It is extremely exciting to be surprised. When something that you have not been expecting just leaps out in front of you and demands to be noticed. Joe Holt of Holt Bladeworks did just that when he introduced the Specter model line folding flipper pocket knife. The Specter mid-sized custom titanium scaled flipper, available in three grade finishing’s comes in either “Refined”, “Prestige”, or soon “Utility” variants.
We will dive into these grade options in more detail later, but what you really need to know up front is that the “Refined” grade finish starts at about 495 dollars. This Holt Specter Refined version is what’s up for review today.
For those who are more about the bottom line, and less about the details, here is the scoop – For the coin, the Holt Spector may just be one of the best custom knife values on the market today in any grade variant selected. To find out why, just keep on reading.
Key Specs: Holt Bladeworks Specter
Creating knives out of Robins, Iowa, Holt Bladeworks is a small family operated business that has not been around for all that long. In fact, the Holt Specter is the first folding knife sold to the public in mass by this knife company as of early 2017. Back around 2008 Joe Holt started putting serious effort into making fixed blades. Prior to that point, Joe was more of a hobbyist making the occasional fixed blade here and there.
However, like most great makers, a prior trade/skill-set fundamentally underpinned his ability to entertain the idea of producing quality knives. Joe’s background is in drafting, mechanical/software engineering. His partner Angey is also an engineer. They are currently both engineers for an avionics company.
When we asked Holt Bladeworks to tell us more about themselves, the company, and design philosophy, Angey graciously replied to us with the following information:
“Holt Bladeworks consists of just Joe and me. We both have full time jobs outside of this working as engineers for an avionics company. The part-time knife business is our fun job. Joe loves the design/machining aspect, and I love interacting with all of the customers. So, it is a great fit for us! There are 3 areas that are most important to us, and this is where we have chosen to focus our attention. These areas are wicked smooth flipping action, durability, and clean/elegant lines. As we work through designs and processes, we really try to do things in the most efficient way with the end user in mind. For instance, we buy screws and pivots from TiConnector. They have a phenomenal product, and this is their specialty. In the end we get a great product from them that allows us to have a lower price point, and frees us up to focus on the areas that we want to specialize in.”
The apparent attention to detail and desire to build classic style pocket knives is evident. The Holt Bladeworks website stresses a focus on minimizing the time between orders and expected delivery of those orders. With delivery estimates between 8-12 weeks, based on material availability, Holt Bladeworks is indeed living up to the promise they claim on their website. Such a fast build-time for custom knives is extremely uncommon. The use and command of modern equipment such as the Tormach PCNC1100, and several self-built grinders (made when Joe was still focused on fixed blades) all plays into the precision and speed of his work.
It is also worth noting that on the “Prestige” and “Refined” grades, a slew of customizable options is selectable. Colors, blade finishes, and more are available to choose from. The “Prestige” variant of the Specter lets you change out the blade type to Damasteel, get custom inlays, etc. but comes at a price premium… though still a great value for a custom folder.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the Holt Specter is the ‘Utility’ grade version that will be available later this year. Price is expected to be around 300 dollars, and includes 2D milled handles, a working type blade finish (stone wash, black wash, DLC), and will maintain the same flipping action and hardware found on the higher-grade models.
Our Specter model grade was the “Refined” variant, with a polished blade, and blue anodized accents on the hardware, pivot, back spacer, and 3D pocket clip. The handle scales offered thin machined lines (throughout) that not only looked attractive but added to positive grip. When it comes to the customization options, especially as it relates to anodization, the choices can be a little overwhelming. You find yourself agonizing over that perfect color set. Thankfully, the website has a good selection of imagery to help you decide. Overall, we opted to keep it simple yet stylish (that’s who we are!). Our full set of customization options is shown below.
