Friday, August 19, 2016

Knife Review: Spartan Harsey Folder (SHF)

The Spartan Harsey Folder.  This particular one that I reviewed is a custom version that I bought from Spartan Blades.  The standard versions are either all stonewashed or all black.


It's finally here!  My Spartan Harsey Folder, the aptly acronymed SHF.  This is the knife whose future existence I teased in my review of the Lone Wolf T2.  At the time of that review the SHF was still in development.  Now that I finally have mine in hand and have had a month to test it out, I have to say it was worth the wait.  Given the fact that the SHF won 2016 American Made Knife of the Year at Blade Show, I'd say that other people feel the same way.

The SHF is a knife with a lineage.  Renowned knife designer Bill Harsey has designed a number of iterations of knives similar to the SHF over the years, but he really hit a home run with the Lone Wolf T series.  Unfortunately Lone Wolf went out of business, and so the T2 design went defunct.  Bill really wanted to make sure that when he brought the design back that it was an improvement, and the best knife it could be.  After some successful collaborations with Spartan Blades they developed the SHF, which is an all metal, framelock version of the knife.
My little collection of Harsey designed knives.  You could say I am a fan.  From left to right: The Spartan Harsey Difensa, the Gerber Applegate-Fairbairn Combat Folder, the Gerber Applegate-Fairbairn Covert Folder, the Spartan Harsey SHF, the Lone Wolf T2, The Tacops Falcon (designed by Bill Harsey and Chris Reeve), and the Fantoni HB-02
The T2 and the SHF side by side
The result is something more than a remake.  It is a new knife.  Stouter and more, well, spartan, but also refined.  The T2 was an amazing value at the time (the pricing on the resale market for the Lone Wolf T2's is comparable to the SHF these days), it was a great quality knife for the price.  The SHF on the other hand is simply an outstanding knife.  It's price is comparable to other high quality American made knives in its bracket, but there are no compromises made to keep the price down.  So it costs more, but the SHF doesn't have fiberglass reinforced nylon (FRN) handle scales like the base model T2 either.  The SHF shares the fantastic ergonomics of the T2, but there are a lot of little differences.  And this review is about the details.

The TL;DR review summary: 
This knife is a special knife.  It is pretty big, it is not super light.  It is solid and impressive.  It is exquisitely balanced, and a very good slicer, especially for a modern tactical style knife.  The thumbstud deployment takes some getting used to, and the lockup seems a little too early for my tastes.  But on balance, I think this is an outstanding knife.

The Version Reviewed is a Custom:

The SHF usually comes in one of two versions, the all stonewashed version, or the all black physical vapor deposition (PVD) diamond-like carbon (DLC) coated version.  I have a personal distaste for handles that look like the blades (and honestly, a prejudice against metal handles in general), so I didn't really want the all stonewashed version.  On the other hand, I don't like black coated blades either.  I just personally don't like them, and I don't like my knives to be too intimidating to people, and black coated blades seem a little too "tactical" to me.  So I decided to be a little picky.  This knife costs between $450 (stonewashed) and $500 (DLC Coated), so for that kind of money I want to make sure that I get exactly what I want.

Spartan Blades' first production run of the SHF went out as pre-orders to retailers, so there wasn't a chance for me to get a customized one in that first run.  The second production run was when Spartan Blades was able to get their system ready for more rapid production, and since I had been in touch with Spartan on an ongoing basis they let me know when they had more knives coming up for sale.  I asked if it would be possible to get a knife made with the black handle and the stonewashed blade.  Kimberly at customer service told me that they were getting ready to do some customs, and that she would let me know when they were ready to start making them.  I was very surprised that it was just a week later when she let me know that my custom knife was ready.  My patience paid off in the opportunity to have a knife made for me to my specifications, and I am quite happy with it.

This is the most expensive knife I have ever bought, and it is the first custom knife I have had made for me, so it is a first for me in those ways.

