Spyderco: Who, When, What, Where & Why
Like all companies who continue to innovate, design and look towards the future, Spyderco’s history is still being written by the development of new technologies and manufacturing as well as new ways of looking at knifemaking. As evidenced by the popularity of the brand and its models, Spyderco’s philosophy of C. Q. I. (Constant Quality Improvement) has paid off, making the company a bastion of the industry. For a company that values function over form, its designs and innovations have become mainstays within the knifemaking industry, proving that customers place dependability, performance and functionality at the top of the list when choosing what to carry in their pockets. With Spyderco’s willingness to utilize various knife steels and manufacturing materials as well as inventive design concepts, the company shows no signs of slowing down, unveiling to the public its new state-of-the-art, 17,500 square foot facility in Golden, Colorado in May of 2015.
Though often (jokingly) accused of “designing their knives in the dark” due to the products’ often curious appearances, it is Spyderco’s reliability and practical utility that have made them such a hit with both knife enthusiasts and collectors as well as the general knife-buying public. With operations based out of Golden, Colorado since November 1978, Spyderco has earned a reputation for advancements in design, manufacturing and production materials. Perhaps most importantly, Spyderco has changed the way people view the world’s oldest tool.
Spyderco’s story is one of ingenuity, hard work and humble beginnings. Sal Glesser, Spyderco’s founder, owner and creative force, started the company when (as legend has it) he couldn’t find a job. He began working on what became known as the “Portable Hand” to assist people working with multiple small parts in manufacture, with items such as computer circuit boards, or for jewelers, watchmakers and hobbyists. Although having relatively little to do with knives, this little device, along with sharpeners, can be seen as Sal’s first foray in to the knife world. Its offbeat, spideresque design offers an initial glimpse of Sal’s ideas about design models and manufacturing layout. This series of angles, ball joints and alligator clips marked the beginning of the company’s design aesthetic. Though certainly not a huge commercial success, it found popularity with jewelers and artisans by allowing them to keep track of small and delicate parts. The making of the original Spyderco Portable Hand marked the beginning of the Spyderco brand as it stands today. Though often surrounded in myth, the name “Spyderco” appears to have come from the Portable Hand’s resemblance to an actual spider, coupled with Sal’s love and appreciation for European performance sports cars termed “Spyder”. The Portable Hand was Spyderco CEO and founder Sal Glesser’s initial invention that eventually led to the company as we know it today.
Sal moved on to making knife sharpeners after the relatively lukewarm response to the Portable Hand, and later on to the manufacture of folding knives. After converting an old bread delivery truck in to a mobile unit, Glesser and his wife Gail would travel to knife shows across the country learning about knives, design and ways to develop their product. At these events, he began to learn more and more about knives, knifemaking and the industry as a whole.
First producing knife sharpeners in 1978, the next step was the introduction of the first Spyderco folder, the C01 Worker. This is the first production knife from Spyderco after the Portable Hand invention put them on the map. First introduced in 1981, the C01 Worker contained many of the company’s signature design elements that would later become identified with the brand. This was the first pocket knife to feature the trademark thumbhole that many have come to identify with Spyderco. Additionally, the company asserts that this was the first knife to feature a pocket clip on the right side of the handle to assist with ease of opening and deployment to be used in conjunction with the thumbhole for one-handed operation. The pocket clip allowed for easy access and the Spyderco Round Hole gave the user quick deployment of the blade, giving then-unknown possibilities to the folding knife, essentially changing its functionality from its previous existence. It is also widely considered to be the first tactical knife. First available only in a plain standard edge, the Worker became the vehicle for the introduction of the SpyderEdge and a new level of cutting power.
The SpyderEdge was another first in the Spyderco story, introducing its own serrated edge. SpyderEdge is the named given to Spyderco’s unique patented serration featured on the blades of some of its knives. Serrations improve cutting ability by lengthening the cutting edge by up to 24%. Serrations also improve edge retention because the tips initiate the cutting which in turn eases the amount of force needed to perform the cut. The tips or points actually protects the cutting edge. The Spyderedge has a repeating pattern of one large, two small serrations. The SpyderEdge is the go-to serrated choice for cutting tasks such as cutting rope, seat belts, cardboard, rubber hose and leather. With precise techniques, the SpyderEdge can be equally appropriate for finely-skilled cutting tasks such as skinning, cutting paper, and slicing. The introduction of all these firsts led to a new way of thinking about folding knives and in many ways invented what people think of when thinking of a tactical folding knife. This function before form approach revolutionized the way tactical folders were manufactured, conceived and designed thanks to Sal’s innovations and forethought.
Spyderco is also known for their “Sprint Runs” that prove popular with collectors and knife enthusiasts. Spyderco Sprint Runs are defined by Spyderco as “a Limited Edition Production of any Spyderco product in a configuration different than what has been previously produced and can include changes in the handle color, materials, blade steel, coatings, etc. The production quantity is pre-determined by Spyderco and is sold by Spyderco either through the existing Dealer and Distributor Network or Consumer Direct”. Though somewhat similar, the Sprint Run differs from an “Exclusive”, which Spyderco defines as “a production of any Spyderco product at the request of a wholesale customer in a configuration different than what has been previously produced”. Both are a way Spyderco to introduce new colors, materials and product features in the spirit of C. Q. I. and an ever-evolving product line.
The Spyderco World Trade Center Limited Edition is a good example of the kind of customer-minded Sprint Runs the company produces. Created in memory of NYPD Officer and Spyderco enthusiast John D’Allara, who was among the lives lost on September 11th, the Spyderco World Trade Center Knife was developed to pay tribute to the victims and raise funds to benefit the loved ones they left behind. All profits received for the sale of those knives was donated to the New York Police and Fire Widows and Children Benefit Fund. Its handle was injection molded from fiberglass-reinforced nylon and included an inlaid, hand-finished silhouette of the New York City skyline. Painstakingly machined from steel salvaged from Tower 1 of the World Trade Center, these inlays ensured that every World Trade Center Knife is an enduring tribute to the lives lost on September 11th.
