Spyderco Steel Handles

January 13, 2020

I know, steel handles are sooo 1990 right? They’re heavy and slippery and just ‘too old’ As a handle material for folding knives, steel is not cool these days. It’s kind of surprising to see that Spyderco still carries a few steel handled variants in its line-up. As a modern EDC aficionado, I’d like to make a case for steel handles. I still see a rol for the steelhandled folding knife. They might be old but not obsolete.

History
Spyderco’s first folding knife was made with a steel handle, the C01 Worker. Subsequent models like the Mariner, Police and Executive etc… all used steel as a handle material. In the early 1990s, polymer molding came on the scene, which resulted in the lightweight Delica and Endura. The Golden company also introduced steel handle variants of the Delica and Endura in the mid-nineties. I also recall the Native 2 in all steel in the late 1990s. In the mid to late Nineties, G10 became king of the handle materials. Titanium also surfaced but it was still rare to see in a production knife. Rumor at the time had it that titanium was just too rare and expensive for use in production knives. Still, Spyderco held on to steel for some designs. In the early 2000s, the Scorpius and original Stretch came out with a steel handle or steel frame with Kraton inserts. Still, G-10 and molding become more prominent and preferred by customers. And titanium finally became a more regular sight in knifeshops in the 2010s. These days, customers definitely seem to have moved away from steel handles.

Traditional high quality
Nevertheless, Spyderco maintains a few steel handles in its line-up: Delica, Endura, Ladybug, Police, Dragonfly, Harpy – the classics. Mind you, these older designs have been tweaked and updated with boye dents, steel, lock and clip updates. These ‘traditional’ Spyderco designs are still very functional. In the early Amsterdam Meets, I recall Sal relating that it’s easier to make up a prototype or first production run in steel, before investing in a much more expensive mold for FRN handles for example. Also, I recall hearing that the type of Steel Spyderco uses for a handle is what other companies use for their blades!

Engraving or polishing out scratches
I figure most people who buy a steel handled Delica do so because they’re traditionalists who prefer a more ‘classic’ look, and more heft to the knife in use. A nicely finished steel handle also allows for engraving or embellishment; Santa Fe Stoneworks mostly use steel handles as a canvas for their stone onlays. Also, a scratched up steel handle slab can be brought back like new, with some very fine sandpaper and polishing compounds. You could maintain the finish yourself if you wanted to.

Easy to carry
However, I still see a more contemporary benefit to keep a steel handled folder or two in my rotation. They carry oh so comfortably inside the waistband. I know the objections: “steel is too heavy”. Well, how do I explain this. Many Spyderco designs weight a certain weight on a scale, but in the hand or pocket they ‘feel’ differently. It’s the same for me with these steel handled folders. The ‘big’ Police actually is easier and lighter for me to carry than a Chinook 2, Mamba or Tighe Stick for example.

Better grip than you’d think
But a steel handle is way too slippery! Well, like many things that are said online, the truth is a bit different. First, the finished surface or a brand new Spyderco steel handle, is not smooth as glass. Sure, it’s finely and smoothly finished, but there is a bit of traction when your hands are dry. These handles don’t come with a mirror polish from the box. Second, Spyderco is known for their ergonomic designs. A Police, Dragonfly or Scorpius handle has curves in all the right places. And those curved handles, combined with the hump in the blade, absolutely keeps your fingers off the edge in use. One of the biggest benefits for me, is that steel handled knives are nice and thin. Together with their smooth finish make them very easy to carry inside the waistband. I can carry a Police easier than a thicker but smaller FRN or G10 Native 5 for example. And with a Police, that’s a lot of edge by comparison. This comes especially in handy when wearing a suit and a good belt.


Amsterdam Meet 2015 photo screen test

January 21, 2015

For the upcoming Amsterdam Meet, where I try to take as many photos of the new Spyderco prototypes as I can, I’ve chosen to try a new set-up for my pictures. Here’s a screen-test of some knives using this new set-up. I like it a lot better than my previous ‘cobbled-together rig’, as it’s easier to transport and set-up. I’ve also found that I can remedy some of the flaws I noticed in my previous photo shoots. What do you think, do you like these pictures? Let me know in the comments. If the overall response is positive I’ll use it at the upcoming Amsterdam Meet. Thank you!

Adam2015screentest_Calypso_1

In case it wasn’t clear already, I am not a professional photographer nor a real hobby photographer. Apart from photographing my kids and wife, and the odd scenery during a vacation trip, I have zero interest in the craft. This is why I use a simple mid-range point-and-shoot camera, and I’ve avoided investing in any type of professional grade equipment.