Let's Start With the Specs:

  • Blade Length:        4"
  • Overall Length:      8 13/16"
  • Finish:                    Black PVD (Handle), Stonewash (Blade)
  • Blade Thickness:   0.154"
  • Thickness:              0.5"
  • Blade Steel:           CPM S35VN
  • Blade Hardness:    58-60 RHC
  • Frame:                    6AL-4V Titanium
  • Weight:                   5.888 Oz
The SHF is a substantial folding knife.  Coming in with a four inch blade and an overall length of almost nine inches when open.  That said, this knife does not seem overly large.  It is a good sized knife for general use in my opinion.  Some people might prefer a smaller knife (or live in a jurisdiction that bans knives of this size), but for my money this size knife is just right.  Plus the handle size is a great fit for my hand.
The SHF in my hand.  Note, I have pretty big hands which is why I usually avoid having my hands in the picture, but it shows the handle fit for me.
The blade on this knife was given a stonewashed finish, which is one of my favorite finish types.  A stonewash finish is created by... tumbling the knife with pebbles.  It is what it sounds like.  In my experience stonewash finishes feel pretty low friction, and they are more resistant to corrosion than bead blasted finishes.  Additionally the stonewash hides scratches pretty well, which helps keep the blade looking nice.  The stonewash finish also keeps the blade from being too reflective if that is a concern.
I feel like this image captures the stonewash finish nicely.  The bright high-desert sun also captures the subtle prismatic effect of the DLC coating in bright lights.  While no one would call DLC sparkly, it is subtly prismatic for a very subdued iridescent shimmer.  It is really only noticeable in full bright sunlight, but it is one of my favorite minor details.

The steel of the blade itself is the very fancy supersteel CPM S35VN.  This is a very tough, hard wearing, corrosion resistant, stainless steel that is able to take and hold a very keen edge.  It is a particle steel, which as I have written before is made with science magic.  The fantastic performance has something to do with carbides... I think.  I'm no metallurgist.
The blade stock of the SHF seems to be a little thicker than the T2.  I didn't break out my calipers, but I'm pretty sure.

The handle is titanium, which translates to an extremely solid feeling knife.  I was initially surprised that the knife still felt surprisingly (to me) heavy in the hand.  I expected the titanium handle to allow for a very light knife, like with the Fantoni HB 02.  However, the thick slabs of Titanium (while strong) are not milled out at all, and leave the knife with a substantial weight.  I wondered about that heft initially, until I checked the balance:
That balance is right at the index finger groove.
The knife balances right at the index finger groove.  This is the same point of balance one finds on Harsey's knives like the Difensa.  Having the balance a little back of the blade, right at the fulcrum of the index finger provides a lively feel in the hand.  Bill Harsey has made his reputation designing tactical and fighting knives, and this knife reflects that, and manages to capture the same balance point in a folding knife.

A Note on the Clip:

The T2 on top, with it's tip-down clip, and the SHF below with its titanium tip-up clip.
One of the big changes between the T2 and the SHF was changing the pocket clip from an obligatory right-handed tip-down clip to a left/right reversible tip-up pocket clip.  I personally prefer a tip-down clip since I usually carry my knife in my back pocket.  Plus the T2 clip was one of my favorite things about the old design, and it fit my hand more unobtrusively than any other pocket clip I've used, despite the beefiness if the clip.  That said, I actually wanted the SHF for use in the field, and I typically wear pants with back pocket flaps in the field, which makes the front pocket carry of the SHF actually a bonus.  Also, the titanium clip is strong and fairly unobtrusive in the hand.  Plus, the arrow cutout is pretty cool in my opinion.



I feel that CPM S35VN is an excellent steel, and a good fit for a knife in this price range.  I'd say that the steel is an unequivocal positive.  I know that some steel snobs might prefer a more esoteric steel (like S90V or M390), but for balance of metal characteristics I think S35VN is hard to beat in a tactical/EDC knife.  Additionally, Spartan Blades has a proven track record with their heat treatment of S35VN.  They know how to get the most out of the steel, and the performance has been excellent.

