The perfect EDC knife: an apologetic for the Spyderco Dragonfly 2
Tony Sculimbrene 07.23.13
The famous Pascal’s Wager is interesting for a whole lot of reasons. At first glance it seems to offer a good proof for the existence of God. Another look and you realize that it is really not a proof for the existence of God, but an excellent justification for believing in God’s existence. Yet another look shows you that Pascal’s Wager is also an argument of incredible power and brevity. It is the work of a masterful writer writing in a form that we use all of the time but never realize–the apologetic. As it applies to Pascal’s writing, an apologetic is a piece of persuasive writing from an explicit and partisan position. Pascal assumed that God existed and then wrote defenses of that assumption.
This is an apologetic for small knives and in particular an essay on what I believe is the perfect EDC knife. I don’t use the word “perfect” lightly; I understand what it means. And here is the premise I am assuming is true and then defending–small knives are all you really need for an EDC blade.
Unless you are a LEO/MIL/EMS person, or someone in a similar field, there is virtually no chance that you will use your knife in a self-defense role. For self-defense a bigger blade is probably better. Outside of self-defense, a bigger blade is nothing but added weight and legal complication. For the vast, vast majority of EDC uses a small knife will not only work, but work better than a big knife. That’s the position. Now here is my defense of the Spyderco Dragonfly as the perfect EDC knife.
The perfect EDC blade is the Spyderco Dragonfly 2 (DF2) with ZDP-189 blade and FRN handles.
All of that is important because there are DF2’s with FRN handles and no ZDP-189, and there are DF2’s with ZDP-189 and no FRN handles. I have had Dragonflies of all variations, the first iteration, the second, with FRN, without, with ZDP-189 and without. Additionally, I have reviewed many dozens of knives and handled hundreds more. All of that experience has led me to the conclusion that this small gem of a blade, this $80 steal, is the perfect EDC knife.
There are really four parts to this argument: price, performance, weight, and ergonomics. There are cheaper knives, of course, and radically more expensive ones. There are knives with excellent performance and ones that weigh less. Some folk may want different ergonomics. But when you consider the DF2 as a whole, there are no flaws and no knife does all of these things better than the Dragonfly. Not one.
$80 is not cheap for a knife. You can get a San Ren Mu special for $8. But $80 is not obscene either. It’s not so expensive that you’d be devastated if you lost it. At $80 you can get a lot of good things without paying for ridiculous flourishes like Moku-Ti handle scales. I also think that this knife is right at the top of the “value tier”. To get more performance you have to increase the price a tremendous amount. Furthermore, that next jump up in performance is not a big one at all. The normal knife user could go his or her entire life without ever needing that next jump in performance.
One way to think of all this is the so-called “10% 100% Rule.” The origins of this rule are lost and I couldn’t find them, but the first time I encountered it was in researching high end audio equipment. Basically the 10%/100% Rule says that you have reached the limits of rational spending when a 10% increase in performance requires a 100% increase in price. The DF2 in ZDP-189 steel with FRN handles, because it is at the top of its price tier in terms of performance, follows the 10%/100% Rule exactly. The Sebenza, a better made knife, is more than 100% more expensive and the performance increase is probably no greater than 10%, maybe.
The performance of the DF2 ZDP-189 FRN is driven by the steel, but it is not chemistry alone that counts. The ZDP-189 steel is among the best steels available in production knives (M4 and M390 are pretty tasty, as is Elmax and S35VN). It is certainly among the hardest of those steels. It can chip, but if you are careful then that hardness means virtually eternal edge retention. (One caution: touch up the blade on a strop frequently, because all out resharpening is a chore. )
Because the steel is so hard (64-66 HRc) it can be sharpened to a very steep angle, something like a 25-30 degree cutting bevel. This means that not only will the edge last longer, but it will slice like a lightsaber during that time. The steel enables great cutting performance over a very long timespan, something that is the very essence of a great EDC blade. Hours, literally hours, of cutting cardboard more than 1/2 thick did little to dull the edge of my DF2. It was still shaving sharp. That, my friends, is great performance.
Do you wanna go do stuff with your gear or do you wanna walk around like hockey goalie all padded up? Let’s do stuff. That’s why we have gear, so we can “get out there”, right? Go run, go walk, go hike that ravine. And if you need to whittle a stick or cut a thread or slice up some food, you have a great little blade with you. It weighs so little it won’t hog your pocket or depants you.
The FRN is huge a huge factor in the weight. Without the liners of the G10 or the Nishjin CF version, the FRN DF2 is definitely the preferred set up. I have had a few versions and the FRN version is the one I miss the most. At 1.2 ounces, the FRN version is almost a full ounce lighter than the two higher-end versions. Dropping a knife of that size and weight into your pocket is easy to do. Adding it to your EDC–your phone, your wallet, a pen, a light, and your keys–is simple, as the additional 1.2 ounces represents something like 1/10th to 1/6th the overall weight of your EDC.
Small knives seem to always suffer in terms of grip. You gain a lot of flexibility because of their unobtrusive size, but when it comes to actual cutting, a lot of them are just meh. The wildly popular SOG Flash I is positively awful in the hand, with scoops and scallops in all the wrong places. The much better Benchmade Aphid (RIP; its out of production), is closer to a good grip, but not quite.
The Dragonfly, even with its tiny frame, accommodates four fingers with ease thanks to a great choil design. Not only does that make it more comfortable and sure in the hand, but it also makes it much better in cutting. The forward choil gives you a huge amount of control on the Dragonfly’s excellent tip and gentle belly. The grip makes the blade an excellent slicer and a great precision cutter.
There are quite a very few good EDC knives out there. The Victorinox Cadet is a great knife with other tools. The Benchmade Mini Grip is very good for those that like medium size blades. I also like the Kershaw Skyline. But all of them represent some sort of compromise.
The Dragonfly 2 in ZDP-189 with FRN handles is the best performer for the money. Its nominal size and weight makes it easy to incorporate into your EDC. Finally, the ergonomics are among the best of any Spyderco knife available, which says a lot, given Spyderco’s ergo-first design philosophy. For about $80 you will get a knife that needs little sharpening, that cuts like a laser beam, and will frighten no one. In the EDC role, there is nothing more you could ask for–this knife is the “set it and forget it” EDC.
You don’t need a big knife for EDC, and you’ll never need more than the Dragonfly 2 in ZDP-189 with FRN handles. Trust me. I have owned at least five different versions of the DF and it is the best.