Inside the Mind of a Knife Designer

This article is part of a month-long blitz of knife content and contests leading up to The Day of the Knife

The story of SOG Knives begins in Vietnam, where members of a highly classified US special ops unit—known as MACV-SOG—carried a unique combat knife into the jungle on covert missions.

Years later, in 1986, that knife inspired a young designer, named Spencer Frazer, to found SOG Specialty Knives. His mission: to reproduce the original SOG Bowie knife and pay tribute to the special ops unit that created it. What began as a single commemorative model soon became a full line of innovative tools—field-proven by US Special Forces, and honored as the Navy SEAL knife of choice.

Original Bowie knife used by SOG units in Vietnam

We caught up with Spencer to talk everything from the tactical roots of SOG to Japanese gardening and his go-to EDC knife (Every–Day–Carry).

Could you give a bit of the MACV backstory to SOG’s beginnings?
There has been much written about MACV SOG in the Vietnam War. What was interesting about it for me at the time was that it was a completely covert effort uninhibited by convention. This included the equipment and weapons that were carried and procured. I started collecting the indigenous tiger stripe uniforms of the period. Many were hand silk screened in the most beautiful patterns. Not long after that I saw the first SOG knife. Game over… I was enthralled.

What keeps you passionate about knife design?
Knives are combinations of many things. They are mini machines, art, sculpture, toys, fashion, and function. Bringing all of these elements together to create an aesthetically balanced and ergonomic product is challenging. As an artist and designer, I enjoy seeing products that I’ve created or worked on out in the world and serving people.

The first SOG folding knife, the Team Leader

How has your vision for SOG changed over the years?
In the beginning, my vision was simply to create great, innovative products. It hasn’t changed all that much, although the scope is quite a bit larger. I want SOG in the future to become more synonymous with high-end, innovative Men’s Gear.

Could you talk a little bit about your design influences or inspiration?
Product development at SOG now is more of a team effort. We try and inspire each other. We also look at new, high-tech products in other categories, especially consumer goods. I get excited by well-executed concepts that push the boundaries. I’m also a Japanese garden builder and oil painter. These areas influence the designs by imparting a sense of balance and artistry.

SOG founder and and Chief Designer, Spencer Frazer

Bottom-line, what are the characteristics of a great knife in your mind?
The heart of the knife is a usable sharp edge–we don’t forget that. But balance, comfort, and ease of carry are also imperative. One of my sayings is “the best knife is the one that you always have with you.”

What do you feel sets SOG knives apart from the competition?
The combination and balance of the mechanical, functional and aesthetic make SOG stand out. We tend to be more innovative year-after-year, and there are not many companies that can provide a full-line solution for folding knives, fixed blades, multi tools, illumination and gear. Also, the heritage and provenance of our line differentiate us. We’ve been there for over 25 years and it’s hard to criticize success.

SOG Mini Trident

What’s your EDC knife?
Currently I am keeping company with the mini Trident tanto folder. Big enough to take care of business but small enough to carry unobtrusively. It’s a perfect combination.

—Patrick Murphy