Friday, January 22, 2016

Spyderco Positron Review

Avert your eyes if you don't want to be a pained knife knut.  Brad Southard is AWESOME.  He is a nice guy.  He makes incredible knives.  He is a real craftsman.  But the Positron, his second collab with Spyderco is not a great knife.  It is not a bad knife by any means, but, and stop me if you have heard this before, in this market its just not competitive.  I have gone back to this line a lot recently because, as I explained before, the gap between acceptable and good is huge right now.  Put another way, five years ago the Positron would be one of the ten best production knives under $300.  Today, I am not sure if it is in the top 50.

But I think I need to go into this a bit more in this review because, well its a Spyderco designed by Brad Southard and when such high quality ingredients produce a less than stellar product it warrants closer examination.  That and Youtube user Colby Davis said in the comments section of my overview that I am "stupid not to love my Positron."

So here is the premise of my argument, aside from the one I made before in the above-linked article.  At some point, and I think it is safe to say I have passed that point, a person has enough experience with the various knives out there that they can, with some degree of confidence, say that one design is better than another.  I have reviewed probably 300 items in the past five years.  I have tried to be thorough and systematic.  And in that time I have handled well more than that, probably twice as many, knives I didn't review.  Suffice to say I think I have a good handle on what is out there right now in the modern folding knife world.

That experience leads me to certain conclusions that are hard to explain without simply saying--trust me I have a lot of experience.  In many ways this is like that old Supreme Court line about pornography: "I know it when I see it."  Stewart Potter's point in Jacobellis v. Ohio was this--through experience we create useful, reliable heuristics when it comes to making judgments and these heuristics are hard to verbalize.  This is the essence of experience and why there are certain fields of knowledge that cannot, by definition, produce prodigies.  Mathematics and chess can have prodigies because the knowledge in that field is crisp and defined.  There are no prodigies in the law--it is all about judgments and good judgments require lots of experience (and, as a corollary, more experience, all other things being equal, produces better judgments).  I don't think I have as much experience as say, Jim Nowka or Mike Stewart or the ever-controversial Cliff Stamp, but I do think I have enough to say that the Positron is not a great knife and is not something that is particularly competitive in the marketplace right now.  So, Colby Davis, and others, read on.  Hopefully I will explain my position well enough that you don't think I am stupid and without resorting to hollow sounding, but true statements like--trust me I have lot of experience. 

Here is the product page. The Spyderco Positron costs $167.50. Here is a written review. Here is a video review. Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Spyderco Positron, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Here is my review sample:


Twitter Summary: You can do better. 

Design: 1

I think there is a group of people that would classify this knife as ugly and I kind of agree.  It seems awkward, especially compared to the graceful, almost muscular look of Southard's customs.  I don't think this is a big deal, but it is something that I think people will comment on.  But that's not the real design issue here.  For me, the Positron is a big whiff in terms of its footprint.  The Positron is a porker, the EDC knife equivalent of a plus-sized model.  I am not a fan of slab handles, but the gently contoured handles of the Kizer Gemini make the knife comfortable, but don't add a ton of thickness.  Here you get contouring, but the handles start out massively thick.  There is no way around it, the Positron is just too wide and thick for what it is.  I am fairly certain there are no other knives in this size that are this thick.  And the thickness is a detriment.  It makes the knife worse in a bunch of different ways, many of which I will get in to below, but design-wise it seems totally unnecessary.   

The performance ratios are decent despite the thickness because of the construction approach--real CF and tab-style nested liners.  The blade:handle is .76; while the blade:weight is 1.16.  Both are very, very competent.  The big thing with the Positron is the full carbon fiber handle (unlike the normal Spyderco G-10/CF laminate) with nested, minimal liners.  There is  no question that the Positron does very well on the numbers, but it is just an awkwardly thick knife. 

Fit and Finish: 2

The Positron is a Taichung, Taiwan knife.  These are the best made Spydercos and among the best made knives in the world.  Even some of the masters of knifemaking have a hard time competing with the fit and finish of a Taichung knife.  The Positron is no exception to this rule.  It is just amazingly well made.  The only small issue I had was a void on the edge of my carbon fiber handle, but it wasn't something that was a problem and surveying reviews from other folks mine seemed to be an anomaly.  

