Fidget spinners, lighters, cell phones and pens are all things that get lots of fidget time in our hands. And since the evolution of pocket knives becoming more slick in opening and closing, they’ve been added to the list of modern day items that can be fondled when deep in thought at a desk or between emails.
Enter the Spyderco Smock – a collaboration between Kevin Smock and Spyderco to develop a knife with a “new” lock mechanism, and a product that’s fun to flip and fidget with, and have EDC cutting capabilities in your pocket. Let’s jump into the details and get a look at a great offering from Spyderco.
Key Specs: Spyderco Smock
Hollow ground blades are a favorite of mine. They typically allow a geometry that’s thin behind the edge, parts materials easily, and retains a blade stock thickness that’s not too delicate. Any the Spyderco Smock’s blade exhibits these traits proudly. Sporting the tried and true, albeit maybe a little boring s30v blade steel, and coupled with a reverse tanto, or modified sheepsfoot blade shape, it’s a great EDCslicer with a grind that’s made to cut. Of course all knives are meant to cut, but many tend to lend themselves more toward prying capabilities, or more tactical uses.
The grind lines on the Smock are pleasing to the eye; the hollow ground portion closer to the edge of the blade has vertical grind lines that are left somewhat raw, and the flat portion of the blade closer to the spine has horizontal grind lines, that are lightly stonewashed. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this kind of 2-tone-esque grind style from Spyderco‘s Taichung planet, notably on the Gayle Bradley and Gayle Bradley 2, but it’s nice to see the return in this particular aesthetic.
But it’s not all glamour and glory in the blade department. First of all, the jimping Spyderco uses on some of their knives is just plain bad, and this knife is no exception. There are only a few, deeply cut jimping lines on the spine of the blade, and they’re not finished well either. They’re sharp to the touch, and only serve to be a point of discomfort in using the knife. Secondly, we have a notch cut into the base of the blade. Mechanically speaking, the engineering that goes into a folding knife is very technical, which makes it understandable to have nuances in certain models. But it plain doesn’t make sense to have a notch cut into the blade that’s just big enough to get in the way of cutting, but just small enough that you can’t use it as a forward choil.
With the button-compression lock on the Smock, there has to be some type of cutout in the base of the blade to allow the blade to close all the way. So, why not make it maybe 1/8” bigger and allow it to accommodate an index finger for a choked up grip? After all, Kevin Smock’s SK23 (which is the model that this collaboration was derived from), has a forward, useable choil. Maybe the fear in designing the knife was to lose even more cutting edge. Maybe it was aesthetic. Either way, I would’ve like to see this done more like the original.
Deployment & Lockup
And now on to the good part. It’s almost as if the Spyderco Smock was designed with this category as the primary factor. And it shows. This knife is absolutely the best fidget-friendly flipper I’ve ever had the pleasure of using. The flipper tab is not protruding put away from the knife, as in the case of most flippers. Rather, it’s technically a top flipper, with a small portion of the blade accessible from the top of the handle. It’s just enough to grab with an index finger (or thumb, if you’re cool enough to use it like a Bic lighter), smooth to the touch to avoid ripping off skin, and gets out of the way with the blade open.
This flipper tab is almost good enough to negate the blade cutout for the button compression lock. But wait, there’s more! In typical Spyderco fashion, there’s still an opening hole in the blade, giving long-time Spyderco users a familiar deployment method, in the even that the flipper tab is not as pleasurable to the user. The opening hole is partially covered by the handle, but there’s still enough room to grab the hole from either side of the blade for a nice quick opening.
And speaking of a nice, quick opening, is the action. If I’m being honest, I prefer washers (particularly phosphor-bronze washers) in a folding knife. But, flippers tend to get the bearing treatment. I get it, they’re more free in terms of frictionless movement. But they always have a weird scratchiness to them that I don’t like, and they’re more particular to dust and debris. Granted, this isn’t a hard working, tough as nails knife like a Chris Reeve Inkosi (one of my all time favorite folders), but I don’t like having to tend to my pivot system on a constant basis. But I digress, the Smock flips out nice and smooth, and locks up with great solidity.
