Friday, October 29, 2010

Guest Review, M. Van Damme Takes on Cold Steel's Spartan Folder

Editor's note:  I own a Cold Steel Spartan myself, and I enjoy carrying it on occasion.  M. Van Damme is a reader, woodsman, and all around 'knife guy', especially when it comes to the use of various blades in actual outdoor, camp and survival use.  This guy knows his stuff, and we talked a bit, he went out to give his hand-modded Cold Steel Spartan a workout in the woods.  I've got to apologize to MVD for taking so long getting this up, and also for abbreviating it slightly, as I'm having problems with blogger/blogspot's editing tools formatting things correctly.  So, you may see the format of this review change slightly, or you may see added photos, as I am able to make adjustments.

The Spartan Kopis (Cold Steel supposedly based the design on the Kopis, an old Greek sword style, -A) folding knife, with a blade of only 4.5 inches of cutting edge, performs more admirably than many a fixed blade in the same price range.  You can pick up a spartan for around 60-70 dollars at many websites, and after almost 16 months of hardcore testing, inside and outside the knife`s limits, I have to say it is a knife that will last me a lifetime. There is much to be said about the Kopis blade, and even more could be said about the history it shaped. The Greeks relied on the mighty design of the blade to decimate any armored enemy that may come, the S type edge line of the Kopis works much like a hawk bill blade, by drawing material into the edge while the belly of the blade seperates it. The Kopis blade on the spartan works in exactly the same manner, and with no surprise to me, most excellently with wood.
Here you can see after only about 2 minutes of light chopping, the Spartan cut half way through an ash tree easily 5 inches in diameter.  There is little to no blade play after work like this, as long as loc-tite is used on the pivot screw. If blade play occurs, a simple turn from a torx bit will get you on your way, as you can see here, maximum chopping performance is achieved by choking back on the handle.

With the Spartan`s 4mm thick blade, it easily has enough heft to down a sapling in one blow, as you can see it is a clean cut almost all the way through. After a few limb stripping strokes you have yourself a mighty fine fishin pole.

There are many things that make a knife a good knife for the job. Design, function, and quality of materials. The Spartan has the first two of the latter mentioned in spades. but the third is something to ponder over. the handle is composed of Grivory, Cold steel`s proprietary name for FRN (fiber-glass reinforced nylon), lined with stainless steel. The lock on the spartan is something of magnificence. The Tri-Ad lock by Andrew Demko of Cold Steel is perhaps the most innovative and ground breaking locking mechanism in the knife world since the lock-back itself. In effect, the Tri-Ad lock is a strong back-springed lock-back design with the integration of a stop pin that puts
all the force applied to the back of the blade onto the stop pin instead of the locking back bar. This creates a virtually unbreakable folding knife that performs equally as well as many fixed blades in its size class.
The blade on the Spartan is made of AUS8a, a blade steel that is produced overseas and has been recently used in the construction of many "budget" knives, it has turned out to be a good performer and maintains a decent edge for a good amount of time. (Editor's note: - no lie dude! Cold Steel tends to ship their knives razor effing sharp, and out of the box, my personal Spartan is one of the sharpest knives I've ever seen. -A)  From the factory Cold Steel ships the Spartan with a V edge on a hollow grind that will shave a peach, unless you have a belt grinder, I have found no sufficient way to maintain a V edge on a recurved blade.  This is no fault of the Spartan, it might just be my own personal sharpening techniques.  In order to resolve this, I decided to make a few minor modifications to the knife.

As you can see here, I removed the thumb paddle and ground down the ledge that was left with a dremel into a smoother "wave" type deployment catch. The original paddle snagged alot and the lip around the pockets of some pants is too wide, not permitting the thumb paddle to catch due to the small space between it, and the blade. Then I used a small "beater" strop wrapped in 2000 grit sand paper to remove the V grind on the edge and put on a convex edge. The hollow grind of the Spartan is very deep, and convexing the edge results in a straight-edge like blade geometry. I also took a file and worked the top flat portion of the blade on one side to greate a scraping area for the use of a ferro rod or firesteel, then I finished it all off by giving it a very rough satin finish, the bead-blasted finish originally on the knife resulted in some staining of the blade, as the porus nature of bead-blasted finishes can retain small bits of moisture.  I am happy to say that after the satin finish was applied, no staining has occurred since.
The Spartan is also a great knife for food prep. a blade`s belly is usually the most-used part of a knife, and the spartan has a belly specially designed for slicing, and with the straight-edge like geometry, slicing tomatoes is easy work, in case you were wondering, steak, egg, and cheese omellete.
All in all, the Spartan has been my EDC, my mid size woods knife, and my personal food prep knife for over a year, this knife above all others is the knife I trust, in a tactical role and survival role. The price to performance ratio is probably the highest in the knife industry, a lot of folks will tell you "A folding knife will never be as strong as a fixed blade", and then you can pull out your Spartan and watch the look on their face when their reality of folding knives is shattered. 