Blade Finish:

As I stated earlier, the stonewash finish is one of my favorite finishes for a knife.  It's attractive, hides scratches, and it provides a lower friction coefficient than a DLC/ZRN coated blade, especially when wet.  I like the easier slicing a lot, especially in a blade that has some thickness.


I really think the blade on this knife is excellent.  I was initially a little sad that Spartan was not offering a full-flat-grind option on the blade (like my T2 Ranger), but I was willing to accept the modified spear-point sabre-grind blade for an all purpose knife.  It has been my experience that sabre-grind blades tend to not slice as well due to the more obtuse angles and increased thickness.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that the slicing performance of the SHF has been quite impressive.  Even though the SHF is thicker at the terminal bevel than the T2 Ranger was, the terminal bevel grinds and blade geometry work to create a blade that is the equal of the Ranger for the cutting tasks I have put it to.

(The SHF actually is even better at apple slicing than the Ranger, which is handy since my two-year-old demands that I slice up her apples one slice at a time daily)

A final nice feature of the blade is the jimping.  The jimping strikes a neat balance between echoing the jimping of the T2, and also recalling the jimping on Spartan Blades' fighting knives.  The jimping is effective, but not obnoxious, and manages to strike a good balance both in performance and aesthetics.  It is the little things that really make a knife for me.
A look at the jimping


The handle, while nice, is one place where I really missed the T2.  The wood handles and radiused edges of the T2 made for a handle that really melted into the hand.  The all-metal handle and chamfered edges of the SHF make for a knife that has a much more positively grippy feel in the hand.  You feel the SHF much more than the T2.  The chamfered metal looks and feels more modern and agressive.  I liked the old fashioned feel and look of the wooden handle.

In actual use I found that the SHF performed nicely, and the handle did not result in hot-spots on my hands.  The handle jimping is attractive and effective.  And the knife is very comfortable to use, and the same excellent ergonomics are there.  But I miss the soft rounded comfort of the T2.  Of course you can't buy a new Lone Wolf T2 anymore, because the company is gone, so the comparison is unfair.  Even more unfair since the wooden handled version was uncommon even when they were getting made.  The SHF handle compares just fine with other production Harsey designs currently on the market, like Fantoni's HB series.

It is worth noting as well that all of the screws and standoffs on the SHF are also made out of titanium.  That detail is a part of the reason for the cost of the knife, but it is a neat detail.

Locking Mechanism:

The locking mechanism on the SHF is an integral frame lock with an internally mounted Hinderer Lockbar Stabilizer (a patented feature licensed for this knife).  Since the handle is also the frame of the knife, a part of the handle functions as a spring and moves in to lock the blade in place.  The mechanism is similar to a liner lock, but with a liner lock there are handle scales over the metal frame.  The advantage of the integral frame lock is that when you hold the knife handle it actually holds the lock in place, which provides additional reliability.  The frame lock is very popular, particularly on high end knives.  I personally prefer liner locks, but that is because I am biased against metal handles, and I dislike having different materials on different sides of the handle.  But this is a detail where my tastes run counter to most folks who buy higher end knives, so I am pretty much out of luck.

(Note on lock terminology: with frame and liner locks, early or late refer to how far the lock travels over the blade tang when the lock engages.  Over time, like years, the metal wears down where the lock engages, and this means that over time the lockup gets later.  An early lockup means that even as the metal wears down there will be plenty of additional surface to ensure secure lockup.  However, if the lockup is too early then the lock can fail to fully engage, which can be dangerous.  Three Sisters Forge has a patented adjustable cam [stop pin] that allows for lockup timing to be adjusted, but they are the only ones I know of with this feature, so in my experience you are mostly stuck with the lockup you get from the factory.)

The locking mechanism on the SHF is probably my biggest issue overall with the knife.  The lockup is very early.  There is no issue if the blade is flipped open using the thumbstud, or simply opened with a little authority, but when the knife is opened gently with two hands the lock fails to engage.  Over time I am sure this will change, and it is not an issue for me in normal use, but when I let people borrow the knife they tend not to be "knife people" and try to be too gentle with the knife, which creates an unsafe situation.


