Friday, February 28, 2014

Hogue EX-01 4" Auto Review

It has been years since I had a knife store close to me.  When I grew up in Ohio, it was no big deal, but now, living in Massachusetts, it is a rarity.  So much of what makes a knife great is how it feels in your hand and in your pocket.  You can't figure that out over the internet, now matter how hard I have tried.  So when Josh and Jeremiah opened up Merrimack Knife and Tool less than 5 minutes from my office, I was both delighted and a bit afraid.  Well, I wasn't afraid, my wallet was.  About once a month I will skip lunch and go to Merrimack Knife and Tool, and their stock is always impressive.

Jeremiah listens to the podcast and he heard Andrew and I talking about moving outside our comfort zones with gear, so when I asked if they had anything cool in Jeremiah pulled out the Hogue EX01 4" Auto.  It is a HUGE blade.  Its an auto.  And neither of these things are generally in my wheelhouse.  But with both Andrew and Dan singing the praises of Hogue's stuff, I decided to check it out.  

Here is the product page. The EX-01 costs around $215. Here is a written and video review by Edge Observer.   You can go to Merrimack Knife and Tool to see the EX-01 and a huge selection of other knives.   Here is my review sample (loaned to be my MKT and returned already):

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Twitter Review Summary: Solid fundamentals with a small issue related to the auto

Design: 2

All of Hogue's knives are designed by Allen Elishewitz.  Allen is a well known custom knife maker and has worked with a number of the biggest names in blades before designing stuff for Hogue.  He has a number of designs in the current CRKT catalog as well as a number of out of production blades for them.  He has also worked with Benchmade and produced what I think is his best design--the Ares.  Sometimes Allen's line get a little busy for my tastes, such as the odd stepped thumb studs found on some of his CRKT designs, but the EX-01 follows the Ares in its simplicity.  The knife looks clean and the overall size of the blade, despite being 4 inches long, doesn't feel all that huge.  This is largely because of the placement of the pivot pin, which is very close to the end of the handle.  The aluminum is slick but the shape of the handle is just right, making sure the blade stays put.

There are two things I am not a fan of--the pivot area and the secondary lock.  The pivot area is extra busy, not unlike the pivot area on the Benchmade Emissary.

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Its not as bad as the Emissary, so I am going to leave the score as a two, but it is something to note. Second, I am not sure why there is a secondary lock on this blade.  The amount of travel needed to fire the blade is large and I never had any issues with accidental deployment.  Again, like with the Emissary, I feel like the secondary lock's main role is a psychological one as opposed to an actual functional one.  Getting rid of the lock would also clean up the pivot area.  

The knife's ratios aren't too bad. The blade:handle is .82.  This is very competitive, especially among larger knives.  The blade:weight is .71, which is less impressive, but something that is not surprising given the size of the blade.

Fit and Finish: 2

I was convinced that I was going to be able introduce blade play into the EX-01.  First, its an auto and there is almost always a bit of slop in the blade to allow the spring mechanism to work (none here out out of the box).  Second because it was a big knife I planned on using it for big knife tasks.  One of my son's favorite things to do is grab sticks for use in fighting imaginary bad guys or breaking up ice on the surface of water (well in the winter time that is what he does).  So I decided to chop up a few sticks so they were a manageable size for him and in doing so I thought I'd be able introduce some blade play.  These were frozen, rock hard sticks.  After some serious whacking, chopping, and twisting I had nothing like blade play.

Everything about the knife was immaculately finished.  Hogue's fit and finish is on par with companies like Benchmade, which is quite impressive.  Their start as a grip maker for firearms no doubt helps with the precision manufacturing of their knives--they are used to the finnicky demands of gear folks.  Every edge, every cut, and every grind was clean, thoughtful, and well done.  All of this leads to a knife that is remarkable in the hand and more durable than one would expect with both an auto and a button lock.