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However, I do enjoy taking photos of knives. I only sought out tips and tricks to create clear pictures of knives. I’ve always tried to present the knives as plain and real as possible. Although I enjoy the artistry and composition of such industry photographers as Ichiro Nagata, that’s definitely not something I aspire for myself.

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My previous set-up consisted of several cloths stapled to light wooden boards. In addition, I used a three cheap mountable desk lights and four panels of white cardboard to help reflect and diffuse the light. This did give good results. The knives were lit nicely and I was able to pack this rig up in a suitcase to travel to the meet.

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You might not notice it in my previous pictures, but there are a few flaws that have annoyed me. Trust me, once you’ve processed a 100 or so of these pictures, you tend to notice a few things. The cloth was great for providing a neutral background that didn’t cause reflections. However, in close-ups of many smaller knives or details, the cloth pattern would ‘enlarge’ and distract from the knife’s details. Also, the cloth surface is a notorious collector of distracting little hairs and particles. That’s the kind of stuff that can be really annoying in a macro photo. I always had to make sure the surface was clean, and Photoshop helps to erase any remaining offending artifacts. Another problem is that the ‘room’ I had to shoot the photos in, was relatively cramped. I could pull of a few ‘knife-in-hand’ photos, but not much. This was especially tough with bigger knives. Also, this rig was kind of cumbersome to travel with and set-up.

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After a little research I decided to purchase a big (60 x 60 x 60 cm) photo-tent. I’ve found that I need just two lights instead of three to create the proper lighting effect. It took a little research to adjust the camera settings to create proper clear backgrounds in the photos, somewhere between white and grey. I will tinker a bit more to see if I can get the backgrounds whiter, but even now I’m pretty happy with the results.

Adam2015screentest_Enuff_2

With this set-up, it’s much easier to take a lot of photos and they need a lot less time in Photoshop to ‘clean up’. This rig is also way easier to travel with and there’s plenty of room for bigger knives and knife-in-hand photos. I’ve also noticed that with this design, I can even be a bit more artistic in the positioning of the knives.

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Do you like it? Let me know and I’ll use it for the upcoming Amsterdam Meet. Thank you!

PS A little tinkering with the contrast levels, seems to give a better effect in the contrast between the background color and the blade’s color. This is a work in progress, but I found this result interesting:

Adam2015screentest_Lava_1_c


Review: Lava PE

January 6, 2007

When a good friend gets a design produced by Spyderco, you have to get at least one. Such was the case with the Lava for me. Mind you, not that I needed much convincing to get one. From the minute I saw and handled the prototype I knew I liked it. At this moment in time, I think the Lava is the best micro-folder Spyderco offers. In the 2 – 2,5 inch blade size, no other model is more ergonomic in the hand with also a nice flat ground leaf shaped blade that’s suitable for a wide range of tasks. If that wasn’t good enough, the Lava features tip-up carry for both righties and lefties. That sure gets my attention.

Purpose
What was the Lava supposed to accomplish in the Spyderco line-up? Many people will have their own opinion about that; whether it is an attempt to see how well an ‘afi’ design by a forumite-afi would do in the market, or to add a micro fighter to the line-up, it doesn’t matter. To me the Lava is a highly successful attempt to take the Li’l Temp concept (as I interpret it), of a high-performance do-all folder design, and make it as small as possible.

The reason why I wanted to really try it out, is that the Lava is a striking translation of my preferred regular EDC –currently the Mini Manix and before that the Li’l Temp- into a small package. Small as in: easier to carry, easier to carry more than one of, and easier on the eyes of NKP’s. The most important aspect in knife selection for me is ergonomics. It’s a tic of sorts I’ll admit, but it’s just what I tend to focus on. Despite its small size, the Lava does not compromise in ergos, quite the opposite.

Features
The Lava is an all-steel design. Although it’s biggest handicap is a smooth and slippery surface, steel also makes the handle thinner (in the case of most spydies) and easy to retrieve from a pocket or waistband. It works both ways. Thankfully, the pattern of the handle removed all my concerns of not being able to hold onto the knife with wet hands. The handle really locks around my middle and index fingers. Even in wet and soapy hands the Lava stayed where I wanted it to be, while I ‘attacked’ veggies, fruits and meats for dinner.

The dropped and angled blade may look a bit weird to most people. I’d say just try it out and discover the joy of an edge in-line with your fingers’ knuckles when they are closed around the handle. Not only does this feature allow the tiny blade to work on a cutting board, it just ‘feels’ more natural in use compared to a straight folder design.

