Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Why Nutnfancy is (slightly) Wrong About the Sebenza

By now, you have watched or at least watched some of the epic Sebenza 21 review by Nutnfancy.  If you haven't, here it is (be prepared, the entire thing is over 49 minutes long).  In his typical entertaining and meandering style Nutnfancy debunks a lot of myths about the Sebenza, claiming that the knife is much more expensive than it deserves to be.  Many of the things he said were 100% right.  I again don't like the homophobic language, but his other points were spot on.  In the end I think he did a very good job reviewing a knife that is incredibly hard to review because of all of the preconceptions about it.  There were three points he got wrong, though, I am going to address them because I think it is important to know what your getting when you spend $300+ for a knife.

The Carpet Layer Argument

The basic premise of one of the major arguments about why the Sebenza was too expensive has to do with how a person that uses their knife for work would not appreciate all of the things that make the Sebenza so expensive.  Basically Nutnfancy said that if the Sebenza was given to a carpet layer, someone who does lots and lots of cutting for a living, but that person didn't know it was so expensive, they would probably not be all that impressed by the Sebenza compared to, say, a $30 Kershaw.

The carpet layer example is a bad one because carpet layers have a special knife to do their difficult cutting tasks and ANY knife we carry for EDC would not work.  Here is the carpet layer's tool:

Its bent handle and specialized cutting edge make it a poor comparison to the Sebenza, but that is a minor detail that cuts against the analogy, but not the argument itself.  Suppose the argument was this: a person that uses a general utility knife for a living would not notice the difference between the Sebenza and the $30 Kershaw.  Is that true?

I would say probably not.  While it make a take a while for the person to appreciate the differences I think, over time, it would happen.  It might not (read: probably not) lead to the person to be willing to pay the extra expense Sebenza ownership requires, but in a price blind comparison I think the person would pick the Sebenza every time, if they were given a year to use each.

Here is why.  The Sebenza is, after all, just a knife.  It cuts stuff.  That is all it does.  But there are so many little things that make the Sebenza very good at that one job and those little things are missing in lesser knives.  For example, the double dip pocket clip is really quite nice.  The knife is secure to the pocket and unlikely to be lost.  It is also capable of latching on to bulky material.  Finally, it gives you tactile feedback (pushing past the first hump) letting you know when the knife is secure.  This is just one example.  There is the fact that all of the bolts holding the knife together are identical.  The simple function of the framelock, or the picture perfect blade shape.  All of these small details make it a better knife, and over the long run, the tradesperson in the example would just like it better.

I had an experience similar to this.  Four summers ago my Dad and I rebuilt a room in my house.  We converted it from this:






to this:





Aside from a few improvements (like a new chair and wireless mouse, keyboard, and printer), this is the room I write the blog in and do all of my work at home.  It has a raised ceiling and a ceiling fan and the other room had a crummy drop ceiling.  Big improvement.  Prior to the job I did some research and I bought what was at the time, the state of the art, light drill/driver, the Bosch PS20.  It was more expensive than my entire combo kit, but I knew we'd be hanging drywall like mad men, so I bit the bullet and did it.  I took off a week from work and we did nothing but cut and hang drywall, spackle, paint, and prime.  In the end, the office came out great and the PS20 became my favorite tool.  Even now when it is no longer state of the art (that would be the Festool CSX, which I am also lucky enough to have), I still use it.  It is powerful, small, and simple.  It works and works and works.  Over time and lots of use I have come to appreciate all of the things that made it more expensive than its cheaper brethren.

I think the Sebenza would be like that.  Even in my EDC use I appreciate those little touches a lot.  If I used it every day for work (which I would) I think I'd appreciate them more.  The question remains unanswered as to whether I would appreciate it to a degree that justifies its increased price, but in a price blind test, I have no doubt that the carpet layer would take the Sebenza pretty much every time over the $30 knife, if he had a while to use both.  

 
1st Kind of Cool Argument

Another argument that Nutnfancy made, which is a variant of the carpet layer argument, is that it is just a knife and that no knife is really "worth" the Sebenza's $410 price tag.  That price tag, according to Nutnfancy, is really a product of marketing and US manufacturing, not the inherent quality of the knife itself.

