Kershaw Ken Onion BOA Folding Knife Review

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Kershaw Ken Onion
BOA Folding Knife

One more knife, which I got out of pure curiosity. At this time though, the major cause was rather the blade material - Crucible CPM 440V steel than the knife design itself, however have to admit I find BOA to be a interesting one. As you have probably already guessed, BOA is a collaboration between Kershaw and a custom knife maker Ken Onion. There are quite a few things in BOA design that make it different from other production blades.

CPM 440V

 - #1 interest in this knife for me, was the steel it is made of - CPM 440V from Crucible, which now has a new name, CPM S60V. Today(fall, 2000) it is considered to be a exotic, high-end knife blade steel. Until recently only Spyderco was using it in their blades, hardened at 55-57 RC. Interestingly enough, the pre-production run of Spyderco Starmate in CPM 440V was hardened at 59-61 HRC. Later on, Spyderco lowered hardness to 55-57 RC afterwards, for that 55-57HRC has been found to be an optimal hardness for CPM 440V, well according to Spyderco that is. As you can see Kershaw has chosen the same hardness range, however same Rockwell hardness doesn't necessarily mean identical heat treatment protocol by any means. I know some custom knifemakers use CPM 440V, but I don't have the information about the hardness. In short CPM 440V is based on 440C stainless steel, though has high Vanadium content in the alloy. Theoretically this should be improving the edge holding ability very significantly, as Vanadium carbides are very hard. Once again, provided that the maker does a good job with the heat treatment. However things are not that simple.
    Before I bought this knife, I've heard different opinions regarding CPM 440V knives, however all of them were about Spyderco products. Opinions varied quite a bit, from almost impossible to grind/sharpen to - my biggest disappointment, that was regarding the edge holding ability. All this was interesting and intriguing enough, so I have decided to get one blade myself and experiment some with it. In general I don't really like that many Spyderco folding knives, so I've decided to get something else, that else came out to be BOA, since like I have already mentioned there are not too many blades made in CPM 440V.
    Sharpening, to be more exact grinding the CPM 440V was not hard, at least to me, using edge-pro sharpener, though it required more time and efforts then grinding ATS-34 or 154CM for example. Most difficult part was putting the real sharp edge on the blade. Don't know exactly why was it, but I've had to switch back to coarser stones twice(!) during the sharpening process. Finally I made it. BOA was able to shave without irritating my skin and push cut through the thin paper. As I have learned later, this is not the best thing to do for this steel though :) Since Vanadium carbide grains are quite big, they just chip out off the very fine edge, thus reducing the edge holding ability.

2011 Edit

- Someone asked about CPM 440V again, and there were a few debates on various knife forums during last years, so I figured update was in order. By now, 2011 CPM S60V is pretty much gone from knife industry. It is still used in other cutting tools, but I can't recall any knives in that steel for a long time. Mainly, the issues with grinding it, which make the knife making process quite costly, and its inability to sustain high working hardness in knife blades were the causes. 55-57HRC in production knife gives very high chance of getting the knife with hardness at the lower boundary of speced range. 55HRC for a knife is very low, it won't hold much of a working edge for any acceptable time, at least not for a knife that costs more than a budget knife, and due to high costs associated with machining and processing CPM S60V(CPM 440V) steel, the knives from it tend to be on the expensive side. So, there you have it, expensive knife, which requires thick edge, because of the soft steel, and also requiring coarse edge, because of the large Vanadium carbides. While coarse edge isn't a big deal, as long as it works well, thick edge in a high end folder isn't exactly exciting news, especially if the edge holding is lacking.


 - Blade geometry on BOA is quite interesting :) Officially BOA is a tactical knife, but to me personally it is a well made utility folder as well. Probably better utility folder than a tactical as well. Drop point, recurve blade, saber grind, this all contributes to it's cutting ability. BOA is an aggressive cutter for sure. By the way it was the very first production knife that had an 24 degree (measured using edge-pro) angle on it. It was very sharp right out of the box, though wouldn't push cut through the paper. In my opinion BOA is a fine utility knife, for skinning and slicing it's just great, besides CPM 440V is quite stainless, so for certain areas or those who don't want to pay too much attention to their knives it can be more desirable :)


 - Another interesting design detail in BOA. Speed-Safe is Ken Onion's brain child. Based on torsion-bar technology it allows fast deploying just by pushing index finger against a raised part on the knife back. Speed-Safe been the subject of many controversies, pretty usual thing with innovations. Some hate it, claiming that it's quite possible to cut your thumb while deploying the blade, others seem to be just fine with it. After a little practice I think it's fine. At least I find it Ok. At the design stage there were some concerns that Speed-Safe would open unintentionally while in the pocket, so Kershaw added a safety lock, when engaged this lock prevents the knife from opening.


 - Made of 6060 T6, hard-coat-anodized and textured aluminum, with the Lanyard hole. Quite comfortable. Thanks to the texturing and geometry provides secure grip. The grip is secure during both, cutting and stabbing. I have to mention separately that the handle was very friendly during the prolonged use. I was cutting cardboard during 2 hours with it, and then for testing proceeded with some carpet and linoleum. No sore spots on my palms. I think that's a very good result, considering that my palms aren't exactly rough. Other than that I don't have something special to say. What I don't like about BOA is the blade/handle proportions. IMHO the blade is too short, don't know about you, but sure looks like that to me :)


  • Model: Kershaw Ken Onion BOA;
  • Blade - 96.52mm(3.8")
  • Thickness - 3.17mm
  • OAL - 203.20mm(8")
  • Open: 8" Closed: 4¾"
  • Handle: 6060 T6, hard-coat-anodized and textured aluminum;
  • Lock Mechanism: Locking-liner with safety;
  • Steel - CPM S60V steel at 55-57HRC
  • Acquired - 10/2000 Price - 125.00$

Last updated - 05/19/19