SOG Kiku Folder
By Luke Causey
Sometimes “new” and “first time ever” can mean “overly hyped” and “let’s see how the market reacts, then we’ll make a good one.” When SOG says these things about the Kiku line of their knives, they mean it. This first time collaboration between SOG Knives and Kiku Matsuda has produced a line of folders with Kiku’s flair and quality, priced right for the discerning knife buyer.
Knives have been getting lighter, stronger and more user friendly since molten chunks of iron were first pounded into a useable shape. Recently, technology has evolved that allows consumers to get a custom level knife at production level prices. What was once a six month wait and half a paycheck can now be had in a few days postage time and for less than a full tank of gas. SOG has developed exactly that sort of knife with the Kiku folder. A complex grind on the blade, high end handle material, and top shelf build quality all come from SOG ready to go to work in the shop or camp.
The Kiku line of knives falls into the tradition of SOGs longstanding relationship with Japanese knife makers. SOG has been producing knives since 1986, and early on, partnered with Japanese designers. The partnership between SOG and Kiku Matsuda has come to fruition in the Kiku line of knives. These knives rely heavily on Matsuda’s complex grind and strong build quality. The small Kiku folder is the best example of custom design in a production folder I have come across to date.
The Kiku folder is made with some of my favorite knife materials. The blade steel is AUS-8 tempered to a 56-58 on the Rockwell scale. Some folks fuss about the AUS-8 steel not being one of those ‘super steels.’ Quite frankly, and as someone that actually uses knives, AUS-8 is in my ‘top three’ of stainless steels. I’ve been a fan of this steel since it was first coming out of Japan. AUS-8 sharpens easily, holds an edge very well, and seems to dull before it chips. That last point is a big seller for me. I have half a dozen knives with chips in the blades because the steel is simply too hard. Some might say I’m too rough with knives, but I tend to just think I’d rather use what’s in my pocket than tote around a half dozen knives for different cutting chores. But I digress…
Speaking of being in the pocket, the Kiku comes in two different sizes. What we’ll be looking at is the smaller folder, measuring as near as makes no difference, 4 1/2” when closed. The blade is 3 1/2” long, and when opened it tops out at 7 3/4”. The knife is very comfortable in the pocket, partially due to the deep carry style clip. When the knife is clipped to a pants pocket, the top of the clip is the only portion visible. This style seems to protect the knife from accidentally coming out of the pocket, and seems to keep me from banging it into everything I walk by.
While we’re talking about the clip, it’s the only thing that needed a little attention when I received the knife. It… was… tight! I’m talking, two-handed, barely get it out of your pocket, kind of tight. It was so tight that it wouldn’t go into the pocket of thicker pants like Carhartt’s or 5.11’s. But it was an easy fix. And part of what I needed to do anyway, seeing as how I had just had surgery on my right index finger and it would be immobilized for six weeks. So when I swapped the clip to left hand carry, I flexed it out just a bit. It now holds very well, but will come out of my pocket when I tell it to. And speaking of setting it up left handed, the Kiku works very well like this. I’ve set knives up left handed for work, self-defense, and general use, and I’ve found I like the Kiku like this. So much so, that after my return to full use of my right hand, I’ve kept it this way.
The knife is built as an open design, with a small spacer toward the rear to keep everything together and anchor the clip. The scales are green linen micarta and are very nicely contoured. The center of the scales are scalloped, and their edges have half-moon cut-outs. One thing I can say about this handle, it really sticks in your hand. I’ve had gasoline, grease, brake fluid, and transmission fluid all on this knife. It has never felt like it would slip. The micarta was left slightly rough as well. Not so much that it’s tough on your hands, but you can definitely feel it wasn’t polished smooth, which is an advantage in my opinion.
Now about the blade, it’s definitely unique. When Kiku Matsuda joined with SOG on this project, it was bound to be unique. Kiku Matsuda is known for his complex grinds, blending one-off blade shapes, bevels, and edge geometry into hand held sculptures. The SOG Kiku’s blade is referred to as a tanto point by SOG, but I don’t entirely agree with that assessment. In use, the shape is entirely recurve. The spine is straight, with an unsharpened false edge on the back. The false edge begins at a small hump in the spine. I found this to be particularly nice for detail work with my index finger straight along the spine.
The rest of the blade is far from tanto. The grind is twofold; one hollow ground section close to the handle, and one flat ground section towards the tip. The hollow ground base section joins the flat ground top section about two-thirds of the way up the blade. This transition is smooth, and a full pull cut through various material is easy to accomplish. At first glance, it would seem to be a difficult shape to sharpen. That was certainly my thought. But I found that a ceramic rod sharpened everything just fine. I was able to get a shaving edge back after weeks of use without any unusual trouble.
I have really enjoyed using the Kiku for everything you can think of. It’s a fairly medium weight knife, coming it at 4.2oz, but it carries extremely well. When carried clipped to a pocket, I can easily retrieve keys and other doo-dads without the knife getting in the way. Cutting packages and cardboard was a breeze for the Kiku, as were zip-ties and thin wire. Taking the Kiku out in the woods was a lot of fun. In just a few minutes time, I was able to process some juniper bark into a softball sized chunk for a quick fire bundle. The spine throws sparks fairly well, but it is a bit rounded for comfort. If you are like me, you can just use the bottom of the edge for firesteel work. If you’re one of the internet commando’s that’s certain this will cause a polar vortex or a reversal of the Earth’s magnetic field, you can square a section of the spine off with a file.
Making a beer-can whistle ala Mors Kochanski, didn’t have any ill effects on the knife’s edge during an afternoon hike. Cutting up the beer-can using a log as a work bench, took only a couple of minutes. Getting the flush and straight edges needed was a matter of laying the aluminum out on the log and using the tip to score the material a couple of times until it went through. A few minutes work later, and I had a very serviceable whistle capable of signaling friends, a hunting buddy, or rescue well after my voice would give out. Back home in the garage, I played with building a few pop-can stoves and the Kiku did just fine. Save a few scratches on the blade, no other apocalyptic damage ensued.
Cutting heavy brake line was no biggie either. Whittling out chunks of aspen, juniper, and pine went just as expected. On a typical pull cut through wood, when the knife is held in a hammer-grip, the two different edge grinds have an unexpected result. The hollow grind bites deep into the wood, and as you pull and transition to the flat ground section, it ‘throws’ the chunk of wood off what your carving. It’s difficult to describe, but I’d relate it to a splitting maul that slightly starts the split, then when the wood is high up on the wedge, throws the two sides apart. It works very well, and seems to be pretty quick in use.
Overall I’ve really enjoyed the Kiku. The materials used are some of my favorite, and seem well executed. The operation is silky smooth and locks up extremely tight, and if you’re so inclined, it will disassemble to clean out those fish guts or deer blood without too much hassle. For a knife that retails online for under $80, it’s a great buy. It’ll last for years, won’t break the bank, and certainly won’t blend into the crowd. Check ’em out at www.sogknives.com