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Reviews > Knives > Folding > Benchmade Griptilian Knife > Test Report by Coy Ray Starnes
Benchmade 551 Griptilian (folding knife)
Test Report Series by Coy Starnes
Initial Report: November 26, 2008
Field report: February 15, 2009
Long Term Report: April 14, 2009
Benchmade 551BKSN Griptilian
I live in Northeast Alabama. I enjoy biking, hunting, fishing, canoeing, and most other outdoor activities but backpacking is my favorite pastime. I enjoy hiking with friends and family or solo. I hike throughout the year and actually hike less in the hot humid months of summer. My style is slow and steady and my gear is light. However, I will sacrifice weight for comfort and durability. A typical 3-season load for me is around 20 lb (9 kg) not counting food or water.
Initial Report: September 15, 2008
Just in case you forgot what it looks like...
The Benchmade 551 Griptilian is a mid sized folding knife suitable for EDC (every day carry). Benchmade rates their knives in a series of colors and the Griptilian falls in the Blue Class which is just below the top of the line Gold Class. It has a palm filling handle but the knife as a whole is not all that heavy.
The business end features a blade is made of 154CM Stainless Steel which is said to be "An American made premium grade stainless steel originally developed for tough industrial applications. Known for its best all-around qualities, it offers great corrosion resistance with good toughness and edge quality." The blade shape is the drop point which is a good general purpose design. The blade is also coated with a BK1 coating, which according to Benchmade is "A matte black coating that provides excellent corrosion protection, which exceeds the ASTM-117 spec for saltwater while possessing higher scratch resistance."
Nice palm filling handle
The Axis locking mechanism is unique to Benchmade. I am more familiar with regular lockback knives so I was a little apprehensive of a new (to me anyways) style. However, after just a few minutes of operation, I really like the action of this knife. It's hard to describe but smooth as butter and solid as a rock come to mind. In other words it opens very smoothly and easily, but once open, the blade is held very rigidly in place, with no hint of being able to accidentally close back unless the Axis lock is actuated. The Axis lock is simply a spring loaded bar that automatically glides in place as the knife is opened and can then be easily slid back to let the knife close, but not so easy that it is going to move without purposely being pulled. Once the bar is pulled back the blade closes with a nice smooth stoke with just a tad of slamming at the end. The photos below show the Axis locking mechanism. The one on the right shows the bar going through the handle and the left one shows the end view of the same bar.
View of Axis Locking Mechanism from top and side
I get the feeling that how the grip is designed had something to do with the naming of this knife. The glass-filled Noryl® slabs are the same on each side of the knife so the pocket clip can be moved to either side. Each sides also has a nice deep checkered pattern to help in griping but the pocket clip blocks quite a bit of the checkering on the side where it is located. There are also several built up ridges around the edges to facilitate in griping the knife. The photo on the left shows these ridges and you can see a side view of part of the pocket clip. The knife does feel very secure in my hand with little danger of it sliding out.
The pocked clip is oriented so that the knife rides tip up in my pocket. What this really does is allow the knife to be pulled from my pocket and be opened in the normal grip position without having to turn the knife around. However, it is important to note that if worn on a belt or in such a way that the clip is facing my body the clip would need to be moved to the other side of the knife.
I was not the first in our household to see the knife. In fact, my dogs had that honor. Then my wife found it in the yard and had removed the dog slobber before I had a chance to play with it.
That said, the knife looks great and the blade has already proven to be very sharp. I shaved my arm and felt no pulling. With duller knives this can be a little painful. Then I carried it to work and my co-worker also had a go with it. He also found it to be extremely sharp doing the same hair shaving test.
Overall the 551 Griptilian is exactly what I expected after viewing it on the website. It also helped that I have several similar sized knives like the Griptilian. However, all have the more familiar (to me) lockback design. I have had the knife out several times and instintively mash on the back of the handle when I am ready to close it.
Before I close, I would like to fuss about the condition of the box my knife arrived in...Actually, I'm not fussing, but by the time I got to the knife it was not in the box (explained above). I just thought some might find the fact that my dogs got ahold of the box before I did entertaining. In fact, I feel lucky they had not taken it out in the pasture somewhere. As you can see in this photo, they had a good time with it.
Dogone dogs tried to test it before me...