And then there’s the button compression lock. Which, in technical terms, is different from a standard button lock. A standard button lock used the button itself as the plunge style lock, as well as (commonly) the deployment method. But the Smock is a manual action through and through. And, it uses a left-handed compression lock with a button mounted to its side, which protrudes through the handle to the outside of the scales. Pressing the button on the lock does not in fact allow the blade to deploy, but once the knife is open, giving the button a push and lightly swinging the blade downward allows the blade to return home. This completes the cycle of the fidget flipper fun, over and over. The button compression lock also allows the user’s fingers to be completely out of the way of the blade path while closing; a feature that all compression lock users will appreciate.
Features, fit and finish
The Smock has a feature that we haven’t gone over yet. When I first was using and testing the knife, I looked at the back of the handle with the blade deployed. I quickly realized that the blade has no mechanical blade stop, aside from the compression liner itself. Then, I realized I was wrong. That just seemed too bad to be true, and it wasn’t. There are internal blade stops that the blade relies on. Whether or not this method of engineering is better than an external stop pin is not known to me, but it obviously works quite well, if the coveted Grimsmo brothers trust it in their Norseman.
Another feature found on this fidget friendly flipper is carbon fiber handle scales. Or, rather, G10 composite carbon fiber handle scales. I must admit, I really don’t understand why a company so huge as Spyderco feels the need to cut down on 1/16 – 1/8” of carbon fiber just to use a dual layered composite handle material, but hey, who am I to judge? You really wouldn’t notice it unless some total knife nut such as myself pointed it out to you, but it’s there. What I do like about the scales is the texture. It’s very similar to Spyderco’s peel ply style found on most of the Golden, Colorado knives (PM2‘s, Para 3’s, and many others), but it does have a slightly lighter texturing to it. It feels great in the hand, and allows the knife to go in and out of the pocket somewhat easily.
There’s a reason the button on the compression lock doesn’t allow the blade to fall open like you might imagine it would. There is a secondary detent ball, with a spring forcing that ball against the blade at all times. So, there’s the standard detent ball that fits in a hole in the blade to keep the knife closed, but the secondary detent ball does not have a hole to drop into. It keeps continuous pressure up against the blade at all times, even while the blade is moving open or closed.
The general consensus as to why Spyderco did this, is to avoid legal issues with “gravity knives”, allowing the knife to potentially be sold legally in more geographical areas. That being said, this secondary detent ball and spring can be removed, and the knife will function perfectly fine, allowing that free swinging blade to initiate its movement while only pressing down on the button of the lock. Of course, this does potentially cause the knife to fall into a different category of deployment (still manual, not automatic), but more along the lines of a gravity knife. So, of course, check your local laws and jurisdictions to avoid legal issues. But, it sure does make the knife feel much more slick in deployment.
The Taichung plant has been regarded as Spyderco’s best quality control facility around. I subscribe to that idea as well. The Smock has excellent fit and finish all around (save for the afterthought-style jimping). The grind lines mentioned before, the fitment of the handle scales to the liners, the lack of blade play in any direction whether locked up or closed, and the smoothed edges all over the knife just have a great feel of quality.
Apples, cardboard and wood, oh my! Sorry, back to reality. I use a three part test to check out the usability of knives. These three mediums tend to offer a good feel for the blade’s geometry, ergonomics, and general overall feel for the knife. With the Smock, I started with an apple. Of course it cuts well, as most knives will, but with a narrow blade, it seems like this knife isn’t the best for food prep. When cutting the apple, the blade slices quite easily throughout the cut. However, the blade seems to crack the apple slices, likely due to the narrow blade having a steep increase in thickness to the spine. The hollow grind is always one that seems to cut food well, but in cases like the Smock, the separating of the material is too rapid to make consistent, clean cuts.
Cardboard is probably the most frequently cut material with pocket knives. Of course, it is, how else are we supposed to open our new knife in the mail, than with our current knife? Jokes aside, the Smock is very comfortable in the role of cardboard commando. The hollow grind and reverse tanto blade shape allow the tip of the knife to be easily pointed downward, and zip open a box with ease not unlike a dedicated box cutter. And breaking down a few boxes proved to be somewhat enjoyable when making longer slicing cuts through the boxes.
