Matanzas – what a cool name. Sounds like its Italian for… mountains. Or it’s a Greek god. Maybe a species of Orchid that only grows in Nepal or something. Actually, it’s Spanish for slaughter. It’s also, as the subject of this review, the name of a new folder designed by Nick Swan and produced by Kizer.
The Matanzas is part of Kizer’s Bladesmith series of high-end knives designed in collaboration with custom makers. In fact, the Matanzas is Nick Swan’s first production collaboration, after having won the “Best New Maker” award at the 2016 USN Gathering. The Matanzas is currently offered in two variations – a relatively tame Bowie-esque drop point, and the wild looking recurved tanto seen here, which Kizer sent us for review. Let’s dive into this artful mid-tier folding knife and see if it slaughters the competition, or if this Kizer is just dead meat. (I cannot promise there won’t be more slaughter puns in this review.)
Key Specs: Kizer Matanzas
Whoa, Kizer & Co are not messing around with the blade on this guy. Everyone who took a look at this blade was impressed and alarmed in equal measure. The blade profile is dramatic and complex. Let’s start with some dimensions: the Matanza’s blade stretches 3.44” long, cut from 0.14” blade stock, and when open the knife measures right at 8” overall. That puts in in a similar size bracket with the Spyderco Paramilitary 2 and in the thick of the market for mid-sized knives.
The profile of the blade is reminiscent of the wild Grimsmo Norseman, with a curved tanto tip that transitions into a dramatic recurve of the belly, but without the complex compound grind (and the blade striations). The tanto portion of the blade itself has a good bit of belly to it, and the transition from the forward edge to the recurve is smooth.
Kizer went with a bead-blasted finish here which is a bit of a bummer, due to its propensity to attract fingerprints and corrosion. There’s a harpoon-esque swedge on the spine that also serves as a thumb ramp here, and the Matanzas sports a high flat grind across the blade. The tip terminates very high up proportionally, like a LionSteel, but has a nice sharp point thanks to the nearly flat spine towards the tip. There’s a tiny sharpening choil that terminates in front of the plunge line, leaving the entire sharpened edge of the blade uniform without any “beard” to complicate sharpening – as it’s already complicated enough. If you’re not fond of the recurved shape, the drop point Matanzas is otherwise identical and is the same price.
Blade steel on the Matanzas, like most of the Bladesmith line, is Crucible CPM-S35VN. We’ve discussed the merits of S35VN ad nauseum here – compared with S30V it has similar edge retention but thanks to the revised chemical makeup it’s easier for the end user to sharpen, as well as easier for the manufacturer to grind, and it takes a cleaner edge with its smaller grain size. It’s an excellent balance of edge retention, corrosion resistance, and toughness. For an EDC steel, it’s ideal.
Deployment & Lockup
The Matanzas uses a flipper and a bearing pivot, like a lot of modern tactical and EDC knives, and the action straight out of the box is among the best of them. It uses low-friction ceramic ball bearings held in a cage for the pivot, and it’s remarkably smooth.
You have to be careful with your technique, though. Because of the narrow handles it’s easy to put your middle finger straight onto the lockbar in the closed position, drastically increasing the effective detent strength when opening it. It takes a bit to realize you’re actually doing this – a similar problem occurs with the narrow-handled Zero Tolerance 0450 knife, too.
Once you work around this, you’ll find the flipper tab itself is a little tricky – it’s quite short and the contact surface is shallow and curved, but it does have a bit of jimping for extra traction. The detent is medium on the stiffness scale, offering just enough tension to reliably get the blade out every time without a miss. With just a few drops of 3-in-1 oil the Matanzas was drop-shut smooth closing.
Lockup on the Matanzas comes courtesy of a one piece stainless steel lockbar insert that also serves double duty as an overtravel stop. I noticed very mild vertical lock rock if grabbing the blade from the very tip, but nothing that is noticeable in use unlike the Factor Equipment Verve flipper. Lockup relative to the lock face is around 30%.
Features, Fit & Finish
The Matanzas earns its lofty pricetag here. This is a remarkably well made knife, and the place this is most evident is the inlay on the show side scale. Made from carbon fiber, the inlay takes up almost the entire surface area of the scale save for a thin border, wrapping around the two body screws at the tail with smooth radii, and sitting absolutely flush with the surface of the titanium scale. Using the point of your fingernail, you cannot discern the point where the scale stops and the inlay begins at any point – it’s all just one smooth piece. And it’s remarkably pretty carbon fiber, too – not like the flat laminate stuff that Spyderco sometimes uses, but smooth and with a holographic appearance as you rotate the knife around.
There’s more to it than the inlay, of course. Another detail that grabs your attention are the thumb cutouts to access the lock bar when the knife is open. Instead of carving away part of the show side handle for lockbar release access, the Matanzas has two reliefs carved out of the inside of both handles slabs parallel to each other, allowing your thumb to drop down in and push the lock open. There are a series of tiny machined striations on these reliefs, perhaps for traction or maybe just for looks. The way everything lines up on this knife impresses as well – when open, the bolster of the scales perfectly matches the curvature of the blade tang and flipper tab creating a smooth guard.
Construction of the Matanzas is an open flow-through design with a pair of polished hourglass-shaped standoffs at the rear of the handle supporting it, everything held together with standard Torx screws. There’s a decorative pivot with the barrel keyed to the frame to prevent it from turning, and an anodized blue pivot collar on both sides. The clip is strange but effective – it’s a spring clip but it uses a pair of miniature standoffs to hold the top of the clip off of the scale, creating a good amount of spare for thick pocket hems. It’s only set up for right hand tip-down carry.
