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Taking a piece of plastic and adding some small screws, a sharpened blade, and a pocket clip may not sound like it’s worth $130. And that may be true, in some sense of the idea. But Spyderco has been making their FRN (fiberglass reinforced nylon, AKA tough plastic) knives for decades, and the evolution of the design of their lineup in this range has been very popular. So popular, in fact, that they’ve gone and added tens of variants of some models (like the Endura and Delica) with different colored handle scales, blade steels, and collaborations with distributors.Endura and Delica (and the name), and pumps out one great little folder from the Seki City, Japan factory.
Key Specs: Spyderco Endela
Before we dive into the blade specs and info, let’s clear up the pricing mentioned above. The Endela has a base price of ~$90. I’d argue that any folder coming from a big name production knife company under $100 is quite fair, and nearly budget level (although this may be just a knife nut’s way of justifying another “cheap knife” to add to the collection). And, with the VG10 steel being utilized on the base model, there’s no doubt that this stainless steel will serve amicably for any EDC task for many years. But, stepping up to the $130 brings the knife to a slightly higher playing field in terms of blade steel; Bohler K390.
K390 (not to be confused with M390) is a non stainless steel, that’s much higher in carbon than that of the base model, translating to a very significant increase in two high ranking steel attributes: edge retention and edge stability. Edge retention is the simpler of the two fields, meaning the edge will retain it’s sharpness in normal use for much longer, typically 5-6 times the amount of cutting when compared to it’s stainless brethren, VG10. Edge stability can sometimes be confused with toughness, but they are in fact very different characteristics. Toughness refers to the lateral force able to be withstood on any given steel, in which case something like 3V or Cruwear would be top notch. But edge stability refers to the resistance to light impact at the apex of the edge, and resisting chipping or deformation. Or, in laymen’s terms, if you hit a staple or even a patch of concrete in cutting up a box out by the trash, it’s more likely that K390 will hold it’s edge without damage than many other steels.
Now that the true knife nut in me has pored over the steel the blade is comprised of, we can talk about the more standard features of the blade. With a blade thickness of 0.12”, a length of 3.41”, and a cutting edge length of 2.99”, we can see on paper alone that this full flat ground slicer is made to cut. Of course, all knives are made to cut, right? Well, yes, but not always. Many knives are clearly designed with a thick blade, heavy handle, and giant hardware that indicate a light pry bar precedence over slicing capability (AKA Medford and the like). But Spyderco has kept a strong emphasis on cutting ability with their folders over the years, which is easily backed in theory by the K390 blade steel. This little slicer is made to cut, and keep cutting, for as long as possible.
The Spyderco branding on the blade is minimal, but is easily recognizable across their lineup. The opening hole is present as always (even on their fixed blades, for brand recognition), and is a favorite deployment method amongst many knife users. The Spyderco “Spyder” logo is found on the show side of the blade, which came from the founder, Sal, when the company started back in the 1980’s. He was quite the car enthusiast, and always liked the “spyder” version of cars, which was a synonym for convertible for some time.
The “Spyderco” name, along with blade steel is found at the heel of the blade, ensuring anyone who opens this knife will know who made it, and what the blade steel composition is. Flipping the knife to it’s lock side, the blade is less plastered with laser etching, having only the “Seki City, Japan” text at the heel of the blade, showing the knife’s country of origin. There is one major positive to the Seki City, Japan factory in my view, that is not found in the company’s other factories, which are found in Golden, Colorado, China, and Taichung, Taiwan. The Seki City factory has had an underground following of steel nerds who know the secret menu of the factory’s secret ingredient: high quality heat treat.
Of course, Spyderco’s knives from any factory have a very respectable, reliable heat treat. But the Seki City has been known to run the steel harder than any given steel from another factory. This has been proven in HRC testing, shown in various YouTube videos, and in steel testing by some very knowledgeable steel connoisseurs. Edge retention is notably higher in the K390 from Seki City than it is in the sprint run knives made at the Golden, Colorado factory. So, the $128 price tag is becoming more justifiable, at this point.
Deployment / Lockup
A lockback folder is likely nobody’s first choice in 2021, aside from the die hard Buck 110 users from 30 years ago that resist change like a broken arcade game. But it’s not all bad. A lockback mechanism is simple, easy to manufacture, works well, and almost never wears out. Coupled with the infamous Spydiehole opening method found on the Endela, what’s not to like (or at least tolerate)?
I’ll tell you what; vertical blade play. C’mon Spyderco. You’ve been making one form or another of this knife for what, 30 years? The Seki City lockbacks have had this problem for far too long. Maybe I should alter the word “problem” to “nitpick”. But why, oh why, can’t we have a great little knife like this, with impeccable heat treat, without that pesky vertical blade play? I’d ask Spyderco, but they’re notorious for leaving questions without answer for many of their customers. I still love Spyderco like the old, reliable company they are, but really, let’s fix this. Please.