Grip: 1

The shape of the grip is fine.  In fact, with gloves on the knife stays put quite well.  Its only when you take the gloves off that you discover a problem.  You might be able to deduce what it is from this picture:

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After years of using G10 knives, an all aluminum knife, like an all titanium knife is quite cold and slick when it is cold outside.  Unlike some other all-metal handled knives, the Hogue's finish is slick, so its not a stay-putish like the Sebenza.  Additionally because this is a larger, harder use folder than say the tiny Spyderco Tencho, there needs to be more grip than slick aluminum affords.  I am not opposed to aluminum or all-metal handles on principle, but like everything else they need to be appropriate for the intended use.  Its not a big deal, but just enough to make me score this a 1.  If I had a more graduated scale I might score this as a 1.5, but I don't so there you have it.  

Carry: 2

Its hard difficult to stress how nicely this knife carries.  For a 4 inch knife it is very, very slim and secure thanks to an excellently placed and shaped pocket clip.  This is one place where the slick and light aluminum helps.

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Note just how far down the clip goes.  That prevents a lot of the pendulum feel that you get with big knives.  Comparing this to the ZT0560, the difference is night and day and this knife is actually bigger than the ZT0560.

Steel: 2

I don't like coated blades, but this one was okay.  It held up to some serious chopping.  The more I do with 154CM the more I like it and the more I understand why Emerson is so infatuated with it.  There is a lot that it does well and very little it does poorly.  This particular blade was very nice--sharp, held an edge for a long time, and yielded positive results from stropping. 

My experience with 154CM is also an excellent example of the danger of small sample sizes.  When I first started the blog my onlly experience with 154CM was on a Benchmade Sequel and my Skeletool CX.  The Sequel rusted like crazy.  I literally could not keep it clean.  And the Skeletool's blade, especially inside the thumb hole, would occasionally get rusty.  From those two experiences I swore off the steel and that was a mistake.  Now, three years later, I have much more experience with 154CM and I am certain that the Sequel was a lemon.  The Skeletool's issues are largely due to what I use that blade for--rough, beater work--more so than the steel.  In the end, after years of close analysis, I can say without reservation that 154CM is a superior steel.  

Blade Shape: 2

A simple blade shape is a thing of beauty:

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A lot of Allen's designs are a big out there when it comes to blade shape and though I have not used them, they make me a little worried.  Even in the Hogue line there are some exotic blade shapes.  Now I will admit that the Zulu has taught me to use before I judge, but no matter what, I am drawn to simple shapes and this blade is just elegant.

The belly is quite nice for roll cuts and the straight portion is very long allowing for excellent slicing and stable, easy push cuts (such as debarking a limb).  The swedge at top is unsharpened but accomplishes its task--making for good piercing--with ease.  This is a great blade shape.

Grind: 2

A simple very shallow hollow (or possibly flat) grind that makes chopping easy.  Hogue did nothing crazy here.  I will note that the cutting bezel is a bit skinny, making the knife a better chopper than slicer, but such is to be expected with a hard use auto of this size.  The EX-01 isn't going to run with the Dragonfly or the Air in terms of slicing ability, but it is better than the slicing capacities of the PT CC, which also has that "high durability" thin cutting bevel.  I realize it is a tradeoff and in this role, Hogue made the right choice.  If this were purely an EDC knife, I'd prefer more of a slicer.

Deployment Method: 0

Okay so if you go watch the overview video (embedded above) you will see the only real flaw this knife has--the coil spring is not tuned correctly and it is not uncommon for the blade to be shot out of the handle and not lock in position because it bounces off the stop pin.  I have never seen this before, on any knife, either an auto or an assist, so it was pretty startling.  It is a perfect example of why autos are simply unnecessary in this day and age.  I'd much rather this knife be a flipper than an auto--less parts, less complication.  

