Spyderco – A father/son company that was built the old school way, from home, to small office, to multi-country production factories. If I could grab one knife out of the thousands of models Eric and Sal Glesser have put into production to embody the company in a single piece of mechanical manufacturing, it would be the ParaMilitary 2. While it’s truly “built for the hand, not for the eye”, as founder Sal Glesser has said many times, it still looks good to me, and works well as a jack-of-all-trades pocket knife.
The ParaMilitary 2, aka the PM2, is known to be one of the most well rounded folding knives around. It evolved from the first paramilitary, and is a slightly smaller version of the Spyderco Military. It’s blade length to handle ratio is spot on, with a 3.44” blade and a weight of 3.7oz. Multiple grip options abound on the PM2 with its forward choil, and semi-neutral handle grip. Do you ever go to order food and stare at the menu thinking, “oh that looks good, oh so does that, ok now I’m stressed and can’t decide!”? That’s what it’s like choosing a PM2.
There are likely more variants in choices of steel composition and handle scale color with the PM2 than any other production knife has ever seen (and, the tanto blade is coming soon-ish, says Eric at blade show for the second year in a row). And with the similarities in design and function between the Spyderco Military and the Para 3, it’s hard to argue that there isn’t something for everyone with this line. To me, however, the PM2 is the true Goldilocks of this particular Spyderco trio.
Key Specs: Spyderco PM2 K390
The PM2 also lands in a fair price range. The base model, sporting everyone’s favorite steel to hate (CPM S30V) starts right at ~$150, and the rhinoceros-like colored gray Maxamet variant, with over 1,000 cuts through twisted sisal rope (Pete, of Cedric and Ada Gear and Outdoors YouTube channel) comes in at a heftier price tag of ~$210. All PM2’s are virtually the same weight, size, and shape. There are also tens of other variants between these prices as well, and our K390 PM2 sits well-centered in this price range at ~$190. Are they worth the price? What’s Bohler’s K390? Why are you asking so many questions?! Ok, I digress. Here’s some more steel nerd factoids and reviewer insight.
The ParaMilitary 2 has a blade shape, grind, and spine thickness (0.15”) that all comes together in a very simple looking manner. The full flat grind is relatively thin behind the edge (between 0.020-0.025” depending on where along the belly you’re checking), and has a gradual flat face that terminates at the spine. The blade shape, a clip point in most spec sheets, has a nice gradual belly, and a very flat spine, once you’re past the *sharply jimped* thumb ramp.
So you’ve seen a PM2 before. Maybe you’ve had one, or ten. Maybe even a few different steels, like the now production variant S110V. But what about K390? It’s not a new steel, by any means. Not even to Spyderco. They’ve used it on their production pocket sword, the Police model, since late 2017. Which, by the way, is a 9.95” overall length pocket knife small sword with a nearly 4.5” blade. This is relevant to the K390 PM2 because it seems a lot of steel nerds wanted this variant of Bohler’s steel in a production knife for quite a while, but it’s a little hard to want to carry such a “yuge” pocket knife for EDC tasks. Hell, some even balk at the size of the PM2, which seems a little whiny to me, but hey, to each his own.
When talking about steel composition, it’s important to know what’s in the makeup of it all. We’ll lay that out in a second. What I like to know, and you probably want to know, is what’s good and bad about this particular steel for real world usage. Here’s the skinny. K390 is very wear resistant. Like 80-90% the level Maxamet can produce. It is not as tough as something like CRUWEAR, but should be more along the lines of M4 in this regard.
It WILL patina, unless you like to wipe your blade down with rubbing alcohol every day, along with regular wipe downs periodically throughout the day (yes, that’s why mine is still shiny and pristine; I do use it. And yes, there most definitely is something wrong with me). But, what K390 has over its somewhat similar brother M4, is strength at the edge. Which is different that toughness.
