Spyderco Slysz Bowie
Quality/Performance - 87%
Value for Money - 76%
- Quality manufacturing, classic styling, comfortable to carry and use.
- Priced somewhat high, design changes are less desirable than the original, limited quantities made
But, this time around, there have been some changes to the iconic piece that’s so sought after. Adding a distributor exclusive to the list of hands the production and sales process goes through, Knifejoy commissioned Spyderco to make this new version of the Bowie. Some buyers and skeptics were less than pleased with these changes, but no matter how you slice it, most would agree that it’s nice to have more of these folders out there in circulation. So, after years of waiting, we can discuss the folder that was once nearly impossible to acquire, review it in it’s entirety, and go over the changes made for the new production run.
Key Specs: Spyderco Slysz Bowie
The Slysz Bowie blade is quite well done, for many reasons. The steel composition, Bohler M390, remains a top tier choice for production and custom knives alike in 2021. It’s bested in some aspects by other steels in particular categories, but holds strong as a well balanced steel for corrosion resistance, wear resistance, and touts moderate toughness. It may not be the easiest steel to sharpen by some users, but with the availability of diamond stones today, that is quite easily remedied. The original version of the Slysz Bowie was semi-mirror stonewashed, with CTS-XHP steel.
Both the original and Knifejoy version are the same 3.4” in length, with a stock thickness of 0.14”, but the new release is a belt satin finish instead of the stonewash. And it’s here that we arrive at our first comparison between the original and new version, that is debatably better on the original. I personally like CTS-XHP over M390 myself, but that’s subjective. The loss of the tumbling process to get the blade to a stonewashed finish is a miss on the part of Spyderco (or Knifejoy, whoever made that decision). The blade looks nice with the belt finish, but looked much nicer on the original. And, in my opinion, the blade having rough edges at the opening hole, blade spine, and jimping make the blade feel much less premium than the original. There are probably reasons beyond what is made known to the consumer to skip this feature on the blade, but I think this knife would have been much better received by consumers if the stonewashed finish had been maintained as part of the knife’s design.
Deployment / Lockup
The Slysz Bowie uses Spyderco’s typical opening hole for deployment. You’ve seen it before, probably used it before, and have your opinion on it as a deployment method. I do think it’s one of the best ways to implement a method of opening a blade on a folder, but it doesn’t come without trade-offs. As previously mentioned, the opening hole isn’t chamfered as heavily as it should’ve been. This could be just a byproduct of skipping the stonewash stage of blade manufacturing, but when a knife fetches this kind of retail price, you hope for a more polished feel in places that are frequently touched by the user. And, in less common cases, there have been blade breakages at the opening hole. This seems to be almost completely isolated to blades made in Maxamet and 204P from what I’ve seen reported on social media and knife forums, but it may be more widespread than what we see from end users. This is not to say that Spyderco should change their long-time use of the opening hole, but mentioning it as one potential trade off seems reasonable.
Detent strength and feel are very nice on the new Slysz Bowie. The blade seats nicely in the closed position without wiggle or movement, which is less common than you might imagine. I’m always surprised to see how many folding knives I go through that have blade play when closed. On to opening the knife, popping the blade free from it’s closed position gives satisfying feedback. The smoothness that is felt when getting the blade to begin to open is quite pleasing, and is reminiscent of the Spyderco Spydiechef. The smoothness in the pivot during deployment is extremely smooth, and has almost no binding or stuttering. It’s very…. Sebenza, shall we say. Oil on glass, hydraulic, sleek. Very refined.
And stopping the blade in it’s open position is positive in every sense of the word. The audible click of the frame lock, the blade stopping against the stop pin, and the rigidity and tightness of the lockup is superb. There is no blade play or wiggle to be found when the blade is locked in place. The machining tolerances have been maintained well between the old version and new version of the Slysz Bowie. Unlocking the blade is as effortless and smooth as anyone could ask for. Even in the Chris Reeve Knives realm, there is a touch of lock rub, if not lock stick, when unlocking the blade. The Bowie is completely silent. Zero binding or rubbing. Just titanium effortlessly moving away from hardened steel. I even gave the blade multiple hard openings, and not once did I ever have the lock position change, or have any blade play or lock stick.
Features, Fit and Finish
The Knifejoy Slysz Bowie features many of the same things as the original, like a wire clip for carry (right or left hand, tip up carry only), titanium construction with contoured handle scales, a 3.4” blade at .13” thick, and an overall length of 7.8”. The biggest change between the original and the new dealer exclusive, is the anodized handle scales. The original Bowie had plain titanium scales, that were stonewashed. This gave the scales a beautiful, weathered look, with a slightly smoother feel in hand. Which is what you’d expect for a $300 knife. Now, with the new Bowie, we have a blue anodized handle scale offering. I personally think this is an even bigger mistake than the blade steel change and blade finish change. Not because of the color, which is subjectively better or worse, depending on preference. But because it’s no longer stonewashed, and the blue anodizing picks up dirt faster than lightning, and wears off easily.
