Friday, May 31, 2013

SOG Bluto Review

"Now THAT'S what I am talking about..."

This is both my almost 3 year old son's favorite saying right now and exactly how I feel about the SOG Bluto after two consecutive poor reviews of SOG knives.  The Flash I is liked because one of the most influential gear reviews likes it.  That's it.  The knife, stripped of this veneer of popularity is merely (and perhaps at best) decent.  The Twitch II is a little better, but not much.  Both suffer from a soft version of AUS8 steel and fit and finish that really offends, given their not-too-cheap price tag.  These are $40 and $50 knives with materials and finish of $30 knives at best.  After two duds in a row I was about to just write SOG off, which is a shape because they do grinds and blade shapes as good as anyone in the production world.  So many of their blades look great on paper, but the two I had failed to impress in hand.  Oh, but the Bluto, it was different.  It was sinuous and muscular.  It was taut and smooth. Now THAT'S what I am talking about. 

There is a lot about the Bluto that sets it apart from its competition.  It is one of the very smallest knives in the SOG lineup.  It is a flipper, and one of the smallest on the production market.  It was a flipper Axis lock well before the Benchmade 300SN (although TECHNICALLY it uses an "Arclock" which is an Axis lock that runs in a curved or "arced" path instead of the straight line or "axis" of the Axis lock; the differences are laughably small).  It, like many of the higher end SOG knives, uses VG-10, which while not insanely great, is a sizable improvement over the regular SOG AUS8.   The other thing that is strange about the Bluto is that in more than two years of release, it has received almost zero coverage or fan adulation.  That is about to change because I am a fan.  This is a cool, smaller blade.

Here is the product page (with specs) from Blade HQ.  The retail price is around $120-130.  The Bluto appears to be have fallen out of the SOG production line, but they are still widely available.  It has been replaced in terms of size and blade steel, by the hideously ugly SOG Spec Elite Mini (in fact, using the search bar on SOG's site and searching for "Bluto" gives you the Spec Elite Mini's page).  The Bluto is really a micro version of the SOG Vulcan.  All of the design cues are the same.  Finally there are two versions of the Bluto, the blue handled and gray handled versions.  Here is a video something of the Bluto (not exactly a review).  This is the only thing like a written review out there (and a comforting discovery--my photos aren't the worst on the Internet, YAY!).  Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the SOG Bluto, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Finally, here is the review sample Blade HQ sent me:

IMG_0031

Design: 2

The Bluto's design is really quite unusual for SOG.  They make quite a few knives that are positively massive, then they have knives that I consider to be the EDC sweet spot, between 2.5" and 3".  But until the Bluto there was nothing smaller, except the Micron.  But SOG didn't just make a small knife, they made a GOOD small knife.  It seems clear after two years of watching the market closely that SOG really has two product lines--the cheap stuff like the Flash I, the Twitch, and the Aegis lines and the high end line, of which the Bluto is part.  The cheap stuff is marked by FRN handles, AUS8 steel, and SOG's entirely unnecessary SAT assist.  The high end line is marked by better steel, some variation of the Arclock, and different handle materials.  There are some bleed over between the lines, but it seems to me that this demarcation is as strong as the difference between KAI USA's Kershaw brand and their ZT brand.

The overall design of the Bluto takes advantage of the higher end materials.  The blade is a very nicely finished VG-10 shaped into something with a huge amount of belly and, unfortunately, a massive recurve.  More on this below.  The rest of the knife is quite pleasing to the eye (except for the SOG logos) and to the hand.  The shape of the knife is really conducive to lots of different grips and holds.  The pocket clip, which is amazing, is really well integrated into the design causing no problems whatsoever.  The shape is incredibly organic in appearance, almost like some kind of ocean predator, with gills and fins.  I can see why some might not like it, but I kinda dig the appearance.  

