This article will put the Spyderco Caly 3 CF under the microscope, as we examine it’s build, steel, handle, and overall effectiveness. Later, we’ll compare it to blades like the Spyderco Delica, Dragonfly 2, and Paramilitary 2.
Now, in a knife market that has never been more saturated with products, Spyderco’s designs always stand out. The Spyder Hole, the ergos-first handle, the leaf-shaped blade: these are the archetypal traits of the Spyderco pocket knife, and for many years the design team at Spyderco have managed to integrate these traits into interesting, useful, refined designs.
More recently, it seems that Spyderco has succumbed to the high-end knife obsession, and most of their recent years’ output have been immaculately-finished knives that, while undoubtedly useable, will probably end up on the shelves of collectors instead of in the hands of users.
It may come as a surprise to know that Spyderco is capable of making knives that are beautiful, functional, and affordable. For many years this was something they excelled at: knives like the Sage series, the Techno, the Air, and the Zulu were all sub-$200 blades of stunning fit and finish and utility.
One of the first, and best, of this kind of knife was the Spyderco Caly 3 CF.
Below, please compare the Spyderco Caly 3 to a handful of other popular knives on the market:
$ = $1 – $30 | $$ = $31 – $60 | $$$ = $61 and above
|Spyderco Caly 3||Laminated ZDP-189 steel||3" blade||$$$||4.4/5|
|Spyderco Caly 3.5||ZDP-189 steel||3.5" blade||$$$||4.1/5|
|Spyderco Chaparral||CPM-S30V powdered steel||2 13/16” blade||$$$||4.6/5|
|Spyderco Endura 4||VG-10||3.75” blade||$$||4.8/5|
|Spyderco ParaMilitary 2||CPM S30V||3.4” blade||$$$||4.8/5|
History of the Spyderco Caly
The Caly 3, like the Paramilitary 2, Delica 4, and Dragonfly 2, is a perennial favorite that has seen multiple iterations of the blade go into production. In fact, it is part of the Calypso family, which includes:
- The Calypso, a larger knife (out of production)
- The Caly Jr., a smaller knife (out of production)
- The Spyderco UK Penknife, a lockless variant with G10 scales and S30V steel (out of production)
- The UKPK Lightweight, with FRN handles instead of G10 and CTS-BD1 instead of S30V steel
- The Caly 3.5, which features a blade half an inch longer than the Caly 3.
In the past, the Caly 3 was available with G10 scales and a VG-10 blade, but the only model in production today is the carbon fiber and ZDP-189 variant, in my opinion the best version of this most excellent blade.
Below, please take a moment to view some of the best-selling pocket knives currently for sale on Amazon:
Looking at the lines of this knife, you’ll see that the handle shape is very similar to that of the Paramilitary 2 (see our review of the Paramilitary 2 here). Both have a forward finger choil, a slight swell in the middle of the handle, and an upturned tail to bracket the hand. The Caly 3’s handle fits all four fingers comfortably (more comfortably than something like the Dragonfly 2), but is smaller than the PM2’s. With that loss in length, you forgo the super-secure feeling of the PM2, but for an EDC knife, as opposed to a hard-use or outdoor knife like the PM2 can be, that’s not an issue.
The forward half-and-half choil is great in conjunction with the 3” blade, because it gives you superb control over your cuts. The closer your fingers are to the blade, the faster it will respond when you want to change the angle of your cut, and thus it’s easier to do detail work. Using the Caly 3 and then going back to the Delica 4 is a revelation. Why? Because the Delica 4 puts your hand farther back about an inch from the blade, you get significantly less control.
The signature Spyderco leaf blade. Because “overbuilt” is a knifemaking buzzword, there are many knives on the market with ridiculously thick blade stocks that not even the finest machining in the world could grind down to a passable edge geometry. These knives are as tough as, and cut about as well as, a crowbar. The Caly 3’s leaf blade may not pry well, but it can slice and slice and slice.
The blade is a full flat grind, so there are no swedges or facets to impede the blade as it passes through material. The tip is sharp and more aggressive than the almost-sheepsfootish point of the Delica 4, but still dropped further down than the PM2’s tip. In fact, the tip is dropped further than the Dragonfly 2’s, which makes sense in a larger blade, as it allows for better control–you won’t be accidentally poking something inside of plastic packaging when you’re trying to cut it out.
Like most aspects of the Caly 3, the blade is refined to the point of seeming understated. But this kind of quiet elegance is hard to find, and even harder to match in performance.
That performance is enhanced further by the choice of blade steel. The Caly 3’s blade is made of ZDP-189 steel. ZDP-189 is a Japanese steel that still stands out amongst the super steels thronging the market today.
The secret to its incredible performance is the amount of carbon in its makeup: at 3% carbon it can be hardened to very high levels, and thus the edge that can be put on it can be steeper and thus extremely sharp. That sharpness will last for a long time, too: it is feasible to get months of use out of your Caly 3 before needing to sharpen it—and you can make that sharpening less arduous by stropping your knife regularly.
There are models of the Dragonfly 2 and Delica 4 with ZDP-189 as well. The Caly 3’s blade, however, is constructed with a san mai blade lamination technique: basically the ZDP-189 edge is covered by a more stain and rust-resistant steel on the sides.
I personally don’t think this is necessary, but it doesn’t affect performance in the slightest. There is no Paramilitary 2 with ZDP-189, which is a good thing, actually: ZDP-189’s high hardness makes it more likely to chip than roll when used in high-impact cutting, and so, for a hard-use knife like the PM2, it simply isn’t the right choice.
The no-fuss wire clip on the Caly 3, which is similar to that on the Dragonfly 2, is generally a win. It is deep-carry and, because the carbon fiber scales are not aggressively textured, it won’t shred up your pants either.
My only issue is that Spyderco’s wire clips are fragile. If you catch the clip on a door jamb or an arm rest, you are likely going to torque it pretty bad. If you don’t mind bending it back into shape, or if you’re more aware of your surroundings than me, it shouldn’t be a problem, but it’s something to keep in mind. Without a doubt, the standard spoon-style clip on the Delica 4 and Paramilitary 2 is harder.
Beyond the clip, the Caly 3 carries like most other Spyderco knives: pretty well, but a little wide.
The history of modern locking pocket knives began with a lockback. Despite many other designs that are equally good, they haven’t been surpassed as a low-maintenance, durable, and easy-to-use lock for EDC cutting tasks.
The lockback on the Caly 3 is particularly fine. With most lockbacks you expect a little play, and indeed some minor play developed over time, but out of the box this was the sturdiest lockback I’d ever seen; there was no play in any direction, and I know that with a little work on the pivot and some Loctite, I could get it back to that initial, super-stable state.
Even now it is distinctly finer than either the Delica 4 or the Dragonfly 2’s lockback. The Compression Lock on the PM2 is a more interesting design, and, like most other things about the PM2, made to withstand the harder use a large pocket knife is designed for, but for EDC tasks, I am more than happy with the Caly 3’s lockback.
Carrying and using the Caly 3, it is hard not to miss the Spyderco that made it. While it is grossly unfair to say that the Spyderco of today is putting out junk, I don’t think it’s up for debate that they are less aggressively pushing the boundaries of innovation and refinement than they were in the years that established their name in the cutlery world.
The Caly 3, like the Paramilitary 2 and the Dragonfly 2, is one of those knives that reached an ideal form during those years. At $150, it is half the price of many of Spyderco’s newest knives, and is a better design to boot. If, like me, you are bummed out by the direction Spyderco is headed, now is the time to go back and experience the excellence of the Caly 3.
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