Friday, April 19, 2013

Benchmade 300SN Review

The Benchmade 300SN was a surprise.  One day it was nothing and the next day it was on retailers' doorsteps, dropped there overnight like a baby from the Stork.  It is part of what Dan at Blade Reviews and Andrew at Edge Observer have called the Flipper arms race.  The idea of a brown/earth colored flipper knife is pretty familiar by now, having been done before by both ZT (the ZT561) and Spyderco (the Spyderco Southard).  The Benchmade iteration on this theme is very, well, Benchmade-y.  It has superb fit and finish.  It runs 154CM steel.  It has an Axis lock.  And it has a few design quirks that are classic Benchmade pitfalls.  At least Benchmade is consistent.  When it falls down, it does so the same way almost every time.  This is a decent knife, just not a very good or great one.  Thus, when the competition is so fierce and so similar, it seems worse by comparison, if for no other reason than the comparison is so easy to make. 

Here is the product page with specs for the Benchmade 300SN.  Here is a review of the Benchmade 300SN from podcast cohost Aaron.  Here is a video review from Nutnfancy.  Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Benchmade 300SN, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

Finally, here is my Benchmade review sample (sorry about the uneven quality of the photos, the first was taken outside and the rest were taken inside with new, less effective lighting; I have since modified by lighting set up):

IMG_0022


Design: 0

The design of the 300SN has a few flaws, two of which are major.  This is not to say the knife is a failure.  It is actually a decent hard use blade, but as an EDC it is less than ideal and as a hard use blade there are many better options.

The two flaws are simple to explain: 1) the flipper is pathetically slow; and 2) the overall size of the knife is just too big for what you get.  The slow flipper has to do with the fact that the Axis lock pin rides against the tang of the blade (as it does on all Axis lock knives).  This places pressure on the knife as it swings open, slowing down the blade.  The Axis lock also impacts the detent, altering the normal flipper mechanincs and requiring you to approach the 300SN differently.  The flipping motion and action are slightly different form a normal flipper and the blade is worse for it.  I know why this is an Axis lock knife (it is Benchmade's go to lock format and a very good one), but in this case, Benchmade should have abandoned its efforts to squeeze the lock into this kind of knife.  After reviewing quite a few flippers, including the Twitch II, which also uses an lock not normally seen on flippers, I can safely say that if you want a knife to flip well it needs to have either a frame lock or a liner lock (I think a compression lock or Nak lock would also work).  Any lock that puts pressure on the blade as it opens really screws with the fundamental mechanics of the flipper.

But if this was merely a slow or awkward flipper, I could overlook the problem.  After all the Surefire Jekyll has a weird flipper and I still very much liked that blade.  The second problem with the design of the 300SN is more acute.  This is a massive knife.  Look at the shot below under "Carry" and you will see how thick this knife is.  I just don't get why it has to be this thick in the first place.  The blade is 3 inches long.  That is not enough to make this a true "tactical" folder (though I am wary of even using that word).  Compared to similarly sized hard use folders this thing is a chunk.  The Paramilitary 2 weighs more than 2 ounces less and has an extra .40 inches in blade length.  There is no need for full steel liners here.  I recognize that the Axis lock requires some kind of liner, but something around the pivot would work as would milled out liners.  But the weight is just part of the size problem.  More so than any other knife I have carried or reviewed this knife seems much thicker than necessary.  It is like carrying two knives stacked on top of each other.  It is just too thick for what you get. 

There are other flaws here as well.  I dislike the scalloped handle scale, with finger grooves.  It feels okay, I would imagine, if you had hands that size but it forces you to grip the knife in a particular way and if your hands aren't the right size the grip can be uncomfortable.  Finger grooves like these are a beginner's way of making something SEEM ergonomic.  Another small flaw is the flipper itself.  I like its shape and texture, but the channel cut into it to allow for it to pass around the Axis lock pin can collect lint, making the knife difficult to close properly.  This also screws with the detent, which is already problematic. 

