Kershaw Link Review & Sharpness Test

Quick Summary: The US-made Kershaw Link is a durable and compact cutter. Thanks to its CPM 20CV steel, its cutting edge has some of the best edge retention of all knives we’ve tested. The Link’s weight, aluminum handle, “SpeedSafe” spring-assist, and classic drop point shape provide good control with one-handed use for just over $80.

Table of Contents

Blade Specs

  • Cutting Edge: 3.38″
  • Blade Width: 1.28″
  • Blade Length: 3.71”
  • Edge Thickness: 0.025″
  • Spine Thickness: 0.11″
  • Blade Shape: Drop Point
  • Blade Steel: CPM 20CV, Stonewashed
  • Edge Grind: High Flat Grind

Additional Specs

  • Scales: Billet (6061-T6) Aluminum
  • Handle Length: 4.40″
  • Overall Length: 7.75″
  • Overall Width, Folded: 1.44″
  • Handle Width: 1.08″
  • Handle Thickness: 0.49″
  • Weight: 4.70 Oz
  • Lock: Liner
  • Opener: Spring-assisted flipper
  • Clip: Black Teflon-coated steel, ambidextrous
  • Country of Origin: America
  • Model: 1776OLSW
In person, the Link’s Olive anodizing has a very “Master Chief from Halo” look and feel.

The Kershaw Link is a heavy knife for its size. I knew ahead of time that its handle was aluminum, and that it has more steel fittings than many other 3″ EDC knives. But even considering its metal accoutrements, the “heft” surprised me.

The handle is shaped well. Its slight convex curve molds easily to palms and fingers.

I like the weight. I went to work cutting up so many post-Christmas cardboard boxes (after completing my usual sharpness test, to ensure results were fair) and found the Link’s weight helped make stubborn cuts through double-walled cardboard easier and more controllable.

The aluminum’s smooth CNC work provides a comfortable grip. The subtle ridges and lines prevent slipping.

The Link’s handle is comfortable. I like its grip more than most G10 and Micarta scales. Typical 3″ folders go for a modern, minimalistic look with their handles, but Kershaw did a fair amount of CNC work and added plenty of little designs.

I thought this was merely for aesthetics. But I found all the little ridges, bumps, grooves, and indentations help with grip. Smooth aluminum gets slippery when your hand is sweaty. But I had no issues. Kershaw also did a great job ensuring all the edges are filleted and chamfered. I found no hot spots or pointy bits digging into my palm or fingers.

The nylon backspacer saves some weight and adds a bit of extra grip.

The backspacer between the steel frame is made from glass-filled nylon. It’s got the same texture and feel as a composite handgun frame. It’s light and tough. The ridges provide some extra grip and venting to present sweat. Normally I prefer metal backspacers. But in the Link’s case, I like the weight savings. The knife is already plenty heavy.

For once, I don’t hate the lanyard loop. I like Kershaw’s design: It’s machined to look purposeful, more than a simple hole drilled into the rear of the scales as an afterthought.

The oval’s large enough for some thick leather or braided cord, and the edges are clean to prevent tearing and fraying over time. The reversible clip’s threaded holes can be spied just above the hole.

The black Teflon coat looks identical to a thick black powdercoat finish.

The Kershaw Link’s clip is simple and elegant. The black Teflon coating has a nice, satin finish with the faintest hint of a rippled texture. The clip provides plenty of strength and is oriented near the absolute rear of the handle for deep pocket carry. It provides a straight vertical orientation, which is best for this heavy knife.

The clip’s fasteners — and all screws holding the scales to the steel frame and backspacer — are blade oxide steel, with typical Torx-fastened buttonhead caps.

The clip itself is surprisingly loose. In fact, it’s got more give than most other pocket knives I’ve carried. I suppose Kershaw did this to keep with the theme of easy one-handed use. I wish it had a bit more grab for thin fabric, but it stayed put on my belt well enough.

The Opener & Liner Lock

The tang on the blade is cut at an angle, to prevent “lock rock” as it wear down.

The liner lock works fine. It’s not a perfect fit, and sits a bit proud of the tang. This isn’t uncommon on new knives and, after plenty of use, it’ll wear in and seat deeper. I am happy to see Kershaw machined the tang with a slope. As the lock wears in over time, this should reduce wobble.

The assisted opener has a satisfying pop and click, and it works very well when you’ve got just one hand free. The finger flipper has plenty of leverage and it takes little effort to draw the blade. It makes for a great fidget toy.

On the other hand, I found closing the blade to be a bit stiff out of the box. Whenever I find a flipper that’s built with a spring assist, I like to see it provide generally the same action on the return. I’ve managed to get the Link closing smoothly after playing with it a couple dozen times, so this is more a “break-it-in” type of thing than a quality control issue.

Don’t mistake the above observation as a drawback, either. The action on the Link is supremely smooth in both directions. The locking bar and bearings are perfectly machined.

Folded up, the blade and frame have perfect symmetry. Often, liner locking flippers tend to have a bias in the blade’s resting position, wherein the lock and its detent will press the blade against the opposite scale. That’s not the case, here.

The 20CV Blade

“CPM” stands for Crucible Particle Metallurgy: The blade’s forged from powdered metal instead of an ingot.

Here’s the star of the show, and the reason why the Kershaw Link costs at least 3x that of a similarly designed folding pocket knife.

