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Wenger Standard Issue Swiss Army Knife – Old Soldiers Never Die…
Written: Jun 4, 2012 (Updated Apr 27, 2013)
a Very Helpful Review
by the Epinions community
Pros:True to 1961 - 2009 issue; Actual maker of issue knife for that period
Cons:Almost the 'feel' of the Victorinox "Old Soldier;' Can be hard to find locally
The Bottom Line: The official issue Swiss Army Knife has changed, but this is a true to spec version of the one issued for 47 years by one of the two official manufacturers.
Although most people recognize a class of designs as “Swiss Army Knives,” from 1961 – 2009, there was only one model that was THE real, actual issue, ‘Swiss Army Knife.’ While Victorinox is the better known manufacturer of ‘Swiss Army Knives,’ during that period, there were actually two companies which made the issue knives, Victorinox and Wenger. While it gets a trifle confusing from there, suffice to say that the Wenger Standard Issue remains pretty much exactly the same as when it was the Swiss Army’s official knife. In fact, if and when the Victorinox version I’ve carried for almost 30 years finally gives out, it will likely be replaced by the Wenger I’ve now squirreled away as a spare.
The History – Simple, But A Little Confusing
As stated, there were actually two official manufacturers of the ‘Swiss Army Knife’ form 1961 – 2009. Victorinox is and was the ‘better’ known maker. Founded in 1884, the company began delivering knives to the Swiss Army in 1891 which, in terms of the same set of tools and functionality, was recognizably the progenitor of the knife being reviewed. (Wenger currently offers a limited edition replica, based on the 1908 production model, designated as the 1893 Heritage Swiss Army Knife.) By 1897, the name “Swiss Officer’s and Sports Knife” was registered and the progenitor of many of the more recognizable commercial model knives was introduced; complete with cork screw.
Here is where it starts to get a little muddy. According to Wenger’s website…
“The Compromise of 1908
The company from which Wenger emerged had been a supplier to the Swiss Army as early as 1893, and its sister-company, Victorinox, since 1890. Wenger is in the French-speaking Jura region and its competitor is in the German-speaking canton of Schwyz. To avoid friction between the two cantons, the Swiss Government decided in 1908 to use each supplier for half of its requirements. So Victorinox can lay claim to being the ‘original,’ Wenger can state its Swiss Army Knives are ‘genuine.’ In any case, both have been manufacturing Swiss Army Knives for over 100 years and both must meet identical specifications defined by the Swiss Army.”
That last half sentence is crucial. As we’ll see in a moment, while there is a tremendous crossover between the designs of the two brands, the actual, issue ‘Swiss Army Knife’ was made to the same specifications by both companies. In fact, to this day, so far as I know, it is the only model Wenger produces which uses the ‘Victorinox’ design for the can opener and not Wenger’s standard and recognizably different, ‘hawk nose’ (a.k.a. “hawkbill’ or ‘hook nose’) can opener.
During the 1961 – 2009 era, Victorinox model came to be labeled ‘the Soldier’ and Wenger came to the “Swiss Army 70.” While there existed some very minor production differences that had more to do with the machine tolerances than any attempt at proprietary machinations, the only immediately recognizable difference was the key chain bale that came with the Wenger; though the Victorinox had the hole for one. Well, that and the commercially available models and advertisements were labeled “The Original Swiss Army Knife” and “The Genuine Swiss Army Knife” respectively – which is a big part of the confusion to this day. (I don’t remember if Wenger stamped the main blade with the year of production the way Victorinox did.)
In 2005, the concept became temporarily moot when Victorinox acquired Wenger in April of that year. In 2007, however, the whole issue became truly confusing for fans of this design when the Swiss Government requested a new, official issue knife. Long story, short… Victorinox submitted one of their newer, commercially successful, German Army adopted, medium size ‘folder’ designs which the Swiss Government adopted in 2008; though it was not actually issued until 2009.
Now, here is where the truly becomes a bit confusing. Victorinox exclusively produces the new, official knife for the Swiss Army. Wenger does not. Victorinox labeled the new version “Soldatenmesser 08” or “Soldier Knife 08.” Obviously(?), the “old” Soldier pocket knife that had been issued from 1961 (referred to in some references as the Soldier Knife Model 1961) to that time needed a new name. (Ahem… Okay. I can see the confusion for the marketing department and consumers; but, wouldn’t it have been ‘easier’ to name the ‘new’ one something else?!?!)