Knifejoy has commissioned other blue anodized titanium folders in the past. Namely, the Spydiechef. It looks cool, it’s different than the original, and gives collectors a reason to buy the same knife twice. But every time I’ve seen or held one of these blue anodized Ti knives, they’re dirty. I know it’s dirt because it can be cleaned off quite easily. But, we are now paying $400 instead of the previous generation Slysz Bowie’s $300. Now, I do understand why the price has increased. We’ve gone through inflation around the world, and that has to be trickled down to every part of sourcing materials and making knives. And, Knifejoy likely has to front Spyderco tens of thousands of dollars to make an exclusive knife, just to satisfy the masses who want the Bowie back in production. But charging $100 more, and skipping parts of the manufacturing that helped justify the original price, feels hard to quantify. Yes, the knife is still very well made, with tight tolerances, and quality materials. But there’s no denying the elephant in the room when comparing the original to the new version in terms of a price hike with arguably worse finish.
Knives in this price range (around $400), like all price points, are not all made with the same philosophy of use. Some are made as an incredible slicer, some are made as (badly) sharpened mini pry bars. And that’s OK. Different vehicles are made for different purposes, too, right? With the Slysz Bowie, we’re in a middle ground between an EDC use knife that can be used in harder cutting tasks, but also has a semi premium build quality that begs to be used lightly and kept clean. And it does well for its intended purposes.
Cutting sisal rope is probably not on your list of EDC items to cut on a daily basis. It really is terrible to work with, unless you’re using it for something that utilizes whatever benefits it may have that I’m not aware of. But, for testing a knife’s blade geometry, sharpness, heat treat, and ergonomics, it’s a great test medium. I use it for all knives that pass through my hands, whether its something I’ve purchased to keep, or something I’m using for review. And in the case of the Bowie, it’s a great user. Many knives I use have an over-polished edge from the factory. Sure, a polished edge looks nice, and if it’s been sharpened with proper abrasives, a polished edge can be aggressive enough to cut well, too. But I’ve been quite impressed with Spyderco’s factory edges, especially in the recent couple years.
There’s still evidence of belt chatter (lines in the edge from the machine belt sharpening), and the edges can be overheated in some cases (which is evident in subsequent sharpenings, where the edge longevity improves drastically). The Slysz Bowie comes with a nice sharp factory edge, with enough bite to it to cleanly and easily cut the sisal rope on a wood table top. The crunch that’s heard when cutting this rope in one push is very recognizable. Most knives I use require a bit of sawing action or a very hard push to get through the rope. But the Bowie did it many cuts in a row, without skipping a beat, cutting cleanly every time. And I didn’t note any rolls or micro chips in the edge apex. It may not seem like something you’d see or feel in the edge after just a few cuts, but there are many knives I test that present edge deformation after only a couple cuts.
Carrying and using the Bowie for daily tasks was admirable. The knife slides easily in and out of the pocket thanks to the wire clip, deploys quickly and easily, makes cuts very well, and hides back in the pocket nicely. The contoured handle scales pull double duty, not just with ergonomic advantage, but with comfort in the pocket as well. One annoyance I had in pocketing the knife, though, was the lock bar relief. It’s cut on the outside of the knife. There’s an argument in design that I’ve read many times, which is that the lock is stronger with the cutout on the outside rather than the inside. While that may be true, I seriously doubt anyone will be pushing a Slysz Bowie to destruction through folding the lock bar in on itself. And, with many frame lock folders around today, there is some kind of lock bar stabilizer, AKA overtravel stop.
The Sebenza and Inkosi are also knives that don’t have this feature, but their respective pocket clip will typically stop the lock bar from traveling out too far the wrong direction. But with the Bowie, the pocket clip retention isn’t that tight, being the wire clip, and there’s no lock bar over travel stop. A few times I was using and unlocking the knife, I felt myself accidentally push the lock bar just a little further past where I meant to. I’m not overly hard on knives, and keep a good conscious thought to using them properly. But when working outdoors using other tools, sometimes the level of concern drops, and things move faster than normal. And in this case, I would’ve appreciated an over travel stop.
The ergonomics of the Bowie are quite good. I refrain from using the word “great”, because there are aspects of the design that don’t quite melt into the hand. But it’s good overall. The contoured scales aid in a premium feel, but are not chamfered well enough on the inner edges to prevent a sharp line from digging into the palm in a harder squeeze. Again, I know this isn’t the world’s hardest use knife, but actual use ergonomics are much different than tabletop review ergonomics, so it’s worth noting. Another first-world problem with the Bowie is the opening hole access from the lock side. If Spyderco is going to put a pocket clip on the left-hand carry side of the knife, why design the lock bar to cover half of the opening hole? Yes, this is probably the design from Mr. Slysz rather than Spyderco, which is seen on more than one production folder designed by this maker, but it’s a tad annoying when considered in this use. There is a cool factor to the opening hole location, though. When viewed from the show side, the lock bar covers exactly half of the opening hole, while simultaneously continuing the handle scale line from show side to lock side, back to show side when viewed from this angle. It’s quite the visual design choice, and gives admiration to the style of this knife.
