Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Small Sebenza 21 Review

This is my first review. I will be applying the scoring system I detailed in the last post. I base the information in this review on more than two months of exclusive carry and use. I received the Sebenza as a Christmas gift. It was the only choice for my light & saber combination that began with my McGizmo Haiku I received for my birthday. One classic deserves another.

Before I start here is the Small Sebenza 21 product page. There is literally no market variation in price as even thefind turns up only $330 versions. Mine was purchased at Knife Center. They have excellent service and speedy shipping. Here are a few written reviews: review 1 (british blades) and review 2 (associated content). Here are a few video reviews: Cajun Blaze and Cutlery Lover. Beware, these reviews have no pretense of being objective. There is a lot of fawning over the knife. This review will be similar.

Here is an image of my light&saber combination:


The Sebenza is an utterly compromised knife. It does nothing perfectly. It cannot pry or hack like a Zero Tolerance or an Emerson. It cannot slice like an Al Mar Ultralight. It cannot flick open as fast as my Leafstorm. It does not do any one thing better than the best knife of a given intended use.

But, and this is a huge caveat, it does everything pretty darn good. Imagine it like this: there are two kids in class and one occasionally gets a 100% on a test, but then falls back into the 70s and 80s. That would be just about any other knife. Then there is the kid that always, always gets a 95% on every test. That is the Sebenza.

In my twenty or so years of owning and using folding knives, nothing has come close to the overall performance of the Sebenza. Instead of focusing on one thing, Chris Reeve has done the seemingly impossible and made a knife that can do many things very, very well. For that reason, I think the Small Sebenza is the perfect EDC knife. EDC means it is with you everyday and that it can handle everyday tasks. There is no knife I have found that can handle more tasks, more different kinds of cutting chores than the Sebenza. It can go from slicing open packages to being used as a marking knife in the work shop (it does this very well).

Steel: 2

S30V. I love this steel. As I said in the scoring method post, it represents the best compromise, in my mind, between the four attributes I look for in a knife. The stonewash finish is nice, as it hides scratches well.

Grind: 2

A high hollow grind. If there is a "secret" to the Sebenza's success, this is it. The grind is meticulous and very thin. It allows the thick blade stock to act like a slicer, combining the best of a heavy duty knife and the best of a slim slicer.

Blade Shape: 2

I love the clip point. There is a good deal of belly and the small rise on the spine to accomodate the thumb stud works well as a rest for your hand.

Lock: 2

The lock was invented for this knife and has been copied all over the place. Best version of the frame lock I have ever seen--smooth, easy to engage, and easy to disengage.

Design: 2

After 21 years, this knife has had an evolutionary period longer than almost any other (see Spyderco Endura and Delica as rivals). The time paid off. It looks square and unyielding, but everything, even cut and curve is in the right place for use. Putting it in my hand proved why this is a timeless design. I think the inlays are gilding the lilly a bit, messing up a perfect and quiet handle. Blade:handle is a stunning .74, the highest of any of the many knives I have owned (the Dragonfly 1 is in second place with a .71 and a Delica is a .68). Every bolt is the same in the knife allowing you to use one tool to disassemble it. The blade size and overall weight are very nice (2.94 inches and 3 ounces respectively).

Fit and Finish: 2

Nothing jiggles or wiggles, everything sinks into place. The beefy blade hides well in the handle.

Retention Method: 2

The double dip clip is a marvel of simple, yet effective design. Holds the knife in place without pocket shredding. It's matte finish is also nicely inconspicuous.

Deployment Method: 2

The thumb stud allows for easy flicking, but requires a very specific technique. At first I was annoyed, but then I realized that the knife never fell open in my pocket (hello Mr. Tenacious) and only came out when I wanted it to. Once you have the technique down there is nothing smoother than opening this knife.

Grip: 2

Again, the design is marvelous. The thin portion just behind the pivot screw is awesome and allows for great cutting. Surprisingly many different grips are possible as this squarish handle works well despite (or because of?) its simple design.

Carry: 2

If I thought it would make sense I would give this knife a 3. It just melts into your pocket, carrying much smaller than it actually is. Of all the things about the Sebenza I like, this feature, if you can call it that, is the thing I like the most. It just vanishes in your pocket, whether you are wearing denim or slacks. Clip it on and it is gone.

Overall Score: 20 out of 20.

Price is the big hurdle. At $330 this is a ridiculously expensive blade and it is probably not worth that much money (the Sage II is a really nice knife for less than half the price). But it is better than all of the cheaper knives I have owned. It is markedly better. If you want better than good enough, this is the cheapest knife out there. The Scott Cook Lochsa, for example, is probably nicer, but is more than twice the price and not being made anymore.

Update: 20 out of 20, removal of the PERFECT designation

Over time the pivot became lose, so lose that it required loctite.  Not a thing you want on an $330 folder, especially when Spydercos and Kershaws 1/10 the price never need such attention.  Its not a big deal, but enough to bump down the score.  I also think that compared to the Mnandi, the Sebenza seems downright primitive.  


  1. Great review. I carry the same set up. Small Sebenza & McGizmo Haiku are as good as it gets for general EDC. Thanks for the great review.

  2. Thanks. I am experiment with the rating scale to see if works and is helpful.

  3. The Lochsa is still being made; it just has a five-year waiting list, which is currently closed :)

  4. I love the term "Light & Sabre" very good, and a great review too

    PS I found you linked from

  5. I carry a large blackwood inlayed sebenza in my RB pocket for most cutting tasks and a small ironwood sebbie FR pocket for fruit and other food prep. Thanks for the well though-out review.

  6. great review! check out my site

  7. I had a classic 21 small micarta

    Boy was it a letdown all the hype and it wasn't as smooth as any of my spyderco sprint runs (m390 para 2, grey Bob lum tanto folder, m4 manix 2, s90v cf yojimbo 2 etc these are my standards of high end knives)

    The thing didn't sharpen very easily, it didn't cut well and it didn't stay sharp for long at all shaving sharp was gone in minutes of light work (slicing up some oranges or apples)

    The only thing I liked was the rounded and polished spine ... That's it

    Its sold and gone and my sprint runs are going to get their spines rounded lol