Some of this is based opinion, but some is based on fact.  I would counter his opinion with my own.  I WILL pay a premium for US made stuff.  I like Surefire stuff over Fenix largely for that reason.  It means something to me and I am willing to put my money where my mouth is.  US stuff is worth more to me, period.  That is, of course, a preference and not a fact, so I will not stake my refutation of his arguments on this point alone.

Instead look at it like this: the Sebenza and production knives in its price range (like the Microtech knives) do something that less expensive knives don't.  They marry three highly desired qualities in one product.  The Sebenza has renowned fit and finish, state of the art materials, and a time tested design.  Lots of knives have one or two of these qualities.  A vanishingly small number have all three.  Spydercos knives are blessed with state of the art materials and time tested designs, but the fit and finish is not in the Sebenza ball park.  Conversely, the Al Mar Ultralight series has both equal fit and finish and a time tested design, but lacks the state of the art materials.  Getting all three of these things in one knife is VERY rare and thus worth a premium.

Here is another example of this issue.  How many players in baseball hit 30 home runs in 2011?  How many players hit above .300?  How many had more than 30 stolen bases?  Answers:

30 HR: 21 players
.300 BA: 25 players
30 SB: 18 players

How many did all three?

Three (Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun, and Jacoby Ellsbury).

Putting together highly sought after attributes generates an ever-shrinking list of things.  The more attributes you add, the smaller the list, until you get to only a handful of things.  It happens in all over the place in life--baseball, cars, and knives.  The items that end up in that small final circle are truly rare indeed and thus, by simple economic principles, worth more.

Other knives may cut stuff, but few do it with the level of fit and finish, state of the art materials, and time tested design that a Sebenza does.  Those that do have a price similar to a Sebenza.  It may be partly marketing, but marketing alone would not be enough (otherwise Gerber could charge $300 for its knives, their marketing budget is HUGE).  In the end scarcity of equals makes the Sebenza expensive, at least as much as marketing does. 

Competitive Options

Some of these I feel were tongue and cheek, designed to provoke the wrath of Sebenza fanboys.  But others were not.  The Cryo is not in the same league. Its not even close to the same even kind of knife.  That was fanboy bait.  But the Alias was not.  It is a legit competitor, but having owned both the Sebenza is a better knife.  It is a better knife and it is what all Alias owners really want.  Again, in a price blind comparison, very, very few people would choose the Alias over the Sebenza.  The Sebenza is why the Alias exists.  Buying the Sebenza gives you EXACTLY what you want and that has value in and of itself. 

And this leads to another point: the Sebenza killers.  When an item develops a market of competitors designs solely to beat it at is own game ("iPhone killers; iPod killers; and WRX killers etc...") that item is a benchmark for the market.  It is great, otherwise companies would spend time and money trying to beat it at its own game.  23 years of competition have proven one thing--there is no Sebenza killer.  It is the standard by which other knives are judged and for good reason.  It is a superb tool.  There are competitors, but nothing is out right superior, until you get into full custom knives.  And again, that has value.

Conclusion

The Sebenza is too expensive, Nutnfancy got that right.  But there is nothing out there better for less.  So in that regard it is priced just right.  Some of it is marketing hype and he is again right on that point.  But there are real differences that I believe he gave short shrift to for reasons I am not sure I understand.  I guess he wants to be iconoclastic and that is great.  Opinions are important to have and express.  Here, though, I think he got a little carried away.  This knife has been around for a very long time in an essentially unchanged form (yes I know, modest tweaks).  There is a reason for that--it is truly great.

Nothing wrong with saying that, even if the knife is $400.  A Corvette is nice.  A Ferrari is nicer.  That is just the way it is.  Money does matter.  More money buys nicer stuff.  It happens in cars, houses, and knives.  You can find good values, and that is important, but sometimes it is just cheaper to buy the nice thing once than spend more on many "good value" things.  If we were talking $100,000 car v. $400,000 car I would be reticent to recommend the more expensive thing, but the difference in terms of what it can buy, between a $400 knife and $50 knife isn't huge.  Save up.  Be smart.  And buy the Sebenza.  If you don't like it you can always sell it because, Nutnfancy's right, it is a commodity knife which is yet another testament to its superiority.    

