Chris Reeve’s Sebenza 21
Aaron Shapiro 09.05.13
There are few knives on the market today have had the same influence to the knife world at large as the Chris Reeves Knives Sebenza. It was originally developed in 1987 and with it Chris introduced the R.I.L. (Reeve Integral Lock), more widely known as the Titanium Framelock. The first production Sebenza was introduced in 1990 as the “Original,” followed by the “Regular” in 1996, the “Classic” in 2000. On the knife’s 21st anniversary in 2008, Reeve introduced the Sebenza 21, which is the one I will be talking about. In 2012 Chris introduced the Sebenza 25 — the current generation. Each subsequent Sebenza generation has made minor modifications on the original design up until the 25’s release, when CRK (Chris Reeve Knives) made some major changes to the lock assembly and the blade grind.
In my opinion the Sebenza is the gold standard of knives. Chris Reeve Knives has been able to consistently output a nearly perfect knife, in mass, for a reasonable price. The beauty in the Sebenza is the simplicity.
A single backspacer, stop-pin, and pivot are all that the Sebenza uses in its construction. Two simple perforated bronze phosphor bushings are that it uses as a pivot assembly. Nothing overbuilt or unnecessarily complicated. Simple and pure knife elegance.
Sebenza’s come in several different configurations, and CRK has done some dealer specific runs; for example the Knife Art Exclusive with a Carbon Fiber scale. There are three primary blade shapes: the one above is the Insingo, the one I am reviewing today is the Tanto, and the one below is the traditional drop-point shape. CRK also offers a multitude of inlays: wood, bone, and micarta, as well as some custom graphic designs on the scales.
A little reminder, I am specifically talking about the large Tanto Sebenza the other specs will differ slightly depending on size and blade shape.
- OAL: 8.25″
- Blade Length: 3.5″
- Blade Steel: S35VN
- Blade Thickness: .120″
- Handle Scale Thickness: .150″ not including micarta inlay
- Width: .685″ at the widest point of the clip
- Weight: 4.4oz
The Sebenza has a simplistic handle. The forward finger choil is formed by the relief cut in the scale for the lockbar. When the choil is paired with the subtle swell towards the butt of the handle, it really locks the knife into your grip. There’s nothing flashy about how the handle works — no flipper tab that acts as a choil, no aggressive grip material, just correctly shaped handles paired with subtle yet effective jimping. I’ve owned Sebenzas both with inlays and without, with that in mind I have to say that I greatly prefer ones WITH inlays. The raised areas fill in your grip a little bit better, and the micarta adds just a hair of traction.
The pocket clip on Chris Reeve knives is a work of art. The clip has two points of retention, the first being the primary one towards the end of the clip; this is pretty much the same with all pocket clips. The second retention point is about two thirds the way up, and it’s a little indentation that pops over the seam of your pocket and holds even tighter. In my opinion it’s the single most functional clip in the knife world.
Deployment and Lockup
The Sebenza is deployed by means of a thumbstud.
From Chris Reeve himself, “When opening a Sebenza or Mnandi, use a sideways, sweeping motion with the side of your thumb against the lug.”
He goes on to say that, “Our knives are not designed as rapid deploy weapons or as worry beads, but as cutting instruments.”
The joke my friends and I have is that everytime you flick open a Sebenza, Chris Reeve cries a single tear. It’s not how they were intended to be used, but they will function that way. It adds wear and tear on the stop pin, but realistically I don’t know if there would be any long lasting effects. Regardless, the knife opens smooth and locks up solid. CRK frame locks are always a touch “later” than other knives, a Sebenza’s frame lock should be somewhere between 50% and 75%, and disengages smoothly. Here’s mine:
Blade Shape and Materials
As I stated above the Sebenza comes in three variations. The first being the regular drop point, there’s also the Insingo, and lastly my favorite the Tanto. I’m not going to go into each in depth, but I will say that my favorite blade shape is the Tanto, I like having the Tanto point for push cutting. It’s a true convex ground tanto that will hold up to a LOT of use, followed by a very functional primary edge. Next to that I liked the Insingo, and the “traditional” drop point is my least favorite.
The steel used in modern Sebenza’s will most likely be S35VN. The interesting thing about the steel choice here is that Chris Reeve was one of a couple knife makers selected to work with Crucible in developing both S30V and S35VN. He had direct input into the formulation of the steels with their intended use in mind.
Another quote from the man himself, “My choice to change our folding knife blade steel to S30V was thoroughly thought through, as was the selection of RC hardness 58-59. I was privileged to be involved in the development of S30V with the metallurgists at Crucible Steel – they asked what attributes I wanted in a steel and they delivered. At RC 58-59, the blade will hold a good edge and will be easy enough to sharpen. One of our tests resulted in S30V cutting 14,000 linear inches of e-flute cardboard before notable edge wear against 12,000 for BG42. I have been completely satisfied with the performance of S30V.”
The Sebenza is an interesting knife to consider when talking about the custom knife world, largely because it is not a custom. Sebenzas are full production run knives that in many ways rival handmade custom folders. Sebenza means “Work” in Zulu, and the knives are refined and gentlemanly knives that are intended to do work.
I posted the above picture of my Sebenza on Instagram and stated that, “Once a month I need to talk myself off the cliff of selling all my custom knives and just carrying a large Sebenza. It’s the standard by which knives are measured, few compare and most fall short.” That sums up how I feel about this knife. It doesn’t get much better — it gets cooler, or it gets more technical, but in terms of function and quality Chris Reeve nailed it with the Sebenza 21.