SOG Knives in general need no introduction, but a few SOG blades particular do require a few minutes of your attention. And one such knife is The SOG Pillar.
The SOG Knives company takes its name from a Vietnam-era covert US Special Ops unit known as Military Assistance Command, Vietnam-Studies and Observations Group or MACV-SOG. But the real story here is that the SOG part of the MACV-SOG was a cover name to hid the real goings on. Soon SOG began to be shorthand for “Special Operations Group” which was a little more descriptive and honest given the nature of SOG work.
Many know SOG knives to be of good value and often of excellent performance. The Washington-based company named SOG began in 1986, but can trace its inspirational roots to special operations during the Vietnam War. The SOG Speciality Knives company began as the dream of Spencer Frazer who as a UCLA math/science graduate worked in the aerospace defense industry as an research and development tool, die, and model maker rubbed shoulders with artists and inventors. The first SOG knife was the SOG Bowie, a commemorative nod to a fighting blade Frazer could feel was magical when he held one.
The SOG Bowie was the extent of the entire SOG knife line for a while and retailed for $200. And that was over 30 years ago. Sometimes events in a corporation’s history in not so much circular but spiral ever ascending in quality and design while maintaining a familiar form. And thus is the case of The Pillar.
SOG began its journey into our hands with fixed blade knives and USA-based manufacturing. As time went on their designs diversified, so did their manufacturing options. In 2016, SOG had its blades and multitools manufactured in forges and tool factories on the Asian continent. But 2017 brings some of that knife forging and construction home. So in a spiral of inevitability, SOG presents a USA-made fixed blade of exceptional steel and design.
A Pillar of Society
The Pillar is the single fixed blade in the USA-made release of knives. There are three folders, all automatics, that also care the USA pedigree. But the Pillar represents a homecoming of sorts, to the point it first caught my fancy, and then my desire, and finally my loyalty.
As many readers know, I have a fondness for super steels and cutting edge designs. And I am happy to say that the SOG Pillar is a knife worthy of the respect any top-shelf knife deserves, whether custom or off the assembly line.
The Pillar, and note that I choose to capitalize “The” out of respect, is a blade of the highest performance and sharpness. The Pillar is 7.4 ounce 10-inch masterpiece of stonewashed S35VN steel. The five and a half inch blade is all business, and the canvas Micarta scales form a near-perfect union between human hand and tool.
On the blade-side, the clip point is classic SOG with a traditional edge belly, but an embellished spine carrying forth three transitions from aggressive jimping at the grip end, to a graceful dip in the spine-flow, to a classic focus to the tip. While SOG does get creative with its spins including full rasps, the treat The Pillar shares with us is what I believe to be the sharpest 90 degree spine bevel in recent memory. Corner turning on the spine of The Pillar will strike fear in firerods the world over. In fact you can just wave The Pillar close to a fire steel and sparks will fly. It’s that sharp.
The choil just forward of the index finger guard (where all choils are found) is pronounced enough for functional use, but not so deep to interfere with full blade-length cutting tasks, or large enough to impede with precision grip-close bladework. Some knives have a chasm between grip and blade causing trimming and paring work to suffer due to the leverage distance between hand and true edge. Which is exactly why the sharp edge most kitchen knives begins immediately where the handle ends, and even sometimes flows back under under the grip to get a headstart on the slicing chores.
The balance point of The Pillar is distinctly within the handle. The fore-aft flow of the knife centers just behind the index finger in an regular forehand grip. Many blades of this stature have skeletonize steel under the scales that moves the balance forward. Not The Pillar. The only absent steel out of sight under the grips are the two small holes where the fasteners bolt the Micarta scales to the blade. A balance behind the index finger makes for a very solid feel in-hand and with precision movements which is an especially good thing given the literally razor sharp edge The Pillar received at its American factory. The tradeoff of a balance-back design is found in a decreased chop force for a knife of this weight. Batoning with the The Pillar is a real treat however, especially with the plentiful flat shelf running from the midsection of the spine to the tip. But using The Pillar for such crude tasks could be viewed as an insult to the intelligence of this blade. However, that did not stop me from splitting some pine rounds with a diameter three-fourths the length of the blade.
The overall grip size of The Pillar falls somewhere between medium and small. Unlike Gerber’s blocky LMF or KaBar’s Becker series that leans on the circular, the greying canvas Micarta scales on The Pillar provide a firm handshake without making themselves the life of the party, meaning they do not attract undue attention during use. Some blades have grips that consider themselves more important than the overall knife. Grips and scale must know their place in the knife dynamic and serving the human hand is, as Ford says, job one.
