Benchmade Knives: Soaring Steel!
An American Success Story.
It began, innocently enough, with a butterfly knife. Les De Asis just liked it. Actually, he liked it a whole lot. The Filippino butterfly knife, or Balisong, is unlike any other folding knife in the cutlery kingdom. Rather than having a blade rotating out of a handle, the Balisong has two handles counter-rotating around the blade. So popular is the knife an entire martial arts culture has sprung up around it with enthusiasts worldwide. It’s a fascinating knife, especially in action, and Les De Asis got drawn into this fascination like a moth to flame.
In 1979, while attending the University of Southern California working as a freelance investigator on the side, De Asis took a chance and opened a company that he named Bali Song, trade marking the name. The company would fail due in large part to a decline in the economy and stricter customs law prohibiting the import of butterfly knives. However, the experience, along with De Asis’ determination, would serve as the impetus to build what we know today as one of America’s premier cutlery manufacturers: Benchmade Knives. And the butterfly still holds a special place in Les De Asis’ heart. In fact, it’s been an integral part of the company’s logo ever since Benchmade was founded in October 1987.
Benchmade took flight at an ideal time. A few years after its inception, the first Gulf War hit and the parentage of the modern-day tactical knife genre took root. Les expanded his line to include combat folders (as they were referred to at the time) and in 1992 the launched the AFO (Armed Forces Only) knife, an aluminum-handled automatic, geared toward military users. The AFO has proven to be so popular it remains in the company’s lineup to this day.
The enterprising De Asis was also one of the first to collaborate with custom knifemakers for designs, a custom that is more the rule and not the exception among manufacturers today. Two of those early collaborators — Mel Pardue and Warren Osborne — are still very active members of the Benchmade design team to this day.
Bali-Song Butterfly Knife
Built On Quality
From the very beginning Les De Asis has been a stickler for quality. Benchmade PR Coordinator Alicia Hunt tells Handgunner, “Benchmade caters to the knife user who is looking for high quality knives and edged tools that deliver superior performance and provide great value. Our customers appreciate the Benchmade philosophy of the three Ms: materials, mechanisms and manufacturing. Benchmade uses premium blade steels and strong durable handle materials built to last. We use patented locking mechanisms, like the AXIS lock, providing reliability and enhanced function. At our factory in Oregon City, Benchmade uses ultra-modern laser cutters and CNC machining centers offering precision and control. Consumers like Benchmade knives because they are 100-percent manufactured in the USA.”
The Benchmade philosophy of bringing in talented custom knifemakers and other knowledgeable professionals, such as military experts, has only expanded over the years. “Benchmade believes working with custom designers and other experts creates the most innovative and functional designs in the industry,” said Alicia. “These skilled artisans and craftsmen pour their passions into their work and agonize over every detail. By collaborating with a selection of world-class custom designers, we’re able to tap into the newest locking mechanisms, modern materials and custom blending and finishing techniques. These designers include Mel Pardue, Bill McHenry and Jason Williams, Warren Osborne, Seiichi Nakamura, Shane Sibert, Ken Steigerwalt, Eddie Killian, Matthew Lerch, Charles Marlowe and Greg Thompson.”
Innovation has also helped spur the Benchmade brand to the top. In 1998 the company debuted the AXIS lock, a distinct break from the liner-lock system common throughout the tactical folder realm. The AXIS lock — which uses a locking bar actuated by springs located within the handle — offered several advantages, including strength, ambidexterity and ease of use. Another advantage inherent in the AXIS design is its ability to adapt to automatic configuration.
Onslaught (top), Griptilian (bottom)
Diversity Breeds Sales
Keeping an open mind and spreading their designs over a variety of talent has allowed Benchmade to offer a diverse line of knives, broadening their customer base. The 710 McHenry & Williams was the manufacturer’s first knife to feature the AXIS lock and it’s still going strong. One main attraction is the relatively flat cross section making for a comfortable, easy to conceal everyday carry design.
Typical of their modern tactical designs are the Onslaught, Mini-Barrage and Triage. The Onslaught is a tenacious Bob Lum (deceased) design featuring a swoopy-modified, clip-point blade mated to a curvaceous handle. Often the company will follow one of their popular tactical designs with smaller versions. The Mini-Barrage is a downsized version of their full-size release, featuring the same slick handle design; AXIS lock and spring assisted opening mechanism.
The Triage is a state-of-the-art rescue knife with few peers. Designed around the AXIS lock platform, the Triage series offers a choice of blade styles, from a workhorse sheep’s foot to a blunt tipped safety version along with textured, slip-proof G10 handles. A cleverly designed foldout webbing cutter folds out of the base, and a carbide glass breaker is located on the base.
Because their quality has always been of a higher standard than most production fare, Benchmade was pigeonholed as a high-end manufacturer for many years. The release of the Griptilian series folders in 2001, designed by Mel Pardue, helped change that perception. Here was an “everyman’s folder” meeting the company’s standards for quality, included their popular AXIS lock, and having a price tag well within the average knife user’s means.
A Mini-Griptilian was released the following year, garnering the 2002 Shooting Industry Knife of the Year award, and proving every bit as popular as its bigger sibling. According to Alicia, “The Griptilian family of knives has been the most popular Benchmade knife to date. There are currently hundreds of different versions of the Griptilian, because of all the different blade styles and handle colors. We even have a Custom Griptilian program where you can pick blade steel, handle color, blade style and choose all the different components.”
Benchmade’s knives have been a popular choice among our military troops ever since the release of the AFO. The company supplies a wide array of knives and tools — such as their Tomahawk, and three variations of their rescue/safety hooks — through the MSN and GSA Advantage stocking programs, including the Auto Presidio, Auto Stryker and Infidel automatics. The Auto Presidio and Auto Stryker are both converted versions of popular AXIS lock versions released first as consumer knives, while the Infidel is a dedicated “out-the-front” model.
Presidio (left), Auto Stryker (right)
But There’s More
As if the company didn’t have enough on its plate, they also produce knives under several other labels, “In addition to knives manufactured under the Benchmade brand, we also have exclusive licensees to manufacture and market Harley-Davidson Knives, HK Knives and Lone Wolf Knives.” The company also produces the Bone Collector line of sporting knives, in collaboration with Outdoor Channel hunting guru Michael Waddell.
The Benchmade story is a classic example of why the American free enterprise system is the best in the world. Who could have predicted a young entrepreneur’s passion for the simple butterfly knife would take flight and soar to such great heights? Reckon if you like something well enough the sky’s the limit, which is certainly true in Les De Asis’ case.
For more info: (800) 800-7427, www.americanhandgunner.com/benchmade
By Pat Covert
Photos By Chuck Pittman
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