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Spyderco Tatanka C180GP
Folding Knife Review

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Spyderco Tatanka C180GP VG-10 steel

Spyderco Tatanka C180GP was announced almost a year ago before I got it. At least I saw it first in early winter 2014 or so, when the new lineup pictures were posted on Spyderco's forum and BladeForums. Actually, I was quite excited about that lineup, and I did decide about 4 or 5 knives from it, although eventually I ended up buying only Tatanka. I wanted Rubicon, liked the design, but skipped because of the liner lock, which I dislike. Farid's design K2 folder looked nice, CPM 10V steel is a top notch, but in the end I disliked the handle and I am really tired of framelock handles as well. Tatanka on the other hand, was rather refreshingly "normal" looking blade geometry, in fact I think it looks quite sexy. On top of that it was neither liner lock nor a framelock and the steel was decent. Worth noting, Tatanka is Spyderco's very fist super sized folder, which definitely made it even more interesting. Then there was a real long wait, almost a year in total. Placed an order in late spring 2014 and finally got it in December 2014.

Spyderco Tatanka C180GP Packaging

General

 - The Tatanka folder arrived packed in a red Spyderco box, wrapped in a bubble wrap bag, and accompanied with a piece of documentation. Based on the specs, in other words 5" blade length I was expecting a big knife. Still, when I opened it, it was on the huge side :) Handle was a bit bigger than I thought it would be. Other than that it was a really well made, big knife which I proceeded to inspect. Visual inspection was first, and there were no issues discovered. Nice satin finish, G10 handles, all parts machined and fitted very precisely. Action was smooth, and the lock was easy to operate. Next was the routine inspection with the magnifying glass. Nothing interesting to report on that. No defects. Obviously things look rougher under magnification. Still, the steel had a very nice finish, but the edge was on the rough side. Under close examination with a magnification glass I could see grind marks on the blade, but given that without peering into the blade that's not really visible. Quite a heavy knife, but given its size, and the stainless steel backspacer, which combined with the PowerLock™ which is also steel makes most of the back solid steel. I do like the design, albeit the handle isn't exactly what I'd want, and it's a bit bigger then I think is necessary. I own several large folders(Camillus Aftermath, R.E.K.A.T. Sifu for example), and couple of those have slightly longer blades than the Tatanka 10-15mm longer, and still the overall length is same or a bit less. Well, in the end I did like it enough to buy it and put on my EDC rotation list.

Spyderco Tatanka C180GP VG-10 steel

Blade

 - The blade is what I liked about the Tatanka folder the most. 129.00mm(5") long blade is 4mm thick at the heel, and 38mm at its widest. Even though the blade is easily recognizable Spyderco shape with their trademark whole in it, still it looks the most conventional to me. Long, elegant blade, featuring sabre grind, I suppose to balance blade strength and cutting efficiently. Kindda makes sense for a blade that long, but if it was up to me, I'd rather have a flat ground blade for improved cutting performance. That's because I have no interest in using my knife blades for prying anything, and the flat ground blade 4mm thick at the spine, even 38mm wide, will still have sufficient strength for all types of cutting tasks. Tatanka blade also features false edge grind on the top, which spans about ¾th of the blade spine, starting from the tip. You won't be cutting with that false edge, but it does improve blade penetration, and provides more refined tip for delicate work. Plus, false edge grind decreases overall knife weight. Tatanka is quite heavy for a folder, but not too heavy for its size and construction, just 269.00g(9.1oz). The blade has usual Spyderco markings, logo, Spyderco, steel on the left side, and Seki, Japan(which is where Spyderco makes those knives) on the right. Tatanka also features quite aggressive gimping on the spine. Gimping has become really popular these days, although I am quite positive most of the people never really need one, but it's there. Not too aggressive to become real annoyance during prolonged cutting, but it's definitely there and you will feel it, especially when you have to exert significant force. The blade also has a choil, which allows choking hold on the knife, further improving control for delicate tasks.

Spyderco Tatanka C180GP VG-10 steel

Initial edge was quite good. More on the convex side, approximately 30°-32° inclusive angle. If I had to guess, I'd say final edge was ground with something like 1000 grit belt. The edge was uniform, no uneven bevels. Out of the box sharpness was high, the knife would shave easily in both directions. For initial tests I just stropped the blade on the 0.50µm and 0.25µm diamond charged leather strops, and then on a leather strop. Stropping improves edge aggressiveness noticeably, and sharpness as well.

