Cue "Momma Said Knock You Out."
Benchmade hit a rough patch there for a while. There was the blaze of new designs that came out of the collaboration with Shane Sibert and then things went quiet. There was the product line reshuffle and rereshuffle, including the Bone Collector dalliance and the launch of the Munt line. Then there were three or four years without a major critical hit. Benchmade did fine saleswise thanks to their evergreen stuff, but nothing excited the enthusiasts. In 2015 the SHOT Show output was pretty bland. There were a half dozen knives with a variant of the Axis Lock that got very few people excited. By 2016 SHOT, the chorus from the IKC was pretty strong--Benchmade had been left in the dust by the new high end Chinese companies--they were making new designs with better steel, better fit and finish, and lower prices. Things looked bad for the Butterfly.
But not all hope was lost. Benchmade has a core product line of evergreen designs that is as good as any company in the business. They have amazing US production capabilities. And they clearly have talented designers on state. They could right the ship.
Not only did they turn the ship around, they bumped it in high gear going in the right direction. The Benchmade ship, since about mid 2016, has been cruising. They have peeled off successful releases one after another for more than a year now. The upgraded Mini Grip is a good place to start, but the run includes the Anthem, their first integral, the Bugout, a knife so light it seems like an optical illusion, and this knife, Benchmade's attempt to tap into the scorching hot traditionals market.
This knife,like all of the releases in that run (which is still going), is an amazing knife. I have handled them all and each is impressive in its own right, but the Proper, especially in micarta, is just a damn good knife. It looks wonderful. Its thin in the pocket but good in the hand, and it cuts just about as good as anything that is not stored behind a deli counter. This is a fun knife, a knife that reminds you why you carry a knife. Its good.
Here is the product page. The Benchmade Proper comes in two handles: Maroon G10 and Green Micarta. Both run about $115 street and both are nice, but choosing G10 over micarta is like choosing "broken glass" over "ice cream sundae" when asked what you want for desert. Okay, so maybe not that bad, but trust me you have enough G10 handled knives. Here is a written review. Here is a video review. Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Proper, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:
Here is my review sample:
Twitter Review Summary: Charm with a cutting edge.
Its not the most elegant or flowing design. It has a bit of utilitarian to it, but the remarkable thing about the Proper's design is the fact that it looks like a traditional knife despite having zero aesthetic cues from any known pattern (maybe a Canoe if you REALLY stretch it). This is a perfect example of modern features with a traditional feel. Its very hard to pin this point down, but the Proper doesn't look or feel out of place next to a Barlow, a Lanny's Clip, or a Canoe. It is none of those patterns, but it is of their ilk. How Benchmade managed to do this is beyond me. It is as if they took a time machine back to the 30s, planted this design in the knife buyer's conscience, let it go dormant for 80 years, and then revived it. Our knife brains just look at the design and tell us: "traditional knife" even though there is nothing traditional about the pattern or many of the materials.
In the end, I chalk this up to two things: 1) the skill of Benchmade's designers (Benchmade, who designed this BTW?); and 2) charm. Time and again when I was focusing on the Proper that word came to mind. This isn't as small as many traditionals, but it looks smallish. It is thin and quick in the hand. It has a bit of a honky-nose looking blade, like a proboscus monkey (see below for an alternative). And it cuts like a razor. All of this matches up nicely with the best features of a traditional. And when cloaked in the green micarta, the Proper is just about a charming a knife as one could imagine. That's the trick here--Benchmade tapped into all of things that make traditionals so good and while not mimicking any of them, it imbued a blade with all of the associated charm. This is a great trick and the single thing that makes the Proper a fun knife to own, handle, and use.
The performance ratios are quite good. Blade:weight is 1.01. The blade:handle is .74. The blade:handle is elite territory, the same as the SOG Flash 1. The blade:weigh is also above average. The real trick here though is how thin the Proper is. The blade stock is .09 and the handle is .40. This is a thin knife, but thanks to the materials and built quality it does not feel flimsy. Thin, with good ratios, and excellent solidity without extra weight--again the Proper nails that "just right" feel.
Fit and Finish: 2
Phew...this is the Benchmade I grew up with--dead center blades, paper thin edges, steady plunge lines and grinds. The warped and wimpy finish on my original 940-1 is no where to be found. Everything on the Proper is clean, precise, and well-finished. Its a bit more "machine perfect" than my CSC Boy's Knife, but it is no where near as sterile as something like a TFF (titanium framelock flipper). There is still warmth in how this blade was built, even if its not enough to make all pictures of the Proper default to the sepia setting on your camera like the Boy's Knife does.
None of the traditional knives out there offer a locked in feel and for a long time I looked at that as a drawback. But the more I used knives the more I realized the "locked in feel" is more of a hindrance than help. Ideally you want a knife that is not slippery, but neutral in every position. And so, I have come to rethink handles I like and the Proper is a beneficiary of that rethinking.
