Sebenza MagnaCut – magic just happened!
Chris Reeve Sebenza has a legendary status among knife enthusiasts. You may love it, you may hate it… but you can’t change the fact, that Sebenza is an icon. And also it’s been the first knife ever equipped with one of the best locking mechanisms available today – the framelock. And the rest is history.
In 2018/19 I was beta-testing an Inkosi with a S45VN blade for a full year (a secret assignment from CRK). I had been using and abusing the new blade material and reporting my results back the the mothership in Boise, USA. And I can tell you, it was performing so well that I was sure this steel would not meet its match for years to come. Boy, I was wrong!
Today’s hottest name is OF COURSE CPM MagnaCut! CRK decided to use it for just a couple of prototypes and sold them to a handful of lucky people at Blade 2021. Most of these knives ended up behind the display glass in private collections around the world.
However, thanks to an amazing gesture of a Chris Reeve Knives fan Alex (IG: @knifeguard) I had the amazing opportunity to try a Sebenza MagnaCut in Summer 2021! Yes, he bought the knife and… sent it across the pond to me in Poland! And let me use it for anything I wanted for a full 3 months. Alex, you are THE BEST!
So finally my short report. But don’t expect a technical steel review, I’m not patient enough to cut a hemp rope into a zillion pieces on a bench for fellow steel nerds (they already know everything anyway). But rather you’ll read a practical overview of how the MagnaCut performs, heat treated by CRK to about 62 HRC and put between two solid slabs of Titanium… which is called the Sebenza all together (and that means “work” in Zulu).
For the record: this Sebenza was heat treated to 62 HRC, but Chris Reeve Knives plan to go slightly higher to 63-64 HRC on next batch. Should be interesting!
Let me start with a general statement after using this knife from July till September 2021: MagnaCut is a great steel for regular use, it shines as EDC, cuts aggressively, and stays sharp for many weeks of really intense EDC use.
MagnaCut feels very aggressive in regular cutting, especially if you cut low hardness stuff (food prep, rope, canvas, cardboard, etc.) then it keeps a hair-popping edge almost forever. And it takes a truly keen hair popping edge (almost like a carbon steel) but requires very careful removal of the micro-burr on a strop with a diamond paste (a balsa wood strop works best).
It seems to me that it’d be possible to make the edge angle even narrower than it is on standard Sebenza (down to 15-17 Deg per side?) and you’d get at least the same edge retention as S45VN at 20 Deg per side. But that’s just my feeling of how the very edge behaves.
Another step in use was wood whittling and cleaning meat and fish, which was harder to cut (wood knots, fishbones, etc.). Still, the edge held up great, without chipping or rolling. Also, meat cleaning and boning didn’t have any impact on the cutting edge, including direct contact with bone. But honestly – it was a similar result to what I experienced with the S45VN on my Inkosi.
Same for woodworking and feather sticks preparation. Sure, S45VN required stropping or touch-up slightly more often, but we’re talking about days and days of practical use for both steels. Still, it was “some more days” for MagnaCut I must admit.
And finally, I even tried batoning with that Sebenza (sorry Alex, you said „anything”). I’m not suggesting that a Sebenza is a good knife for that, actually quite the opposite. Realistically I’d do that only as a last resort action to get some dry tinder wood in an emergency (and ALWAYS with an unlocked folder with the handle swinging freely along with the log). But how could I check the MagnaCut’s toughness on impact in any another way?
When I tried that with S45VN I noticed very tiny rolling of the fine edge in some spots after batoning through a couple of hardwood pieces (1.5” in diameter more or less). It was small enough that I restored the edge within just a couple of light strokes on a fine ceramic rod, but still, it was there.
With MagnaCut (at about 18-20 Deg per side) there was neither any noticeable edge rolling nor any slightest chipping. Sure, 1.5” sticks are nothing extreme, but batoning is never an easy task for a folder. Same for notching hardwood sticks, so pressing hard to cross-cut wood grain – no problem. The practical toughness of MagnaCut is just amazing. I’d say… on par with Vanadis 4 Extra, or even CPM-3V maybe? I wish I could try it in a big camp knife, but it seems MagnaCut has a lot of potential as blade material for a big fixed chopper.
