Benchmade 496 Vector – Assisted Opening EDC Knife
Anyone that is a military member or veteran, outdoorsman, first responder, or knife collector will tell you that Benchmade makes some of the very best knives in the world. Known for their precision craftsmanship, attention to detail, and their use of only the best materials, Benchmade sets the bar for what a knife company can and should be. Yes, their knives are expensive, but you can rest assured that your knife has a lifetime warranty backed by a company that places a high priority on customer service. Never have I contacted Benchmade and received anything other than excellent service.
This is an American company employing American workers. Their factory in Oregon City, Oregon, a suburb south of Portland, is a state of the art facility where designers, craftsman, and the rest of the Benchmade team consistently produce cutting edge (see what I did there?) knives and tools utilizing the very latest in manufacturing technology. The finishing process, however, is still famously done by hand. One thing you can always count on with Benchmade is consistent quality in every product they make. And if this sounds like an ad for Benchmade, it’s not. It’s just an observation from a lifelong knife collector and Benchmade owner who appreciates quality blades. Recently, I have had the good fortune of working with one of Benchmade’s product experts who has been kind enough to send one of their newest knives for testing, the 496 Vector.
The Benchmade 496 Vector is a spring-assisted flipper-style lockback knife. It features their patented AXIS Assist locking mechanism that is renowned for its strength and ease of operation. Benchmade describes the mechanism this way,
“ … AXIS® gets its function from a small, hardened steel bar that rides forward and back in a slot machined into both steel liners. The bar extends to both sides of the knife, spans the liners and is positioned over the rear of the blade. It engages a ramped tang portion of the knife blade when it is opened. Two omega-style springs, one on each liner, give the locking bar its inertia to engage the knife tang. As a result, the tang is wedged solidly between a sizable stop pin and the AXIS® bar itself.”
The flipper itself sits directly behind the AXIS lock and is in a very comfortable location for quick deployment of the blade. I cannot overstate just how great this locking mechanism is. When it locks in place, there is no play whatsoever. It’s solid as a rock, yet very easy to pull back to disengage. I repeatedly dropped the Vector from pocket height and never had an unintentional open or close. There is also a plastic sliding lock that engages the AXIS lock to prevent it from opening in your pocket or as a result of an accidental drop.
The most distinctive feature of this knife is undoubtedly the blade. Coming in at 3.6-inches, it is Benchmade’s first compound grind. The 3/32-inch satin blade is made from CPM-20CV stainless steel hardened to 58-61 HRC. The blade comes from the factory sharp enough to shave with. The Vector’s blade is built upon a standard drop point design, but that is where the similarities with other drop point blades ends. This is Benchmade’s first compound grind blade, and features a concave curve from the base of the drop point to the small choil. There is virtually no ricasso, so the cutting edge comes all the way to the bolster.
The blade tip has a wider and more chisel-like profile, while the curved portion has a noticeably thinner profile. This provides strength to the tip where you need it, and extra sharpness along the cutting edge. The spine is beveled as well, however it is beveled opposite from most knife blades in that it narrows at the handle and widens towards the tip, and when viewed from the side, gives the 496 a harpoon-like look on the flat sections of the blade profile. This again gives the tip of the Vector all of the material necessary to withstand far more abuse than someone would ever dish out under normal circumstances. I
In short, the elegant blade of the Vector will stand up to any punishment you care to subject it to. The 496 sliced through ½-inch Manila rope like it was butter, and the wider tip carved out a notch into a poplar board with ease. I was even able to take ribbon-like shavings from a hardwood dowel. Still, the truly amazing aspect of the blade on the Vector is the steel used. Benchmade’s CPM-20CV surpassed all of my expectations and maintained its razor edge through every test I put it through. I carried the knife from the week before Christmas through the end of January and used it each and every day. I cut through miles of cardboard, paper, plastic, wood, and even carved the Thanksgiving turkey with it! I have not sharpened it yet, because it’s still just as sharp as the day it arrived in my mailbox. I can still cut strips of paper with razor-like efficiency. This CPM-20CV is just incredible. I cannot say enough good about it.
