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Reviews > Knives > Folding > Benchmade 551 H20 > Test Report by Michael Wheiler

Test Series
By Michael Wheiler

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November 19, 2009

Name:    Michael Wheiler
Age:   53
Gender:   Male
Height:   5'10"  (178 cm)
Location:   Southeast Idaho
Email:   jmwlaw AT ida DOT net

I have about 40 year's experience hiking, camping, and backpacking.  I was active in the Boy Scout program as a youth and I am an adult leader.  I try to get into the backcountry at least one weekend every month and for at least one multi-day trip annually.  I also enjoy mountaineering.  I consider myself to be a mid-weight backpacker.

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The Product:
S551H2O Knife
Manufacturer: Benchmade
Color: Hunter Orange
Year Manufactured: 2009
Place Manufactured: USA
MSRP: $120.00 US
Manufacturer's Web Page:


Blade Material X15 T.N. Stainless Steel
Blade Style Modified drop point
Blade Hardness 58-60 HRC
Blade Length 3.40 in/8.64 cm
Blade Thickness 0.115 in/2.92 mm
Handle Material

Handle Thickness
Orange Glass Fill Noryl GTX, Double 420J Liners

0.64 in/16.29 mm
Locking Mechanism AXIS
Opener Ambidextrous Thumb-Stud
Clip Reversible Tip-Up, Silver Polished Stainless Steel Split-Arrow
Overall Length 8.07 in/20.5 cm
Closed Length 4.62 in/11.73 cm
Weight 3.82 oz/108.39 g

(No code means plain edge, no blade coating; S code means ComboEdge (partially serrated), no blade coating; H2O means X15 T.N. Steel; 100% corrosion resistant.)

Open Length

Closed Length


Blade Length (using a regular tape measure) 3.5"/9 cm
Blade Thickness 0.25"/6 mm to 0.115"/3 mm tapered from handle to tip
Total Knife Length (open) 8"/20 cm
Total Knife Length (closed) 5"/13 cm
Handle Thickness 0.25"/6 mm
Knife Weight 3.9 oz/111 g
Storage Sack Weight 0.2 oz/6 g

Warranty:  "Benchmade Knife Company, Inc. ('Benchmade') warrants to the original owner that this knife will be free from defects in materials and workmanship."  Benchmade gets to choose whether the knife is repaired or replaced.  The owner must pay to ship the knife with proof of purchase.  The warranty does not cover normal wear and tear or damage from neglect or misuse.  Don't use the knife as a screwdriver, pry bar, chisel or punch and don't throw or use it for any purpose other than cutting.  Do not disassemble the knife or sharpen it on a power grinding wheel.  Any of these acts will void the warranty.

Care and MaintenanceOccasionally use a quality metal sealer on the knife.  If rusting does occur, a fine grade semi-chrome polish is recommended. Benchmade recommends using a sharpening method the user is comfortable with and to maintain the edge bevel angles for maximum sharpness.  Keep the blade locking areas clean.  Use clean hot soapy tap water to clean the knife; rinse thoroughly with hot tap water; flush/dry completely with compressed air.  Occasionally tighten carry-clip screws as they may become loose.


With Storage Sack
The box and storage sack for the 551SH2O.

The 551SH2O arrived in perfect condition and looked just like what I expected after viewing Benchmade's web site.  Benchmade has four classifications of knives:  Red, Black, Blue and Gold.  The 551SH2O is a Blue Class knife:  "Knives for the individual who appreciates more in a knife.  The heart of everything Benchmade through exclusive innovation and quality of materials."

The 551SH2O blade is made of  X15 T.N. Stainless Steel.  This is French steel developed for the aircraft industry for jet ball bearings and for scalpels in the medical industry.  According to Benchmade, X15 T.N. steel has the ability to "resist rust in the worst of conditions while maintaining ample edge retention" and the edge on this steel is easier to maintain.  The blade style is a modified drop point which consists of a slow convex-curved drop in the point. This style lowers the point for control but adds strength to the tip.  Usually this style blade has plenty of belly for slicing and is often used in hunting knives but is a great all around blade.

The Combination (S) Blade.

The 551SH2O handle is made of Noryl GTX.  According to Benchmade, Noryl GTX is "a modern engineered plastic offering high strength, minimal flex and optimally light weight properties.  420J Stainless Steel is a common knife grade low carbon, high chromium content steel which offers excellent bend toughness and wearability.  It also offers excellent corrosion resistant characteristics."

The 551SH2O has an AXIS locking mechanism.  Benchmade describes the AXIS locking mechanism as follows:  "Gets its function from a small, hardened steel bar which rides forward and back in a slot machined into both steel liners.  The bar extends to both sides of the knife, spanning the liners and positioned over the rear of the blade.  It engages a ramped, tang portion of the knife blade when it is opened.  Two omega style springs, one in each liner, give the locking bar it's inertia to engage the knife tang; and as a result the tang is wedged solidly between a sizable stop pin and the AXIS bar itself."

