The Cold Steel Large Espada is a polarizing blade. A folding knife with a 5.5” blade is not only liable to get you into trouble with the law, but also useless for 99% of what we use a knife for on a daily basis. And yet it has an undeniable appeal–there’s something cool about the way it looks, the way it clacks open so authoritatively, and the looks you get from your friends when you show it to them. As much of an advocate as I am for purposeful design and minimalism, the Large Espada still managed to impress me.
This is a hard knife to “review,” given its size and intended use (self-defense, for example) but if you read the literature from Cold Steel you’ll see they genuinely intend you to carry and use this blade. What this means from the end-user’s perspective is that, although the knife is indeed absurd, the materials that it’s made of, and the design choices that went into making it, are not.
The Cold Steel of recent years has always been composed of equal parts bombast and legitimacy, and while I don’t think that the Large Espada is a “good” knife, it is undoubtedly well made and usable.
Below, please take a moment to compare the Cold Steel Large Espada to a variety of knives that are also worthy of your consideration:
$ = $1 – $30 | $$ = $31 – $60 | $$$ = $61 and above
|Cold Steel Espada||Japanese AUS 8A Stainless||4-1/2” blade||$$$||4.6/5|
|Cold Steel Rajah II||AUS 8A||6” blade||$$$||4.9/5|
|Cold Steel Voyager Large||AUS 8A Stainless||4” blade||$$||4.6/5|
|Cold Steel Talwar||Japanese AUS 8A Stainless||4” blade||$$$||4.7/5|
|Spyderco Hungarian||CTS XHP||3.63” blade||$$$||4.7/5|
|Spyderco Tatanka||VG-10 stainless steel||4.5” blade||$$$||4.7/5|
|Spyderco Ulize||VG-10 stainless steel||4.12” blade||$$$||4.7/5|
Cold Steel Espada: Brief History
The Espada design references the Navaja, a Spanish folding knife with a long history both as a tool and a weapon. When the Espada released in 2008, there were three different models available. In 2013, Cold Steel released “budget” versions of the knives with bead-blasted blades and G10 handle scales, bringing the number of models up to six:
- The Medium Espada with polished blade and bolster
- The Large Espada with polished blade and bolster
- The XL Espada with polished blade and bolster
- Medium Espada in G10
- Large Espada in G10
- XL Espada in G10
Unlike a lot of Cold Steel knives, the Espada is not available with serrations, nor are there different blade shapes to choose from. The only differences between the models are the materials of the handle scales, finish of the blade, and the size.
As for size, I find the Large Espada to be most representative of the good and bad traits of the line. The Medium is small enough to be actually carried but loses a lot of the essential Espada character, and the XL is such an outrageous monster that I can’t believe even made it into production.
Below, please take a moment to view some of the best-selling fixed blade knives currently for sale on Amazon:
Larger knives tend to have the most comfortable handles; bigger blades mean the handles have to be commensurately larger to accommodate them, and that extra space is usually put to good use ergonomic-wise.
The Espada is no exception, but is pretty interesting because of its heritage: the Navaja knife features a curved handle that, in the Espada, has been repurposed to facilitate a number of different grips. First, you can do the standard hammer grip, with your index finger underneath the pivot.
In many Cold Steel knives, like the recently-released Talwar (a knife that takes a lot of design cues from the Espada), the pivot area is an issue: there tends to be a lot of unnecessary material around the pivot screw, which places your hand far back on the handle, reducing the control you have over the blade.
Now, with a 5.5” blade like you have on the Large Espada, control is out of the question regardless; what matters more is the way the grip facilitates gross-motor swinging. In this regard the Espada’s hammer grip performs admirably, but what is even cooler is that you can move your hand further down, to the curved butt of the knife, and utilize a pistol grip for extended reach.
It’s interesting to compare these grip options against other purported tactical and hard-use knives. The Zero Tolerance 0350, for instance, can pretty much be held in just one way. The Spyderco Tatanka, however, fares much better: a long, plain handle affords multiple grips, and it has a forward finger choil to give you some actual control.
If there’s one element of the Large Espada (besides the size) that tells you it isn’t made for EDC, it’s the blade shape. This is a very aggressive clip point blade, with a huge, sweeping belly and a vicious tip. In trying to think up other uses for the Espada besides self-defense, it was this blade shape that stymied me.
