Why would a hardcore Spyderco collector even bother to look at ‘another FRN handled folder’? Yes, why would you bother with ‘plastic’ when there’s titanium, G10 or steel for handles? Everyone knows that those materials are way ‘better’ than FRN, right? Only if you’re hooked on the ‘name’ of said materials. If you’re looking for function then Spyderco has always been the place to be. I say, especially after the Delica 4, it’s not the material but what you do with it.
In my opinion, the Delica has always been the best folder for newbies and to have as a spare folder. If the Delica is your first Spydie, you will learn a lot about Spyderco. They’re affordable, very ergonomic, easy sharpen and offer tremendous cutting power. The seasoned knifeknut will appreciate a more affordable design that offers all the main characteristics he appreciates in his high-end folders, to keep as a spare or for those occasions where loosing the knife more likely than normal. That’s my niche for the Delica. I keep them as spares and use and carry them in situations when I run a more than normal risk of losing or damaging my knives.
However, the Delica 4 is a bit different. It’s still as affordable as ever, but the 4th generation of this venerable design has done something out of the ordinary. It has gotten me very excited! These Delica 4 knives are a major step up from ‘regular FRN folders’. The Delica 4 is a fine choice for EDC, MBC and anything else you could ask for in a 3 inch folder.
Why is it so special?
Usually, FRN folders feel extremely lightweight and have a neutral and almost non-existent balance. The thicker blade and steel liners in the handles of the Delica 4 fixed that. It feels much more substantial, but it’s still a lightweight in overall ‘feel’. It’s equal in this respect to most of my G10 Spydies.
The grip is immensely improved. The jimping on the thumbramp, the more aggressively textured handle surface and overall thicker and longer handle, make the Delica 4 every bit as nice and secure to handle as my Paramilitary for example.
Then there are the clip options. I always liked the D3 for its lefty-friendliness, but now I can carry it tip-down as well. Not that I would want to, ‘cause tip-up is best (!), but I like options. The D4 also comes in a SS version that’s (finally) lefty-friendly. I will check one out for sure. The hourglass clip is the best clip to date, next to the wire clip which is probably my favorite. The hourglass clip bridges the gap between traditional and wire clips. It looks and grips like a traditional clip but offers most of the comfort and low profile of the wire clip design.
The Delica 4 is not just a knife, it’s a platform. Already can you get about 12 variations of Delica 4 (including edge options). You have the regular FRN version, an all-steel D4, a blue FRN version with ZDP steel, a waved version and a foliage green FRN Delica 4 is in the works. And the knife has only been out for less than a year! Who knows how many interesting variations we can expect in 5 years?
The last major feature that should be addressed is the all-screw construction. Just like a Sebenza, you can take the Delica 4 apart without much trouble. There are many similar screw sizes, so you can’t mess up by putting the wrong screw in. Not only is this nice for us obsessive knifeknuts who want to clean and polish the innards of our folders. It also allows for easy modding. Since there is now a wide choice of D4 variations, mixing a waved blade with a foliage green handle should not be that hard to do. Of course you’d have to pay for two knives, but in the end you’ll still have two knives or one knife and a lot of spare parts. When taking apart and re-assembling the knife, please be careful with the FRN spacer unit. Both pegs need to be in the liners before you put tension on the lock spring.
What are the best changes?
The D3 was already a nice folder for this knifeknut, but it lacked a 100% secure grip so I used a pair of Natives as spare or back-up folders in my carry rotation. However, for me the Native has become a little too grippy. Those deep choils are excellent for hard work and MBC, but became a nuisance for me in fine utility work. They’re good knives, but my preferences have changed. For instance, I’m no longer interested in collecting pure MBC designs (except the Chinook II!). I like my ‘tacticals’ to be good utility designs as well. The Delica 4 handle design does just this. It’s grippy enough to keep a positive grip and smooth enough to transfer to finer cutting or scraping chores.
The blade has become thicker and stronger. I wasn’t too keen at first on hearing about the transfer to a saber flat grind and a more rounded tip. The D3 has always been such a wonderfully sharp knife with a needle tip. I admit I broke the tip of one of my D3’s when digging out large pebbles in a campsite to pitch a tent. And I have chipped the edge on a PE D3 when cutting computer cables. These were my own fault, I insisted on using a folder when I should have used a different tool. Mind you, on both counts the job got done and I was able to restore tip and edge. They just don’t look as pristine as when they got out of the box.
The D4’s tip is thicker but certainly not as dulled as I expected. It certainly won’t pierce a falling silk cloth by gravity alone, but it’s not prybar either. The tip is still sharp enough (even after resharpening) to pierce free hanging newspaper print. And the usual chores for a tip, like cutting out articles or opening bags, are still as easy as with my other Spydies. And let me reiterate; the tip maintains this performance after sharpening it on a Sharpmaker. Just remember to not slip the tip off the flats (the same holds true for all other blades BTW).
On the plus side the blade withstands a little more punishment. I didn’t pry rocks from the earth with my D4, but there was some garden work that put some pressure on the blade and tip. I moved a couple of large vines my parent’s garden. It involved digging up the main roots and cutting through some of them. I also had to cut out the branches from a wire mesh that was used to guide the growing vines. I got to work hard with a SE D4 for a full day. I pried, I sawed, I dug and I generally pushed the knife. Much more so than with my regular knives. Again, an affordable knife has its uses for knifeknuts. The Delica 4 held up amazingly well. After all my work on the plant, I had to cut some tarp to size and the SE blade still sailed through neatly. The blade was dulled, but not to the extent that it left a ragged cut on the tarp. The action got gritty since a lot of dirt got into the mechanism, but the lock-up was still solid.