Locking Mechanism
The Locking Mechanism Release Lever And The Raised Ridges On The Top Of The Handle.

While holding the knife in my hand with the blade open, it feels balanced and comfortable.  The handle has a raised pattern on each side and raised lines where the thumb and forefinger are placed to help provide better grip.  The handle feels like stiff, hard plastic.  The blade feels sharp to the touch but would not shave the hair off my arm.  The reversible carry clip in the handle feels sturdy and clips over the front pocket of my jeans easily.  It stayed put while walking around the house doing various chores but was easy to remove from my pocket as needed. Using two hands, I was easily able to open the knife by pulling the blade out of the handle.  The blade then automatically locked into place.  Again, using two hands, it was easy to pull back on the steel bar which extends out both sides of the top of the handle (where the blade is attached) to unlock the AXIS and fold the blade back into the handle.  The process was intuitive.  Benchmade also provided a soft cloth storage bag with a drawcord and cordlock.

The Clip.

I am anxious to put the 551SH2O to work in the field to see how well it maintains its edge, how well it resists rust, how easy it is to clean and maintain and how well it performs.


  • High quality workmanship
  • Nicely balanced
  • Fit well in front pants pocket and clip holds in place
  • None at this time

February 2, 2010

For those who want the Reader's Digest version, I really like this knife.

I've used the Benchmade 551SH2O on at least a weekly basis since my last report.  I've carried it in the front and back pockets of my jeans.  I've carried it to work, while running errands, hunting, sightseeing, hiking and backpacking.  While helping a friend on the last day of his black powder rifle deer hunt near Salmon, Idaho (elevation 4,042 ft/1,232 m), I carried the Benchmade throughout my significant "bird dogging" efforts.  It was about 30 F/-1 C.  I wore army wool pants and I found myself trekking through snow which was about 6 in/15 cm cm deep in places.  The knife was clipped inside my right front pocket for the entire trip.  I used it to cut peppered beef sticks, apples, cheese, and string.

My first backpack trip with the 551SH2O was one weekend in late November on the Bear Creek Trail near Palisades, Idaho.  The trailhead starts at 5,800 ft/1,768 m.  I chose to hike up the Muddy Creek trail off Bear Creek which would result in approximately an 8 mile/13 km round trip with some significant elevation gain.  There was very little snow at the trailhead but it got deeper as I gained elevation.   I eventually reached an elevation of 7,910 ft/2,411 m.  The temperature was around 36 F/2 C when I retired to bed and the temperature the next morning was 29 F/-2 C.  I was wearing army wool pants and clipped the knife inside my right front pocket.  I used the knife to cut my apple and cheese during my snack break.  It was used to open my freeze-dried evening meal, stir my peppermint tea, and cut my bagel.

In December, I attempted to do a snowshoe hike near Kelley Canyon Ski Resort near Ririe, Idaho (elevation at the trailhead was 5,150 ft/1,570 m).  Unfortunately, there was not enough snow to make using the snowshoes worthwhile.  The temperature was around 31 F/-0.5 C.  I wore hiking pants which I covered with rain pants.  I hiked up one of my favorite snowshoe trails until I reached an elevation of 6,574 ft/2,004 m.  This hike covered approximately 4 miles/6 km.  The whole trip the knife was securely fashioned inside my right front pocket.  Other than traveling with me, the knife was not used much on this trip.

In January, I also took the Benchmade with me on a trip to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico (elevation 361 ft/110 m).  Of course, I couldn't carry it on the airplane so I placed it in its storage sack and carefully placed in inside my checked luggage.  I carried the knife every day while in Mexico except when I was snorkeling.  I used it to cut fruit and open food packages.  One night, our steaks were so tough the steak knifes in the condo we were using just didn't work.  I pulled out the Benchmade and it made short work of all our steaks.

Used as a steak knife in Mexico

I have also used the 551SH2O to cut twine on hay bales while feeding my horses, cut rope while working with scouts, open packages at work, cut apples, peel oranges, and cut vegetables.


To date, the 551SH2O has performed admirably and without flaw.  It fits comfortably in both my front and rear pocket--though my personal preference is to keep it in my front pocket.  The knife is easy to open, the blade locks firmly in place, and it is easy to unlock/close.  I always use both hands to open and close the Benchmade but that is simply by my preference.  I experienced no difficulty in cutting any of the items I attempted to cut with the 551SH2O.  The edge remains sharp and without blemish.  There is no sign of rust and I can still see all of the etchings in the steel.  The knife feels balanced in my hand and the grip fits my hand comfortably even in various cutting positions.  While I was not initially impressed with the feel of the handle (it feels cheap), the handle still looks like new despite being used vigorously and even dropped a few times.  The Benchmade is easy to clean and I usually leave it out overnight on the kitchen counter to completely remove all moisture.  I have not yet had to apply any oil to the Benchmade.

