Chris Reeve Large Sebenza 21: Reviewing the Greatest Production Folder of All Time

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Beautiful carbon fiber scale and blue anodized hardware

A Large Chris Reeve Sebenza 21.  Check out the beautiful carbon fiber scale and blue anodized hardware.

Be sure to check out KnifeArt.com, the best place to find this highly coveted Chris Reeve carbon fiber Sebenza.

Introduction

Having a background in engineering turned me into a complete snob when choosing and buying new knives. Nothing gets me more excited than tight tolerances, expert manufacturing, and quality materials all of which have been flawlessly executed in the Chris Reeve Sebenza 21.

Rock solid lock-up. I challenge you to find a better frame lock than the Sebenza.

Rock solid lock-up. I challenge you to find a better frame lock than the Sebenza.

If you’ve ever researched knives or browsed forums and asked, “what is the best folding knife?,” Chris Reeve’s name is bound to be mentioned.  In fact, Reeve’s hardware is often touted as the gold standard when it comes to high-end production folders. Even if you haven’t heard the name, you can still thank Chris Reeve for all your frame-lock folders.  He’s the godfather and creator of the titanium frame-lock folders originally named the “Reeve Integral Lock.” I began researching and reading all that I could on Chris Reeve and the Sebenza knives.  Everything I read was positive and I quickly realized this could be the holy grail of EDC folders.

That was 2 years ago, so why don’t I have one yet? Well for one, this is not just a weekend purchase, it’s an investment.  With a price tag of $455, I was hesitant to purchase sight-unseen. Second, I was burned on another high-end folder that disappointed on all levels. I didn’t want to be let down by the fanboy hype surrounding the Sebenza, so I decided to wait for the chance to fondle one before purchasing.

Luckily, I was able to review this gorgeous Carbon Fiber Large Sebenza 21 from KnifeArt.com. If you’re curious, the knife was sent to review for free but I have since opted to buy it instead of return it — I fell hard and fast for this one.  Over the last 4 weeks, I have become obsessed with the amazing build quality and aesthetics of the simple design. It truly is a modern classic.

Overview

Chipping away at this fallen branch with ease

Chipping away at this fallen branch with ease.

Chris Reeve, a South African native, released his first handmade Sebenza in 1987.  He and his wife moved to Boise Idaho where they setup shop and started producing knives within 6 months of arrival.  His unique frame-lock design and precision manufacturing set a new industry standard.

The Sebenza comes in 2 different models, the 21 and the 25.  The 21 is offered in both small and large with a blade length of 2.94” and 3.625” respectively. The 25 comes only in large with a blade size of 3.625”.  If you want something unique they offer exotic wood inlays, Damascus steel, and multiple different handle styles.

After winning several (13) coveted Blade Show awards for top manufacturer throughout the years, you can see why the Sebenza gained so much respect. They have so much faith in their production and design they send every knife with an Allen key to disassemble the knife “if you should choose to do so.”  No proprietary tools that you have to spend another $100 to get, no voiding the warranty if you take-down the knife, both of which are a huge win in my book.

Throughout the years, Reeve kept improving and investing in his business to produce the finest high-end production folders possible.  Unsatisfied with traditional steels, Reeve partnered with CPM Crucible to create the first cutlery specific steel we all know as S30V and S35VN.  A hardened-sintered alloy, S30 and S35V offer great edge retention, corrosion resistance and are easy to maintain (unlike my D2 steel knives). The steel itself has a hardness of 58-59 HRC making it possible for the everyday user to sharpen at home. The chemistry of the steel promotes an even distribution of vanadium carbides making it more effective at cutting than traditional chromium carbides.  You can see a distinct fine grain pattern in the steel which promotes sharpness and toughness.  S35VN was a second composition created 6 years after S30V hit the market. Its increased Niobium and slight reduction in Carbon and Vanadium resulted in a 25% increase in the Charpy V-noth toughness test!  Charpy test measures the impact force and strain rate absorbed by the material before breaking.

A few snail trails. No big deal

A few snail trails. No big deal.

The manual recommends using a Spyderco Sharp Maker for routine sharpening and send it back to the factory for a free sharpening when needed (you pay for shipping).  Again, sharpening your knife will not void your warranty- other manufacturers should take note and follow suit at this price level.  I find it ridiculous some manufacturers will void the warranty if you sharpen their knife or don’t use an “authorized sharpening facility.”

What really sets apart the Sebenza from every other frame-lock folder are the materials and flawless manufacturing.  I’ve spent hours looking over every millimeter of this knife trying to find something wrong with it and I can’t.  The shallow hollow grind is perfectly centered on the blade and even.  Both handle scales are machined at the same time making them identical. The blue anodized hardware and bead-blasted titanium are gorgeous.  Last but not least, the frame-lock. Often described as a “bank vault,” there is absolutely no horizontal or vertical movement in the blade. At this price level, I would expect nothing less.