IMG_0014

The ratios are okay and they could be better as there is an entirely unnecessary DOUBLE metal liner (the handle is aluminum with a grippy coating and then there are actual liners which are metal as well).  The blade:handle is .70, better than the Delica, but not close to the best (the Al Mar Hawk hit a .84).  The blade:weight is .70 (Hawk 2.81), not a great number at all.  But sometimes the ratios don't tell the whole story.  This is a very compact design:

IMG_0027

Its size makes it an ideal knife to drop in your coin pocket or the bottom inner pocket of your pants. 

Fit and Finish: 2

I knew SOG had greatness in them.  There was something so refined about the grinds on the Flash I and the Twitch II that I knew they could pull off an awesomely polished knife.  This is perfect evidence of that.  Nothing jiggled or wiggled and every edge and surface gleamed.  The lock pin on the Axis...oh whoops ARC lock looked like a button on a piece of high end jewelry or part of a four figure watch.  Without the completely unnecessary SAT assist opening there was no blade play in the knife at all and nothing was sharp that wasn't supposed to be.  SOG can run with the big boys in terms of fit and finish.  You just have to pay a little more.  The finish on the Flash I was below the Delica, but not by an amount the price would indicate.  The finish on the Bluto is better than that of the Delica and this time it seems to walk in lockstep with the commensurate increase in price.  One weird thing to note, the texture on the handle while very effective seems strange, like it is a piece of wax melted on to the handle.  It never showed any signs of chipping or peeling, but it was unusual. 

Grip: 2

There is a bit of wizardry here because this is, as you can see above, a tiny knife, but in hand it feels much larger.  In part, this is because of all of the curves and cuts on the handle's profile, but it also has to do with good jimping, a nice finger guard formed by the flipper, and the dip on the spine of the blade which makes an excellent resting place for your index finger in precision, scalpel type cuts.  Very, very good, perhaps second only to my beloved Dragonfly among sub 2.5 inch blades.  

Carry: 2

The knife, despite is name and weight, actually carries quite nicely.  The shape is completely unoffensive in the pocket and does well when being retrieved.  The pocket clip is simply brilliance, but more on that later.  

Steel: 2

VG-10 is perhaps the quintessential 1 point steel.  It does a lot of things decently, but nothing exceptionally well.  I have often been disappointed in its cutting performance on Spyderco blades because I have usually had knives with very little belly, like the Delica.  But even on the Junior I wasn't too impressed.  Here on the Bluto though It was very good.  It held an edge for a long long time even with tough cutting chores.

I modified my informal cut tests and made them more consistent.  In these cut tests, this VG-10 did quite well, better than the 1.4116 steel of a SAK Cadet, better than the 8CR13MoV of the Cryo, but behind the S35V of my EDMW.  In these formalized cut tests, I cut paper, cardboard, and wood.  I would cut the medium and then try to shave.  I would then resharpen each blade to shaving sharp and do it again.   Here are the results:

  1. Victorinox 1.4116: Paper: 8; Cardboard: 2; Wood: 3
  2. Kershaw 8CR13MoV: Paper: 9; Cardboard: 4; Wood: 14
  3. SOG VG-10: Paper: 30; Cardboard: 5; Wood: 15
  4. S35VN: Paper: 56+; Cardboard: 11+; Wood: 74+
The methodology is far from perfect, but it may be better than nothing ("may" being the key word).  Essentially the S35VN didn't stop cutting.  I could have kept going indefinitely, it seemed.  I stopped where I indicated because the passes were not effortless (again a poor standard to use).  This performance seems better than what other VG-10 blades have given me, but they have all been from Spyderco, so may it is SOG's steel.  Either way, this VG-10 performed much better than average.  

Blade Shape: 0

The cut test also revealed something else: the recurve stinks on anything other than cutting paper.  The blade is so small that it got in the way when cutting wood.  You can't cut close to the pivot on anything thicker than cardboard without the pronounced belly getting in the way.  Plus, it was a bitch to sharpen.  A normal, straight edge into a good belly would be awesome, but alas that is not what we get here. 