Victorinox now markets the “Old Soldier,” as many have now come to refer to the 1961 – 2009 issue pocket knife, as the “Pioneer.” They have removed the hole for the bale, incorporating an inox (stainless steel) ‘key chain ring’ looped through a new extension at the end of the knife, near the base of the bottle opener blade. (Well, ‘new’ to the Soldier. I have a 10-plus year old Wenger with that same extension.) With an MSRP of $41 and a street price averaging about $25 - $35, the Pioneer is denoted in the Victorinox line as a ‘robust classic,’ though it no longer carries the production year stamped at the base of the blade the way the “Old Soldier” did and it is emblazoned with Victorinox cross and shield design trademarked in 1909.
Meanwhile, Wenger, now owned by Victorinox, renamed the “Swiss Army 70” as the ‘Standard Issue’ with, so far as I can discern, no changes or alterations to the specs provided by the Swiss Government upon which the two companies manufactured the issue Swiss Army Knife. (That includes retention of the Official cross and shield rather than the less elongated Wenger version or the more ‘stylish’ trademarked Victorinox rendition.) I suppose that is why, on the packaging for the Standard Issue, Wenger is able to claim: “The actual knife issued to soldiers in the Swiss Army.” With an MSRP of $42.95, actual street price is, again, about $25 - $35. (The one I purchased a few months ago for my nephew was $26.95 hanging on a peg with five others at a local retailer.) Just be aware that they can be a bit difficult to find as a stock item locally; at least in my neck of the woods.
Speaking of specifications…
Wenger, Standard Issue
Item No. 16520
Weight: 2.4 ounces
Color: Aluminum (ribbed aluminum [alox] scales/handle, silver color)
Tools: 2.75” blade, screwdriver, cap lifter, small screwdriver, can opener, reamer, awl/scraper, key ring (bale)
Just for those who are interested…
Item Number 53960
Weight: 2.5 oz.
Handle Material: Aluminum (ribbed silver alox body)
Tools: large blade, reamer, cap lifter, screwdriver, small screwdriver, wire stripper, inox (stainless steel) key ring
Though Wenger’s catalog and packaging does not list it, the Standard Issue does have ‘wire stripper’ in the same location. It does not have the same ‘key ring;’ which is why I refer to the one on the Standard Issue as a ‘bale’ since that’s more of the design and the bottle opener blade does not have the new extension of the Victorinox Pioneer for an actual, stainless steel ring. (Said extension accounting for the difference in length between the 3.625” of the Wenger Standard Issue and the 3.7” of the Victorinox Pioneer.)
Height of the Wenger is 0.9” from back to the top most of the closed, knife blade. Width of the Wenger is 0.45” (0.5” rounded); though the bale pushes that out to 0.7” at its widest point.
I trust the point has been made. As MacArthur claimed, “Old Soldiers” never die. While they may ‘fade away’ in time, for now, they are still ‘Standard Issue;’ more or less.
(Cute. Right? I thought so. Oh well…)
The 1983 version of the Victorinox Soldier I’ve carried everyday (or practically) since purchasing it that year, is so worn that the scales (handle) are smooth, though you can see where the ribbing used to be, and the cross/shield no longer has any color. Some of the edges of both the scales and blades are, shall we say, a ‘little rough.’ The blade is noticeably less wide than the new Wenger Standard Issue I picked up for my nephew. But, it still has enough ‘SNAP’ to continue as my EDC (everyday carry) option. The only exceptions are when entering certain government buildings or, since 9/11, when flying. But, I do feel ‘unbalanced,’ in many ways, when I don’t have it.
When I say it still has ‘enough SNAP,’ I mean that the blades open and close correctly; i.e., positively and securely. Other than the inevitable wear of the blade, that is the criterion for me to discontinue using a knife that closes. Why? I carried U.S. made derivatives of these knives for a lot of years before picking up the ‘real thing;’ the first one having been given to me by an uncle when I was about 10 or so. When I finally lost that first one, the scales/handle were completely missing, the main blade was only about ¼ the width it originally was, etc.
