Disclaimer: I’ve been a Sebenza user for about 12 years now, so I dare to say I know almost everything about them. For me, it’s more than just another folder – it’s an EDC tool. For that reason, you’ll find photos in this review taken over the the last 10 years. They’re real proof of my Sebenza story. And yes, I wrote this review with a Sebenza in my pocket!
For thousands of years, the most used tool of all-time has always been the edged tool commonly referred to as the knife. A knife means work, and the Zulu word for work is sebenza. So, what is a Chris Reeve Sebenza? It is a working knife and a very good one at that! It is a simple recipe really; two slabs of titanium, a premium stainless blade between them, supported by precision bushings and bronze washers, give it a strong lock, and Viola! You have a perfect working folder that is ready for action. While today this may sound quite obvious, 25 years ago it was much less so when Chris Reeve made his first frame lock folding knife. By all accounts, his Sebenza model was THE first modern frame lock knife, and it has become a standard by which many others are judged today.
Leonardo DaVinci once said, “Simplicity is the highest form of sophistication.” While he was not talking about the Sebenza, it sums up perfectly what this knife is all about. It is not just another pocketknife, it is mechanical perfection combined with simplistic attitude. Two thick pieces of titanium form the handle, one of which has a partial cut-out, which is used to create the lock. The harder you squeeze the knife, the more pressure you put on the locking slab, and as a result, the locking action of the knife becomes stronger. It is simply genius! What is really great is that we owe Chris Reeve proper recognition, not only for his invention, but for also making it a patent-free design. It is open source utilization for anyone, anywhere!
Today the Sebenza’s blade is made of S35VN steel, a high-end stainless steel alloy used by many of today’s top knife companies. Before this, Chris Reeve Knives Inc. (CRK) was using ATS-34, BG-42 and S30V steels for the blades. Crucible Steel Inc. developed both S35VN and S30V especially for cutting blades with input from a specific knife maker. Which knife maker you ask? You guessed it, Mr. Reeve! He is the man behind modern blade materials, materials that have changed the knife industry over the last decade.
The default finish of a Sebenza’s blade is achieved via stonewash process. Just how is this blade finish achieved? Well, blades are tumbled, or “washed”, in a tank with small hard stones, resulting in the final finish – yes, it is actually as simple as that. The resulting finish is a nice semi-gloss, which consists of micro-scratches across the whole surface of the blade. The biggest benefit of such a finish is of course scratch-resistance and the fact that should you scratch your blade, it would blend with the rest of the finish so as not to be obvious. This type of finish also lends itself to be considerably more corrosion resistant than say, a sandblasting or satin finish.
The Sebenza is a hollow ground knife and there are many who debate among knife enthusiasts as to which one is better, hollow or flat grind. However, very recently Chris introduced the best compromise between two; the full height, big radius hollow grind and you can find it in the newest model, the Sebenza 25. This particular grind profile makes the blade a bit stronger versus a deep hollow ground profile. It also cuts much better due to flatter sides but still allows for long service, numerous sharpening cycles, and a thin cutting edge thanks to its hollow ground nature. However, my personal choice for EDC purposes is the Sebenza 21, as I prefer its finer edge in my everyday cutting tool. The Sebenza’s edge is sharpened at 20 degrees on each side, which is the industry’s modern standard for blade sharpening. Thanks to this, one can sharpen Sebenza on almost every commercially available sharpener, including the best of them all (my humble opinion of course), the Spyderco Triangle Sharpener, which is also comes highly recommended by Mr. Reeve himself.
CRK offers two sizes of the Sebenza, a large one with a blade length of 3.62 inches and smaller variant with a blade length of 2.95 inches. I personally carry the larger one a majority of the time, as this size is more useful to me and it is fully legal in my country. As pictured below the size difference is considerable so the choice should be fairly easy – depending on intended use, carry options, and legal aspects.
The Sebenza’s blade pivots on a stainless precision bushing with two brass washers on each side. This has been a long time proven system, which is allows for smooth opening and easy cleaning and service. Prior to each knife leaving CRK manufacturing facility it is hand assembled, each blade bushing and lock gets adjusted and polished, and it is quality control checked. This allows Chris to assure outstanding lock reliability and smooth action on all of the knives he sells.