Though technically not a Sprint Run, the Spyderco Dodo’s strikingly offbeat looks and design cues make it a rare bird indeed and noteworthy for a variety of reasons. Prized for its ergonomics, cutting strength and overall wow factor, the Dodo had a relatively short production lifespan of roughly 2003 to 2005. The Dodo was also the first production knife designed by Eric Glesser, the son of Spyderco founder Sal Glesser. This odd and eccentric model is just one of a number of unconventional designs whose utility trumps their appearance.
The following appear to be the top 5 most popular Spyderco knives. Let’s explore what makes each unique, interesting and useful.
Police- The Police model is one of the best and most popular large folders on the market. Designed for use by law enforcement and Save & Serve professionals, this model is also one of the longest-running Spyderco models on the market. One of the appeals of the Police is that it is effectively able to perform as a large knife would, but with the carrying characteristics of a smaller knife. Prized for being a sharp, slim and tough folder that is appealing to law enforcement and civilians alike.
Endura- The Endura is the first mass-produced tactical folder from Spyderco. It was introduced in the year 1990, giving this model a 25 year history to date. Spyderco, in the interest of its CQI (Continuous Quality Improvement) concept, has made many subtle yet meaningful tweaks to the Endura folder over the years. Examples of these changes are mostly in the form of improvements on existing design, e.g. the enlargement of the trademark thumbhole or the introduction of improved ergonomics to the handle. The grip texture of the handle was changed to the bidirectional design, and the reversible clip used to accommodate left or right handed carry in either a tip-up or tip-down fashion. Periodic Sprint Runs also make for changes in materials, steel and finishing, and handle colors. All in all, the Endura is a popular vehicle for Spyderco’s endless fine-tuning of design, materials and user-friendliness. The Endura remains a popular design because it is the perfect combination of easiness of pocket carry combined with a large enough blade for self-defense and tool options.
Native- The Native represents the end result of refinements and upgrades to a design over the years. Engineered and manufactured to suit the ergonomics of the human hand, the Native is based on combining the best of performance with comfort. The two choil design allows for close cutting control near the edge and dexterous cutting while pushing the blade away from you. Bi-directional texturing built in to the FRN handles minimizes frontward or backward slipping while maximizing grip and control. The Native is a perennially popular model among knife aficionados.
Delica- The Delica is viewed by many as the younger sibling to the Endura, and in many ways this is an accurate perception. Easier for some as an EDC knife, those with smaller hands or for use in situations where a smaller knife is called for. Again, much like the Endura, the Delica is constantly undergoing changes aimed toward improvement by using various blade steel refinements, performance tweaks, and ergonomic adjustments. This constant endeavor to improve upon existing designs makes for a constantly evolving product line that maintains its distinguishing characteristics while utilizing the newest and finest materials available. The Delica is an excellent all-rounder with lasting popularity.
(Para) Military (2) – As a result of the success of the Spyderco Military model, the more recent ParaMilitary 2 has a large group of dedicated enthusiasts. TheMilitary Model came about after someone asked Spyderco's owner Sal Glesser, "If your son were going into the military what folding knife would you send him with?" The result was a high-performance, light-weight folder designed for hard use. In the spirit of C.Q.I., the Paramilitary 2 was developed to refine and improve the ergonomics and cutting performance of an established model. Though the refinements to overall construction may not be drastic or even visible to the eye, from the G-10 textured handle to the CPM S30V steel full flat blade, everything is sharper, smoother and geared toward user comfort and performance.
Spyderco stands behind its products and backs them up with a warranty. Spyderco also offers repairs, re-profiling and replaceable parts for a small fee. Its products are built to exacting specifications and designed to be put to hard use for an extended period of time. Spyderco has a warranty that covers the knife against any manufacturing defects or problems with materials and/or workmanship. Any work performed by an entity other than Spyderco will void the warranty, as will misuse/abuse of the knife. If it’s determined that there is a defect in manufacture, materials or workmanship, Spyderco will repair or replace the knife at its own expense. If the problem is something other than a defect in manufacture, materials and/or workmanship, Spyderco will inform the customer whether or not the product can be repaired and what such a repair will cost the owner. In the event that the product cannot be repaired, Spyderco will return the knife to its owner with the recommendation that it be retired from use. Lifetime sharpening is offered complimentary, with a nominal fee included to cover the cost of return shipping back to the owner. Various other repairs may be performed by Spyderco’s Warranty & Repair Department, and it is best to contact them directly for information regarding any such repairs or warranty claims.
Spyderco’s founder, chief designer and CEO, Sal Glesser is revered in the knife world for his unique vision, groundbreaking products, and continued commitment to constant improvement and innovation. The enduring popularity of Spyderco products is attributable to several factors. First, and perhaps foremost, they make sturdy dependable knives that are built to be used. Secondly, the company’s commitment to continual advancement in manufacturing and materials allows for the finest cutting-edge steels and production techniques. Lastly, Spyderco’s vision as a company is something many knife enthusiasts can get behind. The company has a long track record of listening to its customer base to develop knives with features that people want to use.
In other words, Spyderco seeks out feedback from its users and then strives to give its customers what they want in terms of utility, materials and finishing. They also offer much the same quality but often at lower price points than competitors, and surely offer some of the best out-of-the-box value that can be found in the knife market. The attention paid to detail, as evidenced by little things such as the location of the jimping or how the clip rides in the pocket, are among the reasons why knife enthusiasts choose Spyderco out of all the varied and wide-ranging options available to consumers in the market.