SOG is a brand that isn’t really discussed a lot among knife aficionados. While some of their products are held in high regard by enthusiasts (like the Seal Pup fixed blade, the enormous Tomcat folder, and SOG’s lineup of clever multi-tools like the PowerLock) many people see SOG as a low budget brand primarily sold at big box retailers like Dick’s, Bass Pro Shop, and Cabela’s. Despite Nutnfancy’s obsession with the SOG Flash 1 (which is a fairly mediocre knife by modern standards) the brand has an allure to tactical buyers, and they have a strong inclination towards innovation.
After appointing a new CEO for the brand last October, SOG set about introducing a series of high-quality ‘Made in the US’ products and bringing out more high-end offerings, including a series of new large folders using the brand’s aptly named Arc Lock. The Spec Arc (tested here) is joined by Pent Arc and the Vision Arc in SOG’s new model lineup, all three offering large VG-10 blades and GRN handles over stainless liners with SOG’s two-sided Arc-Lock.
- Blade Length: 4.0″
- Overall Length: 8.8″
- Closed Length: 4.8″
- Weight: 4.4 oz
- Blade Material: VG-10
- Handle Material: GRN
- Locking Mechanism: Arc Lock
- Deployment Mechanism: Thumb Stud
- Country of Origin: Japan
- Price Range: About $120
So what’s different about the new ‘Arc’ models? The Pent Arc has a straight spear point blade shape with the same handle as the Spec Arc, while the Vision Arc has the same blade shape as the Spec Arc, but coated black and with a different handle. For review purposes, the clip point Spec Arc with its flashy recurve was chose over the Pent Arc for practicality purposes, but materially they’re very similar. The Spec Arc has a $160 MSRP and retails for about $120 on BladeHQ. Let’s take a look and see how successful (or not) SOG has been expanding their lineup and moving into a higher market position.
The Spec Arc’s blade is a big one – at a full 4”, almost all of that sharpened length, there’s more than enough there to get some serious work done. Blade stock is 0.14”, which puts the Spec Arc firmly mid-range for thickness. The blade shape is a mild clip point, which brings up questions of what makes a clip point versus a drop point and where the line is, because this one could go either way. Normally a clip point has a concave swedge grind along the spine towards the tip. A drop point’s swedge is usually convex and the tip itself falls below the center point of the blade compared to a clip point, which is normally centered or slightly above the centerline of the blade.
The Spec Arc is a bit of a grey area, in that it has a convex swedge grind but is decidedly not a drop point, with the point falling above the center line of the blade. The swedge is also very shallow and terminates less than halfway up the blade, leaving metal stock for strength. It’s got a medium height hollow grind, and there’s a noticeable recurve to the blade – not Kukri big, but pronounced like a Kershaw Blur. The blade designs comes off as a reasonable compromise for a big knife that wants to do a little bit of everything, with some pointy tip, a bit of belly, plenty of length, and enough thickness to feel solid under pressure while still slicing well.
On the plus side, the Spec Arc’s blade came incredibly sharp with a remarkably clean, even grind. This knife will push cut softer types of paper with ease or shave arm hair like a razor, and there’s something admirable about the symmetrical, polished grinds. SOG really knows how to sharpen a knife, and their expertise in this area is a site to see. On the downside, the bead blast finish is a magnet for corrosion and finger prints, and although SOG touts the benefits of VG-10 steel the reality is it’s a non-powdered metallurgy stainless steel in a market crowded by better alternatives. It’s not the easiest steel to sharpen but it also doesn’t hold an edge for a particularly long time, although it does have above average rust resistance and toughness. At the $120 retail the Spec Arc goes for, most competitors are offering better performing or more modern steels. An updated steel and a stone wash finish would go a long way here.
Deployment & Lockup
The Spec-Arc uses SOG’s Arc-Lock in its ambidextrous variation here. The Arc-Lock is probably the most divergent from the original in the class of “locks patterned after the Benchmade Axis Lock” in function and design, but the concept is similar. When the blade is opened a piece of metal is pushed into place over the tang by a spring, securing the blade. On the SOG the lock itself travels in an arc (thus the name) with a pivot point directly above the resting position of the lock in its open or closed position. As the knife is opened the lock bar swings out of the way, then drops into place as the blade reaches its stop. You can read more about pocket knife lock types in our complete guide here.
SOG says the Arc Lock has been “tested to over 1000 pounds lock strength” although there’s not much information about how or what that means. It’s cool in theory and it has a big appeal to fidgeters but it’s not a perfect lock for a few reasons. One odd thing is that the lock moves laterally from scale to scale in the open and the closed position. For some reason, the lock itself is considerably narrower than the gap between the liners, and there’s enough play in the upper pivot to allow it to move around. It’s unnerving and feels half-baked. Also unnerving: vertical blade play in the open position, which signals potential issues with lock strength rather than merely annoying a knife nut like horizontal blade play does.
