35 of 39 people found the following review helpful
[Just kidding. I love Colorado. That just happened to be the most inflammatory, attention-getting way of reaching my point -- that the Taichung, Taiwan factory is now officially the best of the three high-end Spyderco facilities, topping Seki City, Japan and Golden, Colorado. Both make excellent knives; but the premium materials, as well as the impeccable fit and finish of knives like the Southard, Rubicon, K2, Gayle Bradley, Techno, Schemp Tuff, and Slysz Bowie, puts the Taiwanese Spyderco's ahead of the competition.]
The decision to establish a Taiwanese factory to produce Spyderco's most expensive knives was controversial, but it seems to have paid off. The company has been a favorite among blade enthusiasts for its innovative designs and dedication to using the highest quality materials. Premium and even super-premium blade steels are made available on regular models; newer, more exotic alloys are introduced via 'mule team' and 'sprint run' editions, allowing those of us who geek out on the various particle metallurgical processes and elemental compositions to try out rare and expensive super-steels for reasonable prices. Because of Sal and Eric Glesser's determination to use the steel most appropriate for each design, each model is assigned to one of four factories.
The Chinese factory handles the budget line owned by Spyderco, Byrd. It also produces the four cheapest 'starter' folders that Spyderco uses as a consumer 'hook'. The 'Resilience', 'Tenacious', 'Persistence' and 'Ambitious' all use Chinese stainless steel -- 8Cr13MoV.
The Japanese factory in Seki City -- the capital of Japanese blade-making, and Samurai steel in particular, for over 800 years -- produces some of Syderco's flagship models like the 'Endura', 'Delica', 'Stretch' and 'Police'. Because of Japan's thriving steel industry, foreign knife companies are limited by prohibitive tariffs on American and European metals to using domestic product. This isn't a hardship, however, since the VG-10 cobalt steel used on most Japanese Spyderco's is tried and tested, a conventionally forged stainless that has been the premium alternative for years. 'H1' is an innovative nitrogen-based steel that has a very high Rockwell of between 63-67, and is a true corrosion-resistant steel; with nitrogen replacing carbon in the steel matrix, it is chemically inert, and will not rust in water or saline. It makes sense that Spyderco has used H1 as the focus of its 'Salt' line of knives, designed for people working on or around the water (It doesn't have the levels of nitrogen and chromium that Bohler's amazing Vanax 35 and 75 possess, but it's quite a bit cheaper, too; I've wanted a Vanax knife for some time, but they're hard to find). 'ZDP-189' is Hitachi's true super-steel, with 3% carbon and 20% chromium, and a hardness that can reach 68. ZDP-189 is a favorite for it's scary-sharp edge and retention, one of the two steels used by Japanese knife company 'Rockstead', whose very expensive blades have a credible reputation as being the sharpest you'll ever find (their demonstrations are convincing). It is being used as a slightly more expensive alternative to VG-10 on the green FRN models of the Endura, Delica, Stretch, et al. It is also used for the carbon fiber versions of the Caly 3 and 3.5, in an even more impressive ZDP-189 San Mai III configuration.
The Golden, Colorado factory handles the hard-use tactical favorites like the 'Military', 'Manix 2', and 'Paramilitary 2' -- widely regarded as one of the best production folders ever made. The regular models feature CPM S30V, the most popular of the premium PM steels. Spyderco has an arrangement with Crucible steels which allows them to buy large quantities for a reasonable price, in exchange for using S30V exclusively on the regular models made in Colorado (not quite exclusively; the 'Manix 2' had a regular model with a hollow-ground blade of 154CM -- another Crucible steel, for years the stainless favored by knife-makers before PM steels like S30V and S35VN appeared). The production standards of the Golden factory are very high, with relatively low tolerances and dependably sharp edges out-of-the-box. Dedicated to in-house Glesser designs, the 'Paramilitary 2', 'Military' and 'Manix 2' are examples of brilliantly considered and repeatedly improved knife-making. Just as Japanese Spyderco's use Japanese steel, American Spyderco's use American steel.