Specs

  • Blade Material: S35VN
  • Full Length: 8.34 inches
  • Blade Length: 3.625 inches
  • Blade Thickness: 0.125 inches
  • Blade Finish: Stonewash
  • Blade-HRC: 58-59 HRC
  • Handle Material: Carbon Fiber / Titanium
  • Weight: 3.7oz
  • Lock Type: Titanium Frame Lock
  • MSRP: $455

Likes

The word Sebenza comes from the Zulu word for “work.”  So I put my blade to work over the last 4 weeks and it has proven to be a great EDC utility knife.

Great edge retention

Great edge retention.

From the factory, the Large Sebenza 21 comes with shallow hollow grinds allowing for razor-like cuts.  The edge is close to a mirror finish and the grind is perfect.  There are no distinguishable grind marks whatsoever.   It had no problem ripping through the 4 Amazon boxes I had sitting around and continued to slice tomatoes with ease; edge retention on this blade is incredible.  One of my favorite things about the blade is the rounded spine. All my other knives have a flat spine. Some of the edges on the flat spines can be sharp and will bite (if you’re not careful), but not the rounded Sebenza. Subtle asymmetrical jimping on the spine gives more control and prevents slipping when cutting. I prefer the single thumb stud featured with the Sebenza line.  It gives the knife an overall classier look. They do make left handed versions as well.

Rides nice in the pocket and snag free. Just need to ditch the lanyard

Rides nice in the pocket and snag free. Just need to ditch the lanyard.

The “streamlined handle design” fills my hand nicely without feeling too bulky, it’s just right.  I was not fatigued or in discomfort after cutting through the cardboard boxes. The carbon fiber presentation scale is hefty and without a doubt some of the nicest carbon fiber I’ve seen on a knife.  Unlike some G-10 scales, the carbon fiber has no give when put under load.  Its machined to a smooth flat finish and dramatically reduces the overall weight while remaining balanced.  I don’t have to worry about it ever rusting or corroding and it doesn’t show scratches.

On the other side lies the soul of the Sebenza, the infamous integral frame-lock.  The first time I opened the knife put a huge smile on my face as the lock engaged with an audible “click.” It was so smooth and no break in was required.  Another thing that makes the knife deploy with ease are the polished mating surfaces between the blade and the lock.  It’s little things like this that add up to a perfectly executed knife. Extra machining steps result in an overall more expensive knife and manufacturing times but the end result is incredible. The integral lock engages perfectly every time, there are no “soft engagements” with this one. It locks up at half way across the blade no matter how fast or slow you deploy it. Although I don’t recommend nor is it necessary to “wrist-flick” when opening the knife. The pocket clip also holds the knife secure in your pocket and won’t shred your jeans.

The carbon fiber handle is comfortable to hold.

The carbon fiber handle is comfortable to hold.

Take down of the knife couldn’t be easier.  Provided with each Sabenza is an Allen key to disassemble and clean your knife WITHOUT VOIDING your warranty.  After removing the three Allen screws, the scales pop off and the blade can be removed.  You will also see their unique phosphor bronze washers designed to reduce friction and sticking when opening.  I cleaned the knife after the first 3 weeks of use and it wasn’t as dirty as I expected.  I think a lot of that has to do with the open back space allowing for debris to pass through.   A simple rub down and cleaning of the washers, pivot, and scale was fast and easy.  I put a dab of the provided Chris Reeve grease that came with it on the pivot and washers and reassembled the knife.  It went back together with ease and the blade was still perfectly centered and smooth.  I’m glad that Chris Reeve recognizes that knives are tool and require maintenance that the end user should be able to perform by himself.  A tool that requires you to send it back to the manufacturer is unrealistic in my opinion.

Dislikes

Easy disassembly.

Easy disassembly.

There are very few things I dislike about this knife.  The biggest thing I don’t like is the lanyard, I’m not a lanyard guy.  I can see the appeal of it, but it just has no practical use for me in my daily life. It does make deploying the knife slightly easier to grab but also sticks out the top of my pocket for all to see. I felt uneasy about using the knife during a fishing trip on the boat. That’s the one time I would have liked to have a lanyard wrapped around my wrist to make sure it doesn’t take a swim.  When I disassembled the knife I noticed the lanyard pin isn’t integrated with the knife at all.  If you remove the lanyard, the pin will fall out of place or you will just have an empty hole.

The Allen screws don’t sit completely flush with the handle scales.  They also have a high polished finish which makes them prone to scratching. Although titanium is a space age metal, the blasted finish susceptible to “snail trails” or light scratches.  Some appreciate the wear and show it with pride as a symbol of use. I prefer my knives to stay in pristine condition and don’t like how easily it shows.  You can send it back to the factory for a new finish when needed.

Warranty

Chris Reeve offers a full lifetime warranty on your knife covering any manufacturers defects or problems so long as the knife was used for its intended purpose of cutting.  Any third party modifications will void your warranty.  Your buddy who watched a YouTube video on flame anodizing titanium should not be allowed near this knife.

