If you have been following the production knife scene the past couple years, then you know that titanium framelock flippers have gotten extremely hot. This has a lot to do with custom and mid-tech makers that often set the trends, which eventually trickle down into production knives. Larger companies have finally taken notice, and now they want their piece of the framelock flipper pie.
This has resulted is something that Andrew and I jokingly refer to as the “framelock flipper arms race.” When Zero Tolerance released their 0560 model not too long ago, it really upped the ante in terms of materials selection, build quality, and technology. ZT loaded their knife to the gills with features like a caged bearing system, 3D contoured handles, and even going so far as to pocket out the titanium to lighten the knife. The 0560 continues to be a technological marvel as far as the production knife industry is concerned, but other companies, including Benchmade and Spyderco, have stopped to take notice – to the point where both companies have released their first models featuring a flipper in 2012-2013.
In this case we have Spyderco’s addition to the framelock flipper arms race: the Brad Southard Folder. They decided to damn the titanium torpedoes in a high-end collaboration with acclaimed custom knife maker Brad Southard. Known for his practical and well engineered designs, Brad has slowly carved a name for himself since he started making knives full time in 2009. Brad subscribes to the ideology that form should follow function, and he ultimately believes that good design is a marriage of aesthetics and performance. Technology also plays a key role in his knives, and this collaboration with Spyderco is a veritable cornucopia of the latest and greatest. Unfortunately for the consumer the price tag reflects this as well, with the knife arriving with a whopping $399.95 MSRP.
Does the fabled Southard Flipper deliver enough bang for the buck to make it worth adding to your collection? How does it stack up to something like the ZT 0560? Lets find out…
General Dimensions and Blade Details
The Southard Flipper has an overall length of 7.96″, features a 3.46” blade, and weighs a solid 4.1 ounces. This is a jewel of a knife, beautifully manufactured for Spyderco in Taichung, Taiwan. Proud Americans may dismiss the knife offhand for having both a $250 retail price and the words “Taiwan” laser engraved on the blade, but I assure you the quality is 100% there. The knife is beautifully made and has a reassuring heft to it – made possible by thick slabs of steel, titanium, and G10.
As for the knife’s intended use, I mainly see the Southard Flipper as a collectible or high end EDC option. I have mostly been carrying mine on the weekends, as I find it a little too chunky to be paired with slacks in an office EDC. Your mileage will certainly vary.
The blade is a signature Brad Southard modified drop point design. Cut from a thick piece of Carpenter CTS-204P stainless steel, the profile swoops and slopes into an abrupt tip. The partial hollow grind terminates at a neatly applied edge, and the entire blade has been given the ever popular stonewashed finish.
CTS-204P is apparently the latest in a line of high performance steels from Carpenter. According to their data sheet this steel has been specifically formulated for high end cutlery applications. This is the part of the review where more sophisticated reviewers would spend a few moments to wax poetic about the chemical structure and technical merits of the steel, but I have neither the time nor the inclination for such diversions. Instead, I elected to simply start cutting stuff. Hey, at least I’m honest.
My knife came with an extremely sharp and aggressive edge. It almost reminded me of the M4 on my Gayle Bradley in how razor sharp and aggressive it was out of box. I actually moved to a new house in the middle of my testing phase, so the Southard Flipper got a chance to open up many cardboard boxes. It zipped through cardboard with alarming speed and efficiency. I decided at this point I wanted to try a more formal cut test to really get a feel for the knife and the steel.
I started out with a 6″ length of 3/8” sisal rope. I made cuts every inch. In some cases this is a very difficult and painful test for me to get through. The Southard Flipper crunched through the rope without even blinking. It was one of the easier rope cut tests I have done, and the knife could have easily handled 2-3x as much rope.
I then moved on to some more cardboard boxes. The Southard flipper once again worked with impressive speed and agility as I cleanly cleaved a couple pieces of 3-ply commercial grade cardboard into confetti. At this point in the test I felt the edge could use some help, so I stropped it briefly. The 204p came back to factory sharpness with very little effort – surprising considering how the blade has likely been heat treated to well over 60 hrc (Spyderco does not list the actual hardness of the steel).
I wrapped things up by whittling some 2x2s. It worked through the wood, but I was not super impressed with the carving performance of this knife. This shouldn’t be too surprising as the blade is 4mm thick and features a partial hollow grind. I found it was not the most efficient tool for cutting up apples either.
At the end of the day I was very pleased with the performance of both the knife and the 204p steel. The steel is capable of taking an amazing edge, I had no issues with rust or corrosion, and the edge held up very well. It’s a nice knife and is well suited for EDC tasks.
Handle, Ergonomics and Pocket Clip
The handle of the Southard Flipper is primarily comprised of titanium and g10. On the locking side you have a full titanium frame lock with a G10 overtravel prevention mechanism. On the non-locking side there is a brown G10 scale over a thick titanium liner. Everything is screwed together, and features flow-through (pillar) construction.
The knife is immaculately finished. The hardware gleams, every corner has been meticulously finished, and the knife feels like an absolute gem. The titanium liner has been drilled out to reduce the weight somewhat, but this is still a knife that I feel in my hand and in my pocket.
