Sunday, June 12, 2011

Spyderco Delica 4 Review

I owned a SAK Super Tinker when I was younger. It was the first knife I was given and I loved it. Then, senior year in high school, 1995 for me, my Dad went to Boston for a business trip and visited Stoddards in downtown Boston. When he was there he bought me a Spyderco Delica on the recommendation of the person behind the counter. It had a molded plastic clip, but other than that, it was pretty much the same knife we have today. That knife was my EDC from 1995 until 2003 when I mailed it to myself at a post office near a courthouse (I learned that lesson). The package arrived, obviously opened, and my Delica was gone. About six years later I purchased a Delica 4 at the Kittery Trading Post. Both were the combo edge version.

The Delica and Endura lines are among two of the oldest product lines in the Spyderco line up, first appearing in 1990. Here is an amazing history of the Delica knife. Few products today, especially in the folding knife market, have been around as long as the Delica and Endura. This long lifespan and Spyderco's constant quality improvement mantra means that the Delicas and Enduras of today are superior as a result of evolutionary improvements. Here is my Delica 4 with its light&saber buddy an a Fenix LD10 (review coming shortly):


Here is the Delica product page. Here is a good street price on the Delica. Here is Nutnfancy's review. Here is his review of the full flat grind version. Here is Here is the Amazon reviews page, with an average score of 4.9 stars. Here is a decent written review. There are literally dozens of variations, from stainless steel handles to ZDP-189 steel to a high end anniversary edition in blue and orange. They are all listed in the history link quoted above.

Design: 2

Let's acknowledge it now--Sal Glesser is a master of design. Not just of folding knives, but I honestly think of design in general. If you could, for a second, pluck the snooty art student out of a class where they design something like this (can you think of a better way to spend a cool grand? Um...yes, don't even bother to answer that), and have him or her seriously consider all of the innovation that Sal brought to folding knives, I think they'd concede that the man is a master.

The Delica is proof of why. The thumb and finger seem to rest in the exact right place as if drawn there by magic or gravity. The choil works well and the handle seems to fit right into the palm of your hand. The handle is longer than the blade by a good bit with a blade:handle of .68. This is not a great number at all, the lowest of the knives I have review thus far, but it is, in part, why the handle feels so good in the hand. It does, however, make the knife feel like a much bigger blade than it is. For example, Native has a 3 1/8" blade, but a slightly smaller handle. I am not saying this is a good or a bad thing, but something to note.

Fit and Finish: 2

There is widespread criticism that Spyderco's lock backs generate some up and down blade play when in the locked position. I have never found this to be the case. Furthermore, the blade was meticulously finished (more on that below) and centered very well. See:


Grip: 2

Maybe this is the secret of the Delica, the thing that makes this knife better than it seems like it should be. It is really grippy in the hand in multiple grips. The extra handle length is put to good use and though it is a large handle, its narrowing behind the choil makes it still feel responsive in the hand.

Carry: 2

Because the knife is thinner than a pack of cards, it just disappears in the pocket even though it is quite long. Carrying this knife you expect that all knives with blades almost 3 inches long would carry this well. Very few do, hence one of the many reasons this is an exceptional blade.

Steel: 1

VG-10 is a fine steel. It is very rust resistant and it sharpens very easily. It is not, however, the best at holding an edge, hence the 1. A ZDP-189 Delica, which is available, would be an outstanding EDC choice (even the regular models are outstanding choices).

Blade Shape: 2

The Spyder hole and the pronounced hump that it causes give the Delica a blade shape that is very unique. Only 20 or so years of seeing and using the blade shape has led people to not give it a second thought. I can only imagine the howls of protest from traditional knife enthusiasts when it was released, but like much of the innovation Spyderco brought to folding knives the blade shape just works. The 4th iteration of the knife rounded off the tip, eliminating a needle point and bulking up the end to prevent chipping. It still does a very good job penetrating material, even with the thicker tip.

Grind: 2

Spyderco usually does a good but not great job with the grinds on their knives. If you look closely you can see that the cutting edge, the second bevel on the knife, is usually a little uneven. Sometimes there are thickness variations. But there is nothing like that with the Delica 4. As their flagship design, the design that they promote as representative of all of Spyderco, the grinds are immaculate. They are not just even, but they are actually gleaming and polished. See here, noting especially the grind in the serrations:


Normally I don't like serrated blades, especially combo edges, but my original Delica was a combo edge, so I figured I'd go with tradition to see just how much the knife had improved, allowing me to compare apples to apples. Also, I like the thick, sturdy serrations Spyderco uses, probably second only to Kershaw's easy scallops. Though I know that plain edge knives are better as they are easier to sharpen, these serrations work well for me, perhaps because they were on the knife I first used when carrying a pocket knife.

