SOG knives in general need no introduction, but there are three new players in the SOG folder lineup that do deserve some special attention. All three are solid black. All three lean heavily towards the tactical side. All three use springs to deploy the blade. And all three are made in America. There is a lone fixed blade in the American made SOG line and it is an outstanding knife named the Pillar and featured here.
By Doc Montana, a Contributing Author to SHTFBlog and SurvivalCache.com
Of the three American made SOG folders, the Banner is the only assisted opening knife, while the Tac Ops and the Strat Ops are both auto opening at the push of a button. The SOG Banner requires a nudge to fire the blade to attention, but after quarter-inch of movement, the blade fires out of the grip with force and determination all the way to it’s positive lock in the fully open position.
Many assisted opening folding knives have a spring mechanism in the grips that launches the blade from the handle but once the initial impulse is over, it is pure momentum that carries the blade the rest of the way. In fact some assists are more like a baseball bat whacking the ball. The punch is short and half-hearted leaving the blade to its own for more than half its journey. With the Banner, the mainspring is around the blade pivot point so there is a near-uniform amount of deployment force on the blade to the very end of its rotation.
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To wander in the weeds a little more, SOG calls this feature it’s SAT or SOG Assisted Technology. SOG describes it as a, “balance of opposing high-tension coil springs.” What this means in real life is that the blade only has two natural positions; fully seated in the grip and fully deployed. There is no in-between. Even when fully deployed, the blade remains under tension. The SOG SAT is a solid deployment mechanism that has proven itself more than enough times in other SOG blades including the famous SOG Flash.
Comparing the SOG Banner to the Zero Tolerance 0770CF I reviewed here, the ZT spring applies force to the blade for only one-half of its intended journey while my Benchmade assists are spring loaded to about three-fourths of their rotation. What this all translates to in terms of knife-feel at deployment is the SOG Banner doesn’t just have a satisfying click as the blade rolls to a stop. Instead the SOG Banner’s blade slams home more like the bolt on an AR15 or the slide on a Glock. There is absolutely no ambiguity about where the blade is on the deployment spectrum.
The SOG Banner has a pair of beautifully machined flat-black anodized aluminum scales with non-skeletonized stainless steel inserts. In another break from traditional conformity, the SOG Banner’s inserts appear to be screwed to the scales from inside the knife, and then the scales are screwed together with three torx bolts on the rear, and with the oversized pivot covers on the frontend of the grip. It’s almost as if the SOG Banner was built from the inside out. Perhaps it has to do with the dual-spring action of the knife, but the design is a welcome change from convention. And don’t worry, SOG hasn’t forgotten that the user may want to adjust the play in the blade so a T8 Torx driver will make any desired adjustments in the pivot. But like all auto and semi auto knives, do not disassemble them without eye protection and full knowledge that you will have to send in a bag of whatever parts you can find back to the company for service since there are often special knife-specific tools used in the assembly and reassembly of the knives as well as intimate knowledge of how they all go together and in what order.
Running the Numbers
All that aluminium and steel gives the SOG Banner a weight that SOG lists as between 4.5 and 4.6 ounces, but my scale says is actually 4.370 ounces. Not that anyone could tell the difference. Regardless of the weight, the SOG Banner has an open-spine design meaning you can look right through the grip. This design avoids the pocket lint scoop shape that collects all manner of debris into the blade shell. And should detritus find its way into the handle, the open action gives plenty of cleaning access. Additionally, the external strength of the handle does not require a standoff in the middle of the spine. A standoff is the fancy name for those little internal pillars that give support and structure to the grips. Instead the spine standoff in the SOG Banner is far back in the open spine.
The overall length of the SOG Banner is seven and three-quarters inches from blade tip to outside curve of the pocket clip. The usable blade length is about three inches, and the overall closed length is four-and-three-quarters inches, again to the far end of the pocket clip.
The average thickness of the handle is about three-eighths of an inch making this as svelte as the ZT in carbon fiber. Adding to the low-profile pocket carry stature of the SOG Banner is a deep-carry pocket clip. In fact, the catch loop at the far end of the pocket clip is a full eighth-inch beyond the nearest handle scale meaning not just the bulk of the knife rides below the pocket line, but the entire SOG Banner can disappear into the pocket while still securely hooked onto the fabric seam. Pocket clip depth varies, but many knives including Benchmade can leave up to half an inch of knife above the pocket clip. While having the knife ride high can speed deployment, it also makes it more noticeable, and even a little top heavy allowing for unintentional extraction from the pocket whether by active drift or inverted momentum (also known as falling down).