This is a simple handle that fits well in medium sized hands and offers a good deal of comfort in all positions. It is also confirms what I have known for a while--micarta is one of my two favorite handle materials (the other being FRN, heresy, I know in a market dominated by TFFs). Its just very hard to beat, the performance, warmth, and charm of micarta. Note, there is that word again "charm." That, dear readers, is the key to the success of the Proper as a knife--it is, in every way, a charming, appealing object that just happens to work really, really well.
This picture tells you all you need to know about the carry of the Proper:
Its thinner than a 1xAAA light. Hard to beat that really. This thinness, combined with the rounded feel of the knife make the Proper just that in the pocket. Its almost polite, hard to say for an object made of steel. The gentle, curved chamfer on the micarta and the minimally exposed rear tang also help here. Few knives carry better in the pocket than the Proper.
I am on the fence here. The S30V is clearly in the middle of the pack now in terms of performance. But that performance is largely in a vacuum. On a knife like this, a true pocket knife, a knife that lacks a lock and should never be used to pry or pound, S30V's worst attributes are never exposed. In my experience S30V has proven to be hard to sharpen and prone to chipping. Here, with the relatively light duty tasks that you are likely to tackle with the Proper, those two weaknesses are unlikely to rear their head. Strop the Proper regularly and you should have no problems. S30V, especially in this stage of its life cycle, has dialed in heat treats that allow for a sharp, thin edge that is quite hard, ideal for a daily, light use pocket friend like the Proper. I wouldn't pay a premium for S30V ever, but here there is no premium. At around $115 street, the Proper compares favorably price-wise to GEC knives and other higher end traditionals.
Blade Shape: 2
Its not the fluid grace of a Loveless drop point or the theoretical perfection of a Spyderco leaf-shaped blade, but the wharncliffe-ish blade of the Proper is very functional (note: continuous curve cutting edge) , completely unthreatening, and, again, charming.
I even like the swedge, which gives the Proper a bit of piercing power, not often found in these ultra people friendly blade shapes. The simple, effective sharpening choil is also a good thing. I love the fact that Benchmade didn't over thing these things.
There are knives with thinner blade stock, especially among traditionals, but the Proper's stock, combined with a relatively wide final cutting bevel gives the knife a keen edge capable of easily slicing an apple. In fact, this knife, given its distinctly non threatening appearance is perfect for a Pocket Knife Lunch. In the half dozen or so that it participated in, the Proper did quite well, switching from soft cheese, wet apples, and delicious cured meats with aplomb. I am not sure why Benchmade didn't opt for a full flat grind here other than maybe aesthetics (FFGs tend to be boring looks-wise) but other than that, I really appreciate the grind here. Its a quick cutting workhorse.
Deployment Method: 1
I have long ago gotten over my disdain for nail nicks. Here the deduction of one point, which I honestly think is probably too much, but my scale doesn't allow for more granular deductions, is because of this:
Do you see it? Okay, I will let you in on the secret. There is absolutely no reason to have a nail nick on only one side of the blade. A nail nick on each side would make this knife fully ambidextrous, make it look better, and be a cheap and easy thing to do. Normally, I don't penalize "righty-only" blades, but man this is just silly. Its literally one second of work and it makes the knife not only look better but opens up its audience by 10%.
Retention Method: 2
Putting a pocket clip on a knife like this would be like putting a spoiler on a Bugatti Type 57 Atlantic, just don't do it. This is a pocket knife in the truest sense of the word and while many knives of this size would be best served by having a pocket clip (see e.g. Al Mar Hawk) this is not one of them. The decision to go clipless is the right one.
Its not the strongest half stop in the world, but its plenty good enough to save your fingers from getting guillotined.
The backspring here is quite tight, bracing the knife in the open position firmly. I had no problem doing any EDC task with the Proper, from box busting to food prep. Consider this Exhibit 2,146 in the case against lock strength mattering in folders.
Overall Score: 19 out of 20
Don't call it a comeback, because Benchmade has been here for years.
But the Proper, along with the other knives mentioned in the introduction really announce a new start for Benchmade. This is a beautiful, wonderful, and functional knife. It is one of my favorite knives of the year, easily hanging with my aficiando-favorite the Chaparral in Raffir Noble. This is a knife with a much broader audience than that knife. If you want to give your grandfather something nice for Christmas, something that is a clear upgrade over his 1960s traditional, this is the knife to give. If you want something a bit different in the pocket, you should try the Proper. There is really no one that likes knives that wouldn't be well-served by the Proper. This is probably the most interesting design coming out of Benchmade in a decade. What a cool, charming little blade.
Special Note: The day this review went up Benchmade released a variant of the Proper with a clip blade. I don't think I would change the score for a different blade, but I do think I like the clip point a smidge better. Either way, both are awesome and both are sign of a resurgent Benchmade.
A shootout is in the works comparing my three favorite "crossover" knives--the Proper, the Roadie, and Lionsteels Roundhead. Its going to be a tough task separating the three knives. Each is good for a different reason.