I appreciate a well made knife and carry one daily. I like the size of this knife as it is neither too big for daily carry nor too small. I will use this knife in my day to day life as well as on all backpacking and day hiking excursions. I will take it with me on all canoeing, kayaking, bike rides and other similar activities.
My main concern with any knife is its sharpness followed closely by its comfort in use as well as carrying. Ease of sharpening is also a concern but knives that stay sharp longer are generally harder to sharpen so that is not a primary concern. For example, knives that rust easily are usually easy to sharpen. I own one knife which uses the 54CM steel and have found it to stay sharp so I will see if the Griptilian does as well.
February 15, 2009
Not so typical use...drilling a hole in my thumbnail
Testing Locations and Conditions
All testing was done in Northeast Alabama. I carried the knife with me just about everywhere except the shower and to bed. This included 1 overnighter, several day hikes, kayaking trips and recumbent bike rides. The first several weeks of riding, hiking and kayaking were in beautiful fall weather with highs near 80 F (27 C). When it got too cold to ride my recumbent bike or go kayaking I spent more time out hiking in the woods. In the dozen or so day hikes I probably walked about 50 miles (81 km) total. The coldest hike was a cold 23 F (-5 C) and the coldest ride was at 41 F (5 C). I only kayaked on the warmest days but was out once when it was only 50 F (10 C) and several more times on days in the mid 60s F (around 18 C) and even low 70s F (around 22 C). I did hike in some light snow flurries and light rain but nothing extreme. Elevation ranged from 600 ft to around 1200 ft (183 to 366 m) and on the recumbent bike rides and hikes to the hollow I descended and ascended all of the 600 ft (183 m) difference while the kayaking trips were at a constant 600 ft (183 m).
Field Test Results
First, I found the Griptilian to be an ideal size to carry. There were a few times when wearing sweat pants that the knife seemed a little heavy but when wearing my jeans, overalls, and even dress pants it never felt heavy or out of place. With that said, I did carry it in my day pack a few times when wearing the sweat pants and it also spent a lot of time zipped up in my life jacket pocket. I didn't want to risk losing it in the lake even if I were not committed to testing it.
My first real concern in testing was how sharp the knife is. As I reported earlier, the factory edge was extremely sharp. The hairs jumped off my arm when they saw the blade coming... Now, some two months later, they no longer jump off but still show some fear. In other words, the knife has held its edge well but is not quite as sharp as it was. However, I've seen knives that dulled more sitting in a drawer than this blade did with fairly heavy use.
I used the Griptilian like I always use my pocket knives. In other words, I used it to open packages, whittled points on sticks, cut slices of summer sausage, cut open a plastic oil container to make a funnel, cut rope and string, cut fishing line, sharpen pencils and even to drill a hole in my thumb nail. OK, that last one is not typical but I did do that (see photo above). I managed to mash my thumb with a hammer and it started throbbing so bad I had to let off some of the pressure the blood buildup was causing.
I was changing the oil in my daughters car and my funnel was nowhere to be found so I made one from an empty oil jug I had handy. I've done this before and I was expecting to need to apply more pressure than I did, which is is good because it is safer to use light pressure when cutting and let knife blade do the work. The photo on the left shows the starting cut and the one below shows the end result.
Funnel turned out rather nice...
I needed to cut my new sweat pants drawstring on one hike, They kept sagging and I got tired of stopping every few minutes to adjust them. The drawstring was one of those deals where it is one continuous string and not two free ends to make a good knot. I know this is not exciting but none-the-less it was handy to just grab my Griptilian and slice the string. I was hiking with a friend and had him take a photo as I made the cut. He looked at me a little strange until I explained I was testing the knife. He did get a good shot though (see below).
Not a very tough test but handy none-the-less
I will mention that I found the Axis lock becoming more second nature as I spent more time using the knife. I did notice that while wearing my winter gloves it was a little difficult to open and close the knife but when wearing my Duragloves (thinner bike riding gloves) I had no problem at all. The worst gloves for opening the knife were my neoprene kayaking gloves. I had to take them off to do much good opening the knife. However, once open, I put them back on and found the knife felt extra secure using these gloves, more so then even bare handed.
Summary so Far
No complaints from me except to say the Griptilain is such a nice knife I was reluctant to use it when I might have abused a cheaper knife. There were several times when I needed to open a paint can or something similar when I could have used the Griptilain but I realize it is better to use a tool for what it is designed for. On the other hand, when used as intended, I found the Axis lock very sturdy with no hint of the blade trying to close. I am pleased with how sharp the blade has remained even though I plan to sharpen it soon. Benchmade recommends sharpening it before it gets very dull and I am anxious to see how easy this task is.
