Keen Insights — Kizer’s Big Sheepdog Pocket Cleaver

If you like big pocket knives, this is a must-have. Let’s go ahead and acknowledge the existence of all of the size-jokes. This is a damn-big blade as far as pocketknives go. This is the largest of the Kizer Sheepdog pack, and one that makes almost all of the other pocket cleavers a bit envious. 

The G-10 scales are a good option for grip. While they're not highly textured, they can still be held when wet.
The G-10 scales are a good option for grip on a knife like the Kizer Sheepdog XL. While they’re not highly textured, they can still be held when wet–and control a solid feature on a knife with a four-inch blade.

So what is this mammoth thing?

The cleaver designation comes from the obvious connections with tools of the meat processing industry. In the knife world, we can argue about what’s a modified wharncliffe or a new twist on the sheepsfoot. As they get wider, though, I tend to go for cleaver—even when, like on this one, the blade isn’t squared off on the ends. Kizer calls it a sheepsfoot, so I guess its a sheepsfoot.

The top of the Kizer Sheepdog blade has a section that's flat, and then a section that is ground away. This allows for the thumb to still have a solid place to perch on the blade. And the shape of the back of the handle supports that position with a concave shape.
The top of the blade has a section that’s flat, and then a section that is ground away. This allows for the thumb to still have a solid place to perch on the blade. And the shape of the back of the handle supports that position with a concave shape.

The Sheepdog nomenclature comes from the knife’s designer, Chris Conaway of Sheepdog Knives. This is, in essence, a production version of one of Conaway’s iconic designs.

In short, the Sheepdog XL is a big knife that has features that allow it to do fine work. It may not be your go-to for removing a splinter, but this big dog will do just about everything else.

Specifications

  • Model: Sheepdog C01C XL
  • Model Number: V5488C2
  • Overall Length: 9.29’’
  • Designer: Chris Conaway/Sheepdog
  • Opener: Flipper
  • Blade Style: Sheepsfoot
  • Blade Length: 3.94’’
  • Blade Thickness: 0.13’’
  • Blade Material: 154CM
  • Handle Length: 5.35’’
  • Handle Material: G10
  • Pocket Clip: Tip-Up
  • Weight: 8.43 oz.
  • Frame/Liner: Stainless Steel
Kizer is hardly a traditional American brand, but they've come on strong with designs that take traditional blade shapes to new places. The wide cleaver is a great slicer.
Kizer is hardly a traditional American brand, but they’ve come on strong with designs that take traditional blade shapes to new places. The wide cleaver is a great slicer.

When Size Matters

The moment I saw an XL Sheepdog, I knew I needed one. I’ve got big hands and I like carrying oversized knives. Unfortunately the first round of production had proven popular with many aichmomaniacs. So I had to scrounge one up on the secondary market.

BladeForums is the best place to find hard to find knives. Collectors, nuts, and idiots like me lurk in the online shadows wheeling and dealing knife trades the way we used to be able to do with guns, back before all of the various crackdowns.

I paid close to MSRP for this one. Its original owner hadn’t liked the size. This is the way it is, sometimes. It looks good, but—when you get it—something’s off. Maybe this is more of a Goldilocks, opinion based argument, but I found the fit to be perfect.

For me, the Sheepdog XL is ideal. It fits my hand, slices beautifully (thanks to its long, thin, flat grind) and is surprisingly adaptable for such a large blade. The curve at the back of the grip allows you to slide your hand back if you need more leverage, or to choke-up on it in a pinch grip for doing work that requires dexterity.

The Kizer Sheepdog folding knife occupies a lot of space in your pocket, too.
The flipper on the back of the knife is huge, compare to most flippers, but the extra leverage is needed to get the blade moving. It stays closed almost as well as it stays locked.

The Sheepdog’s flipper

One element that is unique about this behemoth is the speed at which it opens. I’ve got some fast knives and some faster knives, and this is neither. It opens fluidly, but it is slow.

A simple flip will overcome the detent and the momentum will carry it around. It runs on washers that keep the movement smooth, and the lock has more of a pronounced thud as it snaps in place.