What I particularly like about the Sebenza is the smoothness of the mechanics. It is not loose, nor friction-less flying blade action, which is very unsafe, but rather it is a kind of smoothness you associate with vault door, smooth and steady – opening the Sebenza is a joy and it really gives you that vault-like impression when the blade locks in the open position. Of course the Sebenza by default has been equipped with thumb stud for one-hand opening, single or double-sided options, a pocket clip in a tip-up configuration, and short lanyard that aids in drawing your knife from the pocket. The thumb stud is small and grooved, yet it still works as intended. I found the “push it along the blade” technique to be the best option for opening, and it even works in thick gloves. The stud is blue anodized by default, which gives socially acceptable look, as a bright blue is not a tactically or military associated color. But it can be also ordered in silver, gold or bead blasted option.
And last but not least, you can also buy the Sebenza in a left-hand configuration, including the lock position changed to the correct side for left-handed use. This goes way beyond the option of just a left-hand pocket clip typically offered by many competitors.
Now that we have covered a brief history of the Sebenza line, let us take a look at the most popular iterations of the Sebenza over last 25 years. I am lucky to say that I have tried them all! Well, at least a vast majority of them so here we go!
Probably the most sought after working Sebenza today. It is my most used EDC tool/knife and has been for well over a decade. It features a broad blade, strong tip, drop-point shape, and a straight handle with grip enhancing jimpings. It offers good comfort in almost any grip. It is not a “master of one grip” like many of the knives on the market today. The Sebenza gives you full control and positive traction for your fingers in almost any imaginable grip: straight, reverse, hammer, on the side, pikal, you name it! Also, this style of blade probably has the strongest point of any Sebenza variant, with the only exception possibly being the tanto blade version. It is a “real tool-like” folder for many, myself included. Unfortunately, the Regular Sebenza has been discontinued and is no longer in production. If you are interested in one you will need to look for one in the second-hand markets.
There is a Limited Regular Sebenza, which was offered with wood inlays in the titanium scales. It had a limited number of 50 pieces annually. In past years, some of the Limited Regular Sebenzas were built with really exquisite materials such as mammoth bark ivory inlays, but this option is no longer available. A Limited Regular Sebenza with a Damascus blade and mammoth inlay can fetch a price of $3,000 should one turn up in the collector’s market.
Sebenza Classic 2000 / Sebenza 21
The original shape of the Sebenza was developed 25 years ago, before the Regular variant was introduced. It is a bit slimmer and more elegant. The handle has a slightly concave back and enhanced index finger cutout that offers a good safety margin for everyday use. The blade is very elegant, with a long clip-point pattern and very fine tip. In real-world use, there is almost zero difference in lateral blade strength between the two models, but surely the Regular looks more beefy. Sebenza 21 was introduced during the 2008 BLADE Show – it was simply a newer variant of the Sebenza Classic 2000 with contoured titanium frame and handle, chamfered at the front, which makes it very easy to put back into a belt sheath or pocket. The blade is exactly the same as its predecessor. It still is the most popular model today and probably the ultimate production EDC folder money can buy. With a price tag of $395, it is by no means cheap, but in my opinion worth every penny. In Europe that cost becomes even more substantial due to import taxes, approximately 430-450 Euro.
The Sebenza 21 has also been produced with a Damascus blade, making it an even more beautiful and fully functional knife. Some users consider Damascus steel as the ultimate blade material for work and they use it just as hard as any other steel. From personal experience, I can attest that I am quite impressed with how a stainless Damascus Sebenza holds its edge.
Sebenza 21 w/ Micarta inlays
This is the most tactical looking of the Sebenzas. It features two slots along the front handle and a third one on the back, which are filled with inlays made of the same micarta material as used in Green Beret tactical knife. On one hand, micarta inlays vastly improve grip, but on the other it also bulks up the knife making it considerably thicker and less everyday oriented. I would mainly recommend it for serious outdoor use or as a duty folder for law enforcement or active military personnel. But I do have to admit; the Micarta Inlay Sebenza simply looks awesome! By default, it is delivered with natural titanium hardware instead of blue anodized. The price? Well … perfection like that comes with retail price of $485.
