If you know much at all about the world of the 1911 .45 ACP pistol, you’ve undoubtedly heard of Wilson Combat. An instantly recognizable name in high-end pistolcraft, the company has been one of the foremost makers of top-quality 1911 variants for competition and carry for nearly three decades, and many proud owners feel there’s nothing better on the crowded 1911 market today. Bill Wilson has extensive competition experience, and when he made the decision to go into the gun business full-time in 1977, the determination was that if the product was going to have his name stamped on it, that product was going to be built to certain standards or it just wouldn’t leave the shop. Bill’s son, Ryan, inherited the same professional attitude and incorporated it into his own business model when he founded Wilson Tactical in 2000, producing handmade knives. Today, Wilson Tactical (knives) is a subsidiary of Wilson Combat (guns), with Bill as president and CEO and Ryan as vice-president of the combined operation.
The knife side has expanded and now includes several quality-made in-house tactical folder designs, along with a new one in collaboration with Allen Elishewitz (Texas), the Star-Light; made for Wilson Tactical (Arkansas) by Hogue Tool & Machine (California), a part of the Hogue Grips organization formed to offer production versions of several Elishewitz designs under the Hogue Knives brand in 2009. Confused yet? Ryan Wilson explains the multi-player situation, “We have had a working relationship with Hogue over the years on various projects and have always been impressed with the quality of their finished products… We have also worked with Allen Elishewitz on various limited-run, Custom Alliance projects, so this was a perfect fit for us from a collaborator perspective.”
Wilson offers a total of four Star-Lights, actually: two with 3.5-inch blades and two with 4-inch blades, both in either tanto or drop-point styles. All four use the same premium U.S. 154-CM cryogenically tempered stainless steel hardened to HRC 57-59 for blade material, all four use Hogue’s proprietary black G-Mascus G-10 laminate as the handles. They also share the blackened steel “spoon” pocket clip, ambidextrous thumb stud for opening, button lock, and sliding “safety” on the left side. Other common features include coarse jimping on the top rear of the black-coated, flat-ground blade, an unsharpened swedge, four large, broadly spaced slip-resistant notches in the top of the handle above the lock and four more on the bottom toward the rear end, index finger dish-outs in the lower forward handle area, lanyard post and slot, and the winged Wilson Combat logo medallion in the left panel. The clip comes attached up front on the right panel for tip-down carry, and the Star-Light has sturdy brass threaded inserts in the opposite end on the same side so you can re-locate the clip for tip-up carry.
Elishewitz is known for rugged, high-quality knife designs, and you wouldn’t expect anything else on the Star-Light. You also don’t find anything else on it. The heart of any knife that gives it a soul is obviously the blade. Since cutting is the primary reason for a knife’s existence, everything else follows after and a knife is judged (by those who know that “mean” and “wicked-looking” are always secondary attributes) for its ability to cut, and to keep on cutting. The two blade designs were chosen he says because, “I very rarely make clip points; I find that the design causes the tip of the blade to be more fragile. We wanted the knife to be used in a broader range and to be more durable, that is why we chose the drop point and modified tanto,” says Wilson. The 154CM? “With proper heat-treating and tempering it is a very good stainless steel. It is easy to re-sharpen, has good stain resistance property and retains an edge fairly well.” Reflections off a brightly polished blade can be distinctly un-good in certain situations, and the black blade coating is used for glare reduction and abrasion resistance. The only real exposed “brights” on the Star-Light are the thumb stud, the lock button, the hinge pivot head, the blade-stop pin, and the sliding safety button head, and those shouldn’t call in any hostile air strikes.
The second point of consideration on a hard-use folder is the lock. The reason a lock was invented in the first place was to keep the blade from closing on valuable hand topography at inopportune moments, and to give a folder more of the character and capability of a fixed blade knife. Starting with Buck’s lockback in 1964, the quest for the elusive never-fail folder lock has resulted in a dozen or so core types and still continues today. One of the lesser-seen is the button lock, modified for the Star-Light by Elishewitz. Not really new, the button lock hasn’t been taken very seriously by makers in the past. Elishewitz says, “The reason why people do not consider it a reliable or real locking mechanism is because for years it was used in cheap autos. Speedtech years ago re-engineered the button lock and, using proper geometry, proved that it was equal or superior to many of the [other] locks. The Speedtech button was quite complicated so I simplified it, but keeping the concept the same, which is quality steel and proper heat-treating, taper on the blade and on the button and making sure the button is no smaller than .3125 inches.” Ryan Wilson also comments, “We became very interested in the Hogue Extreme folding knives [that generated the Star-Light] designed by Allen Elishewitz after watching some torture test videos that showed the Star-Light’s button lock strength far exceeded most other tactical folding knives in the industry.” It’s simple to use, safer than other designs that require the user to depress a lockback or liner lock release to close with fingers or thumbs between the handle and the cutting edge, it’s quick and it involves no fumbling with or without gloves. The blade can be opened one-handed from either side via the stud, and even works conveniently for lefties in using the button and safety with the left index finger instead of the right thumb.
