Innovations in Tactical Knives

Featuring Kershaw and SOG Product Innovations


by Greg Quinn

photography by Greg Quinn

January 25th, 2004




SHOT Show 2003 provided innovations in not only firearms and optics, but in knives as well.  Whereas some of these innovations are about a year old now, doesn’t want to report on “new and better” ideas until we’ve had the opportunity to truly put them through their paces.  We’ve now had over 9 months to play with some of these more innovative knife products, and here’s a real world view of what SHOT 2003 considered some of the most innovative knife products, and our judgment on these innovations after long-term practical testing.

In this article, we’re featuring the knives of Kershaw and SOG Specialty Knives.  While other manufacturers also produced some interesting knife product innovations, we at felt the knives tested of Kershaw and SOG most accurately represented some of the most practical applications of innovation in blade products of the past year.

Kershaw Knives ( of Oregon has been making excellent, practical, and very innovative knife products for many years.  We’ve had the opportunity to use and abuse several of their knives over the past 9 months or so, and we’ve been impressed with the quality and unique features of their products. 

Kershaw’s Rainbow Leek (model 1660VIB) was Blade Magazine’s 2002 Overall Knife of the Year.  While we didn’t test that particular model, I have carried its sister in my pocket for 9 months, the 1600BLK.  This little knife (1 15/16 inch blade and a weight of only 1.9 ounces) was the 2001 Blade Magazine American-Made Knife of the Year.  That doesn’t impress me as much as having this convenient little Ken Onion-designed knife in my pocket and in my hand.  The “Black Chive” as it is known, this knife features the innovative “speed safe” opening technology which is a very impressive technical innovation.  Ken Onion is a custom knife maker of excellence that has designed some of the more popular Kershaw models.  Speed Safe is the patented assisted-opening system found on many of the Ken Onion-designed Kershaw knives.  The Speed Safe system is effective and easy to use.  By applying a small amount of manual pressure to the thumb stud, the blade opens quickly and smoothly and locks into position, ready for use.  The secret to this technology is a torsion bar.  Closed, this torsion bar keeps the knife closed, preventing gravity opening.  Manual pressure must be applied to the thumb stud to exceed the pressure of the torsion bar.  Once this occurs, the blade swings effortlessly into position, then locking itself in place.  To close, one moves the torsion bar out of the way and closes the blade manually.  This torsion bar system keeps the knife closed when not in use, and allows rapid opening when needed.  We tested several Kershaw knives with the Speed Safe system, and found it to be practical, innovative, and just plain neat.  My brother Jeff carries daily the Onion-designed Kershaw Boa (S60V stainless blade with ti-nitride coating), a truly awesome clip pocket knife (4 ¾ inches closed and 4.9 ounces), which also has the Speed Safe assisted-opening technology.

Another innovative Kershaw product is their Amphibian knife.  This lightweight (3.2 ounces) fixed-blade knife features 420J2 stainless steel blade and skeleton handle.  The product is very well balanced, and works well hanging upright or upside down in its innovative sheath system.  Its dagger-type design is not new, but the manner in which the handle and blade are fashioned together as one integral unit, and especially when used as an overall underwater knife system (the diver’s sheath and clip system is really neat), this product makes an excellent diver’s knife.  There’s a similar landlubber model called the Boot Knife that features the same knife with a boot sheath.

SOG Specialty Knives ( use the slogan “creators of extraordinary tools and blades”, and we at find that to be a true statement.  We’ve yet to find a SOG product that is inferior to anything in its tactical field for a similar price point.  For over 17 years, SOG has been creating innovative and award-winning cutlery and tools that are recognized world-wide for their quality and performance. 

SOG originally stood for “Studies and Observation Group”, which was an elite joint services military group designed for covert operations in the Vietnam War.  Sanctioned to develop and purchase their own equipment, SOG created a knife for use in one of earth’s harshest environments.  SOG Specialty Knives was created in the spirit of this special mil-ops group.  SOG’s Cofounder and Chief Engineer, Spencer Frazer, is recognized across the globe for his patented innovations in knife and tool design and engineering.

