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This cutlery company manufactures a large variety of knives but is also well known for its incredibly user-friendly and effective knife sharpeners. Above all, however, knife owners and manufacturing contemporaries recognize and acknowledge Spyderco as an innovator in products and designs. Spyderco founder and head designer Sal Glesser pioneered many design features that are now common or standard in folding knives. This article will dive in and take a closer look at the company’s beginnings, innovations, and products.


The Story Behind Spyderco

In 1976, Sal Glesser invented the “Portable Hand.” This eerie-looking device was comprised of multiple legs, ball joints, and alligator climbs. It was designed to attach to a fixed surface and help jewelers and hobbyists work with small pieces and parts. Sal and his wife Gail began traveling to various arts and crafts shows to demonstrate and sell their product. Ultimately, the Portable Hand was primarily used at an industrial level to help assemble circuit boards.


Sal named his company Spyderco, in part because of the Portable’s Hands spider-like look. The other inspiration was the “spyder” designation given to many high-performance European cars. The company’s logo now features a mascot spider.


Meanwhile, by this point Sal and Gail had decided to settle in Golden, Colorado. Spyderco began creating knife sharpeners in 1978. Three years later, Sal released a revolutionary folding knife, the C01 Worker, which had a round hole in the blade. This hole made it possible for a knife owner to quickly grab and open their knife one-handed and in a single fluid motion. This new technique was ambidextrous, so left-handed knife owners could perform the same motion with the same amount of success as their right-handed friends. This knife also had a pocket clip on the handle, and the company believes was the first knife on the market with this feature.


Today, Spyderco is still a family-operated business. Sal and Gail, along with their son Eric, oversee about 60 employees. Thanks to a boost in popularity and sales, Spyderco recently expanded their factory by 15,000 square feet. Sal still designs many knives for Spyderco, but the company also manufactures blades by other designers.


“Designed in the Dark”?

Spyderco’s very first product, the Portable Hand, was a shockingly strange-looking object, yet it proved to be invaluable to the circuit board industry. Similarly, many of Spyderco’s knife and knife sharpeners have odd appearances but are revered by collectors and casual buyers alike.


Sal Glesser truly has a passion for creating knives. His products are unusual-looking but ergonomic, designed for comfort, ease of use, and functionality. According to Spyderco, the company has repeatedly been told that its knives are “weird,” “out there,” and even that they must have been “designed in the dark.” Yet again, however, the company consistently chooses function and reliability over typical design aesthetics. To Sal’s surprise, these unusual blades are now just as popular for their odd designs as they are for their strength and functionality.


Spyderco blades are intended to be high-performance ready. The company is known for the amount of research it puts behind each knife or tool. Spyderco continues to experiment with design and materials while putting their products through the wringer with extensive testing. Blades are tested for edge retention and rust resistance in addition to the limits of wear and tear. The company also researches possible steel combinations and the optimal methods for heat testing.


In 2000, Spyderco enthusiast Ken Delavigne wrote a book about the company, titled “Spyderco Story: The New Shape of Sharp.” The book covers design-rationale, management philosophies, and product development insights, with numerous photographs included of various Spyderco knife models. As a manufacturer, Spyderco has managed to develop and innovate products by leaps and bounds. Delavigne’s book takes a closer look the policies, practices, and management decisions that made this exponential growth possible. Spyderco maintains manufacturing relationships with contractors in China, Taiwan, Japan, and Italy, and Sal Glesser is known for the way he personally visits these factories.


Today, Spyderco carries a range of folding knives, with features including lightweight, locking and non-locking, distinctive claw-like tips, tiny folders and cutters, and textured handles. These types, as well as fixed blade knives, are carried by knife enthusiasts, outdoorsmen, collectors, hunters, and craftsmen. In addition, law enforcement officials, military personnel, and emergency medical responders worldwide utilize specialized Spyderco knives.


Spyderco Trademark #1: Single Round Hole

The 1981 C01 Worker knife was the first to feature a round hole for ambidextrous, one-handed opening and closing of the blade. Today, every Spyderco folding knife carries this distinctive feature on the blade. The size and shape of the hole make it useable for people of all sizes as well as those wearing winter or hunting gloves. The hole is positioned in the blade’s hump, near the joint of the handle.


Many of the Spyderco folding knives include a locked position to keep your blade from being accidentally opened. Similarly, the lock can help keep you from accidentally closing your blade while working. This also enables you to rest your thumb along the top of the knife, which gives you much more control and leverage for cutting. Once you fully understand and get the hang of the movement, a Spyderco blade is simple to open and shut with one fluid motion. Your thumb stays on the top edge of the blade the entire time, tucked safely out of harm’s way.


Spyderco Trademark #2: The CLIPIT

As previously mentioned, the 1981 C01 Worker had a clip attached on the right side of the handle. This became known as the original Spyderco CLIPIT, and is considered to represent the first time a clothing clip was integrated directly into the knife’s design. Typically, a knife is clipped to a pants pocket, belt, or shirt using a sheath or holster. The clip’s design made it possible for men to tuck the folding knife into their pants pocket while keeping it clipped to the outside for quick and simple access. The clip keeps the knife in place and also flat against the body rather than tilted and tangled within the pocket.


As the CLIPIT grew in popularity, Spyderco began toying with the placement of the clip and its relationship to the knife’s accessing technique. Knives carried tip down required a different set of motions than knives carried tip up. Today, many knife manufacturers include a single type of clip on a few of their knives. Spyderco, however, is the only manufacturer to experiment with and sell knives with multiple, varying clip placements.


Popular Products

Spyderco is known for its innovations, but one we have not yet mentioned is the innovative inclusion of a serrated edge on a pocket-folding knife. You can purchase Spyderco knives made with a regular plain edge as well as a partially serrated edge. The fully serrated edge is known as the “Spyder Edge.” The inclusion of serrations improves a knife’s ability to cut in a wider variety of ways.


Some of the main high-performance knives manufactured by Spyderco, however, are a series of fixed blade knives. Spyderco also sells Seto kitchen cutlery as well as Randall and Byrd knives.


A visit to Spyderco’s development and history would not be thorough without a look at one of their first products: a knife sharpener. As the company’s website touts: “First we made things sharp... then we made sharp things!” Their most famous knife sharpener design is the Spyderco Tri-Angle Sharpmaker Knife Sharpener 204MF. As with many of the designs from Spyderco, the sharpener looks unusual but works beautifully.


Thankfully, it is portable and comes with a user-friendly manual and incredibly detailed instructive DVD. The Tri-Angle Sharpmaker is a manual sharpener, so the user must hold their blade and draw it across an abrasive surface to sharpen and clean edges. The manual and DVD are especially important to first-time knife sharpeners, who may not know which angle to hold the knife and how long each side should be sharpened.


What’s the Deal with Blade Steel?

The final aspect of Spyderco we would like to explore is the experimentation of blade steels. Spyderco is known for its extensive research and testing methods, which is even clearer when examining a list of every type of steel that the company has used for making knives. Many companies find a single type of steel and stick to it, such as the ever-popular AUS-8. This is a solid and reliable form, but the leadership and creative team behind Spyderco have instead chosen to experiment and work with over 25 different types of steel. These include MBS-26, fine-grained Japanese steel which is very corrosion-resistant and, therefore, ideal for use in kitchen cutlery. Another type of steel used is H-1, which is nearly rustproof and thus perfect for marine or outdoor use. The unattractively named CPM-S90V, or 420 V, is wear-resistant has been used in several Spyderco blades.


Regardless of the steel within the knives you own, it is inspiring to see the level of dedication Spyderco has for research and innovation.