Saturday, July 21, 2012

Spyderco Calypso 3 CF Review

There are certain numbers that through sheer coincidence seem to come up in life over and over again.  The Golden Ratio is one, the Fibonacci Sequence another.  Sometimes these numbers are hidden in everyday objects and yield a great deal of satisfaction and understanding when discovered (noting, as an aside, that Thomas Aquinas's definition of beauty--the splendor of order--seems apropos).  And thus when I sat down with to write this review I noted the following numbers on the Caly 3 CF spec sheets:

Overall closed length: 4 inches
Overall blade length: 3 inches
Overall open length: 7 inches
Weight: 3 ounces

All nice round whole numbers (an update to the Caly 3 CF product page notes that the closed length is actually 4.063 inches; obviously the folks at Spyderco are taking no heed of my need for a good segue).  And thus, even the finest and smallest details are taken into consideration with the Caly 3 CF.  This is the perfection of a form, the result of an evolutionary iterative process.  It is the embodiment of constant and relentless attention to detail.  Even 6 years after its initial release, the Caly 3 CF remains one of the finest and best designed production knives on the market. In 2006 it was about a decade ahead of its competition.  And now, well you do the math. 

Here is the product page.  There are three variants.  First there was the VG-10 variant that had G10 handles, which is now discontinued.  Then there was the Caly 3 CF, the subject of this review.  Then there is a Sprint Run with Damascus steel and a bolster coming at the end of the year.  Here is the Spyderco Source page on the Caly design.  All of the Caly 3 designs are based on a locking version of the Sal Glesser designed UKPK.  There is a larger blade, the Caly 3.5 that has a few variations of its own and a smaller blade the Caly Jr., previously reviewed for the site hereHere is a link to BladeHQ where you can purchase the knife and benefit the site (i.e. contribute to the Haiku giveaway).  Here is a video review.  Here is an excellent written review.  Be forewarned when looking at reviews, the Caly 3 is something of a darling child among knife knuts.  The praise is effusive, but after owning one I can see why.  Here is my Caly 3 CF, which I received in a trade.

Design: 2

When you look at the Caly3 there are few things that stand out.  First this is a very slender knife.  The handle is curved and cut in just the right way to caress your hands into one of a few useful positions.  The size is bigger than I like, but for a knife this size, it is very very nice.  Here is a size comparison between my benchmark EDC, the DF2 ZDP-189 and the Caly3 CF ZDP-189.   


The design's small touches are what makes this such a great knife.  Three in particular stand out: 1) the rounded tip of the thumb ramp; 2) the positioning of the deep carry clip; and 3) the smooth transition from the thumb ramp to the knife handle when closed.  All three of these things exhibit an attention to detail befitting the finest and most astute designer (this a Sal Glesser design, BTW).

The rounded tip on the thumb ramp allows for a better precision grip when using the knife by having your finger draped over the spine.  In a knife as small as the DF2 that doesn't matter because you can easily place your finger correctly, but in a knife this size a spikey thumb ramp is no fun.

The position of the deep carry, over the top clip is really nice as well.  Look at the photo above and you can see that the Caly3's clip really does bury the knife in your pocket.  It almost vanishes.  It is even deeper than the DF2's clip position and I REALLY like the DF2's clip.

Finally, there is common trouble spot on a knife, the rear tang when the blade is closed.  The worst is an exposed tang.  It seems to snag on everything and collect lint like Jay Leno collects cars.  In some cases this is real problem, such as when the lint prevents the lock from engaging (this is usually an issue in lockbacks, in particular the Delica 4 has this problem, as does the Caly Jr. both of which I had to clean out frequently).  One solution, the sort of duct tape solution, is to simply raise the profile of the handle slab PAST the tang.  It works, but it is a halfway solution.  The Caly 3, however, completely eliminates the problem, making the rear tang and the handle slab meet up perfectly in one smooth, sweeping arc.  It is a flourish of design that only a master could recognize as important.

The knife's shape and form are nice, but this is a blade with a bit more class than others.  The twill carbon fiber is an elegant handle choice, one of my favorites as it is useful, beautiful, and light.  The choice of steels is top notch.  Everything about this knife screams useful beauty.  It is an EDC knife that comes pimped from the factory and for that, it deserves consideration.  If you have been through the Delica/Mini Grip/Skyline phase of knife ownership and are looking for something equally high performance but with a design nod towards style the Caly 3 CF fits the bill beautifully.  

