Knife Review: Robson X-46 Survival/Hunting Knife (Updated)

Image: Chris Dumm

Okay, okay, I know it’s pink, but don’t hold the color of this particular Robson X-46 survival/hunting knife against it. I mean, we’re supposed to be a color-blind society, right? (Can’t we all just get along?) It’s got a stratospheric price tag (not quite ‘mesospheric’) and an amazing, one-piece construction, and the Robson X-46 handled every task I threw at it.

It’s a combat knife, a skinning knife, a shaving knife, a meat cleaver, a hatchet and a splitting wedge. And best of all? It’s also available in black.

Image courtesy Robson Knives Of Idaho

Here’s the proof. I’m probably one of the few who requested a pink camo X-46, but we wanted to review something a little different. We got what we asked for; this beast is definitely different. And it starts with the steel.

The Steel

A2 tool steel is not among the most common choices for knife blades, although Chris Reeve uses it regularly. It’s an air-hardening medium alloy with excellent toughness and good wear resistance. It’s significantly tougher, but slightly less wear resistant than the more common D2 steel.

A2 doesn’t have much corrosion resistance, and if untreated it would rust quickly without oiling. That won’t be a problem with the X-46 because the entire knife but for the edge is Ceracoated in black, drab, tan, orange or pink. Ceracoat/Duracoat is a proprietary polymeric coating of legendary toughness and nearly absolute corrosion resistance, and I’ll talk about it more later.

A2 can be hardened to the low 60s HRC, but Robson ‘only’ hardens their A2 knife steel to 58 HRC to avoid turning this super-tough steel brittle. While fairly soft for tool steel, this is about the same hardness as most EDC blades made from S30V supersteel.

The Blade

Image: Chris Dumm for TTAK

Numerous blade styles and lengths are available from Robson, but this particular X-46 has a drop-point blade 5 inches long and 1/4″ thick. The edge length is actually 4 inches, since the first inch of the face of the blade (as well as the first two inches of the spine) are flat ricassos that allow a choked-up precision grip.

Forward of the ricasso, the reverse is beveled into a false edge with an approximately 75 degree grind. The blade is 1.5″ deep at its widest point, which gives the edge a lot more belly than most 4-inch knives. The blade has a 10″ diameter hollow grind, and comes from the factory with a gently concave edge grind as well.

Because A2 tool steel has poor corrosion resistance, the blade is treated with your choice of several Duracoat colors. I asked for the Pepto Pink Camo, just to be different, but it’s also offered in black, tan, orange and flat pink.

Construction

Solid-steel construction isn’t something we usually see around here. The X-46 starts as a bar of A2 tool steel which is turned on a CNC lathe and then hogged flat by step milling. Once it’s machined roughly into shape, the blade is ground by hand and then heat-treated.

Heat-treating is the last major process, because milling and grinding such a hefty blade generates a lot of heat which would ruin the temper. After the heat treat the endcap (made of fully hardened 41L450 steel) is pressed into the handle and the entire knife is Duracoated.

The advantage of this unique process is simple: it makes an unbreakable and extremely sharp knife. The disadvantage of the Robson production process is that nothing about the X-46 is susceptible to mass-production. There are no cast or stamped parts, no economical sheet steel, and no minimum-wage unskilled laborers involved.

This knife grinds up a lot of expensive tool steel bar stock, uses a lot of CNC machine time (and CNC mill bits), and requires a lot of hand-finishing. This is all reflected in the expensive final price. You get what you pay for; whether you need it is up to you.

Ergonomics

Image: Chris Dumm for TTAK

Once you get past this knife’s considerable heft, it’s really comfortable. With a normal grip it balances under your middle finger, about 1.5 inches behind the guard. This handle-heavy balance makes the blade itself fairly agile for a 5″ x 1.5″ x 1/4″ slab of tool steel.

Choking up on the blade as shown here, holding the guard between your index and middle fingers, gives an extremely precise and secure grip with exceptional edge and tip control. Gripped thusly, this steroidal knife handles more like a heavy folding knife than like the miniature machete/camp hatchet it can also serve as.

The grip itself is nearly symmetrical, with a slight taper toward the guard. The machined ridges and flats combine with the Duracoat surface to give a solid grip in wet or dry conditions. Normal and reverse gripping is equally firm and equally comfortable.

Image: Chris Dumm for TTAK

The firm grip and substantial double guard mean that you can stab with all of your strength without hurting yourself. And don’t worry about the knife; you’ll never manage to hurt it either. And yeah, that’s a log.

Handle temperature is an issue with all-metal knife handles, particularly for belt knives that don’t spend their time in the climate-controlled pocket of your pants. The pink color of our test knife prevented it from ever getting hot, but a flat-black X-46 could get really hot after an hour sitting in the sun.

Similarly, the X-46 handle design might not work well in sub-freezing winter conditions, because the handle metal might freeze to your unprotected skin. This could be easily addressed by simply wrapping the handle in 100-mph tape, but you’ll want to do that before you take this knife into the arctic.

