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:
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:
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.
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.
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.