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Reviewing budget knives used to be a simple task – all they had to do was not be garbage and we’d be impressed. I know that’s setting the bar low, but for a long time the bar for budget knives was incredibly low. You get what you pay for, and when you pay $5 for a knife at the gas station you get $5 worth of knife. But in the last 5 years or so, the budget knife market has really gone through a rapid evolution, to the point where the $40 knives today feel a lot like the $100 knives of a few years ago. A lot of this is due to brand expansion downward – established makers start out making premium products and then move on to affordable things, the opposite of the normal order of things where a brand starts small and moves upwards.
Key Specs: Sencut Acumen
That’s how we wind up with Sencut, a brand that sells budget knives through Amazon, which is actually another sub-brand by WE Knives. They’re focused on budget knives, and if you’re confused because you thought that Civivi was the budget line of WE, you’re not alone! In an article about the new brand you can find on Knife News, a representative for Sencut says they’re going with a good-better-best strategy for their lineup, which makes Sencut the “good.” It’s similar to Tangram knives, the value brand made by Kizer and sold on Amazon and other big box online retailers, which we reviewed a few of. With Sencut positioned below Civivi and only sold through Amazon (currently) they’re making a play at the low end of the market, and sometimes brands used to making luxury goods stumble when it comes to making affordable ones. Sometimes they hit it out of the park. It depends.
The Sencut we’re looking at today is one of their more recent releases, called the Acumen. It’s gotten some critical acclaim among budget knifer reviewers on YouTube, offering a lot of features and good ergonomics in a goldilocks just-right size for only ~$45. But while this would have been revolutionary 10 years ago, today a knife you buy for $45 on Amazon is pretty much expected to be good. Does Sencut soar or struggle?
The Acumen’s blade is real no-nonsense EDC functionality, especially compared to some of the other models in the line – I certainly understand the visual appeal of a harpoon-shaped blade, I just don’t see the use case. The blade shape is classic: drop point, a full flat grind and measuring just under 3” long (2.98”, making it legal in more jurisdictions.) The spine has a continuous curve down, while the edge is a mix of belly and flat making it more versatile. Blade thickness at the spine is on the thinner side at 0.12”, which means it’s nice and thin behind the edge thanks to the full flat grind. The spine is chamfered to make it smoother to the touch, and the whole blade is finished with a black stonewash coating, which feels like DLC to the touch but Sencut’s literature doesn’t specify.
Blade steel is 9Cr18MoV, and if you’re used to seeing a slew of numbers with “Cr” and “MoV” in there and assuming its junk, hold on. For a budget knife, 9Cr’s chemistry puts it on par with generally more expensive steels, offering a medium-high carbon content (0.95%) and a very high chromium content (16-18%) so it brings good edge retention and excellent corrosion resistance to the table. It’s not a tool steel focused on toughness like D2 (which is the most frequent steel found in knives in this price range) and while it does have less carbon than D2, the addition of vanadium, manganese and molybdenum bring the wear resistance and hardness up without rendering it quasi-stainless like D2 is. For EDC purposes, 9Cr18MoV is a good steel, offering much better edge retention than 8Cr13MoV or 14C28N/AEB-L, being closed to 440C or 154CM but for a lower price. For $45, 9Cr18MoV is one of the better steels for EDC use.
Deployment & Lockup
The Acumen gives you choices when it comes to deployment: there’s a flipper tab on the spine, complete with jimping on the front and top sides for traction, and there’s also a thumb slot (an elongated thumb hole) in the blade which can be used from the front (with a thumb) or the rear (with a middle finger.) The Acumen rides on caged ceramic ball bearings, previously the trapping of a super high-dollar knife, now de rigueur for budget flippers from an Amazon shop. Being a WE Knives product, deployment is unsurprisingly great, with a perfectly judged detent for the flipper tab (which operates push-button style, with some inward tension) sending the blade out with almost no friction whatsoever. The detent is a little stiff for middle finger flicking the blade open but this can be accomplished with a little practice. I do find that the finger guard in the handle occludes using the thumb slot with your thumb somewhat, since your thumb naturally slides forward in the slot when applying pressure (towards the pivot) and then rubs against the finger guard as the blade deploys. Keep your thumb further back in the slot (towards the tip) allows it to clear the guard, but this is a relatively unnatural movement.
