Steve Balboni led the minors in home runs in six different seasons, first in 1979 and last in 1993. That statistic alone should indicate that there is a problem. In the minors he hit a staggering 293 home runs over nine seasons, an average of more than 26 home runs a season. What’s more impressive is that whenever he got really hot he got called up to the majors, so those 9 seasons were rarely full seasons and even if they were the minor leagues play fewer games in a full season than the majors do.
And yet over parts of 11 seasons in the majors Balboni was worth, in total, less than one win above replacement. He had only one full season of baseball in the majors, 1985, when he played in 160 of 162 games. His next closest full season was 1986 when he played in 138 games. After that he falls off the map, 120 games, then a few in the 100s, and then some with less than a hundred multiple times. Balboni was done with professional baseball by age 33.
For many baseball fans, Balboni is the exemplar of a “Quad A” player—that is someone too good for the minors, yet not good enough for the majors. Whether it was a lack of patience or the inability to hit a curve, Balboni, like a small but significant number of players, just couldn’t cut it in the majors. When pushed to the next level, these player fail.
Spyderco has recently shifted from being a budget to medium priced knife company to being a premium company and like Balboni, they have struggled a bit when pushed to this next level of knife design, fitment, and materials. The Nirvana, the Paysan, and the Drunken, three of the most expensive Spydercos ever according to MSRP, all have fundamental problems. I have yet to review the Nirvana or the Paysan, but if the Drunken is representative of the group, it will probably stay that way forever. The Spyderco Drunken is a not good knife. I am never willing to give up on a company with a track record as good as Spyderco, but these three strikes will certainly slow my roll when it comes to buying high end Spydercos.
NOTE: I know this review is going to upset a lot of people, but I can’t see a way around the score. I have considered and reconsidered the score about a dozen times. I have conferred with other reviewers. And in the end, while many of them made good points in favor of the Drunken, none were enough to change the score. It also pains me to give this bad a score to a knife that Spyderco clearly invested a lot into in order to bring it to the market—premium(ish) materials, high end machining, and high profile collaborator.
Here is the product page. The Drunken costs $410. This is the first written review. Here is a video review. Here is a link to Amazon if you happen to want to buy this knife after this review (which you won’t). Here is my review sample (on loan from THE Nick Shabazz, and to be returned post haste):
Twitter Review Summary: Only good when wearing beer goggles.
Perhaps it is because the knife fairs so poorly in comparison to the very similar yet cheaper Spydiechef (see below), or perhaps it is because you expect better from a production knife that costs $430, or perhaps it is because you expect better from Spyderco. Whatever the reason, the Drunken is just not a good design. First, there is the clip. It is horrendous, perhaps the worst clip ever made. In one day the clip caused the following damage: 1) damaged the leather on the arm rest of my office chair; 2) put a huge gouge in my steering wheel; and 3) chipped the paint off the door jamb into my home office. I was not drunk when any of this happened.
Then there is the weight. For reasons inexplicable, they have used nested stainless steel liners INSIDE the carbon fiber handle (see above), negating the performance benefit of the carbon fiber and making what could have been a big light knife (and thus interesting) into a big heavy knife (which is horribly boring).
If those sins were the only design sins then maybe on a particular day I would give the Drunken a 1, but like a cheap bourbon, this both functions poorly AND leaves a bad aftertaste. I don’t find this knife visually appealing in the least. My oldest son said it looked like it had fingerprints on it and I agree. The texture is masterfully done, but it just makes the knife look busy as there is both a texture and a pattern (which are different) to the carbon fiber. Its like the Drunken is where a paisley tie with a striped shirt. I am also not enamored with the blade finish. It just looks bland and muddy, something you wouldn’t expect on a knife that costs significantly more than a Sebenza. Compared to the finish on a Hinderer, the Drunken’s smooth stonewashing is just boring.
Lacking in smart performance choices and being ugly is two strikes the design of the Drunken can’t overcome. Compared to the very similar design also by Dmitri Sinkevich by ZT, this knife is just a dud designwise.
