Chris Reeve Large Sebenza 21 Review

For many the Sebenza 21 is a knife obtained on the steep ascent to the upper echelons of production knife collecting. It’s not a starter knife. It is something to be gradually aspired to, pined over, and then climatically acquired. I had such an experience when I bought and reviewed a small Sebenza 21 back in 2011. Although no stranger to nice knives at the time, it was one of my first forays into the $300+ knife category. And much like an exhausted mountaineer in awe of the view having reached the summit, I was suitably impressed with the CRK Small Sebenza.

In that space between 2011 and now I like to think I have matured in both my appreciation for knives as well as my approach to reviewing products. I also now have the budget to buy and hold more expensive offerings, like this Large Sebenza, and compare them with other expensive folding knives. I’ll spare you the essay on my “philosophy” towards reviewing knives, but the cliff notes are that I have no allegiance to any one brand. I run this website for fun, fund it independently (thanks in part to generous readers who purchase products through the links on this site – thank you for supporting my efforts and for supporting independent journalism), and have no problem telling it like it is. That also means I have no economic interest in selling you on a particular knife. My goal ultimate goal to assist you in finding the right knife.

The point of this is that my goal is to provide you with a review of the Sebenza 21 that benefits from my experience and lacks hype, gamesmanship, or “post purchase rationalization”. Sure, as an individual I will always have my own tastes and bias, but I try to point that out when I can to allow you to reach your own conclusion. That said, this is a damn fine knife, so lets get on with the review…

General Dimensions and Blade Details

The Large Sebenza has an overall length of 8.335″, has a 3.625″ blade, and weighs 4.7 ounces. As the name might suggest, this is a large folding knife and compares well in size to classics like the Strider SnG, Benchmade Griptilian, and Spyderco Paramilitary 2. I have to say that it irks me to no end when people refer to this as a “tactical knife”. It’s not. While I don’t doubt it could stab someone as well as anything else, in my mind it’s a large utility or EDC knife, and wasn’t designed with high speed/low drag operators in mind.

Chris Reeve Knives Large Sebenza 21

As an aside, it’s worth mentioning that my particular Large Sebenza is not your normal Large Sebenza. This one is from 2008 and is a special version of the knife with dual thumb studs (or thumb “lugs” as CRK calls them). It features S30V blade steel and lacks the “IDAHO MADE” moniker that, in my opinion, takes away from the appearance of the newer CRKs. So it’s a little different from what you would buy new today, but shares enough similarities for me to call this a review of the Large Sebenza 21 without hesitation. As a lefty I really like this version of the knife, and am on the lookout for a similar version in the small Sebenza 21 pattern (feel free to contact me if you have one you want to sell).

The blade shape is a classic drop point, with CRK’s signature high hollow grind. The tip is extremely fine and the knife is ground thinly. One of my favorite details is the rounded spine. Overall, it’s a great shape for EDC, combining classic lines with precision manufacturing. The entire blade has been given a very fine tumbled finish, which looks nice and hides wear well.

Large Sebenza 21 Blade

Steel on my particular model is S30V, but these days the knife comes in S35VN. Both are fine steels. CRK seems to heat treat them on the softer side which is a decision by Chris Reeve that is not without its fair share of controversy. Personally, I like a relatively soft steel as it’s easier to sharpen. I’ve occasionally had a hard time putting great edges on S30V in the past, so if this blade Rockwells out to 58 RC rather than 60 then so be it. I will say that from the factory the knife comes laser sharp. It’s a high performance blade and it cuts very well. Compared to my SnG there really is no comparison, I would liken it more to the SJ-75, which has proven itself to be an excellent cutter. It slices beautifully and the edge polishes up easily on my strop.

Handle, Ergonomics, and Pocket Clip

For many, the luxurious full titanium handle is what the Sebenza is all about. The two slabs of titanium are simply adorned with a bead blasted finish, and, in this case, accented with silver hardware. The more standard version of the knife comes with blue anodizing on the thumb stud, and you can of course get the knife any number of unique graphic designs on the handle or exotic inlays. Personally, I really like my sterile silver and blasted knife.

Large Sebenza 21 Handle

Handle construction is simple but very well done. Chris Reeve made its name on tight tolerances, and my knife is no exception. Here you have flow through construction with a single stand off, and an interesting floating lanyard assembly. I’m not a big lanyard guy, but on this knife I decided to leave it on. There is something very traditional about the lanyard, and the unique floating lanyard pin makes it less obnoxious.