As mentioned before, the blade has a flat ground leaf shape and it’s quite small. The Lava’s blade seems a tiny bit shorter than I remembered from the prototype. The opening hole is nice and large; easy to find and easy to flick open. What I also noticed right away, was the thickness of the blade or rather how thin it gets near the edge and point. It’s a very sharp slicer.

One thing I’d suggest to refine in future versions is the tip itself. The tip of the Lava is rather rounded, reminiscent of the Salsa. While that adds to the friendly looks of the Lava to NKP’s, I just prefer a more acute tip. Mind you, the Lava’s tip is not ‘dull’, thanks to the tapered spine.

Cutting
The edge is short on the Lava. A little too short for most of my cutting tasks which is why I prefer the Mini Manix with its three inch (and a bit) blade or the Caly III with similar blade length. However, this small edge is just right for the office where most of its work includes opening mail and dissecting the odd piece of fruit. Again, the shorter edge (and round tip) is easier on the eyes of NKP’s which is a welcome feature around the office.

The edge gets really thin, which I like a lot on this design. The out of the box sharpness was (subjectively) better than a regular Calypso jr. and it reminded me much more of an out of the box ZDP model. The tip is also thinner than I first expected. Even though the profile of the blade makes you think the tip is blunt and rounded, the tapered spine makes sure that the tip is plenty sharp.

I used the Lava on all sorts of cutting tasks and evaluated it as both a utility folder and an MBC design. Utility-wise, the Lava fared really well. As an ‘opener’ it worked like a charm on mail, bags and packages. The thin and short blade is easy to slip under tape or envelope and slice it open. Even though I consider the blade too small for food prep I tried it out anyway. The blade was too short for the kitchen, but the dropped edge and thin edge really didn’t make it as difficult as I expected. Make the Lava with a 3 inch or longer blade and enlarge everything else accordingly and I suspect you’d have one heck of a kitchen/camp/pick nick folder.

The tip was kind of hard to find for cutting out articles or pictures and such. I think this was due to the rounded blade. Even with the extreme curve or blade-to-handle-angle, I found it relatively difficult to find the point to initiate the cut for this task. Alternatively, I discovered that the belly of the Lava is sharp enough to initiate this type of cut, but it’s much less accurate. Ah well, at least this leaves me with an excuse to carry a second folder like a Kopa for these type of tasks.

Carry
The thin, flat and all-steel Lava is a joy to carry, especially in my preferred appendix-carry method. My main office EDC has been the Polliwog, but when closed it has a little exposed tang that can get uncomfortable after a long day. Not so with the Lava, which is one of the reasons I switched to the Lava for office carry. The closed Lava is perfectly rounded and finished; no gaps, no tangs or anything else that can make daily carry uncomfortable, even after several months.

Quick on the draw
To accommodate the dropped blade, the front end of the handle is also curved downward. While it may look a bit weird when you see the closed knife the first time, it helps with drawing the Lava from a pocket or waistband.

Just point your index finger toward the pivot of the clipped Lava, hook your index finger around the hump and you can draw the knife. Then something almost magical happens, when you find the opening hole with your thumb and your fingertips have seated on the clip. The Lava doesn’t just open, it pops into place ready for action!

Have you ever noticed how you have to twist or rotate a folder a bit in the hand after the opening of the blade, to seat it properly for cutting? The smoother the freshly opened knife transitions into its final grip, the faster the knife is. The Li’l Temp was a really smooth opener, but the Lava takes that one step further. Just fiddle around a bit and you’ll see that the Lava almost automatically pops into place once the blade is opened. The trick is that you can use your pinky on the butt-end of the handle to slightly rotate and seat the Lava properly in your hand. The other and stronger fingers just have to close for the final grip. It makes the opening action really fast. A very cool design feature.

Grip
As mentioned earlier, the grip is superb for such a small design, the best I’ve seen to date. It even exceeds my Nav II, and after a bit of hesitation also replaced my Polliwog for office carry. The Lava also points really natural. As one of my NKP friends observed: “The Lava isn’t controlled by your fingers or hand, but rather by the wrist.” What he meant was how well the knife really becomes an extension of the hand. All thanks to that rather extreme blade to handle angle.

The jimping is nice and grippy, even in the choil. I worried a bit about the jimping in the choil being a little too aggressive. After all, the skin on the side of an index finger is much thinner than on the thumb-pad. As with almost any feature on the Lava, this jimping works just right. No problems there, just good gripping.

The overall grip on the Lava is really secure but not as versatile as a straight design like a Kopa or Caly III. The Lava favors a forward saber grip, or forward grip with the index finger on the spine. Reverse grip edge-out is also doable, but edge-in grips not so much.