The performance ratios reflect the problems with the knife. The b:w is .92. That number is higher than it needs to be given the carbon fiber scale. The b:h is .76 which is okay, not Delica bad, but not noteworthy. And that is a good summary of the problem the Drunken poses—there is nothing noteworthy here other than the price.
Fit and Finish: 2
This is an outstandingly well made knife, for whatever it lacks in design grace or even design common sense (seriously—steel liners in a CF handle is a headslapping move). The entire knife exhibits an attention to detail that only a few places can pull off—Chris Reeve Knives, Klotzli, and Reate. But this fanatical attention to detail is in service to a not-so-great design and as a result all of the glorious details on the Drunken don’t really get me exited. Its sad because I recognize that this knife is a machining feat and raises the bar for production-level knife making. But like the latest gauche Lamborghini, the Drunken leaves me more with a sense of “well…okay, if that’s what you like” than a sense of awe.
No question about it, the fingerprint pattern does aid in grip, as do the sculpted handles. The clip, is of course, an awful hotspot, so there is that. The index notch/access cut to the thumb hole is also pretty awkward. Finally, the balance of the knife which sits clearly behind the pivot ain’t great. All told, this is a knife not worth the price of entry in terms of grip. Used on another blade, the fingerprint pattern could solve a lot of issues. Here, it is a sad reminder of what could have been.
If I had a live eagle—talons, beak, and all—in my pocket it might be less comfortable than the Drunken. Might. This clip is so bad that it wrecks how this knife carries. It is a major snag magnet, so I don’t want to carry it clipped to my pocket, but then it is also so pokey that carrying loose is no good. At some point, if I owned this knife, I’d take it off. Even then, because of the knife’s weight, its all but guaranteed to be a pocket pendulum.
S90V is an excellent steel. I love it. It is one of my favorites.
But there has been some group think among some folks in the knife community (I know, shocking…) that it is somehow the best steel of all time. In fact, when I pointed out that I preferred a more balanced steel like LC 200N to S90V I was told that I was “off my rocker.” So this is my rebuttal to all the claims of S90V’s unqualified superiority to all steels ever made ever.
In one thread on IG, someone mentioned that M390 and 20CV were just as good, and comments indicated that S90V was “far superior” in terms of wear resistance. First, I am always skeptical of people using terms like “wear resistance” because it seems to be something like hardness without specificity, allowing them some room to fudge facts when it is pointed out that S90V’s recommended HRc is lower than other steels like ZDP-189. Unless you are a metallurgist, which I am not, terms like wear resistance are too packed with scientific nuance for us novices to throw around. But then even if you look at the facts, the difference in terms of “wear resistance” between S90V and M390/20CV is unclear. Cliff Stamp’s gathered data on CATRA results, which test “wear resistance” if they test anything at all, show that S90V comes in at 1014 cuts and M390 comes in at 959 cuts, a difference of less than 10% and something unlikely to be revealed during real world use. S90V’s advantage is not so great to claim it is “far superior” in terms of wear resistance. This ignores S90V’s notorious sharpening difficulty. And of course you can buy diamond stones to sharpen it, but there is no way around the fact that regardless of the system you use, that system will sharpen M390 with greater ease. Pete’s data actually shows S90V performing significantly WORSE than M390/20CV. Pete, testing S90V on the Spyderco Native 5 made 278 cuts. M390 on the Lionsteel TRE made 309 cuts and on a WE Knives blade made 620 cuts. 20CV made 351 cuts. I don’t take any of these as gospel, but even in the light most favorable to proponents of S90V, its not a run away better steel in terms of wear resistance, when compared to the M390/20CV family. At best it is break even, but only when ignoring M390/20CVs other positive attributes. At worst, S90V is about half the performer that WE’s rendition of M390 is.
Going further, if you compare LC 200N to S90V using Pete’s data, the comparison is pretty stark. LC 200N made 226 cuts compared S90V’s 278 cuts. That difference is about 25%, large but not huge, especially given how low comparatively speaking S90V’s cut number is. But then you add in to the mix LC 200N being virtual rustproof and significantly easier to sharpen and I think it is fair to say that I wasn’t “off my rocker.”