In hand you have a relatively comfortable handle. This knife doesn’t have anything in the way of 3-D machining, but all the edges have been contoured to break the handle up in your hand. The Large Sebenza is plenty big to accommodate all kinds of hands, and the jimping is near perfect in my book; there is enough texture to provide some traction without rendering the thumb ramp into a throbbing hot spot under harder use.

Large Sebenza 21 in hand

The pocket clip is another one of my favorite details of the knife. The “double dip clip” locks the knife in place like nothing else I own, and provides for discrete no-nonsense carry. Hands down this is a great pocket clip. The knife itself carries well for a large boxy knife. It’s reasonably slim, and the matte titanium tucks neatly into the pocket of my jeans.

Large Sebenza 21 Pocket Clip

Lockup and Deployment

When people talk about smoothness of a knife’s action “Sebenza Smooth” is about as high an accolade as you can offer in the production knife realm. At least, that’s how it was back in 2011. These days CRK has a little more competition with knives appearing on bearings and all, but it’s still a pretty smooth knife. Some guys like to disassemble their Sebenza and lap the washers with 2000+ grit wet sand paper to thin them down and further reduce the friction; kind of like how billionaires turbo charge their Ferraris. You have to be careful, because if you take off too much material you risk throwing off the tolerances entirely, but if you are one of those guys that can’t leave well enough alone then the option certainly exists. Most Sebenzas come with a single thumb lug, which, as a lefty, I really don’t like. I understand that they make a dedicated lefty model, but I would rather see double thumb lugs more common.

Chris Reeve Large Sebenza 21 vs. Strider SnG

There is something eminently enjoyable about opening the blade on my Large Sebenza and feeling the lock fall into place with its soft and satisfying click. It’s almost like shutting the door on a German car. There is a level of security and refinement that I haven’t experienced with my other knives. This may be due in part to the relatively late lockup. Mine is around 90%. There is nothing to be concerned about with the late lockup, although I am sure some folks will find that aspect of the knife disappointing.

Something else to note is that there is absolutely no lock stick and no “break in” or tricks with magic markers are required. The Sebenza is designed to be simple, smooth, and dead nuts reliable. It can be taken completely apart with a single tool.

Large Sebenza 21 – Final Thoughts

The Sebenza 21 is a great knife and a worthy target for those ascending the ladder of production folders. BladeHQ did an excellent series of videos on the Chris Reeve factory. If you haven’t already seen them, they should give you further appreciation for these deceptively simple knives. Chris and his team have spent decades refining the tool and the processes behind it, and the end result is a high performance knife built to exacting tolerances.

With all of that said, there is an increasing amount of expensive knives competing for our dollar. High end production knives from larger companies like Zero Tolerance and Spyderco are continuing to gain ground, while an explosion of mid tech and custom offerings from boutique manufacturers dip down into Sebenza range. Chris Reeve spent decades building his reputation the hard way, attending knife shows and working with traditional media, but the age of Youtube, USN and Instagram is upon us. This new media is bringing consumers closer to the bespoke brands, and allowing young upstarts to accelerate on higher demand and wider margins. Whereas even in 2011 a titanium framelock alone would be enough to push the bleeding edge, today flippers, bearing systems, exotic steel, and 3-D machining are what grab at the attention of the increasingly savvy consumer.

Still CRK continues to do very well, and I don’t doubt that success will continue for a long time. The Large Sebenza is a great example of this, as it is both great knife and modern a classic. I think it’s worth having in any higher end collection. It’s the knife for guys that want a no-frills, highly functional tool. CRK gets so much right, it’s hard to find fault with the Large Sebenza. But in the midst of a golden era of mid tech knives, I can’t help but wonder whether the Sebenza will continue to be regarded as the peak of the mountain, or serve more as a stepping stone into the great white north…

I recommend purchasing the Large Sebenza at BladeHQ. Please consider that purchasing anything through any of the links on this website helps support BladeReviews.com, and keeps the site going. As always, any and all support is greatly appreciated. Thank you very much.

Large Sebenza on BHQ
Large Sebenza 21 – From $410.00
From: BladeHQ

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Comments

  1. Michael says

    Thanks, Dan. It’s a pleasure to read such a fine review about such a fine product.

