Manufacturer/Designer collaborations are commonplace in the knife market now, but back in 2004 when the original Ritter RSK came out it was much less so. Doug Ritter had an idea for the perfect pocket knife – a heavy duty, dependable folding knife with high-end steel that was still affordable to everyone – but needed someone else to help make it happen. 12 years of the Benchmade/Ritter collaboration later, the Ritter Griptilian sadly died off in 2016 – when Benchmade restructured their lineup, and introduced their own premium variant of the Grip, taking the place of the Ritter version. It was a sad day! Everyone loved the Ritter Grip.
But Doug wasn’t done with the concept. After several companies reached out to Doug about continuing to produce the RSK, Ritter partnered up with Hogue Knives in Henderson, Nevada for the next generation of the knife. The switch in manufacturers also allowed some improvements to the design to be made – since the RSK Mk1 was just a different blade on the Griptilian handle, but the Mk1 G2 is more of a clean sheet design. The end result is reminiscent of the Ritter Grip, but better in almost every way. Spoiler alert: the new Hogue-built RSK is a total winner, and you should buy one immediately. Let’s dive into why.
Key Specs: Ritter RSK Mk1-G2
The blade was always the standout feature on the Ritter Grip, and the general shape has carried over here. It’s just about the ideal shape and geometry for an everyday carry knife, with carefully considered proportions to balance out strength and performance. The blade stock is relatively wide (0.13”) for strength, but the blade shape is very tall relative to its length (3.44”), so the angle of the primary grind can be narrow to allow it to slice well – if the blade was shorter, the primary grind would be wider and it’d be more of a spade than a knife.
The knife has a high flat grind and a diagonal plunge line that terminates behind a small sharpening choil, leaving just the tiniest little “beard” at the leading edge of the choil jutting downward. The drop point shape leaves the tip of the knife almost perfectly level with the pivot and centerline of the handle. There is no swedge on the spine, leaving full stock thickness almost all the way to the tip for maximum strength. A thumb ramp above the thumb stud has wide, rounded jimping for a secure but comfortable grip. The blade has a clean stonewashed finish for a smooth surface and increased corrosion resistance. Markings are laser etched with the Doug Ritter logo and steel type on one side, and “USA Hogue” on the opposite side.
Blade steel on my RSK is CPM-20CV, made in the USA by Crucible Steel using the powdered metallurgy technique – which creates a much more uniform structure at the molecular level, the mixture of elements and alloys being more homogenous. This means cleaner grain structure and thus cleaner edges, as well as less defects. 20CV is a very high-carbon steel (1.9%) as well as extremely high chromium (20%) so it’s very hard but also very corrosion resistant – and it’s got a big dose of vanadium (4.0%) which makes it exceptionally strong.
It’s been heat treated to 61-62 HRC on the Rockwell hardness scale. CPM-20CV is chemically very similar to Bohler M390 (which the earliest runs of the RSK Mk1 G2 were made with) and Carpenter CTS-204p, all three of which are widely considered to be the best high-end stainless steels (for now!) in the knife market, because they all offer an excellent balance of performance and corrosion resistance.
Deployment & Lockup
The RSK Mk1 G2 uses the ABLE lock – which stands for “Ambidextrous Bar Lock Enhanced” if you were curious – which is similar to the AXIS lock, the functional patent for which expired in 2016. Other brands have begun to implement their own version of this style of lock on their knives, notably the SOG XR-Lock (which we’ve tested previously in the Terminus XR) and the ABLE lock is the Hogue take on the concept. It functions the same, but in this application it uses stronger, more reliable springs – manufactured by Wolff Co in Pennsylvania – and according to Ritter’s website is has improved geometry, finish, and a tougher lock bar.
My experience with it is very good – it’s just as smooth as Benchmade’s AXIS lock but it exhibits no blade play when opened, either horizontal or vertical. Vertical blade play is traditionally the curse of axis lock knives, but Hogue seems to have worked it out here – although time will tell how it holds up to wear. The spring tension on the lock bar feels slightly heavier than similar Benchmades, and it has a little more detent strength as well. Opening is by ambidextrous thumb studs, which are smooth on the outside but have a small stepped ramp on the top for traction. Both the thumb studs and the ends of the lock bar feature a matching “tri-wing” motif that adds a little style and traction without chewing up your fingers.
The action on the RSK is incredibly smooth, it’s almost hard to believe the knife uses phosphor-bronze washers instead of ball bearings – with the lock bar held open the blade drops shut with no friction, without having ever adjusted the pivot or even taken a torx bit to the knife at all. Closed detent is relatively strong for this style lock but not excessive, so you can still roll the blade open slowly with your thumb when appropriate. It’s a flawless execution of a concept that Hogue had never even attempted until late 2018, and I can’t help but notice that Hogue makes better “AXIS-style” locks with one year of practice than Benchmade has with more than twenty.