27 comments:

  1. Extremely well said - although really I would expect nothing less. Besides his point that that the knife is expensive (and it is - no real argument there) I don't think he had much to add to the discussion.

    Continually referring to it as a "tactical knife," and lamenting the speed of deployment shows, to me at least, that he just doesn't get it. Obviously if CRK wanted to build a fast deploying knife they could. It's not like they lack the industry experience or manufacturing capabilities. And to continually call it a tactical knife (when hardly anyone carries it that way and CRK has never positioned it as such) just shows how out of touch he is.

    Also he spends all this time talking about how his review is going to be so novel, and he's going to say all the stuff no one else is willing to say, and won't succumb to "groupthink" - and he then advances only a couple legit points, none of which are earth shattering (although his satisfaction with the jimping was a surprise). I dunno, it just doesn't appeal to me. Don't tell me your sh*t doesn't stink Nutnfancy - besides the inflated air time his review was much like anyone else who isn't a huge fan of the knife. Mostly it was a complaint about the price, but I must admit only Nutn could make it into such a long-winded and grating display of self flattery.

    And did anyone else think the Sage 2 and Alias looked like total crap next to the Sebenza in his comparisons? I mean, sure, they are still nice knives. And yes I get it it, the marginal benefits shrink as you get up into these higher priced knives, but I can clearly see the difference in quality. Ultimately you do get something more for your money - the question is whether the trade off in price is worth it for you.

    Excellent post Tony. I contemplated writing on the subject myself, but I highly doubt my take on it would have been as well thought out or refined. Cheers to you for allowing logic to prevail.

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  2. I knew this was coming and I am glad it did. NnF does not HVEC the Sebby or he would not lament the clip the way he did either. The secondary pressure point makes it a superb retention mechanism. The Sebby plain appearance was one of the reasons I chose it. I didn't want my EDC to look "tactical" like the Socom Elite.

    NnF's argument about the carpet cutter is a complete load of crap. He basically debunks the need for ANY high grade tool with it. I love my Hilti driver because the promise of its capabilities as much as its actual performance in my hand. I choose quality over clones because I want higher resale value and good after the sale experiences whenever possible. I have a carpet cutting system for carpet tasks but would never carry one around for EDC. These are all things ignored by an already long winded review. By the way, which other popular products has NnF avoided reviewing because he did not feel they fit his audience?

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  3. I think your missing the point he was trying to make. He wasn't saying its not nice, but its prefrence, the "second kind of cool". What your paying for isn't the performance, whill it is a good performing knife, there are many others, at better prices. The reason to get it though is because it is THE Sebenza. Nothing else is it, and it has a monopoly of being itself. The Sebenza is great but NnF likes to try to tell people his opinion, and I sort of agree with it. If performance is all you want just get a ZDP Delica, but it won't be as cool as the sebenza in some people's eyes.

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    1. No, I got the point. I just don't agree with the premise. There are knives that work well. The Delica ZDP-189, for example. But few knives work AS WELL as the Sebenza, across the board. It is a no-compromise high performer in every important regard. This is not just an opinion. There are facts to back this up.

      Performance is based on discrete items, like materials and design, and across the board the Sebenza scores very, very highly on each point. S35VN is state of the art steel. There are equally good steels, but nothing really outright better for utility EDC tasks. The pocket clip design is really amazing. The overall slim profile of the knife is excellent. Even the blade centering is excellent. The ZDP-189 Delica is good, but not excellent in everything. The Sebenza is. That increased performance is worth something.

      How much it is worth depends on a preference. Do you want good enough or great? Given the price difference, I'd rather save up and buy a Sebenza. To say there is NO performance difference, if you include everything, between the Sebenza and a very good production knife, like the Delica, is not true. It is not purely a difference in the second kind of cool. There are real differences in performance. How substantial they are depends on your perspective.