And to close the blade section, let's mention the steel used in the construction of the said blade. Nothing unusual or exotic there. Tatanka uses Takefu VG-10 steel at 60-61HRC. Spyderco's workhorse steel for high end knives. Solid performer all around, I don't have anything negative to say about it. Works well for wide range of cutting applications. Good steel, but nothing really interesting about it, for me at least. Provides solid performance, but it's been around for a long time now, and I'd much rather have something new or what'd qualify as an exotic. That's not to say you should skip it :) I bought Tatanka after all, even though I didn't have much of an interest in VG-10 steel. What I'm saying is that, it'd be cooler, and a lot more interesting to have better steel in Spyderco's first mega folder. Well, as it is, VG-10 will do, I like the knife well enough, VG-10 has enough toughness, wear resistance, edge stability and stain resistance not to complain about it.

Locking Mechanism

- Tatanka uses a new lock mechanism designed by Spyderco called PowerLock™. One thing I like about Spyderco, they do love to experiment, with new steels, new lock designs, other materials used in knives. I wish they weren't so consistent with their predominantly weird blade geometries though :) Well, that's a matter of taste, Spyderco does have huge following without me, and I do like Tatanka blade geometry. Anyway, back to the PowerLock™. As far as locking reliability and function are concerned I am happy with both, lockup, which is rock solid, and ease of operation, just press the lock release bar and that's it. Now about the troubles.

Probably I should've named this section as "my troubles with PowerLock™". Most of the troubles were obviously of my own making, and part of it was construction specifics of the lock itself. To cut to the chase, once I was done with the initial inspection I've started playing with the knife, and I flicked it, quite fast too. Considering the blade and handle length, both of which are long for a folder knife, generated momentum of the blade would be really high. Nothing broke, however the blade got jammed in open position and I couldn't close it. I've tried real hard pushing on the lock release, then I put on the gloves and went with spine whacks, rather brutal whacks, while pushing down the lock release. No success. One thing that came out of all that, the lock is really string. I don't really do spine whack tests on the folders, but at this time it was different.

After 15 minutes of fruitless spine whacking, I've decided to take the knife apart and release stuck blade. Taking the knife apart was fairly easy. Removed handle slabs fasteners. pivot screw and the whole thing came apart with some wiggling. I did know right away that assembling the knife back would be difficult. There is a very stiff spring pin which is supposed to hold the lock release bar in place. It was very difficult to hold the pin in place under tension and at the same time slice handle liners and slabs in place. I've spent well over an hour assembling the knife back, and that's a longest time I've ever spent on any folder.

Needless to say, I am in no mood repeating the experience, as in disassembling and assembling it back. I did flick the knife few more times after putting it back, no issues whatsoever. Then, few days later friend of mine was checking out Tatanka, I was telling the story about that jam, and I've flicked the knife again, and obviously it had to jam again. That was frustrating :) I was about to put the knife away, for later disassembly, but my friend tried to unlock it by using both hands to push on the lock release bar, and it worked. Nice surprise for a change. I've flicked the knife few times since then, no lockups after that last incident. Still, bottomline is, you better don't flick Tatanka, or expect to deal with potential jams. I can't attest to how widespread the issue is, and my own knife seems to be ok after those 2 jams.

Spyderco Tatanka C180GP VG-10 steel

Handle

- The handle on the Tatanka folder is huge. Well, it's a match for the huge blade. The term - huge obviously is used in the context of the folding knives. One way, or another the handle is big. Liners are stainless steel, and the slabs are G10, which is a very popular material. Can't say I am a big fan of G10, but it is durable, texturing provides positive, secure grip. Texturing on Tatanka is just right, in that it provides secure grip, but not too aggressive to become a nuisance during prolonged cutting. Handle butt area has a lanyard hole, if you plan on using that Tatanka's got you covered. Handle slabs are secured in place using five screws. There are also 2 sets of 3 holes for the clip, which gives you a choice of tip up or tip down carry, I myself prefer tip up if I have choice, but I wouldn't pass on the knife I liked just because it's a tip down carry. Backspacer on the Tatanka folder is steel, smooth, and pretty much perfectly flush with the liners. No uncomfortable transitions, gaps, etc. Overall, it is a comfortable handle in various grips, albeit a bit longer than I'd like. The handle also features finger guard of sorts, preventing slippage down to the blade. Other than that nothing really stands out about the handle.

