Knife/Gun Contest Entry: First World Problems

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.


  1. sagebrushracer says:

    Thanks for sharing the story with us. I recently made a simalar purchase, I got a spyderco Endura 4 lightweight and carry a Gerber Artifact. I work with computers and various other technology that I often take apart and put back together. I used a swiss army for a long time but the screwdriver was never small enough and it is not something you could really use to defend yourself if you had to. Also prying with it is never a good option.

    With my new setup, I can pry, cut, screw, open bottles or dig out a sliver. And I use either of them daily, the screwdriver tip on the Artifact is fine enough to slip into laptop screws, and the blade is a replaceable xacto type, never needs sharpening.

    I like the spyderco for general cutting tasks a lot. This last week, while camping we all forgot to bring a grater for the potatoes for breakfast. So me and only one other guy had a knife and we sliced them up traditional style. I had a inner smile as I watched him fight with his massive, thick bladed tacticool folder with a tanto tip and partial serrations to slice up his spuds while I zipped mine in to bite sizes pieces at about a rate of 2 to 1.

  2. Aharon says:

    Good post Joshua. I’ve read countless pieces on blade steels, read comments at Blade Forums, and watched my share of knife review on youtube. What I’ve learned are a few basics. I agree that blade steel does matter though it is not an absolute way to evaluate which knife to go with since a maker’s steel ‘baking process’ (heating) is possibly equally important if not more so in many cases. I suspect that it is good to avoid the cheaper steels regardless. I don’t see how the most expensive steels are worth the required investment or are needed by 99% of knife users. I’ve read that Americans debate and obsess more about which are the right steel types than Europeans just as we do about ammo calibers.

    Earlier today, I ordered a Blind Horse Knife “tactical” fixed blade with a 4.5 inch edge in D2.

  3. din says:

    congrats on getting something that isn’t a piece of crap like the CRKTrash. cheap steel, serrations on the wrong side of the blade for right-handers, chiselground on the wrong side of the blade for right-handers, chiselground period, stupid tanto blade, and the PITA AutoLAWKS garbage. I was given one of these as a gift and immediately stuck it in a pay-it-forward box on bladeforums. people who buy low-quality, poorly-designed knives (i.e. gerber, CRKT, SOG, and their ilk) deserve nothing but ridicule. not that I have any strong feelings on the matter, of course.

    1. scubamatt says:

      Quit beating around the bush, Din, say what you really mean LOL.

      I have a few CRKT knives and they have always been good, reliable tools. I even have an M16-G21 similar to the one Joshua is replacing. It’s too large for daily carry in some situations, otherwise its been a great knife.

      Now I suppose I’ll have to check out this Contego, though.

      1. din says:

        the contego is pretty much the best overall value on the market right now, at least among folders. check out (no affiliation) while you’re shopping, they have some of the best prices. I think I ended up paying around 140 for mine.

  4. crockett says:

    I wouldn’t say that aus8 sucks. I’ve had very good luck with it in Al Mar and Cold Steel. I’ve cut up a fairly good amount of cardboard and it is still shaving sharp. It mostly depends on the heat treat honestly.

  5. Jon says:

    I have had a Benchmade 300 for a year now an it’s the best knife I have ever owned…carry it everyday. Never thought I would pay over $100 for a knife but I’m stuck on Benchmades now for life !!!

  6. Sam says:

    Congratulations on your new Benchmade! The window breaker tip is also very handy on the Contego.

    One thing, the steel is called ATS-34, not ATS-35.

  7. Russ says:

    Where is the Contego review? I’d love to hear a fellow M16-14 users opinion of the Contego.

    1. Russ,

      Unfortunately we have not given that knife a standalone review. Dan (the author of this article) primarily writes for our parent site, The Truth About Guns, and thus is not able to post all too often here. Hope you stick around!


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Knife/Gun Contest Entry: First World Problems

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