They also offer a full lineup of services to cover repairs and isn’t very expensive:

  • New washers – $1.50
  • Refinish handle – $30
  • Refinish blade – $30
  • Screws and pins – $3 each
  • New S35VN blade – $135

Conclusion

This knife is for anyone in the market looking at custom high-end folders or anyone seeking a manufacturing masterpiece- your search can stop here. The quality of materials and machining on this knife makes it the superior choice in this price range. It is something that can’t be fully appreciated until you get it in hand.  If for some reason you don’t end up liking your knife, there will be hundreds of people lined up wanting to buy it, me included.

Buy one at KnifeArt.com: Carbon Fiber Sebenza

A knife fit for any collection

A knife fit for any collection.

{ 14 comments… add one }
  • Kyle February 18, 2017, 1:51 pm

    It’s not just a knife, it’s an an investment. When they stop making these imagine the price. I own around 25 knives from all different price ranges. Have two sebenzas and there is something about the lore, ease of disassembly, warranty, manufacturing and elegance that no other knife (even most customs) can match.

  • CHRISTOPHER ARCAROLA January 30, 2017, 10:33 pm

    Obviously these gentlemen know nothing about quality. Great review on the perfect production folding knife.

  • Joe June 18, 2016, 11:52 am

    $455 for a knife is a waste, period. I can’t believe the type of ‘sales talk’ as found in this article would actually convince anyone of sound mind to spend that much on a pocket knife. “..carbon fiber has no give when put under load. Its machined to a smooth flat finish and dramatically reduces the overall weight.” How much did you reduce the weight with..omg ‘carbon fiber!’…an ounce or two? Does it really matter? Its a pocket knife..a small item the cheapest of which have negligible weight unless you’re a 3 year old girl, at which point you shouldn’t have one. I carry a fully loaded pistol with 13 rds, the weight of which makes no difference for a medium sized adult (and the cost of which was half of your knife buddy) along with a $4 walmart knife that does about everything I need it to do and has been indestructible for the past year. By the way, if I lose it I am down only $4 bucks. If I do destroy it, which again after a year I still haven’t, but if I do I’m down only $4 bucks.

    • WalMart Shopper June 19, 2016, 3:49 pm

      Headline news “Joe Blow shoots innocent bystander with cheap $200 pistol while shopping at Wal-Mart for adult diapers. Says he doesn’t mind carrying the extra load- blames pistol for horrible accuracy.”

  • Tom Horn June 18, 2016, 9:24 am

    Looks like a great knife, I have no doubts. I cannot see carrying this as an, EDC. If I lost it I would be sick. Keeping it as a closet queen would be a waste of a good knife, also. I’ll leave it to those folks who can afford to lose a $455 knife, or collectors.

  • Max Hoyle June 17, 2016, 12:51 pm

    I hate to burst your bubble, but I don’t belive Reeves invented this type of lock, as I seem to remember them in the 70’s on cheap production pocket knives! Also I really can’t belive any one would pay $500 for a folder, when that would buy a gun and a good case or buck knife! Sorry if that sounds like I think those prices are crazy, but thats how it is to me.

    • Jim Russlez June 17, 2016, 1:48 pm

      You more than likely saw the original liner lock design which is why you are confused. This is a modified liner lock design integrated into the frame and not a separate locking piece.

      Can your $500 gun cut things? No. Can a Buck knife do the same thing as this knife? Sure. But thats like buying just high-point pistols. Oh, wait… you’re probably one of those guys too.

  • Bert June 17, 2016, 11:15 am

    I’ve has a large Sebenza for a few years and it has served me well as a working knife for years. I’m a property manager a farmer & an outdoorsman and have never had the frame lock fail. Di something break> Was it on a Chris Reeve knife?

  • Bob June 17, 2016, 10:58 am

    $455 for an “f-ing” knife?! This article is a waste of data on my iPhone‼️

    • WasteData June 17, 2016, 3:12 pm

      Glad you wasted more data posting this useless comment. Join Max at the high point club.

      $455 for a knife that will last a lifetime sounds good to me.

    • D-money June 17, 2016, 3:13 pm

      I know dude! I have a #2 Ticonderoga pencil that does pretty much everything this knife does…

  • Ryan C June 17, 2016, 10:36 am

    When you have a frame lock fail and slice your hand open, they aren’t so great anymore.

    Benchmade Axis Lock is second to none for folding knives.

    • Jim Russlez June 17, 2016, 1:50 pm

      I can’t imagine a single cutting situation where you could be putting that amount of force on the knife in a manner that causes it to fail. Were you pulling the blade towards you or trying to pry with it?

  • Ryan June 17, 2016, 10:23 am

    Once you’ve had a framelock fail and slice your hand, they aren’t so great anymore.

    Benchmade Axis Locks are second to none.

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