The deployment of the SHF required some learning on my part.  The strong detent and shape of the thumbstuds meant that the knife actually did not work with quite the same hand movements I was used to.  Additionally, the extremely smooth opening (comparable, in my experience, only to a Sebenza) meant that when I did get the knife opening, the blade flew out way faster than I was used to/expecting.  I expected the knife to open exactly the same as my T2:

However, the SHF is not the T2, and nowhere was this more evident than with the deployment:

As you can see, when the thumbstuds are used right, the blade pops right out.  With practice this became easy to do, and quite satisfying, but it did involve a learning curve.  I was used to a controlled opening arc, and the SHF essentially just needs to get launched.  At the end of the SHF video I demonstrate the pinch method that I have found works easiest for me if I want to do a controlled arc.
Note the grooves leading to the thumbstuds.
The best tip that I can offer for opening the SHF is to use the thumbstud access grooves as a guide.  The grooves guide your thumb-tip to the correct angle and position to open the knife with ease, but the mechanics are a little different than I was used to.

Fit and Finish:

The fit and finish of this knife is absolutely outstanding.  My only complaint is the too-early lockup, but otherwise I detected no irregularities, misalignments, assymetries, or flaws.  The knife was literally flawless as far as I can tell.  This is the first knife I have owned that I felt exceeded the build quality of the Fantoni HB 02 (of course the HB 02 costs about half the price, but Fantoni makes fabulous knives).
A comparison photo with the Fantoni HB 02
The factory edge on the knife was very sharp, and is still the only edge put on the knife thus far.  I have had no need to resharpen the knife.  I have been very pleased with the edge on this knife.  The edge seems a great balance of stable geometry and... sliciness (for lack of a better word).  It cuts like a dream.

One last touch that I really liked was having Bill Harsey's signature on the blade.  It is a little touch that makes me very happy.
The William W. Harsey signature.

Use Review:

In use this knife has performed excellently.  It works very well for most every task I have used it for.  As a modern style folder, it simply can't compete with a little old-fashioned slipjoint knife for apple slicing, but even in the apple slicing department it outperforms other similarly sized knives.  The excellent ergonomics make the SHF a very handy all-purpose knife.  It handles most kitchen tasks very well.  Most any cooking task that calls for a petty knife can be handled ably.  And it also slices up cardboard cleanly and chops through blackberry vines nicely.

One particular use where the SHF really outperformed my expectations was in whittling.  I have not really found modern folders to be very handy for whittling for the most part, but the SHF actually makes a pretty decent whittler.  I whittle when bored, and so I am happy that the SHF actually tackles that task ably.


The SHF really is a different knife from the old T2.  The shared lineage, similar appearance, and design of the SHF invites comparison, but the two knives feel quite different in use.  The T2 is still my absolute favorite knife of all time, but I really feel like the SHF is actually a nicer knife in almost every way.  The quality of the SHF is certainly top-notch.

The SHF is a spendy knife.  The price is comparable to other high-end mid-tech production knives (Hinderer, Strider, Chris Reeve, etc.), but that price is still awfully high for your average knife buyer.  That said, for myself, I am very happy with this purchase.  I fully expect to get decades of use out of this knife, and I find it a pleasure to carry and use.

The SHF in nature

I just love the green of that high desert lichen

A nice view of the blade with the signature

Knife in nature

Knife in nature

And one last knife in nature


  1. Very nice write-up. Your videos were actually very helpful. I was also having trouble opening the knife one-handed. I'm used to a knife that required a lateral push and not having much success. Seeing your video made it obvious what I was doing wrong. Great idea asking for the stone-washed blade on the black body. I wish I had thought to ask that. I have just full black. D

    1. Glad to hear the videos were helpful. When I first got the knife I was feeling a little embarrassed, how could I be having trouble opening my knife? I felt like it was worth putting in the videos, and I am glad to see that someone else thought so too.