TOPS Knives Szabo Express: Purebred Fighting Knife9 min read
The Szabo Express is a wicked new fixed blade fighting knife from TOPS Knives. It was designed by knife designer, law enforcement officer and combatives instructor Laci Szabo. Laci is a US military veteran and has worked as a DOD and DOE contractor. He brings a wealth of practical experience to his designs.
In the words of TOPS, “By the time Laci designed the Express he had been carrying large folders for self-defense in his waist band for years, sometimes overseas for security details, where firearms were not allowed. His goal was to bridge the gap between a large folder and a small fixed blade.”
Laci states, “After attempting to use my folder in several emergencies, and having to use both hands to open the blade, even though I could open it with a flick of the wrist at home… I realized I needed to design a fixed blade. Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to bring everybody down to my martial arts level. I’m sure there are badasses out there that can flip open a butterfly knife in a life-or-death situation… not me. I need to rely on gross motor skills every time. A fixed blade knife is inherently stronger and more reliable than a folder, especially for combat. It does not require fine motor skills to be deployed. This is with that state of mind that I designed the Szabo Express.”
“The Express was designed as a fighter, not as a utility knife. It is not meant to pry a door open, or to dig a trench. The width of the blade is necessary to provide adequate wound cavity from a thrust. The ergonomic handle ensures proper grip retention in both saber and reverse grip, and the thickness of the blade, 5/32”, makes the Express extremely sharp while maintaining its strength.”
Laci is not a knife maker but true designer who commissions talented makers to produce his designs. Laci had been carrying the Express on and off duty for years when he showed it to Leo Espinoza, President of TOPS Knives. Not surprisingly, Leo immediately liked it and it was added to the TOPS line. Laci states, “TOPS did a great job with the Express, it is safe to say the TOPS Express is at least as good as the custom version.”
The blade profile and geometry of a knife have a considerable impact on how well a knife works for its intended use. The blade on the Express is designed for both thrusting and slashing.
The Express is an asymmetrical dagger with a sharp stabbing point and good cutting edges — both essential features on a fighting / self defense knife. Available in both double-edge and single-edge versions, it has 5.63” full-tang spear-point blade with a flat-saber ground 5.25” plain cutting edge. The blade is 1.35” wide and 0.160″ thick. The knife has an overall length of 10.38″. It weighs 7.5 oz. Weight with the sheath is 10.4 oz. I opted for the double-edge version.
The blade is made of 1095 steel (RC 56-58). 1095 steel is a high carbon steel with 0.95% carbon content. It contains other trace elements such as manganese, phosphorus, and sulfur. It may be old school, but 1095 is an excellent, well-proven knife steel. It’s reasonably tough, holds a good edge, and is easy to re-sharpen. It has performed admirably in military use for many years. The US Marine Corps has specified 1095 steel for its issue fixed blade knives since WWII.
The drawback to this type of steel is that it rusts fairly easily. For this reason, most 1095 blades have some sort of coating to resist rust. TOPS went with black Cerakote® on the Express. Cerakote is proprietary thin-film ceramic coating made by a company called Cerakote. It provides excellent corrosion resistance and lubricity, as well as high chemical resistance. It’s hard and wear resistant.
TOPS pre-treats each blade with high-quality rust-preventative oil before shipping. To prevent rust in normal use, clean the knife after use and regularly coat the blade with a good knife oil or a dry film rust inhibitor. All fixed blade knives purchased directly through TOPS (and all TOPS folders regardless of where they’re purchased) ship with a bottle of TOPS-branded HP100 Knife Oil.
In reality there’s no single best steel for all knives. There are advantages and disadvantages to every steel. When selecting a steel, a knife maker balances multiple factors, including type/design of the knife, how the knife will be used and cost. Requirements will differ. Just as one must match the tool to the job, one must match the steel to the tool.
The steel, however, is only part of the equation. The heat treatment process is key to maximizing the performance of any knife steel. Although it’s more involved than a conventional heat treatment, TOPS does a differential heat treatment on its carbon steel knives. It differentially alters the properties of the steel, creating areas that are harder or softer than others. This helps create a tough blade with a wear resistant edge. TOPS is known for its 1095 steel and does it right.
Differential heat treatment makes TOPS knives stronger and capable of withstanding the sideways stresses that many other knives cannot. The renowned feudal Japanese Samurai swordsmiths also used differential heat treating on their blades.
Laci’s main concern when designing a knife is ease of use and ergonomics, To ensure that his designs offer superior control and comfort in the hand, he always begins with the handle shape, perfecting it before progressing to the blade.
The Express features an exceptionally ergonomic neutral handle shape that’s compatible with multiple grips. The handle has a plain but functional arch and dropped handle (downward curving butt) that improve purchase and aid retention. The handle provides a very secure grip, naturally indexes the edge to the handle and prevents the knife from twisting in the hand. The Express has a striking pommel with lanyard hole that can be employed for less-lethal strikes.
The handle has black canvas Micarta® handle scales with red G10 liners that give it a bit of extra pop. Black canvas Micarta is a high-pressure laminate composed of layers of light colored canvas fabric and black phenolic resin. It’s extremely durable and easy to grip.