Then, there is the price.  This is a very expensive knife for what you get.  I don't normally mention price, because money means different things to people, but here the price is completely out of whack with its market competitors.  The knife sells at Blade HQ for $148.95.  The PM2 sells for $119.95.  You get a better knife with a better steel (154CM v. S30V) for $30 less.  The full sized Griptillian has the same steel and same lock from the same maker and comes in at $109.25.  The G10 scales (which are quite ugly) and the flipper are not worth the additional $39.  Compared to the Cold Steel Mini Recon 1, this knife is exorbitantly priced, more than double the cost of the Cold Steel blade.  The upgrade from AUS 8 to 154CM and the addition of the flipper are not worth the cost.  This knife should retail for the same price as the Griptillian.  If it did it would be a significantly better value.   

Lastly a quick work about aesthetics.  I have already mentioned that the handle scales are ugly and boy are they ever.  But the cluster of pins, levers, flippers, and screws around the pivot are especially distracting.  It looks like the knife has acne, a problem I noted in the aesthetics of the Emissary.  This is a natural occurrence on Axis lock knives but there are things that Benchmade could do to lessen this effect like coloring the metal pieces or hiding the screws like they do on the Griptillian (again a cheaper knife).  The pattern on the handle is purely aesthetic as the grooves are not deep enough to add traction.  They are also ugly.  This is, simply put, a hamburger of a knife--a massively thick, bespeckled, brown handle (the silver metal pieces are the poppy seeds). 

IMG_0038


As you can imagine the ratios are not good.  The blade:handle is .74 and the blade:weight is .64.  Compared to the recently reviewed Chill and the upcoming Enticer, these are both very bad numbers.  Compared to more conventional designs, the blade:handle is okay, but the blade:weight is bad no matter the comparison.  Here is a shot of the knife next to a Zippo for scale.   

IMG_0036

Fit and Finish: 2

For all of the garish bolts and hideous coloration and fat size, this is a Benchmade and no one in the production world does fit and finish like Benchmade.  Every knife they made that I have handle is utterly superb.  The 300SN is no exception.  The surfaces are finished well and the blade itself is nice and centered.  The Axis pin is well textured and nice to use and the flipper is finished very well.  The 300SN does nothing to dent Benchmade's well-earned reputation in terms of fit and finish.  Great, as always.  

Grip: 1

This knife has, as mentioned above, a series of finger grooves.  They happen to work for my hands, but in other, different sized hands they can be a problem.  My Dad recently came into town and I handed him the knife and he did not like the handle at all.  The finger grooves are a cheap and easy way to make something FEEL or SEEM ergonomic when it really isn't.  The G10 was good as was the jimping, but I just couldn't get over the fact that this knife tells you how it MUST be held, instead of suggesting a number of ways it COULD be held. 

IMG_0042

Carry: 0

Have you ever put a hamburger in your pocket?  It isn't comfortable, is it?  Oh, wait you haven't...well, have you ever tried to carry one of those so called pocket dictionaries in your pocket?  Its like that, but instead of soft flexible paper, this knife is made of unforgiving steel.  I love the clip, more on that later, but I hate the knife's size and weight.  Only an actual hamburger would be more conspicuous in the pocket.   This picture says it all:

IMG_0045

The knife is just too thick.  It also happens to be wide, in part because the blade is wide, but also because the flipper adds width.  This is not a fun knife to carry. 

Steel: 2

I like 154CM.  It is a very good steel.  After a few anomalous experiences with it, I have come to realize that this is a very solid steel--it holds an edge well and is still quite easy to sharpen.  I like it a lot, but at this price, it is slightly below par.  The Buck Vantage Force Pro has S30V steel and it is $88.  There is nothing wrong with this steel at all, but for the price, I would expect a little more.  I am not willing to ding the knife a point here, as the steel, without consideration of price, is very good, but you get my point.

Blade Shape: 2

Okay, I have been pretty hard on this knife, though deservedly so, but here, at the all important category of blade shape, the 300SN hits a home run.  This is a great blade shape with a classic look, plenty of belly, a great ricasso (one of the things that Benchmade kills Spyderco on; fanboys FIGHT), and a good swedge. 

IMG_0040

The knife performed well on my cutting tests (paper, cardboard, paper, arm hair) and did not need sharpening at all.  For all of the blah, blah, blah in the design section, the blade shape and the grind save this knife.  This knife thanks to these two things, is a very good cutter, and that is, after all why you buy knives, right? 

