SOG Trident Locking Folder Knives
By Gary Zinn
SOG TF102 Black TiNi Trident Elite. Image courtesy of SOG Knives and KnifeCenter.com.
Buck Knives introduced its Model 110 Folding Hunter knife in 1962 and the single blade folding knife market has not been the same since. The huge success of the Model 110 spawned a rapid response by major sporting knife makers, who soon came out with their own locking folders.
This first generation of folding hunting knives generally were classic or traditional in styling, with blades that locked open via a back lock mechanism. The Buck Model 110 and its descendants (Buck knives in different sizes) and clones (similar knives by other makers) are still with us, and rightfully so. The design is functional and dependable. The only perceptible disadvantage of this design is that both opening and closing the blade is a two-handed operation.
Once the idea of locking folders took hold, it was inevitable that knife designers would think up ways to make blade deployment easier. The methods that have stood the test of time include mounting thumb studs on the base of the blade, or milling in thumb loops or flipper spurs. These devices are designed to make opening the blade a one-handed operation. These easy opening designs mostly incorporate either a liner lock or back lock to hold the blade open. The SOG Tridents, though, use a cam lock mechanism that I will describe shortly.
The easy opening design falls into two subcategories. The first is a strictly manual system, where it is totally the action of the user that opens and locks the blade. The second system is an assisted opening design. Here a spring mechanism provides mechanical force that rotates the blade open, after the opening action is initiated by the user. (I am not including automatic knives in this discussion, as that is a whole other can of worms, mainly because of legal carry issues in various states and localities.)
I have knives with all three types of opening system. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. The purpose of outlining the three systems here is to put the SOG Trident knife family in context.
Meet the family
The original or standard Trident knife features a 3.75-inch blade with an opening assist mechanism that SOG calls S.A.T. (SOG Assisted Technology) built into the handle. The design also features a cam lock (a.k.a. Arc-Lock) that automatically locks the opened blade, but is easily released by rotating a stud that rides in a slot in the front of the handle.
The Trident Mini is a scaled down version of the original, with a 3.15-inch blade. Otherwise, it looks and works like the standard Trident. The Mini has a size, shape and weight that is conducive to comfortable pocket carry, while the larger Trident is more amenable to carrying in a belt pouch, cargo pocket, or small pack.
The Trident Elite is the standard Trident evolved, with some updates in handle material, small refinements in the S.A.T. mechanism and some minor changes in the blade design. I will detail the features of the Elite below, and note significant differences between the Elite and standard Tridents.
There is even a fixed blade knife that bears the Trident name. This is a Bowie pattern knife with modern styling. This knife is a story in itself, but it would take us far off track to pursue that here.
I bought a standard Trident well over a decade ago and later got a Mini Trident. I have used both models enough to become quite familiar with them.
The Trident design
The Trident was, as I recall, one of the early assisted opening designs to hit the commercial market and is one of only a few of those first generation designs that is still going strong. The handle is the foundation of this design. It consists of two parts, both molded from glass-reinforced nylon. The back side of the handle is molded with shelves that serve as a frame for the opening assist and blade lock/unlock mechanisms, and also with a spine against which the front side of the handle fits to form the channel in which the closed blade rests.
The front side of the handle is simply a molded plate, with an oblong hole for the stud that is used to unlock the open blade. There is also a small rectangular hole for a tab that may be manipulated to lock the blade in closed position. When the knife is assembled, four small screws hold the front and back of the handle together.
It is not hard to see (without disassembling the knife) that the tang of the deployed blade rests against a small stop pin in the front of the handle and is locked via a spring-loaded bar that cams against a shelf on the tang. Also, there are springs buried in the handle that comprise the opening assist mechanism.
SOG describes its opening assist and blade lock mechanisms as follows:
"SOG Assisted Technology (S.A.T.) works through the balance of opposing high-tension coil springs. As one opens the blade the force to propel the knife open becomes greater than the closing force and the blade will open on its own. The end result propels the blade out once the operator has initiated the one-handed opening action."
"The cam lock, or Arc-Lock, uses a pivotal block to lock the blade in place. Considered one of the finest locks available, it is ambidextrous, extremely strong, safe, and easy to use."
The S.A.T. and Arc-Lock technologies are not one trick ponies. SOG uses some form of the S.A.T. opening assist on many of its locking folder models and the Arc-Lock system on nearly a dozen of them.
Here is a summary description of how the S.A.T. opening assist and Arc-Lock features work in practice:
Hold the closed knife in the right hand and use the right thumb to nudge the stud on the base of the blade. Once the blade pivots a bit, an assist spring will take over and snap the blade fully open. It will lock solidly with a distinct click. On the left (finger tip) side of the handle, there is an oblong hole that begins about one inch behind the blade pivot pin. This hole is about 3/8" long and has a thumb stud protruding just above the handle surface. To close the blade, use the right thumb to slide the stud back toward the butt of the handle; this disengages the blade lock bar. Then close the blade with the left hand.
I like this system. It is natural, sure and requires a minimum of manipulation to open or close the knife. The opening assist and blade lock/unlock mechanisms are buried deep in the knife handle, so they are well protected from damage. The unlock setup is designed for right handed users, but a lefty is not at any real disadvantage. There are thumb studs on both sides of the blade and the only difference in closing the knife left handed is to slide the lock stud back with the left index finger and close the blade with the right hand.
