In my not-so-humble opinion, collaborations are what keep the knife industry – at least on the enthusiast end – a vibrant, exciting community. There’s something exciting about seeing the physical manifestation of a company’s production ethos and a maker’s design philosophy. See iconic products like the ZT 0561, Kershaw Leek, Kizer Gemini, or the Spyderco Lum Chinese Folder. Some of the industry’s greatest “user” knives come out of this form of collaboration. Less common is a collaboration between two full-on production brands. Such is the case with the curious Spyderco LionSpy, a crossover between Italy’s LionSteel and Colorado’s Spyderco.
The LionSpy is more LionSteel than Spyderco, and is built entirely in LionSteel’s plant in Maniago Italy. It’s based on LionSteel’s SR-1, arguably their most well-known design, but features a number of significant differences in construction, materials, and the inclusion of Spyderco’s thumb hole. Let’s take a look and see how it compares to the SR-1 as well as how it fares in daily use.
- Blade length: 3.625″
- Overall length: 8.43″
- Closed length: 4.59″
- Weight: 5.9 oz
- Blade material: Elmax
- Handle material: G-10/Titanium
- Locking mechanism: Frame Lock
- Country of origin: Italy
- Price range: About $300
Also, if you can’t handle the beastliness of the full-size LionSpy, fear not because Spyderco introduced the Lil LionSpy which sports a 3.12″ blade and weighs only 4.0 oz.
The LionSpy has a very distinct blade shape. It’s a drop point, with very little drop – the point is relatively high up and the blade is unusually broad. It’s cut from extremely thick stock – 4.5mm at the spine – and flat ground very high up, partially through the bottom of the thumb hole. This gives the blade remarkable slicing abilities for the thickness, while leaving plenty of strength for heavy-duty work. The blade is rendered in Bohler-Uddeholm Elmax, a high-end powered steel that boasts high corrosion resistance and edge retention.
In comparison, the SR-1’s blade is made of less exotic D2 tool steel, known for good edge retention and hardness but middling corrosion resistance. It also features a nearly flat spine with a thumb stud instead of a thumb hole, which is less well-suited to the LionSpy/SR-1’s action (as discussed below.)
The LionSpy makes the most of its 3.625” blade, with a short but well defined sharpening choil that starts a few millimeters ahead of the plunge grind, leaving no annoying “beard” making sharpening easier. There’s no forward finger choil, but the shape of the handle gives a positive grip
Handle and Ergonomics
The big difference between the LionSpy and the SR-1 is the handle itself. On the SR-1, the handle is “integral” – meaning it’s machined out of one piece of aluminum or titanium (with the exception of the bolt-in lock bar insert) and the blade, washers, and pivot are inserted into the handle for assembly. This was the big selling point of the SR-1 when it came out, as integrals were (and still are) thin on the ground.
Even as someone who looks at knives with the mantra of “function over everything,” I have to say – the handle on the LionSpy is a thing of pure machining beauty. LionSteel’s reputation for leading edge production techniques – like with the TiDust, made with fused titanium powder(!), the TiSpine/DPx Aculus, and the DPx HEST Folder series – is well deserved.
The spyderhole also serves the added benefit of providing a thumb ramp, giving you additional traction on the handle while using. Jimping on the spine before the hole is a welcome bonus, but not strictly necessary with the steep angle of the “hump.” The LionSpy is comfortable in hand, if slightly chunky – but a good kind of chunky.
Deployment and Lockup
The LionSpy’s thick blade travels on a set of poly washers; at this price, phosphor bronze washers or preferably caged bearings would suit the character of the knife better. Action on the LionSpy is not anything to write home about. The friction in the washers and the geometry and weight of the blade conspire to make flicking the knife open a chore, pretty much undoable without a wrist flick. You can still roll the blade out with your thumb, but the traditional flick-ability of Spyderco’s is absent here.
