Cold Fury

Harshing your mellow since 9/01

Cutlery

You get what you pay for.

So I blogged a while back about having just bought and liking the SOG Trident Elite with its assisted opening, glassbreaker, and belt-cutter. Once I loosened up the assisted-opening action (by working it a bit and adding a drop of oil) it became super easy and slick to open with just a flick of my thumb. It’s well made and feels good in my hand. The carry clip was a bit tight, and when I pulled on it it gave a bit too much and now it’s slightly too loose, but it’s a very nice knife.

But, of course, the voices of evil temptation helpful people in the comments told me that I’d really like a higher end knife better. As it happened, I’d just received a modest windfall, so I said what the hell, and ordered the Benchmade 940 and — because Amazon only carries the fixed-blade version, not the “automatic” version — actually went to a store (!) and bought a Benchmade Infidel.

Conclusion: You do get more for the money. The 940 gives you roughly the same size blade as the Trident in a much smaller and lighter package, and the quality is jewel-like. It’s basically a functional work of art, like a fine watch. It opens easily with one hand, but there’s no spring-assist — you have to push it all the way around to locking with your thumb on the stud. Once there, it’s very secure and very nice.

The Infidel is freaking amazing. I’ve never owned an “automatic” knife before — what in less enlightened times used to be denigrated as a “switchblade” — and the opening is lightning fast and shockingly easy. In fact the speed with which the blade deploys and retracts, as related to the small amount of effort required on sliding the opening actuator, seems to violate the law of conservation of energy. It’s super well made as well, the carry clip fit perfectly with no adjustments needed right out of the box, and the blade is super sharp and beautifully made. It’s also awfully expensive. My only complaint, really (besides the expense), is that the carry clip says “Infidel” on it, advertising to everyone who knows anything about what you’re carrying.

Worth the money? Well, yes and no. On the “no” side, the primary use of my carry knives is opening Amazon packages, and even the Trident is overkill for that. But there’s a pleasure in things that are finely made, and the more expensive knives certainly bring that. I’ve never really been a big knife guy, but I get the appeal.

I’m a big knife guy myself, always have been; I even have a beautiful custom-made job sporting a fancy Arkansas Toothpick-style blade, laminated grip, and hand-tooled leather boot-scabbard made for me by a bank night-security guard I used to chat with a lot when I was making deliveries to the bank years ago:


Toothpick-rig.jpg

I included my ravaged, arthritic old hand just to provide scale. As you can see, that there’s a LOT of knife—almost a dirk or short sword, really. You could easily run a skinny guy all the way through with it if you needed to, but it’s not terribly practical for carry purposes. What I was thinking when I had the guy make a boot sheath to go with the thing I’ll never know; I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pair of men’s boots tall enough to hold it. Not ones that I’d be willing to wear, anyway. Also, those of you who suffer from it will doutbless recognize the Vikings Disease afflicting my last two fingers.

A good, well-made, reliable knife, like any other tool, is worth just about anything you have to pay for it, and will repay its cost many times over. I had a Benchmade folder myself for years, given to me by a very dear friend. Benchmade products are a favorite among SEALs and other SpecWar operators, and with good reason. I can’t remember what model name it went by, but mine was a clip-point (I HATE Tantos, sorry) combo blade that featured an improvement on Spyderco’s Round Hole opener: Spyderco’s trademark innovation is machined straight, with an almost rough feel around the edges of it, but Benchmade nicely beveled theirs. And it’s attention to fine little details like that that make for a great knife instead of a merely acceptable one.*

I would have happily kept that knife forever, but Outrageous Fortune had a less happy fate in mind. See, I handed my treasured Benchmade off to the nurse who happened to be passing by the scene of Christiana’s deadly crash nigh on thirteen long years ago and stopped to lend a hand; she used it to slice through my wife’s shirt and intubate her in a desperate and ultimatelty futile effort to save her life.