      $400 is a lot of cash. But it is not SO much. We are not in the ballpark of Corvette v. Ferrari where the difference is $300,000. The difference between the Delica and the Sebenza is $300. The percentage is the same (75%), but the real dollars are different. You can do a lot with $300,000. You can't with $300. Economists talk about opportunity cost, what your second best alternative is. The opportunity cost on the difference between a Ferrari and a Corvette is a college education. The difference between the Sebenza and the Delica is three nice dinners with drinks. Save up, buy the one you really one, and use it. It will make you glad you did.

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  4. I watched most of the video and wasn't offended by NnF's opinion about the Sebenza, but I just don't think he "gets it". It's hard to take his opinion too seriously, as I doubt he has much, if any, real world experience with the Sebenza. I know it's been said over and over, but appreciating the Sebenza(or any high-end product, FWIW) comes from using it over an extended period of time. I truly believe this. I've been carrying a CRK knife for nearly seven years now and consider it my most prized possession. It just does what it's supposed to do and does it well. It's not trendy, so it won't appeal to some. It is pricey, but I've personally paid more for other knives, thinking they had to be "better", only to move them on. While I don't consider it perfect, it has done the best job of any knife I've owned to cover most of the things I do.

    The "douche" comment didn't really sit well with me, but that's his take on it. I would counter by stating I think in order for something to described as such, most people would know what it was as soon as they saw it, wouldn't they? If anything, the Sebenza is pretty much the opposite, as most people seeing one would think nothing of it at first glance. That understated quality is one of the things I like most about the Sebenza. It's the apprectiation of something that is at the top of its game all the while going unnoticed by the majority of people. That is cool to me.

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  5. Pete L,

    Thanks for the "douche" reminder. NnF revealed something really unrefined in that comment. Anyone who judges someone that way by what kind of knife they carry is not worth knowing well. It's not like someone carrying a 10 inch Bowie. The Sebby is a nice knife. Judging me harshly for choosing it says more about the judge than it does about me.

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  6. I dont have a sebenza, the nicest knife i own is a sage 2. The step up of quality from my other knives to the sage was a quantum leap. I qurrently own several spyders and a mini-grip. they just cant compare to the sage in feel and sound. I am not saying the the sage is the best knife made or is it even the best knife spyderco makes. Its just the best own I own. I would someday like to own a CRK product. I dont expect the jump from the sage to a sebenza to be a quantum leap but I do expect to be impressed. The sebenza does not lead the market in value but Chris sells everyone that he makes and is very respected in the knife making community (wins quality awards yearly)and not just by dopes like me. To me that speaks volumes about his products much more than a 50 minute video.

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  7. Tony- Really enjoyed reading this and I have to comment on this! I am an avid outdoorsman, volunteer firefighter, love to fish and hunt and am Blessed to live in the MW where I have room to move about and be in the outdoors in a matter of minutes. With that being said, I own many knives and love to not only use, but also collect them. I own a 2001 Small Seb. w/ BG-42 blade steel that I purchased new. It has been a spectacular knife for me in every fashion. When I need a larger knife, I think about the task at hand and get one, that being either a XM-18 3.5" flipper or a SMF. With 11 years of regular use with this Seb., I can say that it is awesome craftmanship. They have some of the best Customer Service out there. Case in point, I contacted Angela w/ CRK a few months ago and said that I needed the knife sharpened, etc... She told me to send it in and for $14 return shipping she would have the shop due a 'Spa Treatment' on it for FREE! Well, it came back looking like a brand new knife; sharpened, blasted, tightened, I believe even hugged...it does not get any better than this! Why people bitch about something they haven't had an opportunity to use is beyond me. Use the knife like the big boys and you'll see what I mean. If you look hard enough, you can find them used on the secondary market for $285-310. IMO, they are a bargain for what I paid $345 ELEVEN years ago brother...now put that in your pipe and smoke it! -KEEP UP THE GREAT REVIEWS Brother!-

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  8. After having handled a Sebenza, I can fully appreciate its desirability and fault no one for wanting to own one. It is no doubt worth the price for those who are willing to pay, but include me out. Moderately priced knives are preferable for my purposes. habits and personality. Although I own several of these, I am not a collector. They were purchased for use, which for me is usually moderate to light. Several years ago I spent 5 hours of almost non-stop cutting open bags of blown insulation. The Buck 110 I used that day worked well enough for the job. Nuances in materials, workmanship and design become apparent in heavy use, but that kind of job was only once in my life. Maybe something of the sort might come up again another year, but I'm sure that whatever I have on hand then will do just fine.

