Thursday, January 29, 2015

S&W vs Benchmade

Sounds like a mismatch, doesn’t it?  S&W knives are made by Taylor Brands, makers of flashlights, Uncle Henry and other products.  Benchmade makes, well, they make really good knives. 

Let me introduce our two challengers, S&W MP1600 an auto knife and Benchmades AFO II Auto.

Out of the box, each knife looks different, and the differences are more than skin deep.  The S&W has a relatively smooth, graceful black handle with a sliding lock next to the opening button.  The button itself is fully exposed on the handle.  There is no jimping to increase the friction between handle and hand.  The front bolster offers scant protection to prevent your hand from sliding forward onto the blade.   This may not be a big concern to you.   If your perceived use is cutting fir sticks, butchering a rabbit, opening cardboard boxes this handle will have no surprises in store for you.


S&W automatic knife
An S&W automatic knife.  The safety is right next to the opening button.

 But if you envision needing to cut a coconut open, making a violent, full power stab into something with hard spots, as well as open your mail, this knife may bite you back.

The AFO II has a dull black surface that feels gritty.  For me, it’s like running my nail over a chalkboard.  Jimping on top and bottom of the handle tip and tail provide additional friction surfaces.  The lines of the handle aren’t as smooth or flowing and a swelling at the bolster helps keep your hand away from the knife edge.  This knife also sports a metal glass breaker tip.  The lock is on the spine 90 degrees away from the opening button.

AFO II knife
Benchmade's AFO II   Jimping provides extra friction surfaces.  Glass breaker is small and not painful if you accidently palm it.
The AFO II clip is interchangeable to four positions, including the button side.  In the tip down position the knife rides high in your pocket.  Move the clip to my favorite position, tip up, and the knife rides a little lower in the pocket.

The S&W clip can be removed, but it’s drilled and tapped only for right side tip up.  It lets the knife ride low in your pocket, virtually unnoticed to the casual observer.

Lets looks at the numbers!
Feature
S&W 1600
AFO II
Open length
8.2 in
8.5
Blade length
3.7 in
3.6
Blade Steel
S30V
154CM
Blade Thickness
0.134 inch
0.123
hardness
?????
58-61 HRC
Handle
Aluminum
Aluminum
Weight
5.8 ounces
4.8 ounces
Price
$160
$245
Made in
USA
USA

All and all pretty even except for price.  The big surprise was the S30V steel in the S&W.  Almost as big of a surprise was the differences in spring tension.

Any automatic knife that doesn’t have enough spring to push the blade to the locked position is a pretty sad knife.  The auto’s only reason to exist is to propel the blade to the lock position, otherwise you have an ordinary one handed opener.  But what if something momentarily stops or blocks the blade from reaching the full open position?

One of two things can happen depending on the spring.  The spring has enough strength to kick the blade into the lock position or the blade just dangles until you add a flip with your wrist.  I don’t have scale or a testing device that can measure spring strength, but let’s look at it from another way.  How much do I have to cock the blade so if I release it from that position, the blade will return to the locked open position?

For the S&W, about 110 degrees from full open.

For the AFO II I couldn’t find any blade position that did not return the blade to the full open locked position.
In other words, the AFO II will always open, even if the blade meets obstructions as soon as the blade clears the obstruction.

The S&W, not so much.  If the blade is stopped in the first 80 degrees of opening, it should finish opening.  Be prepared to wrist flip it open in another position.

The other big difference is the safety.  The safety on the S&W locks the blade closed.  It can’t be bumped off and the blade can open.  The safety doesn’t do anything in the open position.  The AFO II safety will lock the blade open or closed.  When the safety is on, that blade isn’t moving from its open or closed position.

Both knives are available in tanto and drop point as either serrated or plain edge.  And both have a lanyard hole if you chose to use that.

Since neither knife belongs to me I can’t test the edge.  But I have always found that other Benchmade knives cut better and retain an edge longer than their significantly less expensive S&W brothers.  But with the use of a high end steel, S30V, that might no longer be true.

Who wins?

One important lesson to remember is, function should define form.  In a combat role were self-defense is the card that trumps all others, I would go with the AFO II.  It has a heaver spring that, in my limited tests, always opens.  The lock is smaller and on the spine but I would feel more comfortable carrying the knife in a pocket or tucked in my waistband.  The shape of the handle and it’s surface finish will help you keep your grip.

The large and easy to find safety and the highly exposed button on the S&W would make me uncomfortable throwing myself down behind cover or fighting in small confined area.

However, there is an $80 dollar difference.  If your world consists of relaxed fit pants, gathering at the barbecue to swap lies, and the most stressful situation you think you’ll be in is pulling the guideline of a tent with one hand and cutting the rope with the other, the S&W 1600 could be the right knife.


I very much liked the Benchmade AFO II over the S&W.  But don’t be fooled by this statements.  If you somehow slipped me an S&W 1600 when the fecal material hit the impeller, I would be very grateful!

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