Chris Reeve Sebenza – The Story of a Legend
Major Pandemic 03.20.15
When we start talking about the best pocket knives on, earth we have to talk about the Chris Reeve Sebenza. From my perspective the Reeve Sebenza is without question the finest hard use folding knife on earth. Sure there are more expensive folders out there in the custom market, along with various expensive, sharpened pry bars marketed as knives, but if you want an honest to goodness cutting tool, I have yet to find another production folding knife of its equal.
If I could take one folding knife anywhere or even into space, it would be a large Sebenza. Most knife nuts in the know would all likely make the same choice. At one time long ago in the 1990s, I founded and owned one of the largest online cutlery stores in the world, and even way back then, the early generations of Chris Reeve knives were considered the best in the business. Literally no one was offering solid titanium handled defensive knives except Reeve. Reeve also delivered the Sebenza and his other knives with reasonable availability and with quality on or often above par with any custom knife maker. At that time, Sebenzas were around $250-$350 and were worth every penny. Today they are priced a bit more.
I have regretted selling my Reeve inventory with the cutlery business and have been lusting for a Sebenza since then. Today, many refinements later, Chris Reeve offers both an updated original Sebenza style design called the Sebenza 21 and a Sebenza 25 model with a few additional refinements.
Today the starting price for a large 3.6” bladed Sebenza 21 is $410. It is far from the $40 clam packed Buck knives at bulk retailers, and it’s for the person who wants or needs the absolute best heavy duty folding knife money can buy.
Chris Reeve offers the basic/plain model all the way to specialty, computer generated, anodized designs and to your own custom CNC graphics with prices that quickly move up to a starting point of around $800. If you can imagine a design on a Sebenza handle, they can likely make it. Whether you choose the Plain or the Custom Sebenza, this classic knife boasts a strong and secure locking mechanism and handle, a top tier crucible steel blade and quality, and fit and finish that is only equaled on meticulously made custom knives.
The Sebenza pretty much defined the term “custom-production knives”
I picked up a Plain Large Sebenza 21 to tell the story of this great legendary knife and the knife maker behind it.
About Chris Reeve Knives
Chris Reeve is one of the preeminent legends of the knife industry, but Chris had to find his way to becoming one of the most celebrated knife makers in the world. Chris Reeve was actually a Grand Prix motorcycle racer in the 1970s, but his original background goes all the way back to machining, tool, and die manufacturing.
Chris began his knife making business in Southern Africa where he enjoyed quite a bit of attention. When he and his wife Anne moved to the US, they vowed to make the knife business a success, and the rest is not just history, but a legacy of cutlery greatness.
Let’s look how well respected Reeve is in the industry:
- 1987 Knifemaker’s Guild of Southern Africa “Best Folding Knife”
- 2000-2012 for “Manufacturing Quality Award”
- 2003 “Collaboration Knife of the Year”
- 2005 “Collector Knife of the Year”
- 2006 Grays Sporting Journal “Gray’s Best” Award
- 2007 “American Made Knife of the Year”
- 2008 “Overall Knife of the Year”
- 2008 Field and Stream “Best of the Best”
- 2010 “Overall Knife of the Year”
At first pass, the pedestrian knife enthusiast may just look at the Sebenza and note that it’s just another liner lock, but the Sebenzas RIL lock is different.
Most knife folks know of Walker style locks (more commonly known as the a liner lock) in which the liner under the handle forms the blade lock mechanism. The Walker lock has proven to be reliable and strong. If you want to step up in strength, most do not know that another popular and heavily imitated frame lock design was actually invented by Chris Reeve as the Reeve Integral Lock–RIL. The RIL increases reliability and strength of the Walker lock design mainly because the RIL designs are built around thick high strength metal handles that also form the liner lock versus just a thin liner. Reeves uses .150” thick 6Al4V Titanium for his handles, so the resulting lock is about as strong as you can possibly make a locking mechanism without increasing bulk and weight substantially.
Fit, Feel, Finish, and Features
There are really only four materials represented in the final Sebenza, including CPM S35VN stainless steel, 6Al4V titanium, 303 stainless steel, and phosphor bronze. The CPM S35VN stainless steel is used to form the precision concave ground, modified drop point blade, which pivots on a phosphor bronze bushing for extremely smooth operation.
Everything from the S35VN steel to the hollow grind has been tuned and optimized over the years to deliver the best folding cutting tool on the market. Use the Sebenza, and people will notice the quality immediately. My FFL dealer asked if he could see it after I cut open a new firearm accessory box. I think he will likely part with the $410 for one.
Often times “hard use durability” somehow equates to an all black knife. In the case of the Chris Reeve Sebenza, there is an understated level of class that is conveyed in the raw 6Al4V titanium handles assembled with 303 stainless steel screws and 6Al4V titanium fittings. The knife look is like a guy with a $20,000 handmade grey suit accented with just a subtle bright anodized titanium watch. It’s an elegant look all wrapped up in a stunning level of precision tolerances that most German sports cars would be envious of.
Having seen well worn Sebenzas before, I can tell you that the titanium handles wear just like that perfect pair of jeans and develop a patina. I am not sure if its the titanium being affected by the elements or the titanium itself wearing, but it’s a beautiful effect. It takes years, but the look makes you love the knife even more.
From a handle strength perspective, there really is no equal. I mean, come on. The Sebenza features two titanium handles, which together add up to over 1/4″. There is nothing in my life I would ever use a cutting tool for that would break these handles. I would certainly not advocate ever using a knife of this quality to pry anything, including a staple, but the blade design and steel strength should put up with any fairly unreasonable amount lateral prying if you are so driven to use a $400 knife as a pry bar. From my perspective that is what a Leatherman or small pry bar is for.
When you actually start cutting something instead of just parading around with it, the Sebenza design delivers everything you would expect in a design refined for over twenty years. The CPM S35VN stainless steel takes a razor sharp cutting edge and holds it for a very, very long time even when cutting very tough materials. Part of that performance is due to Reeve’s blade design and grind refined over the years and the steel used for the blade.
There are many great steels available, but S35VN delivers corrosion, toughness, and wear resistance balance at a higher level than other steels. Reeve used a variety of premium steels over the years for his blades, but has settled on the extremely pricey S35VN steel for the Sebenza. Many consider this steel the best cutlery steel in the industry for durable cutlery targeted for harsh environments.
Without placing a Chris Reeve Sebenza in hand, it is literally impossible to convey the beauty and quality of a Sebenza just through words and pictures. The next time you have $100 burning a hole in your pocket, I challenge you to save and buy that “just one great knife”–buy a Chris Reeve Sebenza. The only regret you will have is not doing it sooner.
- Tested – Chris Reeve Sebenza 21
- Large Sebenza 21 MSRP $410
- Small Sebenza 21 MSRP $350
- Blade Material: CPM S35VN Stainless Steel
- Blade Hardness: 58-59 RC
- Blade Length: Large – 3.625″ (92 mm), Small – 2.94″ (75 mm)
- Blade Thickness: 0.125″ (3.175 mm)
- Overall Length: Large – 8.335″ (212 mm), Small – 6.875″ (175 mm)
- Handle Material: 6Al4V Titanium
- Handle Thickness: Large – 0.150″ (3.81 mm), Small – 0.125″ (3.175 mm)
- Weight: Large – 4.7 oz. (133 g), Small – 3.0 oz. (85 g)
- Fittings: 303 Stainless Steel
- Thumblug: 6Al4V Titanium
- Pocket Clip: 6Al4V Titanium