The machining and finish on the Link’s blade is perfect: Beautiful grind along the cutting edge with a high shine, showing it was finely polished and honed. High-definition along the laser engravings. A perfectly symmetrical swedge with a stylish, functional take on the classic Drop Point blade shape.

A high-flat grind that complements its wickedly sharp edge, and a solid spine. It’s all finished off with a beautifully consistent stonewashed finish that’ll hide blemishes and wear nicely over time. Its edge thickness hits the right spot for EDC blades, measuring about 0.025″.

This edge thickness is actually on the high end for daily-use / EDC blades. But given the CPM 20CV’s hardness and wear, this thicker edge sacrifices no cutting power while also improving resiliency and toughness against chipping.

Overall, the CPM 20CV blade is a supreme slicer with very high Rockwell Hardness (59 to 62 HRC), and extraordinary corrosion resistance.

This stainless alloy gets its name from its 20% Chromium content. It also contains precisely 1% Molybdenum, 4% Vanadium, 0.3% Silicon, 0.6% Tungsten, and 0.3% Manganese.

Learn about these carbides with our Guide to Knife Steels and Compositions.

In addition to providing stainless steel with its, well, “stainless” properties, Chromium assists in the formation of carbides from other elements. That means its high Chromium content means this blade’s filled with extra carbides, contributing to edge retention and sharpness.

Few stainless alloys even contain Tungsten. That, and its high Vanadium content, mean the Kershaw Link’s 20CV should be a top performer.

Let’s find out with our sharpness and edge retention tests.

Blade Sharpness & Edge Testing

This is the Edge-On-Up Industrial Sharpness Tester, used for all my knife tests.

Before getting to work cutting up christmas chaff and flotsam, I tested the Kershaw’s out-of-the-box sharpness:

The sharpness tester provides 1 gram of resolution.

The Link tested 219g and 244g, averaging out to 232 grams. That’s the amount of force required to cut through a piece of certified test media (synthetic wire under tension).

Next, I ran the Link’s blade across my trusty piece of blade-dulling Ironwood. Five pounds of pressure was applied with 100 back-and-forth strokes across the length of the cutting edge.

Ironwood’s one of the toughest hardwoods on Earth. I use the same piece for all tests.

These tests can get pretty dull after awhile. Pun intended. But I got excited when I saw how deep and cleanly the Link’s blade managed to dig into the wood. It left the deepest wedge of nearly all knives I’ve tested. That means it should yield some impressive edge retention.

And, as anticipated, the Link’s 20CV blade didn’t disappoint: After dulling, it measured 254g and 269g: An average of 262 grams. That means it only required an additional 30 grams of force to cut the Edge-On-Up test wire.

Edge Retention and Sharpness: Knives Ranked

Knife / ModelFactory SharpnessSharpness After TestEdge Retention
Spyderco Para 3 12026545%
Benchmade 940 EDC17529060%
SOG TWI8-CP Twitch II12520063%
S&W Extreme Ops SWA24S16526063%
Buck Knives 110 Folding Hunter14522066%
Spyderco Tenacious15022567%
Ontario Knife OKC Rat II SP18527069%
CIVIVI Elementum20127972%
Opinel No. 1228037073%
CIVIVI Praxis18323080%
Zero Tolerance 0450CF24029083%
KA-BAR Dozier Folder27532585%
Cold Steel AD-1018520590%
CRKT Endorser23025092%
CJRB Feldspar21522596%
Cold Steel Recon 1 Tanto17721582%
Kershaw Link CPM 20CV23226289%
CJRB Ria Folder (12C27)19628369%
Gerber Paraframe 1 (ATS-314)18622085%
CRKT CEO18320490%
Kershaw Leek13319269%
CRKT M16-10KS22833468%
CRKT Squid21537557%
Vosteed Corsair16317494%

Among all knives tested before this publication, the Link ranks 4th for edge retention at 88.5% (rounded up to 89% on the chart).

It only ranks 14th for out-of-the-box sharpness. But we have to consider that this blade has a pretty thick edge. And, from what I can eyeball, it sports a pretty wide edge angle, too.

Wide, thick edges sacrifice sharpness in favor of strength. Given this blade’s high hardness, that makes perfect sense: Harder blades are more prone to chipping and damage when their edges are ground thin. So, running a wider grind balances sharpness with long-term performance.

What Really is “Sharp,” Anyway?

Further context: Is a 232g to 262g edge considered “not sharp.” Quite the opposite. Edge On Up classifies most new, factory-ground blades as measuring between 250 and 375 grams. Only straight razors, utility knives, and incredibly thinly ground blades tend to rank below 200g.

So, even after being abused with a piece of Ironwood and a 5-pound weight, the Kershaw Link’s “dulled” performance is still at the top end of what many new knives can provide.

What’s to like: American-made build quality. Awesome CPM blade. Incredible corrosion resistance. Excellent edge retention and strength. Comfortable, machined-billet handle. Vaguely “Halo/UNSC Infantry” aesthetic for my fellow Millennials.

What’s not to like: Weight. Some folks want an EDC blade that’s ultralight and forgetful. The Kershaw Link is just a dense, heavy unit for its small size. It’s noticeable when carried. A G10- or Micarta-scaled knife of similar size and shape can afford noticeably less weight.