Testing

Unlike most of what we test here, the X-46 isn’t a slim EDC blade, a tactical folder or a gentleman’s pocketknife. It’s a Rambo-worthy survival knife (much more useful than a collectible Jimmy Lyle First Blood model) and I needed to make a few changes and additions to our EDC-oriented testing routine to really evaluate it.

To our usual round of paper, cardboard and rope-cutting tasks, I added wood chopping and splitting. Not ‘batoning’ 1″ sticks into even smaller sticks, but actually splitting 2×4-sized lumber into stakes and kindling, and felling scrub trees in the forest.

Newsprint Cutting:

Despite its thick 1/4″ blade, the X-46 was only a smidge less sharp than the ‘Scandinavian Razor’ Mora. Although not quite as wicked as the thin-bladed Mora knife, the X-46 shaved unsupported newsprint as well as or better than any other knife I’ve handled. It is just as sharp as the wicked Spyderco Native S30V or a box-new Buck 110, and that says a lot.
Grade: A/A-

Rope Cutting:
The X-46 was a reasonably proficient rope cutter, but I expected better performance from its 5″ blade and hand-filling grip. The blade was fairly easy to force downward through the 3/4″ manila rope, with the heel of my left hand pressing on the flat of the blade, but using a slicing or drawing stroke took more effort and more strokes than I expected.

This is probably due in part to the great thickness of the blade. If it were a saw it would have a 1/4″ kerf, and it takes effort to separate the cut fibers that far while you’re slicing through the rest of them.

Looping the rope and pulling the blade through it was no easier, since the rope tends to slip into the unsharpened choil just forward of the guard. This prevents using maximum leverage against the rope, but the choil came in handy for many other uses so I can’t say it’s a poor design. It’s just not the best for cleaving through ropes in one swipe.
Grade: B/B-

Box Cardboard:
Thick blades and hollow-ground edges aren’t the most efficient cardboard cutters. The thick, hollow-grind X-46 was at a double disadvantage in this test, but the wicked-sharp edge and good ergonomics powered it through an endless pile of old boxes.

It never sliced efficiently (the thick blade requires some horsepower) but it cut cleanly through 116 linear feet of box cardboard before I gave up trying to defeat it. It lost its newsprint-slicing keenness but it didn’t suffer any nicks, rolling or turning of its edge at all. It was still cutting, arduously but cleanly, until I ran out of boxes and ran out of steam.

Remember that the excellent Mora blade had totally given up at 106 feet, by which time it was plowing through the cardboard like a tugboat. The X-46 might still be slicing cardboard, if I were a box-cutting robot.
Grade: A+++ for durability, B for efficiency.

Woodcutting:

Image: Chris Dumm for TTAK

Despite only having a 5″ blade, the X-46 has the heft and strength to function as a small camp hatchet when the need arises. The grip is surprisingly comfortable and the super-sharp edge really makes the wood chips fly as you whack your way through big branches, 2x4s, small trees, or whatever.

This knife could help you build a simple shelter in no time flat, which isn’t usually part of the job description for a 5″ hunting knife. The scrub tree shown above succumbed to a flurry of blows in about 45 seconds.

This smaller stick was chopped through even more quickly. Cutting through a 4″ or 6″ diameter log would take a while, but if it *had* to be done the X-46 would –eventually– do it. Amazingly, the X-46 was still sharp enough to cut copier paper cleanly (although not newsprint), even after being used as a camp hatchet.

Overall Blade Performance: A

The only thing that went even remotely wrong is shown here:

Image: Chris DummMy first round of chopping managed to vibrate the endcap out from the hollow grip cavity. The interior of the grip is painted but not Cercoated, and it’s not designed to be used for storage. The cavity is also oval-shaped so the endcap doesn’t thread into it like some hollow-handle survival knives.

Instead the endcap is press-fit into the handle with a pair of O-rings and some sealant. Machine tools wear down with use, and Robson uses either 70 durometer or 90 durometer O-rings depending on the age of the milling bits used on the handle. Robson manager  Timothy Buck told me that my unusual testing had taught them something, and that this knife definitely should have received the larger diameter O-rings.

Rather than send the knife back for such a simple repair, I asked him if a spot of epoxy would do the trick. With his affirmative answer, I dug some resin and hardener out of the depths of the garage and permanently re-attached the X-46’s endcap. Backwards, as it turns out. But I actually like it better the new way, and I chopped through several more hefty branches without dislodging the endcap again.

UPDATE 8/3/13:

Image courtesy Robson Knives of Idaho

Tim noticed your comments about a threaded endcap, and it turns out the Robson guys were way ahead of us: they introduced a threaded-cap version at the BLADE Show, and it’s selling like crazy.

Durability

Although I knocked the endcap loose, I couldn’t actually damage this knife if I tried. And I did try. After the most rough testing I’ve ever put a knife through, I failed to put a single chip in the edge or a single scratch on the blade. I dulled the Duracoat in a few spots along the edge of the bevel, but I couldn’t wear through it to bare metal even though I used it as a camp hatchet and a splitting wedge.

