(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.
Not 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.
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.
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 double–beveled, 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.
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.
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.
I’ll keep this short, sweet and to the point. The Sebenza dramatically outperformed every other knife we’ve ever tested.
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++.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Type: Frame-lock folding knife
Blade: 3.625″ clip-point
Steel: CPM S30V
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