The SOG X-Ray Vision is a great carry folding tactical.  This combo-edged folder features the same award-winning blade design of the SOG Vision (with Titanium handles), ATS-34 custom steel and performance capabilities, but retails at half the price (around $99.00).  The X-Ray vision has a changeable clip for ambidextrous use.  The neatest thing about the X-Ray Vision is the “Arc-Lock” locking system.  This opening and lock system features unsurpassed standard holding capacity, fast and smooth opening action, a positive-close safety feature, a self-adjusting locking mechanism for long life, and the lock lever is on the exterior of the handle, not inside it.  The X-Ray Vision has a bead blasted finish and a glass-reinforced Zytel handle for light weight and a comfortable feel.  I’d still be carrying my X-Ray Vision as my “serious duty” folder if I hadn’t let a pastor friend of mine talk me out of it.

SOG’s Duo is a fixed-blade, interchangeable-blade knife that can be rapidly changed from serrated-edge to smooth-edge.  The Duo has a special locking safety frame that surrounds the blade and folds into the handle.  Not really a sheath, it functions as one.  The Duo has two different blade edges in one knife.  A coin or screwdriver can remove the bolt holding the blade and allow it rapidly to be turned from serrated to smooth, or vice-versa.  It has a removable clip and a lanyard hole, providing a variety of carry options.  It is very light and easy to carry.  The Duo is certainly innovative.  While I didn’t find it extremely impressive from a utilization standpoint (I prefer a lock-blade to be just that, and for a fixed-blade knife, I want something more substantial), no one can deny the innovation that went into the design of this fine product. 

One of my favorite SOG knives is the fixed-blade S37 Navy Seal.  This knife was designed for use by the elite Navy SEAL unit for which it was named.  Developed under a competitive government bid process, the SOG Seal Knife surpassed all competitors to receive the highest performance honors and become the blade chosen by the US Navy SEALs.

To win the bid to produce this product for the SEALs, SOG’s Seal Knife won the best overall performer in the following tests:  tip breaking strength, blade toughness, sharpness and edge retention, handle twist-off limits, two-week salt water immersions, gasoline and acetylene torch resistance, chopping, hammering, prying, penetration performance, cutting ability for six different types of rope and nylon line, low noise and low reflection factors, and intense field hands-on training effectiveness.

While we at didn’t put this $135 knife through all this torture, we were pretty tough on it.  It has become one of my favorite fixed-blade tactical knives.  If I’m gonna possibly be in a dangerous and hostile situation, I want an AR-15 in my hand, my Springfield TRP or Glock 21 on my side, and the SOG S37 Seal Knife strapped to my belt.

The products of SOG and Kershaw as mentioned show technical innovation and attention to quality that should be expected in a good tactical knife.  Of the knives tested from 7 quality manufacturers, these featured in this article exhibit innovations that set them apart in various ways. 

It should be noted, however, that all the knife products tested by over the past 9 months, from manufacturers such as Cold Steel, SOG, Kershaw, Ka-Bar, Spyderco, Ontario, and Buck, are all very solid products that’ll do the job in a tactical situation.  And, each company in their own way shows innovation by continually challenging the norm and introducing new blade products.  Ka-Bar shows innovation with their Technocut side locks and Maserin folders.  Spyderco’s Ronin, ATR, Gunting, and C76 Anniversary Delica are innovative knife products.  Ontario has some innovative fixed-blade tactical knives, notably the SPAX, LSA, and USN models.  Cold Steel continually pushes the envelope in knife design and quality; many of what we now call traditional knife design once started as innovations from Cold Steel. Who else sells a quality spearhead?  And even Buck’s Strider collection shows innovation in design and execution.  Unfortunately, didn’t have the opportunity to review these models.  So, from products tested, SOG and Kershaw gets Gunblast’s most innovative knife products award for 2003.

Be watching for new blade innovations coming from SHOT 2004.

Greg Quinn

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Click pictures for a larger version.


This photo depicts noted products of innovation in firearms and knife design.  Pictured, clockwise from top:  Colt Match H-BAR .223, Glock 19 9mm, Kershaw Black Chive, SOG X-Ray Vision, Kershaw Vapor II, Federal Hydra-Shok 230 grain .45ACP, Kershaw  Amphibian, Springfield Armory Rob Leatham Signature Legend Series .45ACP, and SOG Duo.



Here’s a closer look at these same products.



Featured in this picture are some of the excellent products tested from Kershaw.  They include (top to bottom):  Kershaw Black Chive 1600, Kershaw Amphibian, Kershaw Vapor II.



The Vertigo fixed blade 1080ST is an excellent Ken Onion-designed tactical knife.



SOG makes some great knives, and here’s a few of our favorites.  Pictured from top to bottom:  SOG S37 Navy Seal, SOG S21 Government Agent, SOG X-Ray Vision tanto folder, and SOG Duo.