How tough is this knife? Tough enough that nothing made of wood or bone (or even medium-sized stone) could ever break it. If Aron Ralston had carried an X-46 into that Utah canyon in 127 Hours, he probably would have chiseled that 800-pound sandstone boulder into pea gravel and walked out with two arms instead of one.

Favorite Feature

Ruggedness. If you’re buried with this knife like a Viking chieftain, your X-46 will still be sharp and functional when human-descended archeologists excavate your grave 600,000 years from now. And they’ll know you were a stud.

Least-Favorite Feature

The X-46’s price puts it out of reach of most knife guys, and it’s the only reason you’ll probably never own one. Serious collectors are probably buying them up as blue-chip collectibles, but they’ll never use them so they’ll never know how versatile they are. And they’ll never wear a shit-eating grin as they use this monstrously sharp and overbuilt knife to chop all kinds of things to little tiny pieces.

SPECIFICATIONS

Type: monolithic-construction fixed-blade knife.
Blade style: hollow ground drop-point with false reverse edge.
Blade dimensions: 5″ by 1.5″ by 1/4″.
Steel: A2 tool steel, 58 RHC.
Grip: tapered, fluted nonslip with flat sides.
Overall length: 10″
Weight: 15 ounces (17.2″ with sheath)
Sheath: Molle-compatible Spec Ops nylon sheath with Kydex blade insert.
Price: $450
Made in USA
Manufacturer’s Links:  Web / Facebook 

RATINGS (out of five stars)

Styling: * * * *
Don’t let my pink nightmare put you off; in basic black or coyote tan it looks awesome.

Blade: * * * *
Extremely sharp with excellent edge retention, and handy for nearly any use. A bit too thick for ideal food preparation, but still gets the job done well.

Ergonomics: * * * 1/2
Balanced and comfortable, but quite heavy.

Ruggedness/Durability * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Crazy, stupid, insane ruggedness and durability.

Overall Rating: * * * * 1/2
An exclusive, very expensive, utterly indestructible knife for the collector or extreme sportsman.

comments

  1. jwm says:

    450 bucks and the end cap pops off. I’ve bought cars for less money than that.

    1. Jalene says:

      I bet those $450 cars didn’t last long and this knife will get you through the worst of times. Besides that they are awesome! And, when you have one, you have the tops and everyone knows it.

      1. jwm says:

        Jalene, I bought a 100 dollar car that ran for a year. Bragging rights and bling are for people that are usually robbing Peter to pay Paul. For a lot less than 450 bucks I can have a decent knife, ax and shotgun. Those will see me thru a lot rougher times than a single knife.

        1. jalene says:

          Oh, I agree with you Jim. It’s all in how you look at things and what you want. But, if you WANT the X-46 and LIKE it, then it’s worth the cost.

  2. Matt in FL says:

    Man, you had me sold ’til I saw the price. Even your spiel up at the top about the labor-intensive manufacturing process didn’t prepare me for what I saw when I scrolled down.

    I would love to have one, but I simply can’t afford that extravagance.

  3. ChuckN says:

    My only suggestion would be to machine a circular opening and thread
    it. Better for storage and there’d be no worry that the cap would pop off.
    Cercoat the inside too.
    Other than that it looks like a fantastic, albeit expensive, survival knife.

  4. Aharon says:

    Chris and I met up for breakfast this morning, and afterwards I had the opportunity to hold this knife. It has that really super solid substantial feeling going way beyond even the Becker BK2. I think the x46 will outlast a collision with another planet. Unfortunately, Chris declined my request to test out its penetration ability on his car trunk. Until I hit the Jackpot, 1075 and 1095 steels are where I will put my knife spending money.

    1. Jalene says:

      I like your comment that the X-46 will outlast collision with another planet!!
      Cool!

  5. Tim Buck says:

    Before this test began Robson Knives Idaho was already prototyping a threaded end cap! Same Price They are available, I know they are expensive! If you want a Cadillac you gotta pay for it RIGHT!!!

  6. Mark Davis says:

    Excellent review. Would like to see it compared to one of the other survival standards like ESSE or Becker.

  7. Jalene says:

    Knife guys, rethink the price. I have daughters who have purses that cost what an X-46 costs and seriously, they own several. Knives don’t go out of style.

  8. Thanks for sharing this blog , hunting knives have been around for centuries and are said to have been designed by our caveman ancestors. These best survival knives were used to kill animals, for skinning and ultimately even as a weapon for protection. They literally functioned as the best survival knives, because of this all round use.

    1. jalene says:

      This is one knife you don’t have to replace, that’s for sure.

  9. Kilroy says:

    $450 really isn’t that much for a quality knife like that.

  10. I actually kinda like the pink…… I mean it would be hard to lose, amiright?

  11. NoNonsense says:

    Dude, for real? That’s an insane price tag for a knife. A2 steel?! Gimme a break! 1095 carbon steel with a good heat treatment will serve your needs at a WAY better price.

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Knife Review: Robson X-46 Survival/Hunting Knife (Updated)

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