After the above two most critical components, the handle’s materials, construction, and configuration come next. The material Hogue uses here is the same as what they use for some of their newer handgun grips. In case you’ve ever wondered what G10 is, since it’s widely used in the knife industry, Hogue defines it as “…a high-pressure thermoset plastic laminate consisting of multiple layers of woven fiberglass mesh cloth impregnated with an epoxy resin binder.” Their own proprietary version, G-Mascus, produces different visual patterns for a more unique look while retaining the strength of the original G10 that gives it its popularity. The stuff is quite strong, and allowed Elishewitz to use it without traditional liners to keep weight down. (There is one small steel liner where it’s needed around the pivot pin, blade stop pin, and lock button inside the left panel.) Based on the Hogue Extremes as noted, Ryan Wilson also says, “We made some cosmetic tweaks to the Star-Light that would appeal to our customer base, like our signature Starburst grip and some finish changes, but otherwise all of the specifications…came from Allen.” That texturing combines with the single finger groove to create a solid grip in the hand, the relatively short handle allows the rear to nest in the palm on forward thrusts to avoid the hand sliding forward onto the cutting edge, and the thumb positions well on either the frame notches or the blade’s spine jimping on choking up for finer routine chores. With most of the lock parts up front, that leaves room for roughly an inch of open see-through/blow-through space in the handle, with six “vents” up on top that can also be used to blow debris out. I’d personally swap the clip to the back end; the spoon sits fairly flat but it’s not polished and the edges could scrape skin if the palm slips forward on the handle under an impact, but that’s a minor gripe. I also prefer tip-down carry anyway. At 4 ounces, I’d say the lightweight goal was achieved.
The blade of the Star-Light mics 0.150-inch at its thickest, and its flat grind doesn’t leave it with a razor edge or an excessively thin cutting cross-section. It’s intended for durability in the field, not shaving in the bathroom. The test sample left a bald patch on my arm as it came, but that’s pretty much a given nowdays in a good quality blade by a “name” maker, so it was on to more fibrous testing. I don’t have the manual dexterity for true carving artwork, but the Star-Light’s blade size was easily maneuverable and its edge was thin enough to make miniature fuzz sticks out of wooden kitchen matches all day long.
Up the hill behind the house to the nearby scrub oak patch that probably hates the sound of my ATV by now, I found a leafless horizontal oak limb roughly 5 inches thick, and spent a good 5 minutes going at it with the knife in several different ways. I have a lifelong inability to totally trust any folder lock, but with a glove on and the safety activated, I stabbed and jabbed with a reasonable amount of force and speed, ice-picked bark and wood chips away, embedded and twisted the tip sideways several times, pried lightly in the hard wood with it, snap cut from both a left and right angle, shaved the exposed wood under the bark, and generally gave that limb a case of good old-fashioned what-for. Oak being oak, the limb wasn’t hugely damaged, but neither was the knife. The tip held, the edge was still sharp enough to produce another bald spot on my arm, and the finish stayed nice and dark with no steel showing through. That finish, incidentally, was a Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD) DLC (Diamond Like Coating) on my sample and the early Star-Lights, but Hogue president Jim Bruhns says as of May 2012 all Wilson Combat knife blades produced by Hogue will use CeraKote, which they deem even more wear-resistant than the DLC coating on the Star-Light I tested. The lock never failed, and the pivot pin, handle, and blade are still just as tight and play-less as when the knife was brand new.
For defensive uses, obviously the 3.5-inch blade doesn’t have either an ideal reach or the most effective penetration, but you just adapt it to short-blade techniques and targets, and it’s otherwise compact enough to carry well clipped in a pocket with little bulk and less weight as a handgun backup or utility tool that’ll be carried where a bigger and heavier folder may not. I’d expected it to be more front heavy with so much G-10 and so little steel in the handle, but the balance point is just about right at the lock button, and it’s dynamic in the hand. At a suggested retail of $229, with quality materials from names known for their production standards and a great designer pedigree, it’s a good package.
What happens when three top names come together on one knife? The Hogue-built Star-Light…
by Dave Spaulding / Nov 1, 2012