Among the work of Benchmade’s in-house designers, a family of two new fixed-blade knives stand out as exemplars of what the company’s Black Class series of knives strives to accomplish. This product line fulfills the needs of active duty military, first responders, law enforcement, and enthusiasts whose active lifestyle requires a knife with the ability to double as both a tactical blade and an outdoor companion.
New for 2016, the Benchmade Protagonist family incorporates models 167 and 169, designated for the good guys: Law enforcement and military personnel. For civilian users, the Protagonist family fits in with needs of the user who’s active outdoors, perhaps in a professional capacity, perhaps purely for enjoyment. These two new Protagonist knives offer strong fixed blades, comfortable grippy handles, and the flexible convenience of built-in compatibility with the MOLLE attachment system.
The Benchmade Protagonist family includes two blade profiles, each represented by a separate model number. Model 167 features a tanto-point blade, and model 169 uses a drop-point shape. Other than their profiles, these two models offer identical functionality, including full-tang fixed blades.
Benchmade’s Model 167 Protagonist uses a tanto-point blade shape with an angled point like a chisel, forming a secondary edge at an angle of between 60 and 80 degrees relative to the rest of the primary cutting edge. This angled point offers great strength as a piercing tool that can tolerate interaction with hard materials. Because the tanto-point blade features a flat cutting edge, the lack of curve, or belly, limits the knife’s usefulness as a general utility tool for slicing.
Benchmade’s Model 169 Protagonist relies on a drop-point style blade shape, so named because its spine drops toward the tip in a convex curve, placing the point below the level of the spine. The drop point ranks among the most popular blade profiles on the market, along with the clip point style. Unlike the tanto-point of model 167, the drop-point incorporates a curved cutting edge with enough belly to make the knife a capable slicing tool. The relatively broad blade tip sacrifices piercing utility for strength. This blade style offers all-purpose usefulness because of the high degree of control the user can exert over the knife, particularly over its point.
On both Benchmade Protagonist models 167 and 169, jimping grooves machined into a gentle thumb rise that leads out of the handle give the spine of the blade a place for the thumb or fingers to develop greater gripping pressure when you hold these knives in a conventional position. Both blade shapes incorporate a swage near the spine to reduce blade thickness.
Each of the two basic models in the Benchmade Protagonist family comes either with a plain blade edge or with a set of serrations on the left side occupying just under half the width of the blade. The presence of the letter “S” in the model number indicates the inclusion of serrations on the cutting edge. Models 167SBK and 169SBK include serrations, also known as rip teeth, to facilitate the completion of chores that involve cutting through fibrous materials. From rope, paracord, and string to wood, rip teeth increase the blade surface available to the material and function like a series of tiny individual blades. The area between serrations compresses the material, enabling the user to bear down on a knife and cut material that otherwise might fray instead.
Benchmade’s LifeSharp limited warranty enables any purchaser of its genuine products to send a knife back to the company’s Oregon headquarters for assessment, refurbishment, and resharpening, although the sharpening service does not cover the serrated portions of blades.
Both the Benchmade Protagonist models 167 and 169 feature black blades with a Cerakote coating. The result is a dramatic reduction in glare and overall visibility, rendering the Benchmade Protagonist knives virtually invisible in low light because of their lack of reflective glare. The presence of the letter “B” in the full model numbers of these knives indicates the black coating applied to their blades. Unlike some Benchmade knife models and families, the Protagonist does not come with the option of a satin finished blade.
To identify and personalize your Benchmade Protagonist knife, choose Benchmade’s optional lasermarking service and add text, graphics, or both to the blade. The cost of this service varies depending on what you want to engrave. You can opt for lasermarking at the time you purchase your knife, or return the product to Benchmade at a later date to add your message. The process makes the personalization a permanent part of the blade, and uses the same type of laser that applies the Benchmade logo and other identifying marks during the manufacturing process.