If I were to nitpick any quality issues, the only noticeable one is that like a lot of other Kizers I’ve handled, the factory edge isn’t impressive. The grinds are even but the edge is toothy and not particularly sharp from the factory, like the Feist. The major difference being the difficulty in sharpening the recurved blade, of course. And not that there’s any functional problem with them, but I’d like to see Kizer step up to using flush fitting screws like the Paramilitary 2 does at this price point.
To be frank, the wild blade shape and expensive MSRP of the Matanzas doesn’t lend itself to hard use. There isn’t much functionally wrong with the knife – or at least that couldn’t be fixed by selecting the standard drop point model. I’m not personally crazy about recurves or tantos for actual use. Recurves make the knives difficult for food prep, a common task for pocket knives, because they cannot roll cut on a flat surface.
The complex sharpened edge also makes the knife extraordinarily difficult to sharpen – using a guided rod setup like a Lansky, anyway, would require moving your mount multiple times as well as needing special equipment. It does look nice, but there’s a reason the most popular EDC knives out there are drop points, clip points, or wharncliffes.
Carry is very good with one major caveat. The design of the Matanzas’ blade means that it is tucked entirely into the profile of the handle when closed, so it’s very long and narrow in pocket. The Matanzas is under 4 ounces (3.85 to be exact) so it’s not going to drag down your shorts, and the unique pocket clip works very well and carries fairly deep thanks to the extra space at the top.
The low profile rounded flipper tab also doesn’t catch on or bang into things. The only issue I see is the close proximity of the blade to the spine when closed where the recurve meets the tanto edge – its close enough to accidentally brush your finger against or for other things in your pocket to contact it, which can be a safety hazard. I doubt the drop point suffers from this issue but it’s something to keep in mind.
Ergonomics in use are solid, not remarkable. Judged against the gold standard of mid-sized ergonomics (the Manix 2, if you’re asking me) the Matanzas is neutral enough to be flexible in forward or reverse grips, but it still lacks a forward finger choil and the guard/choil created by the bolster and the flipper is somewhat shallow. The Matanzas has a thumb ramp, but it’s too shallow and long to actually be useful in hand.
One ergonomic issue that could be considered a matter of technique – the relatively narrow handle means your middle finger naturally rests on the lockbar as you’re preparing to open the knife, increasing pressure on the detent bar and actually making the knife harder to open.
The Matanzas being a 3.5” blade knife in S35VN with a flipper, bearings, and a titanium framelock handle means there is no shortage of direct competition, especially around its ~$200 price point.
The first knife that comes to mind is the Zero Tolerance 0450 line – the $160 0450 with full titanium handles, and the $180 0450CF (BladeHQ | Amazon) , both of which have 3.25” elongated drop-point blades with CPM S35VN steel and stout titanium framelocks. They are a good deal lighter than the Matanzas, though – 2.9oz for the Ti and 2.5 for the carbon model – and they don’t have the Matanzas’ wild blade shape. Which could be considered a pro or a con.
The WE Knife Co Wisp (BladeHQ) is a little spendier at about $240 retail, but it offers similar features: a 3.2” blade in CPM S35VN steel, titanium handles with a steel lockbar insert, slick carbon fiber inlays, a caged ceramic ball bearing pivot and a machined titanium pocket clip. WE’s knives are of comparable quality and artfulness to Kizer, both being at the leading edge of combining form and function in a modern product.
The Taichung, Taiwan-assembled Spyderco Mantra 1 (BladeHQ | Amazon) also offers full titanium construction and a slick ball-bearing deployment with a flipper tab, but it also offers the option of the Spyderco round hole thumb opener. A full flat ground blade in high performance CPM M4 tool steel cuts like a laser beam but does require proper care and maintenance (it’s not stainless.) An Intriguing option at around $190.
There’s also the interesting Viper Knives Kyomi framelock from Italy. It’s a Voxnaes design, with full titanium handles and a satin-finished beefy drop point in N690Co that flips open on bearings. A forward finger choil is a good start, and the $200 price point is right in the ballpark.
Finally, it’s worth checking out the new version of the Modus from Steel Will – the F25-71. With full carbon fiber handles, a stainless liner lock, slick ball bearings, and a gorgeous 3.25” Sheepsfoot blade in high-end Bohler M390 super steel, it’s an intriguing value – especially considering how fond I was of the base-model FRN Mini Cutjack as an EDC knife.
As I’ve mentioned previously, there is no shortage when it comes to high-end titanium flipper folding knives in the $200 price range. The Matanzas does a couple things very well – most of them relating to looks and to the shockingly good construction quality – and other things, not so well. It’s not the most practical knife – this dramatically recurved beauty won’t be kicking a Paramilitary 2 out of someone’s pocket for day to day use, but as a “special occasion” knife it’s impressive.
Kizer’s build quality is well up to par as far as I’ve seen, and higher end products like the Matanzas show that. I think a lot of my qualms would be solved by the drop-point model, but if you like the look of the recurved blade you won’t be disappointed.
- Incredible build quality, gorgeous to look at, remarkable flipping action, carries very well
- Recurved blade is impractical and makes sharpening a headache, point of transition sits far too close to handle when closed, bead blasted blade finish, sometimes difficult to flip due to finger placement