Victorinox Work Champ ReviewSome historical perspective
When introduced in 1952, Victorinox assigned a special name to their flagship model. The Champion really lived up to its name with over 20 features across six, and later seven tool layers. For decades, the Champion remained their top-of-the-range model, only passing the baton to the aptly named Swiss Champ in 1985. Stretched to eight layers and 33 features, the Swiss Champ remains a popular model, but it tests the upper limit for what can be carried every day while remaining practical for use.Original Swiss Champ
Soon after the Swiss Champ’s arrival, Victorinox stepped into a new size category with their 111mm range, offering larger, more robust knives that featured a locking blade. Initially limited to between one- and three-layers, in 1996, Victorinox decided it was time to unleash the champion of the 111mm range, the six-layer Work Champ.Original Work Champ with Slide-lock blade
While a couple of layers shy of the Swiss Champ, the Work Champ nevertheless packs 21 features into a frame that is a little narrower, but nearly an inch longer. This extra length supports longer tools, with the blade, wood saw and file all benefitting from a little extra legroom.
While not intended to be a comparative review to determine a winner, I will refer to the Swiss Champ as it shares many of the functions and even some of the tools with the Work Champ, and is probably the more familiar of the two pocket knives among SAK enthusiasts.Design Principles
The Work Champ is not pretty. At least not from an aesthetic perspective. There’s no symmetry with the contoured handle and uneven closed tool height. The matt nylon scales are unremarkable while the exposed aluminium liners at each end of the knife look like an engine’s cooling fins.
But open the blade and the Work Champ undergoes a visual transformation. The huge symmetrical drop point blade becomes a natural extension to the tapered handle, with the blade’s spine flush with the backspring. It’s clear that Victorinox used a fresh piece of paper when designing the 111mm range, building the handle around the blade as opposed to building a blade to fit the handle.
The name says it all, the Work Champ is a tool for work. Its beauty is in its function.Size and Weight
While all Victorinox 111mm pocket knives are already large, the Work Champ is a beast. Weiging in at 228g, it’s one of the heavier pocket knives made by Victorinox. More than a Swiss Champ and even the Swiss Tool Spirit.
However, the weight is deceptive. The Work Champ feels light in the hand compared to a Swiss Champ, which has a tool density that packs more metal into a smaller space. And while the Swiss Champ’s broad width can sometimes prove awkward, the Work Champ’s proportions are a little less extreme. It still feels large in the hand, but for the most part, this extra size matches the larger tools, translating to faster use with less fatigue.
The Work Champ is too large and heavy for pocket-carry. Let’s face it, none of the 111mm SAKs are really pocket friendly. Like a full-sized multitool, this is a bag or toolbox SAK, with EDC options limited to a belt-clip lanyard in a generous pocket, or a belt pouch.Functions
There’s no doubt that the star of the show is the Work Champ’s locking blade. At 3.4”, it’s longer than the blades found on most multitool, including the large Victorinox Swiss Tool and the Leatherman Surge. It even exceeds the legal carry length in some countries.Swiss Tool, Work Champ and Leatherman Surge
If anything, opening the Work Champ’s blade can be a little intimidating. It demands attention and caution, yet instils confidence in the hand. But it also highlights a weakness of the Work Champ. There is no small blade that can be assigned to small jobs, so you are left with the mismatch and potential danger of using this large blade for all knife-related cutting duties. Sometimes less is more.
Originally using a slide-lock button in the handle, Victorinox switched all 111mm models to liner lock in 2017. A curious feature of the liner lock is that it is reversed compared to traditional liner locks, meaning that the lock must be pressed left to right to release, suggesting it was designed for left-handed users. This is certainly not the case, as Victorinox had the opportunity to reposition the tools and liner lock when they redesigned the knife. The reason for the reversed geometry is to force users to pause and concentrate on the action of releasing the lock, to reduce the risk of absent-minded accidents. It also makes it almost impossible to accidentally release the lock with the right thumb. Finally, we must remember that this is a pocket knife and not a tactical flipper.
Like the blade, the file and wood saw occupy the full length of the knife and are effective because of their size and design. The file is fabricated from hardened stainless steel with an aggressive cut, and is a good deal thicker than the earlier chrome-plated version or any of the current files found on the 91mm range. The wood saw is also beefed-up to match the extra length, although the teeth pitch and design are the same.
As with all SAKs, the openers occupy a side layer. While the can opener with flat screwdriver tip is borrowed from the 93mm range, the cap lifter is even bigger and features a liner lock, making this tool a very capable large flat screwdriver that is even suitable for light prying. Only the Work Champ’s cap lifter and blade are locking, sharing the same stainless-steel liner that is sprung at the ends in opposite directions to lock each tool independently. Sharing this locking liner meant relocating the blade to be next to the opener layer when Victorinox switched the Work Champ from slide lock to liner lock.Original slide-lock and new liner-lock Work Champ cap lifters compared
Victorinox reuse tools whenever possible, and the Work Champ’s pliers and scissor are the same as found in the 91mm series, with just the addition of a nail nick to aid extraction of the pliers. Some have complained that Victorinox missed an opportunity to scale these tools up in size and this may be true for the scissors, but the pliers would have needed to scale considerably in width, to the detriment of the overall size and weight of the knife. Instead, Victorinox applied some Swiss ingenuity to add a pair of inline Phillips drivers, that stow below the pliers and scissors, pivoting from the opposite end of the knife. This does introduce the extra step of lifting these tools halfway to get to the drivers, but once deployed, they are hugely capable, one longer with a fine 0/1 head, and a stubby one about the length of a modern Swiss Champ’s, with a larger size 1/2 head. As a bonus, these drivers align close to the center of the SAK, allowing a more natural wrist action when in use.
Back layer tools are limited to a stock corkscrew and awl, although the awl s a little wider to take up the extra thickness of the opener tools, and strangely, is missing the sewing eye. The Work Champ ships with a mini-screwdriver stowed in the corkscrew, and the scales feature a standard toothpick and tweezers combination. There is no Plus scale option, so pin and pen are not available.Liner-lock Work Champ awl has no sewing eye
When redesigning the Work Champ to be a liner lock, Victorinox also took the opportunity to move the key ring attachment to the awl side of the knife, using the stainless-steel liner lock as the attachment point. This new position removes it as a palm hotspot (for righthanded users), and is a great example of the detailed analysis Victorinox does when making a change to a product.Repositioned key ring location does not dig into your palmConclusion
As a pocket workhorse, the Work Champ delivers. The longer blade, file and saw all make a tangible difference, and the extended size, even with the extra girth, make it easy to hold and manipulate.
But it does have its weaknesses. The extra bulk acts like an anchor when using the scissors for delicate work, and the lack of a small blade means defaulting to the large locking blade for even the most innocuous cutting tasks. And there’s no escaping that the size of the Work Champ places it in direct competition with full-sized multitools.
In the end, the Work Champ stands a little in the shadow of its smaller and older brother. The Work Champ has a slightly sterile character that many modern products seem to suffer from, delivering better performance in a more reliable, efficient way – but lacking a little of the historical affection that other Victorinox models enjoy.
I can certainly recommend the Work Champ for anyone looking for a more robust multi-function pocket knife, with the only real issue being its bigger size. If you’ve carried a Swiss Champ on a short belt clip, the Work Champ can carry this way too, but it does need a bit of pocket space. Just be prepared for some comments about what’s in your pocket.2021 Victorinox Work Champ, supplied by Sharp Edge, South Africa