The Sebenza Insingo features a Japanese ‘santoku’ inspired blade with a Sebenza 21 handle, making it a great overall user, especially for any kind of use in kitchen applications. The blade has a slightly less pronounced belly and a stronger tip with short swedge. The swedge is not sharpened, but it is sharp enough to possibly be considered a double-edged tip by some authorities. Make sure to check your local laws before putting this one into your pocket, or dull the swedge a bit more with sandpaper or sharpening stone. The Sebenza Insingo is priced exactly like Sebenza 21. In the image below you can see a comparison of the blade styles.
The Sebenza Insingo is also available with a micarta inlay, which makes it an awesome folder for outdoor and camp use. This particular version is my second favorite of the Sebenza configurations. It works great as a EDC in the small Sebenza size with sporting a blade length of 3 inches.
Slightly bigger than 21 and surely the strongest Sebenza made to date, the Sebenza 25 has a regular blade shape, big radius hollow grinds, and aggressive jimping on the blade spine. It is thicker and stronger in every aspect. Its blade is made from .140 inch thick stock instead of the standard .125 inch, which is found in all of the previously described versions. It also has a thicker and stronger pivot construction as well and a new variant of the frame lock. It uses a super hard, large ceramic ball as a contact point where it meets the tang of the blade. That makes it even smoother and quieter in operation than the Sebenza 21, plus it ensures long years of perfect service. It also makes the lock very durable and reliable in muddy and desert conditions. It is the BEAST of the Sebenza world. Last but not least, the double-sided thumb stud comes standard in Sebenza 25. And yes, it is also available with tactical micarta inlays. The price of this workhorse? The Sebenza 25 retails at $445 for the standard version and $500 for the micarta variant. In the image above, you can see the Sebenza 25 (bottom knife) compared to Sebenza 21 (top knife).
Above is the Standard 25 compared to the Micarta Inlay 25 version. Below you’ll find a closeup look at the lock details.
There have been some other sub-variants of the Sebenza produced during last 25 years, including custom graphics, mammoth inlays, leather or wood inlays, coin inlays and more, but most of them are more collector’s pieces than everyday users. And I can understand it. Would you use such a gem to skin a deer? Well, actually you could, but…
Now a little bit on quality of Chris Reeve knives. Well, there is no doubt that CKR has the same status in knife industry as Rolex does when it comes to high-end watches. Sebenza may mean work, but also Sebenza also means quality – the highest quality! Chris Reeve Knives is the only company, which has scored Blade Magazine’s Quality Award more than 2 times. Well, actually they’ve scored it 10 times in last 15 years! It’s not just impressive, it’s an outstanding achievement that other manufacturers haven’t even come close to matching. And indeed, the CRK flagship knife could be a definition of the highest quality. Each and every aspect of the mechanics, materials, and final fit & finish is, well, perfect.
So now you might ask, what would a Sebenza be good for? Is it really a dirty, daily worker of the knife world or just safe queen? I can assure you, after more than a decade of use, the Sebenza has always been a serious tool. I’ve been using one since the moment I opened my first CRK box back in 2002. Let’s have a quick look at some of the things I’ve used my Sebenza knives for. I’ve used it for preparing wood for fire, including light batonning with another piece of wood to drive it through a 3″ log. Yes, I’ve used a folder for wood splitting, preparing kindling, making feather sticks, etc. Here are a couple shots of my Sebenza 25 in use …
Whether it’s whittling, sharpening sticks, or even woodworking, the Sebenza is great for all kinds of camp work. I even made a spoon to feed my 2 year old son one time when we forget his titanium one at home!
From slicing vegetables to cleaning fish and general food preparation, my Sebenza Regular has been a trusty workhorse. It’ll cut anything from wood to cardboard, boxes, rope, or canvas – you name it!
During last 12 years I’ve used my Sebenza knives hundreds, rather thousands, of times for any job a folder can do. Wait! It’s actually been for much more than that. I’ve used them simply for any work, which might require knife that is strong and dependable. If you ask me, what’s my personal favorite folder of all time? I’d point to a Sebenza any day of the week. You can even ask some of my friends on the many knife forums I’ve contributed to around the globe. They’ll all confirm it’s true. Or, just take a look again at my pics taken during last decade and you can see how much use I’ve gotten out of my Chris Reeve Sebenzas. I’ll leave with one final shot – my #1 rated EDC dump of 2014. A Sebenza is included, of course!