I like knives, I have several knives (Understatement warning) and each one has its plus and minus points depending on what I am using it for. My favorite has been an original Cold Steel SRK that my brother gave me many years ago. I loved it so much that I never used it. Kept it like a special keepsake. A good friend (Thanks Rich, You know who you are!) Told me a year ago, “A good knife is meant to be used, get out there and use it”. So I started using it and it has been my go to knife ever since. If you go through the blog history you will see many of the knives I own and use. I have never done a review on the SRK because, quite frankly it’s not the current model most people could get their hands on.
First of all, a little history. Well, a couple years ago, I was introduced to the Norseman (Gunnery Sgt. David Williams), long before he retired from the Marine Corps, on the back end of the TSP Forum. I liked this guy from the outset. Well spoken, tough as nails with a sense of honor that is far and few between these days. He was developing a knife he called the “Surviveology” and hand building versions of it. (There is some great info about the knife in the bio on tops, or on the http://www.survivalhardwarellc.com website, check it out)! I had wanted one for a long time, but my finances never allowed me to get something at that level of quality custom made. Along the way, my middle boy got into knives and started designing his own knives on paper. I wanted to encourage him, so I had him and my oldest boy both draw up knives for me. They had no idea what was in store. I copied their designs and sent them to David and he built them to spec and got them back to me in time for Christmas. (I have to tell you, that was the absolute best Christmas EVER). Those were the first hands on I’ve had with any of his knives and I was duly impressed. I’d have to say I don’t know exactly what he does for heat treats, but its freakin magic. TOUGHEST knives I’ve ever seen.
Time goes by, David retires and moves onto a homestead and starts up www.survivalhardwarellc.com and starts doing these knives and renames it to the H.O.G. (Hunter of Gunmen) and gets the knife into Tops. The Tops version is what I have. Top’s does some amazing work on knives. (Read the write up on Tops for more details about this knives creation http://www.topsknives.com/product_info.php?products_id=434 ). And as for the price, you can’t get them any better, however, after my experience with the two he made for my boys, I’d HIGHLY, HIGHLY recommend getting one directly from the maker. Just check out his website and he throws up new knives as he completes them. I don’t know what Norse magic he puts into them, but they are the hardest, toughest tools I’ve ever used.
But back to the tops version. I’ve had this knife for a couple months now and have put it through its normal set of paces just by using it for everyday tasks both in and out of the woods. I don’t “Torture” test a knife to the extreme. Mostly because, A: I can’t afford to buy 2 of each knife and beat one to death and B: others do that and this is “Average Guys Reviews” so the typical average guy isn’t going to hammer a half dozen of them into a stone wall to make a ladder out of so we really don’t need to go there. I have no doubt in my mind that this knife can take that kind of abuse, but for those of us in the real world, it just needs to do what we want it to do and this knife not only excels at that, but I’d trust my life to this knife in any way shape or form even under those “Extreme” conditions and uses.
Let’s start with the knife, Tops always sends some decent kit with a knife, Got a good whistle, and an interesting (Though bulky) sheath. I like the leather sheaths that Norseman makes on his site for the hogs, maybe I’m a bit more old school, but they are just more comfortable, hang better and look amazing. I kind of wish I’d dropped the extra coin to pick up the leather sheath instead of the tops sheath. But it works well and has plenty of options for mode of carry. The sheath can be strapped on any way you want to carry it. The sheath has an extra pouch to add a tinder box or a sharpening stone or whatever suits your needs in the field.
Out of the box this knife was shaving sharp, in fact the first thing I did with it was shave the right side of my face. I won’t be trading in my straight razor for shaving anytime soon though, but the knife cuts well enough. I have not touched up the edge yet. I want to see how long it will hold an edge before I put stone to it. So far, 2 months of moderate to heavy use hasn’t even phased it. It will still shave the hair off my arm with a little bit more drag though. (Update, I finally touched it to my stone and steel last night (2 months to the day after purchasing it). I took 8 swipes on the stone (Very fine synthetic) and 4 swipes on a steel and it’ s back to shaving sharp. no edge damage from my usage (And I’m a little “Primitive Pete” with tools sometimes so that’s saying a lot).
I’m not an expert at fuzz sticks, they don’t look pretty when I make them, but they catch a spark just fine. You can’t see it very well in the picture with my thumb in the way, but this shaving is so thin it was opaque. The other picture with the tiny fuzz stick shows the fine work capable with this knife.
The stick is barely bigger than the secondary bevel on the blade!. The handle is remarkable, fills the hand exactly where you would expect it to. It is a tad short for my over sized meat hooks, but not enough to bother me. The ring in the handle was originally designed to be a retention device, but serves many other uses. Pin a carbineer through it and you can clip it to your gear pretty easy. I like to run an 8 inch paracord lanyard through it as you can see in this pic, this allows me to grip the knife further back with just my two fingers for chopping which makes this knife chop like a much bigger knife. The grind is not quite full, which give the best compromise between grind and spine strength. You can baton with this knife and not worry about being too rough with it. It can take it just fine.