Deployment Method: 2

Again, as the emblematic blade for the company the thumb hole is perfectly sized and positioned for effortless one-handed opening.

Retention Method: 2

The traditional Spyderco spoon-style clip, four way positionable. It works very, very well.


Lock: 2

The Spyderco lock back is a stiff one, it prevents the knife from exploding out of the handle and gives you a lot of feedback the entire way through the opening process. I have never found, in any model I own, the up and down blade play that so many mention. The lock up is solid.

Overall Score: 19 out of 20

If someone asked me for a suggestion for a good all around knife, a knife to buy and use, a knife that is not part of a collection, but a tool, this is it. This is a great knife for knife knuts and everyday folks alike. It is the perfect size for non-knife people, who think that small knives, like the Dragonfly, are too small to be useful. The Delica, in my mind, should be the first knife you own if you are serious about carrying a folding knife for any reason. So much for so little money. And now, I hope I have made my case for why THIS blade and not the Tenacious is truly the best value.

As a side note, comparing the Delica 4 to my original Delica 1, I can say that all of the improvements, the resculpting of the handle, the Boye detent on the lock, the clip, and the new tip profile make a great knife even better. 20 years from now I can't even imagine how sweet of a blade this will be.

Eventually I would like to do a comparison between the Delica, the Mini Grip, and either the Leek or the Skyline. Look for that in the future--a mid-sized EDC shoot out. Funds present a problem, but I will track them down eventually.

1YL: 18 out of 20

Plain and simple, this design is outdated.  I would drop the score from a 2 to a 1 in design.  Sal is still the master, but this is no longer his magnum opus.  There are many Spyderco knives are a superior in design, even in the same blade size as the Delica.  The Caly Jr. for example, is light years better.  The Caly 3 is better.  The Native 5 is better.  All of those knives are Sal designs and all are better.  This is just an outdated design.  The big issue is that the knife is SO LONG in the hand and the pocket for so little blade.  This is a perfect example of why ratios matter.  


  1. Awesome Tony. The Delica is a classic and it was interesting to hear how far back you and that knife go. 19/20 sounds like a perfect score too.

    I've actually handled the mini grip, leek, skyline and Delica. I found the mini-grip to be too small to carry and I ended up returning it for a full size. Both the Leek and Skyline are excellent, but given the choice it's Delica all the way for me. Anyhow that's just my .02 - excellent review.

    1. A great reliable knife. Well balanced. The only issue I have is for someone that uses a knife a lot it's not the easiest to open and close. And difficult to close one-handed. I will be buying another knife that is a lot easier to open and close, but I will be very happy to carry this one with me. I highly recommend this knife for anybody looking for an everyday knife for light use.
      You may also like these reviews here:

  2. Nice review - I just ordered my first Spyderco (with the exception of the Sharpmaker I own) in the form of a black regular blade Delica 4. It is meant to enter into my EDC rotation to provide a lighter weight option to my current Kershaw Random Leek. Looking forward to seeing if the Spydie hype is well deserved! I love the looks of the Caly3 as well - just cant justify the spend right now, as I also ordered a Leatherman Charge Ti, a ESEE Izula II (my first fixed blade) and a Preon 1 to replace my lost EDC AAA flashlight - the excellent polished Fenix LD01 - the second Fenix I have lost in the past 2 years!!

  3. Based on this and other reviews,I just ordered my first Spyderco. I got the Delica 4 with the Emerson opener. Even though I'm right handed, I often carry in my left pocket with my keys so I wanted the easy opening function.

  4. I ended up taking mine outside the court and finding a hiding place...then after court, anxiously going back to see if it was still was!
    Have had other things turn up missing--ok stolen probably--when mailed at Post Office...two Foursevens flashlights.
    Wish government would ask for help from Fed Ex. Like saying we don't know what we are doing and have not for a long time...would you please take over the Postal System?
    Start a request for what is the best thing you have stolen from the post office? Just kidding...!!! Can't lump all post office employees together. Some are very good. Hello.... Newman.

  5. I would love to see a D5 without the ricaso,with the cutting edge running all the way to the handle,and a deep cary clip.For me this will the perfect edc folder.