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Long-Term Review: Spartan Harsey Folder

anThe Spartan Harsey Folder has surely been one of the most extensive knives tests that I’ve ever done. I grabbed one at the Spartan booth during Blade 2016, shipped it home, and put it into service on July 1st. It took me couple of months to test it in the field and in a variety of elements. I’ve used on mountains, at sea, on the lake, and even in a snowy European forest in November. Whether it was hiking, biking, fishing, mountaineering, or bushcraft skills – I tested it in each and every way I could. This article is not an overview or just a quick test. It’s a long-term user’s review.

Spartan Harsey FolderIt all started back in 2001. First there was a drawing, and then prototypes followed (which you can see in the original Bill Harsey’s photo below). Construction-wise, the Spartan Harsey Folder is not overly complicated. Two thick slabs of titanium are equipped with an integrated frame lock (invented by Chris Reeve, Blade Magazine Hall of Fame member). The combination makes for an exceptionally strong handle. It’s commonly accepted amongst many knife enthusiasts, myself included, this handle and lock configuration is the most solid construction available on a folding knife today. The stronger you hold your knife, the stronger it locks the blade. It’s easy to operate, fool proof and bomb proof – if it’s executed correctly. Spartan Blades absolutely nailed it on the Harsey Folder! It’s strong, smooth, and has enough engagement to ensure safe usage.

Spartan Harsey FolderLet me digress for a moment. There are some makers and/or manufacturers who believe in so-called ‘early lockup’ to give the knife some space for future wear. That is actually against Chris Reeve’s idea. Early lockup can disengage in dynamic use (due to springy nature of metal), when you hit something, like a branch, with back of the blade. To be really safe, a frame lock needs fair engagement, and 25% is reasonable minimum, while 50% and up makes ideal locking range according to its originator. Lock wear should be minimized by proper angles of blade tang vs lock, correct material used (6AL-4V titanium in this case) and additionally by heat treatment of the titanium lock bar (or by lock insert). To sum it up, let me tell you this: the guys from Spartan are good friends with Chris Reeve so I bet they got all the hints from Mr. Reeve. I smacked the blade’s spine on a wooden log time after time to check the dynamic integrity. There was no movement. Additionally, the internal lock stabilizer stops any up and down lock movement. Plus, it also prevents from lock over-travel when opening. In a nutshell – this knife is like a rock!

Spartan Harsey FolderThe knife’s handle is beefy enough for even the biggest hands. This makes the knife easily usable with thick outdoor gloves. It’s slightly contoured with ergonomic, shallow finger cut-outs and grip enhancing jimpings. The whole handle construction, including the stand-offs, is made of titanium. Even the screws are custom-made of titanium! The attention to detail is really impressive, but the Spartan Harsey Folder’s design is all about weight saving and functionality. It’s not just for fashion! On a field knife of this a size, a lanyard hole is a must. This folder has a generously sized one that is drilled in the top-end part of a handle. It’s big enough for 550 paracord, which I used for my field lanyard. Last but not least, the pivot is also beefy with oversized screw heads and shields, which puts pressure gently on the handle and holds its position well. There is no need to check the pivot screw tension every day because the handle is a definition of SOLID.

Spartan Harsey FolderA titanium pocket clip, which is held by titanium screws, keeps the knife firmly in a pocket or pack. As far as I remember, the first prototypes I played with used a clip that was a little bit thinner than it is now. Of course, the larger clip is a very welcomed change on such a hefty folder! The clip is reversible for either right or left pocket carry. In addition, there is a small titanium insert for the non-clip side that is included in the package. It’s a very nice touch. Also, check out the arrow cut-out in the clip – it’s part of Spartan’s logo.

Spartan Harsey FolderThe blade material is no surprise when it comes to the Harsey. Spartan uses S35VN stainless steel hardened to 58-60 HRC, just as they do on almost all of their blades. It’s been an industry standard on high-end production knives for last couple of years. It’s really tough, holds sharpness well, and takes very good hair-popping edge. It’s also really resistant to corrosion, but of course due to the carbon content, it is not fully rustproof. Dark surface spots might occur after prolonged use in extremely corrosive environments where acids or salts are present. In reality, I can tell you after practical application and heavy use, mine is as clean as new after months.

The blade’s shape is clearly a utilitarian Bill Harsey style. It’s made to perform, but with an old school twist. I’m personally a little tired of all the more and more fancy blades and grinds showing up these days. They look cool and aggressive in a catalog, but offer subpar usability in a field. I’m happy to say that the 4-inch, drop-point blade with high saber grind and long swedge gives you SERIOUS cutting power with easy penetration on thrust. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not a super-slicer and it would never compete with full flat zero-ground blades, but what the Harsey folder offers is cutting POWER. You can transfer a lot of force from that beefy handle to its cutting edge. It will do things that would destroy a zero-ground slicer almost immediately. It’s a beast of a tactical folder, which also cuts well enough to be used as camp and travel EDC blade. Just take a look at it. What’s not to like? Last, but not least, the oversized double-side studs and jimped thumb ramp complete the package.