Also unlike most other blade makers, SOG has chosen a more complex reversible pocket clip design for the Banner that actually bolts on the clip to the inside of the knife rather than to the outside of a scale the same way a flagpole is bolted onto the side of a building. While certainly making the engineering of the knife more complex, the payback is substantial. So not only does the pocket clip lower the knife deeper, but it also takes itself out of the thickness equation leaving absolutely nothing between the knife handle and the inside of the pocket. Further, the SOG’s SOG logo is a prominent metal stencil machined into the clip providing just the right amount of texture on the clip to aid in retention as time and deployments smooth out the clip. But, of course, that same SOG logo announces to the world that you have a SOG in your pocket.
The anodized aluminum handle scales are smooth but not slippery. I own a handful of aluminum scaled knives and like to joke that the manufacturers should have applied a coat of teflon to really make the handle slick. I can see the need for a slick housing when the knife will spend almost all of its waking hours deep in the smooth lines of a gentleman’s slacks, but the SOG Banner is no gentleman and certainly won’t be happy in a pair of office trousers. I’d guess blue denim and Carhartt cotton canvas are about as soft a pocket life as this particular SOG Banner will ever have in my world.
A lanyard hole is on the spine-side of the grips base, but it emerges half under the pocket clip. As far as I can tell, the SOG Banner will run well with either the pocket clip or a lanyard, but not necessarily both.
The locking mechanism is single round button on the left side of the frame just above the pivot. The single button on the left is a for a right-handed thumb activation. So while the assist feature is activated from either right or left thumb-stud on the blade spine, the unlocking is natural in the right hand and a touch awkward in the left hand using the index finger to compress the button.
On the knife’s spine directly above the locking button is a secondary locking slider that will keep the blade from deploying. It will not keep the blade from retracting like many other lock locks do. This lock lock moves out of the lock position when the blade is being closed. But if the lock lock is activated while the blade is closed, the entire system is on hold until the lock slider is pushed forward. And like a gun safety, there is a red indicator painted on the slider giving a visual sign which way the lever is positioned. Red means unlocked.
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One minor irritation I have with the lock slider is that it is a thin metal nub with three aggressive jimps for traction. However, due to the thinness of the metal, it is much easier and safer to manipulate with a fingernail rather than rubbing precious thumb skin over it. Add the fact that the switch rises a thirty-second of an inch above the spine proper, you will notice the lever under your thumb during normal blade use.
The blade on the SOG Banner is a lightly drop pointed and lightly reverse curved razor sharp slicer. A minor unsharpened swedge or false edge rides the top of the blade two-thirds of the way back to the handle. The blade had no thumb ramp to speak of, but does have some aggressive jimping just beyond the handle. The aggressiveness in not in size, but in sharpness and amount. The jimps are almost like mini saw teeth rather than ridges or notches.
The blade is a hair over one-sixteenth of an inch thick which is a fairly common size. But with the flat-black CeraKote finish, you could say that black is slimming because the blade looks thin. The flat grind gives plenty of wide open featureless space on the blade adding to the blackness, and it’s not until you reach the final business side of the edge that any shiny metal is exposed with nothing but a millimeter of secondary bevel reflecting light.
The mild reverse curve of the blade provides more cutting edge and workpiece focusing compared to a straight or convex belly. Which is exactly why reverse curves are used. They also come in handy when fighting by maintaining more contact with meat and bone during the slice. Yes, ouch.
The tip of the blade is a paper-thin surgical instrument that would have no trouble puncturing any softer material or getting the attention of anyone needing some encouragement to focus. However, the tip would not last long if used as a prybar or screwdriver, two common blade tip uses that really should be at the very top of your Knife Do-Nots.
All this blade goodness is made with a supersteel named CPM S35VN. In addition to all the bigger, better, and badder qualities of the supersteel, it is an American made product of exceptional performance. According to Crucible Industries, the steel’s maker, S35VN was designed to improve one of my favorite steels, the S30V by substituting niobium carbides for some of the vanadium carbides creating a tougher steel yet one that is easier to machine and polish. If all this chemical rebalancing and letter/number steel names makes your head spin, then just remember that like ammo performance, optics technology, cell phones, and flashlight LEDs, knives might look like their ancestors, but that’s pretty much where the similarities begin and end.
The blade is not designed for woodworking although the handle is exceedingly comfortable in almost all positions. Except for the locking slider on the spine, the smooth handle slabs and melted corners make the SOG Banner a joy to hold. The flat grind is a good choice for food prep, wood shaving, and general use. Plus it is one of the easier edges to sharpen especially in the field with minimal tools. Like nothing but a rock.
The single index finger groove in the handle profile has a stout forward lean providing added slip protection for when this knife is wet or your hands are cold. Aluminium is an excellent conductor of hot and cold so if using this outdoors in freezing weather with bare hands, you will notice its. Additionally the density of the grips with its steel and aluminum shells will hold the cold longer than more gentlemanly pocket knives. But in my freezer tests, the assist mechanism worked the same even when the knife was below zero.
The SOG Banner retails for $254 and street prices will of course be less. But it and its auto siblings are running with the other American big boys now so expect to pay for American made quality and American made performance.