  • Durable
  • Retains sharp edge
  • Clip holds it firmly in pocket
  • Comfortable to use
  • Well balanced
  • Grip looks and feels cheap but this perception is deceptive

April 6, 2010

The "Cut to the Chase" Version

I still really like the 551SH2O.  It clips into and stays in all of my pants' pockets.  It holds a nice edge.  It is well balanced in my hand.  It has been accidently dropped onto hard surfaces (rocks and concrete), used to cut a wide variety of things, and been subjected to cold and warm temperatures without missing a beat--it is very durable. As an added bonus, for those involved in the Boy Scout program, the Benchmade 551SH2O happens to be Varsity Scout orange!  I plan to carry this knife on all my future outings.

The Details:

I continued to carry and use the Benchmade 551SH2O on at least a weekly basis during the Long Term testing period.  It went with me on all of my weekend travels and I packed it in my checked luggage when I traveled by air.  I used the Benchmade to cut all sorts of food items, rope, twine, boxes, and plastic.  One night, we were teaching the Venture Scouts to cook without pots or pans.  The 551SH2O was used to cut and remove the fruit from oranges to use the hollowed out peels as cake pans.  It cut wedges out of banana peels and sliced Milky Way bars to make banana boats.  It peeled and sliced potatoes, onions, and carrots for tin foil dinners.  It cored apples and sliced caramels for baked caramel apples.  By the end of the night, it was a sticky mess but it had no trouble slicing and dicing as needed.  Cleaning the knife afterward was a breeze.  I simply placed the knife in the sink with hot water and dish detergent washed it and rinsed it in hot tap water.  I dried the knife with a towel and then, with the blade open, left it on the kitchen counter to air dry overnight.  The next morning, I placed a drop of cooking oil on the blade and wiped a thin layer of the oil over the exposed portion of the blade with a paper towel.  I didn't leave enough for the blade to feel greasy--just a very light coating.

I took the 551SH2O, with me on two more backcountry trips as well.  The first outing was on snowshoes in early February near Bear Gulch which is a few miles northeast of Ashton, Idaho (elevation 6,000 ft/1,829 m).  There was plenty of firm snow pack for my snow shoes.  The temperatures were brisk (21 F/-6 C) during the day and cold during the night (16 F/-9 C).  The Benchmade was clipped inside the front right pocket of my light nylon pants which were covered by my waterproof trekking pants.  I didn't even notice the knife.  In fact, I almost had to reach in my pocket to check and make sure it was still there.  I have never had any trouble with the clip holding it in place.  I used the 551SH2O to open my hot chocolate packet, my freeze dried meal package, and to slice my apple and cheese.  While using the 551SH2O on this outing, I also wore light liner-type gloves which did not hinder my ability to open and close the knife.  I again cleaned the knife as referenced above when I returned home from the trip.

The next trek took me along the Snake River in Harriman State Park, near Island Park, Idaho (elevation 6,120 ft/1,865 m).  The temperature during the hike was a pretty steady 33 F/0.6 C.  Snow conditions were soft but there was enough snow with a solid base to make using the snowshoes worthwhile.  I got a great workout and the spectacular scenery made the trip very enjoyable.  I did a loop hike of approximately 5.3 miles/9 km (the Ranch Loop trail).  This time, I clipped the 551SH2O in the back rear pocket of my pants with the waterproof pants over the top.  As during the previous hike, I barely noticed the knife in my pocket and it remained firmly clipped to the pocket.  I didn't actually have to use the knife on this trip but it always a comfort to know that I have a reliable knife with me if I need one.

So far, I have been extremely happy with the 551SH2O.  It is very well balanced and feels good in my hand.  I have not had any trouble opening or closing the knife blade.  Despite a great deal of use (some might even say abuse), the knife still looks really good.  It cleans up easily and has retained a very sharp edge.  In fact, just this past weekend, I purchased some pepper beef sticks that were too long for my young nephews to eat without cutting the sticks in half.  So, I unclipped the 551SH2O from my front pocket, put the knife blade under one of the sticks and pushed on the top of the stick with my thumb.  Now these particular beef sticks are not real soft.  Rather, they are kind of "beef jerky" tough.  The plan was to stop pushing when the knife was most of the way through the beef stick but the knife cut through the beef stick so quickly that before I realized, I had also made a small (not serious enough for medical care but enough to remind me every day since then) cut in my thumb.  I know, not the best way to test whether the knife edge is still sharp but I didn't have any question after that incident!

I have genuinely enjoyed testing this knife and will continue using it into the future.  My likes and dislikes have not changed much since the Field Test Report but are repeated below.

  • Durable
  • Retains sharp edge
  • Clip holds it firmly in pocket
  • Comfortable to use
  • Well balanced
  • Easy to clean
  • Grip looks and feels cheap but this perception is deceptive
This concludes my Long Term Report on the Benchmade 551SH2O knife.  I would like to thank Benchmade and for giving me the opportunity to test this fine knife.

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Reviews > Knives > Folding > Benchmade 551 H20 > Test Report by Michael Wheiler

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