Popular handle materials for fixed blade knives these days include good old wood and a pile of synthetics and composites including various plastics, G10, and Micarta. For the record, Micarta is a layered composite that could contain linen, canvas, paper, fiberglass, carbon fiber or other fabric which is then pressed and heated into a strong plastic that feels great in the hand. Micarta can trace its roots back to 1910 when its properties of electrical non-conductivity, temperature insensitivity, and disregard for moisture were new in such a strong material.
Rounding out the back end of The Pillar is a protruding tang with both pronounced jimping and a large diamond-shaped lanyard hole. The curved steel on the back end of The Pillar presents a viable surface upon which pressure can be applied, and even blows if absolutely necessary. But pounding on the knife might constitute abuse under the SOG Lifetime warranty, as it should.
So what’s up with the fancy steel? S35VN is a powder steel from Crucible Industries (CPM) that abbreviates stainless (S), Vanadium (V) and Niobium (N). This precision mix of elements including carbon, chromium, and molybdenum makes of a blade of exceptional durability, sharpenability, and resistance to chipping and folding. The S35VN steel is tougher than even the famed S30V that I’ve sung the praises of in other reviews. Furthermore, The SOG Pillar’s Rockwell hardness of 59-61, and a glorious mix of metallurgical alchemy in the steel, The SOG Pillar is about as stain resistant and corrosion resistant as a fine knife steel can be given our current mixes of earthly elements.
The SOG Pillar is a leans more towards the tactical/combat side over a survival/bushcraft blade. The Pillar has hints of that mean look we love about the SOG Seal Pup but with better steel, a more refined finish with less of the black special ops persona, and a vastly stronger handle design using scales over a solid steel frame over the Seal Pup’s glass-reinforced nylon handle completely enclosing a smaller tang. Fully enclosed handles are necessary to reduce the chance of electrocution if the blade encounters a hot wire, and also to reduce the thermal conductivity to a bare hand of hot or cold, but mostly cold.
A Sheath Done Right
The Pillar comes with a outstandingly well engineered friction blade cover complete with locking mount that will clamp securely to a belt up to 1.5 inches wide and a quarter inch thick. In the field, The Pillar is as fast to deploy as to stow, all one-handed. And about the only way to knock The Pillar free from its sheath would be to fall about six feet landing on your head. Needless to say that would likely negate your need for a knife, possibly forever.
Removing The Pillar from the sheath is a real treat. The highest grommet hole on the spine-side of the sheath has jimping on it and is an excellent thumb ramp allowing, encouraging in fact the extraction of The Pillar in one clean safe move.
The Pillar and I have made several trips now and it’s still dangerously sharp. I’ve come to appreciate the handle size even more, and enjoy The Pillar’s fluid ability to slice with precision. Despite its tactical leanings, The Pillar works wood very well and shaves fire sticks with ease. The Pillar is just as comfortable working in the kitchen slicing meat and veggies as it would be, and this is just a guess, separating life from a bad guy during government sanctioned wet work.
On a more domestic tone, The Pillar is presented well in its box at point of sale. When you open the cardboard, The Pillar is floating in space centered in the rectangle. In actuality, The Pillar is secured in transparent plastic. Compare this to being stuffed in a sheath and wrapped in a piece of paper, then stuffed again in a box. Presentation of the knife might end the moment the knife goes into service, but the pride of workmanship comes across even before you touch the knife.
When it Matters
Although the tactical edginess of The Pillar might scare some hunters and outdoorsmen away, I can say with confidence that the classic lines and proven clip point are more than capable of cutting up whatever needs cutting up whether bush or beast. Those folks with survival bends might find The Pillar alluring as a bug out knife or primary resident in the Go Bag. And I would certainly agree. In fact The Pillar is like a stick of cutting dynamite that can sit quietly on belt or pack, and does basic work without complaint, but at a moment’s notice The Pillar can step up to be the most aggressive and angry knife in the room. Instead of pushing a lesser knife to work above its pay grade, The Pillar hedges your bets towards the Big Survival side, which is exactly where they should if you’re serious. Mall ninjas need not apply.
The SOG Pillar is not an ordinary knife. The Pillar can play well with the little jobs yet jump to the front line and charge into battle when things go bad. Spencer Fraser, the founder of SOG has said about his company, “We don't settle for ordinary. "We never did, and we never will." And The SOG Pillar proves that. Again.