My last review of the famed Chris Reeve Small Sebenza was in 2013 and I reviewed the ‘21’ edition of the knife. In the intervening 9 years since I wrote that, well not a lot has changed, and yet if you ask enthusiasts a bunch has changed about the Small Sebenza with the introduction of the 31.
Over those years, though, I kept giving the Small Sebenza different top spots on my best lists, and many rightfully have been asking for me to update my article on the knife — it’s been a while. Luckily I still have that same Small Sebenza 21, and a couple years ago I nabbed a Small Sebenza 31 as well. Let’s talk about the absolute best all around pocket knife money can buy, shall we? We shall.
Side Note on Configuration Options
Sebenza’s have a very wide variety of options these days. They have different finishes on the titanium and the blade, as well as inlays and other options like double or single thumbstubs. I am not going to dive into all of them, but here’s a few notes for potential buyers as well as my recommendation.
- Steel options: The default option for the 31 is CPM-S45VN which is simply an upgraded version of the CPM-S35VN which was common in the 21. Amazingly, I have no direct experience the S45VN, but it seems to be a better version of S35VN while not being overwhelmingly better. There are a few samples floating about with Magnacut in them, which is marketed as big upgrade, but they are nearly mythical, though coming sometime in the future from Chris Reeve. The last choice is Damascus steel, which are much more expensive and done by Chad Nichols. The patterns on these are outstanding and all Damascus is different. My 31 has Damascus and I am impressed. It’s a very good option, though not likely worth the price alone on a performance basis.
- Inlays: Wood, Carbon Fiber, Micarta, and more. There’s even variants which replace the non-locking scale with Carbon Fiber. The inlays add thickness to the handle. I’ve not owned one, as I prefer the “plain Jane” knife without any inlays.
- Blade shapes: Tanto, Insingo, and Drop Point. I’ve only had the drop points, it’s an amazing and perfectly shaped drop point.
Your best bet is to get a Plain Jane Drop Point with S45VN. The issue is that these are hard to go and buy. They release irregularly, so it is a little easier to buy a Damascus with inlays, as they are pricey and thus more readily available on the market. But if you want my recommended model, then you’ll need to keep an eye on all the authorized resellers and be ready to jump. And if you are wanting the left handed model (what is shown in all these photos) I wish you the very best of luck.
Lock Rock Controversy
On big concern with the Sebenza 31 (which doesn’t happen on the 21) has been dubbed ‘Lock Rock Issue’ which is means: when the blade is locked open on the 31, and extreme pressure is applied to the back edge of the blade while holding the handle still, the blade can rock just a bit on the pivot towards the closed area. I’ve yet to see, hear, or even notice a rumor than this lock has failed on a single person, but this rocking (rightfully) bothers people since it doesn’t happen with the 21.
Don’t try to confirm this yourself, it’s dangerous. I did try it, it does happen, but like I said: it takes a lot of pressure. Chris Reeve Knives remains unconcerned with the issue.
My take: it’s not ideal, but you are unlikely to ever notice it in practice, and further it seems unlikely to ever be an issue for actual use. In other words: meh, whatever.
When the 31 came out, the biggest change from the 21 was the position of the pocket clip. The 21 has the pocket clip going straight down the scale and resting fully on the locking bar. This bothered a lot of people, with people thinking it applied unnecessary pressure to the locking bar, and was thus a bad design.
So with the 31, the clip has been angled slightly so that it rests slightly on the non-locking area of the scale. This change was wholly unnecessary. In practice I feel no difference at all and if you think about the physics, yeah that should be no different.
Actually it is though, the 31’s canted pocket clip is not as ideal when used as a pocket clip as the straight clip on the 21. So yeah.
I should note, the the pocket clip itself is still just ok. It has amazingly good retention, and it slides onto things very cleanly. However it’s not a deep carry clip, and thus the knife rides rather high.
Top: LynchNW. Bottom: MXG.
The third party market has attempted to rectify this, but has failed. I’ve tried the LynchNW clip, and the MXG Gear clip — both I shipped off. They do deep carry, but fail on all other fronts, and importantly add far too much bulk to a rather svelte knife. Stick with stock, and while the 21 has a slightly better setup, it’s not better enough to warrant stepping backwards on the steel front.
Actually Using This Knife for 9yrs and Counting
This knife is at the top of my best list consistently and is among the most used knife I own. I love it. This is a perfectly sized knife for almost every task I need a knife for, and at the same time it carries like a much smaller knife. There’s many knives I own with similar sized blades, or even shorter blades, but all of those carry larger in my pocket.
The Small Sebenza carries small, cuts big. I don’t know what more you could ask for from a knife, but this knife delivers more.
After all these years I can tell you that the factory edge profile isn’t good enough, so if you have the means of reprofiling the edge you will be much happier. Further, once I did reprofile the blade edge, I really started to fall in love with this knife even further.
Sebenza 21 with all the patinas. The hole in the ‘show’ scale gives it away as a 21, as the 31 does not have that extra hole.
These knives also break in extremely well, and while they are never fast on the opening action, they are almost always smooth on the action. It’s impressive how much use my 21 has seen, and yet how identical it feels to the 31. Not to mention how amazing the patina on the Plain Jane models look as they start to get beat up a little on the handle — but even with all that, they are no worse for wear.
These knives are durable as hell, so even though you might feel like it is too nice, or too expensive to use hard — fear not. They are built to be used hard, and last a lifetime. My 21 doesn’t require a ton of maintenance, and while I have maintained it, I am confident that it could go for a year or more without any.
My 31, just starting to get some patina.
So just to recap:
- This knife feels incredibly small in your pocket.
- A secure pocket clip, which has never worn out.
- Excellent looking patina over the years.
- Insanely durable build quality.
- Always smooth, never fast, action on the opening and closing.
- Dead simple, perfectly executed.
- Could use a better edge profile from the factory.
And that’s the thing, this knife is built like an Mini Adamas, but carries like a Mini Bugout — which is baffling to me, but that’s why this knife is so great.
The Small Sebenza is the best pocket knife, and it shows. More than that, though, is if I could only carry one knife for the rest of my life, it would be this knife and I wouldn’t even really stress about it after I got over the melancholy of losing my other great knives.
And while I have other knives which are great, the Small Sebenza has seemingly perfected that greatness. No matter if it is my 21 with a ton of wear on it, and S35VN steel. Or my 31 with Damascus steel which looks pretty, and somehow performs amazingly well — they are both amazing to use.
I can’t wait for the CPM-Magnacut to come out, I’ll get one right away — for science.