Review My Impressions Of The Sebenza 31

Discussion in 'Chris Reeve Knives' started by BTGuy, Aug 15, 2020.

  1. BTGuy

    BTGuy Gold Member Gold Member

    Jul 5, 2016
    I recently purchased a Small Sebenza 31 and have been very much enjoying it as my regular carry knife for the last couple weeks. I was carrying a Small Sebenza 21 beforehand, so it didn't take me long to notice differences between the 21 and 31. I was aware of most before purchasing, but some I didn't notice until days after having both knives.

    For reference sake, the 21 is dated July 2018 and the 31 is dated July 2020. I purchased both new from separate dealers in Canada.

    I generally like the changes done with the 31 as compared to the 21 and have not had any issues with either knife. Both have smooth action and perfect blade centering, and I've disassembled/resassembled them with no hiccups. I've decided I like using the 31 on a more regular basis for a few reasons, the main ones being I find it slightly more comfortable and less hindering to use. Both are fantasic knives, and I would not be disappointed to have either one as my only knife though.

    I'll show some side-by-side pictures and go into the differences I've noticed and my impressions so far. Please forgive the quality of my photos. I've invested time and effort into my knife hobby, and practically none in my photography skills.

    First up is the "presentation" side.


    This is the most immediately obvious difference between the two knives. The 21 has two different inlay pieces while the 31 has one. Aesthetically, I find it hard to say which I prefer. Ergonomically, I definitely prefer the 31. As you'll notice, the inlay follows the curve around the cutout for the lockbar and there's also a slightly wider chamfer on the scale. I feel those differences on my index finger while gripping the knife. The rest of my fingers rest comfortably on the inlay(s) of either knife, but if I had to pick one I'd say I prefer the 31 for that consistent feel. I think the inlay change on the 31 helps the overall handle feel just slightly more rounded and comfortable.
    One, smaller aesthetic change that I do know I prefer is the Chris Reeve logo size and placement. I like that it's no longer seemingly in a competition with the pivot screw and instead accentuates the top corner of the scale.

    On to the opposite side things get tilted.


    On this side there is again one immediately obvious difference. The pocket clip is now tilted to rest on the scale rather than the lockbar. I like the change and don't like the change. What I strongly like is that there's no more concern about where and how I grip the pocket clip while opening the knife. On the other hand, I didn't mind the pocket clip resting on the lockbar on the 21, for the most part. The pocket clip and lockbar on my 21 feel so perferctly tensioned that the pocket clip just barely touches the lockbar while the lockbar is engaged; just enough not to rattle, but adding negligible pressure on the lockbar. The pressure on the blade from the lockbar while opening also feels perfect to me on my 21. My 31 definitely has a bit more tension from the lockbar. My only gripe with the 21 was that I'd ocassionaly grasp too hard on the forward part of the pocket clip while opening the knife, stop and adjust my grip, then open the knife. With my 31 I just place my thumb against the thumb stud and push. As long as I'm not attempting some contortionist's grip on the knife, it opens as easily as expected every time.
    The angle of the pocket clip doesn't feel better or worse in my hand with either knife. I think the angling away from the edge of the scale on the 31 helps a little with that overall rounded feeling, but I honestly didn't notice a difference until I gripped both knives one right after the other and thought about how that specific change felt.

    The other big change with the 31, and one of the main reasons I bought one, is the ceramic ball acting as both the detent and locking interface. I love that feel of the ceramic ball seamlessly transitioning across the surfaces of the blade throughout opening and closing. Anyone who's used some of the many knives that have a detent ball is familiar with that "double-click" feeling from that in-between stage where the detent ball comes off of the blade, but the lock hasn't engaged yet. I didn't think much of that extra click until I used the Sebenza 25 and instantly fell in love with what, in my opinion, is a much more refined opening feeling. Slow open. Single click. Very nice. :)


    In the picture above I've tried to highlight a change that I find to be a huge deal for maintenance and keeping my knife feeling like it's performing at it's peak for longer. There's now less of a gap between the lockbar and the frame cutout near the pivot. See that spot on the 21 where you can clearly view one of the washer holes (and also the slit into the underside of the scale)? See how that's not so on the 31? Less opportunity for gunk to get in the washer holes and gum up the works over time! It doesn't look like it was done out of necessity due to the change in lock interface, but I'm very glad they did that.
    Now, I don't want to get into debate over the functionality, longevity, etc. in the differences of lock interfaces or the "Lock Rock" discussion, but I would like to document the wear on my 31 from the ceramic ball and make a couple notes.