Grind: 2

With a high price tag and great fit and finish you are bound to get good grinds and here is no exception.  I loved the cutting bevel, as it was wide enough and perfectly consistent.  I liked the flat grind as well.  The swedge is excellent as is the main grind.  This knife has thick blade stock and the grinds really taper everything down to a nice cutting edge quickly.  Great job Benchmade.

Deployment Method: 1

The flipper is lazier than a pig on a hot day.  It just won't flick out.  It is smooth, make no mistake, but it is just SLOW.  I like the shape of the flipper here, it is quite good, but the Axis lock puts too much pressure on the tang of the blade.  I have labored on this point too much already because while it is slow it does work.  It is merely not as nice as I would want for this price.

Retention Method: 2

This is the same clip as the Emissary and I loved it then and now. 

IMG_0039


This is definitely the best clip Benchmade makes and is in the running for best production knife clip overall.  I really, really like it. 

Lock: 2

I love the Axis lock.  I really do.  It screws with the flipper here, but as a lock it is great.  There is no blade play whatsoever and the lock up and disengagement is clean.  Excellent job by Benchmade, of course.  I think this knife would be much cooler and faster with a frame lock, but that is because they play nicer with flippers, but as a lock irrespective of deployment method, the Axis is about as good as they come. 

Overall Score: 14 out of 20

This is a competitive marketplace for knives right now, especially given the Flipper Arms Race.  In that marketplace, the 300SN is a merely okay option, a me-too design released at a time when other, better blades are out there.  Those knives, the ZT 56X and the Spyderco Southard, are more expensive, but they are better blades.  The materials are under par for the price and the flipper would be slower only if the pivot was made of tar, but this knife is a good, solid cutter.  If you knew nothing of its competitors, you'd probably be happy with it, until you had to lug it around.  But given that you do know about the competitors I would search them out or opt for a PM2, a full sized Griptilian, or probably a Cold Steel Mini Recon I.  They are similar hard use folders that are lighter in weight with longer blades and all are cheaper.  Nice try Benchmade, but after the Griptilian and Mini Grip, we all expect a little more.  A flipper with the same size and shape as the Mini Grip would be really amazing.  Hint, hint.   

22 comments:

  1. You say hamburger, I say turd. The profile shot of the handle thickness next to the zippo is telling. There is enough G10 there for three knives.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The two flaws are simple to explain: 1) the flipper is pathetically slow; and 2) the overall size of the knife is just too big for what you get. The slow flipper has to do with the fact that the Axis lock pin rides against the tang of the blade (as it does on all Axis lock knives).
      Reinforced Concrete
      Post Tension Concrete
      Steel Reinforced Concrete
      Reinforced Concrete Houses
      Glass Fiber Reinforced Concrete

      Delete
  2. I saw the 300SN under the class at the local knife shop and felt like some things were off with this design. Good crisp review.

    (Now I can't unsee the hamburger.)

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  3. BTW, although I am in this more for the knives than for the lights, I am geeked for the Aeon Mk II and EB1 reviews.

    A lot of us were disappointed at the output chart leaked for the EB1 -- it appears to have little or no regulation. Seriously? Many people also report lousy tints. I hope you'll address or dispel both concerns in your review.

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  4. Nice review, Tony, and thank you for the mention. I wish BM thought this one out a little more as it had the potential to be a pretty special and unique blade. I think your critique is spot on.

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  5. Double J from Baffin BayMay 31, 2013 at 2:40 PM