Toughness is a level of flex or trauma a blade can take before chipping, rolling or breaking. Strength at the edge holds the apex better, while still keeping the heat treat to a mild hardness, an average of 63.5 HRC according to the K390 custom master Sean (AKA Big Brown Bear, AKA BBB handmade). With this relatively low hardness (compared to Maxamet’s usual 67-68 HRC), you still get very good wear resistance in performance. K390 can be taken up quite a bit in hardness over where on the scale Spyderco runs it, but these are production knives with a more general consumer use in mind. A custom maker like BBB can really push it, up into the 66 HRC range (which of course pails in comparison to the leader in this category, Rex121 at 71 HRC).
The composition of K390 is as follows –
- Carbon: 2.45%
- Chromium: 4.15%
- Cobalt: 2%
- Molybdenum: 3.75%
- Silicon: .55%
- Tungsten: 1%
- Vanadium: 9%
K390 is void of the following common steel makeup – manganese, nickel, niobium, nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur.
Deployment and Lockup
The ParaMilitary 2 is deployed by my personal all time favorite method, a round hole, otherwise known as the Spydie-hole by most. It’s actually such a good deployment method, you’ll see Sebenzas and other higher end knives customized to have this hole added to their blade in place of a thumb stud. Spyderco officially calls it their “Trademark Round Hole”. It offers great purchase for one-hand operation with or without gloves, with wet or dry hands, whether said hands are warm or nearly frostbitten. The blade can be flicked open via a middle finger flick, slow thumb roll, or any other method you’ve come to love in fidgeting with your pocket knife.
Between deployment and lockup, we have a somewhat smooth, semi-frictionless action with the PM2. Sandwiched between two proportionately sized phosphor bronze washers, the blade moves between closed and open with ease. And once it’s locked open, it’s solid. Thanks to Spyderco’s proprietary compression lock, the blade sits with a portion of the liner pinched between the beefy stop pin and the blade tang. Which, in this position, the liner tab that is keeping the blade pinned in place, would have to be compressed to be defeated. Hence the name, compression lock. This compression lock tab is located on the back of the handle, and is released by pinching the lock tab in a generously sized cutout for the knife.
There’s two things I don’t like about compression locks, and they’re both somewhat arbitrary; the lock tab can pinch your palm when opening the knife in some instances, and, with gloves on, the compression lock tab is a bit hard to actuate. But, the benefits of the compression lock outweigh the drawbacks for most people. Being able to open, use and close the knife entirely with one hand is extremely…handy. Can liner locks and frame locks be operated one-handed too? Sure, but they require you to initiate the unlocking but putting your thumb in the closing blade path, then move that thumb out of the way, then finish closing the blade.
The compression lock allows the knife to be closed after use, while keeping all of your precious phalanges out of the way, safe from accidental slices. All the while, the blade is free to float between its closed detent position and locked open, with nearly zero friction, while the compression lock tab is depressed. That’s because the detent ball is located on the lock tab. It’s an ingenious design, with some great features, and few drawbacks. It’s strong too, shown by BladeHQ’s YouTube lock strength video (of course, this is a test, and I wouldn’t advise seeing how far you could push your knife to find the failing point of the lock just for research). They’ve actually done this test twice with different test methods, so here’s your chance to see how it all goes down.
The compression lock knives do tend to have a design that somehow results in a minute amount of blade play when the knife is open. Does that really matter for day to day use? Not at all. But, when you start diving into the level of knives in the $150-220 range, which the PM2 can be, there are certain attributes you may be looking for in the assumed quality. One of which is blade play. It’s funny, a folding knife really isn’t meant to take the place of a fixed blade, but we all make these little comparisons between our mid range folders like the PM2 and fixed blade attributes. No, the blade isn’t as solid as a fixed blade, but for what the knife is designed for and intended to be used for, it’s not that crucial. It’s just a quantifiable quality that can be compared between many different types of knives, to test for machining tolerances and overall fitment.
Features, Fit and Finish
Some of what we’ve discussed here so far comes back into play when considering the fit and finish of the ParaMilitary 2. It features the widely accepted compression lock, and a slew of variants for most any knife nut’s preference. “But wait, there’s more!”
