Friday, October 19, 2012

Benchmade Emissary Review

I really like watching movies; films, if your snotty.  I try to be pretty open minded.  I'll watch just about anything.  I also try to be pretty objective--I can admit that someone is a good actor or turns in a good performance even if I don't necessarily like the actor or the role.  I know, on a rational level, that Amadeus is a pretty darn good movie.  F. Murray Abraham was very good.  The story was intriguing.  The directing was good.  It is, objectively, a very good to great film.  But, no matter how many times I see it, try to appreciate its good traits, I just can't.  I hate the movie.  It is intolerably boring, even when compared to another really good movie that I DO like such as Lawrence of Arabia, which is also pretty boring (okay the train scene is amazing, but there are like 3 minutes of action in a 4 hour movie).

The Benchmade Emissary is like Amadeus.  Your going to see that there are a few knocks against the knife, but in reality this is a good blade.  I just don't like it.  I can see why people would like it, I really can.  Objectively it stacks up quite nicely, but I wouldn't buy this knife at the current price.  You might like it though and really, this is all completely subjective stuff.  It is a good blade.

Here is the product page.  Here is a good video review from Nutnfancy.  Here is my preview.  There are no real written reviews out there even though the knife has been out for a good long while. Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Emissary, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Finally, here is the review sample of the Benchmade Emissary I received from Blade HQ:


Design: 1

Have you ever thought to yourself, "Boy, I wish there was a higher end version of the SOG Flash I made by Benchmade"?  If so, do I have a knife for you.  This knife, in so many ways, is a slightly larger, better made SOG Flash I with better materials--right down to the awkwardly shaped handle scales and the entirely superfluous blade deployment lock.  It has an assisted opening device, a flat ground blade, an over the top deep carry pocket clip, and a distinctly tapered silhouette.  This is the Benchmade SOG Flash I.  But that knife, like this knife, has some design issues.

First, there is a surplus of buttons, screws, and sliders on the handle, especially around the pivot, so much so that the knife looks like it has an acne problem:


Why does this knife need a lock?  Never once did it accidentally go off in my pocket.  Not once.  And why does the lock need to be mounted there?  Also, why does there need to be a pivot screw, a lock, the Axis bar, and a structural screw all within a square inch of each other.  This is just laziness, kind of like the crooked pocket clip on the Leafstorm was indicative of design laziness.  The pivot area is just fugly.

But that is not the extent of the problem, design-wise.  This is a knife with a lot of extra points.  There is a point on the spine of the blade, right before the spine starts is slow descent towards the tip.  That point serves no purpose except to cause discomfort during use.  There are all of these waves on the handle scales, as if the aluminum was molten and being tossed around by a strong ocean wind, then frozen in mid-wave:


All of these curves, cuts, and points make me wonder if someone didn't say "oh, that looks really ergonomic" but no one actually said: "oh that FEELS really ergonomic."  For a knife of this pedigree and price, you should expect more design-wise, both in terms of look and feel.

The ratios are okay here--nothing remarkable, but nothing bad.  First, here is a size comparison with a Zippo lighter:


The blade:handle is .77, while the blade:weight is 1.36.  Both are slightly better than average, but not insane (remember the Al Mar Hawk Ultralight scored a .84 and a 2.81 respectively and has the best ratio of each of all of the knives I have reviewed). 
Fit and Finish: 1

Okay, I have said this before--certain production companies do certain things consistently better than others.  Spyderco's designs are typically a head above the rest.  Cold Steel's durability is above par.  SOG's grinds are the gold standard.  Kershaw's blades are always a good value.  And Benchmade, well Benchmade is known for their fit and finish.  Even on their cheap knives (which is something of an oxymoron for Benchmade, cheap knives are those below $100 apparently) they routinely put out knives with fit and finish match by few other companies that produce knives on this scale.  In fact only Victorinox comes close in terms of repeated superior fit and finish.  It is their calling card and a great one to have.

But the Emissary, sadly, is lacking.  The blade if finished nicely.  The handles are scalloped and chamfered.  The Axis lock bar is well cut and grippy.  The thumb studs work superbly.  The blade finish is perfectly matte--not too much not too little.  I like the geared look to the Axis lock bar. But...and I sort of hang my head when writing this...there is blade play.  I have fiddled with the pivot and that corrected most of the side to side blade play, as it usually does, but there is up and down blade play that I cannot get rid of, again as is usually the case.

I would not normally dock a blade a whole point for blade play--it is usually a very minor thing.  But this is not a minor thing here.  Blade play comes in three varieties or severities.  The least concerning is tactile blade play.  You can feel the blade move just a little bit, but there is no sound associated with the movement and you can't see the movement.  Then there is the tactile AND audible movement.  Here you can both feel a little wiggle and hear a little click.  This is something concerning because it is a sign that the parts are wearing against each other in a way that is not intended.  It is possible that this audible blade play could worsen--the distance necessary to make the click between the parts could also be used to transmit stress or shock into the knife in a way unintended by all of the safety mechanisms.  This is where I draw the line, fit and finish-wise.  If there is both up and down and side to side play AND one kind of these two causes both tactile and audible results, you lose a point.  Now it is not to the point of being visual as well.  I can't see the gaps, but still I am concerned.