To this day, however, I still bear the scar I earned from that first one when attempting to carve a spoon. The knife had twisted just enough in my hand and the ‘SNAP’ was so weak at that point it simply closed on me. Fortunately, the blade was so thin and the ‘SNAP’ so weak, that the bone was able to stop it with just enough of the top of the spine exposed to remove the blade. In those days, all one did was walk over to the water barrel, ladle some of the fresh, drinking water over the wound, put a band-aid on it, and go back to what you were doing. You didn’t even worry so much about the dirty blade and infections; although ‘common practice’ at the time meant you did keep half an eye out for a red line that could indicate ‘lock jaw’ (tetanus).
I have stated in the past and I still maintain that the Victorinox models are, to my perception, a slightly better quality product than the Wenger offerings in terms of both the finished appearance and the feel in my hand. Unfortunately, I don’t have a current production Pioneer for comparison, but in looking at the 1983 Victorinox, with the exception of the main knife, the blades on the “Old Soldier” are perceptually thicker along the spine than the current Wenger Standard Issue.
Now, perception isn’t always reality, so I dug out the calipers and found that the spine of the knife blade tapers from approximately 0.12” directly above the base of the cutting edge to approximately 0.068” at where the spine drops to the point on the Victorinox. At the same points on the Wenger Standard Issue, those numbers are 0.097” to 0.068”. Pretty much close enough to be within a standard deviation of a 1/10thof an inch average spine thickness.
However, when measuring the spine thickness on the can opener blade, the perceptual difference becomes decidedly less empirical. The Victorinox is 0.088” thick and the Wenger is 0.087”. The bottle opener blade is 0.105” thick on the Victorinox and 0.09” thick on the Wenger. Once again, pretty much close enough to call it a draw.
The perception is created by the fact that the “Old Soldier” I have does not ‘round off’ the edges of the spine. They are square and sharp. The new, Wenger Standard Issue ‘rounds’ the edges of the spine on the blades. This ‘rounding’ also accounts for the very slight difference in the measurements. Again, I can’t answer for current production on the Victorinox Pioneer. But, we could go through any number of measurements on the “Old Soldier” vs. the “Standard Issue” and only find differences so minor that they could be accounted for by the differences in the machinery used in the two factories. (For instance: The thumb groove on the knife blade of the Old Soldier is 0.58 inches long and 0.605 inches long on the Standard Issue.)
Since I also use the Victorinox Super Tinker (see review link below) and Fieldmaster models and the blades are, essentially, the same in respect to all but the reamer/awl/scraper, suffice to say that I’ve used the tools in just about every way intended and probably in many ways not envisioned by the manufacturer. (The exception being that my 1983 Victorinox model does not have the wire stripper as an intrinsic part of the bottle opener blade.)
Knife Blade - Supposedly this is the reason you carry a pocket knife in the first place. With 2 1/2" of edge, this is, literally, a do-it-all, stainless steel, drop point blade. In many respects, this is all the knife blade most people really need for the majority of tasks. I've used this non-locking blade to carve wood, clean uncounted numbers of fish, play mumbly peg (yes, even at my age... get a couple of us aging "boys" around a campfire and, well, you know), scrape glue, peel paint, prepare food, and for just about every other use one would put a pocket knife to. What do you mean 'design limitations' or 'only as directed?' (Frankly, my opinion/perception is that the drop point design inherent to this blade is stronger than the clip point blades on the Leatherman products for this type of utility tool. Don’t get me wrong. I like the Leatherman tools, but they don’t fill the same niche for me.)
Can Opener/Small Screwdriver – With a little practice, you will be able to open a can of Nalley's Jalapeno Chili (see review link below) for the pot sitting on the Coleman stove in only two or three times the epoch it takes with a standard, non-electric, hand can opener. With a little more practice, you will be able to consistently do it that fast. I've never failed to open a can with this thing; but, all kidding aside, it does require a modicum of practice and patience. Also, watch the edges of the lid and the lip of the can!!! They WILL be sharp and ragged when you're done. (I also tend to carry a P-51 GI-style can opener as a back-up, see review link below. If you’ve ever been in the back-of-beyond, can’t find the ‘can opener,’ and all you brought is canned food for the main entrees, you’ll understand why I started carrying both years ago.)
The small screwdriver does journeyman's work, from to screws on fly reels to eyeglasses (be very careful and you can do it, at least to the point where the screw will stay in until you can find your precision screwdriver in the drawer where you last thought you saw it).