The design of the PM2 is great. It’s less than 4oz and has G10 handle material, a blade length just under 3.5”, and nested steel liners. That last one really gives this knife some street cred. There are few knives with such rigidity in the handle, with such a light weight. G10 is one of my favorite handle materials, second only to micarta. The texturing added to the G10 by Spyderco, called “peel ply G10”, is about as good as it gets for a synthetic handle material. It’s grippy when you need it, even when damp or wet, but slick enough to maneuver it in different hand positions without frustration.
The nested liners are run of the mill stainless steel. They’re also machined with cutouts for weight reduction. When removing the two body screws and single pivot screw on either side of the knife handle, the construction of the PM2 is presented in a very simple, high quality manner. The pivot sleeve is centered within the blade pivot hole, and the bronze washers are sitting just outside the pivot. Then the liners are revealed. But they’re not just sitting proud of the G10 scale; they’re machined to sit mortised within each scale. This allows the PM2 to stay within a fairly thin profile handle, coming in at 0.46”. And when reassembled, this handle feels like a unibody type design. It’s extremely rigid, and keeps itself from feeling overly bloated in weight.
But, the handle scales aren’t perfect. The overall shape of the scales allows for various grips, whether saber, hammer, reverse, or pinch grip is what you’re after. But they’re flat. I mean completely flat. Sounds like a good thing on paper, but squeeze that handle for some harder cutting, and the handle will remind you of its lack of contouring. Or even chamfering. It’s not as if the scales are sharp around the edges, quite the opposite. They’re well finished and generally fine.
But Spyderco is loud and proud of their CQI (constant quality improvement) sector of production, but the PM2 has never seen a change in the handle. It’s a program they take pride in, and when looking at something like the Spyderco Kapara (another great offering from the Thaichung plant), you’ll see a CQI based improved pivot bushing over its previous generation. Or the infamous Spydiechef (another Taichung made piece), has gone through not one, but two CQI revisions. All we’re getting at here, is the PM2 is great for many reasons, but the fine details could use a refresh.
The PM2 is also great, but awkward, to carry. Yes, this statement directly conficts with itself. It’s great in terms of carry because it has a 4-way re-positional pocket clip, meaning it can be oriented for tip up, tip down, right hand, or left hand carry. That’s a great attribute, and is actually less common that you’d imagine. Look at Benchmade’s axis lock knives, they can be oriented in left or right hand positions, but never in tip down (tip down is even more popular to hate than S30V). And, if you like your knife to sit below the pocket line without any of the handle showing whatsoever, there are some great aftermarket solutions for replacement deep carry pocket clips (here’s looking at you, Spyderco. Where’s your factory deep carry clip option?!).
Some of Spyderco’s models have a “wire” clip, which is more or less deep carry, but their standard type clip is void of an option for a more discreet carry. To top this off, their most commonly used standard “spoon” clip is nearly chrome, which will hide scratches and hold its finish well, but damn does it gleam sunlight off of it like a mirror in the desert sun. And the pocket clip position is placed on the PM2 to where the knife carries fairly high in the pocket, again showing off your knife to anyone who may be paying attention.
But, if you’re like me and take your knife out of your pocket tens of times per day, you will sacrifice strings of denim to the pocket gods on a daily basis, eventually leading to a 80’s-like shredded denim look to the pocket opening. The knife just doesn’t like to go back into the pocket smoothly. And it’s the peel ply G10 that’s the culprit. Back to the juxtaposed perception I have with the PM2 overall, it’s great to use, not to carry.
On to the 3 part test. And this is where the PM2 proves it’s worth. Apple slicing (a decent measure of a blade’s overall geometry) is a pleasure with this knife. Maybe not as good as the aforementioned Spydiechef, but it gives very little resistance to the user in this regard. The apple slices come off cleanly with no cracks. This is where you’ll run into some arguably ugly (or character building) patina, depending on your viewpoint with K390.
Cardboard doesn’t stand a chance with the PM2, either. In double walled cardboard, or hitting a rare folded over spot, you’ll get a little binding, but that’s about it (save for the squared off handle edges pushing back at your palm). Piercing some cardboard is also an easy feat, with the distal taper of the blade coming to an acute point, and pushing its way through the material with ease.
