Thursday, December 11, 2014

Chris Reeve Mnandi Review

Man has this review been tough.  Not because the knife is bad or complicated.  It is simple, subtle perfection.  The problem is what to do with the new model.  Cohost of the podcast, Dan from Blade Reviews, lent me his Mnandi for testing and it is an "old model". The new model, released in 2013 and produced since is a much worse knife ("worse" being relative, its still a great blade, just not as good as the old model).  So how do I review the Mnandi? What I have decided is this--this review will cover only the old model Mnandi.  I haven't extensively used the new model, though I have played with it, and while I THINK I can guess at a score, I am not sure.  Its not fair for me to guess though, and so this review will apply only to the old model.

What's the difference, you might be wondering?  Well, the Mnandi has a thumb cut in the blade, kind of like a very wide nail knick.  On the old model, the top most edge was perfect for grabbing the meat of your thumb and allowing the knife to open with one hand.  That edge was just sharp enough for you to get some traction and pop open the knife.  On the new model that edge has been rounded over and while it is possible to open the knife one handed still it is a MUCH more difficult task.  If the Mnandi has started out as a two-hand opening knife I am not sure anyone would complain--after all I love the Indian River Jack and it is a two hand opening knife--but when the original was a one hand opener AND the Mnandi (and all of Chris Reeve's knives) is done in the modern style, the loss of a great and interesting one handed deployment method is a big deal.  I know I am not the only one that dislikes the  change.  Virtually every Mnandi posted on BST boards specifies that it is the "old style" nail knick, if it happens to be one of those models.  Its a selling point because its something people like.  

Of course the problem is that you can't go to a store and buy an old model (though retailers would start advertising used ones or new old stock if they were paying attention).  So this review is not exactly the kind of review I like to put out--it is a review of something that is not readily available.  That said you can find Mnandi's of the old style on forums, so look closely.  Perhaps if there is enough push back, Chris Reeve Knives will offer both versions or revert back to the old style nail knick.  As it was, the old model Mnandi just happens to be one of the best knives available.  Read on to find out why.

Here is the product page. The CRK Mnandi comes in a wide variety of handle materials and there are also damascus steel versions.  The base version costs $375. Here is a written review from the knife's owner. Here is a video review. Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Mnandi, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Here is my review sample (borrowed and returned to BladeReview's Dan): 

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My video overview:


Twitter Review Summary: A combination of looks and performance that is stunning at the price point.

Design: 2

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In many ways the Mnandi is the knife the Sebenza should be.  It is a more elegant and refined design.  Chris Reeve has talked about how he had conceived the Sebenza as a knife designed for inlays, but the Mnandi is the knife that carries that promise to its logical endpoint.  The Mnandi is to the Sebenza what the Wave is to the PST--a new generation of tool with all of the improvements in design and implementation that were not available when the first generation was made.  Instead of a stamped pocket clip (which is a very good design, BTW) you get an elegant 3D sculpted clip. Instead of strips of inlay/onlay material you get a handle that is almost entirely an inlay, but done in a way that is both beautiful and still quite useable. Then there is the opening method--instead of a boring thumb stud, you get an elegant and effective mega-sized nail knick.  The opening method is especially nice because, unlike the thumb stud, it is not a wart you have to ignore when evaluating the aesthetics of the knife, but something that is part of and complements the looks of the knife in general.  The Mnandi is, in many ways, the Sebenza evolved.  And the fact that Chris Reeve could iterate on one of the best knife designs in the world and both make it better and make it different, is a sign of just how incredible of a designer he is.  

As a blue print, the Mnandi is a knife of singular beauty--a blade that matches or bests the aesthetics of custom knives ten times its price.  The Mnandi, like the Sebenza, is such a good value because it has the good attributes of a custom--superlative fit and finish, a beautiful and unique look--with the good attributes of a production--availability and sane(ish) prices.  Its odd to say that a knife that STARTS at $375 is a good value, but there is just no way to avoid that conclusion, given what you get for the money compared to other knives like it on the market.  

Sizewise, the Mnandi has delicious ratios thanks to its featherweight.  The blade:handle is .76, respectable, but not insane.

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The blade:weight is 1.83, which is VERY good. 

Fit and Finish: 2

I could simply say this is a CRK knife and move on, but that's not enough.  All of the normal nitpicky things knife knuts care about are dead on perfect.  Here is a rare shot of blade centering where I was able to get the camera almost perfectly head on:

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If it appears even slighlty off, know it is my fault, not the knife's.  Everything is like this, of course, but the inlay deserves special mention.  Inlays are tricky business--too gaudy and the knife is done and they are a bitch to put on.  Here, leveraging CRK's machining prowess and 3M UHB industrial tape, CRK manages to make a classy inlay that is seamlessly integrated and beautifully implemented.  This is, simply put, the best inlay I have seen on anything short of a megabucks art knife.  Sure the Howard Hitchmough's of the world do this better, but those knives start well north of $5,000.  For us mere mortals, this is as good as it gets.  Additionally, unlike many knives, the insane level of fit and finish isn't just a machinist's masturbation, it serves the overall function of the knife--the inlays are great and they work.

