May is Benchmade month at BladeOps. There are so many different variables that give Benchmade their unique position in the market and the high quality products that they produce. So today, we are going to go over those variables and why they matter.
With a rich history dating back over 30 years, Benchmade is the product of may dedicated employees, a never quite demand for excellence and Les de Asis vision and total commitment to culture, service, and innovation. The very first prototype was developed in 1979, using Les’ high school shop skills. He eventually met Victor Anselmo who helped him grind his first ever blade. Les paired this blade with handles that he had sourced from a small machine shop in California and he assembled and finished his first Bali-Song in his own garage. He was very product of his creation, so he took it to the local gun store which prompted the owner to ask, “Could you build 100 more?” Over the next years, the company expanded and changed from Bali-Song, Inc. to Pacific Cutlery Corp. However, this company was unable to control quality, price, and delivery, so they filed for bankruptcy and dissolved. It was only a year later, in 1988, when Les reintroduced a new company and new version of the Model 68. This time, he started this company with a drive to produce product in the US and an even stronger commitment to product availability, quality, and customer relationships. The company now needed a new name When Les was trying to decide on a name for this new company he realized that there was “handmade” and “factory made”, but it was “Benchmade” that described the quality of Les’ product. He was building an operation that made precision parts, but with hand assembly on the finished products. This was a “bench” operation and Les wanted the name to reflect the marriage of manufactured and custom. In short, it describes Benchmade’s position in the market—even to this day.
Benchmade began producing knives in California under the new name Benchmade, Inc. This was a major turning point, as the company was now located in the epicenter for knife manufacturing. Many technologic advancements were now possible and Benchmade became the first company to own and employ a high power laser cutter, allowing for work with steels too hard to stamp. The company also became the world leader in automatic knife manufacturing, which is still true to this day. To this day, Benchmade continues to focus on innovation, customer needs, responsible business ethics and operations to bring the highest quality products to the world’s elite.
Since this company has such a unique way of building their products, I figured we should go over how they accomplish this process. (The information on the factory process has been provided to us by Benchmade.com)
The beginning of each knife begins with laser cutting. Every single blade that Benchmade produces begins as a single sheet of steel. With this sheet of steel, a laser cutting technician programs the laser to cut the steel into blanks, which gives the blade its basic profile. After the blanks have been cut out, they are hammer out of the sheet by hand, and for the first time, this sheet of steel begins to resemble a knife. These blanks are then measured to make sure they meet the specifications required. In fact, measurements are taken every step of the manufacturing process to guarantee an impeccable knife and streamline production. If these blanks are not up to the spec check, they don’t become a Benchmade blade at all.
After the blanks have been through the laser cutting process, they move on to the surface grinding process. This is where the blank is ground to its precise width. There is now a surface grind technician that places each blank in its rack by hand. Each side of these blanks are now ground to its specified thickness. After the blanks have been ground, the technician will check the thickness of each set of blanks. Tolerances are within the width of a human hair. This is because Benchmade believes that, “our knives have no room for error, and neither does a blank’s thickness”.
After the blanks have passed their second inspection, they move on to the blade and handle milling process. Blade holes, handles, and grooves are cut out on a high speed mill. For every batch that is made, the blade milling technician will program the mill and measure the blade or handle to make sure it meets Benchmade’s precise tolerances. The blades and handles will all obviously differ from each set of knives, so the milling technician gathers a specific set of measuring tools for each job. One of the blade holes that gets cut during this milling process is the blade pivot. This blade pivot is also called the joint on a knife and it is the spot where the blade moves back and forth. This hole is absolutely crucial to the folding mechanism, so Benchmade’s pivot tolerance is .0005 inches. This is because the slightest deviation there becomes exponential at the blade’s tip. This is similar to a plane’s course—if the pilot gets the course even a few feet off, by the end of the trip, it can equal miles. Benchmade requires their handles to have the same precision in order to fit the liners and blades properly and provide their users with the smoothest of mechanisms.
The fifth step in the Benchmade process is the beveling process. This is also the step where the blade actually begins to take its final shape. Before this process, the two sides of the blade are basically flat—just like the sheet of metal was. There is a new Blade Beveling Technician that bevels the knife blank one side at a time. One of the most critical tasks here is to make sure that the sides match perfectly. At this point it shouldn’t be surprising that the knife also gets measured during this step to ensure that it meets the specified tolerances. One of the insure with an imprecise bevel is that it can actually hamper the blade’s balance, sharpness, strength, and mechanism function. Who knew that a blades bevel effects all other parts of the blade?