    Easy to open; easy to close; superior tolerances; no sticky locks and great service — these knives are a pleasure to own and use.

    If you do find something you don’t like about your knife, CRK will tune it up at the spa, no questions asked, and for a reasonable price. It’s a comfort to know that, even though even my oldest Sebs have never needed servicing.

    The latest model, the No. 25, comes with double silver thumb lugs, so even those minor nits have been addressed. About the only thing left for Chris Reeve to do is to offer a flipper model.

    • Michael says

      Oops….I should have said that the Model 25 comes with double BLUE thumb studs, not the silver studs that would make it just about perfect!

    • says

      Thank you Michael for stopping by and taking the time out to comment. I have not had to take advantage of CRK’s spa treatment yet, but I agree it’s a nice safety net to have after plunking down $400+ on a folder. These are designed to be no-nonsense tools and I really like that aspect of them.

      The 25 looks interesting. It strikes me as pretty safe choice for CRK. A hybrid of the Large Sebenza and Umnumzaan. I’ll likely get my hands on one at some point to see what it’s all about.

      Dan

      • Frank Valente says

        Hi Dan… I normally really like your reviews but I think you really wasted your time with this one. CRK will always put out a super fine knife of that I have no argument.

        I have a Sebenza 25 and it is super fantastic in every way.

        Why would you write a review on a 2008 model… CRK has advanced the knife to CPM S35VN for a reason… S30V might have been an advancement at the time it was created but he went further to develop CPM S35 VN due to the problems with S30V… it is a horrible problem for most to sharpen because it has to be honed down to a mirror finish to align the metal before it cuts like a razor otherwise the bits of metal tend to dig in a tear rather than slice… I don’t believe you can even get a Sebenza in s30V anymore unless it is old.

        Then to consider the Sebenza 25 a hybrid of the other two.. come on now… the blade it totally redesigned… we have almost a flat grind now that can even be convexed finally for proper edge retention… and better rolling system than ever before…

        Anyhow as I said you normally do very well but you missed big on this one… get a new knife so you know what I am talking about here sir.

        All the best
        Frank

        • says

          Frank,

          I certainly appreciate you taking the time out to comment and voice your opinion. I have to say that I completely (and respectfully) disagree with the notion that I “really wasted my time” in writing this review because CRK went from S30V to S35VN and I happen to have an older version of the knife. In my opinion, the difference blade steel, while important and needs to be noted, is overall still a minor point. Sure there is a difference between the two steels, but not enough so that I feel like I needed to go out and buy a brand new Sebenza 21 to do the review. I have had experience with both S35VN and S30V, and I agree with you that S35VN is superior – not sure what else needed to be said about that.

          As to my thought that the Sebenza 25 strikes me as a hybrid of the Umnumzaan and Sebenza 21 – again, just my opinion, and a casual observation at that. Again, I haven’t handled a 25 yet. On paper the 25 seems to be more heavily built than the 21, but less heavily built than the Umnumzaan. Maybe I’m wrong. That certainly wouldn’t be the first time. I am just one guy with a website, so please take all of this with a grain of salt.

          Dan

          • Frank Valente says

            Absolutely Dan, and yes I might have been a little harsh with my wording. I’ve even heard that a number of people prefer the Sebenza 21 style so it is here to stay for now I believe, but yes indeed CPM S35VN is a much superior steel. I have actually noticed such an extreme difference that for myself, when a knife is offered in S30V I don’t want anything to do with… deal breaker is what it is to me.

            I hope you get an opportunity to check out the Sebenza 25 one day… it truly is a “fine knife”… the kind of fine knife that every such enthusiast deserves to own.

            Frank

          • says

            Thanks, Frank. I’ll definitely get a Sebenza 25 at some point, maybe sooner than later after this discussion…

            Dan

  2. DanielBryansBeardHair says

    UGH! I can’t read another review of anything Sebenza. People gush over these things so much it makes me uncomfortable reading it. Christ.

    • says

      Thanks for stopping by, Daniel. I did my best to deliver an unbiased review. Forgive me if I acknowledged the legacy of the knife and brand a bit too…

      Dan

      • DanielBryansBeardHair says

        I’m sure it’s a fine knife (although I’ve never handled one.) I’m just tired of reading the same style (full of high praise) review of this knife. It’s like all the knife reviewers are parroting the same talking points (everything Spyderco is great, Gerber stuff is junk, tip up carry is the only way to do it, blade steel snobbery, etc.)