I’m usually pretty soft on my knives, needing them only to cut my food or opening the mail. I rarely get a chance to push my knives hard. After the garden work was done, I was beat and threw the knife aside for the night. The next morning I poured myself a large coffee and pulled out the knife ‘surgery’ kit to clean up the knife. I washed the D4, disassembled it and cleaned and oiled every single part. I finished up with some sharpening. This was quite a bit of fun actually. After reassembly the knife was literally like new. The digging and sawing in the garden did not leave any deep scratches on the blade.
The more mundane testing in EDC mode proved that the Delica 4 is still ‘fine’ enough for mundane chores like cutting string and fruit. The knife carries very well since there are no sharp corners anywhere and all edges are nicely beveled. The Delica 4 is great for general EDC, but not as nice as a thinner design with a leaf shaped blade. The Calypso jr. is still the best urban utility folder for me, but it comes only with the dreaded tip-down clip. This is mainly a knifeknut observation though.
A note on ZDP189
I was also lucky enough to be one of the first people to get a blue ZDP Delica. I was curious how sharp this one would be, since the saber grind is thicker than the flat grind on that wonderful ZDP Calypso jr.. I was not disappointed. Somehow, the grinders were able to put a Calypso edge on the D4 blade. To the touch the edge doesn’t feel sharp, but in use it definitely is. I’ve used the ZDP Delica mainly for EDC and some kitchen work. It glides through food effortlessly. It goes to show that there’s more to edge geometry then just the main grind of the blade. The edge must also be a significant influence on performance. I’ve had the knife for about two months now and it still shaves hair like a freshly sharpened knife. I am careful though, to only use it like my ordinary knives. So no digging in the garden for this one. I’m curious how long the ZDP edge holds in my regular EDC use.
During my visit to Golden last year, I got to play with some of the pre-production prototypes of the Delica 4 and I could not put the trainer down. Even amidst P’kal and Samaritan protos! The feel and balance of the D4 is amazing. Right up there, for me at least, with a Li’l Temperance or Yojimbo. The texture is just as rough as the special G10 Spyderco uses on their higher-end models. And the FRN retains this rough feel, even after long-term pocket carry. This texture proved very helpful in practicing the draw. The draw and opening action are very positive and fluent. The hole is enlarged, which I always like, and it is easy to find; even when your training partner is pushing you and slapping you over the head ;-).
The D4 is excellent in the two major edge-out grips, but for my hands it’s not so good for edge-in grips. In edge-in grips, my middle finger seems to find it’s way to the lock spring. In testing (with a drone) on a dummy and partner, it didn’t cause lock failure, but it could happen so I won’t use the edge-in grip on the D4. On the drone, the jimping of the thumbramp is maintained. On previous drones, like the Temperance fixed blade, it was removed. Presumably to lessen the risk of injury. I’m happy this was changed with the D4, it makes the drone all the more realistic. The blade length has been reduced by a few millimeters or so when compared to the live blade. Still, the Drone feels every bit the same as the live blade.
I’ve had plenty of experience with keeping my grip on the D3 drone, banging it on everything from 4×4’s, punching bags, cardboard tubes (dummy) and training partners ;-). It’s only when you feel the impact on a knife, that you realize the importance of a good grip on an MBC knife. I’ve used my D4 drone to practice cutting and striking on various surfaces, from wood to my friend’s (padded) arms. The D4 is a lot easier to hold onto when compared to the D3. The jimping on the thumbramp really helped keep my thumb in place. And the textured surface also seemed to help a lot. The longer handle makes the D4 the first Delica I could use as a closed impact tool. Overall, the Delica 4 is more capable as an MBC folder then the name and FRN handle would imply to most. I really like how this knife moves in the hand. I just hope, Sal will one day put a hawkbill blade in this handle. That would round out the D4’s MBC platform nicely.
A possible upgrade to the D4 would be to solve the re-assembly ‘problem’ with the FRN spacer unit. If the material were tough enough to hold the entire spring tension on a single little peg in the liner, then reassembly would be easier, I think. Now the best way to reassemble the D4 is to assemble the entire handle without the blade, and slide the blade in when the handle is finished. This way, both FRN pegs of the spacer unit are snug into place in the steel liners and cannot be damaged when the tension on the lock kicks in. It’s easier to reassemble the knife ‘like a sandwich’.
I really like the D4 way more than I should. After all, I’m a user/collector who ‘should’ be only interested in high-end materials right? Not so with the D4, the handle design is right up there with anything costing three times more. I’ve personally tested the knife to see how strong it is, and the D4 just plain holds up. As a regular carry knife, it may not give you the Calypso’s joy as a pocket light saber, but the D4 functions just as nicely in EDC as say a Paramilitary. The Delica 4 is feature filled with jimping and texturing in the right places, you can take it apart and order it in most any variation you would like. And it’s still by any standard an affordable knife. I like them so much, I want every member of the D4 family. Bring on the foliage green!