Hours later, after Christiana was gone and the cops had given me permission to leave the scene and head for the coroner’s office in Lenoir to sign a small mountain of paperwork, the saintly woman handed my Benchmade back accompanied by tearful expressions of regret and sympathy. I looked at it in my hand for only a couple of seconds—my precious, trusty blade, a constant companion up until then—before turning and throwing it with every ounce of strength I had down into the wooded valley below. No way did I want the thing anywhere near me; after being a part, however small, of the nightmarish ordeal of watching helplessly as my soulmate expired right in front of me, every time I pulled it from my pocket from then on would remind me of one thing only. I just couldn’t bear the thought of it. Much as I loved that knife, much good hard use as I’d gotten out of it, in that mad, overwhelming moment I just wanted it gone from me.

My friend Jason has been looking ever since for a replacement, but never has found one. I’ve checked the Benchmade website and other places like eBay on occasion myself, although it’s a moot point since there’s no way I can afford Benchmade quality these days even if I found one. The point is moot; apparently Benchmade just isn’t making that model any more, more’s the pity. Could be Spyderco revoked their permission to use the Spyderhole design, I dunno. Or maybe it was never granted in the first place.

My main carry blade these days is any of several Kershaws I own. They ain’t Benchmade, but Kershaw makes perfectly serviceable stuff. Affordable and nicely designed, they take a good edge quite readily and hold it surprisingly well. Their Speedsafe assisted-opening feature is a handy, well-thought out thing. Made in America too, which I like, although they were bought out some years back by a Japanese conglomerate and as far as I know are still owned by ’em.

I’ve also heard good things about Columbia River (CRKT) blades from blade-freak friends of mine who dig ’em, but have never owned or used one myself and so can’t say. If you need a daily carrier but just ain’t got the coin to drop on a BM, an Emerson, or any of the small-batch custom-shop jobs available these days, I’d recommend a Kershaw to just about anybody without embarrassment or hesitation.

But if—lucky you!—the price of admission to the exalted status of Benchmark ownership won’t force you onto an all-PBJ and ramen noodle diet for an extended period, I can assure you you won’t regret taking the plunge and getting yourself one. In fact, if you’re a knife guy like me, you’ll find yourself taking the thing out of your pocket just to stare at it in wonder and admiration now and then. Just ask Glenn if you don’t believe me. As he concludes: “There’s a pleasure in things that are finely made, and the more expensive knives certainly bring that.” They do indeed. They’re a heartening reminder that not everything is cheap, disposable junk—that quality, care, and craftsmanship are still respected values in some corners of this increasingly thoughtless, throwaway world.

*I’ve had several Spydercos over the years too, and used to like their products a lot. They were really nice knives once upon a long ago, but the last couple I had (Enduras, which was my preferred design) were complete junk. That’s too bad, a dang shame, and I have to wonder what happened with them. My first real big-boy knife was a Spyderco Endura I got back in the mid-to-late 80s, and it was excellent all around. But if my experience with the last two is any indication, they’ve fallen pretty far since then. Maybe they’ll make a comeback sometime.

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3 thoughts on “Cutlery

  1. I think the only model Benchmade still makes with an opening hole is the Griptilian. I bought my Mini-Griptilian so long ago that the blade is actually 440C, but it takes a decent edge, and the Axis lock is still rock solid after 20+ years of use.

    -j

  2. Benchmade has unfortunately gotten a bit of a black eye in the “knife community” lately for quality control concerns. Spyderco has been doing pretty stellar work in the mid to high end, but the low end models are generally overpriced for what one gets. Also, one must be very careful of purchasing Spyderco products from either Amazon or EBay, as both have sellers that are more than happy to deal in counterfeits.

    I have gotten over my aversion to Chinese knives and can definitely recommend (if you hit a windfall) the WE 805 as the best current framelock flipper for people who actually cut things with their knives. If you want something a bit more robust at a fifth the price (who wouldn’t?), I have a CIVIVI Wyvern on the way that I expect to be all the work knife most folks would ever need.

    Speaking of Kershaw, you should look for the Link or Dividend in M390 steel. They are very much worth the difference in price over the baseline steel, even if they are a bit harder to sharpen.

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