This is all to make the point that while S90V is absolutely a great steel it is not the end all and be all. Just like with medication—there is no steel that does everything (though LC 200N is close, hence my Steel Tier List). S90V is good, but it is not clearly superior to M390, 20CV, or LC 200N or a number of other steels. Additionally, and as something of a logical corrollary, S90V, while more expensive than say 420HC, is probably not worth that much of a premium over something like S35VN. To prove my point, Manly recently offered knives in S90V for less than $100. In today’s market, steel, unless it is something very unusual, has little to do with the final price of a production knife, unless a manufacturer is trying to bilk you by claiming its steel is worth a huge price increase. S90V is good, even excellent, but its not so exotic anymore. Frankly, very few steels are these days and none stay that way. Like with computer chips, what was awesome five years ago is pretty common place now, and that includes S90V. But not being exotic isn’t a bad thing. S90V is still an excellent steel even if it is more widely available and cheaper. The IKC is truly weird when good stuff is shunned because it is both more readily accessible and less expensive. Those are good things people and the spread of S35VN is also a good thing.
Blade Shape: 2
The blade stock is pretty thick to start out with and the blade height isn’t crazy. The end result is a cutting edge that is just not good, especially for a knife this size and this price. If you are going to use a steel as hard (or “wear resistant”) as S90V, why not take advantage of that and really thin the edge out? Looking at my Bravo 1 LT in 3V, I can see real benefits to the use of a higher end steel, but here, we get S90V for its own sake and not for any performance bump. The knife could have been a legendary slicer with thinner stock or a hollow grind. As it is, we get a knife that cuts slightly better than a crayon.
I got this review sample from Nick, so I can assume that it is at least as good as it was from the factory. And yet, this knife doesn’t open smoothly, let alone pop open like some of the better Spyderco framelocks (the Techno and the Brouwer, which is slowly edging its way back into a preferred status now that I did a clipectomy). Here, if you didn’t know the price tag, you’d assume that Drunken was a budget offering or a lockback based on how it deploys. This is just out of step with what the market expects and what the price indicates should be the case.
No product I have reviewed as been as throughly crippled by a single feature as the Drunken has been by this travesty of a clip. Its ugly. It is a snag magnet. Its slightly less pokey than if a pitch fork were attached to the handle. It just ruins the knife. With a better clip the Drunken would score 5 full points higher (and still be only an average knife). But as it is, this is a sad reminder of how difficult knife design really is, or, if your a half full kind of person (which I am), it is proof that Spyderco’s spoon and wire clips are awesome. This is another premium Spyderco in need of a clipectomy. “Paging Mr. Lynch…”
Lock/Blade Safety: 2
Fidget Factor: Low
With a sluggish pivot and a buried thumb hole, the Drunken is not the most flickable blade in the world. The fingerprint texturing is interesting to run your fingers over, but beyond that there is not much here to entertain you.
Fett Effect: Low
Because of all the texturing and the materials involved, this is a knife that will look nice and new for a long time. If that is your jam then the Drunken is good to go.
Value: Very Low
This knife is exceptionally expensive for what it is. Carbon fiber is a slightly premium material compared to G10. S90V is an uncommon steel, but nothing proprietary or exotic (see, e.g.: tungsten carbide, REX 121, or Nitinol 60). The machining is fantastic and that is always expensive, but the knife as a whole just leaves me with a distinct impression that it is really overpriced. Compared to the pair of CF/S90V Benchmades, the special edition Proper ($205) and 940 ($270), this knife is fabulously expensive. Compared to the ZDP-189/CF knives in Spyderco’s past, the Caly3 ($260) and the Walker ($180 MSRP) (which, by the way, I am looking for…if anyone has one, drop me a line) this knife is absolutely nutty expensive. Compared to the two CF/S90V blades currently being made by Spyderco, the PPT ($230) and Shaman ($280) special editions, this knife is markedly expensive. Now the machining here is more complex than any of those other knives, but nothing that warrants the additional $200 when compared to just about any knife with the same or equivalent materials, whether in the past or currently on the market. There real deadly comparison is with the special edition fluted CF Native 5. It has the exact same materials and a similar level of machining and streets for $240, roughly $200 less. Even if this knife’s performance was equal to the performance on those knives, it would still be outrageously expensive. Is the fingerprint machining on a meh cutter really worth $200? No. No it is not.