One thing to note is the asymmetry of the thickness of the handle; the non-locking side is noticeably thicker than the locking side. I am not sure if this was a conscious design decision, or if Spyderco was not willing to have the G10 side 3d machined like on the ZT0560. Since the knife is equipped with an internal stop pin and captured ball bearing system, it is necessary to have a metal liner of some sort. At any rate the asymmetry is interesting. In my video review I talk about the character of the knife and the odd juxtaposition of high end materials and meticulous finish next to the somewhat quirky and almost primitive design. I think it’s an interesting contrast, although I’m sure the asymmetrical handle will drive some people nuts.
Moving to ergonomics, I find the Southard Flipper to be extremely comfortable. A rope cut test is always a good workout for the handle of a knife, and hard carving / whittling can also quickly reveal hot spots and ergonomic issues. I found that the Southard performed fantastically in the rope cut, and was decently comfortable when carving. The knife is pretty thick and that chunkiness serves it well when putting some extra force behind the edge. The jimping on the spine of the blade is damn near perfect in my book. It’s got a little bit of traction without being obnoxiously sharp or painful. It’s just a comfortable knife.
In contrast, the pocket clip is a little underwhelming. Stylistically it looks cool, and is plenty sturdy / well made. However, I find it’s a little sharp on the tip, doesn’t exactly run with the lines of the handle, and doesn’t carry particularly well. I think a thick and heavy knife like this could benefit from a deeper carry clip. Although none of this strikes me as a deal breaker, I’ll openly confess that I feel the pocket clip is the weakest link.
Deployment and Lock
The more reviews I write the more I wonder how painfully obvious this section is. Of course what we have here is a flipper mechanism, and Spyderco’s first at that. I find it generally works pretty well.
When you have a firm grip on the flipper the detent is strong enough to easily pop the knife open. That said, I’ve flubbed the flip many many times, and wonder if an even stronger detent would be appropriate here. I’ll be the first to admit that this is me being nit picky, but on a knife of this caliber I might as well provide the entire story.
The knife does open nicely however, and the blade rotates smoothly around an over-sized pivot and caged bearing system. There is also the “trademarked” Spyderco thumb hole on the blade, but it’s impossible to use with your left hand, and a challenge to actuate with your right, so I find myself not having a whole lot to say about it.
Lockup is exceptional. My lock engages around 40-50%, and has been like that since the day I bought it. The lock engages easily, has no stick at all, and the knife is absolutely rock solid in every direction. The pivot must have some industrial strength loctite on it, because I have been opening the knife obsessively for weeks and have yet to have a need to adjust it.
There is also a small g10 lock bar stabilizer inset into the framelock that matches the G10 scale on the opposing side. It looks interesting and does a good job of preventing the lock bar from over-extending. All said and done I am really impressed with the lockup on this knife.
Spyderco Southard Flipper – Final Thoughts
So Spyderco’s first flipper… did they nail it or fail it? I have to say, I really like the knife a lot. Brad’s design is sexy and sophisticated, and the Taichung factory has once again produced an amazingly well built knife. Say whatever you want about overseas manufacturers, but the Southard Flipper is immaculately made.
The knife also performs incredibly well. It’s comfortable, balanced, and cuts nicely. I had a blast working through rope and cardboard. It’s not the keenest slicer, so chores like cutting apples and carving wood won’t be it’s absolute forte, but overall the Southard Flipper is a very capable tool.
If I had to do some soul searching for low points, I’d say the pocket clip could use a little work, the flipper could benefit from a touch more detent, and I could live without the lanyard tube. Aside from that I find very little fault with the knife. I will say once again that this is a heavier knife and in my pocket it is more appropriate for jeans or casual wear.
And lets spend a moment or two on the “value proposition” of a knife like the Southard Flipper. Some will balk at the $250 price tag, and I totally appreciate that – this is an expensive knife. But frankly, discussions about value don’t interest me much. Sure, I appreciate a good deal, and understand the value of a dollar, but much like a Chris Reeve Sebenza or a Strider SNG, we are looking at luxury items. No one ‘needs’ a Southard Flipper, and I can definitely see the difference between this and a $100 or $150 knife. It’s also worth mentioning that when compared to a full on custom by Brad the Spyderco collaboration represents an excellent value.
As someone who owns a wide range of folding knives I can say without reservation that the Southard Flipper will be well worth it to fans of high end Spydercos, and fans of titanium framelocks / flippers. It’s a beautiful knife and I can’t over-emphasize how amazingly well made it is. If you are into of fine folding cutlery, I seriously doubt you will be disappointed.
And where does it stand next to the ZT 0560? Personally, I prefer the Southard. The 0560 is a cool knife, but I prefer the size of the Southard more and the knife has this wonderfully solid and well balanced feel to it. Practically speaking I find it more comfortable to cut with too. Sure, the 3D machining on the 0560 is nice, and it’s great to see the 0560 being made in the USA, but I still prefer the Southard more. Have an opinion? Feel free to leave it in the comments section below.
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