with Lindsey J. Bertomen
Product Review: 5 tactical knives for an array of police missions
The TOPS/Buck CSAR-T, CRKT’s Hissatsu 2 folder, CRKT’s M21 04G, the Benchmade 522 SBK, and the UZI 2F0068B each has a place in the law enforcer's tool box
This month, I’m doing something a little different. While I typically review just one product at a time, this month I looked at a handful — no pun intended — of tactical knives. Testing knives for patrol use is something I really enjoy, I did my best to try to cause the locks to fail, the edges to wear, and the steel to stain. I placed the knives into category winners. The categories should give the reader an idea which knives fit which application. Below you’ll see the products I feel are among the best you can get for an array of different police missions, but there are hundreds of products appropriate for law enforcement so I recommend that readers review the PoliceOne How To Buy Guide on patrol knives as well as this roundup.
Search & Rescue Winner: TOPS/Buck CSAR-T
The TOPS/Buck CSAR-T (Combat Search and Rescue Tool) is collaboration between Buck and TOPS knives. It features G10 scales over more liner steel in the handle than most manufacturers put in their blades. The blade may not be as long as many tactical knives, but it redefines robust. The steel is ATS-34 with a proprietary temper and a bead blast finish. The knife steel is .175 thick, which could arguably make this knife a very sharp chisel. The blade uses a modified tanto design, a symmetrical grind created by two Blade doubles and a false edge bevel. The belly is flat and most of the reinforcing steel is intact because of this design. Even if it was not a generous piece of steel, it would still hold its own because of superior design.
The user can take on a hammer grip with the single finger groove and aggressive cuts in the G10 scales, appropriately called Rocky Mountain Tread. It easily loans itself to reverse cutting. Much of the balance is in the handle and it is capable of extremely powerful cutting strokes.
The CSAR-T is not a casual carry knife — it is fairly large for a knife that can be clipped to the pocket, but it is prominent when it is there. It is even more prominent when opened.
The CSAR-T is an appropriate tool for search and rescue, even without the optional wrench attachment, which fits into the hex shaped lanyard hole. It has aggressive machining on the spine, appropriate for thumb positioning in some cutting situations. It has similar machined serrations on for reverse grip and using the optional tool kit. It has a replaceable pocket clip which can be switched for left or right tip up carry. It is one of the few tactical knives in the business with a pommel worthy of using as a hammer, or a blade worthy of a prybar.
This knife has smooth bearings and a self positioning liner lock. I was unable to fool the knife into a partial lock — everything was free of wobble or play. Suspending weights from the handle while clamping the blade in a vice is a rather trivial test of the liner lock, but I did it anyway. It epitomizes handle and lock strength. My only criticism of this knife is the fact that the G10 scales have a tendency to catch on things near the crescent shaped cutout area in the pommel, which accommodates the lanyard hole. G10 is pretty indestructible stuff and I simply would have cut the bevel at a different angle.
Putting TOPS Knives together with Buck Knives makes for a very unusual collaboration. Buck knives is a family name that has more than 100 years in the business. TOPS is composed of a group of real world users who cannot afford mission failure.
The CSAR-T is appropriate for prying, heavy cutting, and rescue operations. It has exemplary steel strength and hardness. It offers tremendous protection for the hand when used for other duties like thrusting and hammering. For a practical tactical knife it has few — if any — peers.
By the way, in case anyone is wondering, I did cut some flexible cuffs with this knife. What’s the right way to do it? Well first, it’s not recommended and certainly not something I would do with someone wearing the cuffs. However, in an emergency place the area to be cut on the handle and safely close the blade into the handle, keeping fingers clear.
Hissatsu 2 is a Covert Tactical Winner
CRKT’s Hissatsu 2 folder is a James Williams design that follows the success of the fixed blade Hissatsu. The folder is the politically correct version of a blade design that can successfully penetrate materials that are not easily defeated by the blade. It is pocket sized and a very inconspicuous carry. It uses the OutBurst Assist mechanism to open the blade, which only requires a 30 degree start. This mechanism makes the knife safe to carry in the pocket but instantly deployable. There are two locking mechanisms — the liner lock and the Auto Lawks safety, transforming it into a virtual fixed blade.
Although I have trouble pronouncing the name, the Hissatsu 2 has two attributes many law enforcement officers may not be expecting in a working knife. It has craftsmanship only anticipated on higher end knives. It conjures pride in ownership.
I have cut open upholstered goods like automobile seats enough times to know that cutting power, especially with a symmetrical grind like the Hissatsu, is an advantage. When one cuts open sheetrock with a knife, it pays to have something that can stab it first, especially fire resistant wallboard. The Hissatsu has a 3.875 AUS 8 blade, tempered to 58-59 HRC, which is somewhat harder than much of their model line. It is ideal for probing after a confirmed canine alert or solid information.