        Really, I’m just asking for more diverse thoughts in the EDC community.

        • says

          Interesting. Well, I did try to take a different tack on my approach to this, ultimately concluding that it’s a good knife, but in today’s market there is a lot more competition and that it may not be the “gold standard” it once was viewed to be. Not sure if that is the fall from grace we were all looking for, but it is what it is.

          Dan

          • DanielBryansBeardHair says

            I just can’t believe that this knife is that much better than say a $150-$200 Benchmade knife. To be two hundred dollars better you need to be exponentially amazingly much more better. I can list off a myriad of ways in which a BMW 3 series is better than a Honda Civic. Chris Reeves has not done the equivalent for me.

  3. DanielBryansBeardHair says

    Fair enough. But then help make the case for why the Sebenza is four times better than a Benchmade Griptilian.

    The full sized Grip has the Axis Lock, which is universally raved and ranted about as one of the stoutest lock ups, super cool and full of fidget factor. BladeHQ lists Benchmade’s 154-CM with the same hardness (58-60 RC) as the CRK’s S35VN (58-59 RC), the Sebenza is 0.2″ longer blade but also weights 0.9 oz more, plastic handles vs. titanium frame lock (which is a plus for Chris Reeve.)

    On paper, there is no way in which a Sebenza is $312 more better (based on BladeHQ prices as of this moment.) What intangibles make up for this huge price difference? I’m not trying to troll but I just can not accept this knife being on such a high pedestal for unknown reasons.

    • says

      Sorry, Daniel. I should have been more precise when I said that I disagree. What I disagree with is your position that the Sebenza needs to be “exponentially better” than a Benchmade to justify its price tag. I think it only needs to be marginally better than a Benchmade.

      Now, I realize that “exponentially better” might be an exaggeration on your behalf and what you may really mean when you say that is “a lot better”, and not literally exponentially better, but I even disagree that the knife needs to be 4 times better than a Griptilian (which is a linear standard, not exponential one). Mainly because with any kind of luxury good the price/value proposition is not linear. As you spend more money on a higher end good you get less utility out of it per dollar. This is true for pretty much anything; cars, watches, etc. As for your car example, well, there is no question a 2013 BMW 3 Series is better than a 2013 Honda Civic, but is it really “exponentially” better? (no) Is it even 4 times better? (no) They both get you from A to B. Compare a 2013 BMW 3 series with a 2013 Porsche. No question, the Porsche is the better car, but is it exponentially better? (No) Or even twice as better? (No) But there is no question that it is marginally better. The real question is how wide of a margin? For someone like my mom, the margin is real slim. For Mario Andretti it’s probably much wider. So it all comes down to what you want and what you appreciate. You may very well appreciate fine cars, so for you it’s more than ok to “overspend” on a nicer car. Personally? I drive a Honda.

      If you handle the knife and compare it with a Benchmade you will be able to tell there is a difference in fit and finish / quality. Whether the knife is worth exactly $312 more than a Griptilian is highly subjective. For some people, it’s definitely not worth $312 more. For others, it is. My job isn’t to make that determination for you, it’s to present you the facts and my opinions and allow you to reach your own conclusion as to whether you would want to shell out $400 for this knife.

      Personally? I paid $400 for mine and I like it. Do I think it’s worth $312 more than a Griptilian? No. Will I get $312 more worth of “performance” out of it? No. But will I still keep and enjoy it? Yes, probably. I like the knife for what it is. I am holding no delusions that it will cut much better than a $10 box cutter from Wal-Mart, let alone a $75 Benchmade Griptilian, so I think that price vs performance point is moot. No one buys a Benchmade or CRK because they “need” one. They buy it because they want one and appreciate nicer knives.

      I will say that the CRKs hold their value really well, so if I ever decided to get rid of it I could get most of my money back out of it. It’s not an investment, but there are worse places to park $400.

      Dan

    • Wyatt says

      I know this is late, but where did you get the whole concept of pricing? Spyderco has stated that to sell a knife with as good a fit and finish (as well as tolerances) as a CRK, they would be pricing it quite a bit higher in the 500ish range. There is something called diminishing returns in all products, where in a certain price range the money you put into a product is spent accordingly, and a product can be priced well, but the improvements you see compared to less expensive options are lessened. With your logic, a 1 million dollar [insert supercar here] should be 30 times better than a rav 4. Looking at those numbers, you would have a top speed of 4200 and 5280 horsepower.