The sixth step in Benchmade’s knife making process is the back sanding and finishing. Back sanding is where the back of the blade becomes the star of the show and gets all of the attention. The sides of the blades have already been beveled and milled, but the back has been left mostly untouched, so it is still flat like the sheet of metal. Each blade is attached to a custom fixture that fits the arms of a standing belt sander. The back sanding technician will sand the back of the blade until lit is smooth. Every blade is back sanded the same, all one at a time, to ensure that they get the attention and detail that they need.
The sixth step also includes the finishing process, which is the step where the blade receives its more refined look. There is a finishing technician that will stone wash the blades in a ceramic medium to remove any burrs and give the blades a clean, polished appearance. The medium itself can vary in size and shape, depending on the specific finish of the blade. When the blade is cleaned up after the finishing process, it is taken to laser marking to receive its one of a kind Benchmade logo.
The next step in the process is the assembly. Each and every single one of Benchmade’s knives are assembled by hand. It comes as no surprise that there are more hand operations performed at this point in a knife’s production than at any other stage in the process. An assembly technician receives all of the components—the blade, the liner, the handle, and the hardware—and carefully pieces them together. The technician will then check the knife for blade play, which is the movement from side to side and up and down, and then the knives that have been approved move on the very last step in this process.
The very last step in the production process is sharpening. It takes longer to become a master blade sharpener than it does at any other skill in the process. A sharpening technician puts a razor edge on the knife suing a standing belt sander, and this step takes extraordinary concentration. Each of Benchmade’s blades is sharpened to a targeted 30-degree inclusive angel, 15 degrees on each side. For Benchmade, a knife is sharp enough when it can cut through ultra-thin phonebook paper effortlessly without tearing. It is then, and only then, that it is truly a Benchmade knife.
Benchmade has provided us with some interesting facts about the production process:
- There are up to 35 different people who handle the materials for manufacturing and building a single knife.
- In a year, they use 179,000 pounds of raw steel to make their knives. This is almost enough to build 60 SUVs.
- In a single year, they use 3,100 pounds of titanium. This is enough to make more than seven exotic racing motorcycles.
- In a year, Benchmade uses 438,000 inches of aluminum, which is longer than 121 football fields.
- They also use 153,000 square feet of carbon fiber in a year, which is 3.5 acres.
The Benchmade factory employs modern laser cutters and CNC machining centers that offer control and tolerances commonly found in the aerospace industry. Often, these tolerances are half the width of a human hair. Their commitment to modern machining techniques and rigid quality control has allowed Benchmade to bridge the gap between custom and manufactured. As I’m sure you’ve realized, Benchmade has a wide variety of technicians, all of whom are trained in different positions. Benchmade knives are all supported through a team of skilled technicians. Their only function is to ensure your Benchmade is in optimal working condition for your entire life. This service is called LifeSharp. This name speaks for itself. When you send your knife to the Benchmade LifeSharp team, the knife is completely disassembled and all worn parts are tuned or replaced. The knife is then lubricated and reassembled, a sharpener applies a factory edge on the blade and the knife is shipped back to you. This is all performed at no cost to you. That is just the Benchmade way.
This seven step process seems like a long process that has proved to be efficient. This is because Benchmade works with the right mindset. They have said, “For over twenty-five years, Benchmade has been designing and manufacturing world class products for world class customers. When Benchmade was founded, the mission was to create something better; something exceptional. Today, we continue to innovate with the goal of taking performance and reliability to he next level. To exceed what is expected. Whether you are using a Griptillian for every day duties or taking the fight to he enemy with the Infidel, our knives are built to perform. When you choose to purchase a Benchmade, you do so because you want the best. You demand it. And programs like our LifeSharp Lifetime Service and Warranty are the foundation of our commitment to excellence. We live it and breathe it, and we know what you mean when you say: It’s not a knife. It’s my Benchmade.” It is this seven step process that is a Benchmade and it is this seven step process that gives you the knife that you expect when you buy a Benchmade, it is this seven step process that gives you the knife that you deserve when you buy a Benchmade. So come help us all at BladeOps celebrate the month of May being dedicated to Benchmade. Head on over and purchase your favorite Benchmade knife, now that you know why it is such a quality knife that will help you in anything from your everyday tasks, hunting, fishing, and even your collector’s knives. Happy Benchmade Month.