Grip: 2

Its very surprising to find out you can get a full four finger grip on the Mnandi. A knife of this size is usually a three finger plus grip, but here you get all four fingers.  I am not exactly sure why that is, or more to the point why other knives of this size can't do the same thing.

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The grip is also quite secure thanks to some real jimping on top and a nice curve for your two front fingers.  The inlay and clip are also nice, staying out of the way, and not causing hotspots.

Carry: 2

You know by now that I like options and the Mnandi gives you two.  Dan prefers the slip case carry and I don't blame him.  A knife this elegant deserves something a little better than banging around your pocket with some keys and a few dirty coins.

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But if you are a true minimalist you also get a very nice pocket clip that both works well and looks nice.  Another area where the Mnandi is just awesome.

Steel: 2 

The old style Mnandi came with S30V, while the new version comes with S35VN.  We are right at the point where technology is pushing hard to make S30V a 1 instead of a 2 steel.  I have found that it is chippy and hard to sharpen.  But the Mnandi's S30V is a little different than the average because CRK heat treats it to a lower HRc, addressing both problems I have with the steel.  Honestly I am not sure how much longer "regular" S30V will get a 2, but here, you have something different than "regular" and it is better for it.

Blade Shape: 2

As with almost everything about this knife, the slender clip point is not just wonderfully effective it is also absolutely stunning.  This is a great cutter and a great looker.  Its pointy enough with out being unnecessarily frail or thin.  I could go on, but it would be pointless--this is a great blade shape, it fits the knife well, and looks amazing.

Grind: 2 

You can go watch the Blade HQ video on Chris's new grind for the 25 and it might get you thinking.  But really there is nothing wrong at all with the CRK high hollow grind you will find here and on the Sebenza.  This is simply one of the best grinds out there.  I loved cutting stuff with the Mnandi.  It was razor sharp, quick through material and steady on the line thanks to a superb grind.  If you watch Jacques Pepin's cooking videos (which, as a knife fan you should, dude has more knife skills than just about anyone on Planet Earth), you'll see the master chef slice and cut meat effortlessly (or debone a chicken in about 56 seconds).  The Mnandi worked the same.  Dan sent it razor sharp and the grind just made it all the better at cutting.  I actually prefer the Mnandi to the Sebenza when it came to cutting.  You just don't need all that thickness in an EDC knife.

Deployment Method: 2 

Ah and here we arrive at the big difference between the two Mnandi models.  The wide nail knick with the sharp upper edge is awesome.  It is one of the very few deployment methods that does not subtract from the visuals of the knife but remains easy to open.

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Flippers, holes, disks, and studs all, at best doesn't clash with a knife's style, but here we have something that actually accentuates it.  The minimalist look doesn't sacrifice ease of use, either.  The old style knick is a reliable and easy one hand opening knife.  Its just that good.  The new knick, is, however, something a botch job, like Tara Reid's...um...hair.  The new knick, just doesn't work.  Its too rounded over to get a purchase on and as a result it lessens the functionality of the knife.  I can't say that I am fan of this change.  Perhaps CRK can produce both--one for the US and other jurisdictions that allow for one handed opening knives and the other for more restrictive jurisdictions.

Retention Method: 2

The Sebenza clip is great. It really is.  But it is not a looker by any means.  The Mnandi's clip, like the rest of the knife is both great looking and highly functional. 

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Its remarkable to find a fully 3D machined pocket clip on a knife this price.  Many customs don't offer such a feature and those that do are rarely this well executed.  The fact that the attachment point is both a stand off and a fastner is really a clean, clever touch.  

Lock: 2

I am not an adherent to the early lock up mentality.  To me, basic physics seems to favor a large surface area of contact to ensure firm lock up.  The Fellhoelter Dauntless has a lot of contact.  There is some worry, I suppose, about wearing out the lock, but if it is properly made that won't be a realistic concern, especially in an EDC knife.  Here, as you can see:

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lock up is late.  The entire lock face meets the rear of the blade.  The lock was easy to engage and disengage and there was no play in any direction.  Excellent lock.  

Overall Score: 20 out of 20  



In my mind the Sebenza is a piece of furniture from a Bauhaus designer--spare, reduced to its essential components, and without flourish of any kind.  In that same mode, the Mnandi reminds me of Greene and Greene furniture--elegant, purposeful, with sneakily difficult to pull off flourishes.  As a woodworker, the Greene and Greene style is definitely my favorite.  It looks quite simple, but execution of even their simplest piece is maddeningly difficult.  So too here with the Mnandi.  The inlay is so large, so perfectly integrated into the knife, that only upon consideration do you realize how difficult it was to do. CRK's trick is the use of an industrial bonding tape, 3M "tape" used to adhere window curtains to skyscraper frames.  Its also made possible but CRK's insanely great machining.  A couple of sources, videos and posts from folks in the industry, reveal the source of CRK's machining greatness--he insists on standards and tolerances that exceed even those in the aerospace industry.  Then there is the third front of greatness: the look.  The Mnandi's shape and curve is subtle, but like nothing else on the market.  In silhouette, it appears graceful and agile.  This is a knife that has visual tension in spades.  