    The Sebenza is both overkill for the mundane tasks in my daily doings and does not meet one of my requirements for any knife, which is that in case of loss it can be easily replaced. I'll leave the Sebenza supply for those who want, need and appreciate them.

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  9. I bought one of these overpriced POS. Blade snapped on me and contacted CR. Basically told me too bad.

    Everyone raves over this "state of the art" steel but the funny part is that my H1 has held up leaps and bounds better than the expensive paperweight I got from CR. As a matter of fact my cold steel that I have had for 14 years which I do the same tasks I did with the Sebenza obviously outperformed it.

    Kinda wish I had known of a physical review place to check it out beforehand. Would have been nice to at least see it in action since I won't ever.

    Pretty sad how a company won't warranty a knife at such an expensive price point. Could buy 2 benchmade's and 2 spyderco's for the price of this one. Cheers to the fanboys that sleep with these at night. To those listening. Pick anything else. Even a crappy Gerber or Walmart steak knife.

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    1. I am going to pretend this is not a troll comment, which seems virtual impossible to me.

      First, CRK does have a warranty and it is a lifetime warranty:

      www.chrisreeve.com/warranty.htm

      Second, tell us what caused the knife to snap. Maybe I can talk to CRK and see if they'd reconsider there decision.

      I doubt this fellow will respond, but if he does I will let you know.

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    2. Nope, I asked them twice to have it replaced and they told me it was due to neglect or abuse before I even said how it happened. You must have some kind of magical powers to have them change their mind. I'm no troll and check in on this site once a month or so but will stop coming here seeing how your a total douchebag yourself with your response to me.

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    3. Okay, not a troll. Send me an email with details about why and how the knife broke. Email is anthony sculimbrene at comcast dot net, in the usual format. We should at least try to see if this works.

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  10. so what happened with broke knife anonymous?

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    1. What you see here is what happened. Nothing ever came of this.

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  11. You own a Mac. thats enough for me to throw out everything you just said. Sebenzas are nice but not worth more then 180 at MOST. I am going to be buying a fake sebenza over a real one if i ever had to.

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    1. You make snap judgments about people based on the computers they used to own. That's enough for me to throw out everything you just said.

      Would it help my standing if I told you the previous computer I had was a hand built (by me) PC?

      Why $180? That's kinda arbitrary.

      A lot of this has to do with how much you think a dollar is worth. CRK has been doing quite well for themselves selling the Sebenza at its current price or close to it for 25 years. Clearly the market disagrees with you.

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    2. I don't really think his 'review' was a review at all. He was pandering to his fanbase...which is what it is. A sebenza is a good knife at a high price that the market determines. I'm not a huge fan of it, but at least it's still somewhat affordable. $400 is a lot for people who view a knife as a cutting object and nothing else, but for some of us...it's more than that. I grew up watching my dad use his old beater knife for all sorts of tasks and of course many of us watched Macgyver years ago...simple cultural aspects can affect how we view purchases like this. In the high end audio world (another hobby of mine), you can't get much for a few hundred dollars. The difference from a pair of Pioneer speakers at Best Buy and those that cost several thousand dollars might not seem like much to some, but those differences are worth thousands of dollars to many others. Most hobbies are like this. I've always wantd to get into photography but I balk at the price of good lenses. It's not worth it to me. I won't, however, call everyone with a $300+ lens a douche or flame a company like Apple because I'm used to the prices set by horrible PC manufacturers (how's that Toshiba laptop working out for you -_- ?)

      I actually think that there are so many knives on the market which are WAY too big to really carry around and likely will never be used to cut anything other than a form of paper. Those, to me, deserve more criticism. The blades are often too big to be legal in most places, the handles too bulky to fit in a pocket, and it makes you wonder...why get a folding knife that isn't portable? Just get a fixed one!

