The South Fork is an attractive fixed-blade knife with a green-black G10 handle and S90V blade a little less than 5″ long. It’s one of Spyderco’s most expensive knives, with a street price of around $260. For that, the buyer gets an extremely ergonomic knife with a secure sheath that can be worn several different ways. I was excited to finally get a chance to handle the South Fork, and designer Phil Wilson was kind enough to answer some questions.
JS: Spyderco doesn’t put out that many actual fixed blades, so if you wouldn’t mind, just talk to me a little bit about your thoughts when you designed it. In your mind, what is the role of a South Fork?
PW: There’s a whole two pages on my website that says the same thing, and I’m happy to talk to you now, but if you want to refer to it later, it’s all there. Anyhow, the idea was to design an outdoor knife. Not necessarily a dedicated skinning knife or boning knife or filet knife, just a well rounded…it makes a terrific feld dressing knife for deer or wild pigs, elk whatever. It makes a good camping knife, use it in the camp kitchen. When I go to a steak house, I take one with me, only it’s a little bit shorter. (I always tell the manager, ‘I brought my own knife, is that okay?’, ’cause you pull something like this out [without warning], you’ll scare the hell out of everybody.) You can fillet a salmon with it, down the lateral line. Last Friday, I boned out 8 snow geese breasts with one. Just run it down the center line, comes right out. The blade isn’t real wide, you don’t need a lot of width, if you’re field dressing. You guys hunt?…This much [choking up on the blade] is all you need for deer, and you can use the whole thing for elk, if you need it, and it’s got just the right curve for that. And it’s long enough, so you can reach either from the outside or the inside. And if you’re up inside, and you’re cutting the windpipe and the diaphragm loose, you choke up like that, [demonstrates] so you’ll know where the blade is, your finger locates it…I’ve been hunting since I’ve been 12, so I kind of designed a hunting knife, outdoors knife, just an all-around sportsmen’s knife…
[In regards to handle size]
PW: When I make custom knives for my own use, the handles are little shorter. When you’re making one for production, you have to find a happy medium….that will fit a wider range of users.
JS: Was S90V your choice, or was that Spyderco’s decision that they wanted to use that steel?
PW: Basically with the collaboration, we agreed that would be a good steel to use. There isn’t a[nother] production fixed blade production knife with that steel out there right now, as far as I know.
JS: And how happy are you with that steel?
PW: Oh, it’s a wonderful steel. I started- oh, 1990, using it. I’m probably one of the first custom guys to make a knife with CPM S90V, and I helped Crucible figure it out, heat-treating from a custom standpoint, not a production standpoint. Because it’s a mold steel, not a knife steel. But it happens to work just fine for a knife. When they first developed it, they sent some to me to test, and I couldn’t heat treat it. So, they eventually made some modifications to make it more friendly for heat treating, so it’ll pop better in the heat treat. And I know they’ve been fiddling with it ever since, because the last batch I got is phenomenal.
JS: Now, what’s the Rockwell hardness on Spyderco’s?
PW: I’ve been testing. These are going anywhere 59-60.
JS: That’s perfect.
PW: It’s right in there. Once in a while, I’ll find one a little harder, once in a while, I’ll find one a little softer.
JS: What would you say the acceptable “range limits” would be there?
PW: 60 is the target for 90V. I get ‘em 61 [on the knives I make], most of the time, but 60 is a good balance, it’s not chippy, what’s good about 90V is that you don’t have to get it really hard to hold an edge, because it’s got all the carbide in it, so even 58 works fine. I made filet knives out of this for a long time, and 58 is what I shot for. Makes one hell of a filet knife. I don’t use it much anymore on filet knives, because there are some other steels out there that are a little easier to work with. Spyderco didn’t pick CPM S90V because it was easy to work with, easy to heat treat, or cheap. It’s none of those…With the 90V, what’s nice about it is- with 90V, what you want to do, is use a medium stone. You don’t want a polished edge. A polished edge is weak. The first time you touch something hard with it, it’s going to roll…You can shave hair with it, but what for? So, they got the perfect edge on it, for me. 90V will hold an edge for a long time, but it’ll lose that initial sharpness, pretty much like anything else, because you’re dealing with the matrix steel in the beginning, you’re not dealing with the carbides. Until you wear down to the carbides, then, that’s when they come into play. 90V will plateau out and cut forever, once you get down to the carbides. And if you’re real fussy about sharp, at tthat point, you might just want to hit it on a diamond a few times, to keep it biting. You know what I mean by biting, you want to feel it cut.
PW: You don’t want it to slide, you don’t want it to have to have a lot of pressure on it. I use one of those diamond steels, and I just 1-2-3-4, and it’s back, just like it is right now. So that’s what’s nice about it, for big game. You’re lying on a hillside in a snowstorn, and it’s six o’clock at night, trying to skin an elk, last thing you want to do is stop and sharpen your knife. So, that’s what’s good about 90V. Then, when you get back to camp you can go to the stone, if you want, to get a little better edge on it. To me, that’s the best application for 90V…
JS: So, what I’m getting from all of this, is that you’re really happy with Spyderco being true to the spirit and execution of the knife.
PW: Right. And it has probably a narrower use and application than most of Spyderco’s knives,but I feel like it fits right in there for the users who want custom knife quality, top end steel and a very versatile out doors knife
JS: This is just a dedicated, well-rounded outdoors knife.
PW: Right. That’s the way I see it.
JS: Thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us.
The South Fork looks like a custom knife, but sells for less than any individual custom maker could afford to sell a large knife with such a premium steel. It is more expensive than many consumers may have previously paid for knives, but I feel it is an excellent value, and I applaud the courage Spyderco has shown in offering such a high quality piece. Phil Wilson’s website is Seamount Knife Works.