And so we arrive at a perfect knife through three amazing feats--superlative and tasteful adornments, a leveraging of production methods that are higher than those anywhere else in the industry, and a shape that, while not looking avante garde, is unlike anything else.  Anyone of these attributes would make the Mnandi great, all three make it worthy of that stylized CR logo on the pivot.  This is probably one of the two or three finest production blades available for EDC.  It is also good enough that I am going to rescore the Sebenza.  Having had this knife, I realize just how much better it is than the Sebenza.  The Sebenza is great, don't get me wrong, but this knife does everything the Sebenza does as well and it does other things too.  

Some folks will prefer the Sebenza because the Mnandi is "too small."  I like small knives so that doesn't bother me.  What bothers me is that they screwed up the new models with a dumb nail knick. 

The Competition

I have handled a few knives that are good rivals for the Mnandi--the William Henry EDC-6, the Strider PT CC, the Spyderco Caly3, and the Indian River Jack.  I have a strong dislike for the EDC-6, thanks to its reptilian like handle scales and dinky feel.  The Strider is a great knife, but not as refined and is not as good a slicer (thanks to its thick full flat grind).  The Caly3 is quite good, but lacks some of the inventive touches that the Mnandi does--its not quite the looker and is a little bigger than what I find ideal.  This leaves the Indian River Jack.  For me, it is a tough call.  Both are amazing blades.  If you favor more modern styling the Mnandi is the way to go.  If you don't and like the traditional look, obviously the Indian River Jack is your choice.  If you have no preference, opt for the Indian River Jack, its $250 less.  Both are great knives and both make excellent higher end EDCs, but one is very expensive and the other is merely pricey.  This is like picking between a Ferrari and a Lamborghini, so there is no bad choice.  I also like the pocket slip on the IRJ better, but that is such a small point.   

18 comments:

  1. Tony,

    I've been reading your site for a couple of years, but this is the first time that I've commented, because that review was meant for me. I have this exact Mnandi except in box elder burl -- and I grew up in a Greene & Greene house.

    I've carried the knife as my EDC for about four years now. It is just so good -- the perfect size, wonderfully light, impeccably built, and a gorgeous combination of classic and modern design elements -- that I never carry anything else.

    I thought I'd add one more note about the pocket clip. Now, I usually use the CRK pouch (which frankly is too big for the knife, although the thin leather conforms to it nicely over time). But sometimes I do use the pocket clip, and the nice thing is that it looks like it could be a pen. Especially in an office environment where it wouldn't cross anyone's mind that I might be carrying a knife(!), the Mnandi is super discreet even in plain sight.

    Anyway, thanks for the great review! I could not agree more.

    Patrick

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  2. Tony,
    Your preference for EDC : Mnandi or Nilte Quiete ?

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  3. I saw a review on YT of a guy who had two old style Mnandi's and bought a 3rd which was a new style and he called CRK about the changes and the issues he was having with one handed deployment. The employee at CRK told him that one reason for the change was to make it easier to open. He felt silly that he was having difficulty when it was supposed to be improved. I wonder how many folks have actually complained to CRK about it. Complaints are all over the forums regarding the new nail nick but I don't know if Chris Reeves actually pays attention to forums.

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  4. You can still open the Mnandi one handed, even with the new style.

    Just pinch the blade between your thumb and forefinger (or middle finger) until you break the detent. Then you can continue with just the thumb.

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  5. Tony,

    Mnandi is a really good knife and actually it has been my edc knife since I got it. I personally prefer the new version as I like S35VN more than S30V. Although it cannot be opened as fast and easy as opening the old version, it takes me about 2 seconds for the whole deployment process with one hand which I think is quite acceptable for a gentleman edc folder. Thanks a lot for all your reviews which I always enjoy reading.

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  16. Tony wrote elsewhere that the Mnandi could easily be someone's only folding knife, and I strongly agree. It's small and slim but not fragile. It dawned on me yesterday that I'd been EDCing my new-gen Mnandi for two weeks straight with no problems.

    I grabbed a bigger folder around the house a few times (and I do enjoy the Spyderco Pattada for a slim-carrying larger EDC) but you can happily get a ton of everyday chores done with the Mnandi. Brilliantly refined, understated tool. The new-gens have the single best pocket clip on any gear item ever.

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  17. Tbh my light + saber pairing with the Mnandi for this 2-week period has been a Streamlight Microstream. I liken this to wearing a $13.99 Target necktie with your Armani shirt. Gotta say it's worked just fine.

    Perhaps the lesson is that while I strongly value having a light on me, I am not, at the end of the day, a flashlight enthusiast the way I am with knives.

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