The Spec Arc also has horizontal blade play too, but it’s more of a wiggle than a “click” and my suspicion is that it’s due to asking Teflon washers to properly support a four inch long blade. Teflon washers are out of place at this price point, they’re never going to be as smooth and tough as basic phosphor bronze washers and as a result you can’t get the deployment right, no matter how much you fiddle with the pivot. If you loosen it up enough to get a slick deployment then you get a large amount of side-to-side blade play. Closing the Spec Arc isn’t a smooth operation like it is on an Axis Lock or Ball Bearing Lock knife, usually requiring a sharp wrist flick and sometimes still takes pushing the blade the rest of the way closed.
The thumb studs aren’t brilliant either, being recessed in a cutout in the handle and hard to get a firm purchase on. Thankfully they have some sharp steps cut into them. Closed retention isn’t particularly strong with the Arc-Lock, and more than once I’ve found that the knife partially opened itself on the way out of my pocket by the thumb stud catching on the seam. The thumb studs themselves aren’t bad, with enough of a ridge around the circumference to catch the pad of your thumb securely without tearing it up like Kershaw’s stepped thumb ramp.
Features, Fit & Finish
Fit and Finish is good on the Spec Arc, I’ll say that. There aren’t any glaring assembly issues like found on the Buck Marksman or many recent Benchmade products. The scales are even along the spine, all the stainless hardware is nicely polished, the blade grind is even and symmetrical even through the recurve in the belly, there are no uneven spots in the blade finish, and the backspacer fits flush with the handles. These Japanese-built SOG’s show a lot more attention to detail than their usual products. It’s a well-made product from that standpoint.
As far as features go, the elephant in the room is the pocket clip: it’s absolutely atrocious, to be honest. The pocket clip is a deep carry, mounting in a slot in the butt of the handle and being secured by a single long screw passing through. It can be removed and flipped around for ambidextrous carry, but that’s about the only nice thing to say about it. The flashy branding (with the word SOG cut out in big letters) is the opposite of classy and can attract the wrong kind of attention. It’s far too short for the length of the blade and causes the Spec Arc to pendulum around in your pocket noticeably.
The flare at the end of the clip, designed to clear pants seams, is far too steep and has a bad habit of catching onto things that most other knives never would. It’s also extremely thin steel and that combined with the garden implement shaped flare means it bends constantly. It’s almost comical how frequently one most remove the clip from the Spec Arc and straighten it out in a vice so as to not have the knife slide out of your pocket. Also, the pocket clip itself moves around even with the screw tightened all the way down, due to the very narrow portion that goes into the handle and the single screw securing it.
The overt branding continues on the handle, where they’ve cut S O G out of the GRN on both sides. Of course, it faces the opposite way of the script on the pocket clip in the right handed carry position so that’s an eyesore; this could be solved by not putting so much branding on in the first place. The handles themselves aren’t bad, the GRN (glass reinforced nylon) having a good grip with a micro texture pattern cut into it. The shape of the handle itself isn’t particularly creative like a Spyderco Manix 2 or a Cold Steel American Lawman; long, thin, box-shaped with a small flare at the end.
There’s no finger choil, no dramatic thumb ramp near the pivot, no funky ergonomics. A run of jimping where your thumb sits on the spine adds grip, but there’s nothing that provides positive engagement with your hand. Construction is via a series of torx body screws, so the knife can be broken down for cleaning or adjustment.
Does it cut well? That’s the primary question when it comes to reviewing a knife, after all. So yes, the Spec Arc does cut quite well. The factory edge was remarkably sharp, and the thin tip of the quasi-clip point blade does a great job of puncturing things like rubber and thick cardboard. The recurve helps you trap materials against the blade in pull cuts, so it makes quick work of nylon straps, but at the same time it makes it harder to do roll cuts. I don’t get the impression SOG had food prep in mind when designing the Spec-Arc, of course. While it does have a thin, precise tip that would be good for digging, the long blade and lack of a forward grip position makes it impractical to use it as such.
The steel is mid-pack for edge holding, in my experience requiring more attention to stay sharp than 154CM, S30V, or CTS-XHP but better than AUS-8, 8Cr13MoV, or 1.4116. The bead blast finish is not my favorite, quickly showing discoloration after cutting acidic foods or coming in contact with chemicals like coolant or methanol, but I’ve had success cleaning it off with a magic eraser (melamine foam.)