MBC
With Chad being an avid martial artist, like myself, I had to evaluate the Lava from an (=my) MBC perspective. The Lava is certainly not a ‘dueling knife’ (hey it folds) and certainly not a typical ‘fighting folder’. It does have, in my opinion, three very important features to make martial artists happy; the secure grip, angled blade and superb opening action.

Clipped
Starting with the Lava clipped to the waistband, it’s wonderfully easy to carry, even two for mirror-left and right carry. After a week or so of practice, the draw became very consistent and smooth. The SS is a bit too smooth a surface for an MBC folder, even with the grippy pattern or outline of the knife. Perhaps G10 would be too rough for a smooth draw on such a small folder, but a volcano FRN pattern could be just right to give your fingers more grip on the draw for MBC applications. As it is, the Lava is best used in an MBC role when already in the hand, think; on a set of car keys, or already palmed in some way or another.

Sleight of hand
I always recommend fellow martial artist to take a serious look at magic books, and it came back to me with the Lava. James Keating was the one who inspired me to take a look at sleight of hand techniques from stage magicians. The principle of ‘playing’ with your opponent’s perception is surprisingly useful in a sparring match.

For example, hold up your arms like they do in the old cowboy movies; hands symmetrically raised to head level on the side of your body. You have now made a frame of sorts. Ask your helpful training partner to punch you straight in the face. When the punch is initiated, move your frame sideways. Maintain the size of the frame but move it to the right. You’ll see that with the right timing your partner’s punch will move with it. Now this is not a technique for the streets but rather a principle to practice with and find your own application for. We have found the principle of sleight of hand very useful. With a little pose and misdirection you will discover how you can ‘magically’ present weapons and techniques from very unexpected places. Even during surprise attacks we found the attacker can get surprised enough to freeze for a millisecond.

The point of this diversion is that, again with a bit of practice, the Lava can come out of nowhere. The small size of the Lava makes sleight of hand so much easier. And that’s just the type of MBC where the Lava shines in my opinion.

In hand
Once in the hand, I feel the MBC-role of the Lava is similar to how I perceive the La Griffe; an extremely effective “let go device”. The Lava’s short blade -and the ergos behind it- allow you to quickly find your target and to convince an attacker to let go of e.g. your throat or to get out of a nasty grappling situation.

We made a wooden mock-up that didn’t quite survive our practice on the mat. Steel trainer meets wood à wood loses. We practiced some dueling-type attacks/defenses (whereby one is attacked by a visible weapon like a stick, chair or knife). We found that when using such a short blade, we were better off using unarmed techniques/defenses for the initial meet or pass of the incoming arm or leg (in the case of kicks) and then use the Lava for follow up techniques. The lava mock-up stayed in the hand quite well when that hand or arm was used for a deflection or block. Following up with a check from the off-hand, allows fast cuts with the other or Lava-bearing hand. The ergos of the knife help tremendously with targeting.

We got the best results when using unarmed techniques with the off-hand to meet or deflect an attack and then working our way around to a disarm with the Lava. For disarms we think the Lava works great. Even when tired and sweaty, it was easy for our wooden mock-up to find the inside forearm, hand and fingers. Mind you, this is probably not a good tactic on the street. If you were capable of blocking/deflecting an attacker ‘unarmed’, the ill-informed legal system will probably frown on the use of a knife to disarm a guy you managed to deflect at first. Most legal systems in the world expect you to use any possibility to avoid and run away.

Suggestions for improvement
The suggestions are very few. High on my wishlist is a more acute tip. To make that sharper tip, I’d be perfectly fine with adding a few mm blade length. This would make the Lava just a bit more practical for my daily cutting tasks like cutting out articles and fine point work in general. To maximize the MBC potential of the Lava, I would suggest a FRN as a handle material with nested liners to maintain lock strength and left/right clip carry.

Overall
Why should one get a Lava (and you really should get one!)? It just works great in almost any task you could find for a knife. Be it daily utility work or as a small but capable emergency knife. Don’t be fooled by the weird looks or small blade size. The Lava is extremely secure and ergonomic in the hand. The knife is also very quick on the draw and it carries like the proverbial pocket lint; very comfy. On top of that, it’s the most NKP friendly knife in its size range. The ergos, comfort of carry and looks are what prompted me to retire my Polliwog and start carrying the Lava. I’ll also get two more Lavas. One for left-hand use and one for clipless pocket carry. And that’s not just because it was designed by Chad …. who knows where I live 😉