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.
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.