The scales on the Express are rounded for comfort and feature TOPS superb Rocky Mountain Tread™ pattern sculpting. These machined grooves not only provide extra traction and look awesome, but don’t cause hot spots like many other tread patterns. The scales are attached to the tang by stainless steel round-head hex-socket screws, allowing for easy removal for cleaning.
The Express features a double guard with quillions machined into the blade stock to protect the hand. The top guard is designed to also serve as a thumb ramp and has jimping for additional purchase and control. The jimping is appropriately done with chamfered top edges so as not to be uncomfortable.
The guard features a shorter, forward-curving design that blends with the grip. It has a gradual sweep with a symmetry that locks your hand and prevents “jamming” of the thumb, as well as any abrupt shock to the hand when stabbing. The design of the guard also facilitates concealment and makes it less likely to snag on clothes during the draw.
Balance is an important factor in choosing a knife, especially a fighting knife. The blade should not be so heavy that it tends to drag the handle from your fingers. The Express has perfect balance for a fighting knife, balancing where the handle transitions into the guard. It’s quick and lively in the hand. The knife feels much lighter than it looks.
The Express comes with an excellent two-piece pancake-style black Kydex® sheath. The sheath is of friction fit, self-locking design. The sheath locks the knife in securely with an audible click, but allows for easy deployment. While gripping the handle of the knife, you can simply push your thumb against the top of sheath to provide leverage to push the knife free of the locking nubs. The sheath is designed to allow for a good fighting grip straight out of the sheath without any need to realign the hand. The sheath features a wide opening for easy-re-sheathing. The base of the sheath has a drain hole for moisture drainage. All TOPS Kydex sheaths are initially fit to a standard and then individually adjusted for fit before shipping. There isn’t any blade rattle in the sheath that came with my knife.
The sheath is equipped with TOPS’ new low-profile steel clip, made from a special spring-tempered carbon steel alloy. The clip has a black oxide finish. The clip fits belt up to 1.75” wide but will work without a belt. It provides solid retention. The clip features a no-pull “J” hook / overhook that provides additional engagement for added security. The clip is designed for vertical carry only. TOPS opted not to go with its 360º rotating clip in order to keep the profile as flat as possible for concealment.
The clip is attached to the sheath by two Chicago Screws, utilizing the sheath grommet holes. You can set it up for right or left hand carry. The top metal grommets on the sheath are spaced with industry standard 0.6” spacing to allow you to attach an aftermarket mount or clip of your choice, should you so choose. The grommets may also be used to attach a cord for static cord carry or for lashing the sheath.
I was surprised how well the Express conceals considering how large it is. I had no problems comfortably concealing it, even under a T-shirt without any noticeable printing. Of course, depending on your body your mileage may vary.
The Express exhibits the high level of attention to detail that I have come to expect from TOPS. The workmanship on the Express that I received for evaluation is flawless, as has been the case with all TOPS knives that I have examined. Fit and finish are darn near perfect. The knife came razor sharp.
A knife should be considered as a critical component of the self-defense toolbox. An edged weapon is an effective close range force multiplier that needs to become part of an integrated combatives skill set. If you’re looking for an outstanding full size fixed blade combatives knife, you’ll definitely want to check out the Szabo Express. It’s one badass blade.
MSRP for the Express is $240.00 USD. It’s available directly from TOPS at topsknives.com or at authorized dealers. As with all TOPS fixed blade knives, the Express is is covered by a limited lifetime warranty (one-year on sheath). TOPS makes all its knives in the USA.
TOPS offers a free sharpening service for the original purchaser, Should the working surface of your knife become marred or scored from heavy usage TOPS will refinish it for you for a minimal charge All shipping and handling charges are the responsibility of the owner.
An aluminum trainer for the TOPS Szabo Express is available from Laci Szabo Designs at szaboinc.com. The trainer is $35.00 USD. Police and active-duty military get 10% discount. The trainer is made in the USA.
Laci Szabo Designs
TOPS Knives Szabo Express
Manufacturer: TOPS Knives
Designer: Laci Szabo
Model: Szabo Express
Knife Type: Fixed Blade Dagger
Overall Length: 10.38″
Blade Length: 5.63″
Cutting Edge: 5.25″
Blade Width: 1.35”
Blade Thickness: 0.160″
Blade Style: Spear Point
Edge Type: Plain, Double or Single Edge
Blade Grind: Flat-Saber
Blade Steel:1095 RC 56-58
Blade Finish: Black Cerakote
Blade Tang: Full
Handle Length: 4.75”
Handle Thickness: 0.60”
Handle Material: Black Canvas Micarta w/ Rocky Mountain Tread, Red G10 Liners
Lanyard Hole: Yes
Knife Weight: 7.5 oz
Weight w/ Sheath:10.4 oz
Sheath Included: Yes
Sheath Material: Black Kydex
Sheath Clip: Spring Steel, Black Oxide Finish
Best Uses: Tactical, Self Defense
Country of Origin: USA
Warranty: Limited Lifetime
MSRP: $240.00 USD
I received this product as a courtesy from the manufacturer so I could test it and give my honest feedback. I am not bound by any written, verbal or implied contract to give this product a good review. All opinions are my own and are based off my personal experience with the product.
*The views and opinions expressed on this website are solely those of the original authors and contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of Spotter Up Magazine, the administrative staff, and/or any/all contributors to this site.