When the pioneer of frame lock folders decides to name his pinnacle evolution of designs “Umnumzaan” (the boss), you know it is something of significant demarcation. And yes, we know – this knife has been on the market for over a decade now and it’s damned near impossible to find in stock. But we got our hands on one recently and couldn’t resist writing about it. With an evolution in lock interface, overall design, and pivot construction, we have a knife that brought the Chris Reeve Knives lineup into a new level of bar-setting standards.
Key Specs: Chris Reeve Umnumzaan
As most knife aficionados know, Chris Reeve was instrumental in developing two of today’s most commonly used cutlery steels: CPM-S30V and CPM-S35VN. Since 2012, all Chris Reeve knives, including the Umnumzaan, were using CPM-S35VN, an evolution of S30V using small quantities of the secret ingredient- niobium which made it easier to machine while improving toughness and ability to sharpen. It’s a great, well rounded steel, with an evenly distributed balance between edge retention, toughness, and stainless properties, without being a sharpening nightmare. More recently, however, the Umnumzaan and many other Chris Reeve knives use CPM-S45VN – an upgraded steel which introduced a bit more carbon, chromium and nitrogen to *slightly* improve edge retention, wear/corrosion resistance and toughness. What an age we live in!
The blade has some features that really pull the Umnumzaan ahead of its siblings in the CRK lineup, including an integrated glass breaker (visible when the blade is in the closed position), thicker blade stock (.14 over the Sebenza’s .13), and a swedged tip for added piercing ability while still maintaining strength.
The Umnumzaan has a deep hollow grind, with a unique (to all CRK hollow grinds) property- it gets thinner as you work your way through sharpening it, meaning your edge will not thicken for the lifetime of the knife, even with many, many sharpenings. The jimping on the spine of the blade is very finely milled, for grip when you need it, but a smooth, subtle feel when you don’t. The blade is available in either a drop point version, or tanto. Either variant will extend out to 3.675”, a very useful blade length for most any task. There is no crowning on the spine here, like the Sebenza has, but with two dips along the spine for various thumb landings, it’s not missed. This blade is one to be reckoned with; it presents itself with usability, ergonomics, function, and is pleasing to the eye. It even hides usage wear with a nice stone wash.
The Umnumzaan is a knife that comes packaged with an uncommon instruction card- “opening the Umnumzaan”. Now, that’s not to say that it’s difficult to deploy, just a little different than typical thumb stud deploying knives. The thumb studs (doubling as blade stops once deployed), need to be pushed up and away from the handle at a 45°, rather than the slightly-more-common push away from the handle, one might be more accustomed to. Once deployment is trained into muscle memory, you’ll wonder how it was ever a question in the first place. These blade stops also have another unique feature; a polyurethane O-Ring.
With credit and homage both given to Grant and Gavin Hawk for its origins, Chris Reeve went ahead and implemented this feature into the knife for a well thought out reason- to cushion the handle from being deformed from the blade stops. With the O-Rings in place, if the blade is flicked open in a speedy manner, the softer material of the handle doesn’t deform with repeated attacks from the harder material present on the blade stops. Once the blade is open, we have a lockup that is, albeit cliche as roses on Valentine’s Day, bank-vault solid.
Yes, really. There is absolutely no perceivable blade play in any direction when the Boss’s blade is open. This is achieved in a three-fold manner; insane machining tolerances, blade stops meeting up with the handle, and a ceramic ball lock interface.
The ceramic detent ball, which of course keeps the blade in place with the knife closed, doubles as the lock interface with the blade deployed. This aids in a glass-on-glass smoothness while deploying the blade, as well as an innovative and super strength way of locking the blade open. This lock interface was later implemented into the Sebenza 25 (now evolved into the Inkosi name), as well as the newly announced Sebenza 31. It’s safe to say this lock interface is a home run, what with being used on every new locking model since the Umnumzaan’s premier.
Features, Fit and Finish
The aerospace industry is known for having machining tolerances and fitment that is unmatched. That is, unless you look at a Chris Reeve knife. And the Umnumzaan is no exception. Yes, really, again. Chris Reeve somehow put his company and employees on a path of manufacturing that is unmatched in terms of tolerances. That’s not to say other knife manufacturers don’t have amazing fit and finish, or ever great tolerances, but the CRK lineup is really on a level of unmatched precision. Why does that matter, you may ask? Well, when you’re looking for a reason to justify a $500 price tag, here’s one.
Another reason for these tolerances is fitment. Simply removing the pocket clip from the handle scale proves this fact; it takes a bit of elbow grease and wiggling back and forth to remove it. Not because of any adhesive or binding, but because it just fits that perfectly. Every part of the knife in the CRK lineup maintains this level fit and finish. Longevity of life in these knives is multi-generational, with this level of fitment, machining, and near perfection. This particular implementation of Chris Reeve’s knife making portfolio has some additional features as well. An over travel stop, with a “CR” logo milled into it is present on the lock side scale, preventing the lock bar from being pushed over too far by the user.