On some knives the difference was noticeable but not extreme (LC200N, m390). On others (S35VN, S45VN, Elmax) the difference in edge holding was clearly more obvious but not like day and night too. But anyway, MagnaCut under normal use holds a sharp edge noticeably longer than almost any other stainless steel I’ve tried. Except K390, which is is a true super tough steel (but not stainless).
And also the edge holding of m390 on some knives was practically the same, as I experienced with MagnaCut – especially fixed blades by TRC Knives, their heat treating is spectacular). But toughness of m390 is clearly below MC, of course.
Now what about corrosion resistance? Well, MagnaCut Sebenza was with me on a sailboat for 2 weeks, when I was sailing on the Grand Mazurian Lakes (a beautiful area, you can Google it). So it was constantly wet and/or held in a humid environment 24/7. And it held up great, without even one dark spot on the blade. It’s as rust-resistant as LC200N. Some people say it’s even better… and that could be true. Anyway, it’s a fantastic steel for use around water.
Sharpening… and it’s a winner again! It’s nowhere near as bad as you could expect from a super steel. It sharpens considerably easier than S90V or 3V, but… not as easy as Spy27 or even S35VN or S45VN. It requires some patience and really good micro-burr removal at the last stage as I mentioned earlier.
It strops best on balsa wood or a really hard leather strop, and with diamond paste only (forget about that classic green stuff). And it forms an aggressive, extremely sharp edge. Field sharpening on compact stones like the Fallknives DC4 is no problem too. I’d say – it’s fairly easy to sharpen considering how tough it is.
And finally, what about MagnaCut vs. some other super steels? Well, I used neither Cruwear nor K390 for as long as that MagnaCut. In my limited experience K390 (by Spyderco) is just as good (or even better) at both keeping a sharp edge and toughness. But neither K390 nor Cruwear nor my favorite 3V steel are even close to being as stainless as MagnaCut. Imagine just about 3V toughness, m390 edge holding and stainless properties better than LC200N – that’s more or less what you could expect from MagnaCut. Sounds cool, doesn’t it?
Conclusions. I’ve had this Sebenza with me in forest-covered wild mountains – Bieszczady and Beskid Niski in Poland. Google it if you want but imagine the moon of Endor – it’s more or less this kind of terrain only with occasional bears walking around instead of Ewoks. Also, I spent many days with this Sebenza in the backcountry, around my cabin, and in the Tatra Mountains in September (alpine type of mountains, snow, ice, and sub-zero conditions on the summits). All in all – quite a lot of outdoor activities.
For me, this is THE steel, by which other steels should now be judged. It’s better in edge retention than S35VN, S45VN, Elmax, or LC200N. Toughness is almost like K390 or 3V – but to really check this you should give me a 5″ fixed blade. And on top of that all, it’s totally stainless. I mean totally, possibly even more than LC200N. It’s an incredible mix. Oh, and (as crazy as it sounds) it’s still possible to sharpen by us, mortals 😉
Now the key question… does it make other steels obsolete? Not at all, of course. All of the other steels are just as good as they were yesterday. I’m well over 45 now so I can remember all the hype about ATS-34 or BG42 and other steels, years ago… today we enjoy powder metallurgy steels, which are 2-3 generations ahead of them and better in every aspect. And well, I still love using my good old Sebenza Regular in BG42.
MagnaCut may be the newest and hottest one, but your m390 or S45VN, or even CPM-154 knives are just as awesome as they were yesterday. I’ve just got another Elmax knife from Giant Mouse as a daily carry, an m390 limited Spyderco Slysz Bowie, and CRK fixed in S45VN. And they all cut crazy good and keep an excellent edge, and they are not going anywhere.
So if you want your new sharp tool – just get it. Don’t wait for your next knife in MagnaCut for months, it won’t make you a better bushcrafter, mountaineer or overall outdoorsman. Simply get and use what you like, now. MagnaCut is an amazing steel but… don’t waste your life waiting.
And frankly speaking… I’m sure we’ll see even more amazing materials in the future. Adventure on!