It might be that the blade play is caused by the assist mechanism or the tolerances necessary for the assist mechanism to work correctly, as it is in a switchblade (which ALWAYS has a bit of blade play, but that is taken into consideration during the design of nicer full autos).  This is a double shame because not only is the assist unnecessary, but its inclusion might have caused another, more serious problem.

Grip: 2

All of those funky curves and cuts feel funny on the fingers and aren't exactly where I'd want them.  They feel like they were designed for a smaller hand and I don't have giant mitts.  That said, the knife was very secure in the hand, in part because of the expertly finished matte aluminum.  It was grippy but not gritty.  I'd like a little jimping on the blade, but it is not entirely necessary here.  

Carry: 2

This is a knife that simply disappears in the pocket.  The clip is great, more on that below, but the overall profile and the thickness of the knife are marvelous for effortless pocket carry.  Here is the Emissary with an equally nice to carry item, perhaps you have heard me mention it before--the Muyshondt Aeon:


This is the point, where if I were a 50s house wife I would mention my embarassment over the dust on my desk in this shot, but I am not, so...This is one way in which this knife really does compare favorably to a Sebenza.  It, like my Small Sebenza, just melted away in the pocket.  GREAT TO CARRY KNIFE.

Steel: 2

S30V is still a very good steel.  Excellent.  Move on. 

Blade Shape: 2

Okay, this is a subtle point but the blade shape, how the knife looks in profile, is really quite nice.  Again, I don't like the hump/point on the top of the spine, but everything else is very good.  Here it is:


I like the amount of drop in the point.  I like the belly.  The ricasso is nice and clean (it is surprising how often that is not the case).  Good job, but...

Grind: 1

When it comes to grinds, simplest is best.  If you want to introduce a swedge, a facet, or some other strangeness you'd better have a damn good reason to do so because all of these elements adversely impact the single reason you have a knife--to cut stuff.  This blade's low "midpoint" is the problem.  The flat grind is so short that it actually causes cutting issues.  The knife did bunch in cardboard, the very same cardboard that my DFII in ZDP-189, another perhaps unfamiliar piece of gear, cut through with ease.  Grinds matter.  All of these fancy, decorative facets matter.  You can put them on your blade, but you better have a reason.  There was no reason here, so bye bye one whole point.  

Deployment Method: 2

Okay the assist is completely unnecessary and it might have screwed up the blade lock up, but since I don't know for sure, I don't feel comfortable docking the knife another point here.  It is a very fast and sure deployment.  I never missed firing the knife once.  Good thumbstuds help here.  

Retention Method: 2

And now we get to the good stuff.


This pocket clip is one of the five best I have ever seen (they are, in order: 1. BushidoMosquito clip on my custom Rambler; 2. Sebenza clip; 3. Buck Vantage clip; 4. this clip; 5. Strider/ZT clip).  This is a great, great clip and I loved the way it carried.  The tip is a little, just a hair, too pointy, but it never snagged or scratched up anything.  I really, really liked it.  

Lock/Blade Safety: 1

Okay, nothing wrong at all with the Axis lock.  I still love it.  No fear of collapse.  But the spring on the assist is WAY TOO strong.  It is virtually impossible, without some serious finger yoga, to close this thing one handed, which essentially scraps one of the best features of the Axis lock (closing a blade without fingers crossing the blade path).  I have tried to learn how to do it, but I am never comfortable closing this knife one handed.  It is just too stiff a spring and that makes what should be a very safe knife into one that is not so safe when being closed.    

Overall Score: 16 out of 20

There are no fatal flaws here, as you can see.  There are a few medium sized issues, but again, the overall knife is quite nice.  The steel is good, the profile and size are good, the carry is sublime, but I just don't like the knife.  Gimme a Mini Grip 555hg and I am much, much happier.  It is cheaper and better designed.  For the same price I'd much rather have a Sage 2.  The problem with this knife, like I pointed out in the preview (which are now organized under the Special Series page) is that for the money there are WAY BETTER options.  In a vacuum this is a nice blade.  On the open market it is merely okay.  It is funny how much this knife parrots the SOG Flash I.  There are so many similarities that it is hard to dismiss them as mere coincidence.  Additionally, this knife falls into the Sequel category--not fancy enough for a gentleman's folder (it also happens to be a bit big), but not utilitarian enough to be an EDC knife (that flat spot behind the point or hump on the spine just begs for jimping). 

Its not bad, its just not for me. 


  1. I fiddled around with an Emissary at a local shop and yeah, that spring is vicious when you're trying to close it. It takes a LOT of effort to close that thing. Immediate turn off.

  2. Thesis: Benchmade makes a lot of knives that look very "design-y" from a distance, but that often, when you turn to actual use, prove not to be especially well designed. (There are a handful of exceptions, such as the Mini Griptilian.)

    In contrast, Spyderco knives not only LOOK highly designed at a first glance, but actually prove to be so when carried and put to work.

    Folks, compare the Emissary to the Caly 3 (a $35 cheaper knife!) and tell me I'm wrong.

  3. No blade play at all in my Emissary, I love it!

  4. My 585 has a slight bit of up and down blade play, but only when you open the knife slowly/manually without the assist mechanism. It's minimal, but IMO it shouldn't be there at this price. I sent it in and benchmade just said the knife wasn't meant to be opened slowly and only with the assist mechanism. I'm not quite sure if I 'buy' their explanation....