Lockup is excellent, done by a stainless liner lock with an external stop pin. The jimping on the lock release is appreciated, pronounced enough to give a good grip but not sharp to the touch. After a month of daily carry and use at work, there is no movement of the blade when it’s deployed either horizontally or vertically. It seems that WE’s excellent reputation at action is transferred to Sencut unabridged. Nice to see.
Features, Fit & Finish
Here’s where we get to the difference between a Sencut and a Civivi: it’s just not as nicely finished. Having handled and reviewed several Civivi’s now (the Elementum, Odium, and the Crit) I can say that the Sencut just isn’t as polished, and not quite as much care goes into the small details. The fitment of the liners to the scales isn’t flush all around, and is uneven from left to right, as is the gap between them. The blade grind is taller on one side than the other, which may just be more noticeable since the blade has a black coating.
The edges of the scales are chamfered at an angle, whereas the edges of the scales on all three Civivi’s are rounded and smoother to the touch. It’s just little stuff, but knives and knife obsession is really just all about the little stuff. Does it affect how it works? Is it shoddily made and going to fall apart? Absolutely not, it works fine, but it’s the difference between how a Civivi makes you go “wow” and this doesn’t. It had a very sharp edge on it from the factory, but not a very high-grit one, like they stop on a medium belt when sharpening Sencuts.
As far as features go, the Sencut has a stamped steel deep carry pocket clip which is set up for left or right hand tip-up carry, which makes the knife as close to ambidextrous as a liner lock can get. Branding is very minimal, with the Sencut name and logo (a stylized “S”) laser-etched on the show side of the blade, and the blade steel laser etched in tiny font on the flipper tab – you’ll miss it if you aren’t looking for it. Body hardware is all black-coated standard Torx fittings for ease of disassembly, with two-sided construction having screws threading into hourglass shaped metal standoffs in the liners. There’s an extra standoff which serves as a tie-off for a lanyard at the rear of the handle, place the lanyard between it and the other two body standoffs and protecting it from the blade’s sharpened edge. Those liners, by the way, are skeletonized, which helps to keep the weight down at 3.73 ounces.
The Acumen by its design and dimensions is meant to be a capable every-day carry knife, able to do a little bit of everything without being too big or too complicated. This starts with carry, which works very well. It’s not very heavy, nor particularly wide (0.47” across the scales), and the deep carry pocket clip is indeed very deep – none of the handle protrudes from the pocket when it’s stowed away. It’s small enough to leave room in the right pocket for my smart phone in an Otterbox without feeling crowded. The clip isn’t pretty but it works well – it has enough angle at the tip to be easy to put in the pocket but not so much the clip catches on everything you walk past.
Sencut describes the blade of the Acumen in the Amazon listing as “built for cutting” which begs the question of what the alternative is for a knife. They’re certainly not built for prying, I can tell you that from experience! Jokes aside, you’re never going to go wrong with a sub-3” drop point with a full flat grind from thin blade stock. The Acumen cuts very well, and the blade shape is useful for just about any activity you’re going to put it through. I like drop points with their nice pointy tips for opening boxes the best, as the shape of the blade and handle (where the point lines up with the center line of the handle) gives you to the most direct control over what you’re cutting. It also does a great job of piercing clamshell packaging to open your latest gadget from Harbor Freight or what have you. The black stonewash coating has held up very well to a couple months of daily use, showing some witness marks from abrasion but no scratches.
I’ve also been pleasantly surprised with 9Cr18MoV, this being my first knife using the steel. My anecdotal evidence is that the Acumen holds an edge longer than some of the similarly priced knives I’ve reviewed in D2, although there certainly are a lot of variables (heat treatment, edge angle, use, etc) behind that statement. It’s easy enough to get it back to papercutting sharpness with a few passes on the Sharpmaker medium and fine stones if you don’t let it get too beat up. Which is the big advantage of D2 over 9Cr: higher toughness to your edge. This is probably not the knife to baton wood with.
