Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Art of the Affordable American-made Folder; Benchmade 527 Mini-Presidio Ultra

I'm a little surprised it's taken me this long to purchase anything from Benchmade's 2009 lineup. There are plenty of newer BM offerings that I wouldn't mind owning, but several irresponsible knife-buying sprees late last year, coupled with my recent urges to purchase guitar-effects and music gear, put my Benchmade wishlist on hold...until today. Aside from a routine checkup with my new doc, I didn't have much going on, so after paying a credit card bill, it was off to my favorite warehouse sporting goods store. The store in question isn't real quick to get new model knives from any brand, but they are a big Benchmade dealer, and it's late May after all. I knew they'd have something I wanted. I played with the 10700 Nagara from BM's red box line of overseas-made knives. It has the same Nakamura-designed "Nak-Lock" that last year's Shoki gentleman's folder has. It's got a slick (as in cool, not slippery) titanium handle, and is reasonably priced. The blade is ground from a budget-oriented chrome/molybdenum steel; 8CR13, or somesuch equivalent. It didn't win me over though, and I ended up playing with a few variations of the Barrage series, the first assisted openers from the Oregon City juggernaut. I liked the size, look and overall feel, including the lightning-quick blade deployment of the 585 mini Barrage, and it seems all Barrage-series knives sport a backspacer-mounted safety (which I guessed I overlooked when I originally read the specs for the Barrage knives), in addition to BM's venerable Axis Lock. I didn't care for the Valox (a grippy hard rubber resin) handle scales. They felt nice, but looked sort of cheap IMO. Maybe we'll see the Barrage knives in colored aluminum handles eventually, that would get my attention! I was curious about the red box series Aphid knife also, but it wasn't in stock where I was at.

I settled on the 527 mini Presidio Ultra, plain edge, uncoated blade. The blade is 440C with sort of a tumbled or stonewashed look. The 522 and 527 Presidio Ultra knives are based upon the look of the Mel Pardue designed Presidio series, which have aluminum handle scales. These new-for-2009 Presidio Ultras are still USA-made, but much more affordable, due to the cheaper (but still very high-performance) 440C blades. The handles are Noryl GTX, a high-strength plastic that sounds to me like a high-tech birth control pill. The use of Noryl GTX, instead of machined aluminum also keeps cost down. My new 527 mini was about $65.00 before sales tax, discounted with my store membership card. This price is about comparable with pre-shipping prices on many discount knife sites.
Here's my 527 next to my 745 mini-DejaVoo:

The smaller DejaVoo was always one I considered on the smaller side of things, with its 3.23" blade. The new 527 Presidio Ultra's blade is about 2.97", making the little DejaVoo dwarf this new knife. I used to feel that bigger was always better in a folding knife. I've always been a peaceful and mostly-law-abiding person, so I never worried about legalities, I just was usually more comfortable with a larger folding knife in my right front pocket, and at times, I've been known to pack folders with 4 inch to 5.5 inch blades. Fine and dandy, but lately (last 3 years or so) I've realized the freedom of carrying smaller, lighter knives. I'm working a job now too, where I often may need to produce a knife to cut something in front of NKPs (non-knife-people) and shocked looks and gasps get old very quickly when you're trying to avoid unwanted attention directed at your knife from simple minded folks who startle easily or don't understand that knives are tools and not simply weapons that movie-bad-guys carry. It's also the time of year where I wear shorts even more frequently than usual, and a smaller knife is simply more comfortable than a behemoth with a 4 to 5 inch blade. To me, a smaller dedicated folder, also means more room to carry a small or midsize Swiss Army or multi-tool.

The pocket clips on the presidio Ultra knives are left/right reversible, but only allow for carry with the folded knife's tip in the UP position. I tend to prefer tip-up carry anyhow, for the most part. The Noryl GTX handles feel very similar to Zytel, or any number of other "glass-filled nylon" hybrid plastic materials, and are nicely textured in what Benchmade refers to as an "EDM" pattern. It's almost like a diamond plate shape, and I'd assume that the acronym stands for "external diamond milling" or something like that, which sounds way more high tech than it really is. Either way, the texturing provides a nice grip, and I just tried it with wet hands too. Thumbstuds are pretty standard and allow for quick opening because of the short distance from the pivot pin. The Axis Lock is as solid as I've ever seen on any Benchmade which uses the mechanism. The knife's liners appear to be made of aluminum, though it's possible they're stainless steel, and the blade pivot rides on what appear to be dual phosphor bronze washers. The blade is a simple but modern-looking drop point and is one of the sharpest knives I've ever handled from this company, right out of the box, and that's saying a lot, as Benchmade's knives are always scary sharp from the factory, whether they are US-made or otherwise, regardless of the blade material!

It's a safe guess that this knife will accompany me to Ross Lake, mid-August, for the annual trout fishing trip, and I'll probably pack it in my checked luggage when I go to Disneyland with my sisters and their kids a week after that, as it is a smaller knife, and CA is known to have somewhat picky knife regulations, at least when compared with your average Seattle law enforcement personnel.

I've always liked the look of the original Presidio series from Benchmade, and I'm pretty stoked that these less expensive, yet still Oregon-made versions are available. If I end up with another knife from Benchmade's 2009 offerings by the end of the year, it'll probably be the full size Barrage with the black combo blade, but this 527 mini-Presidio Ultra will hold me over until the next great knife urge rears its head.


5/25/2009 Addendum:
So, I've been carrying this little bastard a few days now, and I'm liking it more and more. Everyone who has seen it has liked it, and expressed some measure of surprise at the relatively inexpensive pricepoint. Good Stuff, I'm jonesing now, to play with Cold Steel's forthcoming Spartan folder, it's one of only a few new CS products for 2009, and the only one I'm really interested from them, so as soon as it's available for purchase, look for a review right here.

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