By Joshua D.
For the last 7 years I have carried and loved a CRKT M16-14ZSF knife. Today I had to replace the porch roof to my parents home, and while I am no carpenter, I took on the task as best I could. While using my knife to cut away tar paper from the old roof I dropped it. I don’t want to get into the particulars, but I have used this knife as hard as any work knife could be used . . .
The tip has been bent for about 4 years, numerous stains mar the finish and the handle has been chipped away slowly. The AutoLAWKS safety was smashed at one point and the clip has lost more little screws than I can remember. It actually really kills me to put her to rest, but after so long I feel like its time to retire it and move on.
My qualm is that while I loved this knife, there were a few things I didn’t like.
1. Serrations. I hate them and on a fighting knife they are useless, but really they just make any task harder.
2. AUS8 sucks.It bends easily, loses its edge quickly and doesn’t clean well. Spoiled, cause my dedicated work knife is 154CM.
On the plus side.
1. The “pommel” or ears open the knife like a wave clip on an Emerson knife and they keep your hand from slipping up the blade. In addition to that, the little gear cuts shatter tempered glass like you wouldn’t believe. As a volunteer firefighter/EMT-B, this was a great discovery!
2. The bottom of the knife was just flat enough to let you use your palm to really drive in the knife, something a lot of knife artists seem to ignore.
3. I like being able to move the clip around. You could put it on either side of the knife for right or left carry and tip up or down. Versatility, my friends.
4. CRKT. They are very helpful when the little torque screws get lost and you need extras or if you smash their AutoLAWKS system.
All in all I’m having an internal conflict. If they made the same knife sans the serrations and with a better steel (VG-10, 154 CM, CTS- XHP or BD1) I would never think of carrying another knife, but they don’t and I haven’t been able to find anything close to it.
I don’t buy things in a flash or out pure enjoyment, not that there is anything wrong with that. It’s just that I know that I over-think purchases to death, especially if I am going to rely on it for protection or as a hard-use tool.
In my research to find the perfect knife for me I spent countless hours on YouTube, and various blade forums looking for information on steel, construction and reviews on particular brands. I even gave the idea of carrying a fix blade a thought or two. My conclusion was this:
Blade steel is said not to matter. After owning 440C, AUS8, VG-10 and 154CM I am going to say what no one will – steel does matter. In fact it’s almost as important as picking out a vehicle type. Coupe, truck or SUV, there are weaknesses and strengths in almost every formula and no one makes steel that really covers everything, so you have to know what you’re asking of it.
For myself, I wanted a knife capable of cutting tendons at a glance, cutting rope/webbing, small tree branches and twine, opening letters and boxes and one that can be used as an impact weapon if all else fails. What this meant was that I had to sacrifice weight, sharpen-ability, bend-ability and savings.
Fact is that while AUS8 and 440 have their shortcomings, they tend to be cheap, light weight, bendable, and easily sharpened so don’t discount them. Its just they don’t fit the role I have in mind. After some reading at Spyderco, Benchmade and BladeHQ’s forum, I narrowed down my steels. 154CM/ATS-35 , D2, and if I could find one, CPM M4 .
154CM/ATS-35 was the American gold standard in the 90’s. It is very stain-resistant, light weight, very tough for impact work and holds a great edge. Sharpening usually requires a diamond-embedded stone, though, and the steel is brittle so not a steel I would pry with.
D2 is an air-hardened tool steel. Capable of 60-62 Rockwell hardness, this is a serious steel for edge retention, toughness and durability. Sharpening is a nightmare so don’t let it get too dull. It is not a stainless and will rust, so some oil is needed and if weight is a concern, look elsewhere.
CPM M4 is very similar to D2, however it has a much higher carbon content. This, along with a high vanadium content, makes it have better wear resistance and a little bit more stainless at 62-64 Rockwell, this is the hardest blade steel available.
The original intent of this steel was high speed manufacturer applications. It is really made for taking a beating without needing to be dressed as often. However, as with all things, you pay for the tungsten and vanadium in weight, but sharpening it is actually not that bad. Because it is created in a vacuum and of virgin materials, it is costly and due to this and availability, knife makers just aren’t quite going crazy over it.
All that being said, my next thought process was to narrow down the design and features. After trying to sharpen a tanto for so long, I have steadfastly decided to never own one again. About all I can say for it is that they look cool and if the stabby, stabby thing is what you seek, than the Tanto was made for you.
I like the clip, spear, and leaf variations myself, but most of all I did not want a blade that gave up too much in direction or another. Sheepsfoot was out and Tanto was, too. Anywhere in the middle was fine. Jimping, or some sort of hilt design, was a need as I have a weird fear of my hand sliding down the handle and onto the blade. Also, as I found out, some jimping can be used to break tempered glass – what a bonus!
After countless hours browsing the bottomless fathoms of the internet, I have narrowed my selection down to three knives, the Benchmade 300SN Ball Axis Flipper, the Viper Start Folding Knife and the Spyderco Endura 4 with Emerson Opener.
All have pluses and minuses but they seem to offer what I was looking for. I can’t tell you how many times I almost pulled the trigger on the Viper Start knife, really the only thing that stopped me was that I watched a lockback in scouts fail and it cut my scout master bad enough to need stitches. So I guess you could say confidence in that design isn’t high with me.
The Spyderco had VG-10 which is a good steel in itself, but not what I had narrowed my focus on. The price, weight and that little wave feature had me thinking about it. Lastly the brand spanking new Benchmade was just what the doctor ordered. Price was high but the features looked right. I thought I was set and then…eell I went to Cabelas.
I played with almost every Benchmade they had and a few Spydercos and some Hoags, but I found exactly what I had wanted in a knife. With a gift card and a lucky sale price, it came close to what I had wanted to shell out so I brought her home…
Oh my a black box???
Before you is a Benchmade 810 Contego.
At roughly the same size as my CRKT, I find the size, heft and feel to be as tailor-made for me as a production knife can get. It even has a glass breaker on the bottom. I had not even given this knife a look in their catalog, and after playing with it and the Griptilian for about 20 minutes I knew that it was just the knife I needed to replace my bent and broken CRKT. Best of all was that I found a knife by accident that had CPM-M4.
I hope that you enjoyed my thoughts on purchasing a new knife and that you found my story interesting. I will be writing up a full review of the 810 Contego in the near future.