Ergonomically, there’s not much to write home about. The basic handle shape is wide enough to fill the palm but there’s not really any curves to grip down on, no forward choil to choke up on, no curved spine, it’s just sort of “there.” The pocket clip also forms a hot spot towards the end of your palm when bearing down on it, as if we needed more reasons to dislike it. The nested thumb stud is both too hard to get at intentionally, and too easy to pull the knife open on your pocket unintentionally. The lock is easy to use once you get used to it, but the side to side movement is still unnerving.
The Spec-Arc’s minimalist shape and the fact that the blade is tucked entirely into the handle means that it carries relatively well – outside of the clip, of course. It’s a little wide at the center of the handle but it’s probably one of the better large knives (around 4” or more) as far as pocket-ability. A weight of 4.40 ounces is actually fairly light for a 4” blade with stainless liners and a complicated locking mechanism, but the downside is the Spec-Arc is noticeably blade heavy when using it.
The Spec-Arc retails for about $120 on BladeHQ and Amazon, which I’ll be honest: is too much money for what you get. An additional $25 or so gets you a standard model Spyderco Military on Amazon, which is better in every appreciable way. The 4” blade is also a clip point shape, full flat ground with an oversized thumb hole. Satin finished S30V is a useful step up from VG-10, and a nested liner lock under textured G10 handles provide a more solid lock and a slimmer carry. Spyderco’s spoon clip is one of the best in the business, but sadly is only tapped for right hand tip down carry on the Military. There are more upscale versions available that quickly escalate in price, too. It’s also within spitting distance of the Paramilitary 2, which is widely considered the best all-around EDC knife on the market.
Speaking of large Spyderco’s, the colossal Manix 2 XL is worth mentioning. It uses a similar lock to the Spec-Arc, but with less moving parts and a more positive engagement – a metal ball bearing in a cage compressed by a coil spring. The handle is the opposite of the Spec Arc: curvy, hand-filling, and ergonomic. There is a full forward choil, and the butt of the handle wraps down around your pinky finger for a more secure grip. G10 over stainless liners makes the “Mega Manix” a bit heavy at 5.20 ounces, but a 3.88” flat ground leaf shaped blade in satin finish S30V is both enormous and a superb cutter. Price is within spitting distance at about $125 at BladeHQ.
If you want something a bit different, there are some intriguing options on deck from WE Knives and Kizer. The WE Knife 703E offers a big 3.75” drop point blade in tough D2 steel with a slick two tone blade finish, contoured G10 handles, a ceramic ball bearing pivot with a flipper, and a machined pocket clip. All of that for $100 on the nose seems like an exceptionally good deal. Kizer also has their feet firmly in the good value market, and the Glenn Klecker-designed 4435 has a broad 4” long clip point from S35VN, grey G10 handles over titanium liners and a stout liner lock, all for $105. Finally, if you want something different, the Al Mar Eagle Ultralight brings impeccable fit and finish, linerless micarta scales, and a barely believable 2.6 ounce weight with its 4” spear point AUS-8 blade for about $130.
The SOG Spec Arc is a knife that looks great on paper, and has an intriguing design, but it’s let down in a lot of ways by the execution and price. As far as the basic requirements of being a knife – hell yeah, it cuts pretty well. It’s got a great tip, a wicked sharp grind, the factory edge is flawless, it’s a light saber. Piercing, pulling, slicing, you name it – the Spec Arc is great. It’s the other details that separate good knives from great knives that need work. I’m not the biggest fan of overt advertising on knives and the Spec-Arc is all one big billboard, but that’s a matter of opinion.
What’s not so subjective is the iffy lock, sticky action due to Teflon washers, the reproachable pocket clip, the lack of ergonomic considerations to the handle, and so forth. It’s a hard knife to love. SOG clearly has the potential and the ability to make good knives – one only needs to handle a full-size Vulcan with the laminated blade to see it – but the Spec Arc seems like a missed opportunity to make a bold step forward for SOG’s new high end direction. In fact, it’s almost indistinguishable from older SOG models like the Spec Elite I. I think with some modifications – a forward choil, more of a cutout for the thumb stud, a lock that fits, some phosphor washers, and a real pocket clip – the Spec Arc could be a compelling lightweight large EDC. But as it stands, it’s hard to recommend at the lofty price it sells for.
The Good: Exemplary factory grind and edge, cuts and pierces extremely well, light for its size, fidget-friendly lock
The Bad: Overt branding everywhere, terrible pocket clip, vertical and horizontal blade play, Teflon washers on a 4” blade, lock wobbles, no ergonomic considerations, too expensive for what you get
Bottom Line: A hard sell at $120. We’ll continue to hope for bigger and better things from SOG.