Sal is the master of this form and the Caly 3 is Exhibit 1 in a long line of knives proving this point. 

Fit and Finish: 2

For a non-custom knife, the fit and finish is really remarkable.  Only my Sebenza is in the same league, and the Caly 3 is one third the price.  There are no sharp edges (other than the blade) and everything is cut and polished perfectly. The handle slabs are nice and radiused:


Even as a used knife, there were very few blemishes, a testament to good fit and finish.  One issue that may bother people is the exterior sandwich layer of steel, 420J, is very easily scratched and a great medium for fingerprints.  It does serve a purpose, in that it lends toughness to a very thin blade of hard steel, but this is something that might bother some folks.  If you are a "shelf queen" type, beware.  If not, don't worry about it.  

Grip: 2

The CF is slick, think of it as a smooth matte finish.  It is not as slick as the CF insert on the Protech Sprint, but it is also not grippy by any means.  The real grip for the knife comes from two places: 1) perfect jimping; 2) beautifully ergonomic curves.  Here is what I mean:


Each sinuous dip and point forces the hand to grip the knife one of three ways.  It traditional grip (like holding a hammer) works nicely.  An ice pick or reverse grip is also well-accomdated.  Finally, a precision grip with a considerable about of the blade close at hand is also something the knife accepts with ease.  The jimping is quite simply perfect.  It is hard cut but not grating and it is placed in the thumb ramp and choil providing excellent retention in the hand.  For as slick as the CF is, the shape of the blade and the superb jimping make it an easy to use and easy to hold tool. 

Carry: 2

Dropped into the pocket with a smooth handle scale, one might be concerned that the knife would or could slip out.  It never did.  The pocket clip carries so deeply that I have never once had it fall out, even with the wire clip (which is considerably less tensioned than the one on the DF2).  The knife's slim and rounded profile rides exceedingly well.  It is a bit heavier than it would seem, but nothing at all to complain about.

Steel: 2

The steel is actually a laminate of ZDP-189 and 420J.  The ZDP-189 makes up a very thin core while the softer 420J makes up the outsides.  I am not sure if they chose the laminate steel to make the knife cooler looking (which it does, with a line across the bottom 1/3 of the knife very reminiscent of a hamon line) or because they were afraid when the blade was first made that the ZDP-189 alone would be too hard and brittle to serve as a blade steel standing by itself.  If my research is correct this was the first production knife to use ZDP-189 and so maybe it was just Spyderco being cautious.  Either way, the effect is another feather in the style cap of Spyderco.  You know I love ZDP-189 and as the cutting steel it is superb.  One thing I will note is that the edge has some pronounced micro chipping.  As a used blade (again it came to me in a trade) it is interesting to see how ZDP-189 wears.  The chipping was concerning until I sat down with my Sharpmaker and a strop and made it disappear in a few minutes.  After that little touch up session, the knife cuts exceptionally well, pushing paper and popping hairs with ease.   

Blade Shape: 2

Here is a close up of the blade in profile.

I am not going to say that this is the perfect blade shape because that is task-depending, but the leaf shape, especially in this iteration is pretty nice.  I was worried that the Caly 3 would have no real belly like the Caly Jr, seen here:


Comparing the two you can clearly see that the Caly 3's leaf shape is more curvy and that extra curve makes for a nicer slicing action.  An excellent blade shape for EDC. 

Grind: 2

It is rare for a grind to add beauty, most aesthetic grinds tend to fall into the Klingon design school, but here the full flat grind with excellent secondary bevel highlights the hamon line and makes the knife very pleasing to the eye.  There is nothing I'd do differently with the grind.  Excellent.   

Deployment Method: 2

The Spyderhole is my favorite way to open a knife for reasons I have detailed many, many times before.  But the noteworthy thing about the Caly 3 CF's opening is just how smooth it is.  Lockbacks put pressure on the blade the entire way through the opening and closing cycle making the opening a bit slower than normal.  On the Caly 3 CF, the rear of the blade, the part that comes in contact with the lock, has been polished to a mirror shine and the result is a smooth and sweeping opening.  It will never be fast, because this is a lockback after all, but it is fast enough and glass smooth. 

Retention Method: 2

I love the wire clip.  It is a little springier than modern Spyderco wire clips, but it works very, very well.  It is also very, very low riding and over the top making carry about as discrete as it could possibly be.  Even with the smooth handle scales everything works exceptionally well.