Long Term Report
April 14, 2009
Testing Locations and Conditions
Locations and conditions have not changed much since the Field Report with only the addition of a couple of overnight campouts. I have taken it on several more dayhikes and kayaking outings but haven't needed the knife very often during these adventures. The overnights were local short distance hikes, the first at around 4 miles (6 km) round trip and the last even shorter as I just basically went a short distance into the woods and set up my hammock. It was already raining lightly and with a fairly big snow was in the forecast I didn't want to be to far from home just in case the weatherman was right. The overnight low for the first overnighter in early February was 44 F (7 C) while the most recent overnighter was a little cooler but still not real cold at only 28 F (-2 C). However, it was very windy and it did snow a couple of inches. I did make some tent stakes (some call them pegs) with the knife on this outing but no frozen wood to report.
Long Term Test Results
I have continued to use the Griptilian almost daily. It has opened numerous boxes and packages, stripped wire, cut apples, sharpened pencils and more. Of a more outdoor nature, I used it on one overnight campout to fashion 2 tent stakes that I needed for my hammock. I also cut a small sapling that would have rubbed my hammock during the night. Below is a photo of the sapling and below that one of the tent stakes I made, and as a bonus, I used the offending sapling for the tent stakes but needed to cut it again (to make two stakes) and then do some additional shaping. The sapling was about the size of my little finger but I have fat fingers. I want to say about 3/4 of an inch (about 2 cm) but I didn't measure it. I do know it was too big to slice with one quick stroke. The top photo shows better than I can describe that I had to do quite a bit of whittling to get it cut down.
Sapling stump with part of a stake beside it
And one of the stakes in use
I stated at the beginning of the test that I like for a knife to hold a good edge but if possible, be easy to re-sharpen, and that these two qualities often work against each other. I am pleased to report that the Griptilian has managed to hold its edge despite a lot of use but after four months of regular use it did get a little dull. But the good news is that re-sharpening it was not all that hard. It does take a little patience but it helps that I enjoy sharpening a knife. I won't bore anyone with the sharpening process but the key is to keep the blade at the same angle and that generally speaking, a thin edge is sharper but not as tough as a more angled edge. I'm not sure what angle the factory edge on the Griptilian is but I managed to sharpen it by keeping it fairly flat in relation to the sharpening sticks I was using. In other words, a thin blade was what I was aiming for.
But before I sharpened the knife I wanted to see if I could devise a simple test to judge the effect. Shaving my arm hair is good enough but hard to show. So I took a piece of ordinary typing paper and proceeded to stab into it and slice downward. Then after about 10 minutes of sharpening I did it again on the same paper. Here is a photo of the test. Then another one below that which shows a closer look. Note that on the left hand side of the bottom photo there is more tearing of the paper and there is even a very small piece of paper at the very bottom that looks like it is not attached. I noticed it when I was looking at the picture and went to look at the paper and sure enough, a tiny piece was still hanging on. But the bottom line is, the knife stays sharp for a long time but when the time comes to sharpen it, I was able to do so fairly easily.
Before and after sharpness test
Closeup, note the tears in the cut on the left before
sharpening and how smooth the right side cut is afterwards
PS I videoed the above test with two very short videos. If interested they may be viewed by going to Vimeo.com and typing in benchmade in the search box. Four videos come up right now but it will be obvious by the titles which ones are mine.
First the bad. The only negative I can think of is that this knife was a little big to wear clipped on some of my workout shorts or sweat pants I am apt to wear around the house and in the woods. In the woods this was not much of a problem as I usually have on a day pack to carry water and toilet paper but around the house I seldom need to carry these things. However, at home it is easy to keep the knife where I keep my other pocket items. When I wore jeans the Griptilian was usually the first thing I grabbed, leaving other pocket items sitting on the fridge.
I'm not going to re-list all the positives I found when using the Griptilian. Suffice it to say, I really like this knife. I like the size, the grip, the blade shape, the cutting ability, the smooth locking mechanism and on and on.
This concludes my testing of the Griptilian but I foresee many years of use in the future. I would like to thank Benchmade and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test this knife.
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