- Blade Material: M390
- Blade Finish: Near Mirror
- Handle Material: Titanium
- Handle Pattern: Pinstripes
- Handle Finish: In the Nude
- Handle Anodization Color(s): None
- Spacer Material: Titanium
- Spacer Finish: Satin
- Spacer Anodization Color: 27V
- Clip Material: Titanium
- Clip Finish: Satin
- Clip Anodization Color: 27V
- Pivot Pin Style: 3 Spoke Relief
- Pivot Pin Anodization Color: 27V
- Screws Anodization Color: 27V
- Bearing Type: Ceramic
It took about 7 weeks to receive our Holt Specter, which is indeed within the time that was suggested on the website.
Like all current models, our Specter came with an integral ramp style detent. This type of detent is most often synonymous with Brian Nadeau, the credited, and popularized customer maker of this integral ramp detent design. The detent allows for a unique action, and sturdy feel of the knife. Without getting to much into the feel of the knife just yet, it is very likely that this integral detent ramp (sometimes referred to as detent nub) has been slightly adapted to work best for the Specter model – Meaning, it may be a bit longer when compared to others that employ this system, such as Brian. Given that the Holt Specter “Refined” model is custom knife, we specified the details of the knife in advance online, and have been waiting in anticipation to see it come to life ever since.
As we opened the knife for the very first time, we were indeed impressed. Our very first thought was how the Specter reminded us a bit of the Grimsmo Rask, another one of our top custom knives reviewed at Knife Informer (more on that later). Though this was mainly result of the size and shape of the design, which are extremely similar in overall length in most regards. Aside from that, the knives are quite different animals.
Back to the Holt Specter, we can most happily say that it flipped open extremely smoothly. It has an almost mechanical feel, and the sound that is made when the knife is deployed is unique, though not particularly loud by any stretch of the imagination (think Sebenza sound in terms of volume level). The obvious use of ball bearings in the pivot were apparent. The knife opens with authority and really instills confidence in the user.
The Specter has beautifully sculpted 3D milled handle scales, and an almost complete mirror-polished blade. Sure, the Prestige model grade could have provided us with custom handle inlays (like timascus, damasteel, zirconium, mokume, Mammoth, or Wood), but we feel that this knife looks great as is without the extra expense. We did notice the handle carried light fingerprints but it’s barely noticeable. Overall we are very impressed with the appearance of this knife.
The pocket clip looks very nice as well, and it is made for right handed folk (since we are indeed right handed). Still, opting to hide the pocket clip screw would have been a nice touch in our opinion (and in fact I hear may be an option in the future). As for the back spacer, this is a very good look, and fitting with the knife design. We tend not to prefer full back spacers, (harder to clean, can cause extra weight, etc.), but on the Specter it makes the knife stand out, and really adds to the balance of the knife in the open position.
As we began to inspect the Specter even more, the fit and finish was without doubt top notch. We noticed severe milling out of the inner part of the handle scales, which certainly accounts for its reasonably slendor weight of about 3.6 oz. Furthermore, the blade was perfectly centered, and when deployed no play at all. The knife locked up at about 30 percent, making contact with the steel lock insert provided on the knife.
Now to the pointy bit – the gorgeous blade itself was just lovely. A simple and well executed flat grind drop point blade. Perfectly symmetrical, and even provided a proper plunge grind that will make it easy to sharpen the entirety of the blade. The knife also seemed very sharp at the edge and tip. A few brief touches with our thumb on the edge practically bit us.
M390 is of course a phenomenal blade steel and one we admire tremendously. The care taken with the blade finishing, between the mirror polish on our particular model, and the almost razor finished edge indicates that this is not just any new knife maker trying to get into the knife making game.
Overall, our first impressions were stellar. Yes there are minor flaws but not a single thing on the knife was worthy of major negative comment. Trust us, we spent over an hour just looking at the knife trying our best to find something notable to criticize.
The Holt Specter feels solid in the hand. It is not too small for our medium sized paws. It is reasonably light, but at the same time it does not feel dainty or fragile. Further, the simplistic contour of the handle scales and overall design shape make it very comfortable to hold. One area we may like to see improved is the slightly sharp edges on the scales (back and shoulders), and toward top of the pocket clip near where it is fitted to the handle.