Lockup is much better. The LionSpy is a beefy framelock, and it’s further strengthened by a steel lockbar insert. The lockbar insert sits at the very end of the lockbar itself, interacting with the tang of the blade. The idea is that since Titanium is considerably softer than hardened steel, over time the surface of a titanium framelock can deform or gall, leading to inconsistent lockup and annoying “lock stick” when trying to disengage the lock. The insert bolts into the frame with two small torx screws, so if it becomes damaged or there is an issue with lockup it can be replaced rather than the entire frame itself. Lockup is slightly early at about 40%, ideal for solidity and wear in my opinion.
Features, Fit & Finish
The LionSpy, much like many of the knives LionSteel makes for DPx, is feature-packed. One innovation is the small round dial found midway up the lockbar. Called the RotoLock, this secondary safety device created by LionSteel designer Gianni Paulette serves two purposes. It’s a lockbar stabilizer much like those found on Hinderer’s designs, preventing the user from pushing the lock past its range and losing tension. But, rotate it about 1/3” of a turn clockwise and it wedges the lockbar open, preventing the blade from accidentally closing while you’re using it. I’m not convinced of the necessity of secondary safeties in the first place, but this one serves dual purposes and is entirely unobtrusive, unlike some more annoying systems such as CRKT’s Auto-LAWKS.
Less positive is the clip, however. It’s deep carry and is mounted by a proprietary screw on the butt of the blade (rather than the side), in a groove that allows it to be carried left or right hand tip up. Because of the position of the mounting hole, the clip cannot be curved to match the shape of the handle – or it would go the wrong way on the other side, similar to why Cold Steel sells some knives with two separate clips.
The clip is extremely short, presumably so it doesn’t sit on the lockbar and increase tension when opening. It’s a case of too much knife, too little clip. While tension on the clip is strong so it won’t accidentally slide out of your pocket, it makes the knife “pendulum” around in your pocket, sometimes turning itself sides if you’re wearing a thinner material.
The pivot at first looks to be proprietary hardware – but when you look closer, it actually has a normal torx video in the center. You can also adjust the pivot with the included two-sided tool, the other end which loosens the screw that retains the pocket clip, but I’m not sure why you would. I do like that LionSteel doesn’t force you to buy an overpriced pivot tool to adjust their knife, though.
Fit and Finish is simply fantastic. The gap between the titanium and G10 scales is about as smooth as it can possibly be, the factory grind is symmetrical, blade centering is perfect, the contouring on the edges of the handle is smooth, and the finish on the blade is a beautifully even satin. Holding the LionSpy in hand, you can tell that a lot of care goes into making these blades.
There’s more to a knife than how much it weighs, but it must be mentioned that at 5.90oz and with the little-itty-bitty clip, the LionSpy will bounce around in your pocket, and you never forget it’s there like an FRN-handled Endura. Some people think the additional heft makes the knife “feel” more substantial, but I’ve never felt that the 2.9oz Manix 2 Lightweight (with its 3.4” blade) felt insubstantial while working, so to me heft is just heft.
Elmax is a fantastic steel, the issue is that 4.5mm is just a lot of it. The unnecessary girth of the blade is obvious when trying to slice through things, like cardboard or a plastic bottle. The high-up point of the blade makes for a striking appearance, but also makes it difficult to accurately pierce things with it – you have to bend your wrist down at an awkward angle to dig into stuff. I also think LionSteel could have thinned the spine out more as it approaches the tip – there’s a lot of material behind it, which is great for not breaking the tip, but you’re not likely to break it off in the first place when it’s so thick it won’t stick into things!
The geometry of the blade and the beefy lock point more towards “hard use” for this knife: cutting wood, cutting thick rope, batoning diagonally through a Jeep Cherokee in the zombie apocalypse. Unfortunately, this isn’t how I use my knives, and it certainly isn’t how I’d use a $300 retail knife even if I did, so it’s much like the top speed of a Ferrari F12: academic. I’d like thinner blade stock, and more of a drop point shape.