Lock/Blade Safety: 2

The Caly 3 CF's lockback is executed perfectly.  It is smooth, there is no blade play, even on my used model, and the centering is perfect.  It is also plenty strong.  But the real thing that stands out is just how tight the tolerances are on the spine.  It looks like one smooth piece of metal and even the part between the lock and the spine of the blade is pretty darn clean.  All of this evinces an attention to detail that you just don't find on knives this cheap (noting of course this is not a CHEAP knife, clocking in north of $100).  

Overall Score: 20 out of 20

No real doubt on this one, the Caly 3 CF is one of the finest production knives I have ever used.  It has a level of fit and finish that most knives three times its price are lacking.  I recommended it as one of the top 10 best buys in gear last year in my Recommendations 2011 Series and I stick by that.  Here is what I wrote then:
Spyderco Calypso 3 ZDP-189
: I got a Sebenza for Christmas and in doing the research I had narrowed the choices down to four: the Sebenza, the WH EDC, the Strider PT, and the Caly 3 ZDP-189. It was a tough choice, but not between the knives you'd think based on the price. The choice was quickly whittled down to this knife and the Sebenza. The super refined design, the steel, and the Spyderco hole make it an excellent choice. It even has a high tech handle material to give it an extra bit of class. This is a high end knife in almost every way except for price. That, in my opinion, is the very definition of value. 

Everything I wrote there is still true.  This is a great knife, an excellent EDC knife for those looking for something with a bit more panache.  If you can't quite afford a Sebenza, this is a really good substitute and is different enough that it doesn't feel like a knock off.  This is a masterpiece knife designed by probably the best knife designer in the world.

So if it is all of this, why no perfect?  Well, I like my EDC blades a bit smaller.  That is it.  That small knock is based solely on a personal preference so I am not going to give it an Everyday Commentary Perfect Score Seal, but if you like slightly bigger knives than the DF2, consider this knife a "perfect" scoring blade.


  1. I really like the knife. One criticism only... It is challenging to open. There is something gritty in the pivot area that makes a tickly sound when the knife is being popped. In all other areas the knife is all I expected.

    I found some more reviews on Spyderco knives Here

  2. This is a defect. If it is under warranty contact spyderco.

    1. I agree. I've purchased two in the last few months, and they are both silky smooth. As smooth as any Benchmade folder (if not smoother?) and the thumb-hole is well positioned and gives better clearance and better angle of force than the thumb-stud on so many knives. Thumb-studs are often close to the edge of the handle, so you're pushing as much sideways on the blade as you are opening it.

  3. Mine was gritty too. Got one yesterday that replaced a Leaf Storm which was deemed defective by Spyderco Warranty, so I chose Caly 3 CF for replacement since Leaf Storm is discontinued. I fixed the problem by simply washing the knife in warm water & detergent. Then used compressed air to blow it out and a hair dryer (warm setting) to evaporate the remaining water inside the knife. Followed up by lubing the pivot area and the spot where the blade tang meets the lockbar. I used Ballistol but any thin lube should work. There are no washers to this knife so the action is blade against liners and it needs some lube to operate smoothly even though those areas were polished by factory I think some grit gets in during assembly. Operates nicely now.

  4. I loved my Caly3, but couldn't figure out how to close it *truly* with one hand. I could press the lock, and use my leg or the ground to push on the back of the blade, but not with just my hand. Other folders with liner-lock, or bolt-lock (or ball lock) on the side allow you to press the lever with your thumb, and reach a finger over the blade to close it. I can't do that with the back-lock. That's the only drawback to this knife, and I feel that I'm more likely to put this knife down, hence more likely to lose it. Any tips?

    1. Ha, me again, answering my own question. The trick is to push the lock with your thumb while your index finger is pointed out; then put the index finger in the blade's thumb-hole and close the blade partially. Next, with your index finger still in the thumb-hole holding the blade steady, you can release the lock with your thumb and re-position your fingers so they're not in the way of the blade. At this point, you can either push the blade closed with your index finger, or re-position a little more and close the blade with your thumb. The thumb-hole is great! Closing with one hand was my only reservation about this knife but with that resolved, I now consider it to be the "perfect" EDC blade.

  5. I've carried two calys for years, easily the best edc I've ever owned. Will spyderco please offer a 154cm compression lock version? It's a beautiful execution of form and function. Now update the damn lock!