Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Spyderco Native 5 and the Element of Mystery

Awhile ago I had gone through the Spyderco catalog and said that the Native 5 was one of the knives I was most looking forward to getting to see in person. Well, I did some research and found out that the Native 5 is coming towards the end of summer and that none other than Sal Glesser was carrying the manufacturing prototype around in his pocket.

It is easy to see why this knife is in the pocket of the man who could, if he wanted to, carry just about any folding knife in the world. The Native 5 is modeled after the Native 4 CF, with a full flat ground blade, a reworked finger choil, and a slightly modified handle slab profile.

Here is the Native 4 CF:

Here is the Native 5:

The Native has a history of being a super buy, originally designed as a Spyderco knife just for Wal-Mart. It was to be made entirely in the US (hence the Native name), with classic Spyderco ergonomics, refined to a more traditional appearance (humpless with a more "normal" blade shape). Plus it was designed to use cutting edge steel at a bargain price. The Native 4 used CPM S30V, a great steel. The Native 5 uses the next generation Crucible steel--S35VN.

Looking at the "steel recipe" for S35VN is very similar to S30V, but it includes one element that no other steel on the market (other than the VERY RARE S110V) does--niobium. Here is the recipe for S35V from the Crucible datasheet:

Carbon 1.40%
Chromium 14.00%
Vanadium 3.00%
Molybdenum 2.00%
Niobium 0.50%

Its the niobium that is really interesting. The metal is 41 on the Periodic Table. Here is the wikipedia entry on niobium. Niobium is regularly used in rocket boosters to make them tougher. It allows the steel to be hardened to a greater extent and it makes it more malleable and formable in the forging process. It is also hypoallergenic, like titanium, and like other non-ferrous metals (titanium and aluminum) it can be anodized. It is also helpful in small quantities, making it one way of making a high strength, low alloy steel (a specially processed steel where the expensive elements are used in smaller but more strategic amounts, allowing for a cheaper but stronger steel).

S35VN is showing up everywhere, as one of the three steel choices for an XM-18 and THE steel for the new Sebenzas. The Native 5, if it is in the same price range as the old Natives, around $100, will be the cheapest knife on the market with this new, niobium-based, super steel. Plus it has the super sweet Spyderco ergos. No wonder Sal is carrying around a Native 5. Let's hope "late summer" is like August.