Without this medallion like, pinned in place feature, the possibility of accidentally changing the lockup is nearly impossible. The handle scales also feature a subtle finish that has a touch of grip while still being largely smooth. Speaking of the scales, they are also milled with a cross hatch pattern, that aids further in grip, without adding weight or changing handle material. It’s both functional and pleasing to the eye. The Umnumzaan also utilized the standard Chris Reeve pocket clip, with a double retention point to ensure the knife doesn’t move when it’s pocketed, but can be removed from the pocket with ease.
Apples, wood, and cardboard. Cucumbers, wire, and styrofoam. You name it, the Umnumzaan is happy to cut it, slice it, chop it, or stab it. Can other knives do these tasks? Of course. But where the Umnumzaan pulls ahead, once again justifying the price tag and speaking to its user with subtle effectiveness. The deep hollow grind allows the blade to be pushed or sliced into most any material without binding, which other grinds like full flat and scandi can’t achieve with the same level of effortlessness. Shaving wood, for example, allows the blade to cut into the material, then get out of its own way without getting jammed up like the 405 on a Monday morning.
Pushing through cardboard feels akin to a dedicated box cutter, without the drawback of holding something that feels like a stapler with a blade on it. Piercing ability of the umnumzaan is also great. With its swedge on the spine near at the tip, we have a blade that comes to a point from 3 directions- the spine, the edge, and the secondary grind of the swedge. This again allows the blade to be pushed into material like cardboard with minimal effort, all while maintaining near fixed blade level tip strength. We bring in the mention of apples in the field test, not because it’s a difficult medium to cut, but because it takes blade geometry implementation to cut it without cracking the apple, which the Umnumzaan achieves with flying colors. It’s comfortable, effective, reliable, and confidence inspiring. What else can you ask of a folding knife field test?
All these knives available at BladeHQ.When looking at pocket knives in the price range of $450-600, there are few names that come to mind. There are some import brands that are out there, but really, the Chris Reeve Umnumzaan competes most directly with Rick Hinderer’s XM-18 and Mick Strider’s SnG. “The big 3”, as they were once commonly referred to. All three are proud to be American made, with a long history of knife making. The Umnumzaan is the only one of these 3 that are offered in either right handed, or left handed configurations. However, Hinderer’s XM-18 and Strider’s SnG both have many more blade shapes and grinds to choose from.
The Umnumzaan is available in either drop point or tanto, and either option comes with the hollow grind. The other two makers have choices such as 3/4 grind, spanto (hybrid from tanto and spear point), spear point, harpoon tanto, wharncliffe, and swedged spear point. If one of these other options is crucial to your taste, you may have to look outside of the CRK lineup. But, if you’re looking for one of the two offered by the Reeve’s, you will not be disappointed by their offerings. They are refined simplicity.
Hinderer’s knives also now, as of the 6th generation of the XM-18, use a Tri-Way pivot system, allowing the user to utilize phosphor bronze washers (like Chris Reeve knives, and the SnG), Teflon washers, or bearings, depending on the users preference. However, the XM-18 tends to have a very thick behind the edge grind, and much thicker blade stock. The SnGtends to be difficult to obtain due to lower production levels, done more in batches. These are all such great makers, and great knives, and a lot of the choice as to which one to buy, comes down to preference.
There it is, the 2008 Blade Show Knife of the Year, Umnumzaan put into words. “I put everything I learned about knife making into the Umnumzaan”, Chris Reeve said during an interview at the unveiling of the Umnumzaan. That means a lot coming from someone who has made knives for many decades. He invented the Reeve Integral Lock (aka the framelock). He helped formulate S30V blade steel, and was instrumental in developing S35VN. The Umnumzaan uses Mr. Reeve’s steel, his lock, and his machining, to result in a knife that is both an evolution and a trailblazer to many other knife designs, materials, and makers.
Is it just two slabs of titanium, a drop point blade, 4 screws and a thumb stud? Sure. But also, absolutely not. It is pure in its design. It’s handle scales are perfectly flat. The stone washing on the blade and finish on the scales is made to look great, feel great, and last a lifetime. The warranty offered by Chris Reeve and company is exceptional. This knife was made with more thought and care than most any other design in folding knife history. Put one in your hand, and use it. It is made to be admired, but more so made to be used, and even passed down through the generations, just as Chris has passed down the company to his son Tim.
- Impeccable fit/finish, beautifully balanced, looks and feels great, built to last a lifetime.
- Expensive, hard to obtain.