Overall Score: 10 out of 20
This knife is a huge whiff. There was potential there, for sure. When I first saw the knife debut at either SHOT or Blade Show I envisioned an ultralight slicer, something that would rival the Paramilitary 2 as the ultimate something for nothing knife. Instead, we got a fat, slabby, bling blade with no appeal or cutting performance.
The fit and finish and machining are an absolute feat, a marvel indicating what is possible in production knifemaking today, but all that prowess in service to a lackluster design that renders the knife DOA for me. Give me a sterling design, like the Gerber Fastball, with lesser steel and rough-edged liners but actual cutting ability and a nice carry any day of the week. Yes I just wrote that sentence. I am in disbelief as well.
Spyderco has a catalog to really kill the high end knife if they wanted to. The Nirvana’s lock stick and slabby grind were serious concerns. The Paysan’s wussy detent is no good and this knife is a giant ball of blah. But a higher end reissue of the Walker would be amazing. A Caly3 with S90V or M390 would be sweet. A micarta Dragonfly would be an instabuy. There is a lot of potential, even if they wanted to go way higher in price. As it is, these collabs are missing that special ingredient that makes us love the evergreen Spydercos. And when we do see that ingredient combined with premium materials and construction methods we get something like the insanely crazy and reportedly awesome Spyderco Respect. I, for one, would love to see a high end Spyderco designed by Sal or Eric. That would guarantee a stellar design and Taichung’s machining prowess would make the fit and finish a lock.
At $410 there are a lot of knives to choose from. The most direct competitor happens to be in the Spyderco lineup and it destroys the Drunken. The Spydiechef is a knife that is just better—it is more interesting, more capable, more carryable, and cheaper than the Drunken. Unless you only want Spyderco made Dmitri Sinkevich designs (of which this is the only one), there is almost always a better choice. The Drunken suffers significantly when placed next to the Spydiechef, which is one of the Golden’s best knives in the past ten years.
In many ways the Drunken is a toned down version of the Spydiechef, a bit less extreme in many ways other than bling. The blade shape is a “safer” version of the Spydiechef’s purpose built design. The grind on the Drunken is slabbier. The handle is more in line with what people think looks normal. But all of this normalcy and fear of risk taking renders the Drunken bland. The Spydiechef is a demon of a slicer with a noticeably thinner stock, a super high performance knife with a blade and quirky looks to match. The Drunken seems to be telling you something with its more staid appearance—performance is equally staid. And you are paying a $200 premium to come out on the wrong end of this comparison.
But that’s not the only way in which the Drunken suffers by comparison. If the Wendy’s commercial from the 80s was made about knives in the 2010s the question that old lady would be asking is “Why all the beef?” And here, with its fat blade stock and chubby handles, the Drunken just rides poorly in the pocket and feels unbalanced and unnecessarily bulky in the hand.
I get that this competition is unfair. After all the Spydiechef is one of only a few dozen items to ever earn a perfect from me, but they are knives made by the same company, with the same design philosophy, built in the same factory. And one is good and the other is the Drunken. If I were being fair I would compare the Drunken to the Sebenza, a comparison where it would again lose (because, you know, when the Sebenza does CF there is no nested liner). It would probably lose to the ZT Sinkevich. I imagine there are a few dozen knives of this price that would best the Drunken. The most pointed comparison I can make is this—the Drunken is what happens with Spyderco wants to make a Reate—great fit and finish, wonderful machining details, but a subpar design with not-so-good cutting ability.