The motion, though, is hypnotic and wonderfully rhythmic. I tend to flip it over and over, like a fidget toy of sorts. Even the sound the lock makes when engaging the blade is deeper in tone and different from all of the other knives I’ve got that scratch this same fidgety itch.

A knife this large could weigh a ton. This one doesn't. The Sheepdog XL comes in over 8 ounces, but that's reasonable considering the robust stainless frame.
A knife this large could weigh a ton. This one doesn’t. The Sheepdog XL comes in over 8 ounces, but that’s reasonable considering the robust stainless frame.

What about the weight?

At over half-a-pound, I wouldn’t call the Sheepdog light. When I carry this knife while wearing thin slacks, I feel it. Aesthetically, it fits with the whole gentlemman’s knife idea, but it is a knife you won’t forget is in your pocket.

I tend to carry the Kizer more frequently when I’m wearing jeans. And I will admit I prefer carrying it when my EDC gun is on the micro-compact size. I’m not a primadonna, but I feel fatigued at the ends of days when I wear a heavy belt, a heavy gun, spare mags, a light, and a knife this size.

But the weight is ideal for the cutting tasks and function of the knife. Having some heft behind the blade allows it to move fluidly though cuts. Kizer nailed that balance between the blade’s weight and the lined scales of the grips. If feels incredible in the hand.

Kizer made a name for itself by bringing aesthetics to their designs in a big way. The blue-on-black of the pivot is hardly subtle.
Kizer made a name for itself by bringing aesthetics to their designs in a big way. The blue-on-black of the pivot is hardly subtle.

Fit and Finish

Kizer has been impressing people like with me with the quality of their knives. While there are no aspects of this Sheepdog design that are pretentious, they’ve not ignored the way the knife looks, either. The accents, like the blue washers on the pivot, are an especially nice touch.

Note the small concave grind at the top of the blade. This is so you can get a finger on the tip of the Sheepdog's blade when holding it in a pinch grip which makes this giant pocket cleaver a tool that can be used with some precision.
Note the small concave grind at the top of the blade. This is so you can get a finger on the tip of the Sheepdog’s blade when holding it in a pinch grip which makes this giant pocket cleaver a tool that can be used with some precision.

So, too, are the blade angles. There is a surprising amount of geometry at play in the blade grinds. Some are for weight reduction, others—like the distinct surfaces of the handle itself—offer completely different and inventive ways to put your hands on the blade itself.

The hand stop is also the flipper lever. It works well and doesn't extend far enough down to get in the way when you need to cut something like vegetables. Not that the Sheepdog is really designed as a kitchen knife.
The hand stop is also the flipper lever. It works well and doesn’t extend far enough down to get in the way when you need to cut something like vegetables. Not that the Sheepdog is really designed as a kitchen knife.

Just how big is it? I guess that depends on you. It isn’t a knife I’d encourage anyone to use who was timid about blades.

The Sheepdog is available in multiple sizes. This is important for those who have legal limits to the size of the knives they can carry.
The Sheepdog is available in multiple sizes. This is important for those who have legal limits to the size of the knives they can carry.

But it is important to note that this is the Sheepdog, and not the Wolf. The knife does have a habit of scaring the sheep. I’ve pulled it a time or two and clacked it open in places where a knife might be perfectly appropriate—but maybe not this knife.

There’s a fine line, though, between a sheepdog and a wolf. It is all about control.

The Sheepdog next to a 5" Springfield TRP.
The Sheepdog next to a 5″ Springfield TRP.

If I were to compare this knife to a gun, I’d put it up against a Springfield Armory TRP. It is a production model inspired by custom 1911s. It is big, but allows for exceptional control—which, with both the TRP and the Sheepdog, equates to a kind of accuracy.

The XL is selling now for $99, and stock levels seem to be consistently good. MSRP is usually $124. At under $100, this is a steal.

Arthur Fuerte is a professional tobacconist with a penchant for mid-century militaria. He knows his way around the cigar parings, single-malts, and classic American firearms.

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