Bottle Opener/Large Screwdriver/Wire Stripper – Remember Marty McFly trying to twist the top off that bottle of pop? I never like to be without a bottle opener; even in this day and age of twist tops, plastic tops, hydration tops, etc. Believe it or not, this one item can make you a hero when you least expect it. Meanwhile, the large screwdriver has served, primarily, for working with my license plates. I simply find it too large for many applications. Let me rephrase that. I find the ‘large blade’ of the screwdriver to be a bit problematic in that the applications where such large head screws are used are typically too large in terms of the amount of torque required versus how much I’m willing to ‘chance’ with the pocket knife.
I do have a ‘wire stripper’ in the same blade on the Victorinox Super Tinker, but I’ve never had cause to test its utility; at least not that I can recall.
Reamer/Awl/Scraper – The design of this tool, on this design, is one of the things that truly shines about this version of the official issue Swiss Army Knife and I’m grateful it’s been retained. The near-needle sharp point has allowed me to undo wind knots in my flyfishing leaders/tippets more times than I care to admit. In fact, once you figure out the technique, it’s almost the perfect tool for the purpose; at least with appropriately with 'heavier' tippets. (Get a wind knot in 6X or 7X tippet and you might as well cut it and start over.)
I’ve used it similarly on other materials, but I’ve never really used it as, I think, the designers intended. While the scraper can be used to remove glues or gunk (among other unpleasant ‘stuff’), there’s probably a reason why the scrapper edge on my Old Soldier is a little ‘rough.’
Bale – If you want to attach this knife to a key ring (I don’t advise it for a variety of reasons) or a lanyard of some sort, then this bale is heavy duty and, to my mind, far more robust than the ‘key ring’ used for the Victorinox Pioneer. With that said, I will personally remove it if/when I retire the Old Soldier as my EDC pocket knife.
As a standalone tool, unattached to a ring or lanyard, the bale has a tendency to flop around and get in the way; at least the way I handle the knife. You have to pay attention that it isn’t in the way when you try to close the knife blade. It’s a minor fiddle when using the bottle opener/large screwdriver/wire stripper blade and somewhat less of a nuisance when using the reamer/awl/scraper. In that sense, it’s largely a matter of personal preference; but, I prefer not to have it. (Of course, decades of living without it on my Old Soldier and the previous U.S. made derivatives might predispose me to a rather bias preference.)
According to Victorinox (I assume the same applies to Wenger since the specs are nearly identical), uses a stainless steel they call “a composition between 420 and 440A.” In one sense, these represent what many consider to be ‘lower quality’ stainless steels when it comes to knives. With a good heat treatment process 440A can be hardened for better strength; though 420 is generally considered to have less wear resistance, but good resistance to staining/corrosion. Since Victorinox claims the blade steel is hardened to 56 HRC, I suspect that the ‘composition’ is an attempt to combine the strength/wear resistance of the 440A with the stain/corrosion resistance of the 420, while keeping the price of the knives affordable.
To that end, I’d say they accomplished what they set out to do. While the maintenance instructions are fairly simple (lightly oil all pivot points, store free from moisture, wipe dry before returning to pocket), reality dictates that a pocket knife is bound to get wet from sweat, wet wading too deep when fish are rising ‘just over there,’ walking around in the rain, etc. Likewise, lint and other material are going to get into every nook and cranny while riding in a pocket.
The scales/handle are anodized aluminum and the blades are stainless steel; but, that doesn’t mean you can ignore oiling the entire thing on a semi-regular basis and especially after truly getting it wet. Over the years, I’ll occasionally give it shot of WD-40 and wipe off the excess. If it’s gotten a bit too ‘gunked’ up, I’ll give it a shot or three of WD-40 and use a pipe cleaner to work the debris out of the crevices, then wipe off the excess. If I don’t have WD-40, any light oil will do; e.g., Hoppe’s Gun Oil, BreakFree CLP, whatever. (Everyone is going to have their preference in oil. Go with it. My knife is still good after nearly 30 years, so…)
If the blades get a little too ‘funky,’ I’ll hit them with a little Simichrome. It doesn’t take much and I rarely need to. (I can only remember doing it a couple/three times over the years.)
