In pursuit of a finer slice

I tested three knives for patrol use: An SOG Trident (TF-3), a Spyderco Paramilitary 2 (C81GPBK2) and a Benchmade 581S Barrage. Each knife was chosen for a different distinguishing characteristic. I theorized that the unique qualities of each knife...


M390 is a tool steel often used in manufacturing. Its properties are suited for various aspects of the plastics manufacturing industry. Its formulation is good for repeated cutting tasks at lower temperatures. “Lower temperatures” means it is not a high speed cutting steel, which resists the high temperatures caused by friction. M390 also has a high chromium content that aids in its corrosion resistance.

M390 is made by sintering, which means that it begins as a powder that is heated at a controlled rate. This fuses the molecules and resists clumping of compounds, creating a more homogenous, fatigue-resistant steel. M390 will accept a high polish and sharpens to a consistent and lasting edge. Bohler, the supplier of this steel, calls it M390 Microclean, based on its wear and corrosion resistance and likely its ability to accept a high polish. This polish, by the way, adds to the perceived sharpness of the Benchmade 581S Barrage. Benchmade calls M390 a super steel. And it really is.

The Barrage can do all of the cool tricks that a really sharp edge can do, like slice paper and shave the hair on one’s arm. More realistically, I found the hardness of the steel required a diamond stone to sharpen.

Besides getting “Oohs and Aaas” from other officers, the 581S Barrage performed as advertised. Most testers use a guide, which consistently positions the blade when doing the manila rope test. This positions the cutting edge consistently, but does not simulate patrol-like conditions. I used a board and a Kevlar patrol glove to hold the handle.

The 581S Barrage drop-point blade is great for general duty, especially for varied applications. The tip is tapered enough to insert into a crack in a door panel or wheel well, yet sturdy enough to pry a sheetrock panel off a wall. I prefer a bigger recurve like the Bowie style in the SOG for cutting rope and wire. It puts more blade down on the problem.

I found the Benchmade 581S Barrage excelled in cutting rope because it filled the hand. The front serrations and the contours of the scales, combined with the extra thickness of the grip reduced the fatigue of this kind of cutting. Believe me, I had to take breaks every 15 minutes or so. I was thankful for the raw cutting power one can generate with this blade. Benchmade has signature edge serrations, which add to the excellent cutting ability, even when slicing wire.

SOG Trident TF-3: Great engineering wins every time

I tested the SOG TF-3, the lightweight, synthetic-handled Bowie style knife with an AUS-8 blade. This series uses the S.A.T. (SOG Assisted Technology) opening, which, like the Benchmade, only requires the user to start the blade in motion. The Arc-Actuator locking mechanism uses a latch type of block to fix the blade.

The TF-3 was chosen for its cost effectiveness. SOG makes plenty of heavier, fully steel lined Bowie style knives, but the TF-3 relies on advanced engineering to keep the cost of the knife down. This knife can cost about a third of the price of many knives on patrol right now. Our tests proved that one can get a pretty good tool for the money.

The knives were lighter than the others, mainly because the frame uses a metal liner, which is more like a chassis than a full liner. The aggressively textured grip is molded around this frame.

The heart of the SOG TF-3 is AUS-8 steel, an affordable steel with edge holding characteristics, according to SOG’s Director of Marketing Chris Cashbaugh. The model is a continuation of the model line introduced about seven years ago, part of the second generation of assisted-opening knives. Cashbaugh says the line centers around a Bowie-style blade and AUS-8 is used extensively in SOG products. The cryogenic heat treatment, a method of heating the steel, then deep freezing it, aligns the steel, increasing the edge holding characteristic. Cashbaugh tells me the likely candidate for this particular knife is a tactical user, either law enforcement or military or other classes of trade, which require tools that will be subject to abuse. The most likely SOG TF-3 user will subject the knife to frequent situations under high pressure.

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