      Sorry for the rant.

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    3. Dave, I have done a pretty systematic job of debunking the need to carry big knives. From the DFII review to the most recent knife review I did, the Manix2 LW I am always railing against these ridiculously large knives. I happen to agree with you on this point 100%. If you need a five inch blade, use a fixed blade.

      Your rant is my rant.

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  12. "More money buys nicer stuff"

    That just isn't true at all. There is no logical reasoning behind that phrase, just putting it out there. You're saying that there is direct correlation between price and quality? That is not the case at all my friend. That is a fundamental law of business. More expensive does not mean more quality.

    Although you have made some valid points in this argument.

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    1. There are cases, where the price differences, either in real dollars or as a percentage, are close that defy this principle, but by in large it is true. A $100,000 car is nicer than a $10,000 car. A $1 million dollar house is nicer than a $100,000 house.

      An $18,000 might be better than a $20,000 car, but that is usually a rarity and usually a small difference. There are other places where price is not necessarily an indication of quality, but again these are odd exceptions (such as a craftsman that undervalues his work). These exceptions don't disprove the rule. In fact, they PROVE the rule. These exceptions are so noticeable and such a big deal for the very fact that the rule itself is so widespread and so universally applicable that when we encounter things that violate it they stand out like a sore thumb.

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    2. Another way to think of this issue is by using this test: if you could choose either the $100,000 car or the $10,000 to get as a gift (price no object to the giver) which would you take? Generally, people will take the $100,000 car.

      It is the same way with knives. If you could have the Kershaw Skyline or the Small Sebenza which would you take? If you could buy either for $40 which would you buy?

      Price no objection, I think you and almost everyone else would choose the more expensive item every time.

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  13. Stumbled across this review, after I used the Insingo for a few months. I used to be in the "I-dont-need-a-benza" camp, happy with my Sage. However, as my finances improved, and the Sebenza came within reach, I took the plunge, merely out of curiosity. And it is the best knife you can buy for that price, IMHO.

    Keeping the $40-knife-cuts-same-as-$400 argument aside, the tolerances on Sebenza are breathtaking - it is an engineering marvel. It goes back exactly the same way it was taken down, and that tells me a lot about how well it is made. The smooth feel and rounded edges talk a lot more about the knife and its craftsmanship. My only gripe with the knife? The small is too small and large is too large for my hands - but that is a problem with my hands, and not the Sebenza. So I got both. :-)

    And thanks for your opinion on the Sebenza.

    -Amarendra (choombak on most forums)

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  14. why people buy limcat, SVI?? why we just all shoot hi-point? Sebenza is a well executed knife. I carry mini-griptilian because it fits my needs. If i'm not happy with it anymore i may get a Sebenza. It's NnF... It's just a selfie...

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  15. As much as he hates to admit it, he is very fond of certain brands. Like his inexplicable love for a company like Microtech. He has generally never been one to like "high" end items fella.
    I thought he pointed out the realistic shortcomings of the Sabenza. Functionally, there are plenty of knives out there that match or exceed the Sabenza.
    .
    But there is a extra level of craftsmanship that goes into the Sabenza that you just don't see in most other knives and a unmatched resale value

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  16. I don't think Nnf was calling anyone a douche I believe he was just suggesting that there are people out there that might. I've put people in shock once I've told them what I paid for my Sebenza. I love my large 21 and it sits in my pocket everyday. I have plenty of other hec knives but they sit on my dresser. If anyone really believed they prefer a $20.00 knife over a Sebenza they most likely used the other $390.00 to pay for their drugs. We could all use a sense of humor when it comes to this topic.

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  17. The Sebenza definitely is partially overhyped as a "work" knife- i'm se a few users employ it as suck, but they will always remain the minority. Nutnfancy's review isn"t 100% right, but neither is it completely off base. the Sebenza may be marketed as a work knife, but he is far from the first to call it a "tactical" knife.

    1 thing he is off on is lock strength- lots of Ti framelocks will fail or get rock lock, but the Sebenza is carburized to help prevent this.

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