Edge retention is good and you can achieve a workably sharp edge with a set of relatively inexpensive crock sticks. (That’s been my primary sharpening tool since I picked up the Old Soldier.) Of course, a stone is ‘better’ for those who like ‘scary sharp.’ However, I’m not one of those individuals you see in cutlery shops who feel the compulsive need to ‘work’ their pocket knife over the display sharpener the second they see one on the counter.
My philosophy for a pocket knife is that it’s made to be carried and used when needed. A pocket knife is carried when it would be impossible or imprudent to carry something larger or more task-oriented. It is there to fill the temporary need for a knife or for smaller jobs where a larger blade is unnecessary. It’s not something to ‘amuse yourself with’ (well, mumbly peg does represent a ‘social use,’ ahem, cough) or ‘fiddle with’ or an excuse to find something to cut up. If you need to regularly open boxes, get a box cutter. If you need to field dress a deer, then carry a knife intended for that purpose. Well, you get the idea.
The same holds true for the other ‘tools’ on a Swiss Army Knife; no matter the model. They are not replacements for ‘real’ screwdrivers or can openers or whatever. They are there to handle an ‘emergency’ or an unexpected need. (The kids forgot to pack the bottle opener because they didn’t what a ‘church key’ was when you told them to grab it on the way out the door. “I can’t find the can opener; did you leave it on the kitchen counter?” You inadvertently hit 88 mph and the Flux Capacitor deposited you in 1955 or the FedEx plane you were hitching a ride on went down in the ocean – which is one reason why I don’t like the key ring concept. Learn from Chuck’s example folks.)
Here’s what Wenger says on the packaging for the Standard Issue:
“All Wenger Genuine Swiss Army Knives, purchased in the U.S.A. and its territories and possessions, are warranted for the lifetime of the original purchaser, against breakage or malfunction, under normal use, due to defects or workmanship… This warranty will become null and void if the knife is misused, abused, tampered with or taken apart… We will not be liable for any incidental, consequential, or special damages arising from any and all uses of the knife…”
Put that in perspective. If you pay to ship it, with the recommended insurance, and include the $3 in for the return postage, how much of the $25 - $35 replacement cost have you already spent? As I’ve indicated, if you use it “normally” as a pocket knife, it should last more than long enough to make the investment more than pay for itself. If you abuse it or try to make it work like a larger, fixed blade knife or a pry bar or a torque wrench or don’t do a little preventive maintenance, then I don’t consider that to be the manufacturer’s problem. Just sayin’.
If I had to select just one ‘Swiss Army Knife,’ without hesitation or a second thought, the Wenger Standard Issue would be it; with the Victorinox Pioneer being a close second as virtually the same knife. (As I said, Wenger has remained ‘true’ to the Old Soldier I’ve carried for a long time, while Victorinox has ‘tweaked’ a couple of things.) That’s why I’ve picked up one for my nephew and will soon be picking up another one or two for a ‘reserve.’ Again, Herblock’s Law dictates: “If you find something that works, they’ll stop making it.” (Which is why I had to 'test' the one for my nephew. I'm sure you understand.)
If I had to choose between this and a Leatherman tool such as the Wave, then I’d have to look at the purpose I intended for it. While it has become ‘socially acceptable’ to see Leatherman tools on belts (a derivative of the folding knife on belt generation), it’s not always the most propitious option. The same holds true for folders and belt knives. But, that could simply be the lament of an individual who remembers a time when it was unquestioned and expected that a ‘boy’ (along with most men – both of which are typically ‘male’ in their thinking) simply carried a pocket knife ‘everywhere.’ Naturally, it was the same era where belt knives/folders were viewed as tools that were carried when the person felt they might or would need it, rather than the sign of a socially challenged and potentially ‘dangerous’ individual who did not belong in ‘polite’ company.
Made in Switzerland, the Wenger Standard Issue represents a style of pocket knife that set a true standard for such tools. The knife’s utility has not diminished, despite its replacement as the “Official Issue” knife for the Swiss Army. Remember, ‘new’ or ‘current’ isn’t always indicative of the ‘best’ or ‘most effective’ option. If you need ‘more’ or ‘more specific,’ then, by all means, get what you need to. In that context, however, when it comes to utility for most ‘general’ tasks, an unobtrusive multi-tool for everyday carry, price, and practical use, it’s hard to find a better choice than the basic design which spawned, literally, hundreds of variations and ‘copies.’
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