This is definitely not a knife to pry with, and I’d hate to mistakenly puncture skin with it. Notching a piece of 2×4, or making a little bundle of feather sticks, is not problem with this knife, even though it’s a full flat grind. Full flats can sometimes cause the blade to slip off the material (unlike a hollow grind’s ability to get out of the way), but the PM2 is thin enough behind the edge to bite into the wood and remove just want you want.
K390 is a great steel for use in most any EDC task. It held its (factory) edge in everything I put it through without any rolls or minor chips in the edge. Or without dulling. It was still paper cutting sharp, but not as shaving sharp as out of the box. I put it through 10 passes on each side on a balsa wood strop loaded with a 1um diamond emulsion spray, and it came back sharper than when it started. Hair whittling is kind of overkill when testing an edge, but it’s where I like my carry knives to be. And this K390 edge was at that point here in the testing. Cutting a free-hanging paper towel was absolutely effortless, too. These non-stainless, high carbon pocket knife steels are no joke when it comes to a keen edge. It has a very similar feel to M4 in this regard, for those who toy with sharpening.
It almost seems as if Spyderco makes so many models, they almost compete with themselves. Of course this isn’t what they’re doing, they’re doing what we all want; make a knife for everyone. But, when it comes to alternatives to the ParaMilitary 2, the possibilities are endless. The PM2 has almost become Spyderco’s flagship model. They may still sell more Delica’s, or various other models, but look up “best Spyderco knife” and you’ll generally see the PM2 as the top recommendation. So, in this section, we’ll try and stay away from other knives in Eric and Sal’s lineup, and stick to some variety in brands.
The Benchmade 940 is probably the next closest knife from another brand with the same poise as the PM2. Its very well regarded, and often is recommended to be purchased along side the PM2 for a new knife enthusiast, because, “you’ll eventually own both anyway”. I’d argue the newer and sleeker Bugout is probably more relevant at the time of this writing, but the 940 has been in production much longer and has earned itself a seat at the throne of folders along side the PM2 more so than the bugout.
The 940-2 is similarly priced in its base form, at $175 for the G10 variant (which is ironically not the original model). No steel liners here to compare with the PM2, but the blade length is 3.4”, and weight is 2.65oz, coming in almost a full ounce lighter than the PM2. The blade has a thicker grind and is not as broad, but has the same S30V blade steel as it’s competitor. It’s tip is thicker, so it may handle a little harder use such as boring a small hole through some wood, but not nearly as good at slicing as the PM2.
Circling back around to Spyderco’s lineup, we’ll find some other closely comparable options. The para 3 is a shorter version of the PM2, and is very close in price. And, wait for it… the scales are chamfered a whole lot more than it’s big brother’s. The blade stock is the same thickness, and so is the handle. Same locking mechanism, too. The Spyderco Military is on the other side of the trio, albeit with some changes not seen between the PM2 and Para 3. The Military is a little more expensive in the base form, at ~$190 for the black G10/S30V model. But it’s quite a bit bigger overall, with a 4” blade, and an overall length of 9.5” vs the PM2’s 8.2” opened length. And the “Millie” has a liner lock. It’s a good one, too, with a rounded lock tang interface for some serious lockup confidence. The PM2 is compared to tons of knives, because it’s so great. We could go on and on about other options in this category, but we’ll allow those their own full reviews.
The K390 Paramilitary 2 is, without a doubt, a great knife with a great steel. Spyderco’s R&D, modern technology, and ultimate usability are all funneled into a single product to which many others are often compared. The PM2 is a true jack of all trades, but still a master of some. With its versatile blade shape, nice full flat grind, quick one-handed action, and overall good ergonomics, it’s sure to take on any task that could be expected of a folding knife, without hesitation. We could use a little CQI in this tried and true design, but even in its current state, it’s still very well designed and executed. And the K390 variant is sure to please any knife nut or steel nerd with long lasting sharpness and a one of a kind patina. Break down those boxes with confidence, and don’t worry about using this one; it’s begging to chew up anything in its path.
- All the goodness of your standard PM2 with a dollop of extra wear resistance in the K390 blade
- Remains a bit awkward to carry and the minor issues present with all PM’s still exist