    As should be expected, there's a groove or indent forming on the blade. I didn't take pictures of the stages beforehand, and the above image is not exactly the greatest in up-close detail, so I'll do my best to describe it for now. I've had a very close look through a jeweler loupe, so maybe I'll try to post a better image through that later.
    To start, there was a pre-done indent that gets skipped over (that darker spot on the left with rounded edge above where detent actually follows). Then a mostly clean path up until a small track downwards (near the center of the blade) and a short jut up and to the right at the end. The track downwards formed after I applied firm pressure with my thumb while gripping the knife. I definitely felt the blade move on the lockbar and saw that downward addition to the detent track on the blade immediately afterwards. In no way did the blade feel like it was disengaging from the lockbar, but there was movement. I very seldom have a need to grip the knife that firmly, but I won't help but have that on the back of my mind when putting the knife to work from now on. The upper-right jut portion, I'm not too sure, but may just be from me occassionally gripping the knife a bit harder. Overall I don't have any concern of the lock not performing properly, but I will also note that I don't recall seeing these things with my Sebenza 25.

    Oh, and the gimping and stop pin are a bit different.


    The chamfer is smaller on the edges of the blade resulting in wider gimping. Yet another small change I find makes the knife feel just the tiniest bit more comfortable to use. Then there's the stop pin. It's another I both like and dislike thing. What I like is that I can disassemble the knife and leave one side of the stop pin still attached so it stays in the same position. I don't like that the stop pin is slightly recessed into the scales versus the sleeve and nut with a collar approach of the 21.

    Speaking of chamfers again.


    The lockbar on the 31 has a chamfer on the outside. When I first saw this change, my first thought was that this made the edge of the lockbar that will dig into my index finger just that much more narrow. Not an improvement in comfort at all. Or so I thought. I haven't really noticed it any more than on the 21. If anything, in combination with the inlay, scale, and pocket clip changes, the knife seems to fit more naturally in my hand.

    My final impressions are both the 21 and 31 will be vying for pocket time for a long time, but one will get more use for the foreseeable future. The 31 is the one I would rather use. But the 21 is the one I'll cherish.

    Keep in mind that these are my observations and opinions derived from my very "scientific" methods of looking with my eyeballs and feeling with my hands. Thanks for reading and I hope that helps anyone looking for details on these knives.
  2. kidcongo


    Jan 12, 2013
    Great review. Thank you for your effort writing this!

    A question if I may: When you noticed the new ball track on the 31 after applying pressure, was the ball moving towards being unlocked, locked deeper, or just parallel to the motion of the blade? What direction were you applying this pressure? Don’t know if that makes sense, but you piqued my curiosity.
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  3. BTGuy

    BTGuy Gold Member Gold Member

    Jul 5, 2016
    Thanks, @kidcongo! I'll try my best to answer your question. I held the knife in a hammer grip, I guess, and was applying pressure with my thumb on the back of the blade. I was just getting a good grip on the knife before cutting into some thick cardboard, albeit I was pushing hard on the back of the blade that time. I felt the movement of the blade with my thumb and could hear a a slight "tick" sound as it happened. From the looks of the the downward mark I noted, the ball moved parallel to the motion of the blade and not towards being unlocked. It's only happened the once so far. I'm chalking it up to the wearing in phase and be keeping an eye on it. I plan on using my 31 for a while.
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  4. biggerjon

    biggerjon Gold Member Gold Member

    Nov 10, 2006
    Great write-up. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
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  5. ndmiller

    ndmiller Platinum Member Platinum Member

    Nov 30, 2015
    A good comparison review for sure. Thank you. Didn't really get the differences between 21/25/31 before.
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  6. vwb563

    vwb563 Gold Member Gold Member

    Jun 29, 2007
    It could just be the lighting but the track on the lock face looks kinda deep. :eek:
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  7. brownshoe

    brownshoe I support this site with my MIND

    Sep 6, 2002
    Nice review. You are too modest, your pictures are superb.
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  8. rexromic

    rexromic Gold Member Gold Member

    May 28, 2011
    Great review,thanks!
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  9. BTGuy

    BTGuy Gold Member Gold Member

    Jul 5, 2016
    Thanks everyone! Glad some found my ramblings useful.

