Knife Review: Chris Reeve Sebenza

Image: Chris Dumm

(Editor’s Note: A HUGE thanks to TTAG’s Tyler Kee, who provided the almost irreplaceable knife for this review. Not many friends, whom you’ve never met in person, will mail you a collectible Chris Reeve folder to play with for a few months. Buddy, I still owe you!)

The Chris Reeve Sebenza is a man-sized EDC knife with top-grade materials and hand-made refinement. It’s also really expensive, which is why I was so lucky to borrow one for this test. If you can afford it, however, this substantial investment will pay big dividends in strength, comfort, and cutting performance.

HISTORY

Image: Chris DummNot every knife has a story worth telling, but the Sebenza design has proven to be important and influential far out of proportion to the number of these expensive knives Reeve could sell in any given year.

But he’s been selling them for many years, because the Sebenza first hit the market in 1991. In developing the Sebenza, Reeve adapted the Walker liner lock to this titanium-bodied design which dispensed with the traditional frame-and-scale construction. He called this lock the Reeve Integral Lock, but we all recognize it today as the ubiquitous frame-lock. That’s right: this is the knife it came from.

My borrowed Sebenza is a ‘Large MM Classic’ model, which has been discontinued but is very similar to the current large-model Sebenza 21.

DESIGN

Image: Chris Dumm

The Sebenza’s construction is simplicity itself: two frame halves, one pocket clip, one spacer, blade stop and bushing, some screws and pins, washers, and a pivoting blade with a thumb stud. Seventeen parts in total, of which only one moves. The perfection of this design comes not from complexity, but from the quality of its materials and the precision of its execution.

Image: Chris Dumm

The Sebenza’s frame halves are of course titanium, which measure exactly .050″ thick wherever you caliper them. The edges are not simply radiused for carry comfort; they’re doublebeveled, except where they are meticulously single-beveled for support behind the blade stop bolts here.

I’m going to skip the normal ‘Fit And Finish’ section of the review, because this knife’s entire construction is characterized by exquisite, microscopic attention to details like this. It is simply perfect.

MATERIALS

The Sebenza’s spec sheet is a short list of the toughest and strongest metals on the planet. The frame halves, thumb stud and pocket clip are all worked from 6A14V titanium, the fittings are made of 303 stainless, and the blade is ground from 0.125″ S30V stainless.

ERGONOMICS

Image: Chris Dumm

All-metal framelock folders aren’t typically renowned for their comfort and handling, but you wouldn’t know that from the Sebenza. It feels just awesome in your hand, whether you’re whittling fire sticks, breaking down multiple-ply cardboard, or shaving paper-thin tomato slices for your sandwich. The jimping on the back of the blade gives good fore-and-aft control of the blade, without turning it into a pocket-shredding buzz saw.

The blade opens easily and smoothly with the well-textured thumb stud and locks into place with an unbreakable titanium lock bar wedged behind it. Despite its obnoxious compressile strength, the titanium lock bar is easily opened with your right thumb for quick one-handed closure. Titanium is a nearly fatigue-free metal, and the lock bar will not weaken no matter how far you pry it open (within reason) nor how many times.

I have to disclose that I didn’t carry this knife around as an EDC except while in my home or office, or across the river in Oregon. It’s a $450 knife which belongs to a friend, and the idiots on my city council have declared it a misdemeanor to carry a blade longer than 3″ concealed. I’ve borrowed it long enough, however, that even with those restrictions I’ve got plenty of EDC time logged with this knife.

Carry comfort is remarkable for a blade of this size. The knife is only .453″ thick (not including the pocket clip) and its weight of 4.3 ounces is extremely light for a 3.6″ all-metal folder. The pocket clip does its job, although it’s not a terribly deep-carry clip and about 3/4″ of the frame shows out the top of your pocket.

If there’s a limit to all of this EDC goodness, it’s that you’re limited to right-side, tip-up carry. Tip-down guys are hosed, but (well-heeled) southpaws need not despair: Chris Reeve sells left-handed Sebenzas for them, too.

BLADE TESTING

Image: Chris Dumm

I’ll keep this short, sweet and to the point. The Sebenza dramatically outperformed every other knife we’ve ever tested.