I found that the Hissatsu belied its compact size. Additionally, it was pocketable without the inherent fear of having the thing fire in the pocket, which is why I like assisted-opening blades better than auto blades.
The Hissatsu was designed as a superior slashing and penetrating blade. It simply puts a lot of blade at a strategic angle. It will outperform a much longer knife employed in a similar fashion.
While we are talking about harder steels, I have to take a moment to talk about sharpening this hard stuff. If the blade is harder, it takes a little more effort to sharpen it — don’t confuse this with a need for a harder stone because soft natural stones allow for the abrasive material to float and polish the blade. The upside is the fact that knives like the Hissatsu do not dull for a much longer time.
Extended Ops Winner: CRKT M21 04G
Earlier this year, I tested CRKT’s M21 04G. For half the price of many folders, it has a lot of belly in the blade, bringing a lot of cutting edge in a chop or a swing. It is the longest knife I tested with lightweight G10 scales. Because of this, the knife — and its distant cousin the Hissatsu — really excelled in slashing items like corrugated cardboard.
The M21 04G is a smooth opening knife with CRKT’s LAWKS safety. The LAWKS is a manually operated lever opposite the blade that turns the locked blade into virtual fixed blade. In my opinion, it is overkill, but it does work.
The M21 04G opens smoothly with the Flipper and a low friction bearing. It is set up for attaching the pocket clip on all four sides. The G10 scales do not transmit heat or cold to the hand and it is easily cleaned or sterilized. If I needed to put a folding knife into a bail out kit, this would be top on my list.
I came across a product from Swiss Bianco (swissbianco.com) called the M-Sharp sharpener. It is a sharpening surface on a lightweight stainless steel bar with curled ends. The curled ends keep it hooked to any Molle compatible strap system. The sharpening surface is that fast cutting compound which will work for the newer steels. I have used it to sharpen steels over 59 HRC and it is outstanding. This product is a must carry for extended ops.
Benchmade 522 SBK: Great for Everyday Patrol
I have a Benchmade BM710 with the Combo Edge. I got it shortly after it debuted and carried it for more than half of my military and law enforcement career. I’ve cut everything, from cable to cake, with it.
I prefer the AXIS Lock mechanism because it exerts very little pressure on the blade when the knife is closed. Every AXIS Lock knife I have seen opens smoothly and locks positively. I have experimented several times with this lock on several models. I use the same methods that some companies use to promote their product. I have never caused an AXIS lock knife to fail in tests or on duty.
The 522 SBK is like my 710, which has a combo edge and a BT2 coated blade. The 522 has a drop point and uses 440C steel. Its handle texture makes it a little more glove friendly and I found that I could easily flip it open with the thumb stud and use it for almost any patrol cutting chore. The steel is 440, but this is not your grand dad’s 440. Use the M-Sharp for this one. This steel is extremely hard, durable, and stain resistant.
The drop point and hollow grind of the 522 SBK blade makes it one of the most versatile patrol knives for everyday use. While a drop point is generally used for a hunting knife, it allows for a lot of reinforcing spine for strength while still exposing a healthy amount of belly for a more usable cutting edge.
Most Cost Effective: UZI 2F0068B
Not every officer will wish to spend a lot of money for their duty knifes. Some price tags will make one cringe, which is why UZI knives from Hallmark Cutlery do well. I looked at three of them. All three knives cost the same as a single knife on most lists. I tested the ZF0068C (G10 handle, 3-1/4" blade), the ZF0054G (G10 handle, 3-3/8" blade), and the ZF0057B (G10 handle, 3-3/4" blade). My testing for these knives included putting them on duty. I even gave one to a motor officer, who praised its cutting ability.
I don’t know if G10 is particularly expensive, but it is found on the better quality knives. These knives are liner lock styles with assisted opening and they have textured G10 scales. . Although they were a little stiff in opening, even with the spring assist, they did not have any blade wobble or stiffness in closing. All three were comfortable in the hand, while the ZF0068 had generous finger grooves. The steel in the liners is fairly thin, but all three knives hung right in there during testing. The ZF0068 has to be one of the big bargains in the cutlery world.
I put these knives in the hands of officers on patrol to test them. My testers used them for “the usual” cutting chores, but noted that all three products were lighter and thinner than most knives they used. For the price of a single tactical knife, one can purchase three to four Uzi knives from Hallmark Cutlery. They are lighter than their beefier counterparts, but they can do the job. I would not hesitate to put these on duty.