Starting out in the mid 1980’s, Rick Hinderer began the process of making a name for himself the hard way, from the ground up. Pairing his time in hand making knives, with his time in being a fire fighter and EMT, he found himself designing and making folding and fixed blade knives that would work for him in his real world use. Transferring over from hand making fancy fixed blades, he devoted his time in CNC machining and designing a hard use, semi-tactical set of knives. What came of this evolution process was the XM-18 series of knives.
blade shapes, different blade steels from CPM-20CV to O1 tool steel, and from a 3” variant on up to the XM-24’s 4” blade, there’s truly something for everyone. That’s where Rick Hinderer Knives finds it’s way into the market today, as a tool that can take the abuse of day to day carry, get you into a package, or out of a rough situation. Let’s look at some of the details to get an idea of what it looks like, to use a knife with 30 years of evolution and experience baked in to it’s design and execution in manufacturing.
Key Specs: Hinderer XM-18
The XM-18 comes in two sizes, the 3.5” blade featured today, and the 3” version, both of which are usually available in one form or another. The hard part is deciding which blade shape to go with. Our review knife is utilizing the non-flipper spear point blade, with the stonewashed finish. Other available blade shapes are slicer, tanto, spanto (tanto grind with a spear point belly), sheepsfoot, harpoon tanto, and harpoon spanto. The spear point we’re focusing on today has a very neutral, simple look and design. It’s not especially thin behind the edge, but it’s good enough for most harder use pocket knife tasks.
It’s got a flat grind, ending in a higher saber grind near the spine. And the spine gains a swedge up near the tip, leaving a very hefty amount of blade material for light prying jobs. The show side of the blade boasts Hinderer’s maker’s mark, and the lock side informs you of the blade steel. Our variant is using CPM-20CV, a common high end stainless steel, with great wear resistance, decent toughness, and high corrosion resistance.
The spine of the blade also has some rather heavy jimping notches, which follow the overall “overbuilt” design of the XM series knives. Sitting just below the jimping is the dual blade stops, which double as thumb studs for deployment. The blade thickness comes in at a beefy 0.16”, with a blade width of 1.13”. On this particular variant, the cutting edge is minimized slightly by the presence of a forward choil, that’s too small to be safely used, giving the blade an overall cutting edge of 3.13”. Still a very respectable amount of sharpened blade, in this range of overall size. It’s a great blade, with a high end steel, and looks great, too.
Deployment / Lockup
Most Hinderer knives have a flipper tab for deployment, with blade stops solely functioning as a part of the lock interface. This variant, being a non-flipper, has only the blade stops as deployment. But it works extremely well. Rick has gone through 6 generations of this particular model, and has come up with a very well tuned detent for each variant. Giving the thumb studs just enough push to get the blade moving, is always enough to get the blade completely opened to it’s locked position.
And it’s smooth, too. Very smooth. We’ll get deeper into the Tri Way system further down in the review, but in short, any choice in pivot style has a very smooth action. The XM-18 has a reputation at this point in time, of being the definition of a “drop shut” blade, especially with bearings installed. It’s a true finger guillotine. The feel of the blade moving from open to closed on this knife is just about as slick as it gets.
And the lockup is solid. There is absolutely no side to side or up and down blade play on this knife. The lock bar cutout is very close to the handle, preventing the lock bar from flexing forward or backward while opening (CRK, we’re looking at your Sebenza 31 here…). I had an epiphany when visually interrogating this knife. When looking at something like a Chris Reeve Umnumzaan, you’ll see blade stops that double as thumb studs, just like the XM-18. And when the Umnumzaan is locked open, there are 2 points of contact for the lock interface: the blade stops, and the lock bar to the blade.
Where the XM-18 differs, is in the back of the handle. There’s a stop pin there as well, creating a tertiary point of contact in the locked position. I have not seen any other folding knife use this particular lock style. On the XM-18, when the blade is closed, the blade stops are not the element that keep the blade from over-closing, but rather the aforementioned stop pin again. It’s a rare design, if not completely proprietary. I greatly appreciate this design choice, even if it’s not necessary.
Features Fit and Finish
This folding knife probably has more available features than any other knife out there, like different finishes, scales, blade shapes, and the Tri-Way pivot system. It’s truly a blank page for someone who likes the customization game. And the good news is that everything fits together like new with any available changes to the knife.
