The Factor Equipment Hardened knife is a full size, semi-overbuilt folding knife that focuses on smooth operation and all-out tactical grip. The Hardened knife is a breath of fresh air in a knife market filled to the brim with overly similar knives. That said, proprietary hardware, fragile bearings, and dirty internals out of the box keep the Hardened from being a smash home run.
The Hardened knife is a sophisticated new design from the fairly new knife company Factor Equipment. They are an American company with manufacturing in China. Some of their early knives they brought to market were criticized for copying existing designs. To their credit, Factor Equipment listened to their critics and have responded with a compellingly original knife. There are a few flaws in this knife to be sure. However, if Factory Equipment can make a few improvements, the Hardened knife indicates there is a bright future for them and this knife.
The Hardened knife is an absolute, hand-filling joy to cut with. The recurved AUS-10 blade, aggressive texturing, and superb ergonomics just make cutting a dream. However, the all out, stick to your hand tactical grip will also shred your pants pockets. Lock up is achieved through a stout stainless steel frame lock with aggressively textured and 3D-sculpted G10 inlays. Deployment is actuated by a sharp but effective flipper tab or by a textured section on the blade that, at best, works part of the time. The action is smooth but slightly mechanical feeling, running ceramic ball bearings and detent ball.
Key Specs: Factor Hardened
As stated above, the Hardened knife is a truly wonderful cutter. The drop point recurve blade is literally all belly, so it is almost always draw cutting regardless of how you use it. The tip is somewhat acute, but the high saber grind and drop point combine to keep a good amount of material at the tip. Therefore, it is far from fragile. The blade is made of the uncommon mid-grade Japanese AUS-10. It is very similar to VG-10 in composition. Sharpness out of the box was very good and could shave arm hair with a steep angle and mild pressure.
Edge retention was a bit tricky to nail down with this knife, as the wonderful recurve just wants to keep cutting even when dull. However, in side-to-side testing against more typical non-recurve Sandvik 14C28N and VG-10 blades, the Hardened knife held its own, staying sharp slightly longer than the 14C28N, and cutting better than the non-recurve VG-10 when both dulled to a similar point.
The big drawback of the recurve blade is that it makes hand sharpening considerably more difficult than on non-recurve knives. Unless your flat hones are very narrow, generally you will not be able to sharpen all the curves on this blade. Thinner stones (common with continuous angle clamping sharpening systems), draw-through systems, and ceramic rods are all much better suited to working on this sort of blade shape. The flat ribbed section on the blade would make for a good location to anchor clamping systems to this knife, however they will wear on the bead blast finish that covers them.
With the proper tools, the Hardened is not overly difficult to sharpen. It takes a few more passes than a softer, budget steel but that said working on this steel is not punishing. Also of note, there is a sharpening choil at the rear of the blade, so there is little chance of damaging the flipper tab during sharpening.
Out of the box the deployment on the Hardened knife was quite gritty. There was a considerable amount of dirt and grease in the action left by the factory. After a thorough cleaning and break in, the ceramic ball bearings and detent make for a smooth if slightly mechanical feeling action. Just be aware that it will take some time and work to get there. The lock up is fantastic with no play at all in any direction. Out of the box, the lock bar was quite stiff to operate, though it broke in nicely and now takes a very comfortable amount of force to actuate.
There are two deployment options available on the Hardened knife. One is a flipper tab that is a bit sharp, but is very reliable. It also features a somewhat gimmicky ribbed section of the blade that can be used unreliably to flick the knife open. Flicking the ribs like a thumb stud will sometimes open the knife, though it quickly irritates even a well-calloused thumb. Overall, I would just suggest avoiding the ribs as the flipper tab works wonderfully. The flipper tab works well with both the light switch and push button techniques. It features a somewhat aggressive hook giving that gives you loads of traction even with out any texturing. The flipper tab is tuned for no-nonsense, reliable deployment but will quickly becomes a hot-spot if you over use this knife as a fidget toy.
My biggest concern with the action on the Hardened knife is that the ball bearing cages are quite fragile. As stated above, the knife came with a good amount of grit in the action and needed to be disassembled for a full and proper cleaning. Furthermore, ball bearing pivots get dirty and need regular maintenance; this goes double for slightly over-built knives intended for hard use.
Disassembly clearly voids the Factor Equipment warranty. It is frustrating that the manufacturer discourages end-users from maintaining the tools they have purchased, especially considering that during the tear down and reassembly process bearings from both bearing cages became dislodged despite purposely gentle handling. I was lucky enough to find both lost bearings, and they did snap back into the bearing races with little trouble, allowing me to return the knife to full working order.
As a gear enthusiast, I tinker with most of my knives. I have disassembled dozens of ball bearing knives and never damaged a set of bearings before, even on the cheapest of budget knives. The fact that I lost bearings from both assemblies is very concerning for a knife that otherwise begs for hard used. Though to be fair, under normal use (as suggested by Factor Equipment) I have had zero problems whatsoever with the bearings. Just bear in mind that long term maintenance could be an issue.
Handle and Ergonomics
The Factor Equipment Hardened is a knife that focuses single-mindedly on all-out, never slip out of your hand grip. There are choils for each finger, wonderful gimping on the thumb ramp, and a very aggressive pattern milled into the 3D-sculpted scales. This all adds up to one of the most positive and comfortable grips I have ever felt. There is virtually no risk of this knife ever slipping out of your hand no matter the conditions under which you use it.
