

The handle shape of the M16-14Z does a good job keeping your hand from sliding up or down on the handle.  This is crucial when using the glass-breaker, as you do not want your hand to slide down and make contact with the glass as it breaks.  When in the open position, the flipper extension becomes a guard stop that prevents your hand from sliding forward when thrusting the point into tough materials (like steel-belted radials).  Believe me, you do not want your hand sliding over this blade, especially while gripping the handle tightly.

While the knife handles well in gloves, I think the overall ergo’s of the M16 are starting to feel a bit dated.   These days, most successful knife designs are better engineered to be more compatible with the human hand.   They will have will have thoughtfully contoured handles with scales made of grippy, modern materials like textured G10 and Micarta; and strategically placed jimping and checkering to make handling more secure and comfortable.

The scales and liner are pre-drilled to allow the clip to be positioned for tip-up or down orientation, and for right or left pocket carry.

The M16’s scales are basically flat, and do little to improve grip.  Some texturing like Spyderco’s “volcano grip” patterning would be great.  However, with this knife’s primary duties and, more importantly, price point in mind, I can’t fault it too much.

Conclusion:   While I think its tactical blade shape and lack of ergonomic sophistication keep this from being the at the head of the rescue knife class, CRKT’s M16-14Z Emergency Rescue is still an outstanding performer.  It is a high-value, hard-use blade with features that will make it equally at home in a civilians glove box or a firefighter’s coat pocket.

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