Spartan Harsey FolderThe steel performance is fine, it’s on par with other Spartan blades made of S35VN. Proper heat-treatment keeps a sharp edge very well, but it still allows for easy field sharpening. This is not always the case with ‘latest and greatest’ ultra-high HRC tool steels, which might be more resistant to wear, but surely require good quality diamond-based sharpening systems (and skills) to maintain the proper edge. While most of us knife enthusiasts own a bunch of sharpeners, please remember that this knife has been designed as a soldier’s knife. It should be easily field serviceable! A simple alumina rod or Arkansas pocket stone (or even back of standard ceramic mug or just river stone in worst case) will bring the edge back to usable sharpness if needed.

What I really like on Spartan folders (and what is very often overlooked in other knives) is a smooth transition between main grind and flats on the blade. It’s not as fancy looking as some sharp and crisp transition lines found on other blades, but it’s made like that with purpose. It actually requires additional machining and polishing to make it right. As a result, it creates considerably less drag in cut material when a blade dives deeper than just to a grind border. The smooth stonewash finish doesn’t got scratched easily and it also supports low-resistant deep cutting.

Spartan Harsey FolderAn outdoor knife of this size and strength can be potentially used for much more than just cutting. Let’s take look at starting a campfire. The plan is easy. Take an arm-thick branch, break it, and baton the blade through it to expose dry wood inside. Light batonning and branch splitting with the Spartan Harsey Folder was easy. When it came to cutting it into thinner pieces, it was a breeze. Whittling 2-3″ feather sticks was also super easy. Finally, when it came to  striking some sparks off the ferrocerium rod, of course I had to use the actual cutting edge. Thank to the Harsey, the sparks were really nice, fat and the feather sticks caught fire immediately. After wiping the ferrocerium residue off the blade with just a piece of rag, it was clean again. The blade looked untouched. The trick is to keep the blade at a slightly sharp angle to shave and strip the rod lightly. This prevents excessive edge damage and gives you very hot, healthy sparks.

Spartan Harsey FolderFood preparation is not something the Spartan Harsey Folder was designed for, mainly due to 0.154” blade thickness. However, it will chop vegetables or slice bread in an improvised camp kitchen. Sure, it’s not a natural-born kitchen knife, but I’m not really sure that effortless carrot slicing should ever be a priority on a true tactical folder. That being said, when it comes to skinning game or cleaning fish – the Harsey will make short work of it. A classic, straight blade always works well on meat. Plus, a comfy jimped and finger grooved handle minimizes risk of your hand slipping onto an edge. This can be challenging when the knife is covered in blood or water, but I had zero issues with this folder.

Spartan Harsey FolderLet’s talk about woodworking now. As I said earlier, light batonning is easily accomplished (just be sure to do it with disengaged lock, otherwise you can compromise it). Whittling, trimming wood and bark, and all kinds of small bushcraft and forestry tasks is predominantly what I use my Spartan folder most. I’ve also used to whittle walking sticks, tent pegs, practice trap triggers, building open fire kitchens, starting fire, and just about anything else you can think of.

Spartan Harsey FolderThe Spartan Harsey Folder is a solid performer. It’s not a whittler’s dream (it’s not a scandi grind), but the brutal strength of the cutting edge was most important when the knife was designed. I have a bunch of scandi-ground blades and none of them would survive the heavy abuse of my Harsey without at least a rolled edge, more probably even chipped. The same applies to the thrusting and precise puncturing with the tip. A dedicated super fine blade works great on leather, but this knife can also puncture through a metal drum! It’s still possible to do more delicate jobs. The blade is fine enough and keeps a good balance between strength and usability. Speaking about penetration, on a heavy stab, it is more than great thanks to that pointy tip, sharp edge, and long swedge. It’s no match to Spartan George V-14 dagger on a heavy thrust, but it is way closer than you might expect.

Spartan Harsey Folder

So now, after couple of months of heavy use, I can clearly say the Spartan Harsey Folder is my new favorite travel companion. There is no chance it could ever let me down in the field. I’ve used it at very different altitudes (from sea level to 7000 ft) and in very different climates, including a hot summer and even in a heavy snowy forest. It just worked for me – every single time.

Spartan Harsey FolderSpartan Harsey FolderI’ve been waiting a long time for a top-notch, seriously sized US-made frame lock folder designed by my friend Bill Harsey. In the meantime, I have couple of his hand-made knives Considering the market prices of his custom folders, I wasn’t about to bash them around in the field too hard. Then the Spartan Harsey Folder emerged. It’s the perfect outdoor and adventure folder. There are very few knives which I couldn’t now live without, and Spartan Harsey Folder is one of them. It’s solid, classic, designed by one of the best living knife makers/designers today – AND it’s manufactured a by veteran-owned company entirely in the United States. What’s not to like? No wonder it scored Blade Magazine 2016 “American Made Knife of the Year” award. Bill, Mark, and Curtis did a great job on the Spartan Harsey Folder. I know a lot of their customers will be more than happy with this knife!

spartan-harsey-folder-14spartan-harsey-folder-15OFFICIAL SPECS:
  • Blade Length: 4″
  • Overall Length: 8.8”
  • Blade Thickness: 0.154″
  • Blade Steel: CPM S35VN
  • Blade Hardness: 58-60 HRC
  • Frame: 6AL-4V Titanium
  • Weight: 5.9 Oz
  • MSRP: $460
Written by

Piotr is an avid backpacker, mountaineer, skier, sailor, and all around backcountry adventurer. <a href="http://motusdev.wpengine.com/author/piotr-ma/">Read more …</a>

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