Cardboard:
The Sebenza went completely sick on box cardboard. It shredded my entire stockpile, with over 160 linear feet of cutting before it started to plow. And it did all this without giving me any blisters or cramps, which is almost beyond belief. This blade completely owns every other knife I’ve tested.

S30V is obscenely tough, although there’s a downside to that which I’ll talk about in a minute. Grade: A++.

Newsprint:
After a professional sharpening by the guy at Hawthorne Cutlery (a local legend in the Portland area, BTW) the Sebenza came home sharper than any of my three Moras have ever been. It will shave filigrees out of standing Shotgun News crepe paper, effortlessly and flawlessly.

Grade: A++. The sharpest non-ceramic knife I’ve ever used.

Rope:

Image: Chris Dumm

The freshly-sharpened Sebenza tore through looped 3/4″ manila like it was a wet cotton shoestring. It could even slice through unsupported rope, more easily than whittling a soft pine dowel. Even my Moras can’t do this.

Grade: A++.

Sharpening? AARRGH!

Lest you accuse me of writing a love letter and calling it a knife review, the Sebenza is an absolute bitch to sharpen. My borrowed Sebenza doesn’t live the life of a collector’s item sitting in a gun safe: it’s a working knife, doing hunting and ranching and EDC duties for several years.

After years of use with almost no sharpening, it arrived fairly dull and it couldn’t quite slice hanging copier paper cleanly. I gave it my best efforts with my Sharpmaker, again and again, and the best edge I could give it was still pretty sad. I got the distinct impression that the Sebenza’s blade was slowly whittling away the ceramic rods of my Sharpmaker, instead of the other way around.

I could get it to slice copy paper pretty well, but it wouldn’t even think of slicing hanging newsprint or the tissue paper that Shotgun News is printed on. It was okay on cardboard and terrible on rope.

After weeks of defeat on the Sharpmaker, I finally struck my colors and admitted I needed to take the Sebenza to a pro. It cost me two weekday trips through Portland traffic and a measly five bucks, but Hawthorne Cutlery’s sharpening guy turned the Sebenza back into the scalpel it was built to be. Thanks, buddy!

(I’d link to Hawthorne Cutlery’s web page, but they’re a small, independent knife store and they’re so old-school that they don’t even have one.)

I hope your results are better than mine, but unless you’re a whiz at knife sharpening you might have the Devil’s own time trying to put a good edge on a Sebenza if it somehow gets dull. The good news is that it will take years for it to get dull, if it ever does.

Favorite Features

Everything except the price, and my utter inability to give it the edge it deserves.

Least Favorite Features

I can’t afford to buy one, and I couldn’t sharpen it if I did.

SUMMARY

This knife truly does live up to its reputation. We’ve reviewed dozens of knives here, and the Sebenza blows away every one of them, in every category. Except ease of sharpening…

It’s really a pity that it’s so damned awesome, because I’ll probably never carry another one. $450 is more than most of us could ever justify for any pocketknife, no matter how good.

RATINGS(out of five stars)

Styling: * * *
Its utilitarian styling doesn’t say much, but you won’t care.

Blade: * * * * *
Sharper and tougher than any knife I’ve ever handled.

Ease Of Sharpening: *
Don’t be afraid to call in the professionals. This steel is hell to sharpen.

Ergonomics: * * * * 1/2
Outstanding handling; it doesn’t feel like an all-metal framelock.

Ruggedness/Durability: * * * * *
The toughest metals on the planet.

Overall Rating: * * * * *
Holy sh!t, that’s a nice knife. Too bad about the price.

SPECIFICATIONS

Type: Frame-lock folding knife
Blade: 3.625″ clip-point
Steel: CPM S30V
HRC: 58-59
Frame: 6A14V titanium
Weight: 4.7 oz.
Overall Length: 8.3″ open, 4.8″ closed
Carry: right side, tip-up pocket clip
Price: $450 street

 

comments

  1. Aharon says:

    Which revolver is shown in the top picture?

    1. jwm says:

      Looks like a S&W .357. Model 686.

      1. JaredFromTampa says:

        Right you are, looks like a pre-lock 686. Hands down, the absolute best pistol I’ve ever owned. They look funny to me without wood grips for some reason.

        1. jwm says:

          The factory standard wood grips that used to come on every new pistol were fitted for the generic everyman that doesn’t exist. The first thing I always did with a new revolver was replace the grips. Now they come with neoprene grips from the factory. Not stylish, but workable.