    Ouch. I respect your honesty.
    "If you knew nothing of its competitors, you'd probably be happy with it, until you had to lug it around."...I can't say I entirely agree with you. I bought the 300SSN back in late April, and I absolutely love it. The size and weight are not a problem at all, especially if you’re comfortable carrying a full size 1911. The selling points for me were 1) it wasn’t a cross lock and 2) the knife does not look all “tactical,” it reminds me of an old Buck that I had 20 years ago. I’ve collected knives all my life and I started working my way up and around the various brands and designs since college. My first tactical phase was Spyderco (Delica, Merlin & Endure), back in the early 90’s. I wasn’t impressed with the edge retention, so I moved on to Browning. I figured the guns are nice…found out that the knives sucked. Then CRKT (1st generation Mirage) then Kershaw, then back to CRKT (M16 *1). I had that for a while; decent for the price, but the lock began to fail and then it just disappeared somewhere. I tried a few different brands, but nothing too memorable. Then, my daughter bought me a SOG Flash II Tanto…very happy with the quality, especially as gift from my 12 year old. This piece worked well but, I couldn’t fight the urge for something of a bit higher quality…possible a different model SOG, because up until this point I couldn’t justify spending Benchmade prices for a pocket knife that I would probably lose or give away. I stumbled across the 300SSN at Cheaper Than Dirt and became immediately became obsessed with it. I retired my SOG back to its box and it now resides in my gun safe. I carried the 300SSN every day since I purchased it. Shortly after I bought my first Benchmade, I found the 581S as the focus of my attention. Needless to say, I have just picked up a 581S, and once again, I have no regrets as this one appears to be tough as nails and does not look like every other tactical folder on the market. I have to agree with you that there are some really nice competitors out there that now have caught my eye, I think will be picking up another flipper in the future. After my poor experiences with cross locks, I have decided to give them a try again. I think my new mistress will be the ZT561.

    Thanks for letting me share my voyage.

    Peace-


    ReplyDelete
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    1. Double J from Baffin BayMay 31, 2013 at 2:46 PM

      Typo-

      I purchased the 300SSN back in late February not April.

      Peace-

      Delete
    2. Are you still carrying this knife?

      Its just not competitive with the field. Compare this knife to the Kizer Ki 3404. You get better steel, better flipping action, equal lock, nicer materials, lower weight, thinner more ergonomic handles, all for less money.

      Delete
    3. Double J from Baffin BayOctober 27, 2014 at 2:45 PM

      Tony,
      I ended up giving this knife to my nephew before he shipped out with his unit in the Navy. I would like to replace it, because I really liked it. However, my current edc is my 581S. I am still on the fence regarding the ZT561 or now maybe the ZT566. I will definitly look into the Kizer model you mentioned. Thanks for the reccomendation.

      Peace-

      Delete
  6. I would like to see a review of the coming soon ZT0566 done here before i make up my mind and get it shipped to me in New Zealand.

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  7. I love this knife. It gets old reading reviews by folks who wish this was a different knife. The handle is perfect for my large hands. I want a thick blade. The axis collects lint. So what? And the blade is perfect for chores rather than punching through tactical vests and through zombie craniums.

    In my humble opinion, this knife is an excellent combination of design and function. Handing it to your dad means nothing. I can find millions of people who hate pretty much anything I ask their opinion about. Instead, you need to ask the people who need and would use this kind of knife. Then you will get a more honest story. I could give you a dull machete with a broken tip and you could easily fault it, but a fine design like this Benchmade 300 deserves respect and serious use for what it is good at. Sorry it's not a thinner, lighter, S30V steel, carbon fibre handled, longer bladed, Spyderco. But it it were, it certainly would not be this knife, and I certainly would not have bought it like I did this Benchmade.

    Carry on.

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  8. Hey honestly i think the reviewer is wrong on almost every point. you just want to hate on something thats fine but here are 3 solid reasons to pick the knife up.
    1) the griptillian doesnt come in g10
    2) The "slow" axis lock is not "slow" actually i can open and close this hoe 2 times a second if i felt like it but i dont because i use my knives for work not play.
    3) the thickness of the g10 and the blade's width are a total selling point, durability and the fact that this thing is going to last a life time is reassured.

    Just wish it had a stonewashed finish satin marks up real good but hey, its a knife. buy a mini grip if you're going to complain about size as a "design flaw" dude benchmade wanted to build a robust and ergonomic g10 folding knife with a 3.25 inch blade and if you think thats too big for edc then you must not be doing real work homie

    ReplyDelete
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    1. The Grip doesn't come in G10, but there are Hunt knives that are identical (with better blade steel) that come in dymondwood/composite handles.

      As for the slow blade, there is simply no way around it--because the axis bar is in contact with the blade tang at all times, it is just slower than a framelock or liner lock that has less points of contact and hence less friction.

