Look up the term “Renaissance man” and you may find a picture of Spencer Frazer, founder of SOG Specialty Knives & Tools. The company takes its name from a U.S. Special Operations unit from the early 1960s known as the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam–Studies and Observations Group, or MACV-SOG, a covert joint services unit that incorporated members of four armed forces branches. Along with Spencer Frazer’s youthful love of knives as a Boy Scout, he took inspiration from the SOG Bowie knife and went on to create a knife company dedicated to high standards, high functionality, hard-working products, and new technologies.
Spencer Frazer holds many credentials. Oil painter. Speaker designer. Toy maker. Innovator. Tool, die, and model maker for top secret aerospace defense projects. At one time, he held the highest civilian Department of Defense clearance in the entire United States, beyond Top Secret, when he worked on the Black Box project that developed the B-2 Stealth Bomber. His diverse background gives him first-hand practical and theoretical mastery of materials and material science, including powerfully aviation mainstays such as carbon fiber and titanium.
In a third-floor apartment in Santa Monica, California, more than 25 years ago, Mr. Frazer launched a new knife company dedicated to the enduring best features and practices of classic knives and the best of the high-tech sensibility he had drawn on many of the varied fields in which he created new products and improved existing one. The result was and is a knife company whose products represent functional art, attuned to Spencer Frazer’s personal criteria for everything SOG makes. The company’s knives must work well, offer innovative functionality and good looks, thrive under hard, meaningful use, and offer a balance that resonates with the user. The lifetime warranty that covers every SOG product reflects the company’s dedication to making heirloom-quality products that belong in use, not just on display.
Only BladeOps customers will get the unique, limited-edition opportunity to purchase the SOG Spec Elite I BladeOps Exclusive Special Edition. This unique variation on a modern classic knife features the performance that has made the Spec Elite I (and its bigger sibling, the Spec Elite II) a 21st-century classic.
Like the standard SOG Spec Elite I, the BladeOps Exclusive Special Edition of this knife incorporates a clip point blade with a single straight cutting edge that can be sharpened more readily than other blade shapes, even by people with less than expert-level experience at maintaining knives. Because the tip of a clip point knife falls close to the center line of the blade (the invisible “equator” that runs along the full length of the blade at the mid-point of its height), this profile offers good functionality when it comes to cutting and to making piercing moves.
The SOG Spec Elite I BladeOps Exclusive Special Edition includes jimping on the blade spine just past the handle. However, the design incorporates slight flares of the handle scales that form quillons on the top and bottom edges of the handle. These projections can make the blade jimping difficult to use, turning it into more of an aesthetic touch than a practical one.
SOG refers to the coating on the blade of the Spec Elite I as TiNi, which stands for hardcased titanium nitride. TiNi provides the scratch- and peel-resistant black finish that enhances the durability of the blade. Titanium nitride is waterproof, non-toxic, safe for use in medical implements and implants, and highly biostable. A TiNi finish requires a sealed vacuum chamber for the process of plasma deposition that applies a thin film of ceramic material onto the knife blade. On many types of surfaces, TiNi can be applied by depositing either physical or chemical vapor on the material it coats.
Without the addition of other elements, titanium nitride presents a metallic gold appearance that makes it useful in the manufacture of jewelry made from base metals, as well as on vehicle trim and other materials on which its color suggests the attractive look of precious metal. In microelectronics, TiNi behaves like a metal when it is used as a conductive barrier in transistors and other circuitry. Chemically and mechanically, TiNi acts like a ceramic. The corrosion resistance and edge retention that it produces on drill bits and other cutting implements can extend their working life threefold. To make the black, grey, blue, or other colors of TiNi finishes that have gained recent popularity for use on guns and knives, titanium can be mixed with other elements, including carbon and aluminum, and the color of the finished product can be adjusted by changing the application method. These variations on TiNi can offer as good as or even better hardness and corrosion resistance as TiNi by itself.
The SOG Spec Elite I BladeOps Exclusive Special Edition features a blade fashioned from AUS-8 stainless steel, manufactured by Aichi Techno Metal Fukaumi Co., Ltd., of Tsubame, Japan. This notable stainless steel producer represents the merger of the Fukaumi Steel Company, founded in 1960 to produce stainless and specialty steels, with Aichi Steel Corporation. Among Aichi’s current products, the company manufactures the 13Cr series of stainless steels, named for the 13 percent to 14.5 percent chromium content in its alloy chemistries. Within the 13Cr series, the AUS family includes AUS-1, AUS-4, AUS-6, AUS-8, and AUS-10.