Benchmade selected 154 CM stainless steel with a hardness of 50 to 61 HRC for the blades of the Benchmade Protagonist family. This high-carbon steel is a U.S.-made product of Crucible Industries of Syracuse, New York, a pioneer in high-quality steels for various industries, including automotive parts, toolings, bushings, valve parts, and bearings. 154 CM represents a refinement upon the classic 440C alloy, offering greater hardness, wear resistance, and corrosion resistance that 440C does.
The alloy chemistry for 154 CM incorporates 1.05% carbon, 14% chromium, 0.50% manganese, 4.00% molybdenum, and 0.30% silicon, with a hardness of 58 to 61 HRC. Carbon, chromium, manganese, and silicon promote hardness, which measures resistance to impact using a diamond-tipped test instrument driven into samples of a material. To express the resulting assessment, manufacturers rely on the Rockwell Hardness Scales, specifically the C scale for knife steels, which use arbitrary numeric designations. Hardness trades off with toughness, the measurement of damage resistance to phenomena such as chipping and breakage. Additionally, knife steels’ specifications include assessments of wear resistance, corrosion resistance, and edge retention.
Wear resistance represents the ability to withstand two types of wear: Abrasion, which results from the friction generated by contact with a rough surface; and adhesion, in which bits of material transfer as a result of contact between surfaces. Wear resistance typically correlates with hardness. Carbon, manganese, and molybdenum contribute to increased wear resistance.
Corrosion resistance consists of the ability to minimize, avoid, or delay the oxidation response to liquid, salt, or other forces and substances that come in contact with a steel in its environment. Despite the label “stainless steel,” no steel alloy actually can avoid displaying the results of oxidation completely, but some steels offer better resistance than others. Specific minimum levels of chromium content qualify a steel as stainless steel.
Edge retention measures how well a blade holds its sharp edge in active use. Despite its obvious relevance to knife performance and its objective-sounding name, this assessment actually relies on subjective judgments. Corrosion resistance and edge retention exist on a continuum on which one drops when the other increases, just as hardness and toughness interact. Molybdenum contributes to edge retention.
EMS Group, a Swiss-headquartered multinational company that operates 26 production locations in 16 countries, manufactures the polyamide material used as the basis of the handle fabrication for the Benchmade Protagonist family. Better known as nylon, polyamides include substances that can substitute for metal. EMS Group’s Grivory product provides a highly strong, stiff engineering plastic that resists humidity, moisture, and chemicals. Grivory retains its shape and surface appearance without warping, despite exposure to the environment. Grivory GV is a lightweight metal substitute with mechanical and thermal properties that match the specifications of some metal alloys, including the aluminum often used in knife handles.
Benchmade states that the form of Grivory it uses contains at least 50% fiberglass, which matches up with the specifications for Grivory GV-H. Suitable for injection molding or extrusion, Grivory GV-H is a heat stabilized amorphous polythalamide that can create parts to precise tolerances. In the handles of the Benchmade Protagonist family, olive drab Grivory matches up with black Versaflex for a contrasting two-color handle scale design.
Versaflex is a thermoplastic elastomer that can be overmolded onto a substrate such as a rigid plastic. It enhances grip for a softer, more comfortable knife-handling experience that increases ergonomics and reduces hand stress. Versaflex resists oil and abrasion, developing a tough bond on nylon grips. To apply Versaflex, the typical manufacturing process relies on injection molding. Most commonly, the process begins when a part is placed into a mold so Versaflex can be injected over it. Alternatively, multiple material molding uses special equipment that allows for the injection of more than one material during a single production process. The overmold adds a soft surface that gives the knife handle a rubbery feel.
The handle scales on the Benchmade 167 and 169 Protagonist family attach with only two Torx screws, one near each end of the handle. A forefinger groove in the handle belly continues in one flowing curve into the shape of the front choil milled into the blade itself immediately past the handle. The gently curved handle belly accommodates the remaining fingers. At the butt of the handle, a small projection incorporates the lanyard hole. At the front of the handle scales, the machined slope of the handle design transitions between the two colors and materials used in manufacturing.