Grip: 1

There are lots of curves on this knife, both on the blade and the handle, and I can see how, in the abstract, they could be good, but this is not the case here.


I found that the "butt" of the knife was not all that comfortable.  I have medium sized hands and it just constantly hit me at the wrong place. 

Carry: 2

A knife this size, with this light weight, even portly handles can't make it bad.  The Positron is a great carry knife and just about disappears in your pocket.

Steel: 1

We have arrived at the point where S30V is no longer a 2 on certain knives.  If the knife costs $50, then yeah, S30V is good.  But on a premium priced knife, which, for now, let's say is anything more than $100, this is not a competitive option.  Kizer and KAI offer S35VN on knives at the same price or cheaper than the Positron (and in some cases, WAY cheaper than the Positron).  I can't say I have any complaints in particular about the steel here, but it didn't strike me as some amazing version of S30V.  It was just S30V.  If there was so extra layer of polish or some great heat treat (see the Al Mar Hawk's AUS-8 or the Buck Vantage's 420HC, respectively), I could be talked into bumping the score up, but just for regular ole S30V, I am not so thrilled at this price point.  

Blade Shape: 2

I like the blade shape enough.  It wasn't mind blowing or anything like that, but it was very competent.  Part of me wants to be a fuddy duddy and say something like "If it ain't broke don't fix it, and so far as I can tell, the drop point ain't broke."  That's not really fair though because here, the new amorphous blade shape was very good at the task knives are designed for--cutting stuff.  A meh for the weird appearance, but a YAY! for the performance and in the end I carry stuff for its utility not its appearance.

Grind: 2

In the year or so I have been testing EVERY single knife on the apple test, only a few performed as well as the Positron.


Spyderco has consistently and thoroughly proven that they make knives that cut and slice as well as any in the industry.  The full flat grind on the Positron, coupled with the thinner than usual blade stock makes this knife AWESOME at slicing.  Great grind. 

Deployment Method: 1

Like the TRE G10, the Positron is a good, but not great flipper.  The action isn't snappy and the blade feels light when deploying the knife.  About one out of every ten flips fails to fully deploy the knife.  It might have to do with the thin blade stock, lacking enough weight to give the blade good momentum.  I am not sure that's it though as I have had other knives with just as thin blade stock (Kershaw Skyline) that flip much better.  It might also be the flipper tab.  For some unknown reason Spyderco changed the shape of the flipper tab from the original Southard, which is odd, because as much as I disliked that knife, the flipper tab was one of the best things about it.  It might be something else, too, I just don't know.  Whatever the cause though the action is not what it should be for a knife of this price, especially given the competition. 

Retention Method: 1

I am a huge fan of the wire clip--HUGE.  So why did I give the knife a 1 here?  Two things.  First, the clip is off centered.  Most clips ride something like the centerline of mass on a knife and this good because it prevents or reduces the amount of roll in your pocket.  With extreme off centered clips, like, say, on the Leatherman Skeletool, there is a tendency for the tool to want to twist around and as it twists it either comes unclipped or it gets tangled up in the fabric of your pants.  The Positron is not as off centered as the Skeletool clip, but was off centered enough to get tangled in pants made with thinner material, like some thin jeans and dressier pants.


It's not a big deal and didn't happen all of the time, but it happened enough for me to mention it.  The second, bigger problem was the fact that the knife was placed on the handle in a way that gave me hotspots when doing heavy-Irish work like breaking down boxes.  I had this knife over the Christmas holiday and it was surprisingly warm in New England this year at Christmas so there was a marathon box breaking session so that I could jam everything in our recycling bin. 

Lock: 1

I love liner locks.  I get that the trend is for every knife to be a framelock, so much so that there is virtually nothing else on the market in the custom world, but liner locks are great, giving the user a nice handle AND a sturdy lock when well done.  But here, as you can see, the liner is virtually inaccessible.