The Taichung Taiwan factory is very different. With no steel industry of its own to speak of, Spyderco is able to export American steel from both Crucible and it's biggest domestic competitor, Carpenter, as well as Bohler-Uddeholm's Austrian PM's, and American titanium, carbon fiber, and G-10. Setting the factory up according to the Golden, Colorado standards, they are able to use super-premium materials and an American/Taiwanese work-force to create the highest quality knives in the Spyderco catalog for relatively reasonable prices. Instead of the Glesser designs that make up the majority of the knives produced in Golden and Seki, Taichung manufactures designs by some of the most talented custom makers, in this case Brad Southard.
Even though some have complained that the trademark Spyderco hole is an unnecessary addition, it does provide a convenient secondary opening method, and works great after a few tries to get a feel for it. What's more, going through Southard knives on 'arizonacustomknives.com', Southard, like Peter Rassenti, frequently uses the blade-hole on his customs: i.e. the Southard 'Downing' and 'Lewis', although neither is a flipper. Another interesting thing regarding his customs is the speed at which he became one of the top makers; in 2010, his knives were listed at between 300-400$ each. Four years later, knife enthusiasts are no doubt pissed off they didn't jump on those, since they're now going for 1700-2200$ second-hand (I didn't even know what a custom was in 2010, so I don't feel too bad about it).
The Spyderco Southard has immediately become one of my favorites. The stone-washed, hollow-ground blade of CTS-204P is worth the price alone, but the incredibly thick slabs of titanium that make up the frame-lock side and the liner of the presentation side are beautifully shaped and finished -- very expensive components in their own right. CTS-204P is another true super-steel, Carpenter's PM equivalent of Bohler's M390 and Duratech 20CV, with identical elemental compositions that includes 2% carbon, 20% chromium, 1% molybdenum and 4% vanadium. Both M390 and 20CV are very desirable options in the custom and midtech markets, and CTS-204P seems just as impressive. The thickness of the blade, the gently radius-ed edges, the beautiful grind and profile (which is a unique blend of reverse tanto and sheepsfoot/Reeve-style 'insingo') -- all are indicative of tremendous quality control. Spyderco's very first flipper is one of the best functioning flippers you could ask for, running on KVT-like caged ball-bearings that make it incredibly smooth, but rock solid as well, no hint of blade-play whatsoever. The only real negative is the lack of a steel lock-bar insert, to prevent wear on the titanium lock-face. But while it would have been a good feature, it's not an absolute necessity.
I know the world is changing in very strange ways when I want my Spyderco to say 'Taichung, Taiwan' instead of 'Golden, Colorado, Earth'. Actually, I still love the American and Japanese Spyderco's, I just think it's cool when long-held assumptions and prejudices get dumped on their head. I'm speaking of my own; I avoided the Taiwanese knives for quite awhile, but eventually I had to try them out for myself. I'm glad I did, because this is a new Spyderco classic. Brad Southard makes amazing knives, but I can't afford to spend the 1500$ it costs to get one of his customs second-hand. This knife is really close to a custom model, for way less money. The Spyderco 'Rubicon', designed by Peter Carey, was just released; it won the 2014 Blade Show award for 'Best Imported Knife', which is another seal of approval for the Taiwanese operation. It's another flipper, Spyderco's fourth, I think. It looks like the Southard will be a pivotal design in Spyderco history, if the current trend continues.
P.S.: One interesting aspect of this knife is its asymmetrical design, with the G-10/titanium liner side being slightly but noticeably thicker than the titanium framelock side. I don't know why this was done, but I'm fairly certain it was part of Southard's original concept, and I'm (almost) positive it is not -- as some people have suggested -- that Spyderco used the G-10 thickness that was on hand, and it just happened to be too thick. Spyderco's production history contradicts this possibility, IMO, but its not an unreasonable theory. I've added photos of a Brad Southard custom knife called the 'Tozer', and it also features the intentional and eccentric asymmetry that the Spyderco Southard shares.