An unusually high number of knifemakers have died recently, all of whom left more than their fair share of lifelong marks on family, friends and the knife industry. In terms of influence on knife design, though, the two that probably had the largest impact were Ed Halligan and Kit Carson.
Ironically, both men designed wildly popular folding knives for CRKT, and it is those folders that have been so influential on the knife industry.
A member of the BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall Of Fame©, Carson passed away Sept. 5. Halligan passed away Nov. 8. Though both made many great knives, each will be remembered most for their industry standards: Carson for the M16 and Halligan for the K.I.S.S.
The K.I.S.S. is a simple yet ingenious folding knife. In the closed position, its two-piece frame-lock construction and safe, user-friendly design “seals” the cutting edge of the chisel-ground blade against the handle. As Halligan once explained, “With the K.I.S.S., the frame and the lock are all one piece … I made the original knife with the blade chisel ground on one side only so it would slide against the frame when folded and make a seal so you wouldn’t cut yourself.”
In fact, when it first came out, I recall talking to one long-time industry observer who thought the K.I.S.S. was a lawsuit waiting to happen because he thought consumers would cut themselves on the blade edge despite the blade’s seal against the handle in the closed position. However, Halligan’s version of the design works so well that such accidental cuts never happen. One of the main reasons the design is safe is that Halligan tested it in real-life conditions to be sure that such accidents never occur. “Safety is a big reason why I carried the knife around so much to make sure it worked properly,” Halligan said.
In 1997, Halligan signed a deal with CRKT for the company to reproduce the K.I.S.S., and CRKT launched the repro of the knife at the 1998 SHOT Show. Only four years old at the time, CRKT was struggling to find a knife that would help “drag the rest of the product lines along,” as CRKT’s Rod Bremer put it. The K.I.S.S. was that knife. Unfortunately, a number of unscrupulous companies blatantly knocked the K.I.S.S. off so much that it eventually became one of the most copied sporting knives worldwide. CRKT and Halligan weathered that storm, though, and Ed designed a series of K.I.S.S. iterations and spinoffs for CRKT that included the Delilah’s P.E.C.K. (for Precision Engineered Compact Knife), Samson’s K.I.S.S., the H.U.G. (Halligan’s Ultimate Gadget), the Slip K.I.S.S., the Neck P.E.C.K., the blackened K.I.S.S. In The Dark, even a fixed-blade version called the Stiff K.I.S.S. and others.
Just as they were linked in their passing, Halligan and Carson were also linked in their CRKT collaboration deals. CRKT must have been living right back in those days because it was just a year after signing the deal with Halligan to reproduce the K.I.S.S. that it signed the deal with Carson to reproduce Carson’s M16 folder. Even though Carson did not invent the flipper, his M16 is universally credited as the model that popularized flipper folders—folding knives with one-hand-opening “flippers” that double as guards when the blade is opened. “The M16 with the Carson Flipper was a huge improvement on non-assisted blade opening, making a manual knife open almost as fast as an auto without a secondary thumb stud or hole mechanism,” observed long-time knife writer Mac Overton. “Because it had less moving parts and its opening relied on inertia rather than a spring or torsion bar, the mechanism was inherently stable and reliable.”
The M16 and its military look—Carson was a U.S. Army career man—soon became not only immensely popular with consumers but with service personnel as well. In fact, by many accounts, the M16 was the most popular knife among active duty service personnel in the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, as with the Halligan/CRKT K.I.S.S., Carson’s M16 begat a number of CRKT iterations and spinoffs, including the M16-10KZ, M16-13Z, M16-12Z, M16-14ZSF, M16-13ZM, M16-14SFG, M21-14SFG, M21-02G, M16-13FSG and others. And, most fittingly, the K.I.S.S. and M16 were ranked third and fourth, respectively, in a BLADE® Magazine poll of veteran industry observers of the top factory knives from 1989-2000.
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