The problem is not isolated to the Positron either.  The Spyderco Rubicon has the same problem.  This is just a boneheaded error and easy enough for Spyderco, modders, or any ambitious person with a Dremel to fix.  Though easily remedied, as is, the lock is just to use.  It does not exhibit any lock rock, stickiness, or other problems, its just a hassle to disengage it.  

Overall Score: 14 out of 20

A 14 is exactly right--its not terrible.  Its above average in fact, but its not good or great.  This is an above average knife.  That's it.  And in today's marketplace, even with the Spyderco brand and the Southard name attached, that's not enough to get me all that excited.  And it is a shame because there are things the Positron gets right--the sculpted handles, the elegantly nested liners, and the super slice grind.  But those things are outweighed by the bad, when compared to what else is out there.

After two swings and misses from the Southard Spyderco collab I am still not worried.  Brad is one of the best knifemakers working in the modern style and eventually things will just click.  Perhaps they will do the obvious thing and make one of Brad's early knives, one that borrowed the Spyderco hole.  I'd love to see a Downing or Mini Downing from Taichung.  That could easily reverse the fortunes of what should be one of the best collaborations in the knife world today.



The Gemini destroys this knife.  It does everything this knife does, but does it better, with nicer materials for the same money.  That is the very definition of superior competition.  I also think that the more expensive Lionsteel TRE G10 is a better knife, with marginally better flipping action and a better steel (M390 compared to S30V).  The funny thing is that the Positron is SO very close to being a Smock Mini Southard--so close, and yet Kevin's mod of Spyderco's version of Brad's knife just crushes this thing.  Seriously, Spyderco if you want to make a Southard flipper in this size, just make it a production version of the Mini Southard.  That knife was splendorous.  This knife is tepid.  The choice is easy.     


  1. I totally agree with you. I expected to love the knife, but after about five seconds handling one at a knife store my expectations were dashed. I'm also just tired of carbon fiber. I used to think it looked super cool (same with Nishijin glass fiber), but now I just think it looks boring and ugly.

  2. Agreed. I wanted to like this knife so much, preordered it, and 48 hours later it was listed for sale on a forum. Found out the guy I sold it to sold it again, in turn, and with your review, it really seems to me this one just wasn't as dialed in as I would expect

  3. I think they've quicky one-stepped this knife with the mantra, in their premium flipper nook.

    1. I couldn't agree more. I was looking forward to this knife but the Mantra is just loads better.

  4. Thanks for the review, Tony. I appreciate the experience you bring to the table and your very thorough reviews to help people like me experience more equipment than I can afford.

    I'd like to add some thoughts for those who are in my position: this is my first flipper, and my third folder overall (PM2, Techno).

    I was looking for a light office carry slicer that could be dressed up easily, and the Positron fit the bill for me. I could've gone with the Caly 3 or Chaparral, but I don't like closing backlocks or the 50/50 choil and prefer a minimal hump where possible (despite all that I carry Spyderco exclusively -- I'm weird).

    I really like my Positron both on paper (3" CF liner lock flipper) and in hand; I wear small/medium normally, and the handle fits very nicely in my hand in deployment and use.

    I think the appearance of fatness is related to the thin blade stock relative to the handle scale thickness (also the potbelly shape!). If the scales were a mm or two thinner, it'd be pretty much perfect; but obviously they kept it thick for a reason (is CF brittle at that thickness?).

    The liner lock did take some getting used to, and thumb toughening, but for me, I don't mind the lack of cutout. Cutouts tend to poke into my hand when using the knife and I guess I prefer mild discomfort occasionally closing rather than while using the knife.

  5. Great honest review. I probably only say that because I agree with everything you said completely.

    I bought this knife and sold it the day after it arrived. Some custom handles might save it IMO, but with the Mantra2 sitting on the table next to it, I wasn't about to put the effort in. Great knife on paper, all wrong in hand. I will say the flipping action on my sample was actually better than any other Spyderco flipper I had used before or since.

  6. Spyderco seems to have more misses than hits with their custom collabs these days.

  7. I actually like this knife very much, the weight, the flipping action is wonderful on my samle and I love the nested liners, its a keeper for me.