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The Latest from SOG

Written by TR Staff

SOG Specialty Knives is one of the best brands in all of cutlery. SOG makes a wide variety of police, tactical, hunting, military, outdoor and personal knives, both fixed and folding. The real news with police and tactical knives is what SOG is doing with severe-duty blade steels. Almost gone for tough tasks are the days of using softer stainless steels like 440-A, B and C and AUS-6, 8 and 10. These lesser blade alloys still exist, of course, and they are suitable for some uses. However, for police use, the clear trend is toward tougher and more durable hybrid stainless steel alloys.

Crucible’s 154-CM and Hitachi’s ATS-34 were the first of the next generation hybrid alloys. These jet engine turbine blade steels were a huge improvement over the once state-of-the art 440-C. Newly developed alloys hold their edge longer, are tougher, are just as corrosion resistant and are as durable.

At one time, the choice was only between the hardness, durability and edge holding of high-carbon tool steel versus the corrosion resistance, ease of sharpening and toughness of stainless steel. It really was an either-or situation: carbon steel or stainless steel. That is no longer the case. Even the very way to make blade steel has changed with the growing use of powder metallurgy. Crucible’s high-tech CPM S30V is one such example. Hitachi’s ZDP-189 is another.

The SOG Team Leader, Visionary and Vulcan fixed and folding knives are state of the art in terms of blade steels. The folders are proven in terms of lock mechanisms and handle materials, and the fixed blade is simple and straight forward.

SOG Team Leader

The Team Leader fixed blade is all about the DuraTech™ 20CV blade alloy. Everything else about the knife is plain—almost boring. The Team Leader stands squarely against the trend among fixed blades toward more complexity, more specialty, and even more gadgetry. Sometimes we forget that the main missions of a tactical fixed blade are to cut, pry and hack. These are pretty simple tasks. All of the money in this knife goes into the blade, period.

We want the maximum design effort and features with these missions in mind. Anything else is unnecessary frills and expense. It is like a fuel dragster. We want the tactical fixed blade to be all engine and traction and nothing else. The blade alloy is the HEMI® engine. The triple finger grooves and double finger scallop serrations (jimping) are the traction.

The Team Leader blade is 5 inches in length and 0.160 inches thick. It is made from DuraTech 20CV, a special project steel jointly developed between SOG Knives and Timken-Latrobe Specialty Steel. The goal with any stainless steel is to make it hard enough to hold an edge and yet be sharpened with convention methods. Tough enough to resist wear and chipping, DuraTech 20CV has the highest amount of chromium (20%) of any high-vanadium (4%) stainless steel. This chrome content assures complete corrosion resistance even in marine environments or in cases of neglectful care.

In lab tests performed by Latrobe, DuraTech 20CV proved to be as “tough” as 440-C, the standard against which all blades are measured. However, in a standard edge-retention test and wear-resistance test protocol, DuraTech 20CV outcut 440-C by 80%. More important, the Latrobe DuraTech 20CV outperformed Crucible’s CPM S30V in this edge-retention test by 35%. CPM S30V is among the very best tactical blade steels. This comparison clearly places DuraTech 20 CV among the best of the best.

The blade is very broad at 1.30 inches wide. Wider, like this, is almost always better. The length is long enough for SWAT use, but it could be a bit thicker. The exotic DuraTech 20CV alloy, however, allows a thinner blade to perform as well as a slightly thicker blade made from a lesser alloy. However, some high-end, hard-use fixed blades use a 0.250-inch thick stock. Sometimes SWAT fixed blades are used as pry bars, wrecking bars, shovels and axes.

The Team Leader blade is only available with a straight, non-serrated edge. Frankly, the lack of serrations may be an issue for operators. The knife community seems divided on the topic of serrated blades versus straight edges. However, the police community—especially tactical officers—clearly favor a serrated blade.

In fairness, SOG has geared this knife toward the hunting, fishing and general outdoor utility and field use. The more rural the tactical team, the better the fit of a pure hunting knife, serrations or not. The drop point blade profile is the only way the Team Leader comes. A minority of tactical operators prefer a Tanto point, but the drop, or clip point, does appear to be the most useful in policing.

The blade blank is one piece, i.e., it extends from the blade tip, completely under the slab handles, all the way to the exposed pommel. The exposed pommel is a very good thing for pounding and shattering. The pommel can be fitted with a lanyard loop. The handle material is Zytel, which is a good, simple, low-cost plastic. It is fairly chemical resistant, easy to texture and reasonably durable. Zytel is about as low tech as it gets while still being suitable for most police tasks.

The Team Leader has deep scallops or jimping all over the knife: index finger, middle finger, thumb on the raised, at the back of the palm swell near the pommel. Grooves for the index, middle and ring finger and a large radius palm swell all add to the grip and usefulness of the Team Leader. In actual field use, these are important features.

With a 5.3-inch handle and a 5-inch blade, the Team Leader has outstanding balance and point control. Add to this the quickness that comes from the relatively light 7.4 ounces. Of course, the tradeoff with this weight is the ability to hack like heavier fixed blades.

Even with all the money as a priority for the blade steel, at least some should have been put into the sheath. The sheath is a very simple leather sheath with a fixed, two-stage belt loop and simplistic strap with snap that is difficult to snap. For such a good knife, the sheath is a real disappointment.

The Team Leader has a hefty MSRP of $275 with Internet pricing around $185. Be sure you select the DuraTech 20CV material as some Web sites confuse this knife with the $130 MSRP knife with almost the same name. The other but very different version of the Team Leader, called the Team Leader Survivor, has a blade made from AUS-8 stainless and a double-toothed saw edge on the blade spine.

