If you think about it, there are only a few design lineages in the Spyderco evergreen line up. You have the Worker lineage, with its saber ground blades and humpback design. From the Worker we get the Delica, the Endura, the Endela, the Paramilitary 2, the Para 3, the Military, the Police 1, 2, 3, the R, the Ladybug, the Manbug and the Mantras 1 and 3. Given that the Worker was their first knife, this lineage has the largest number of blades. It has also experienced the most variance from the original design—the Worker’s needle tip is gone, the lineage has a few different locks, and some knives have finger choils and some do not. But the basic formula is the same. My favorite design lineage is the UKPK design lineage which includes the stellar UKPK, the masterful Caly3 and Caly Jr., and my beloved Dragonfly. The Sage lineage, which also includes the Chaparral runs a close second though.
The Native lineage was, until three years ago, basically unexplored, aside from CQI iterations (Native 4, Native 5, etc.). The idea of a humpless design was confined to the Native and it is sequels and sprints. In the past two years, however, Spyderco has greatly expanded the Native lineage, adding to the original the Lil’ Native, the Shaman, and the Native Chief. I avoided the Shaman, in large part because I don’t need a large folder, especially one with S30V steel (which is a fine steel, but not enough of an interesting steel to motivate a purchase). Nick loves the Shaman, as do a lot of people, so I resolved to snag one once the right combination of steel, price, and handle material came along. Unfortunately I missed the S90V sprint run when it was released (that always distracting “wife being diagnosed with cancer” thing) and I was basically hoping for another sprint to come along. Then, to my surprise, when I went on vacation this year, the local knife store, Sawyer River Knife and Trading Company, had one in the case and at street price no less. It was a second chance at a very desireable combination of materials and design in a knife I really wanted to review. Needless to say, I pull the trigger.
By way of preview, this is an outstanding blade, a river rock in the hand, a lightsaber on the cutting board, and a dream in the pocket for its size and intended purpose. This is an outstanding version of an excellent blade and a strong candidate for the “One Ring” knife thought experiment. It has one major flaw, but this is a flaw common to many Spydercos and this is best version of this flawed design.
Here is the product page. This is the first written review of the S90V Shaman. Here is a written review of the original Shaman. Here is a video review. Here is an Amazon link for the regular Shaman (purchases benefit the site). Here is my review sample (purchased with my own money to use and keep):
Twitter Review Summary: This is how you do a premium Spyderco, but let’s fix that compression lock…
I don’t mind big knives, but they have to serve a purpose. I don’t even mind if the big knives have some heft to them like this knife does. What I can’t understand is big knives, knives meant to be hard use knives, that can’t be used hard. The Drunken, with its spectacular failure of a clip, is just such a knife. One of my problems with that knife was I just couldn’t figure out for whom the knife was built. Here, even with the premium version of the Shaman, there is no question that this knife is designed as a work knife. With its thick blade stock (that pleasantly drops down to a fine cutting edge), the compression lock, and the amazing river rock-like handles, this upgraded Shaman likes work quite a bit. It works and works and works. I have prepped quite a bit of food and fire with this knife and I never felt like I was overmatched or dredging through the sewers in a way that would muck up the knife and harm its functionality. This is a work knife, despite the price tag and materials. And while the Ford 150 Raptor isn’t for me, I can easily understand who the target audience is for that vehicle. Its the same group of people that would buy this knife. And when we are talking about about a price difference of only $110 (as compared to $24,390 difference between the base model F150 and the Raptor), the almost 100% premium doesn’t seem as crazy. This is a very expensive knife, for sure. But it is also a very capable one.
The ratios aren’t this knife’s jam even with the carbon fiber scales. Hard use knives and performance ratios go together like peanut butter and glass…The b:w is .72. The b:h is .76. While the b:w is no great shakes, the b:h is nicely above average. I basically figure that a hard use knife needs to do okay here, not great. If it does, it is still in the running. The Shaman is still in the running.