Spyderco Tatanka C180GP VG-10 steel

Usage

- By design, Tatanka can be described as a large, utility folder, at least I view it as such. Consequently, my daily use is just that. For tests I did use it in the kitchen, backyard/gardening type of works, etc. I've started testing with the usual - cardboard. I wasn't really testing VG-10 steel's edge holding ability on cardboard, it is above average in that department, I've tested that dozens of times. Main interest was to observe Tatanka blade vs. cardboard behavior. It performed quite well, considering 4mm thick blade, but like I said above, flat grind would've helped to improve cutting performance. If you plan on cutting hundreds of inches of cardboard daily you might look for thinner and harder knives made out of the highly wear resistant alloys like Crucible CPM 10V, Crucible CPM S110V, Crucible CPM S125V, Bohler-Uddeholm M390 and alike. If you want more specific examples, then Phil Wilson Utility Hunter Knife or Phil Wilson Meadows Skinner Knife would be very good examples. For occasional cardboard slicing, Tatanka will do just fine.

After cardboard, miscellaneous items from my garage, to imitate every day or occasional cutting, also fairly standard set for my tests: rubber sheet and tubing, assorted wiring(copper, coaxial, steel, aluminum), plastic. Tatanka did manage to get through all that stuff undamaged. Obviously, I was not trying to saw through the steel wire, just using a steady hand and vertical pressure, which is a plenty for small wiring. Rubber sheets were about 6m thick, so cutting through that was no challenge. Edge strength test was done using usual wood whittling test. Wood whittling when done properly doesn't really include very high lateral loads on the edge, but everyone makes mistakes, so the edge will be subjected to higher than necessary lateral loads on occasion, depends on the user skill. To exaggerate the stress I would simply stick the blade into the wood, about 1-2 m deep and then twist it. That's quite brutal on the edge, and shouldn't really be done routinely, but when the goal is to test the edge strength, it's a quite good indicator. Tatanka edge survived all that just fine. Mundane EDC tasks such as opening mailing packages and envelopes was easy, main challenge being the oversized blade actually. All in all, I think I've covered majority of the utility cutting with those tests. If you have something more specific in mind perhaps your own tests will reveal more.

Spyderco Tatanka C180GP VG-10 steel

As mentioned above, I've tested Tatanka in the kitchen as well. Having 40+ hi-end kitchen knives in my kitchen knives block, I never have a need to use non specialized knives in the kitchen, but it is a legitimate use and test scenario anyway. After all, camping, hunting and hiking are more likely to be done with a folding knife than 40+ kitchen knives ;) I did some basic tests, imagining average camping trip cooking. Started with 2lbs of stake, proceeded to cut small cubes for a stew. That was alright. Onion was more problematic, 4mm thick knife isn't what I am used to, but manageable, unless you want translucent slices. Bread cutting was alright, but I'd much rather use dedicated bread knives. French baguette is easy, but hard crust bread was far worse. Soft vegetables were fine, and extra length of the Tatanka does help there. Tomatoes were ok, same story as with the onions, few mm thick cuts were ok, no translucent slices. In the end, you can definitely prepare quite an involved meal with Tatanka, if you have to, or feel like that. I wouldn't pick it as my primary kitchen knife, but it'll do the job as needed. In fact, Tatanka will do better than most of the folders due to its greater blade length.

Conclusions

- Short version: I like it. Long version: Nice folding knife from a very well known, reputable maker. No problems with quality, or cutting performance. Large folder, quite versatile and user friendly pretty much for any type of use. Materials are high end, craftsmanship is very good as well. If you are looking for a large folder Tatanka might be the one if you like the design. 200$ for a folding knife isn't exactly a budget knife, or even a mid range piece, but it's not 300$+ knife either. VG-10 steel won't let you down in most of the normal and hard use cases. Just be careful with flicking, you may or may not run into the issue I've run into.

Last updated - 02/07/15

Specifications:

  • Blade - 129.00mm(5")
  • Thickness - 4.00mm
  • Width - 38.00mm
  • OAL - 294.00mm(11.57")
  • Steel - VG-10 steel at 60-61HRC
  • Handle - G-10
  • Weight - 269.00g(9.1oz)
  • Acquired - 05/2014 Price - 200.00$

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