Aside from the slight blade movement with the knife locked open, the lockup is good. There is no side to side blade play, and the lock is absolutely, positively safe. The audible snap that the lockback folders have is quite pleasing; it has an authoritative tone to it. Getting the blade to that locked open position is fine as well. Not great, not bad, just fine.
The action is really quite smooth for a lockback, thanks to the phosphor bronze washers under the hood that the pivot assembly uses. But with two solid points of contact throughout the deployment, one of which being the lock bar with heavy spring pressure on it, it’s never going to be a free dropping affair like any bearing pivot folder. With a little practice and commitment to calluses, flicking the blade open is a possibility, if you’re up for the challenge. Unlocking the blade is perfectly boring, too. Depressing the lock bar far enough to let the blade fall, the unsharpened heel of the blade will descend onto a strategically placed index finger from the same hand, allowing an only slightly awkward single handed closing of the knife. It’s either that, or succumb to the grandpa-esque, ever disappointing two handed close (:gasp: in the distance, sirens….).
Features, Fit and Finish
I’d say it’s hard to complain about the fit and finish of a sub $100 pocket knife, but I’d be lying, as it’s my duty to find any little nitpick I can with a folder, for your reading displeasure. Hey, it’s the internet; we’re all upset about something anyway, right? Okay, I digress… It’s a plastic knife. But wait, there’s more!…? Yes, there is. While the fitment of the FRN bi-directional textured handle scales is actually quite nice, the finish could use a little upgrading. The inside of the handle scales, for example, are left quite sharp around the edges. Giving the knife a tight grip gently places these sharp edges right into one’s palm, reminding you why you paid less than $100. But, the 0.11” thick handle feels good in the hand, otherwise, save for some edges that could use a quick “once over” on the buffing wheel to knock off some minor burrs.
The construction of the Endela (and Endura and Delica) is always one that has impressed me. Using through bolted body screws, and the aforementioned phosphor bronze washers, there’s a total of 5 screws (if you count the pivot) holding this 3.1oz knife together. I dare to say, in this regard, it’s overbuilt. And I mean that in a good way. There are some knives, let’s say the Microtech Socom Elite, for example, that use T6 body screws for it’s construction, bolted straight into an aluminum frame. That’s arguably one of the most “hard use” built folders around, and it’s put together with less substantial hardware that the mid sized Endela.
One thing to note, though: I wouldn’t take this knife apart, unless you really needed to. I’ve taken on the task of disassembling hundreds of knives, and I don’t think I’ve ever had the frustration I found in taking apart a Delica and trying to get it back together. The combination of all the screws and through bolts, and back lock spring assembly was flat out too many parts to hold together at once. And, to further solidify the substantial build quality, this little EDC companion packs nested liners into the handle scales. How’s that $130 sounding now?
To unify lefties and righties in their best attempt, Spyderco has pleased both sides of the non-ambidextrous people of the world by not only making the deployment and lock release left and right hand friendly, but has also appeased the (slightly less sane) tip down carry users with tip up carry users alike. With a 4-way positional pocket clip, that rests it’s point of tension on the smoothed out portion of the handle scale, the Endela is sure to go in and out of the pocket for any user, with any orientation preference.
Taking the Endela to the trash can to obliterate hundreds of feet of cardboard after a holiday or birthday is fun, at least to us ultra nerdy knife enthusiasts. If I had to say the one thing that the K390 variant of the Endela was made to do, it would be to break down cardboard for as long as your heat desires, and keep a decent edge on it until the knife or the user dies. And it does a great job of that. The satin finish of the blade, along with a decent factory edge, and a somewhat slim blade, allows this cardboard warrior to attack over and over, yard after yard of dirty brown cardboard, and strops back to shaving sharp with little effort. “So it’s just an expensive box cutter?” No, no, no. It’s like an infomercial at this point. “But wait, there’s more, again!”
EDC use can be different for every user. But I had a hard time finding anything that the Endela didn’t slice through, or bite into, at my command. My favorite test medium for a factory edge and it’s accompanying grind to the blade is sisal rope. It’s a material that I wouldn’t want to use for much, as it tends to splinter and insert itself into skin on a very regular basis. But the Endela cut through it with ease, especially when compared to the sacred S35VN found on Chris Reeve Knives. The edge on many higher end knives, costing hundreds of dollars more than the Endela, have a much less pleasurable cutting ability in this test than the modest folder from Japan.
Pulling out the old battle worn 2×4 from under the work bench, the Endela made some decent feather sticks, and ripped some decent chunks out of the wood with deeper cuts. Ergonomics are less than perfect, as the handle is a bit thin, isn’t finished as well as it could be, and the overall handle shape isn’t a gift from the gods. But it’s comfortable enough, and doesn’t create any major hot spots. A little light food prep was no problem, of course, but watch that K390 with acidic foods; it’ll pull a patina pretty quickly. That’s not a bad thing of course, but if it turns to rust, it’ll be hard to get rid of.
