The Hogue EX-03 that I won at BLADE Show 2015 presented a new opportunity for me. I had never had the chance to test a tanto blade before, and I was eager to find out if it could have any place in my EDC rotation. Designed by famed knife maker Allen Elishewitz, this Hogue comes with heaps of style, and pioneering construction to boot.
Manufacturer: Hogue Inc.
Designer: Allen Elishewitz
Blade: Americanized Tanto Point, 154CM Steel, Dual Flat Grinds, Stonewash Finish
Rockwell Hardness: 57-59 HRC
Scales: Glass Filled Polymer, Single Piece, Injection Molded
Locking mechanism: Plunge lock with secondary safety
Opening method: ambidextrous thumbstuds
Clip: Right Hand Only, Tip-Up or Tip-Down
Country of Origin: USA
MSRP/Street Price: $159.95 / $136
Dimensions (measured on this test sample)
Overall Length: 8.125”
Handle Length: 4.625”
Handle Thickness: 0.6” near the pivot, tapering to 0.45” near the pommel
Blade Length (tip to scale): 3.5”
Sharpened Length: 3.375”
Blade Thickness: 0.15”
Weight: 4.45 oz
The EX-03’s claim to fame is its innovative construction. Rather than being two halves screwed togther, the glass filled nylon handle is a single-piece injection molded affair. This type of design has two big advantages, the first being strength over two piece designs. Second, one won’t have to worry about handle screws “walking” out over time. There is jimping molded into the plastic, as well as a “glass breaker” pommel. The sides are fully textured, but not so much that it will tear up your pockets under the clip, and the opposite side features a section of increased texture for more grip.
The lock on the EX-03 is a side mounted button lock. One thing I like about this style, it is inherently safer to operate than most other locking mechanisms on the market; when closing the knife with one hand, your fingers never have to cross the closing path of the blade. It does however share a disadvantage with liner and frame locks; left-handers will have a harder time using it. The right hand bias carries through to the pocket clip. You can configure the knife for tip-up or tip-down carry, but the screw holes are only available on the right side.
The EX-03 also features a secondary lock that prevents the button lock from disengaging, but it is only usable in the opened position, likely a nod to tactical users. The ability to lock the blade closed would be far more useful from a utility standpoint. It would be great if it could be used in both the open and shut position.
The button lock does provide some bias toward keeping the blade closed, keeping the blade from swinging open freely. By depressing the lock button, you can wrist flick the blade open and closed if you like. If not, the thumbstuds work well and won’t tear up your fingers in the process.
Fit & Finish / Initial Edge
Everything on the handle seems put together perfectly, with only a slight seam showing along the spine where the edges of the mold come together. Likewise the blade is ground extremely well and the stonewashed finish is stunningly beautiful.
The initial edge on the EX-03 is the best I have ever encountered on a factory made knife. All of Hogue’s knives are sharpened by hand and polished to a high finish. That attention to detail definitely showed on my example.
Scary sharp is a term that is thrown around a lot, but in this case it certainly applies. I could feel my body responding when I touched the edge. Like a sense of dread, accompanied by a slow wash of adrenaline. No joke.
Slicing thin magazine paper revealed just how smooth the edge was. There were no rough spots anywhere on the blade. I could do more than slice paper, I could actually whittle it using the tip.
After the initial excitement of winning the EX-03 wore off and I actually started to use it, things started to go downhill. When I used the Hogue to cut some ¾” manilla rope, the handles revealed themselves to be sharp and uncomfortable; the amount of force needed to cut the rope was downright painful on my hands. For a company known for making such cushy grips for the firearms industry, this is a major disappointment.
The second problem is that the knife is fundamentally unbalanced.
The liners only extend slightly past the safety lock, and as a result the knife feels very blade heavy due to the lack of any real weight in the handle. The balance point doesn’t seem to be too far in front of your index finger – it sits right about where the pivot is – but because of the weight of the blade and the shape of the finger groove, all the knife wants to do is dip forward in your hand.
I found the unbalanced nature of the EX-03 to be a hindrance in everyday carry situations. Plain and simple, I felt clumsy with the knife and never felt completely in control of the cutting edge.
Using the Spyderco Sharpmaker I had no trouble keeping the tanto blade keen. In fact, I did not change my technique at all from how I would sharpen the standard curved belly of a drop point, drawing the entire edge across the stones in one fluid motion. The only downside to sharpening this way is that the secondary point may gradually smooth out over time.
Hogue uses 154CM for the blade of the EX-03, and while it may be a bit more difficult to sharpen than say, AUS-8, it never presented me with any real trouble. After using up the edge by cutting cardboard, I had a hair splitting edge back on the blade in roughly 2 minutes with the Sharpmaker.
As I mentioned earlier, the handles of the EX-03 were sharp under hard work, but wearing a pair of work gloves helped. Out of the box I could not easily pull through a loop of ¾” manilla rope (mostly due to discomfort), but push cutting through a taut portion produced a very clean cut.
I then tried sawing through the rope and discovered an advantage to the tanto style over a more traditional blade profile. The secondary point can be thought of as a big, single serration. Running the point back and forth across the rope was very effective, chewing through even with the high polished edge.
Cutting against the grain, the Hogue was zipping through corrugated cardboard, feeling much the same for the first 160 linear feet.
After that things started to taper off a little more quickly. I made it through 285 feet before the blade started to plow. This wasn’t all down to just the edge condition – I could feel the thickness of the primary bevel causing some resistance as well.
The stonewashed finish earned its keep by hiding any scratches from the cardboard with aplomb. I think I found one, but only if I am really looking for it!
I whipped up some quick tent stakes and was glad to be wearing gloves. The blade performed adequately, but the handle is not made for whittling.
I was able to use the end of the blade to chisel out the notches. Score another use for the tip!
The Hogue EX-03 changed my perceptions on tanto blades. Although I still prefer a simple drop point I can absolutely see the utility of a tanto in an everyday carry capacity.
It is hard for me to not draw comparisons between the EX-03 and the Benchmade 553 Griptilian.
They are both tanto bladed folders made in the USA. They are constructed of the same steel and blade lengths are virtually identical. Both have “plastic” handles. Both can be closed without your finger crossing the path of the blade.
But, the Benchmade’s grips are more comfortable to hold. It is also balanced very well, rather than being blade heavy like the EX-03. The Hogue is set up exclusively for right-handers, whereas the lock and the pocket clip on the BM are both fully ambidextrous. It also has a larger lanyard hole, and to top it all off, the Griptilian is cheaper to buy.
Does the EX-03 have any advantages over the Griptilian?
Fit and Finish? Maybe.
Initial edge? Definitely.
Durability of the handles? Possibly.
Secondary blade lock? Yes, but I never found myself using it.
Glass breaker? I have not tested this feature so I don’t know how well it works, but I will take the more ergonomic pommel on the Benchmade any day.
Where does this leave the Hogue?
The EX-03 is well made, but the competition is simply better.