Right on!  Thanks Mr. Van Damme!  I don't know what holds me back from carrying my Spartan more frequently, I guess weight is one, but for its size, it's certainly not over-heavy.  I guess I like a folder for work/play use that isn't going to draw mouth-agape stupid shocked looks from any non-knife person who sees it, not that I really care, I just hate dealing with dumb questions about the knives I carry.  Mr. Van Damme would laugh, my Spartan is probably in near-mint condition, though I haven't had mine as long as he has.  Size, weight etc aside, I would not hesitate to carry this knife in a defensive role, specifically if I were on a roadtrip or if I walked regularly through sketchy areas at night.  I would also pack it without hesitation as my primary folder in a weekend camping type situation, especially after seeing how MVD has abused his Spartan, and it's still going strong!
Check out Cold Steel's Spartan folding knife at their site, along with the rest of their wares.  I'd encourage everybody to sign up to receive Cold Steel's catalog, it's extensive, full color, and a few times per year it comes with some really entertaining DVDs demonstrating CS's products under ridiculous circumstances.  It's a catalog I always save and go back to, and the DVDs are always entertaining.
If you like the Spartan but don't so much like the suggested retail price,, out of Louisiana  is a site I've ordered from consistently over the years, their prices are usually more-than-fair, and their shipping is typically fast & reliable, even when they ship to a Pacific Northwest Coaster like myself.


Aaron said...

This review personifies one of the reasons I always love reading magazines like Tactical Knives, and in part, why I ended up doing my own blog. I like to read clear reviews of people who know what they are talking about abusing gear in ways that I likely never would, it's good to know the gear we buy has limits, and what they are, so I'm always receptive to a good, plain & simple review where the writer demonstrates exactly what the knife (or other item) is capable of doing in extreme situations. Van Damme really nailed this one as far as logging a no-argument account of the rugged potential of this knife. The Spartan, IMO, is truly one of those knives that is worth every penny, even if you end up paying the full MSRP.

Cold Steel said...

The Cold Steel Spartan is a knife I'm still undecided about. It used to be my trail knife, but I ended up using their Rajah II, which does everything a Spartan does, but on steroids! I've also never had a problem sharpening either blade. A few quick swipes on a good ceramic rod and both knives are good as new. AUS8 is the ideal stainless outdoor steel as it's very easy to sharpen (you can even use a round water stone in a pinch). I wouldn't want to do that with a premium steel.

A few people have tried to caution me that no folder can be as strong as a fixed blade. After using the Spartan and the Rajah, that's just not true. The Rajah can cut brush, chop wood, even move snakes without harming them. And both knives are excellent for self defense.

Aaron said...

good to hear Cold! Like Mitch says, yep it is pretty amazing how strong these folders are, and it's products like the Rajah & Spartan that keep Cold Steel (the company) in the game, and the reason why nobody else does lockbacks this burly! I think L.C. Thompson is crazy (in a good way), he has the balls to try different knife ideas that no other company could dream of, and often it's those"crazy" unconventional knife ideas that end up being Cold Steel's finest products! it amazes me that a folder in the Rajah/Spartan price range could be so tough! I plan on getting the smaller Rajah very soon!
take care & thanks for reading

nightworker62 said...

I have several cold steel knifes
with The Tri-Ad lock. I find that they use a very strong spring. It is so strong, that I can not close it without pushing it on a table edge or something besides my hand.
This is the bad spot with The Tri-Ad lock. Asofter spring would make it work very well.

Roadkill said...

Strength is relative I suppose. If you gotta glue or re-tighten your pivot, think I'll say that's a real point of weakness. Don't always have tools to fix that stuff on me. I have the same problem with my SOG Spec-Elite II. I'm not doubting that this isn't as a strong as many fixed blades. However, fixed blades aren't necessarily strong. Most of them are just like pocket knives, meant to be sharp and cut, not chop. For bushcraft I prefer a thick laminate stainless or carbon steel in full tang fixed blades. Then I keep a stainless smaller blade for doing small things like food prep. Medium level stainless blades make me nervous when subjected to high levels of abuse. It's a neat blade, I'd love to see this in San Mai III.