Editorial Desk: The IKC's Benchmade Problem

After a scathing line up overview for Benchmade's 2017 releases I got to thinking more about the Butterfly and it is offerings.  Over the past month or two I have come to this conclusion--I was wrong.  Not about the 2017 line up, its still pretty boring, though the announcement of a small Crooked River has me genuinely excited, but more about the brand as a whole.  Think of it from this perspective: if Benchmade was a brand new company with their product lines as it is, how excited would you be?  Their line up hangs with just about anyone's.  Honestly, other than a lack of two things, which I will get to later, Benchmade is competitive in every class of knife on the market.  Its just that its new stuff tends to be less compelling and there is less of it, than, say Kizer, which seems like it puts out two new knives a week.   

Want an auto?  The Infidel is amazing.  Looking for an EDC?  Try the Mini Grip 555-1.

 Want a bigger EDC? Try the full sized version of that knife.  Want something bigger that weighs less?  940-1 is the answer.  Want a small gentleman's folder?  Try the Valet.  Want a bold hunting folder? The aforementioned Crooked River.  Need an emergency knife?  The Benchmade Triage is beloved by first responders in my neck of the woods.  Looking for a good, old fashioned 1095 chopper?  Try either of the Benchmade Jungle blades. 

Over and over again, with two notable omissions, Benchmade comes up with a very good to great knife for just about every kind of blade a person could want. The Mini Grip 555-1 might be the best EDC knife out there.  Mine has no flaws whatsoever.  To me, it is not quite as inspired a design as the Dragonfly II, but its not far behind.   

The complaints are easy to find on the web.  The IKC (Internet Knife Community), including myself, harps on them a lot: the Axis lock is hard to pull off perfectly, the fit and finish has taken a hit recently, and the designs are a bit redundant.  The IKC is right on all three accounts, but I am not sure how much these criticisms matter.  

Only my 555-1 has had zero bladeplay and an Axis lock. Both my 940-1 and this knife, the Valet, had to be sent back.

The Axis lock, for all its wiggle, is actually still a very solid and fundamentally sound design, even when there is a bit of play.  When implemented correctly, like on my 555-1, I think it just might be the best lock design out there in terms of strength, ease of use, and minimized impact on the overall knife design.  

Benchmade's fit and finish has come up fire recently.  This is something I experienced firsthand.  But fit and finish goes in waves for all companies.  Heck, my second version of the Gerber Micarta 39 was amazing.  About five years ago, Benchmade's sharpening wasn't the best, but they addressed that after Nutnfancy spoke out.  And I think the fit and finish will get some focus as well.  In addition to that, Benchmade has some of the best customer service.  You get an email from a real person telling you they got your knife and an email from that same person telling you it is going out the door.  Any better communication and they would end up on your Christmas card list.  

The bland designs thing--that too is a matter of cycles.  When they started collabs with Shane Sibert, there was nothing to complain about in terms of freshness.  Benchmade could be more aggressive courting new talent--how the hell is there no Benchmade Robert Carter design?--but that is an easily fixed problem.  

The reality is that Benchmade has not catered to the IKC the way other companies, like, for example, Kizer does.  But that's not necessarily a bad thing.  Slavishly following whims of the IKC is not the path to profit or greatness.  Sure the IKC does recognize greatness, but it is not necessarily our approval that makes something great.   Benchmade would never make the Kizer Fiest, a collab with Justin Lindquist, a knife maker with only a few known designs.  But again, that's not necessarily a bad thing (though I really do want the Fiest).  I'd take a Mini Grip over a few new titanium framelock flippers of various configurations.  Even if its not sexy and new, the Mini Grip is just incredibly solid as a design.  

Here is a bit of an analogy: Automotive enthusiasts may love Horacio Pagani, but he is not really producing automobiles in a practical manner--he is making things for uber wealthy enthusiasts only.  But there is absolutely nothing wrong with a Corvette, and here the Benchmade is the Corvette while something like Steelcraft or Custom Knife Factory represents the Paganis of the knife world (with a conceit, for purposes of the comparison, that Pagini's output of a 100 or so cars constitutes a production vehicle, the speed record requires 30 cars to be produced to make something a "production" car).  Look past the complaints.  Look past the IKC's addiction to the new.  Look for good designs.  And you will find many in the Benchmade line up.  

There are two places where I think criticism is still fair.  First, they have no knives under $50.  I know that the HK line had some, but its gone.  Would it really kill them to make a Pikka in Oregon?  A Pikka with FRN handles and BD-1 steel could still be all American made and come in under $50.  And this would slot right in with the knives on the shelves at the local Big Box.  Second, they really need ONE, just one, titanium framelock flipper.  Its too big a part of the market to ignore and there is just no way to force an Axis lock knife into the roll of a smooth flipper.

My other Benchmade pet peeve, product line up deck shuffle, is really not that big a deal in the final analysis.  That has to come to an end eventually, but it has nothing to do with the knives themselves.  It might make it hard for you to find the knife you like, but the blades themselves are very good.   

In the end, I think the Benchmade Revolt is more an issue with us, the IKC, than it is with Benchmade itself.  Their line up, staid as it may be, is chock full of classics.  And the greatness of their core offerings, the Mini Grips and the 940s of the world, make it pretty hard to release new stuff that blows the old stuff away.  

In contrast, the Delica leaves room for Spyderco to make the Caly3, the PM2, the Sage, and others.  There are easy fixes to the design that make the blade better.  With the 555-1 I am not sure what I would do to make it better.  Sitting here, wish-building the perfect Mini Grip, and I come up with something a lot like what they already offer, but with blue G10 handles instead of gray with blue liners.  That's it really.

Benchmade's doing fine.  They may not have that fidget flipper we all love.  They may not release 40 new designs a year.  But they make some damn fine knives.  The problem isn't really with Benchmade. Its with us, the Internet Knife Community, and our addiction to the new.