Overall, the DuraTech 20CV Team Leader is a great but basic fixed blade in search of a suitable sheath.

Visionary II Tactical Folder

The SOG Visionary II is basically an upgrade to the SOG X-Ray Vision, one of law enforcement’s very best tactical folders. The Visionary II uses the same great blade steel as the X-Ray Vision and has the same famous SOG Arc-Lock™ tang lock. The grip handle profile of the Visionary II is virtually identical to that of the X-Ray Vision.

The Visionary II uses a 3.75-inch-long, 0.125-inch-thick blade made from VG-10. So, what is VG-10? It is basically 440-C stainless alloyed with cobalt and with vanadium. This is virtually identical to the European N690Co Cobalt Stainless used by Remington in its line of tactical folders.

Start with the one-time ultimate, 440-C, then add elements to make it tougher and harder, more chip resistant and with better edge retention. That’s VG-10. VG-10 can be hardened in the HRc 60-62 range, compared to HRc 59-61 for 154-CM and HRc 58-60 for AUS-8. VG-10 is as good as 154-CM and ATS-34. These metals should be considered the minimum for real police work.

So, how are the awesome X-Ray Vision and the new Visionary II alike? They weigh the same, have the same tang-lock, have the same overall length, have the same blade length, the same glass-reinforced Zytel grip panels, and the same stainless steel handle liners. And now the X-Ray Vision uses the VG-10 used in the Visionary II.

How are the two different? The X-Ray Vision uses a Tanto profile blade, bead blast finish and partially serrated edge. The Visionary II uses a drop point blade profile, a black powder coat finish, and a plain, non-serrated blade edge. The X-Ray Vision is one of the best tactical folders, using one of the strongest lock designs with one of the best blade steels. It has Internet pricing around $100. The Visionary II shares the strongest features as the X-Ray Vision. And with the versatile drop point tip, the new Visionary II may actually be a better tactical folder than the X-Ray Vision. At least we now have a choice of tips. If it were only available with a partially serrated blade…

So, what is the Visionary I? It’s a smaller, 3-inch-blade version of the 3.75-inch Visionary II.

SOG Vulcan Tactical Folder

As great as the X-Ray Vision has been and the Visionary II promises to be, the new SOG Vulcan might be the best tactical folder ever made by SOG. The Vulcan knife gets its name from the 6-barrel, 20-mm cannon used on the F-16 fighter. This Gatling-style weapon fires 6,000 rounds per second. Formidable. Heavy armament.

The Vulcan uses the same tough VG-10 blade alloy as the other great SOG folders. The Vulcan blade is 3.5 inches long and is a beefy 0.160 inches thick. The blade has the very useful spear point profile. The Vulcan blade has a slight belly to the blade edge for improved cutting. This is the blade profile from SOG’s Spec Elite folder, a very popular knife. The Vulcan uses the same robust Arc-Lock blade lock. This internal tang-lock is among the strongest of all lock designs and the least likely to become accidentally unlocked during use.

However, a number of big differences exist between the Vulcan and the Visionary II. These make a difference. Nearly all tactical folders have a blade thickness between 0.100 and 0.125-inch. The Vulcan blade is a police-oriented 0.160 inches thick. Almost 30% thicker, that extra stock makes a big difference in actual patrol and tactical use. The hollow ground edge is a perfect match for the 0.160-inch blade. This thin blade grind produces the most sharpness while the full stock thickness extending almost to the point gives the blade strength.

Other differences between the Vulcan and Visionary include the high-texture scales, finger-grooved handle profile and liner jimping. The fiberglass-reinforced Zytel handles on the Vulcan are aggressively textured. The handle profile has an oversized index finger groove, a full index finger relief and a sharply serrated index finger groove radius. The handle also has a middle finger groove and another finger wide enough for the other two fingers.

Finally, the back of the handle has a pronounced palm swell. On the opposite side of the handle, the Vulcan has aggressive thumb serrations, or jimping. All these finger grooves and reliefs, radius serrations and jimping and texturing add up to one thing...an incredibly solid grip on this tactical folder. This is a grip that can be maintained under slippery conditions. This is an excellent handle design for any tactical folder. The shark gill slits behind the thumb studs? A bit showy.

The Vulcan can also be opened by more methods than the Visionary or X-Ray Vision. First, these knives all have dual thumb studs. The Vulcan is fully ambidextrous, complete with a reversible pocket clip and the Arc-Lock, which may be unlocked from either side of the handle. Of course, like any SOG Arc-Lock folder, you can also open it by pulling back on the Arc-Lock crossbar and flicking your wrist. Just remember to release the crossbar in time to lock the blade!

The real news is the new opening method, a new kick deployment. With the blade closed, a tang or flipper sticks up from the back of the handle. With just a finger flick, the blade can be rotated partially or fully open. Again, the index finger of either hand can flick or kick or flip the blade open. The jimped flipper can partially open the blade, allowing the thumb studs to be used to fully open it. Or a kick followed by the flick of the wrist can open the blade. It opened and locked every time we tried it.

For patrol officers, the ability to reliably open and lock the folder using the non-gun hand is critical. While running, which may duplicate a struggle, we were able to lock the Vulcan using all three opening methods. The blade opened as smoothly as any folder we have ever tested. The Vulcan has an MSRP of $160 and is available on the Internet for under $90. We have found our new “favorite” SOG tactical folder.

Published in Tactical Response, Nov/Dec 2008

Rating : 5.0


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