      I am not sure that thickness equates with durability. Honestly most gear we like is plenty durable, more than enough to last a lifetime. This is girth with no point. A titanium framelock, like the Kizer knife, is thinner and just as durable or more so. Plus it is cheaper.

      For "real work" I use a fixed blade. For most EDC tasks a Dragonfly is fine. I am not cleaving hip bones apart with a folder.

      Delete
    2. The Axis lock doesn't come in contact with the (round of the) blade the entire time though. The Axis lock only comes in contact for like the for 15-20%, where it serves as the detent. This is to prevent the accidental opening of the blade, which this setup makes oh so more evident. It ends contact right where the flipper nub reaches the handle, so the first 45 degrees. The blade draws extremely quick, as any normal Benchmade Axis does. No to little resistance after the detent.

      This knife is thick, indeed heavy and it's definitely no Spyderco, which in my opinion follows a completely opposite approach to knives then Benchmade.. and this knife has got that Benchmade quality and feel written all over it. Obviously, it's not the lightest, but name a knife that is as robust as this one. If there's a flipper we can imagine will last a lifetime, like Surefire lights, it's this one that would be one of the first come to mind. Spyderco is prettier and slick, but I think Benchmade has form with function, the utility design, to a science.

      I too held off on picking this up cause of this review, and it kept calling, being intriguing in design (with reviews) and one of the few new releases from Benchmade that didn't cost a leg ($300+). I recently gave in and got it at a relatively good price (under $100), thinking it was a risk, but boy am I glad I did.

      This knife kicks ass. This review was completely rose shaded from only the view of a certain type of etc, maybe for Delica or the like, which this knife is not. This knife does complement any collection. The steel liner is skeletonized, not solid. The Axis lock does not touch the blade the entire time unlike liner locks. The tip of this blade is stronger than say a Grip and most Spyderco knives.

      If Benchmade knife could only release 1 knife with all the features that could work together and function as an all purpose (not edc) knife, it would probably be this.

      Delete
    3. Time has told the story on this one. Folks have moved on and so has Benchmade. This was a poor design, a fat knife, and a terrible flipper. As for the one Benchmade, that would be the 940-1.

      Delete
  9. If I'm not mistaken, everyone of my liner/frame locks apply MORE pressure to the blade than any of my axis locks. Hell, ZT has to use bearings just to achieve axis lock smoothness.

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    Replies
    1. You are mistaken. How smooth the knife flips is based on a lot of things--the pivot, the amount of contact between the blade and other parts, and the tension in the detent, among other things. The problem with the 300SN is two fold--first the Axis lock does not provide sufficient detent tension. Instead of letting the tension build up and then springing the blade open, the Axis bar is relatively easily overcome and the blade flops out half open. Second, the Axis bar has more surface area in contact with the blade than a liner/frame lock does. In a properly made liner/frame lock flipper, the area of contact is limited to a small bearing, the detent ball. With the Axis lock the entire bar is in contact with the entire rear tang of the knife. More surface area equals more contact and more contact equals more friction which results in less smooth flipping action. No 300SN I have handled or seen can be flipped open without a wrist flick. That is the definition of a faulty flipper design.

      As for the ZTs, I think, again, you are mistaken. There are plenty of flippers that don't need bearings to flip correctly including some made by KAI. The Skyline is a superior flipper and needs no bearings at all. The Chill is a sub-$20 knife, has no bearings, and is a superior flipper to the 300SN.

      As for the brand loyalty thing, blah.

      Delete
    2. I do agree that an axis lock knife is not ideal for a flipper. I own the Kershaw Strobe, Skyline and Storm, and all three flip very nicely. However, what I meant was that is general I feel more resistance throughout the opening process with a liner/frame lock than with my axis locks. Mind you, I'm talking about opening the knives slow using the thumb hole/studs. The only knives I "flip" open are the three previously mentioned Kershaws. In fact, I judge a knife more on its ease of closing one handed.

      The first thing I thought of regarding the BM 300 was the lack of a sufficient detent. I have never handled nor seen one in person though.

      I am not much for brand loyalty either. Give me a great design, 8cr13 steel or better, and a good price and I'm happy.

      Cheers!

      Delete
    3. Operation of 300 using only Flipper nub:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-85APXDpoBU&feature=youtu.be

      Delete
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