The clean straight design lines make the Specter look fantastic, but also give it slightly less perfect smoothness. As a result, the knife can feel a bit biting to the hand if harder task cuts are performed and will likely exhibit hot spots in those areas near the back-shoulder section of the knife handles. But for us, the Holt Specter is intended for light to normal EDC duty, and perhaps collectability. Therefore, these minor issues that most may not even notice will not present any issues for us, or even 99% of the people getting into a folder such as the Specter.
As for flipping action… the Specter does not disappoint. For all you fidgeters out there, this is a primo flipping knife. The flipper tab is small and very comfortable. The detent does not feel too strong, but strong enough to hit that sweet spot where it flips hard and fast out for deployment. Disengagement of the Specter is equally smooth.
Closing the knife is very easy, as the integral frame-lock is precision crafted, and the lock-bar with the built-in steel insert exhibited no stick. The knife blade falls gently down with a simple flick down of the wrist after disengaging the lock bar properly. Other nice touches include a lock bar stabilizer/overtravel stop made of stainless steel effectively built-into the lock insert. With zero stick from the lock bar, this knife is very usable, and will likely be trouble free as long as it is not abused.
Real World Usage
Sorry folks, we just could not bring ourselves to subject the Holt Specter to any unnecessary testing or punishment. Do we feel it can take the abuse? Well, maybe, we suppose. But the fact is that this is not a heavy-duty user type knife for us. This is a very well-designed folding pocket knife, but it is not going to be used for tactical purposes, and should not be used for hard-use applications in our opinion. Sure, it has a drop point blade, the pivot seems strong, and the handles have no flex, but with our Holt Specter (Refined) model coming in at over 500 bucks all in, we would rather use it for it for its most commonly intended purpose – straight up suburban commando EDC usage. Therefore the testing reflected that type of usage scenario.
We carried the Holt Specter “Refined” model for about one week straight as our primary EDC. For those who prefer a smaller knife, this will be great as a primary carry. However, others might want to consider it as a secondary blade carry option, or perhaps a primary summer shorts carry option, or even still a formal gentleman’s carry option if you are into such things (and depending on how you select to have the knife custom finished).
We carried the knife in all the above ways. As a lighter weight folder, it was very easy to live with. The pocket clip is for tip-up carry, which is our preference. It is also designed for right handed persons only. We are not sure if special requests can be made for lefties. The clip is a 3D sculpted design that works well with the knife. It is not exactly a deep pocket carry design, but the small amount of blade handle that sticks out of the pocket as a result is no more than a few inches. This is actually the way we prefer to have it. For us, it allows ability to grab onto something easier to put it out of pocket without fumbling and wasting time. Sadly, no lanyard hole is provided though.
During our time with the knife we did use it for its intended purpose. We used it for light office duty to open boxes that had arrived from the local office supply store. We also used it in our backyard deck to cut all the rope tie downs we had over the outdoor furniture. The blade made simple work of the twine rope we cut. The blade is sharp and did not exhibit any give or play while in use. The handle scales did not seem slippery, though we would imagine that with wet hands, the Specter knife might not be the sturdiest… most folders aren’t.
We used it when we were out and about, the standard tasks that likely an SAK could handle, but felt oh so much cooler with the Holt Specter.
Though we can’t claim to have used the knife to any level that would properly try out the jimping on the knife, the jimping was indeed well executed it appears. If we did need to cut more serious items with this knife, we feel it could handle it well.
As a custom knife, the best comparisons are between other customs with similar style folders. You may consider these when cross-shopping against the Holt Specter:
Grimsmo Rask – The Grimsmo brothers have been making custom knives for several years now, though only a few official models exist. The Grimsmo Rask is a custom knife that we have reviewed in the past. It is also one of our absolute favorite small, to mid-sized flipper folders. Every single piece on Rask knife is made by the Grimsmo brothers in-house. Not many makers can boast that claim. At 3.4 inches in blade length, and 3.0 oz. overall weight, the Rask is just a bit smaller when compared to the Specter. Other dimensions are almost exactly the same… overall size, and closed size are almost spot on the same.