Fit and Finish: 2
Taichung Spydercos are just better knives than the Chinese, Seki City, or even Golden Colorado Spydercos in terms of fit and finish. They are almost eerily perfect. This knife, while not Lt.-Commander-Data-on-a-math-test perfect, is still one of the better USA made Spydercos I have ever handled. It came dead centered, with a beautiful satin grind. The pivot was smooth but not drop shutty (which is not a good thing if you have fingers and use your knife, drop shut action is good only in one use case—Instagram). The carbon fiber is lustrous and beautiful as well as pleasing to the touch and 100% void free. Over and over again, feature after feature the S90V Shaman was superbly made. If Taichung’s best stuff is technically perfect, Golden’s best stuff has a warmth to it that it both commendable and hard to replicate. Truly excellent.
If you dramatized the large folder market right now into a race, the grip of the S90V Shaman is where the car that represents Shaman drops into the final gear and blows past the competition. Honestly, I feel like large folders have a disproportionately high number of BAD handles. Its like knife designers see the extra real estate and assume that lots of space alone is all that you need. In fact, designing large handles is just as hard as designing small ones. Compared to something like the similarly size PM2, the handle here is markedly better. Instead of placing your hand in the line fire for the compression lock Sal’s design here remarkably has your hand span the compression lock relief and not touch. But that is not all, here the edges of the carbon fiber are so immaculately done, so perfectly worked over and void free, that this isn’t just good in the hand. It is a siren’s song to your sense of touch. You will love this version of the Shaman and it is near-elite in terms of grip. Honestly this knife is as good as the resplendent Jarosz M75 custom in terms of its in hand feel and that was one of my all time favorite knives in terms of grip. Its the best big folder I have used in terms of how it feels in hand.
No one would mistake the Shaman for, say, the Dragonfly. This is a chunky hunk of steel and carbon fiber. But despite its size and density, the knife carries quite well. This is thanks to the nicely rounded edges of the carbon fiber, the humpless design, and the always great Spyderco spoon clip. When these three things are combined, the Shaman feels tight, put together, and out of the way in one’s pocket, quite an accomplishment for a knife this long and tall. The Shaman probably won’t share pocket space with anything else, but its not a boat anchor either.
I’ll borrow from the Drunken review here—S90V is one of my favorite steels ever. Its not the end all, be all steel that some make it out to be, but it definitely one of the five or six best steels being used today. As a side note, of the steels used in the Shaman thus far—M4, S30V, and S90V, this is, in my opinion, the clear winner. The steel nerd part of me wants the M4, but the part of the me that does knife maintenance would prefer a less rust- and tarish-prone steel. If you are looking for the best Shaman out there, steel-wise, this is it.
Like the gardens of Versailles, all of this real estate means that you can get a pretty darn good edge on the Shaman. With what is basically a full flat grind, the very substantial blade stock is reduced to a lightning sharp edge. This thing cuts apples, which given its size and intended use, is quite an accomplishment. It also doesn’t mind some hard use. In cutting wood for a fire, I never worried about the Shaman’s edge because here, like with many great knives, Spyderco didn’t merely include the steel for bullet point reasons—they included the steel and took advantage of its properties. With this much edge retention and toughness, S90V lets this version of the Shaman plow through stuff without fear of chipping and rolling. Slicey and tough? Sign me up.
WIth the praise out of the way, let me devolve into a bit of insanity. I have one pet peeve here (one that is common to many Spydercos)—the sharpened edge doesn’t go to the end of the blade. I understand that Spyderco’s choil set up makes that very difficult. That said, there is no reason to continue with this design. I much prefer the choil design from knives like the Dauntless or the Drop x Ferrum Forge Gent. When we are talking about being perfectly done, these small things are going to be barriers, but this clearly nitpicking and not worth deducting a full point.
With its snappy deployment and a near drop shut close on the special edition, the Shaman’s deployment is excellent. It is not quite as good as the best deploying Spyderco knives (Techno, Techno 2, Brouwer), but it is just a smidge behind those knives which is saying a lot.
Look, the spoon clip, though ancient in terms of the modern knife market (where some knives have multiple clips in a single production run), is still perfectly great. Its not deep carry. Its not carved from a hunk of titanium. Its not inlaid with moku-ti. But it is great in the pocket and great in the hand, and in the end, that is the point of a pocket clip after all.
Lock/Blade Safety: 1
This is about as good as the compression lock can get. Unfortunately, that is still not all that good. By putting the lock interface on the spine of the knife near the pivot, the compression lock design ensures a negative interaction with the meatiest part of one’s hand. This is the best compression lock I have ever seen as it vanishes in use thanks to a well designed handle, but it is still a flawed design. Here, the heel or kick of the knife (if this were a traditional) contacts the hand when closing. Without re-positioning your hand, it is impossible to close the Shaman without that heel banging into your hand. By requiring you to reposition the knife, the compression lock design invites you to drop or lose control of the knife and this is, of course, a fundamentally bad thing.