The Trident Elite TiNi
The Trident Elite (pictured at top of article) is a tweaked version of the standard Trident design. The standard looks just like the Mini Trident pictured below. The Elite adds over-molded rubber grip panels, metal accent bands and a bold SOG graphic to the handle. It also features a slight redesign of the blade profile and detailing.
I believe SOG has always used AUS-8 stainless steel in its Trident knife line. In this particular model, this is dressed up with a black titanium nitride (TiNi) coating. The blade profile is what I would characterize as a modified clip point, with the edge bellied and rounded toward the front, enough to hint at a semi-skinner profile. The blades have a high, shallow hollow grind and I can attest from long experience that they take a very sharp edge and hold it well. The blade is 0.12" thick and is tempered to Rc 56-58.
The slightly different blade profile, retuning of the opening assist mechanism and rubber grip panels on the handle of the Elite are the only meaningful ways in which the Elite and standard Tridents differ. Other differences are strictly cosmetic.
Besides the TiNi coated clip blade, as above, the Trident Elite can be had with a TiNi coated tanto or partly serrated clip blade. Plain, satin finished clip or tanto blades are also available.
The Mini Trident
SOG TF22 Mini Trident. Image courtesy of SOG Knives and KnifeCenter.com.
After I had used my original standard Trident for a while, I grew to like it so much that I bought a Mini Trident. The Mini I have is exactly as pictured above and is just like my standard Trident, only smaller. The Mini blade is 0.6" shorter than the standard Trident with a 0.8" shorter handle. It weighs 1.2 ounces less than the standard Trident.
This knife has a plain, satin finished blade with a clip point profile that is slightly different from that of the Trident Elite. Specifically, the front portion of the blade spine is a bit more upswept and the curve on the belly of the blade is not quite as pronounced, compared with the clip blade on the Elite model. In addition, note the plain, unembellished handle on this model. The Mini is available with satin finished plain clip or tanto blades, plus with a black TiNi tanto blade or partially serrated TiNi clip blade.
Other Trident features
The standard Trident is available with all blades listed for the Trident Elite, except for the black TiNi coated plain clip blade. However, this knife is available with partly serrated TiNi clip blades in three other variations. These are a tiger stripe blade with black handle, a copper blade with desert camo handle and a black blade with green camo handle.
All models come with a reversible, tip-up carry pocket clip. There is also an angled slot in the handle, within which a short length of the parked blade is exposed. This is designed for pull through cutting of line, cord, or webbing up to about 3/16" thick. A small lever that is accessible in the front of the handle is used to lock the blade closed while using the cord cutter. Finally, there is a lanyard hole through the butt of the handle.
The Trident is a cutting beast, which is the highest compliment I can pay a working knife. The blade takes a wicked sharp edge and holds it like a miser. I sharpen freehand, using a tri-hone sharpening stone system, and do final honing of edges with crock sticks and a butchers steel. I have never had to use extraordinary measures to restore a dulled edge on either of my Tridents and I can always hone them to very sharp condition.
Further, I have had no problems with corrosion on the AUS-8 stainless steel blades. These blades work well and are hassle-free.
The knives I have featured here all have clip point blades with plain edges. I consider plain clip or drop point blades preferable to tanto or partly serrated blades for hunting and general field use. If one wants a tactical style knife, then the tanto and serrated blades come into play.
My one criticism of the Trident design concerns ergonomics when the knife is in use. The handle of the standard Trident is only 7/16-inch thick and is virtually slab sided. This shape does not fill my medium size hand very well, so sometimes my hand begins to tire and cramp after an extended session of hard cutting. It is what it is.
However, the handle shape is a positive when carrying the knife. The Mini Trident is small, flat and light enough to ride comfortably in a front jeans pocket. The standard and Elite Tridents are too large for normal pocket carry, though. I have a nylon belt pouch that I got specifically for my standard-sized knife and I usually carry it in that, either on my belt or in a cargo pocket.
Either way, the flat profile of the knife makes for comfortable carry. I am not a big fan of belt clips and I have removed them from most of my knives that came with them, including my Tridents.
I sometimes struggle with using thumb studs. I found that the best way to open my Tridents starts with grasping the closed knife in my hand, with the handle spine down, and using my fingertips to trap the knife against my palm. Then, I press my thumb against the underside of the stud, applying pressure upward and forward, toward the blade pivot end of the knife. This works like a charm, for as soon as I get the blade moving a bit the S.A.T. mechanism kicks in and the blade opens and locks in a flash.
I mentioned earlier that the blade can be locked closed on Trident knives. This lock is needed only when one is using the line cutting groove in the handle. Otherwise, the S.A.T. system provides enough force to keep the blade securely closed while the knife is being carried.
To me, the Trident is worthy of a feature article, because it is a tested and proven design. The technical designs of and materials used in assisted opening knives have certainly advanced since the Trident generation of knives. Many of these newer models, with their newest-and-best components and super tuned actions, may make the Trident and similar knives look common and obsolescent.
However, there is no free lunch here. The various Trident knives sell within a typical retail price range of roughly $60 to $85. Meanwhile, many of the latest generation of easy opening knives will cost at least two to three times more. Ultimately, will the latest gee whiz knives cut any better or be more durable than a Trident? Something to ponder.
There is a tendency among those who study and review outdoor tools and gear to focus on new and innovative products. I am not immune to this tunnel vision, but once in awhile it hits me that older, but still viable, products deserve some attention, too. The SOG Trident is one of those products.
Copyright 2016 by Gary Zinn and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.