Features, Fit & Finish
The handle on the RSK is similar in shape to the old Griptilian-based models, but has been lengthened 4mm to allow for the inclusion of a lanyard hole at the end, bringing handle length to 4.72” and overall length to 8.15” when opened (compared to 8.06” for the original RSK.) There’s also an additional bump on the underside of the handle for finger indexing for a more secure grip. The texture of the contoured G10 handles is interesting – it’s checkered and mixed with a geometric radial pattern for a unique look and solid traction in the hand even when wet.
The G10 handles sit atop full stainless (301) liners which provides the backbone of the ABLE lock. Construction is open backed with hourglass-shaped standoffs that the body screws thread into on both sides for added stability. As fits the user nature of the knife, all fittings are standard – T8 torx for body and clip screws, T10 for the single sided pivot adjustment screw (which is a Chicago fitting, with the adjustable side being the male screw.) My example – the bright orange version – had black hardware on the outside but silver standoffs. There’s jimping on the front and the rear of the spine that matches the wide, soft jimping on the spine of the blade for grip.
The pocket clip is a bent stainless steel deep carry affair, with a gently curved “spoon” shape that’s configured for ambidextrous tip up carry. It’s held in place by two screws, which is odd because if you look at the opposite side there are three threaded screw holes- this is because the RSK accepts a standard three-screw pattern pocket clip like that found on many Benchmades, Spydercos and Emersons – as well as the myriad of aftermarket clips (like MXG Gear, Lynch Northwest, etc) that fit those knives.
So if you don’t like the clip it comes with, you can change it out for something better suited to your needs. On the orange model, the clip has a black parkerized finish with the Doug Ritter and Hogue logos atop each other. KnifeWorks, the exclusive distributor of the RSK Mk1 G2, also sells pocket clips and screw sets if you want to change from the black to the tumbled finish or vice versa, and includes all the body screws as well – but not the lockbar – for $13, which seems quite reasonable.
As far as features go, it’s worth noting that the RSK is 100% natively ambidextrous. As we pointed out in our article on the best left-handed knives, approximately 10% of the population is left-handed, so it’s odd when knives don’t cater to or outright exclude southpaws from using them. The RSK is fully symmetrical, with thumb studs and access to the lock bar on both sides, as well as an ambidextrous pocket clip. This is something that doesn’t harm right handed users at all, but makes the product more usable for lefties, and it’s just good design.
Fit and finish the RSK is excellent with few exceptions. I think the beard on the edge grind is a bummer considering how time consuming it is to reprofile CPM 20CV (but here in quarantine we’ve got nothing but time, right?) and the black hardware with silver standoffs seems odd. But other than that, the manufacturing quality of the RSK is typical Hogue – which is to say, excellent. It came screaming sharp from the factory, the same as the last Hogue I reviewed, the unique X1 Microflip, with a near-mirror finish to the edge grind.
The intricate machining on the G10 scales shows where Hogue came from – and echoes their expertise in gun grips, and the jimping slots where the scale and liner overlaps towards the front line up seamlessly, usually an easy tell for sloppy manufacturing. For the price, this is a very well made knife, and it feels like a quality product every time you hold it.
One thing to note about the Ritter/Hogue RSK Mk1 G2 – beyond how long the name is – is that it’s heavier than its predecessor. The Hogue-built G2 weighs in at 4.5 ounces, while the old RSK weighed 3.82 ounces. This is down to the dimensions and materials of the handles – the old RSK used the standard Griptilian handles, which were closed back with partial liners and Noryl GTX (plastic) scales, as well as being shorter and having less mounting hardware. I don’t think that 4.5 ounces is excessive for a big knife like this, though. It carries well, thanks to the long deep carry pocket clip that’s well positioned on the handle, lined up slightly above center which makes the knife carry closer to the edge of your pocket than the center. It has a heft to it but it doesn’t feel like wasted mass, the handles being very stout and hand-filling. I think I’d prefer that the clip had slightly more tension, although it never migrated out of my pocket, it just feels slightly soft.
If you’ve used an AXIS lock knife, there’s no learning curve to the ABLE lock – it works the same, just smoother, with a slightly stronger preload to the omega springs and a little more detent pressure. The detent isn’t so strong that you can’t slowly roll the blade open, but a little wrist flick gives you the antisocial “snap” you crave deep down inside.
It’s a big knife, for sure, but the even balance it has – right in between the pivot and the indexing bump – makes it feel natural in your hand, even though it’s handle heavy dimensionally (58% handle/42% blade). The blade shape is pure perfection for everyday use, aligned as it is with the centerline of the grip, making it adept at piercing and digging while the bit of forward belly makes it a good slicer for roll cuts. The low-angle thumb ramp and spine jimping let you take a solid forward grip when you need to apply some forearm to what you’re cutting, like thick cardboard. It feels good in the hand the way few knives do, and it’s a few shades of grey better than the full sized Griptilian handles were. There’s enough handle real estate that the knife is comfortable to use even when wearing nitrile gloves.
Of course, the blade steel is excellent – it stays sharp for a long time, and doesn’t seem to chip or roll even when used to cut carpet or metal tape. CPM 20CV is really ideal for an EDC knife.