This really isn’t that big a deal, in a vacuum, but in a world with dozens of other lock designs and a button-activated compression lock, this seems like an unnecessary compromise, something you just shouldn’t have to worry about. An axis lock would be fine, a ball bearing lock would be okay, and a liner or frame lock is also a fine alternative (though those last two require you to place your fingers in the blade path when disengaging the lock). And a Shaman with a button-activated compression lock would probably get a perfect score. We know it is possible and having been to the mountain top with the Smock design, all other iterations of the lock are clearly inferior. Spyderco, its time to go the button route—the original design of the compression lock is a half-finished designed—a helicopter with no tail rotor.
Fidget Factor: Very High
With the void-free carbon fiber and a good action, I struggle to think of a better knife in terms of fidget factor. If your fingers have ADHD, this is your knife.
Fett Effect: Low
The satin grind and the CF handles hide a lot of ding and flaws well.
I never think a $300 is a good value, but this one is pretty darn good compared to other S90V/CF Spydercos. It runs the same price as the Native and a bit more than the PPT, but its an absolute bargain next to the Drunken.
Overall Score: 19 out of 20
This is unquestionably one of the finer knives Spyderco has ever made, on par with the ZDP-189/CF Caly 3, the ZDP-189 DF2, and the Spydiechef. Only the the compression lock and the most minor of grind quibbles holds it back from a perfect score.
What’s even cooler for knife knerds is the fact that the readily available, baseline model is not that far behind. The handle is not quite the-choir-of-angels-singing revelation that this knife’s handle is and the steel is a notable downgrade, but the base model is pretty darn good. The real key to the Shaman’s score and the fact that it is a great knife is that you get a big beefy blade in a stout handle that is actually comfortable to use and open. This is the first compression lock knife where the lock has not been a major liability (pinchy opening and mega hotspot). The compression lock still gets a meh from me, but this is the most enthusiastic compression lock meh ever..
If you are in need of a beefier folder and can’t upgrade to a fixed blade (which you should always try before entering the dubious territory of “hard use folders”) then the Shaman is the knife for you. If you just like big knives this is the knife for you. It is exceedingly well designed and well made and in this iteration it possesses all of the nice materials you need with none of the baloney or “my-car-has-spinner-hub-caps” bullshit of knives with moku ti pocket clips. The Shaman Sprint Run in S90V is just a damn good knife with a flaw endemic to many Spydercos.
So Nick raised the question and I am going to try to answer it—Is the Shaman better than the PM2? Since they both have the non-button-activated compression lock, neither makes ups ground over the other in terms of the biggest flaw. Now it is down to details.
I think the Shaman is a fundamentally better knife than the PM2. Here is why—while the PM2 is a great example of design giving you something for nothing (extra blade length with virtually no carry penalty), the PM2 has a few flaws. First, the position of the compression lock results in either a hotspot or a pinch point or both depending on the size of your hand. Second, the boxy handle scales aren’t as ergonomic as they could be. Third, the extra handle length is essentially wasted. The PM2’s blade could be even longer than it is with a few clever tricks, but the handle, instead, is empty towards the tip of the knife.
In contrast, the Shaman’s handle is both virtually perfect and filled to the end with cutting edge. The Shaman is a much beefier knife than the PM2, it feels bigger in the pocket, no doubt, but that added heft comes with added performance. While the PM2 is tough, it doesn’t feel as tough or inspire as much confidence as the Shaman. The Shaman feels like what happens when Spyderco tries to outtough a Cold Steel and the result is a knife you never question. The PM2’s needle tip and thin edge aren’t the same.
In the end, both knives are really excellent, but the PM2 is more of an EDC that can flex and do a few things a big knife can do, while the Shaman just is that big knife. The Shaman’s handle smokes the PM2’s and the design is just a newer and smarter one. The Shaman is the knife that PM2 fanboys think the PM2 is, when in reality, the PM2 is a slightly more capable and more fidget friendly Delica.
Nick was right—the Shaman is the better knife.