Carrying, removing from the pocket, deploying and using, then reversing the process, was very simple and mindless with the Endela. And again, I mean that in a good way. Not having to use any finger gymnastics to deploy the knife, or special finger placement to open it up and use it, is a compliment to the designer. It’s a simple, basic tool, and it is out of sight, out of mind until it’s called upon.
All these knives available at BladeHQ.If you happen to like the idea of the Endela as a knife you’d like to own, but feel it may be just a little too big, or a little too small, I’d suggest the Endura or Delica as an alternative. These three knives are all extremely similar in every way, save for their size and price. And even then, the price only varies (in their stock forms for each model) about $3 between the three available sizes. The Delica has the sub-3” blade at 2.875” for those in more restrictive knife law areas, and the Endura has a 3.75” blade for those wanting a little more reach with their folder. All three models have plenty of variants, including the standard VG10 full flat ground, Emerson Opener blade (with the hook to deploy the blade upon removing the knife from the pocket), or serrated blade variants. All three also have many different blade steel options, with K390 being a new production steel on all three models. That’s right, this edge retention super steel is not a sprint run on the FRN series Spydercos. The Paramilitary 2 and Para 3 also had their time to shine with the K390 steel variants, but those two models were sprint runs, and will likely not be made again, at least not for some time.
But, if you’re looking for a folder in this price range of under $100, and just can’t stomach the boring, mundane lockback, I’d recommend looking at the Spydero Para 3 lightweight. It just squeaks under that price, at $98, and features Spyderco’s arguably most popular lock mechanism: the compression lock. This lock is known for great strength, durability, reliability, and fidgetability. But the compression lock has one more attribute going for it that many folding knife users prefer: one handed operation. The compression lock allows for easy opening and closing of the knife with one hand, for almost any user, while keeping all fingers out of the blade path while the knife is closing. This does make the lock safer, as well. Granted, it’s geared heavily toward right handed users, but is operable for lefties if you take the time to familiarize yourself with it.
The Para 3 lightweight also has a wire style, deep carry pocket clip, something that I personally prefer over the standard Spyderco spoon shaped clip. And the Para 3 lightweight really disappears in the pocket at only 2.4 ounces, and with a 3” blade, it satisfies most EDC use, while keeping itself legal in most any area (of course, always know your local knife laws and ordinances). It’s construction is a little different, though, with only one liner in the handle scales, acting as the locking liner for the compression lock. And, there’s only one washer in the pivot, as the FRN side without the liner has the blade riding directly against the scale. This isn’t an inherently bad thing, as most of Spyderco’s lightweight models don’t use any washers, having the blade ride directly against the FRN scales on both sides of the handle. The nylon handle material is said to be self lubricating, and resists wear quite well.
Benchmade is a company that seems to compete directly with Spyderco in much of their respective lineups. And in Benchmade’s “plastic” knife segment, with incredible popularity, is the Bugout. I happen to enjoy the Bugout a ton. It’s insanely light at only 1.8 ounces, packs a very capable 3.24” S30V blade, and makes use of Benchmade’s proprietary Axis lock. So long as the Omega spring holds up in use (it’s been known to fail without warning, rendering the lock unsafe and unusable at random), it’s a great lock. It’s strong, fidgety, and quick. One handed operation is a plus here, too. But Benchmade seems to charge a premium for their product over a comparable Spyderco, with the base model Bugout coming in at $127.50. Their warranty is quite good, including free sharpening for the life of the knife, and blade replacements at a reasonable cost of $25 for most standard blade steels.
Spyderco does not replace blades, but will re-grind a broken blade, and does have the same sharpening service that Benchmade has. Benchmade comes out ahead here, as many users have reported extremely good customer service from them, often times resulting in a complete replacement knife in some special situations. Spyderco again falls just short here, while sometimes offering only store credit for a broken knife. Regardless of the company’s warranty policy, the Bugout is a massive hit, comes in a “mini” size as well (with a 2.875” blade, and insanely light 1.5 oz), has a great, mini deep carry clip, and performs very admirably for any EDC use.
The Endela is the Goldilocks of it’s series between the Endura and Delica. It’s priced neatly between a true budget hardware store knife, and a mid range production folder. It comes in plenty of variants between steel choices and handle scale colors, and carries Spyderco’s design origins from the 1900’s. The lockback is as reliable as they come, albeit with some blade play in using the knife.
The Endela carries in the pocket well, performs cutting tasks exceptionally, and shows up to work every day, ready to attack any uncut material. It may be a bit boring, a bit bland, and almost stale in it’s design, but it’s built with solid construction. It could use a few more seconds of time at the factory buffing off sharp corners, and the lock could be made to have a more solid feel, but it’s a great choice for a mid sized folder with a modest price. And if you have the desire to use a very premium steel with an extremely well done heat treat, the K390 Endela is a very easy choice.
- Priced well, great steel choices, great heat treat, mid-sized EDC knife, reliable for ages.
- Lockback can have play, fit and finish could be improved, disassembly not for the feint of heart.