Benchmade C556 Mini Griptilian Folding Knife
By Chuck Hawks
Illustration courtesy of Benchmade Knife Company, Inc.
The forerunner of the Benchmade Knife Company (www.benchmade.com) was founded in 1988 in California by Les de Asis, who still owns the Company. In 1990, they wisely left the People's Republic of California, moved to a leased facility in Clackamas, Oregon and adopted the now famous Benchmade name.
The Company grew rapidly, adding ever more sophisticated machinery to enhance their in-house production capability. In 1991, they introduced their first Designer Series knives, allowing them to combine the designs of custom knife makers with their state of the art manufacturing capability. In 1996, they moved into their own factory located in Oregon City. In 2011 this 35,000 sq. ft. facility was expanded by the addition of 20,000 sq. ft. of manufacturing space and the entire factory was awarded the LEED Gold Certification from the Green Building Council.
Benchmade remains committed to making world class sports cutlery combining innovation, high technology, premium materials and a hand-crafted finish. All Benchmade knives feature premium blade steels and strong, durable handles. Benchmade knives are produced with great precision using laser cutters and CNC machining. Benchmade knives come with a Limited Lifetime Warranty that protects the original buyer from defects in materials and workmanship and covers replacement parts and labor.
Benchmade also offers their Lifesharp service. They will resharpen any of their knives to a factory edge for a modest five dollar fee to cover handling and return shipping.
Benchmade knives are offered in three standard grades: Gold Class, Blue Class and Black Class. In addition, they have a Custom Knife program. This is really a semi-custom knife based on pre-set designs. The prospective customer customizes his or her knife online, choosing from multiple available options, much as the major automobile manufacturers websites offer a "build it" option for their cars. Never having owned a Benchmade knife and being a sucker for this kind of thing, I thought it would be neat to have a Guns and Shooting Online pocket knife. Delivery time for a Benchmade Custom is approximately 10 days.
There are currently four knife models available in the Custom Knife program. These are the Barrage, Mini Barrage, Griptilian and Mini Griptilian. Since I was looking for a pocket knife for daily carry and the Mini Griptilian (a Mel Pardue design) is, by a slight margin, the smallest of the four, this is the model I chose. The standard Blue Class Mini Griptilian is Model 556 (2014 MSRP $105) and ordered through the Custom Knife program it becomes the Model C556 (starting at $120).
C556 Mini Griptilian Specifications (as reviewed)
When ordering a Benchmade Custom Knife, the customer has multiple options. In the case of the C556 these include blade pattern (sheepsfoot, drop point or tanto), blade edge (fine or half serrated), blade steel (154CM, D2, N680 or S30V), handle color (12 choices for both the left and right scales, which can be different colors if desired), screw color (black or silver), Axis color (black or silver), liner color (black or silver) and clip style (five choices, including no clip).
My choices included a drop point, fine edge blade of premium S30V stainless steel. S30V was developed in the US specifically for knife blades and is simply the finest blade steel there is. A powder made steel, S30V contains carbon and high percentages of chromium, molybdenum and vanadium. It is double tempered for hardness, superb edge retention and offers excellent corrosion resistance. Benchmade adds a $20 surcharge for S30V, which I consider reasonable.
Being the hardest of the blade steels, S30V is somewhat difficult to sharpen, so don't let an S30V blade get really dull. It is easier to touch it up frequently, using a hard Arkansas stone (my preference) or a fine, diamond dust coated, sharpening steel. Always use honing oil on your whet stone. Never sharpen a Benchmade, or any fine knife, with a file or on a power grinding wheel.
In addition, the customer can personalize their custom knife by choosing laser markings on the blade from 18 stock patterns (sunburst, scroll, etc.), 18 stock images (cobra, cowboy, bulls, bees, cats, bears, birds and so forth) and custom text in a variety of fonts and styles. Incidentally, the pattern or graphic can be different on each side of the blade. In my case, I eschewed the stock blade patterns and images in favor of "G&S Online" in our standard Arial font on both sides of the blade. The size and positioning of graphics or text on the blade is up to the customer.
