Gibbs’ Rule #9: Never go anywhere without a knife. Knives in this day and age are about like cards or hand tools: Everyone and their grandma makes them, and you can buy ’em for just about any price you can think of, at any store you can name. I think even the girl scouts are selling them with their cookies these days. With so many options, picking a knife that will stand up to use and abuse can be a bit more tricky than one might think.
It’s All About The Steel
Spend any amount of time on a knife enthusiast’s forum, and like the average gun forum discussion about caliber, the topic of steel will come up. And up, and up and up. It’s like Aunt Louise’s Been Dip, it just won’t stay down. However, for good reason, the topic is built around a kernel of wisdom that anyone looking for a good knife is going to need to be aware of: Not all steels are equal, and not every steel is good for the same thing.
Take 420c for example. This is by far the most common steel you can find a pocket knife in. This steel is great for light use, but if you’re like me and use a knife for everything that needs cutting, chopping or prying, it’s very poor quality. It’s soft so it dulls very quickly. Also, because it’s soft, it will tend to deform, chip, or break very easily if put to hard use.
When looking at knives for high durability, most people recommend Aus8, S30V, or 154cm. I won’t bore you with the metallurgical details, simply say that these steels are right in the middle between hardness and flexibility. They take an edge and hold it, are durable and won’t break if really used, and are corrosion-resistant enough that unless you plan to go diving, will stand up to the rigors of daily wear and tear.
Benchmade: American Made and High Quality
As far as knives go, there are as many brands from common to high end as there are ARs or 1911s. One of the best names among these choices is Benchmade. The knife company, based in Oregon, has been around for a long while and specializes in making high-quality cutlery. Available in fixed and auto-opening and manual-opening folders, their prices range from budget to collectors only. Their knives are divided as well into various categories for use: Black being lower-dollar hard-use, no-nonsense knives to Gold being the high-end collector’s edition.
Since being introduced to Benchmade through their basic Griptillian folder, I’ve been a solid fan of these knives and have carried nothing else for years. After about 10 years of stripping wire, cutting rope, shaving wood, and scraping steel, my Griptillian folder finally bit the dust, breaking in half while prying loose a stuck pin.
Anyone who’s known me for any period of time knows that I’m a huge knife aficionado. I own everything from cheap basic folders to high end custom knives, antique blades to the very latest in modern steel. I like to think of myself as discerning.
When I went looking for a replacement knife, I found the Rift, a knife that looked as good as it felt in the hand. Featuring Benchmade’s patented Axis locking mechanism, G10 grip panels for durability, and 154cm steel heat treated to 58-61HRC, the blade could stand up to a fairly good beating, and still hold an edge. For what I end up doing to knives, this was a good thing, especially since this was meant to be a daily carry knife, not just a shelf piece I’d be afraid to use.
I’m not afraid to spend money on good kit, often finding out that by cheaping out on gear ends up costing me more in the long run with a pile of broken or otherwise useless crap that ends up being thrown out (Goodwill looks at you funny if you try to donate cheap plate carriers, drop leg holsters and crappy tactical stuff), so considering Benchmade’s lifetime warranty and their great customer service when I had to beg for stuff for the Griptillian, I didn’t argue too much at the $173 price tag.
4 years in with this knife, I can say that it was money well spent. My personal choice was to go with the partially serrated edge. I’ve been asked a lot of times why, and it isn’t until you can show them how much easier it is to cut rope, shipping container straps and strip wire with serrations than with a straight edge that you can truly do it justice. This knife has gone through all that, and more. It’s taken a hit from 220v electricity, been under water, and cut everything from small trees to opening up clothes to get at a cut.
In those 4 years, I’ve sharpened it maybe once a month, and never had issues with rust. It’s worn a little, been scraped against concrete and run over by a truck, and the thing still works. The pocket clip holds the knife right on the edge of a pocket within easy reach, and the locking mechanism is both smooth enough for one-handed opening (whether you flick the blade open or simply rotate it open with a thumb), and sturdy enough that the blade doesn’t collapse back on your fingers because the lock gave way (A good reason I’ll never own a knife with the spring bar lock along the inside of the handle.)
Benchmade as a company is top notch, and you couldn’t go wrong with any of their products. The Rift knife happens to be my personal favorite for the shape of the blade and mix of features at its price point, and based on 4 years of use, is hard to beat. If I were going into work or combat, I would be hard pressed to think of a knife I’d prefer over this one, and that includes a LOT of high-dollar “tactical” knives that just don’t do the job as well at as good of a price.
For utility and quality alone, the blade gets an A+.