In 2004, Spyderco took a huge risk and introduced the UK friendly UK Pen Knife (UKPK) for the first time. It was G-10 with a premium blade steel and in all ways but one, it fit the Spyderco line up. The primary difference being of course its lack of a lock. Historically (even though I am a British Citizen) I never had much interest in slip joints, and in my 6 years in Canada, I pretty much ignored them altogether. In a lot of ways, I felt that the UKPK was a great knife, but its lack of a lock bothered me, and I saw zero advantages to it over what I considered a “proper” Spydie.
Since returning home to Old Blighty’ in May of this year, I have begun to reassess my position on slipjoints out of necessity due to the very anti-knife legal environment we have here. If you don’t know, whilst you can legally* carry most knives, the only knives that are not treated as a de facto offensive weapon, have to be sub 3 inches in blade length and with no lock. If you have a legitimate reason, you can carry pretty much anything you want, but self-defence is not a legitimate reason, and law enforcement decides what is and isn’t an offensive weapon. Hence the legally*.
Personally, I don’t go out drinking and certainly don’t fit the profile of being a lout or “thuggish,” as I prefer to be polite as I manoeuvre through society. Thus, I have never been searched or stopped by the police in all my life. Depending on where you are and how you act – things may be very different. It’s very possible to carry an “illegal” knife in the UK and get away with it, as coming into contact with the law is pretty rare, but I prefer to be on the side of caution, hence my new interest in these UK friendly folders.
Right of the bat, this is a thoroughbred Spyderco, designed by Sal Glesser himself and with no real attempts at sheeple styling. Eerily similar to the Caly 3, this is a knife that to most people just looks like a standard Spydie but with the lock removed. In practice, I would say this is generally a fair assessment. The UKPK certainly handles like a “regular” Spyderco, and yet, the more I use it, the more I realise that this is not a regular Spyderco that has a missing feature, but rather a Spyderco designed around a singular purpose (for the knife to be legal) without losing anything of the Spyderco appeal. I never thought I would be truly happy without a lock, and yet as I EDC this, I don’t feel like I am forced to make a compromise. If nothing else from this review, I hope you appreciate that this is a unique and decent knife in its own right.
Sadly, whilst the original version was a very pretty knife, this new “lightweight” version is clad in FRN scales that are… quite frankly, a let down. In terms of feel and construction quality they are more than acceptable, but the styling is so tacky that it leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I recently picked up a Spyderco Roadie, which in my opinion has great stylish scales, and as I look at the UKPK Lightweight, I can’t help but feel like Spyderco missed the boat on this one. The construction is angular, mimicking G-10, but the pattern is benign and the giant Spyderco logo is bordering on gaudy. Not sure what Sal was thinking with this one. Perhaps the lack of competition for “full sized” EDC legal UK folders have made Spyderco complacent on styling? I wish this knife came with the clean, contoured FRN scales that the Roadie does – would have been a marked improvement in my opinion.
Construction is very sober with clean lines throughout. No real aesthetic flourishes and the most appealing aspect of the knife is the blade (which is perfectly ground, though more on this later). We have a backspring that doesn’t quite go all the way down the spine and other than that, nothing else. Three T8 screws keep the whole thing together and frankly, I like that. Simplicity is its own selling point.
The slipjoint itself isn’t groundbreaking and yet it’s very satisfying. I own the Spyderco Pingo, which to me seems to have a much stiffer slipjoint – one that’s utterly grim to disengage. The UK Pen Knife features (in my opinion) the perfect amount of resistance as well as having a halfway stop that isn’t as crisp as I remembered, but then again, it’s crisp enough. Actuating the blade is ridiculously natural. I can think of no knife (that I own) that is as trivial to open and close in one swift motion as this folder. Which I think is super interesting, even if I didn’t *have* to carry a slipjoint, I think I would enjoy EDC-ing this. Sure, it’s not as beastly as the Recon 1, but then again, do you always need a heavy duty folder? I would say no.
For urban environments, I think this is a fantastic option regardless of the legal situation. I don’t feel like I “lose” something when EDC-ing the UKPK. It’s a solid EDC folder regardless of its slipjoint status.
Now onto the caveat. Spyderco produces this knife in a stream of different blade shapes and grinds. I would strongly suggests getting the full flat ground option with the traditional leaf shape. I’ve handled the drop point UKPK with the “Stretch 2“-esque blade, and found it a poor imitation of the original. I don’t know why, but I find that Spyderco produces fantastic full flat ground blades with super lean profiles, and yet in my opinion, when I handle a hollow ground Spydie, I am always left feeling like it’s not quite a Spyderco if you get what I mean!
Obviously, you, my readers, know my bias towards full flat ground blades and certainly this skews my opinion, but I think this is a relatively common observation. I am most certainly not alone in thinking this.
Speaking of this grind: absolutely wonderful. This is the textbook definition of a versatile EDC blade. Lean, but with enough meat behind the edge to be resilient against careless damage, and thanks to the the leaf blade, it’s both very pointy (not quite needlepoint like a Kershaw Leek, but a good middle ground) and yet with plenty of belly. I can’t sing its praises enough, and frankly, I doubt Spyderco would have found its level of commercial success without its unique take on blade shapes.