Many overbuilt knives with aggressive texture end up feeling like bricks covered in sandpaper, however Factor Equipment has balanced out the human element here quite well. The shape works wonderfully for my large large hands. I put this knife into several sets of hands, and it was either love at first “grip” or perceived as a mess of hot spots with little in-between. The largest factor here seemed to be how the point on the ring finger choil lined up with your fingers. If your ring finger does not line up, you likely will not like this knife.
The second consequence of the aggressive texturing is that the knife will wear on the material of your pants pockets when drawing the knife. The pocket clip is more flexible than many and there is generous clearance under it. These factors do mitigate the abrasion this knife will do to your pants, but they do not eliminate it.
The big hand filling Hardened knife is surprisingly easy to carry. It is long (4.75” closed) wide (.65”) and heavy (6.4 oz.) but organically shaped, so it carries much smaller than these measurements would suggest. The 3D-sculpted G10 overlays complement the shape of the human hip, and while you won’t completely forget you have a knife this size in your pocket, you come shockingly close. As you move and bump into things, the knife rolls and shifts in your pocket moving with and around your body. Most big knives are much more boxy and feel like you have a brick in your pocket. However, this was not the case with the Hardened knife.
The deep carry pocket clip came from the factory with ideal retention. The clip itself is a nice, long, broad piece of bent steel stamped in an original and handsome pattern. The pocket clip is right-hand tip up only with are no accommodations for left-handed carry. With dedicated right hand carry, it would have been nice to have had the aggressive pattern in the G10 smoothed out under the clip. This would have remedied the pocket wear issue and not changed the aesthetics or ergonomics of the knife.
I have carried this knife for two months in testing, and a slight downward bend has developed in the pocket clip. Also, the spring retention of the clip has also weakened a bit. It is subtle but it does raise concerns about the long-term durability of the clip. The bend along with the lose of retention is a mixed bag as they combine to reduce the wear the heavily textured Hardned knife does to your pants pocket. A slightly thicker and more springy metal stock might have been a better long-term choice here.
Fit and Finish
Fit and finish on the Factor Equipment Hardened is all over the map. The knife itself is excruciatingly well machined. Every detail is crisp and well defined. The parts all mate together exceptionally well. Every finish is even and well applied. The most impressive part is that the action works best when the pivot is fully torqued down. This is indicative of very very tight tolerances. You just fully tighten the pivot and the action is perfect with no play at all. This is a feat rarely found on production knives at any price and should be commended.
The ugly side of the fit and finish is that, as stated above, the action was filled with grit out of the box. There was a good amount of oil and dirt throughout the knife, but mostly in the bearings which clearly negatively affected the action of the knife. The second flaw with the fit and finish is a proprietary hardware on the pivot. Instead of a traditional torx or flat head screw driver slot, there are three cut-outs in an offset semi-triangle shape. I was able to use a traditional flat head screwdriver to disassemble the knife with out too much difficulty, however it was clumsy with the offset.
Past that, the screws are all high quality, and none felt soft or as if they would strip out. Seeing as Factor Equipment does not want end users to break down their products (for maintenance or otherwise) the proprietary hardware is not surprising. Unfortunately, as this knife was shipped with significant debris, it was a necessary obstacle to overcome.
Real Steel T101 Thor – (BladeHQ) – The Real Steel Thor is a lighter (5.1oz) but boxier alternative to the Hardened knife. The blade is made of 14C28N steel having slightly less edge retention but better corrosion resistance, and the non re-curve will be much easier to sharpen with out specialized tools. However, the knife carries much less comfortably in pocket.
Ganzo G750 – Ganzo is our budget alternative priced around $20. It is lighter still (4.5oz) and thinner than the other two. It runs on an Axis lock and features a 440C steel blade. You are giving up a bit in fit and finish and edge retention, but you still get a big working knife that features high grip by way of multiple finger choils and comfort for bigger hands. While Ganzos do not come hospital clean, even the $20 G750 comes out of the box with minimal grease and grit in the action.
ZT 0562 – (BladeHQ) – The 0562 is the granddaddy of the aggressively overbuilt, ergonomic working knives seen in this roundup. The knife comes at a premium price of $200 for S35VN and titanium construction. This is a knife that has been tested used and abused for years, and has been a very popular offering for ZT for good reason. The ergonomics are quite good, but without the 3D-sculpted texture, not quite as good as on the Hardened knife. It is also a much simpler design. Some will appreciate the elegance of that simplicity and others will find it less sophisticated. The flipping action of the two are shockingly similar to one another with the ZT being slightly smoother and the Hardened being slightly more mechanical.
The Factor Equipment Hardened is an excellent cutting tool, though the drawbacks are substantial. It took a deep cleaning out of the box to get the knife running, the warranty discourages user maintenance, the pocket clip and bearing races lack durability, the knife wears on your pants pocket, and it takes specialized sharpening tools to maintain. That said, as a first effort in producing an original hard-use knife, this is an impressive offering. It is sophisticated, the machining is shockingly precise, the ergonomics are just stellar (at least for big hands), and it just keeps cutting when other knives in similar materials are too dull to use.
Furthermore, if you compare the Hardened to the early offerings of most major knife manufacturers and designers it is staggering how much Factor Hardened has gotten just right. If they fix the issues here, the Hardened will be a fantastic knife. As it stands, the flaws of the Hardened knife prevent the best parts of this knife from shinning half as brightly as they should.
- Excellent cutter, quality machining, decent ergos
- Came dirty/gritty, wears on the pants, difficult to sharpen, proprietary hardware