Like the Specter, the Rask is very customizable. We find the Rask is a titanium frame lock designed flipper that is truly special. Every part of the knife scales is smoothed, and not a single hot spot can be found. It is refined beyond the levels of standard refinement you may often see on most custom knives. As a result, the Rask is really a bit of a different animal when compared to most other custom knives for these reasons (Holt Specter included).
However, the Specter shares some traits that make the Rask so special as well… it has a very good size fit in hand, silky smooth action (Rask is more organic feeling, and Specter being somewhat more mechanical), and thin carry friendly capability. What the Specter does not share with the Rask is the price tag, all custom parts, or the difficult accessibility and wait times that the Grimsmo brothers current have. At the moment, if you want either of these makers knives, you best get your info on their mailing list, because they are both very busy.
Neither maker is currently accepting open orders (at the time of this writing), but it is clear that the Grimsmo Rask is considered a very exclusive knife, adding to collectible appeal. For a collector, the Rask will make more sense. However, for the value conscience, the Holt Specter is really the obvious choice. At a 495 base price for the Specter “Refined” knife grade versus at least 795 or well more for the Rask, those looking to maximize value can do so with the Holt Specter.
Chris Reeve Inkosi – A long standing favorite and evolution of the uber-popular Sebenza design is the Inkosi which costs about $450. Similar in size with 3.6″ blade (though overall slightly longer) the Inkosi is notably heavier at 5.0 oz. For us, the Inkosi is indeed a wonderful knife and just begs to be used more so than the Specter. The build quality on the Inkosi is simply near perfect and the Specter falls ever so slightly behind in that respect but on the other hand we find the Specter to be classier with a more advanced feature set.
SharpByDesign Mini Typhoon – Also tested is the Mini Typhoon model that Brian Nadeau created, and is now discontinued. This 3.5 inch titanium flipper may share more with the Holt Specter compared to any other knife we can consider. The unique feel of all of Brian’s knives are a direct result of the detent that is used. This non-traditional detent system does not employ a detent ball, but rather a “detent ramp” that was created by Brian. This detent ramp system is available as an option on the Specter. What the Mini Typhoon also offers is an S90V blade steel, and name recognition for a company that has received numerous awards and recognition in the recent past. If you can find a Mini Typhoon, it is worth a consideration when compared to the Specter. For the price however, the likely option may still be the Specter.
Ferrum Forge Septer – The Septer is a mid-tech offering by Ferrum Forge, a well-respected custom and mid-tech knife maker. Though this is a smaller folder, it may appeal to those who prefer a more solid feeling, yet smaller blade to accompany the daily EDC chores. Lest we forget that some locales have blade restrictions that prohibit concealed carry bladed larger than certain sizes. At around 500 dollars depending on the finish, this 3.0-inch folder packs a punch in a small package size, employing CPM-20CV blade steel, and a very reliable and easy to use flipper. The heavier 4.04 oz Septer is an alternative to the smooth operator Specter, for those more in favor of utility.
It goes without saying that the Holt Bladeworks Specter is a magnificent folding knife, at an even greater value. Even more, it seems to have come out of nowhere. Sure, it is not perfect, with slightly sharp edges on some areas of the handle scales, but it is very close. Once we begin to consider the “Utility” grade version that will hit the market at about 300 dollars (or less), this may be a revolution for the knife world. The Holt Specter design in this extremely affordable version will certainly be a very big hit in our opinion.
Without the need for whimsy or witty banter, we can plainly say that the Holt Specter is an incredible custom flipper, and an amazing value, regardless of the trim you decide may be right for you. It’s a surprising knife at a surprising value. It surprised us so much that it has become one of our top 5 favorite small to mid-sized flipper at any price point. We must presume that this is of no surprise to Holt Bladeworks… Simply amazing results!
- Impeccable fit/finish, well balanced and beautiful, performs very well, highly customizable
- Some slightly sharp edges on the scales