The fit and finish of the XM-18 is very good; comparable to Chris Reeve Knives and others in this price range. I will make the argument that CRK makes the highest level of fit and finish with their extreme tolerances, but Rick Hinderer’s folders certainly are done well. The seam between the G10 scale and the titanium liner on the show side is nearly undetectable. The lines of the knife flow in both the open and closed position. The machining and stonewashing is smooth and chamfered all around. But there’s jimping. And it’s everywhere. On the spine of the blade, on the handle near the blade, at the base of the handle at both the front and back sides. Ok, I’ll admit, maybe it’s not “everywhere”, but it feels like it is.
This well executed folder has some other somewhat common features, found on the other big names in this price range. Three barrel standoffs, a flathead pivot (which may or may not need the tool that’s not included with the knife on the opposing side of the pivot for adjustment or disassembly), a simple titanium pocket clip, and the lock bar stabilizer. The barrel spacers are a great design, but have a flaw in my opinion on this model. That flaw, is the lock side handle scale does not have screws inserted into the spacers, but rather just the spacer itself. The problem with this design, as many users find upon the first takedown of the knife, is that there’s nothing to hold on to while spinning the allen head on the show side, resulting in either a free spinning standoff, or a broken screw head. This happens way too often on this knife. There are tons of accounts of this issue presenting itself to users everywhere. I truly believe this knife would greatly benefit from having a screw on both sides of the handle scales, akin to the tried and true Chris Reeve Knives.
The Tri-Way pivot system is quite simple, yet very different from anything else around. Here’s the skinny. You can choose to run your pivot on Teflon washers, phosphor bronze washers, or, as the knife will come from the factory, with bearings. With bearings, the knife flips open and drops shut with a frictionless feel. Most users tend to stick with the bearings on Hinderers, as they’re fun to fidget with, and most users aren’t running these knives in heavily dusty environments. But, if you’re like me, and find yourself anywhere from a concrete quarry to an airport, you may want to switch things over to Teflon.
I have more confidence in Teflon as a pivot that will brush away dust and debris on it’s own, and can be simply rinsed out with water and back to work. And it’s a self lubricating material, meaning you can “run it dry” and not have any grittiness or resistance to the action. And then the phosphor bronze washers. These seem to be the least used pivot system on XM-18, amongst those who I’ve watched videos on, and talked to online. They seem to have the worst action of the three options, but to each his own, of course. After all, the Hinderer motto is “Make it your own”. And, with a pocket clip that’s reversible for tip up or tip down carry, it’s sure to please any right handed users’ preference. And for you lefties, all hope isn’t lost – you can spend another $100 on the “4 way scale kit” to suit your left handed carry needs. Of course, the lock is still on the wrong side if you’re a left handed user, but at least you can carry it on the… correct side of your pockets.
Using the XM-18 is not as good as the sum of it’s parts. I’ll explain. When you pick up a $425 pocket knife, you have certain expectations. And this knife delivers on many of them. Some aspects I look for in a high end folding knife are good fit and finish, great action, solid lockup, cutting performance, good ergonomics, and ability to carry the knife in a reasonable manner. This knife feels good in the hand. It feels good to deploy, to open and close, to grip tightly. This particular “Non-Flipper” can be choked up on for a higher grip, but the forward choil is indefinitely in the danger zone, with the size of the choil being quite small for any real use. But, then I went to use the knife, and many of these “in hand” attributes disappeared, and were quickly replaced with frustrations.
There is a reason for every knife maker to choose the blade geometry they manufacture with. Rick Hinderer, with the majority of his knives, chooses a very thick grind. This does not translate to an overly thick blade stock, but rather an edge that is better for twisting and prying than it is for cutting. Can it slice the tape on your Amazon box, or open letter in the mail? Sure. But it feels more like cutting with a flathead screwdriver than it does a knife. Making a longer cut into cardboard feels like the blade binds in the material slightly. It’s obvious this knife, in most blade shapes (minus the “slicer” grind), are not meant for EDC tasks. But here again, there’s a fix for that. Buy the slicer grind blade if you want that functionality. I just can’t get past the idea of the grind being overly thick behind the edge, no matter what grind is applied to the blade.
Cutting some rope proved frustrating as well. Again, it can be done, but it isn’t as easy as you’d expect, especially with a knife of this price. Couple that with a handle that feels better in hand than it does in use, and you’ll give this knife a double take and wonder, “I must need to sharpen this thing”, like I did. So I sharpened it. Running it on the KME sharpener, I like to find the factory angle, and follow it, as closely as possible. I do this for two reasons; one is to leave the bevel without looking like it’s quadrupled in size, and the other is to test whether the factory edge was actually dull, or just so obtuse that it doesn’t cut anything. So I found the rather insane angle of 25 degrees per side, and went ahead with my normal sharpening method of 150 grit, 300, 600, and a 1 micron diamond spray on leather strop. The edge came up nicely, and removed the minor chipping found from cutting a couple boxes up in the factory edge. The blade shaved arm hair easily, and sliced cleanly through phone book paper.