It’s not perfect, though. As with most EDC knives in this size, I’d trade a quarter or half inch of blade length for a 50/50 forward choil for better grip. Carrying the Acumen reminded me in a lot of ways of my absolute favorite 3” EDC knife – the Plain-Jane Spyderco Para 3 Lightweight – in terms of size, blade shape, and feel in hand, but the Para 3 absolutely benefits from the forward choil. A version of the Acumen that ditches the flipper tab and carves out a forward finger choil would be pretty compelling to me.
Most tasks that you’re using a smaller blade like this for benefit more from additional control over the blade more than they do more blade length, in my experience. Still, this isn’t to say that ergonomics suffer in the Acumen: the rearward finger choil which uses the scales and the flipper as a finger guard are very secure, and the curved taper of the handle towards the rear feels good in your palm. There are no hot spots to speak of, the only other negative being a lack of either a thumb ramp or jimping on the spine to secure your grip on the top of the knife.
Lastly, maintenance is a snap on the Acumen. All you need is a T8 torx driver to take it apart, clean it out, oil it and put it back together.
All these knives available at BladeHQ.There are no shortage of alternatives to the Acumen, although its $45 price point does offer a great deal of value. Still, some of those alternatives come from within WE Knives itself, with several Civivi models available in this general price range.
At time of writing, you can get a Civivi Elementum with G10 scales and a D2 blade for $50, or $5 more than the Acumen. It’s fair to say that the Elementum is one of the most popular folding knives made in the last few years, which has generated a staggering number of spin-off models and aftermarket parts. I reviewed it some time ago, and while I didn’t quite catch the hype, I can confirm it’s an excellent pocket knife. Ditto the Civivi Baby Banter, the brainchild of internet knife culture celeb Ben Petersen. It offers a stubby 2.34” blade in stonewashed Nitro-V steel and thumb stud deployment for $60.
For $40, you can also get the basic version of the SOG Terminus XR, in D2 steel with G10 liners. I reviewed the original Terminus XR, and it is an absolutely terrific knife, offering ball bearing deployment with axis lock ambidextrous design- giving you a choice between a flipper, dual thumb studs, or the lock itself for deployment. At $4 cheaper than the Acumen, it’s a tough call, although I like the Acumen’s full flat grind better, and the Sencut pocket clip is leagues ahead of SOG’s clip.
Anything I tell you about Ontario’s Rat II won’t be new information at this point, but still: this has been the go-to budget knife for years, and seems unlikely to change. For $38, it offers a full flat grind satin finish clip point blade in D2, nylon handles, no-nonsense thumbstud deployment, and a solid liner lock mechanism. While a lot of competitors offer ball bearings at this price point, the Rat II has always had good action from simpler phosphor-bronze washers, and the simpler and skinnier build means it’s nearly an ounce lighter: 2.75 ounces.
Finally, you still can’t ignore the genius that is the Steel Will Mini Cutjack in FRN. It offers flipper deployment via phosphor bronze washers, textured FRN scales over next liners, and a 3” drop point satin finished blade in D2. It also has a forward finger choil which the Acumen lacks, and it’s cheaper at $38 at this time. Its funky looks might not be for everyone, but it does have great ergonomics and flipping action – once you dial the pivot in.
I’ve struggled to write the review for the Acumen. This is because there’s nothing technically wrong with it; by all objective measures it’s a good knife. It’s affordable, it carries well, it cuts very well, it’s well put together, it does everything you need a knife to do. I think the problem is more philosophical than practical: the Acumen seems uninspired, it seems sort of phoned in, like the goal was to sell units on Amazon, not to make a great knife. I know that the end goal of basically every mass produced knife is to sell units, that’s the goal of most products in the world. But at least Civivi’s don’t feel like that. They have some design baked in, they’re done with collaborators, they make some buzz-worthy knives. I like the Sencut Acumen, and it’s a good knife, but during my review I had to keep looking up what it was called because I couldn’t remember. I think that’s a sign. The budget knife market is very crowded with a lot of good stuff right now, and the Sencut is good, but I’m not sure that’s enough to make it actually noteworthy. It seems more like a color by numbers than a Picasso.
- Good value for money, great action, useful blade shape, carries well
- Would benefit from a forward choil and some spine jimping, not as nicely finished as a Civivi, seems uninspired, limited retailers