While I feel confident that the score of zero is correct, I will say that the deployment is not a total failure.  It will work 85% of the time and most of the time simply moving the knife will carry the blade in the locked position, but the whole idea of an auto is that it deploys 100% of the time.  If the auto can't do that then it failed at is job, hence the 0.

Retention Method: 2

The broad spoon clip is great.  It locks the knife in your pocket AND it is doesn't interfere with your grip at all both because it is remarkably low profile and it is made of very thin steel.

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I will note that despite its very low profile Hogue managed to get the tension and upturn at the tip just right because you can slide this knife in and out of the pocket without looking or helping it along.  Great clip, even if its not terribly discrete.

Lock: 2

This knife cured me of my fears of button locks.  As my first button lock review I am happy to say that the lock worked flawlessly.  Having seen the mechanism up close I am confident that it will not fail and that Hogue's machining capabilities are right there with anyone in the cutlery business, maybe save KAI USA.  The design is both ingenious and easy to use.  You can close the knife without putting your fingers in the blade path and that is a big deal.  Look for more button locks in the future.

Overall Score: 17 out of 20

I liked the EX-01 a lot.  As a hard use knife, it was great.  It was surprisingly cooperative in the pocket and the simple grind and blade shape made it a superior cutting tool.  If you absolutely need your knife to deploy every single time, check the EX-01 unit you have before you buy it if you can.  I may have gotten something of a lemon.  The auto mechanism's problems aren't really a big deal if you don't need guaranteed 100% deployment and for a weekend hiker like myself its not a big deal at all.  But if you are an EMT/Mil/LEO person be aware of that.  In gloved hands the knife is truly amazing.  In non-gloved hands the slick and cold aluminum may be an issue.  Those two things aside this is an outstanding knife.  If this were a G10 flipper it would score higher.   

ASIDE

Hogue, if you read this, please, take note that you need to make a knife with a blade at or under 3 inches.  A blade that is under 3 inches is very broadly acceptable (of course, check your local laws).  To have NO knives in your line up that comply with legal restrictions in some states is just a bad business decision.  You leave your customers with an unsolvable dilemma: either not carry your knife or do so and break the law.  This is a poor business decision and something that needs to be remedied immediately.  I believe you are the only major knife brand sold in the US that has NO knives in their product line at or under 3 inches.  That is a real problem.

END ASIDE

The Competition

Obviously the Hogue is a bigger and more sunstantial knife than the benchmark blade, the SOG Mini Aegis.  But for a weekend hiker and EDC person like myself, the extra size, heft, and full auto don't matter.  The better blade steel is a plus, but I am not sure which I would choose.  If I were going to really depend on the knife like EMS/Mil/LEOs do, the Hogue would automatically win.    

5 comments:

  1. Good review. I would suggest that you handle one of the manual models with G10 scales, or even the EX-03 with the polymer handle. I don't know that a full review on either would be justified, as they are very similar to the model you had, but they may well address the deficiencies you highlight in this review.

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  2. I like the look of the EX-03, I wish all of the Hogue blades were a bit smaller for the reasons I mentioned. Its fine to make big knives or small knives, but it doesn't serve the end line user to make only one or the other.

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  3. Great review again! Please take the following as constructive criticism. Please reconsider proofing your work. Basic spelling and grammar mistakes take away from the detailed reviews you perform. I do not like to be a problem finder so instead I offer you any help if you would like help in proofing. You are welcome to contact me. Again, I understand the normal reaction to criticism of proprietary works but it would add a finishing touch to your detailed and informative work.

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    Replies
    1. I am working on this. The pace of writing has been pretty fast and furious recently, so the editing and proofreading took a hit. I am probably going to slow down a little on publishing pieces and I have an outside writer and editor I am now working with, so that might help.

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  4. I agree wholeheartedly with the "Aside" comment. I think Hogue puts out some interesting options but until they breech the 3 inch or less blade length range they are completely off of my radar and it's not illegal for me to carry their knives in most of my jurisdictions.

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