The handle of the 496 Vector is just as stunning as the blade. It is 4.82-inches long, bringing the total length of the knife when open at 8.42-inches. There is a gentle sweeping curve from the tip of the blade to the butt of the handle, and is unobstructed by a thumb rest or gimping. The first third of the handle comprises the bolster and is made from a satin finish aluminum that also houses the AXIS Assist locking mechanism, pivot, and the sliding lock. The pivot pin and hardware are finished in matte black, while the AXIS mechanism is a satin silver. The last two-thirds of the handle is covered in olive drab G-10 scales with a white backing that is sandwiched by the full length black stainless steel liner. The interior spacers are concave with a satin gray finish. There is a lanyard hole at the butt of the handle, along with a tip-down, reversible, deep carry pocket clip finished in black.
The handle features just a hint of finger grooves behind a short, sweeping finger guard. Aesthetically, this knife is absolutely gorgeous. The sweeping curve of the spine combined with the satin softness of the G-10 handle and aluminum bolster create an almost organic feel to the knife. It’s as if the 496 Vector is one singular object as opposed to one made by individual components. The fit in the hand is also absolutely superior. The G-10 handle is neither hot nor cold. There are no sharp edges anywhere, save for the cutting edge and tip. Even with a tight grip while cutting into hardwood, the Vector never puts pressure on one spot of your hand.
It has the feel of a fixed blade handle, and even the pocket clip, usually the biggest source of discomfort on a folder, rests comfortable in the crease of the hand behind the first joint of the little finger. Even the spine where the blade and handle meet, usually reserved for a ramp or jimping, provide enough surface area for the thumb that you can really put some pressure into your cutting with no discomfort whatsoever. Although it is a large folder, the Vector comes in at only 4.5 ounces, which is barely felt in the pocket. This is easily the most comfortable folding knife I’ve ever handled.
The model 496 picks up where the 495 Vector left off. The new design pushes the limit on folding knife design into uncharted territory. While the layout of the knife is familiar, that is where the similarities end. No other knife on the market today combines the style, comfort, blade design, and material workmanship of the 496. It truly resides in a category unto itself.
The fit and finish are perfect and show that Benchmade is pushing beyond creating great knives, they are creating an entirely new category in which style and aesthetics are just as important as usability and comfort. Even the flipper itself is more like a button than a standard utilitarian piece. It takes just the right amount of pressure to send the blade flying. When the blade hits the stop pin and locks open, it’s as if the entire mechanism has been replaced by a fixed blade. There is absolutely no play in the blade at all. The tolerances are just astounding. And unlike most flippers, when the Vector is in the open position, the flipper barely protrudes from beneath the bolster.
All of this design and material quality comes with a price tag. The 496 Vector has an MSRP of $335 on Benchmade’s website, though at the time of this writing, Amazon carries it for a bit less than BladeHQ though both are just a few bucks short of $300. That is quite a price for a pocket knife from ANY manufacturer, but the design, workmanship, usability, and longevity of the Vector, along with Benchmade’s lifetime warranty make this the last EDC knife you’ll ever need to buy.
I myself have countless numbers of folding knives, and if taken together would far outweigh the Vector in actual money spent. But the question really comes down to whether I would have purchased the others if I already owned the 496. The answer is most likely yes, however, since I seem to always find an excuse to buy another knife! Still, the point is that yes, this could very well be the only EDC knife you ever buy and there will be nothing you are missing out on with other brands or styles.
The Vector does its job over and over again without skipping a beat. On the other hand, if this is the direction Benchmade is heading with their knife designs, I’m sure I can find an excuse to buy many more in the future! Benchmade themselves call the 496 Vector an “enthusiast’s knife”, and it certainly is that, but it is also an unbelievably adept pocket knife that can surpass virtually any other in its class, and looks good doing it!