Maintenance is straightforward on the RSK, with standard torx fittings and flow-through construction – you can just blow the knife out with compressed air when it gets filled with lint, then drop a few droplets of oil in the pivot and you’re done. The normal blade shape means touch-ups on a sharpener don’t require any special skills or equipment beyond a diamond abrasive – 20CV is hard stuff.
All these knives available at BladeHQ.The RSK Mk1 G2 is distributed exclusively through KnifeWorks.com, and is available in four versions – black with a stonewashed blade, orange/stonewash, black/black cerakoted blade, and a new FDE (flat dark earth)/black cerakote. The two versions with stonewashed blades retail for $160, and the cerakoted blades are $175.
The logical competitor for the RSK is the new 20CV Griptilian 550-1 and 551-1, which is what took the place of the Ritter Grip when it went out of production in 2016. It has grey G10 scales, blue anodized liners and standoffs, a CPM 20CV blade, and a deep carry clip. You have your choice of a flat ground drop point with a thumb stud or a hollow ground sheepsfoot with a thumb hole, both for $187. I don’t have any problem with these 20CV Griptilians – I just think the Hogue RSK is better made and costs less money.
I also prefer the RSK’s blade shape to the standard Griptilian, which is the same width but not as tall so the primary grind is a wider angle, meaning it doesn’t slice as well. Right now it seems like Hogue is the Lexus to Benchmade’s BMW, circa 1990 – offering a higher quality product with more features for less cash. Also, this is anecdotal, but I’m not impressed by Benchmade’s out of the box quality control. Your mileage may vary. The intangibles are harder to quanity, but the RSK just feels much more solid than the Grip does.
As I said, the logical competitor for the RSK seems like the 20CV Grip, but the RSK reminds me more of the Hinderer XM18 than it does a Benchmade – small batch, super sold build, hard to find, top end materials. Hinderer does have the unique tri-way pivot (allowing you to pick between ball bearings, phosphor bronze, and Teflon washers) and a wide array of blade shapes, but they generally start around $425.
Spyderco makes a lot of knives in this size range, the closest probably being the Shaman. It has contoured G10 handles over skeletonized stainless liners, and it’s a big knife – like the RSK – with a 3.6” drop point blade and 8” overall. Blade steel is a step down with CPM S30V (although there’s a constant stream of sprint runs and dealer exclusives in other steels if that’s your idea of fun, there’s not a readily available full production model in higher end steel like S110V) and the Shaman costs a pretty shocking ~$200 after several years of MAP increases – it’s a great knife but it feels like a bad deal next to the RSK. The compression lock is great, and has less moving parts, but is not ambidextrous like the ABLE lock. It’s also heavier at 5.2 ounces.
Another left field choice is the flagship SOG Seal XR, released last year. It has SOG’s XR-Lock which is similar to the ABLE lock in function, and has a big 3.9” clip point blade in CPM S35VN, cerakoted black. It’s huge (9.125” long) and heavy (8.25oz) for an everyday knife, but it has top notch flipper action and heavy duty hardware. With a 0.19” wide blade, it’s not going to slice as well as the RSK, but that probably wasn’t the intention.
Most Zero Tolerance’s don’t even dip down into this price range any more, but the new 0357 model seems pretty compelling for ~$150. It has textured G10 handles over stainless liners and a standard liner lock, and a drop point CPM-20CV blade (3.25” long). A bent steel deep carry pocket clip holds it in place. It’s pretty light – 4.3 ounces – for the size, but I’ll always prefer a manual action knife to the SpeedSafe assisted opening the 0357 uses. It sells well and it keeps costs down compared to ball bearings, but it’s not without some downsides. Still, nice to see ZT getting back into affordable user knives.
I think the RSK has ruined knives for me the same way the Paramilitary 2 did the first time I held one – it’s so flawless it makes the pricetag seem low, and that’s a big task for a $160 knife with G10 handles. But it’s a rare knife that does basically everything right. It has the most practical blade shape, top end steel, addictively smooth action, excellent ergonomics, and great build quality.
And we’re only talking about the knife itself. It’s worth noting that sales of the RSK help support Doug Ritter’s involvement with Knife Rights, which to date has helped to repeal 32 knife ban bills in 22 states and has stopped 8 anti-knife bills from passing in America. If you care about your ability to carry and use a knife as a tool – mankind’s oldest and most valuable tool – you should care about the work that Knife Rights has accomplished, and those accomplishments are partially due to sales of the RSK over the years.
Also, if you like the RSK but wish it wasn’t so big, there’s now the option of an RSK Mini. It uses the same materials (G10, 20CV blade) but has a 2.9” blade and measures 6.875” overall and weighs 2.6 ounces. It’s around $30 cheaper than the full sized RSK, and it’s a great option for people who tend towards smaller and lighter options as well as people living in areas with blade length restrictions – or at least, places that the efforts of Knife Rights haven’t had an effect on yet.
- The ideal blade shape of the Ritter Grip finds a new and improved home with Hogue build quality. Excellent action and ergonomics, remarkable value for money, fully ambidextrous, supports a good cause.
- Clip tension is a little soft, it’s quite large, they sell out fast so they’re hard to get.
Words and pictures: James Mackintosh. Thanks to Doug Ritter for sending us the knife for review.