IMG_0033

I had originally though that the recurve was the boost in performance, but I tried cutting with the belly and it worked just as well.  Recurves work by changing the approach angle on materials, but in a blade this short you can't leverage that advantage enough to make the recurve worthwhile.

Grind: 2

SOG knows grinds like Bo knows baseball.  Seriously, they have the best most even grinds in the business, approaching custom levels, even on cheap blades.  The Bluto is no different.  This is an excellent grind.  The luster and sheen from the satin finish is so nice it is almost hyponotizing.

Deployment Method: 2

Okay, so a flipper on a knife this small is really hard to pull off.  Add in the extra difficulty of making a flipper work with the Axis/Arclock format and it is best to say that it is merely decent here.  BUT and this is a bit point, it works.  It is actually better than the flipper on the Benchmade 300SN.

IMG_0032

I preferred the thumbstuds and you can flick the knife open using just them, so this gets a 2.  Alone neither would warrant that score, but choices (and good ones) earn the higher number.

Retention Method: 2

Knife designers--this is not that complicated.  See:

IMG_0014

Deep carry, low ride without all of the funky issues of the Flash I clip.  The Bluto's clip is as simple as it is excellent.  The only thing I don't like is the SOG logo, but really, who cares?  If you make a clip this awesome you should be able to brag, just a little.  It never snagged, slipped, or let go--perfect.  This is among the best clips on the market--right up there with the Spyderco wire clip, the Buck deep carry clip, and the Sebenza double dip clip. 

Lock: 2

For EDC use the Axis/Arclock is quite good.  I don't like the steel pimple look around the pivot, but really the parts are so polished it is kinda fun to fidget with.  This lock is plenty fine.  

Overall Score: 18 out of 20

There aren't a whole lot of classy, small knives in the SOG line up that have decent fit and finish.  This might be the only one.  Additionally, for whatever reason this seems to be a market niche that only Spyderco can pull of well, though the Benchmade Shoki and Megumi might prove otherwise.  If you are in the market for a small modern pocket knife, but Spyderco's style is a turn off, take a look at the Bluto.  It is a small, well-crafted, underrated blade.    

10 comments:

  1. Spyderco seems to run VG-10 soft. SOG might have a better heat treat which would explain the performance increase.

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  3. Great review Tony, but I could never get past the price. It's simply too high. At $130, you are much better off going a little further and getting a Spyderco Techno. All Ti framelock, cts-xhp steel. It's the best small folder out there. And it really needs to be on your short list to review. Weight is a little high, but the trade-offs are worthy; and based on this SOG review, you seem to understand that.

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    1. I own SOG Bluto, and I wouldn't be without it! I particularly like the grip, since I have minimal hand strength and dexterity. I bought one on Amazon a few months ago, for around $65, based on a review here:

      http://fundamentalrefounding.ning.com/forum/topics/the-sog-specialty-knive-bl-01-blue-handle

      I just checked the link, and it is now selling for $102 on Amazon. It may be cheaper again.

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  4. Handsome little knife that I'd never have known about. Thanks! The recurve looks tetchy to sharpen.

    VG-10 just gives me a good vibe, like you with 14C28N. I love VG-10 on bigger EDC blades like the Caly 3.5 (which carries better than a Delica) or the Endura FFG. Wear tends to be distributed over more area so the edge holding in practice is good. And holy crap does it get shaving sharp.

    As a fellow dad, I was highly amused to learn your son's favorite saying. That is awesome.

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  5. Replies
    1. It is a much bigger knife with a 3" blade

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  6. As far as I can see, that's a novelty knife. All the cute bells and whistles, but for the money, there are far too many knives that would work better. SOG remains way behind the curve, IMO.

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  7. I have the very subtle blue to black model--I like it. But why the flipper that doesn't flip? The extra quarter inch of finger guard is nice, but worth the trouble?

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  8. May you please lengthen them a little from next time? I really like the dear information you offer in your articles. I’m able to bookmark your site and show the kids check out up here generally. Fifa 15 Coins

    ReplyDelete