All of the AUS family’s alloy names end with a numeric designation that represents the percentage of carbon in each specific steel. AUS-1, which is not used in blades, includes between 0.09 percent and 0.13 percent carbon, along with 12.00 percent to 13.00 percent chromium, and more sulfur and molybdenum than the rest of the family of steels incorporates. AUS-4, also not typically used in blades, contains 0.40 percent to 0.45 percent carbon, 13.00 percent to 14.50 percent chromium, and more silicon and manganese than AUS-1. The carbon percentage rises to between 0.55 percent and 0.65 percent in AUS-6M, which also adds vanadium but contains less manganese than AUS-4. In AUS-8, carbon represents 0.70 percent to 0.75 percent of the formula, which also gains molybdenum as part of its alloy chemistry, at the same time that the manganese percentage drops below that of AUS-6M. The final member of the AUS family, AUS-10, contains 0.95 percent to 1.10 percent carbon, and more manganese than the other AUS steels.
AUS-8 offers excellent corrosion resistance and edge retention, additionally balancing toughness, strength, and price, and is relatively easy to sharpen without exotic tools or techniques. It reaches 57 to 58 on the Rockwell Hardness scale, placing its durability among the hardiest blade steels. Some experts refer to AUS-8 as an alternative to 440B, greatly enhanced with the addition of vanadium. These two steels contain partially similar alloy chemistries, but their chemical differences point to equivalent differences in real-world performance. For example, the vanadium in AUS-8 makes a critical difference in its usefulness as a blade steel, just as higher levels of chromium enhance the performance of 440B. To see how the differences in elemental chemistry contribute to the fundamental properties of these blade steels, look to the roles of individual elements in determining hardness, toughness, wear resistance, corrosion resistance, and edge retention.
|Aichi Techno Metal Fukaumi Co. 13Cr series: AUS family
Carbon, which turns iron into steel, holds the responsibility for increasing hardness and wear resistance at the expense of toughness, and too much carbon can lead to brittleness. Chromium gives steels their “stainless” designation, provided that they contain 12 percent to 13 percent of it. Chromium holds the distinction of being the hardest element in the periodic table, but too much chromium yields an alloy that gains hardness at the expense of toughness. Manganese raises hardness, tensile strength, and wear resistance. Add too much of it, however, and the resulting steel becomes brittle. Molybdenum boosts edge retention. Vanadium also increases edge retention, along with wear resistance. Silicon promotes hardness, and deoxidizes metal during steel production, which results in less tendency toward pitting in the finished product. Phosphorus also increases hardness.
As to the properties of steel to which these elements contribute, hardness measures resistance to impact force. Toughness represents the ability to bend rather than break, and to resist chipping and cracking. Wear resistance describes the relative imperviousness to abrasive forces and to the adhesive transfer of material from other material surfaces. Corrosion resistance represents the ability to avoid developing rust when exposed to salt and moisture. Edge retention correlates with a steel’s ability to hold an edge through heavy use. Unfortunately, most of these properties compete with one another, as an increase in one produces a decrease in another. For example, raising hardness lowers toughness, and raising toughness cuts hardness. Corrosion resistance suffers as edge retention rises, and vice versa.
Heat treatment makes a fundamental difference in the observable performance of a blade steel. A less-exotic, less “super” steel with well-planned, well-executed heat treatment can outdo an expensive high-grade alloy in actual use. To assure that its blade steels wring every last measure of performance out of their alloy chemistries, SOG developed a process of Cryogenic Heat Treatment to enhance the edge retention and sharpening capabilities of the SOG Spec Elite I and its BladeOps Exclusive Special Edition. During cryogenic processing, the temperature of the blade gradually drops to -300 degrees Fahrenheit before it slowly rises back up to room temperature. This type of temperature-based treatment enhances edge capabilities not just by boosting edge retention but also by decreasing a blade steel’s likelihood of chipping and developing microscopic fractures.
The handle scales of the SOG Spec Elite I consist of 6061 T6 aluminum alloy, developed for the aircraft industry and often used in making knife handles. Ideal for use where medium- to high-strength materials must be used, 6061 T6 offers the versatile ability to flourish in applications that require strength, toughness, and light weight. In addition, 6061 T6 offers excellent corrosion resistance, both to atmospheric moisture and to salt or sea water.
By itself, aluminum lacks the hardness and durability to function as a viable choice for knife scales. That softness disappears when other elements join aluminum in a suitable alloy chemistry. Along with the base aluminum and traces of other elements, 6061-T6 incorporates between 0.40% and 0.8 percent silicon; 0.7 percent iron; between 0.15 percent and 0.40 percent copper; 0.15 percent manganese; between 0.8 percent and 1.2 percent magnesium; between 0.04 percent and 0.35 percent chromium; 0.25 percent zinc; and 0.15 percent titanium.
In addition to the specific elemental blend that makes up 6061 T6, heat treatment goes a long way toward determining its mechanical performance. This versatile, lightweight aluminum alloy shows up in private aircraft and other transportation equipment, household appliances and other consumer durables, bicycles, fishing gear, firearm silencers, canoes and other watercraft, radio-controlled aircraft, heat transfer equipment, and piping and tubing.