  4. Kyle says

    Chris Reeve makes knives a lot of people like.

    The only real reason to buy a second knife even though your first one works is if you like it. If paying 400 dollars for less than 400 dollars worth of hard utility is folly, then most knife guys are fools. Not because they own a top dollar knife, but because most of us eventually spend over 400 bucks on our collection after we’ve satisfied every practical knife need we have. Lots of knife guys live lifestyles that don’t require more than a few minor cutting tasks a week, but want a full flat ground ZDP-189 blade or something anyway just because it is super fun to cut paper.

    Hell, the vast majority of people I know have never regularly carried a knife, and I’ve yet to hear one complain about how hard life is without one. I use my knives at work a lot, but the other guys use box cutters or their freaking house key for the exact same tasks and aren’t sobbing in black and white frustration like they’re starring in the first ten seconds of an infomercial.

    For most people, a knife is an unnecessary purchase. For those that need one, most will do just fine with a fifteen dollar serrated number from a brand we all judge unworthy. Even if you really insisted you needed a good knife, nowadays there are tons of very good options below 40 bucks to cover any task I can think of.

    Point is, I can see from where I am sitting right now about 200 dollars worth of knives that all could have filled the same function as the 40 dollar one that rides with me every day. The argument that nobody should like Chris Reeve because his knives cost more than you get out of them in practical terms is absurd. Knife guys don’t buy knives because our current tools are insufficient. We buy them because we are complete dorks and love knives the way all hobbyists and collectors love their subject. We buy them because handling them makes us happy, talking about them makes us feel smart, and we’re all secretly pretty sure that the next time we leap at a half-justified opportunity to pull one out and cut something will be the time it gets us laid.

    Saying Dan has to prove that a knife he likes was worth exactly every penny he paid for it is like telling a wrestling fan that it’s stupid to cheer for anyone but Brock Lesnar because he’s the one who’d win every fight if they were shooting. Well I don’t have to explain why my favorite wrestler is Terry Gordy and Dan already took the time to explain what he likes about the Sebenza, because that’s a thing he very kindly does for us free of charge. If his reason was that he likes the way it smells, that would be an absolutely unassailable argument because it’s his money and his opinion.

    Of course, if he ever says anything positive about the Kershaw Shuffle I’ll hunt him down and pee on someone he loves.

    • says

      Kyle,

      Too funny, I found myself nodding in agreement as I was reading your comment – right up until the end (although I’ll never review the shuffle although I was thinking about buying a pink one for the Edge Observer’s birthday).

      I agree a $40 knife will likely accomplish 95%+ of what a $200 knife will, and a $10 knife will likely accomplish 95% of what a $40 knife will. The moral of the story is to buy what you like and can reasonably afford.

      Dan

      • Jeff says

        First of all, I would just like to say thank you Dan for writing great reviews/opinions on these fine products. It’s always great seeing someone else’s perspectives on these fine products/addictions we call our addictions.

        I completely agree with you that although I love my $40 dollar knives and I believe that they can do just about anything my higher-end ones could, they just don’t give me the same kind of satisfaction that say my Sebenza does. The enjoyment that I get from knowing that my Sebenza is sitting in my pocket ready to be deployed at a moment’s notice, to being able to open it and hearing that satisfying “caa-chink” is just something you can’t describe…

        It will always be subjective in terms of what people will like and not like. It just comes down to what brings people pleasure and enjoyment, and they value that they believe are in these products.

        Jeff

        • says

          Hi Jeff,

          My pleasure. Thank you very much for stopping by with the insightful comment.

          I have to agree with you. For the high end user there are few things as satisfying as having a high end folding knife in pocket, ready to go. It elevates mundane chores. Believe me, I get it. That said there are a lot of really over the top reviews on the internet and I wanted to try to offer a little devil’s advocacy to the mix. Just to bring in a little difference in perspective. I still have and use my Mnandi and I agree, like a fine wrist watch or handmade pair of shoes these kinds of luxuries can enhance your experience.

          Thanks again for taking the time out to offer your thoughts.

          Best,

          Dan

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