The Chris Reeve Sebenza is a high end USA-made production knife that starts at $375. It is a titanium framelock (the first such design). It runs S35VN blade steel and sports a thumb stud. The knife is immaculately made and the Small Sebenza comes in at around 3 ounces.
For many knife knuts the Sebenza is a grail knife—the last jumping off point before you take a trip to Crazy Town with exceptionally expensive production knives and customs. If you are knife aficionado, then sure, the Sebenza is worth it, but what if you use your knife for work everyday?
I have owned and reviewed a number of different Sebenzas and a few of its brothers from Chris Reeve Knives.
If you are looking for the very best performing Sebenza, it is Knife Art exclusive Carbon Fiber version with the Insingo blade shape in either small or large depending on your preferences (I prefer the Small). For the purpose of this evaluation I am going to analyze the stock Small Sebenza 21.
Knives As Commodities
If you view cutting tools in the same way as you would socket wrenches—that is, as commodities (cheap, interchangeably replaceable items), then the Sebenza is clearly not worth it. A knife that cuts can be had for as little as $1 from Walmart. Having reviewed such a knife, I think it is probably worth it, even for a cheapskate, to upgrade to something better.
The CRKT Drifter is an excellent work knife and it costs no more than $30. The Ruike P801, reviewed here, is another $30 recommendation. The other option is to simply buy a box cutter or utility knife. In that mode, Milwaukee and Gerber both make excellent folding box cutters for around $30.
Cutting tools that do incredibly tough work—cutting shingles, drywall, and carpet—probably need to be something like a box cutter, as the work will destroy an edge very quickly, even with high end steel. So if you are doing work like that, the Sebenza or any traditionally designed folder is probably not the right tool. Those are perfect situations for knives as commodities.
Read More: 5 Great Cheap Pocket Knife Recommendations
The Case for a Better Knife
Even if you cut shingles all day with a Gerber EAB II, there is still space in a tool kit for a nicer knife, something other than a commodity blade. In a woodworking shop, or a place where precision is required, a stable blade with a precision edge can be used as a marking knife. I wouldn’t use a box cutter for this task, as the edge is usually too wobbly to make tight consistent marks. Additionally, if you work a lot with a knife, owning a nice one can slow down your purchases. A good knife (probably not one as expensive as the Sebenza) can save you money in the long run.
You can get a Spyderco Chaparral for around $90, the price of three Gerber EAB II’s, and the Chaparral will last much longer than the those three EAB IIs. You will have to sharpen the edge, but the entire knife is built to higher quality.
Finally, there is this—if you buy a nice enough knife that will last long, you will likely keep it around, use it more, carry it more, and figure out new and subtly different ways to use it. Pleasingly designed things get used more than clunky ones. A nice knife might be nice enough to carry even off the job site. A knife that both does work and is an everyday companion changes the cost versus use calculus significantly.
If you are “knife as commodity” kind of person, someone that does hard cutting tasks, or are simply price conscious, the Sebenza is not worth it. If you are Festool guy, maybe the Sebenza is worth it. Personally, having owned one and tested many, I still think the Sebenza comes up short.
Comparing Festool tools to non-Festool tools reveals that certain Festool tools, while three times as expensive, have capabilities that most other tools do not. If that capability is something you need, the price doesn’t really factor in. For example, in a space-squeezed shop, it is hard to find a miter saw as small as the Kapex with the same cutting depth. There, you are literally buying square feet, something that is exceptionally valuable.
But with a Sebenza, you don’t get superior or exclusive capabilities for the price. The Chaparral can do everything a Sebenza can and probably runs better steel for one third the price. There is a case for a good folder, even for a working person, but I don’t think a Sebenza is worth it. If you really like knives and have money to spare, the Sebenza is a wonderful knife with custom-level finish and production-level prices and and availability, but it is, in the end, a luxury item.