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Review of the Chris Reeve Large Sebenza 21

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Back in the Spring of 2011, I tried out my first Chris Reeve Sebenza – a Small Sebenza Stars & Stripes.  It ended up not being a keeper for me, but that didn’t curb my enthusiasm for Chris Reeve knives.  In June of this year, I pick up a Chris Reeve Umnumzaan which has been a keeper for me.  Not long after I was trolling the for sale listings in one of the big knife enthusiast forums (always a costly mistake…) and found a listing for a like-new Large Sebenza 21.  Hardly a day goes by that you can’t find a Large Sebenza with plain titanium scales up for sale, but what made this listing unique was that the seller had applied a brushed (satin) finish to the scales using a Scotch Brite pad:

The seller did an EXCELLENT job of applying the brushed finish (the plain Sebenza models normally have a sand blasted finish) , and took great care to ensure that the brushed finish was even applied to the pocket clip:

I’ve found a sand blasted finish will easily show scratches so if you like a scratch-free appearance on your knife scales, frequent trips back to the factory will be necessary.  But Scotch Brite pads are readily accessible any grocery store, so maintaining a clean appearance going forward will be a relatively simple matter.

The other unique feature of this particular Large Sebenza 21 is that it features double thumb studs (one on each side of the blade).  This an optional feature not commonly found on the Sebenza, but I like the more balanced look of the double thumb studs, which are anodized blue – a hallmark feature which Chris Reeve popularized:

Here are the specifications of the Chris Reeve Large Sebenza 21:

Blade Material:  S35VN Stainless Steel
Blade Hardness:  58-59 RC
Blade Length:  3.625″ (92mm)
Overall Length:  8.335″ (212mm)
Handle Material:  6Al4V Titanium
Weight:  4.7 oz (133g)

Like all Chris Reeve knives, it came with a rather plain box, cleaning cloth, dissasembly tool (allen wrench), lanyard (which I removed since I’m not really a lanyard guy) and the signed warranty card:

According to the production date (very close to my own birth date!) it was only about three months old when I purchased it.

The nice thing about a Chris Reeve knife is that if I ever want the original finish applied, all I need to do is send it back to the factory, and and they can make it look like new again.  I doubt I’ll do that though, as I really like the looks of this brushed finish.  As much as I wanted to have an example of a Sebenza in my modest knife collection, it was always a dilemma as to which one to get.  While I thought the basic, plain titanium scale Sebenza was a bit too austere for my taste, I didn’t want the extra weight and thickness of a model which had more ornate inlays placed in the handle.  The custom finish applied to my example however fits the bill perfectly of what I was looking for – here’s a photo of it next to my Umnumzaan with the factory sand blasted finish:

As of this writing I’ve had the knife for about 6 months, and I’ve been carrying it once or twice a week as a part of my normal rotation.  For whatever reason, I consider it a “dressier” knife, and tend to carry it most often when I’m more dressed up.  It’s considered a utility or “tool” knife, not a “tactical” knife but in reality there’s very little I’d do with my Umnumzaan (which is considered a “tactical” knife) that I wouldn’t or couldn’t do with my Large Sebenza 21.  Both have a blade in excess of 3″ in length, and as such are well capable of being pushed into a self-defense role if needed.  At the same time, both are capable knives for performing standard every day carry (EDC) tasks such as opening boxes, food prep, etc.

One area in which the Sebenza has a bit of advantage over the Umnumzaan  is in ease of disassembly – no proprietary tools are required to do so as is the case with the Umnumzaan.  I normally clean and lubricate my knives every few months, and my Sebenza was due, so I took it apart and lubed it up:

You can’t ask for a more simple and easily maintained knife – two screws are in the handle, and one in the pivot point.  You can always dig out the tool included with your knife to disassemble it, but I prefer to use my Benchmade Folding Tool Kit which is pictured above for all my knives.  For lubrication, Chris Reeve sells his own specially formulated Fluorinated Grease.  For a fraction of the price, I prefer Finish Line Extreme Fluoro(also pictured above) – an extremely similar formulation to Chris Reeve’s product.  For sharpening, more often than not I use the Spyderco Sharpmaker, though I also use the Wicket Edge sharpening system if I have more time to spend.  Nearly all the knives in my collection are made from S35VN stainless steel, and while it’s a fair bit harder to sharpen then some other steels, it has excellent edge retention.

The Sebenza isn’t a hyper-fast deploying knife like some which are designed purely for defensive purposes – it’s not going to fly open with the slightest of pressure on the thumb stud.  However, with some adjustment to the pivot screw and some lubrication, it can be flicked out reasonably quickly with a combination of both thumb and wrist motion.  It is however buttery smooth to open, and locks decisively with distinct “ca-chunk” sound.  The tight tolerances and attention to detail separate this knife from the run-of-the-mill production quality blade.

Fans of the Chris Reeve Large Sebenza 21 will tell you that it’s really the only knife you’ll ever need, and it’s hard to argue the statement.  Of course, with a retail price of $435.00 (for a model with double thumb studs), it should be.  The Sebenza is the undisputed king of semi-custom knives and a classic in every sense.   As a Rolex watch collector, I find a lot of similarities between the design philosophies of Chris Reeve and Rolex – both design products which are first and foremost tools.  Tools with undeniable aesthetic appeal, but also with a specific purpose, over-engineered to the highest manufacturing standards to excel at that specific purpose.  That sums up what I like about a Chris Reeve knife, and I’m pleased to finally have a Sebenza “keeper” in my collection.

UPDATE:  January 2013:  I finally got around to recording some video footage of this knife.  I get a lot of questions about the finish which has been applied – it’s easy to do with some 3M Scotch-Brite pads and a little elbow grease.  Here’s the video:

About John B. Holbrook, II

John B. Holbrook, II is a freelance writer, photographer, and author of ThruMyLens.org, as well as LuxuryTyme.com and TheSeamasterReferencePage.com.

*All text and images contained in this web site are the original work of the author, John B. Holbrook, II and are copyright protected. Use of any of the information or images without the permission of the author is prohibited.

  1. Beautiful. I really like the scotch brite. Makes it look old and hard used.

  2. Thank you for the great tip on the ScotchBrite, John. I was inspired by your write-up and photos, and have a bit of spare time lately, so I did the treatment on my Sebenza today while my children were at school. I even took a (iPhone – non professional!) photo of my newly finished Seb with my Tudor Pelagos – sort of like your photo with the Explorer – that I would like to send along to you. Thanks again for the tip. Tom B.

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