Friday, January 6, 2012

Spyderco Lava Review

There are very few knives that I have pined after like the Spyderco Lava.  It all started when I got my first Dragonfly.  I loved the curved handle and the leaf shaped blade, but it was the finger choil that I just loved.  It gives you so much control over the blade that precision cuts become quite easy.  Slicing, scoring, everything really, is made easier because of that finger choil.  Some research on the Internet turned up the Spyderco Lava as the next evolution in knives from the Dragonfly.  It was a Dragonfly taken to the extreme--smaller blade, larger handle, more pronounced curve, and a massive pair of finger choils. 

I have been after a Lava for about two years.  Once I received it though I was disappointed.  I carried for about two weeks and had a really negative impression of the knife.  I decided, given its pedigree (designed by Chad Los Banos and tweaked by Sal himself), to put it away and carry some other things and come back to it.  I detailed the problems I was having here.

The Spyderco Lava is out of production.  That said, the always excellent Spyderco website still has a product page for the knife, found hereHere is the product page from the knife's designer, Chad Los Banos.  Here is an insanely positive review on the Spyderco Forum.  Here is a video review so you get a sense of scale.  Here is my Spyderco Lava, which I received in trade (it was in exceptionally good shape other than the natural swirl scratches that occur on stainless steel during carry; even the original box, in good shape, was included):


Design: 0

The design of the Lava, it seems, focused so much on the handle that they forgot there was a knife blade at the other end.  The handle is comfortable, though not as nice as I thought it would be.  One major problem is the "kick" you get when the lock bar snaps into place.  It is not pleasant at all.  In fact, it is something like a little bee sting each time to click the lock into place.  You can hold the knife in a way that avoids the kick, but then the knife is not as well seated in your hand.  I like the alignment of the wrist and blade when the knife is open, but the shape of the blade makes cutting very difficult.  If you are reaching with a blade at all while cutting, this is not the knife for you.  After two separate periods of carrying this knife I learned that few of my cutting tasks involve slicing or pressing straight down with the blade, and most if not all, involve using the blade for a bit of reaching.  Think about it--when you go to cut something you almost instinctively reach forward a bit with your hand and arm letting the knife blade connect with the material and then you pull the blade back towards your body.  The shape of the blade and it is size make this difficult.  The blade to handle ratio is all out of whack, but that is part of the design. 

It could be that this is designed SOLELY as a fighting knife, but I find that difficult to believe.  It is a radical design.  Sometimes radical designs work.  Sometimes they don't (the Farnsworth House is notoriously poor as an actual living space and has been in constant repair, almost since the foundation was poured).  This is the Farnsworth House of the Spyderco line up.   

Fit and Finish: 0

It seems unacceptable to me that a folding knife would have a locking mechanism that is both hard to use (the spring seems massively hard to press) and painful to open.  There is no excuse for this sort of design.  The lock bar's kick is just unpleasant in every way.  I also think the grind could have been better.  I like very shallow angles on my cutting edge allowing for easier sharpening and and finer edge.

Grip: 1

Again the kick from the lock bar makes holding on to this knife difficult.  Once open, it is fine, but seeing as it is a folding knife, it might have been a good idea to work out just how the knife would work in a real person's hand during opening.  

Carry: 1

When closed this is a tiny knife.  A small speck of a thing that seems dwarfed by everything other than the Dragonfly.  But it is a boat anchor.  Here is the knife closed:


The knife is flat and slim, but the stainless steel handles had completely unnecessary weight.  In an EDC knife, especially one this small, you like it to be "invisible" in the pocket.  This isn't.  How about aluminum or G-10 with liners?  I know Sal prefers "experimental" knives to be made in stainless steel first, but here it is a poor choice.  

Steel: 1

VG-10.  I don't like its edge holding ability at all.  The knife is six years old, but even then there were better steels.  Now, I think VG-10 is about the middle of the pack, at best.  It is as rust resistant as concrete, but its as sharp as concrete too.  

Blade Shape: 0

Yikes.  What a disaster.  The blade is short.  I am fine with short blades.  My ideal blade length is about 2.75 to 2.5 inches.  This blade however is too short, especially in light of how round it is.  The Mini Tuff Lite has a short blade, about the same length, but it is acutely sharp and grabs everything I want it to when cutting.   This blade has no reach and no teeth.  It works well in straight down slicing cuts, but then every knife does that.  In anything else it is a struggle. 

Grind: 1

Again, the grind is plagued by the very small very steep angle on the secondary bevel.  See here:


With such a small knife and such a rounded shape, that small of a bevel is not helpful in making the knife "bite" into material.  The primary grind, a nice leaf shaped full flat grind, is decent though.

Deployment Method: 2

Spyderco thumb hole--best in the business--move on.

Retention Method: 2

A very nice, standard Spyderco spoon clip.  Perfectly fine in every way.

Lock: 0

Okay, the lock is painful to use, but more than that, even with all of the force put on it, it is not as strong as, say, the Tri-ad lock or the compression lock.  Nor is it as easy to use as the Axis lock.  This is a bad lock back.  

Overall Score: 8 out of 20

Giving a Spyderco this bad a score is painful for me, like I vandalized by best friend's house, but I have to call it like I see it.  This is an awful knife in almost every respect.  I appreciate the risks that Spyderco takes with their designs, but sometimes they don't pay off.  This is one of them.  Avoid this knife.  The Mini Tuff Lite is similarly choil-y, vastly cheaper, and much, much better.  

I know this is going to spark comments, as there are plenty of Spyderco fanboys out there and many LOVE this blade.  I am a Spyderco fanboy, but I HATE this knife.  

Sorry.  This little blade stinks. There is always another out of production Spyderco to pine after. 


  1. Ah, I'm sorry to hear this one didn't live up to the hype for you Tony. I have never handled this one myself so I can't offer much of an opinion. I see where you are coming from and respect your opinion so I don't think I'll be going out of my way to pick one of these up. Thanks for the honest review!

  2. Anthony , I can't contact you by mail.Can you sent me a second mail address ?

  3. If you want to sell the Lava onwards. I'm very interested :)
    Let me know.


  4. Long since gone. I HATED this knife.

  5. I'm still waiting for their next release, I heard that it's going to change the market.

  6. Weird,
    I *love* the ergos on the lava, love the aesthetics... As far as carry I find I tend to space out before I weigh out for EDC at work carry (how much guff do you really carry round).

    Agree the blade's funny tho. FIts the spyderco lineage but CLB has done better blades. I think if spyderco were looking at the design today they might have been more open to different blade designs.

    There's a southard regrind into a wharncliffe that looks awesome tho