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Last Updated: July 28, 2019
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Review – 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…
Large Sebenza 21 – From $410.00
I recommend purchasing the Large Sebenza at BladeHQ or KnifeArt. 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.