SOG anodizes the handle scales of the SOG Spec Elite I to provide a protective coating that actually becomes part of the metal itself. Unlike finishes that bond through other means and methods, such as paints and plating, anodizing turns the surface of the metal into aluminum oxide, integrating the protective coating into the metal itself. The anodizing process doesn’t alter the look and texture of the metal. To add anodizing to aluminum products, the metal immerses in an acid bath that serves as an electrolyte. When electric current passes through the liquid, the outer layer of the metal becomes a durable aluminum oxide surface. Because aluminum oxide exceeds the corrosion resistance and wear resistance of aluminum itself, the anodized results offers an attractive appearance as well as a highly protective permanent finish. Only non-ferrous metals such as aluminum, magnesium, and titanium accept anodizing.
The standard SOG Spec Elite I comes with black anodized handle scales that echo the knife’s tactical applications in their non-reflective appearance. For the BladeOps Exclusive Special Edition, SOG anodizes the handle scales to a Flat Dark Earth (FDE) finish that gives it the gray brown appearance of hard-baked terrain. The toughness intrinsic in anodized finishes matches well with the applications in which this knife can excel.
The handle scales of the SOG Spec Elite I incorporate vertical grooves machined into the aluminum before it’s anodized, incorporated to enhance grip. In the midst of these grooves, the SOG logo appears, milled into the handle to approximately the same depth as the grooves that flank it. The combination of these two features makes for a secure hold on the knife. The safety appears on the right handle scale of the SOG Spec Elite I, attached with two Phillips screws. The remainder of the attachment points consist of one Torx screw to hold the reversible pocket clip and two Torx screws to hold the handle scales together, plus the pivot. Although the safety and the pivot obscure parts of the grooves and logo on the right handle scale, the same machined pattern appears on it as on the left handle scale.
SOG incorporates jimping on both the spine and the bottom edge of the handle on twin quillons that serve to help protect the hand from sliding onto the blade of the SOG Spec Elite I. Like the grooves and logos milled into the handle scales, the jimping offers substantial friction to aid in keeping fingers in place during forceful use of the knife.
Blade Deployment Mechanism
The SOG Spec Elite I BladeOps Exclusive Special Edition features a spring-loaded folding blade actuation triggered by a button on the left handle scale. Recent enhancements to the automatic blade deployment include improved springs for more enduring performance. Because the primary application for this knife lies in providing ready-to-go backup tactical support for military personnel and law enforcement officers, the automatic mechanism provides the speedy, easy blade access that suits its intended users and th demands placed on their tools. In the right hands, the SOG Spec Elite I BladeOps Exclusive Special Edition also makes a fine choice for an everyday carry.
SOG attaches its reversible low-carry loop-over pocket clip with a single Torx screw. The fact that the clip extends slightly beyond the length of the handle makes it possible to position the knife even farther into a pocket than clip designs that stay entirely within the dimensions of the handle itself.
Knife Dimensions and Weight
The SOG Spec Elite I BladeOps Exclusive Special Edition features the same dimensional specifications as the two standard versions of this automatic knife. With an overall length of 7.80 inches and a closed length of 4.30 inches, SOG Spec Elite I includes a 3.50 inch blade with 3.375 inches of edge length and a thickness of 0.110 inches. The knife weighs 2.8 ounces.
SOG employees assemble the Spec Elite I at SOG’s Colorado headquarters. The operation requires skilled handwork, not automated equipment, to manipulate tiny parts and produce a knife with properly adjusted blade actuation. The resulting product offers rapid blade deployment in a lightweight, well balanced, push-button automatic package that suits the needs of military and law enforcement personnel. With the BladeOps Exclusive Special Edition of the Spec Elite I, you can enjoy all the easy to carry versatility of this outstanding knife with the distinctive look of Flat Dark Earth anodized aluminum handle scales accentuating a black titanium nitride finished blade. Packaged in a deluxe presentation box and featuring an engravable blade, the SOG Spec Elite I BladeOps Exclusive Special Edition combines compact size, lightweight but sturdy construction, and a fast-deploying automatic mechanism that distinguishes SOG’s push-button designs.
|BladeOps.com Exclusive Edition Spec Elite I Auto||Spec Elite I Auto||Spec Elite I Auto|
|Weight||2.8 oz.||2.8 oz.||2.8 oz.|
|Blade finish||Black TiNi (Titanium nitride)||Black TiNi (Titanium nitride)||Satin|
|Handle material||Anodized 6061-T6 aluminum alloy||Anodized 6061-T6 aluminum alloy||Anodized 6061-T6 aluminum alloy|
|Handle color||Flat Dark Earth||Black||Black|
|Clip||Reversible deep carry, tip up||Reversible deep carry, tip up||Reversible deep carry, tip up|
|Origin||Assembled in U.S.A.||Assembled in U.S.A.||Assembled in U.S.A.|
|Uses||Everyday, light tactical||Everyday, light tactical||Everyday, light tactical|
|Manufacturer’s suggested retail prices||$215.00||$190.00||$175.00|