Sheath and Mounting Hardware
As fixed-blade knives, neither member of the Benchmade Protagonist family includes a pocket clip. The 167 and 169 Protagonist both include a MOLLE-compatible sheath and a MALICE clip, and can accept optional Tek-Lok hardware.
The Benchmade Protagonist family sheath design includes the slots and grommet-reinforced attachment holes necessary for MOLLE/PALS attachment. The sheath itself is injection molded in black with two removable components, including a ballistic nylon belt loop and a locking strap.
MOLLE, or Modular Lightweight Load-Carrying Equipment, provides an attachment system used to incorporate equipment and storage sheaths onto gear manufactured with PALS (Pouch Attachment Ladder System) webbing. This system of horizontal rows of webbing provides a base on which to strap or clip compatible items. Sewn on at one-inch intervals, the PALS webbing holds items in place without the need to fasten them onto a belt or clip them in a pocket. MOLLE provides an ideal way to attach a knife sheath to the pack or vest that’s part of your tactical gear. MOLLE attachment products started out as armed forces equipment provided to NATO and comparable gear supplied to law enforcement.
Tactical Tailor’s MALICE clips resemble fat, wide cable ties. They snap lock onto PALS webbing and disconnect with a tool such as a screwdriver or knife. Using these clips enables you to avoid the time-consuming complexities that result when you must unmount an item from a belt using conventional slide-on loops, in which case you also must remove every item that precedes the one you want to reposition. Fabricated from injection molded plastic that offers advanced resistance to temperature extremes and corrosion, the clips come in two sizes. Long MALICE clips fit across three rows of PALS webbing, whereas the short version span two channels. You also can use a MALICE clip to attach a piece of gear in belt-loop style. The Benchmade 167 and 169 Protagonist each include one long MALICE clip.
The Benchmade Protagonist family also accommodates the Blade-Tech Tek-Lok belt loop mounting system designed for sheaths and holsters. This optional attachment product can enable you to carry the Benchmade 167 or 169 either vertically or horizontally. This locking piece of hardware fits belts from 1.25 inches up to 2.25 inches wide, and includes the posts, screws, and sound-silencing spacers necessary for attachment. Molded press handles on the sides of the Tek-Lok unlock the belt mount, which uses a lock bar for security.
Knife Dimensions and Weight
Both the Benchmade 167 Protagonist and the Benchmade 169 Protagonist share critical dimensions and other equivalent specifications. The knives measure 9.12 inches long overall, with a blade length of 4.54 inches, a handle thickness of 0.54 inches, and a weight of 4.23 ounces.
If you’re a member of the armed forces, a law enforcement officer or other first responder, or an outdoor enthusiast who needs a rugged, dependable knife with the handle comfort to accommodate long periods of use, either of the two knives in the Benchmade Protagonist family will meet your needs. Depending on the types of chores and tasks you need a knife to fulfil, choose either the tanto-point or the drop-point blade profile.
|Weight||4.23 oz.||4.23 oz.|
|Handle material||Grivory with Versaflex overmold||Grivory with Versaflex overmold|
|Handle color||Two tone black and olive||Two tone black and olive|
|Blade material||154 CM stainless steel||154 CM stainless steel|
|Blade hardness||58-61 HRC||58-61 HRC|
|Blade finish||Black (167BK and 167SBK)||Black (169BK and 169SBK)|
|Blade edge type||Plain (167BK) or serrated (167SBK)||Plain (169BK) or serrated (169SBK)|
|Opener||Fixed blade||Fixed blade|
|Sheath material||Black injection molded with tension screw, ballistic nylon removable belt loop, and removable locking strap||Black injection molded with tension screw, ballistic nylon removable belt loop and removable locking strap|
|Benchmade product class||Black||Black|
|User||Right-handed or left-handed||Right-handed or left-handed|
|Best use||Outdoor, tactical||Outdoor, tactical|
|Manufacturer’s suggested retail prices||167BK and 167SBK: $155||169BK and 169SBK: $155|
|Extras||Large MALICE clip included||Large MALICE clip included|
|Options||Compatible with Tek-Lok attachment system||Compatible with Tek-Lok attachment system|