    The track isn't as deep as the picture may make it look. I plan to take a better image of the ceramic ball wear using a loupe.
    kidcongo, vwb563 and Dcdavis like this.
  10. BTGuy

    BTGuy Gold Member Gold Member

    Jul 5, 2016
    I finally got around to taking a better picture of the ceramic ball wear on the blade interface.


    The deep groove the makes a dimple at the very top is the pre-made groove that must've been done at the factory. The depth of the groove at the very top is maybe a third or less the width of the ceramic ball then quickly goes very shallow. You can see the crease starting to the right of the dimple going down along the right of the pre-made path shows where the ceramic ball travels. The skid marks to the left (in this image) are the ones I mentioned appearing after hearing the "tick" noise and feeling the blade move. I'm not sure how or when the other marks lower down formed, but I first noticed them before noticing any movement of the lock or weird noises.

    What I've noticed so far with the lockup in general is, I find, it feels a bit sloppy. Not in a way where it feels like the lock is disengaging. But more along the lines of the lockbar and blade alignment changing, with the occasional movement of the ceramic ball across the blade interface. Definitely not inspiring enough confidence that I'd do any stabbing/twisting motions so I've been giving it time to settle in and wear itself a more pronounced track before doing more than cutting cardboard and lighter tasks. Judging from the marks on the blade the movements always favors a direction away from disengaging, so there's that. I haven't seen any new developments on the track wear over the last week either. We'll see how it goes.
    Last edited: Aug 21, 2020
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  11. AwayFromMySpydieHole

    AwayFromMySpydieHole Gold Member Gold Member

    Jan 30, 2017

    I hate to say it, but that mushrooming of the blade where the ball falls off the tang is concerning. Seems like a lot of deformation on the blade that i don’t see on my 25’s and umnumzaans.


    Attached Files:

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  12. BD_01

    BD_01 Basic Member Basic Member

    Jun 9, 2016
    For the sake of comparison, here is a pic of my tanto Zaan.

    Notice there is a linear wear groove, then a dimple along the the groove’s top margin.


    The detent ball only seems to articulate along the linear portion.
    I’m not sure how the dimple got there, and my other Zaan doesn’t have one. As such, it freaked me out and I expended much Google-fu. After finding a few similar pictures, I came to the conclusion that for whatever reason some ‘Zaans wind up with a dimple and some (maybe most?) don’t.

    FWIW the knife is about as perfect as I can imagine with regards to lockup, lock disengagement, etc. The picture probably makes the wear marks look overly dramatic.

    I don’t think my Zaan’s or Inkosi have anything like the mushroom @AwayFromMySpydieHole pointed out...I’ll take a closer look at some point.
    Last edited: Aug 23, 2020
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  13. Tseg


    Aug 25, 2018
    My tanto Zaan groove looks similar to below, and also has perfect solid lockup with no play. My small Inkosi has a single crisp line half way across, also perfect, solid lockup. I was so looking towards the 31 because of the performance of these two. I still am holding on to my money.

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  14. BTGuy

    BTGuy Gold Member Gold Member

    Jul 5, 2016
    I guess I should clarify a little. The "dimple" I was referring to is the portion that AwayFromMySpydieHole highlighted (the bit of steel poking up into the washer area). That was like that when I got it new. I figured CRK left that bit of steel like that after forming the starter groove since it doesn't interfere with the washers like it would had they left it on their other knives with the same interface. It certainly would be an issue seeing that on my 25 as the washer is right up against the steel at that part of the blade. On my 31, I'm not too concerned as it doesn't seem to interfere with the washers, lockup, or any part of the opening/closing action.

