In pursuit of a finer slice

I tested three knives for patrol use: An SOG Trident (TF-3), a Spyderco Paramilitary 2 (C81GPBK2) and a Benchmade 581S Barrage. Each knife was chosen for a different distinguishing characteristic. I theorized that the unique qualities of each knife...

I tested three knives for patrol use: An SOG Trident (TF-3), a Spyderco Paramilitary 2 (C81GPBK2) and a Benchmade 581S Barrage. Each knife was chosen for a different distinguishing characteristic. I theorized that the unique qualities of each knife would make each of them an excellent choice for hard law enforcement use. The test was an attempt to simulate about a year of patrol use. I began with 18-gauge copper wire and copper strand wire approximately the same thickness. I sliced through a 3/4-inch manila rope, 1/8-inch at a time. Each knife got 100 cuts. I chopped several select natural pine boughs from various angles. I stuck the knives into tree trunks, edge down, then stood on the handles to test for lock failure. I figured if the knife could hold my (static) weight, it wouldn’t break under my use. At the end of the test, I checked for sharpness and edge wear.

I picked name brands because name brands are backed by reputation. These reputable brands were put to the test and in the end, I found exactly what I expected. Everyone knows if given the choice between a “tactical” knife and a tool with a knife blade like a Leatherman Tool on patrol, I’d pick the Leatherman every time. However, when an officer needs a quick sturdy, one-handed blade, there isn’t a substitute. The three knives tested here are popular in law enforcement circles. They are traditional designs with a few engineering enhancements.

Benchmade 581S Barrage: Sculpture for serious operators

The Benchmade 581S Barrage was selected for this test because many officers want their knives to look like it belongs in a knife collection and yet be cost effective enough to be a working knife. This is the knife. Even though the model is not “tactical black,” a close look will reveal that the blade has micro patterned lines almost perpendicular to the edge. It barely reflects light, giving it the look of a professional chef knife. Since I could slice a tomato hair thin with it, even after the edge wear test, the look is appropriate. This model comes with a black-coated blade; and it’s one good-looking piece of steel.

The 581S Barrage uses the AXIS Assist locking mechanism, which is similar to the original AXIS Assist except it has a spring. It features 3.6-inch M390 Super Steel drop-point blade with a Rockwell hardness between 60-62. The most striking feature of this knife are the scales: G10 and aluminum with serrations that were eye-catching and useful. It also has a full-length metal liner, recessed torx screw assembly and two positions for the pocket clip. The knife fills the gap between “I just purchased a custom knife” and “It’s a working blade designed to take a beating.” It is absolutely ideal for a law enforcement gift that will get the officer out of a challenging situation without equipment failure, and look good doing it.

I have an original Benchmade 710 in ATS 34 with the BT2 coating, an original AXIS Lock model, the non spring assist version. I got it when it first came out and have cut my way out of many situations while in uniform over 20 years.

The AXIS Assist locking mechanism uses the same principle. A deadbolt-like bar falls in behind the recess in the blade when opened. This does exactly what we desire in a folding knife: The inherent strength is indistinguishable from a fixed blade. The AXIS Assist locking mechanism adds a little extra to the mix. Because it is easy to polish the bearing surfaces of the lock, it is inherently the smoothest method to lock or unlock the knife. Users like myself have AXIS knives that have been opened and closed thousands of times in really bad environments without any noticeable wear.

Closing an AXIS knife is smooth and safe. One does not have to put the fingers in the path of the blade to use it. (I am not a fan of automatic blades. It only takes firing one in the pocket to explain my feelings about them.) The AXIS Assist mechanism is as fast as an auto, yet stronger and safer. One simply starts the blade in motion, about 20 to 30 degrees, to open. It has a safety in the spine, allowing the user to open and close the knife with minimal grip shifting.

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