Sharpening Elmax is, to put it bluntly, not fun at all. It requires considerable patience like many of it’s super steel cousins like CPM-S110V and M390, you can be thankful that it doesn’t require sharpening often!
Well, the most obvious alternative the LionSpy is the LionSteel SR-1 in Titanium. At $399 retail, it’s $90 heavier on the wallet than the half-Ti LionSpy, and boasts an integral construction handle – the benefits of which are more academic than practical, but it’s still cool as hell – and Bohler-Uddeholm Sleipner steel, which is a modernized equivalent of the classic D2 tool steel with improved corrosion resistance and edge chipping resistance. It’s still a notch below the excellence of Elmax, though, and the LionSteel has a thumb stud instead of the hole opener, my universal preference. I’d lean towards the LionSpy.
If you don’t have a Titanium fetish, LionSteel also offers the SR-1A in an integral handle crafted from 6061-T6 Aluminum that’s anodized to protect the finish. At 5.6oz, it’s 1.2oz lighter on your pocket than the Titanium SR-1, and it’s also $170 lighter on your wallet. Steel on the aluminum version is bumped down to D2, which hey – if it’s fine for Jason Brous…
Speaking of Brous, if you have a desire for the different then the Brous Blades/Dustin Turpin Strife Collab in D2 with Carbon Fiber handles at $449 offers midtech exclusivity and enough meat in the blade to baton through a Jeep. And it’s American made if that’s your thing.
If you want a big excellent beefy folder from Spyderco in this lofty price range, I’d be mightily tempted by the Fluted Ti Military. With a 4.0” clip point blade in S30V, the only fly in the ointment is that it’s right-hand-tip-down carry only. Built in the USA and with a $281 retail, the fluted Ti Millie is an innovative play on one of Spyderco’s most iconic folders, and equal parts pocket art and user tool.
Big framelocks are thin on the ground over at Benchmade, but the 761 Titanium Monolock is worth a look. A 3.73” Bohler M390 blade sports a stonewashed finished, and the contoured Ti handles give a positive grip. Another heavy one on the wallet at ~$331 retail, too, and also tip down carry only.
And finally, boy would we be remiss to not include offerings from Chris Reeve Knives. The Large Sebenza 21 Insingo at $410 and the Umnumzaan at $425 offer CPM-S35VN blades (a steel Chris Reeve had a hand in developing!) and exquisitely crafted titanium framelock handles with the kind of flawless manufacturing that has earned CRK the Manufacturing Quality of the Year award at Blade Show numerous times. Not the most interesting choice, but certainly not a bad one!
So, what to think of the Italian/American cross-brand hybrid LionSpy? Well, it’s definitely unique. It’s a stoutly overbuilt “chopper” of a knife, but at a price point where few people will be “chopping.” It’s immaculately built but it suffers from a lack of foresight to some details (the goofy pocket clip, the Teflon washers.)
As an EDC knife, for regular day to day tasks, it’s imperfect. It doesn’t get a load of rotation in my collection, due to its weight and impractical blade shape. Still, every time I pick it up and give it a spin it brings a smile to my face. Its attention to detail is magnificent, and it’s a piece that just makes you feel good in hand. Personally, I prefer the benefits of Elmax steel and the thumb hole opener over the SR-1 Ti’s Sleipner steel, thumb stud, and integral handle at nearly 25% higher price point, but your mileage may vary!
The Good: Incredibly well built, an improvement over LionSteel’s SR-1 design ergonomically, solid lockup, great steel, a rare piece of production collaboration history, definitely a looker
The Bad: Blade shape is not useful for day to day actions, miserable pocket clip, disappointing action due to heft/geometry/Teflon washers, heavy, pricey.
Bottom Line: Like all things metal and Italian: beautiful, pricey, and charismatic if slightly flawed. Worthy of your consideration.