    The "sloppy" lockup I think is resulting from the position of the ceramic ball on the lockbar. It's closer to the pivot on the 31 than it is on my 25 and changes the angle of pressure from the blade when force is applied to the back of the blade when the knife is open. On my 25 the angle allows pressure from the blade is applied almost perfectly perpendicular to the ceramic ball and lockbar while on the 31 it seem to be applied at a greater angle. This is resulting in the pressure from the blade pushing the ceramic ball in such a way that the lockbar flexes toward the handle scale. I can see why they had to do it this way as moving the ceramic ball to a position further along the lockbar for a lockup more similar to the 25 would result in the ball not being able to ride along the blade during opening/closing. I guess it's a compromise they had to make to get the ceramic ball interface to work with, basically, the 21 style frame.

    Thanks for the replies! Don't take my criticism or praise the wrong way. I'm hoping to look back many months from now and see if my concerns were for naught and what aspects I love now were just due to the honeymoon phase.
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  15. Evany

    Evany Gold Member Gold Member

    May 7, 2007
    My Inkosi has almost identical wear marks on the tang to 4mr_FMF's photo. Never bothered to look before. All I can say is my particular Inkosi deploys very smoothly and locks up solid. No play anywhere, no lock stick, no rock, just perfect. It's my hard use knife and I don't baby it.
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  16. Hawk45

    Hawk45 Basic Member Basic Member

    Jan 28, 2005
    Nice review and photos., thanks for taking the time. I'm glad they did the deeper chamfer on the lockbar side for double studs. Was always a gripe for me on the 21 for ambi/left handed opening. The 25/Inkosi solved that and glad they carried it over to the 31. Would have liked if they also did dual studs standard on all the 31's also like the 25/Inkosi line.\
    Nice knives brother!
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  17. Sluggy


    Aug 29, 2020
    Terricic review !
    BTGuy likes this.
  18. TRfromMT

    TRfromMT Gold Member Gold Member Basic Member

    Jan 4, 2016
    I did some horse trading and managed to score both a L31 and a L21 in the past couple weeks. Both are essentially new in the box. Just sitting side by side, I got to wondering if anyone had done a tabletop comparison of the two, so thanks for this @BTGuy. The detailed write up is much appreciated.

    I am finding I like a few things about the 31 better than the 21. First, I noticed the very smooth transition of the lockbar as it rolls around the edge of the lock face on the blade. It springs the blade open that last 1/4" of travel just like it springs the blade closed. It's pleasing.

    Second, I find the handle chamfers on the L31 (mine also is with Micarta inlays) are just a touch more comfortable than on the L21. Just a simple test I personally use - I grip the knife in a white knuckle, death-grip and feel where things dig in. No digging on the L31 and the pocket clip fits just right in the crook of my palm. It feels just a little better than the chamfers and the clip position on the L21.

    But the lockup on the L21 is better. It just is. My L31 shows just a hint of lock flex (pressing on the spine on the tabletop). No clicking or anything egregious, but a small amount of felt flex. The 21 has maybe 25% as much flex (i.e. none to speak of) with the same pressure. The 21 lockup and lack of discernible flex is just the gold standard.

    The L21 I got is a Chain Mail and is NIB for all practical purposes. So... the 31 could become the daily user and I have no concerns over the lock. I would like to see if it gets even better over time. The 21 is a mint, sorta rare collectable, so I would hesitate to knock the new off it too quick.
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  19. jascolli

    jascolli Gold Member Gold Member

    Nov 16, 2014
    Wonderful review and great information, thank you. Question - If the ceramic ball continues to wear a deeper groove into the blade, will there eventually come a time when the titanium part of the lock bar makes contact with the blade once the ball runs its depth? Does that make sense.... Thanks, Jas
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  20. Dcdavis

    Dcdavis Gold Member Gold Member

    Oct 13, 2018
    I see what you’re asking. Just my opinion but I think if it was to happen it would take an extremely long time. My oldest Inkosi is five years old with a lot of use. I can’t feel any wear other than the initial break in. I’ve drug a pen or toothpick across it to see at times. It has developed a touch of “grab” on disengagement, as all of my Inkosi’s. I hate to say lock stick bc there’s people here that will say “you haven’t experienced true lock stick if you can unlock the knife one handed”
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