To test the ergonomics of the knife in a way that forces a tight grip, I like to chew on a 2×4 with all my new knives. This test often brings out hot spots on a knife that just can’t be felt when doing a tabletop review, or just gripping the knife to see how it feels in hand. It’s a completely different thing, pushing the knife hard, rather than just gripping it. The Spyderco Smock was not made for these types of tasks. I had no problem doing some light cutting in wood, but attempting to bear down on the handle or lightly twist out a deeper shaving gave me some tactile feedback that I didn’t like. The handle is quite narrow, and doesn’t allow a hand-filling grip. There are lots of knives with a similar handle profile to the Smock, but it’s just a bit skinny for me.
The jimping on the blade is strange, it’s cut without chamfering, and feels like it bites back into my thumb much more aggressively than I’d prefer. Then there’s the handle position in relation to the blade. In short, the cutting edge of the blade is just too far away from the handle. When using a knife in a hammer grip, I tend to try and use the closest part of the cutting edge as possible, to avoid the knife from leveraging back at me, rather than into the material. The Smock is frustrating to use in this way, especially with the large hump in the handle near the pivot. And choking up is not a safe option in my estimation; the choil is cut in a way that hooks back toward your finger, obviously too close for comfort to really use in this grip.
Carrying the Spyderco Smock has a couple oddities that parallel the ergos. I imagine the way a pocket clip is positioned on a knife, is determined by the best possible position for ergonomics. Spyderco has received a bit of negative feedback from users and reviewers in terms of pocket clip position. The Para 3 is probably the worst example of this phenomena; the clip is positioned in a spot on the handle that forces nearly a full inch of the handle to stick out of the pocket. And the Smock seems to share this same strange positioning issue. It’s almost as if the lanyard tube is prioritized over the pocket clip position.
The Taichung pocket clip has another oddity; it sits taller against the handle than the Golden, Colorado made knives from Spyderco. I had multiple situations where I had the clip get caught on material while in the pocket. So having the knife stick out of the pocket quite a bit, along with the tall profile of the clip, just makes carrying the Smock a little frustrating at times. There are some great deep carry clips out there, that lots of people seem to prefer, so that’s always a solution to this particular complaint.
All these knives available at BladeHQ.With the Spyderco Smock being a collaboration design with Kevin Smock, a comparison to the Smock SK23 as an alternative to the Spyderco variant is logical. This is the model that the Spyderco variant was based on. Of course, the custom SK23 has some similarities, but runs at a much higher price tag. The Spyderco variant currently retails for ~$175, while the custom SK23 (varying on price within available options) tends to be in the $800 range. It also uses the compression button lock, similar handle shape, and similar overall profile. But the custom has some other tricks up its sleeve, including a rounded spine, full sized forward choil, and the lack of the secondary detent. It’s obviously going to have some fit and finish upgrades, and also has multiple steel options.
The Benchmade 940 is an iconic knife. It’s been on every top ten folder list for years, if not decades. It has the same overall blade shape as the Smock, similar overall profile, same S30V blade steel, and similarly priced. The axis lock is also a fidgety wonder, along with being a very strong lock. It’s almost as if the Smock is Spyderco’s answer to Benchmade’s best known folder. A hollow ground blade, same size in almost every dimension, and similar weight make these knives brothers from other mothers.
There’s an old knife with a new trick- the Paramilitary 2 Ultra. While it’s not a true production knife, it has some attributes that make it comparable to the Smock. Bladeswelove.com is a website dedicated to supplying parts for knives, but has recently put together this PM2 custom, to bring the button compression lock to Spyderco’s flagship model. It utilizes a left-handed PM2, with a button mounted to the compression lock, and a hole drilled into the handle scale to bring the ultimate fidget capability to the knife. But, it comes with a heavier price tag, starting at ~$225, and going upward from there depending on options.
The Spyderco Smock is a “fun” knife, with decent EDC capabilities. Utilizing decent materials, great fit and finish, and a run of the mill copy of the custom made to be affordable to the masses, it hits the target market accurately. Built for EDC use rather than heavier tasks, it seems to perform great in the role it was designed for. But it has a hard time keeping up with something like the Benchmade 940, or Paramilitary 2. Running on bearings, odd ergonomics, and questionable jimping make this particular knife one that I probably won’t carry regularly. It’s a decent value for the money if you’re looking for something with a fun action, decent blade steel, and a production level copy of the original. But I think I’d rather put the same money into a 940 or PM2 for my uses.
- Great action, good for edc, fun to flip, innovative.
- Odd ergos, carries conspicuously, small cutting edge to handle ratio.