So, on I went to try out the edge again. There was no improvement. I felt frustrated at this point; more so than before sharpening, since I apparently just wasted half an hour sharpening a knife with no improvement in cutting performance. Cutting rope on a work bench was still greatly laborious, and cutting up an apple… well, let’s stop there and just admit this isn’t a kitchen companion in any sense of the term. And so there I was, wondering what this knife was supposed to be good at. It flips nicely, can be used on any pivot system you’d like, feels good in the hand, and looks damn good while doing it. But it just doesn’t cut well. Yes, I understand that a knife with this “skill set” is more of a light prying tool that can kinda- sorta cut standard EDC materials, but for $425, it’s just not…. Cutting it for me.
All these knives available at BladeHQ.To round out our “big three”, the XM-18 can be compared quite readily to thee Chris Reeve Knives Large Inkosi, and the Strider SnG. Let’s take a look at some of their details to get an idea of how they stack up against one another.
The CRK Large Inkosi has a ceramic ball lock interface, oversized phosphor bronze washers, is available in true right or left hand configurations, and has options for drop point, tanto, or insingo (sheepsfoot) blade shapes. It’s available with plain titanium handle scales, or with inlays. With a price of $450, it is more expensive than the XM18, and has far fewer options, but I’d be willing to bet that for most people, it has enough variety in it’s lineup to satisfy most potential buyers. The blade steel is technically of a lesser status, being S35VN, but CRK is known for baking in a very solid heat treat on their knives. A hollow ground blade, like the one found on the Inkosi, is typically better for cutting in almost every situation, and still retains a fairly thick blade stock, at 0.14” for overall durability and strength. It may be a knife that makes it seem like you’re “getting less” on paper, when compared to the XM-18 series, but what is gained is a product that’s truly built to last a lifetime, and extremely tight tolerances and machining levels.
The Strider SnG is another comparable knife to the XM-18. It’s the rough-and-tough folder on this list, with a lesser fit and finish, but with brute and brawn at the forefront. It’s looks make it appealing to many, although that factor can be polarizing. Many think it’s an odd looking design, but many think it’s perfect. Strider’s knives are a little harder to come by, as they’re only released in batches, and sell out very quickly. Strider Knives chooses a steel and blade finish, most recently PSF-27 or 20CV, and stonewashed or tiger striped finish. They release a small number of them for sale, and that particular run is over.
Because of this, their knives hold an especially strong place in the secondary market, typically being marked up 30-50% of the original $450 price. They utilize the same type of chain ring pivot as the XM-18, but with an allen screw rather than a flathead found on the XM-18. Also available in drop point or tanto variants, and varying blade thicknesses of 0.16 – 0.19, and with varying lock side finishes, from plain stonewashed to tiger striped. Weight is similar on the SnG and XM-18, as the SnG is in the 4.5 ounce range, while the XM-18 is around 5.2 ounces depending on configuration. The SnG also uses blade stops like the XM-18, but also features an opening hole for deployment for ease of access. It’s a totally different animal, and tends to appeal to a different crowd.
The Hinderer XM-18 comes in tons of configurations, with many different blade shapes and steels, handle scale options, and even a customizable pivot system. It’s got a great action, extremely solid lockup, and great ergos. But when it comes down to day to day use, it has a tough time with standard chores. It doesn’t slice particularly well in the spear point variant, but of course, the slicer grind blade lends itself to better cutting geometry. The bearings may get dirty easily, gumming up the action, but there’s Teflon washers included in the box to remedy that issue, if it becomes problematic for you.
The handle scale may look bland in standard black or gray, but there’s full titanium, micarta, G10 and other materials in many different colors to suit any preference. The XM-18 is sure to offer a configuration to cater to any user, whether it’s the 3” variant, slicer grind, tanto, flipper, non flipper, choil or no-choil, bronze washers or bearings, or even the skinny variant with an overall slimmer profile. Rick Hinderer has designed a truly versatile knife with an option for any user, in any environment, with any style. Just make sure you know how you’re going to use your XM-18 before you buy one, or risk having the less appropriate tool for the job.
- Available in many configurations, great action, solid lockup, “something for everyone”, high quality fit and finish.
- Higher end pricing, thick blade grinds, slightly difficult to maintain, expensive to modify and customize.