Construction and fit & finish is pretty perfect. No flaws (that I can see) in the cast scales and no blade play in the slightest. For a knife with no lock, it’s pretty rock solid. I enjoy handling well crafted knives. Much like the CRKT Drifter, there is something pleasant about consistent manufacturing; like snapping lego blocks together.
The steel used is CTS BD1. Opinions defer on this steel, and whilst I don’t love it, I do think it is a good entry level steel. In the rankings, I would say it’s between AUS-8A and 12C27. Rust resistance seems very high to me (I have noticed zero tarnishing) and its sharpen-ability is very high. Much easier to sharpen than any steel I have handled from Spyderco in recent years. Its edge holding is obviously inferior to CPM S30V, but at the end of the day, taking into account price point, I think it’s a solid compromise.
I see Cold Steel is now using this steel as a replacement for AUS-8A and I think it’s a solid choice. Not the best, but certainly not the worst. If you read my review of the Hapstone Pro system, I sharpened the UKPK with it and it was absolutely trivial, which is a nice change of pace in this day and age of high carbide super steels.
The question I see asked most often about this knife is, “Is it as quick to deploy as a regular Spydie?” The answer is yes and no. I can’t flick it out (consistently) with my middle finger, but using my thumb, it’s very smooth, and after a few minutes, it becomes almost second nature. Yes, by virtue of the backspring, the blade will fight you when opening it, but the resistance is in my opinion trivial. With that said, Elise has difficultly with this knife (and most slipjoints), but I think it’s mostly her resistance to “fighting” the knife (she disagrees and says she just has weak hands). To this day, the only slipjoint she is comfortable opening and closing one handed is the CRKT Journeyer. But that knife’s on another level of ease of one-handed use.
Back to the Spyderco UKPK – the Spydie wireclip is, as usual, perfect. I absolutely love its deep carry potential and how subtle it looks in pocket. I own the Lanksy World Legal, which is just as legal as the UKPK, but in pocket, I know which one gets the least attention. Whether it’s legal or not, I wager the UKPK is the one folder that packs 3 inches of blade that wouldn’t be noticed by anyone, let alone the “authorities.”
The choil is deep like those on most Spydies. Whilst I wouldn’t suggest doing crazy tasks with it, I would say that it can handle everything its blade can. This is a lean blade and not a beater, and its lack of a lock does not, in my opinion hold it back at all. Should the slipjoint.. slip, your digits will likely be safe as you can see below. I wouldn’t go around prying with it in any case.
Ergonomics have always been a Spyderco strong suit. Very pleasant to hold in a traditional sabergrip with no real hot spots. The jimping on the thumb ramp is very pleasant, not super aggressive but still grippy. A good compromise.
Choking up on the Spyderco UK Pen Knife is definitely viable. I dislike the feeling of my thumb wanting to push the blade down, so I avoid it, but for certain tasks, it doesn’t feel like a work around. It handles like it was designed to be used with all these grips.
Once again, I always show all grips to maintain review consistency (look at my Spyderco Bug review, a fearsome sight!), but I strong advise against using this knife for “tactical” applications. I don’t think it’s worth me going into details over the issues over using a slipjoint in a stabbing motion, as it’s pretty self evident where the issue lies.
With that said, if I had nothing else on hand…
Pinch grip is lovely thanks to the leaf blade holding my pointer finger so nicely. It does require some adjustment with your hands, and for some of you with tiny or enormous hands, this may be sub-optimal, but I used it in the garden (taking herb cuttings) and it felt very natural. Then again, it’s not like I treat this folder as a dedicated workhorse knife. This is the sort of knife you pull out when you need it and put it away right after.
The Spyderco UKPK is a touch handle heavy in my opinion. I would have preferred the balance point to be at the pivot, would have made the blade almost weightless in hand, but realistically, it weighs 48 grams. So basically nothing.
If only it had different scales! I paid around £50 for it, which I think is a decent price taking into account it’s a USA made folder and our currency is tanking, but I wish it had G-10 scales for just $20 more. Would have been a mid-range EDC.
Golden, Colorado. U.S.A. Earth. Lots of pride behind that laser etching and for good reason. Wonderful blade with superb cutting performance.
It’s hard to make a slipjoint knife feel like a secure workhorse, but I think Spyderco has come the closest out of all challengers.
The Spyderco UKPK is trivial to open (for anyone but Elise); though it’s a bit difficult to close. Not crazy hard, but hard enough that I don’t feel like it will magically fold on my digits by itself.
Most of my readers are American, and for the most part, are not subject to the sort of legal restrictions I am. If you’re in this boat, you may be looking at the UKPK and thinking, cool – I think I’ll get a Spyderco Native or a Caly instead. But really, this is a great blade in its own right. Its deployment and closing speed is remarkable, and for discreet carry (and use) I think it’s a winner.
If like me you live in a country (or city!) that’s run by idiots who think banning things somehow makes the world a safer place (why not just ban murder? oh wait..) then the UKPK is basically a must have. Spyderco took a huge risk introducing this knife in 2004 and seeing as it’s the textbook reference for UK legal folders – I think it’s a gambit that paid off. For good reason.
Now to get some new scales!