Fit and finish are about as good as it gets on a production folder. Many keyboard warriors will argue that if it’s not a Chris Reeve knife, or hand made custom folder, it can’t be “that good”. But Spyderco can hold their own in machining quality. They have put out a knife here that is built very well, fits together and functions as smoothly as anything else comparable, but could use a touch-up in terms of finish. All they really had to do was follow the original Bowie with the stone washing process on the blade and scales. But, things change, and these sold out in minutes anyway, so maybe one reviewer’s perspective doesn’t match everyone’s perspective. And when looking at hardware, there’s no denying that Spyderco uses quality parts, but not as high a quality as Chris Reeve. We bring in CRK frequently to the review comparisons because everyone is familiar with their quality, and they’re known for setting the bar in that sense. But Spyderco’s Bowie will hold together just fine with the screws, pivot, and materials they’ve used.
All these knives available at BladeHQ.Marcin Slysz has designed several folders in collaboration with Spyderco. The original Bowie, the Techno 1 and Techno 2, the Spydiechef, the Swayback, and this new variant of the Bowie. Chosing any one of the Slysz/Spyderco designed knives would suffice as a comparable alternative to the new Bowie, as they all have familiar design language, albeit different sizes and blade shapes.
But, the Bowie stands alone in this group of folders, as one that is priced notably higher than the rest. And for that reason, our alternatives must push away from the mid $200 price range, up into the $400 price range. So, in almost predictable fashion, we can compare the Bowie with knives out of the typical Spyderco lineup. And first on that list, is the Chris Reeve Knives Sebenza. At $450, it’s a tick higher in price point than the Bowie, but the Sebenza is a knife that many people can easily associate with.
Now touting S45VN blade steel, a drop point style blade, titanium handle scales, and a comparable weight (4.7oz vs the Bowie’s 4.3oz), there are more matching data points than one might think when comparing these two iconic folders. CRK is well known for a warranty that will likely take care of anything on the knife that wears out or breaks in normal use, while Spyderco has had a hard time pleasing users in backing up their product. They do have a warranty, and they will typically offer to repair damaged parts, but for example if a blade is broken, they will offer to regrind it or offer credit back to their store. Which is just OK. CRK will replace the whole blade, for a fee, but it can be done under normal service. And, CRK sells parts for all their knives on their website, while Spyderco doesn’t seem to have much available after purchasing the knife.
And, in the same boat of pricing (but maybe not durability) is the Hinderer XM-18. Carrying a Hinderer is satisfying, as it’s heavy, tough, durable, and very high quality. The action is always smooth as possible, when using any of the three available pivot options included with the knife – teflon, bearings, or phosphor bronze washers. Rick Hinderer’s folding knives are built with a much higher level of quality and durability than that of the Slysz Bowie, but it’s a knife that many in the folder world are familiar with. Having a similar overall size, smooth action, and premium price tag, the XM-18 is quite comparable to the Bowie. Hinderer does have a huge selection of parts available for his knives, though, so making the knife completely customized to your liking, while still maintaining a nearly perfect end result is quite unique to the Hinderer folding knife lineup. The XM-18 is, like the CRK Sebenza, about $50 more expensive than the Bowie, but we know where that money is going in terms of the Hinderer.
Pocket knives that are priced in the $400 range tend to have points of justification that quantify their price. Like Chris Reeve Knives, or Rick Hinderer Knives, they are considered “mid-tech” folders, where many of the parts are machined by hand, or made in house. The knives are almost at a custom level, and use machining that is of the highest tolerances and technology available. They have legendary status among the folding knife world, albeit somewhat antiquated in some ways by today’s standards. These two companies have, afterall, been making very much the same knife for decades. That’s not to say they are no longer relevant, but that to some who seek the latest and greatest, they can become a bit boring.
So with this perspective of high end production knives, even with a $50 increase over the Slysz Bowie, is Spyderco going too far above their market ceiling in asking for $400 for the limited edition of the Bowie? I venture to say no. With considering the tooling necessary, the quality put into this knife, and the uptick in today’s cost of manufacturing and materials, this knife is mostly justifiable at $400. That’s not to argue that it’s made as well as the other two mentioned makers here, but considering all points of breathing life back into this folder, it does make sense. I would’ve liked to see the original XHP steel used, as well as at least not anodizing the scales, if not tumbling them for the original look, but with Knifejoy being the exclusive dealer for this variant, I see why they went with these choices. It was a joy to handle and use the infamous Bowie, even with the less than desirable changes.