The quest for a perfect everyday carry knife
For the last three years, my own choice has been the assisted-opening Kershaw Cryo (Magnum January 2015), with frame lock, and the axis-lock Enlan Harrier, which were branded for Magnum’s 40th birthday. Both serve me well.
Personally, I prefer a frame or back-lock to any other locking mechanism, and the Kershaws fitted this bill perfectly, while the assisted-opening made for very easy one-handed use.
However, during recent months, I have had the daily opportunity to handle a selection of Spyderco knives. I was suit- ably impressed with the Endura, Para Military 2, smaller Native 5 and the more affordable Tenacious.
But, I soon realised – with some surprise – that the smallest of the batch, the Delica, with its light fibreglass reinforced nylon (FRN) handle and flat-ground leaf-shaped blade and back-lock, was the one I would automatically pick after starting to rotate the knives for daily carry.
The weight (or lack thereof), ergonomics, handling and easy one-handed opening with the Spyder-hole made it an almost perfect choice. The 73mm blade of the Delica is small, but more than adequate for handling any task I could throw at it.
Then I was lucky enough to visit a Spyderco showroom and was introduced to the Spyderco Mantra. The Mantra is a flipper with titanium frame and a frame-lock. It looks almost exactly like the Delica but is 14g heavier and has a slightly larger and thicker blade made of CPM-M4 tool steel.
Although the frame-lock is made from titanium, the lock mechanism has a hardened stainless steel insert that provides steel-on-steel contact between the lock and blade tang. This insert has jimping to ensure a slightly better grip when pressing down on the lock to close the blade, and provides for a better grip with the index finger when holding the smooth titanium handles in your hand. The lock works well as the steel insert completely moves in behind the blade.
The blade is flat-ground and the engraving shows it was made in Taichung, Taiwan. Knives from this factory have a reputation for being some of Spyderco’s better quality products. Spyderco states that the CPM-M4 tool steel is a powder metallurgy steel, specially formulated to offer outstanding wear resistance and edge retention.
The extremely homogenous structure of the steel offers superior dimensional stability, grindability and toughness. However, as a tool steel, it must be maintained to avoid corrosion. Although the tool steel is not as resistant to rust as stainless, I’ve had no problems and after months of use the blade looks the same as the day it was unboxed.
However, I am sure that over time it will develop a patina. It should also be possible to force a patina on the blade by, for example, sticking the blade into a grapefruit. There are various recipes online, as interesting ways to ‘customise’ a knife.
New out-of-the-box, I found the blade extremely sharp, and edge retention has been very good after cutting paper and boxes compared to, for example, the Cryo, with its 8Cr13MoV steel blade. I expected sharpening to be a chore, but found that using a ceramic sharpener followed by a strop easily restored the razor edge.
The 3mm thick blade has the typical Spyderco round hole for opening with your thumb and this method works well, even with my large hands. The Mantra’s design also incorporates an unassisted flipper as an alternative method of opening.
Initially, I found the flipper difficult to operate compared to the assisted action of the Cryo, but soon got the hang of it. However, after using the knife for a while I realised that I would prefer the Mantra without the flipper, as this takes up space on the handle where I would like my forefinger to be for a better grip and cutting action.
The matte stone-wash grey titanium frame is smooth compared to the FRN frame of the Delica, but with my forefinger behind the flipper pull, and thumb on the fine jimping on the back of the blade, I managed a secure grip. The wire clip also helps with grip, more so if you are left handed.
At first, the wire clip looked cheap to me, more like an afterthought rather than a well thought-out design. However, it has three distinct advantages: it enhances grip on the smooth titanium frame; secondly, it has much smoother edges than a conventional Spyderco flat metal clip, causing less wear on one’s pocket, and lastly, it’s the only deep pocket clip Spyderco offers. It can be changed for left- or right-handed use, but the handles only have slots for tip-up carry.
The titanium frame, which has a lanyard hole at the back, picked up a few scuff marks after weeks of carry, but nothing serious, and I actually like the markings as it gives the knife character. Although the Mantra is slightly heavier and larger than the Delica, it’s still light and small enough for me to forget that it is in my pocket, yet always at hand when I need it. During daily use I also found that the blade sliced through a mix of materials far easier than the blade of my Cryo did.
This knife will not appeal to all, as most people prefer the convenience of maintenance free stainless steel. The position of the flipper pull can also be an irritation, but the quality of the material used is above reproach, and fit and finish are excellent for a factory knife. When closed, the blade centres perfectly between the scales.
The price of R5 909 is not for the faint-hearted but so far it’s the best pocket knife I have used in an urban environment. If an exceptional high-quality knife is on your shopping list, the Mantra is definitely worth considering. For more information contact Lite Optec on 011-462-6986.
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