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