It wouldn’t be a good hunting knife because the tip is too upturned to make skinning or caping easy, and the edge grind is too wide and thin to make me comfortable in saying the Espada can be used for hard, trying outdoor tasks like batoning.
No, the Espada’s calling is self-defense. In such a situation you can imagine this beautiful, cruel blade being fairly effective. The Talwar is a similarly martial-minded blade, although its overall smaller size means that it could be used for regular cutting tasks. The Tatanka proves that tactical knives can still have universally useful blade profiles. The ZT0350, the smallest knife of the bunch, also gets high marks here; its recurve makes it the sliciest knives in the discussion, although you do pay for that slicing ability when you have to sharpen along that recurve.
The original runs of both the polished bolster and the G10 Espadas were made with AUS-8 steel. In keeping with one of their best initiatives of 2015, Cold Steel has rereleased the entire line with CTS-XHP super steel.
As much of a steel snob as I purport myself to be, in this case I am hesitant to think of this as an upgrade. Because the CTS-XHP is a more expensive steel than AUS-8, the price of all the Espadas–never low to begin with–is going to increase. In fact, the MSRP of the CTS-XHP Large Espada is $430. It also sort of invalidates the idea of the G10-handled models being the budget Espadas when they too start at $180+.
Also, in a blade this large, with such a specific purpose, a softer, easier to sharpen steel like AUS-8 is preferable. You aren’t going to be using this knife for regular cutting tasks, so edge retention isn’t as much a concern as ease of maintenance, which is the one area in which AUS-8 bests CTS-XHP.
Case in point, Spyderco made the Tatanka with VG-10, a fairly unremarkable steel but one that is easier to sharpen than the flashier super steels in their product line. I commend Cold Steel’s steel upgrade in general, but in this case I feel it is misguided.
The Talwar is a knife that benefits from the better steel–a 4” blade is a much more reasonable sharpening job, and due to its (relatively) smaller size you may actually find yourself using it for regular cutting tasks. The same can be said for the ZT0350, which has a blade of S30V, the old standard-bearer for super steels.
Come on, just look at it. There is no way to make a knife this big carry well in the pocket. It is wide, it is heavy, and it is long. Quite frankly, I’m surprised that this thing even fits in my pocket at all. The Tatanka, Talwar, and ZT0350 are all fairly large knives in the pocket, and I wouldn’t say any of them carry well, but the Large Espada is the worst of the lot.
Beyond that obvious problem, I also am not a fan of the standard Cold Steel pocket clip. It is unnecessarily curved–not only do I find this kind of ugly, it also means that you need to have a separate clip for left-handed carry, instead of a universally-swappable clip like the Tatanka or the ZT030 both have.
Cold Steel “solved” this problem on the Espada series by not drilling the opposite sides for a leftie clip. This is strange: there’s no mechanical or design reason I can think of that would make them not tap it for left-handed carry. Certainly when you pay this much money for a knife, from a company that offers this feature on far cheaper knives (Talwar included), it is not outrageous to expect to have the option, at least.
The Tri-Ad lock is Cold Steel’s excellent proprietary lock. By modifying a standard lockback, designer Andrew Demko increased its strength considerably. In fact, I’m comfortable saying that there probably isn’t a folding knife lock design stronger than the Tri-Ad lock. Although the Espada’s blade would get chewed up pretty bad if you decided to baton with it (just…don’t), I think the lock would hold up just fine.
The Talwar has the same excellent lock. The ZT0350 has a thick liner lock. The Tri-Ad lock is undoubtedly stronger, but in regular use that strength is more of a theoretical advantage than a practical one. The Tatanka features the Spyderco Power Lock, which is purportedly very strong but, as it is much newer than the Tri-Ad lock, it is hard to verify those claims. It is interesting though in that it seems to be clearly inspired by the design of the Tri-Ad lock.
It’s hard to evaluate a product like the Large Espada. On the one hand, it is too big, too aggressive, and too heavy. I have a hard time taking it seriously in the manner which Cold Steel clearly does. And yet, it is a beautiful, legitimately well-made, unique pocket knife.
It is easy to laugh at Cold Steel’s straight-faced, hyper-aggressive brand image, but the knives they put out, even the outlandish ones like the Espada, are made to high standards that deserve no such criticism.
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