Talk about a well-balanced knife. You’ve probably heard that term before, and many people will lay a knife across their finger at the hilt and if the knife balances, they call it well balanced. That is not a well-balanced knife, that is just a knife balanced between the handle and the blade which is good for some application, but not for others. This knife feels like an extension of your hand. You can close your eyes and draw with the tip of this thing in the sand. Typically called “tip awareness”, this knife truly feels “Balanced”. Normally this kind of balance makes for a great working knife, but not a great chopper, but with a lanyard in the tail, it chops pretty damn well. My SRK is bigger and heavier and chops well, but the dead straight handle does not help it for chopping and this knife chops better. I would not recommend using it to build a log cabin, but it will make short work of 2 inch branches for building a shelter.
The details of the knife specs are as follows. Overall Length is 9-3/4” with a blade length of 4 3/8” (In Iowa where I live this means the knife is not qualified as a weapon and can be carried without a license). Your local and state laws may be different so do your homework. The knife is 1095 High Carbon steel. (Which in my opinion is a great steel for knives). It does require the user take care to keep it clean, but well worth it for the price. You can pay far more for more exotic steels, but the small improvements over 1095 just don’t add up mathematically for me. The handle is a palm filling Black Linen Micarta which gives great feel and texture. With so much emphasis on skeleton knives and paracord wrapped survival knives these days, this handle is far and away one of the best and most comfortable I’ve ever used.
Unfortunately, my hands are far larger than “Average” (Pun intended). I could use an extra ½ inch on the handle, but even though it’s a bit short for me, it still feels amazing. The swells fill the palm in just the right places no matter what grip I use. I can be doing a fine work, choked up on it, I can have it in a two or three finger chopping grip, a standard full grip or even a revers defensive grip and the handle just blends to the hand. I can’t emphasize enough how well done these scales are. If you read the description on tops, you’ll understand what went into the design and you’ll understand how it can fit so well. I don’t think I’ll ever use another skeleton knife again. (Except a Tibo, I still wanna to get one of those little guys).
This blade is 3/16ths thick and uses a high flat grind so it gives a good blade thickness without becoming a sharpened pry-bar yet still has a solid spine for heavy duty work and batoning etc.
The blade coating is the standard epoxy based black friction coating. It is VERY tough, but does add a little friction to the blade (Hence the name LOL). This is another tradeoff. Normally I don’t like coatings, but since this is a non stainless knife, I’ll keep it on to help protect it.
I love everything about this knife. I do have to be fair though and everyone is different, and uses a knife for different purposes so a knife that is perfect for one person or for one use may not be perfect for another person or use. This knife covers all the bases so well it is as close to a perfect knife as I’ve found. It’s features work well across different uses.
Where some knives compromise between 2 features or styles and never quite work for either, this knife blends them and gives the full range of use. If I could change anything about it (Simply to suit me, not that it needs any changes), I’d extend the handle about a ½ inch for my big hands and I’d reduce the distance between the rear blade edge and the handle for fine close up work. This is more a cosmetic thing as it works fine as is, just one of those little things that I personally like.
The tops price on this knife is $179.00 and it’s well worth it. However, if you want something a bit more unique with the makers own personal heat treat (Which I consider one of the best I’ve ever seen), then hit up www.survivalhardwarellc.com and watch as one off pieces show up on the site. Each has all the features that make the Tops version outstanding, but with some mods or tweaks that make them uniquely beautiful as well as imminently functional.
As always be safe out there and enjoy what you’re doing. Take the right tool along for the job and you’ll be happy you did.
Almost forgot my favorite pic of the HOG in action on my boys 9lb blue cat.
After playing with the ring a bit. I made another modification to the kit I use with the knife. I took about 38 inches of paracord, and dropped a figure 8 on each end. This gets run through a mini carabiner and through the ring. This is a very flexible setup. I noticed after doing a lot of chopping (I went through two 4 inch chunks of maple as fast as I could) with the carabiner through the ring that it could pinch every once in a while and the carabiner could give some hot spots on the fingers. (Gloves would alleviate this). I had a chunk of paracord to extend it for both a lanyard and for extending to chop with, but the lanyard isn’t very flexible and too short to do much of anything with.
So see the pictures to see how I set this rig up.
Pic 1 shows the full cord separated with the carabiner and the Hog
Next pic is the normal carry position. This gives about 16 inches of lanyard, enough to go round the elbow and lock the knife into the hand (Gives counter pressure to the knife while its being used). I found this turns the knife into an extension of your arm. For chopping I reverse the loop and run the middle of the lanyard through the ring and keep the carabiner through both end loops on the loose end. That lets me hold just cordage for chopping which for me was a bit more comfortable. This can then be clipped to gear or a vest if your working close.
Last is the long leash, This is for working over water or in terrain where dropping your knife could be disastrous. The figure 8 loop is wrapped through itself at the ring of the knife, and the carabiner clips through the other loop and connects to your belt or chest strap of a pack etc. 32 inches is ideal for me (It gives me near full extension from the backpack ring on my chest or belt).
The ring is very useful. Since it’s larger than a standard lanyard hole, it adds much more functionality.