          On a side note, ain’t we supposed to be talking about a knife?

          Oh Yeah, a 450 buck knife. I’d put that money towards a new revolver.

        2. JaredFromTampa says:

          I actually saw a very decent 686 for sale on Floridaguntrader about a week ago for $550, so…$100 more than this knife and one could own an classic pistol that will last forever (the Chris Reeve Sebenza is pretty cool too despite it’s unobtainium status).

        3. Chris Dumm says:

          Give the man a cigar! It’s a 1980s 686, from the good old days when a dependable sear and a lick of common sense were considered sufficient to prevent ADs. (It was. And still is.) It’s got the best trigger pull I’ve ever had on a revolver, and it’s the last gun I could EVER sell.

        4. JaredFromTampa says:

          +1, times would have to be seriously bad for me to ever consider parting with my 686. Not only is it my favorite shooter, it was a gift from my dad when I graduated WOCS at Ft. Rucker, my grandfather gave it to him when he got promoted to Major in 1980.

  2. JTX says:

    The blade steel on your review Sebenza is S30V. Chris Reeve did not start using S35VN until well after that model of Sebenza was discontinued.

    1. Chris Dumm says:

      Right you are. Text amended.

  3. Sam L. says:

    Now website? Then why not an adddress and phone number?

    1. William Burke says:

      Googling “chrisreeveknives” is not at all hard. Seeing as how you’re already online. Been there countless times. I wish these weren’t so far out of my league. It’s a MLB knife, and I’m toiling in the Minor Negro Leagues.

      I understand the thing about S30V being hard to give it the edge it deserves, I really do. But I have S30V knives that take a pretty passable edge; it depends upon how finicky you are about your edges. In most cases, you will not need the edge that you think you have to shell out good dough to a pro. A knife that you think needs pro sharpening several times a year is probably not the knife you want to depend upon. What if there are no pros available?

      I’m quite sure this knife will be an object of supreme pride to anyone who can afford it. Except for the filthy rich who can’t appreciate how much a really fine knife brings. I’m talking about people who buy expensive things with no appreciation for what they can do, and what they’re capable of.

      1. Sam L. says:

        Hawthorne Cutlery’s sharpening guy. I can’t/won’t afford the Sebenza. But you’re right! I found
        http://www.yelp.com/biz/hawthorne-cutlery-and-gifts-portland
        and good comments on it.

  4. Jim says:

    Oh man I think I just realized I must be a knife Fudd. Because as much as I’d love to own one of these and as much as I like seeing that level of craftsmanship put into something, in the back of my head I thought geez, I’d like to see some nicely finished wood scales on that. Yeah, and wood grips on the Smith too. And blueing. Time for my Geritol. Sigh.

    1. Lon Totten says:

      Ask and yee shall receive Jim. http://ep.yimg.com/ca/I/knifeart_2271_40622370
      Chris Reeve is famous for his wood inlays and other exotic materials.

  5. duroSIG556R says:

    You probably had sharpening difficulties because the knife was completely dull. The Sharpmaker is apparently only good for touch ups.

    I’m sure you would of had good luck with any sharpening system that’s out there. I know my wicked edge would of taken care of it.

    I’m still interested in trying out that Ken Onion work sharp. You should get one.

  6. LK says:

    Hey Chris, I would recommend that Sharpmaker for touching up edges, not for reprofiling. Ceramic rods just doesn’t remove enough material to be efficient when the edge needs major work (especially when using S30V, the high vandium content is what makes it so difficult to sharpen).

    I use a DMT Aligner if I am lazy/want to go fast, and and Edgepro if I want to spend time making an absolutely silly sharp edge. The silicone carbide stones on the Edgepro take a little longer to cut steel, but the the scratch pattern is much finer then that of an equal grit diamond hone.

    If you want sharp for free send me an email, I live in PDX and sharpen knives as a hobby. We can probably work out something with you reviewing the Edgepro too, if you are interested.

    Oh and great review! You hit the nail on the head with comparing the Sebbie to a Glock, kinda hard to drop that much on one knife…

  7. Tom in Oregon says:

    This speaks to me… Calling me. Tho I’ve got my eye on a titanium William Henry Atlas that’s about the same size. Hmmmm. Decisions.