I chose a satin silver blade and a white Valox handle (both sides), with black screws, liner, Axis lock and clip for contrast. Valox is a reinforced resin for which Benchmade claims excellent strength, stiffness and dimensional stability. I seriously considered a black handle and blade, which I think would look good, but decided that black knives were too common today. Maybe next time I'll go that route.
My Benchmade knife was produced and shipped in a timely manner, then delivered to my door by UPS. Inside the shipping box was the usual blue, lined, Benchmade cardboard box containing my knife, protected by a soft cloth pouch. Included was a brief User Care Manual and Warranty Registration Card.Benchmade knives are shipped extremely sharp and the C556 will easily shave hair from my arm, slice curls from paper and pass the usual sharpness tests with flying colors. Due to its S30V blade, this knife will stay sharp longer. After testing, I gave the blade a few passes on my fine/hard Buck whet stone. You can feel how hard the steel is against the stone.
Knives should be kept clean and can be washed with Benchmade Blue Cleaner or mild soap and hot water. After washing, dry throughly and lightly lubricate the mechanism with Blue Lube or other high quality lubricant. (I use Rem Oil.)
The C556 drop point blade is machined with a straight taper (not hollow ground) from about the middle of its width to the gently curved cutting edge. The factory cutting edge appears to be ground at about a 20-degree angle, which would be typical for a general purpose knife. The edge is sharpened almost all the way to the handle, to maximize the useful cutting length.
The blade shape is excellent for field dressing small and medium game or general cutting chores. Made from 1/10 inch stock, it is a husky blade for a pocket knife and its drop point form makes the tip stronger than a clip point. Like most Benchmade folding knives, the Mini Griptilian is provided with thumb studs on the blade to allow opening with one or two hands.
Benchmade's Axis lock mechanism deserves comment. The Axis mechanism's ambidextrous buttons are located near the blade hinge pin at the forward end of the handle. To close the blade, slide the Axis studs rearward to disengage the lock mechanism and pivot the blade closed. Spring tension is provided by a petite music wire spring, rather than the heavier spring used by most back lock mechanisms. Less spring tension makes the Axis mechanism easier to use and its operating buttons are more conveniently placed than traditional back lock releases. Axis is a well designed and ergonomic blade locking/unlocking system.
Holding the Axis lock buttons rearward eliminates the spring tension on the blade, allowing it to pivot freely. This makes it easy to flip the blade open with a snap of the wrist. Open, the blade locks securely in place without any play in the mechanism. With the Axis mechanism held rearward, the blade can be closed with another flip of the wrist. A little practice makes it easy to flip the blade open or closed with the correct amount of force, although I generally open knife blades the old fashioned way, with two hands, because I think it is easier on the mechanism.
Benchmade knives are assembled with small "six lobe" (Torx) screws, as are many other knives these days. To adjust the tension of these screws, Benchmade offers a couple of little tool kits. It is hard to find Torx bits this small in most hardware stores, so one of these kits is a convenience for maintaining knives.
Overall, the quality of materials, finish and workmanship of the Benchmade C556 is very good, what you would expect from a premium knife manufactured in the USA or other first world country. A Benchmade Custom Knife is not hand made, in the sense that a Randall sheath knife or a folding knife from one of the small custom shops is hand made. (See the Cutlery page for reviews of Randall Made, Canal Street Cutlery, Olsen OK and Wayne Goddard custom built knives.) However, it is a high quality cutting tool and there are so many options that each Benchmade Custom is probably unique. The price, for a customized knife, is really quite reasonable. With proper care, a Benchmade Custom folding knife should last its proud owner for a lifetime of normal use.
Copyright 2014, 2016 by Chuck Hawks. All rights reserved.