SHOT 2016: Benchmade
Tony Sculimbrene 01.18.16
Benchmade is in a weird space right now. A lot of the market has passed them by, leap frogging what used to be the high end of the mainstream, both in terms of designs and materials. While Benchmade put out another Axis lock with 154CM or S30V, ZT was dropping titanium frame lock flippers left and right. The result is, over the last few years, Benchmade has basically dropped off the radar for a lot of people. They still make great knives and their best stuff, the Infidels and Griptillians, are amazing, but the number of new instabuys has dwindled to basically one or zero. The massive branding and line up confusion over the last four years has also seriously injured Benchmade. They gobbled up brands and made new lines only to fold them a few months later.
Last year was a bit better. The Valet was a legitimately good knife with good premium steel at a very competitive price. Similarly their 1095 fixed blades were competively priced and were designs the market wanted. But it was not all roses. Their big release, the bearing pivot M390 titanium handled 761 was a disaster. Lots of users reported very poor construction and poor lock up. It also had the unfortunate price of $330, also known as Sebenza territory. In the end, finding good, reliable positive feedback about this blade is hard to do. Benchmade also did very little to tap into the high popularity of flippers, having only the 300SN in their main line and that knife is a terrible flipper (and a pretty unspectacular knife overall).
What will 2016 bring? More Axis lock boringness? Valet-level cool? Let’s see.
First, Benchmade has bucked their history and will release three flippers in 2016–the Proxy, the Precicent, and the Amicus. The first two are frame- and liner locks respectively while the Amicus is an Axis lock. I am still not 100% convinced that it is possible to do a good flipper with an Axis lock, but I am willing to try one again, especially given the Amicus’s dimensions (it runs a very nice 3.2 inch blade) and the steel (S90V).
The Proxy has a very stylized look, appearing like a very busy version of the Elishewitz designed Ares. The Precicent is another Butch Ball design and given that he was the mind behind the 300SN, I am going to take a wait and see approach to this knife. The 154CM blade on a $131 knife is also a serious problem.
The Benchmade Hunt line has always been something of a mystery to me, from their stupid “Munt” logo to their nail knick blades, it seemed like something Benchmade didn’t need to do, especially after they acquired Lone Wolf and launched the Bone Collector brand. The Ulu is something I can’t really comment on, but the Crooked River, with its bolster and bold blade, looks quite nice. I’d never carry a 4″ blade, but the Dymondwood handled version looks great.
The bronze/copper pivot collar really pops. This is a knife Benchmade should be making–different, bold, and yet not weird.
They will launch quite a few fixed blades this year, including the Arvensis, a Shane Sibert design. Having Sibert in the stable at Benchmade is a huge plus–few makers have as distinctive a look as Sibert does. And having him design a brutal looking fixed blade is as sure a thing as the Yankees spending money on free agents. They also have an in-house design, the Protagonist, that comes with a drop point or a tanto blade. Both look fine with no weird issues (that is, assuming you don’t think a tanto is, itself, a weird issue). Again the concern I have with the knife is the price–$131 for 154CM just isn’t competitive. Without the sweet design talent of Shane Sibert behind it, I am afraid that the Protagonist just doesn’t stand out enough.
There are a few other new offerings. The Foray is a higher end knife, designed to be a bit bigger than the Valet, yet still running a super premium steel (in this case 20CV which is basically the American made equivalent of the Valet’s M390, which is a European steel).
It has an Axis lock and a “custom” pivot, but not much else to draw one’s eye or wallet. They have a smaller version of the poorly received 761, the 765, which clocks in at just under three and a quarter inches. The problem it runs into is that it too is in the Sebenza zone with a retail price of around $300. With the poor track record of the 761, this knife has me worried. On paper it looks like a bland, but solid offering.
There are some new autos, one of which looks great, the 3551. At 2.99 inches, it is a good size and it is a horse of a different color from the Infidel as it is a side opener auto. Being a Benchmade auto means that the knife will ALWAYS draw comparisons to the Infidel and so being truly different is good. The Pagan was the knife no one asked for.
They also have the new Griptillians ready to go. I covered them here, but the short version is that they have switched to G10 handles and 20CV steel, both upgrades that were long overdue. These will obviously be the best selling knives that come out of the 2016 line up, as updates to designs as solid as the Grip and Mini Grip are just great blades.
I review knives pretty regularly, and so I will probably pick up a pair of Benchmades this year, the Amicus and the new Mini Grip. But for a lot of folks there isn’t much here to persuade you to reach for your back pocket. The Crooked River is undoubtedly the coolest 2016 Benchmade, even if it is not the most practical. This year’s crop of blades is better than last year’s, but that’s like using Kim Kardashian as your accountant because she is the smartest of her sisters. For a few years know Benchmade has been slowly sliding into obscurity. Their resistance to trends, such as titanium frame lock flippers (of which they still have ZERO), is startling. Their evergreen stuff is just great, but Benchmade can’t seem to make an awesome new knife without Shane Sibert’s help. If that was their only problem it would be one thing, but their confusing mess of a product line up is just awful. 2016 could be the year Benchmade starts to bail out the water with some distinctively non-Benchmade like knives, or it could be an anomalous change in direction in the death of a great cutlery company.
Instabuys: 1 (So sad…Upgraded Mini Grip)