  8. Tom in Oregon says:

    And by the way, I can be brutal sharpening knives, I’ve had stones, Lansky’s, etc…
    The a buddy showed me his Warthog. After 2 minutes, I went online and ordered one. I don’t remember where or how much they cost.

  9. jimmyjames says:

    For years CR pocket knives did not come with a clip but instead a lanyard that you were supposed to dangle out of your pocket so you could jerk the knife out of your pocket when needed (???) That was when they were $300. I see now for $450 you get a pocket clip but it’s tip up. Darn. Deal breaker for me and I was gonna buy a dozen of them for xmas gifts. Not. Always thought they were nice and always thought they were over priced even when I could get one at wholesale.

  10. Steve says:

    If you send your knife back to Chris Reeve it will get the “spa treatment” (cleaning, lock tuning, and sharpening) for free, less the price of shipping. You’d have to EDC something else for a few days, but it may be cheaper and less out of the way.

  11. Lon Totten says:

    Nice review. The blade is not the only moving part though. Both of the bronze pivot bushings also rotate and should be lubed occasionally. You’ll see the wear marks if you disassemble the knife. Also ALL folder lock mechanisms can and have been broken. Your fingers will thank you to keep that in mind at all times.

    Personally I think a knife of this quality is a good deal at sub $500. I’ve seen lot’s of knives not as well made sell for a lot more. I’ve owned two Seb’s and still have one. Didn’t care for the full size 21 all that much but I love my small Seb.

    You shouldn’t normally have sharpening issues with this knife. I’ve never had an issue sharpening mine or any other S30V steel with my Sharpmaker. In fact, that is the method Mr. Reeves recommends in his literature. The trick is to use it regularly to touch the edge up and not let it get so dull in the first place. Doing this will take only a few minutes a week. Why carry a dull knife?

  12. Eliot says:

    The Patron Saint of Knives in Vancouver Washington will put a mirror bright, razor sharp edge on your knives that is downright spooky. Five Bucks a knife and a fast 24-48 hour turnaround. Check out the website and the videos! http://www.patronsaintofknives.com

  13. Don McFarland says:

    I now own 2 Chris Reeve Sebenza’s and I would not call them expensive at all.
    When I first found out about the Sebenza I was working in ship boiler repairs and was “using up” a buck 110 at the rate of one a year, after a half year or so the locking and side play were getting sloppy . The second half of the knifes life it got me to wonder if the lock would hold. I would then toss it and buy another. Now the Buck is a fine knife and I just figured that the way I beat the crap out of it ,that was all I could fairly expect a folding knife to do. After a string of 10 or more 110’s I found Chris Reeve at a knife show and told him how I tore up knives. He said his Sebenza would hold up to what I through down, so I bought one of his early large Sebenza’s And used it every day just as hard as I used the 110’s . I cut gaskets with steel mesh reinforcement, rope, rubber, fiberglass, scrape gasket faces . I never eased up just because it was a high cost knife. I would see Chris at that east coast knife show over the years and show him the change in blade profile from sharpening, but to my surprise the knife never got lose or made me think it would not stay locked. After around 10 years he offered to put a new blade on it for me as the belly of the blade was mostly gone. I said no , and instead bought a second knife this one was the Classic MM you talk about here. The MM never got trashed like the first due to job changes but I still carry it and both are amazingly tight and sure locking. I would have burned out a large number of lesser knives so I these knives to be a bargain if you really use them. I guess there are a few things out there that are truly worth their price, this is one of them. Don McF

  14. knifeguy323 says:

    I have this knife and love it, but the customer service isn’t very friendly. For a $450 knife, you’d think they’d offer to replace the little blue pin things that hold it together for free since they shouldn’t fall out to begin with (it’s a $450 knife) but instead, they want $25 for them–granted, $20 for shipping, but call you what you will–that’s what it’s gonna cost to put my $450 knife back in my pocket. given this, I won’t buy another one.

    1. Wee Liam says:

      Wow! Good to know. Not that I’d ever be able to afford one, but information I could possibly impute to some fence-sitter.

      That’s a manufacturing issue, and it might well be a one-off, but that should be comped so you’d tell everyone how Chris Reeve did right by you.

  15. Jeff says:

    Did someone say that a sebenza tip up was a deal breaker? How else would you carry a knife? It sounds like an amateur to me.

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Knife Review: Chris Reeve Sebenza

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