Though the knife world is chock full of visionary designers, there are few who can match Chris Reeve when it comes to the impact of their contributions. From inventing the frame lock to developing S30 and S35VN steels to starting his own company, Reeve is an individual whose influence knows no bounds. Arguably the most notable of his accomplishments, however, is the creation of the famed Sebenza folding knife.
Because let’s face it: Chris Reeve is synonymous with quality for a reason. His designs are beyond compare, and, for many collectors, the Sebenza is chief amongst them. First designed way back in 1987, it’s a knife that demonstrated just how high-quality blades could be. Since that time, it’s become immediately recognizable because of its sand-blasted titanium handle, satin-finished steel blade, and trademark blue thumb stud.
And here’s the thing — over the years, Chris Reeve Knives has only continued to improve upon the original, switching up steel types, fitting decorative inlays, and adding a second, smaller size. Such a gradual refinement has elevated the knife to the stuff of legends, cementing the Sebenza as an absolute design icon. For many EDC enthusiasts, then, owning a Sebenza is the end-all, be-all — the holy grail of cutting tool carry. But there’s no way around it: the Sebenza makes for a pretty hefty investment with a price point starting at some $375. Naturally, it begs the question: is the knife still worth it in 2021? There’s only one way to find out. Let’s dig in.
Video Review: Chris Reeve Sebenza 31
If video is more your speed, sit back, relax, and enjoy our hands-on review of the Chris Reeve Sebenza 31 knife in gorgeous 4K.
Love At First Sight
From the very first moment we unboxed the Sebenza, we were struck by its absolute beauty. Sure, it’s a utilitarian cutting tool in purpose, but it’s also a stunning piece from an aesthetic standpoint, rich with detail from end to end. Where other knives are often visually busy and borderline overbuilt, the Sebenza is comparatively sleek and masterfully simple. It doesn’t rely on gimmicks or flashy features to make its meticulous craftsmanship evident; instead, it sports thoughtful design touches like elegant chamfering and eye-catching blue accents.
Case in point: the titanium handle. Finished in a muted matte grey with a slight sandpaper grip, it’s a piece that’s easy on the eyes and pleasant in the hand. Solid and well-built, you can immediately feel the quality of the knife as soon as you pick it up. And, because it comes with a color-matched deep-carry pocket clip, you aren’t distracted from the elegant shape and understated branding.
The blade, too, is a truly exquisite offering, machined with a simple drop-point silhouette and a hollow grind. As is to be expected with a Chris Reeve, the crowned spine is exceptionally shaped, and there’s ample jimping — 21 notches — for optimal thumb placement. Coated in a brutalist stonewashed gray, it’s made only better by the warm click of the locking mechanism upon opening.
A Cut Above The Rest
While there’s no denying that the Sebenza’s 3.61″ blade (large version) is a visual marvel, it’s a little underwhelming as far as materials are concerned — especially those examples from earlier in the production run. Sure, the S35VN makes for a fitting homage to Chris Reeve’s impact, but the steel is commonly found on much more affordable alternatives — such as those from Kizer and We. Accordingly, many enthusiasts in the EDC community feel that the blade’s value is undercut by the alloy; when you’re shelling out nearly $500 for a knife, you should be getting a more premium construction.
Thankfully, Chris Reeve Knives has since updated the Sebenza 31 with CPM S45VN to ensure its materials are up to snuff. Now, it’s still far from an ultra-high-end knife steel, but it’s very much an improvement over S35VN. Offering superior edge retention and added resistance to both corrosion and wear, it allows for a much tougher blade than its predecessor. And, thanks to the Sebenza’s hollow grind, it’s incredibly easy to sharpen with a strop. With just a few quick passes, we were able to achieve a razor-sharp edge and slice through paper like butter.
The Locking Mechanism
Of all the updates made to the Sebenza, the locking mechanism is perhaps the most noticeable. That’s because, along with a slightly reshaped lock arm, Chris Reeve also gave the knife a ceramic ball-bearing detent within the Reeve integral lock. In practice, this means that the knife is just as secure as ever whilst also being much more fluid to operate than the Sebenza 21. The tolerances are absolutely spot-on, and we couldn’t find any play in the blade — no matter how much we tried.
Without proper break-in, the Sebenza is far from what we’d consider flickable or fidget-friendly. In fact, between the tight fitment of the buttons and the placement of the small thumb stud, it can even be a bit clumsy to open at times. Nevertheless, the action is as smooth as they come, free of any sticking or catching from open to close. The upgraded contact point may seem like a minor addition, but it’s one that vastly improves the user experience.
We’ll get right to the point here: the Sebenza’s handle is an absolute treat. Machined from 4.79 inches of beautiful 6Al4V titanium and finished with a lightly sandblasted texture, it makes for one of the most ergonomic knife experiences on the market. Thanks to the precision chamfering, contoured cutouts, and generous length, it’s incredibly comfortable in your hand. Pick it up, and it immediately nestles into your palm as if it was meant to be.
Along with the updates to the blade steel and the locking mechanism, Chris Reeve Knives also fitted the handle with several incremental improvements. The pocket clip, for instance, is now angled for better deep pocket carry. So, even though it no longer follows the handle’s clean lines, it ensures markedly more consistent spring tension. Elsewhere, you’ll find that Chris Reeve adjusted the lanyard hole in order to make it move more freely. A subtle change, sure, but it means that the lanyard is far less obtrusive than it was in past Sebenzas — you no longer feel obligated to remove the rope just to fit it in your pocket.
We’ve genuinely enjoyed our time with the Sebenza, as it’s a blade that definitely lives up to its legendary status. Over the years, Chris Reeve has continued to refine the knife, and it’s a commitment that shows in the final product. Still the industry standard for premium cutting tool carry, it combines meticulous attention to detail with impeccable build quality. It’s not without good reason, then, that many EDC enthusiasts consider the Sebenza to be their grail purchase.
Of course, the knife is hardly perfect — especially at $375-plus. The blade steel could still be a bit nicer, and the thumb stud is on the small side. What’s more, some may find the handle to be a bit narrow. So, if you’re a newer knife owner or you already have a 21 in your collection, the 31 probably isn’t right for you. For the rest of us, however, the Sebenza is a blade that continues to reign supreme. It may have its faults, but the level of craftsmanship is truly second-to-none.
The 12 Best EDC Pocket Knives
If you find the Sebenza’s asking price a bit too steep for your spending habits, never fret — there are plenty of worthwhile alternatives. Be sure to check out our guide to the best EDC pocket knives, as you’ll find a choice selection of cutting tools fit for every kind of budget.
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