I’m not the type of person that buys something without cause or need. There was a time when I just had to get the latest gun, knife or holster being introduced, but thankfully (my wife is especially thankful) that phase of my life is long past. If I purchase a piece of gear these days, it is because it fills a need in either my security plan or enhances a required skill. I think about the perceived need, identify the tool that will best fill it and then I go looking for that implement. When I buy a knife, it goes through this process just like any other piece of kit. Whether I choose a folder or fixed blade is usually dependant on how low-profile the knife needs to be when carried. If I don’t need to be at least somewhat discreet (as in many of our country’s urban areas), then it makes a lot more sense to use a fixed blade in a sheath.
If I choose a folder, then the lock mechanism becomes important. If the knife blade folds in my hand, I am going to have a real bad day, and I want to avoid that if at all possible. My normal test for lock strength is to open the knife, place it between my thumb and index finger and strike the top of the blade sharply against a solid object. Over the years, I admit to being surprised by the number of high-end, expensive, knives that have failed this simple test. Simultaneously, I have seen any number of low-cost knives that have done quite well. One lock system I have never seen fail is Benchmade’s AXIS Lock System.
The AXIS Lock’s central component is a small, hardened steel bar which rides forward and back in a slot machined into the knife’s 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 blade when it is deployed. Two wire 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. While it sounds complex, it really isn’t. The best thing to say about the AXIS Lock is it is easy to open and close with one hand, and when it is locked, the folding blade is as close to a fixed blade as possible without actually being one.
Being a fan of this system, I was even more encouraged when I got the opportunity to test the new Benchmade Contego folder. Known as the “810” in the Benchmade catalogue, the Osborne-designed Contego is a tough, durable tactical-grade folder designed for a wide variety of uses. Latin for “protect” or “shield,” the Contego features the AXIS locking mechanism. With a plain or serrated edge CPM-M4 steel blade sporting either a clear or black Cerakote finish, the Contego also has G10 textured and contoured grip scales with a stainless steel back spacer. At the base of the handle there is a carbide glass breaker, which is a nice feature. Think of this as the knife to have if your vehicle ever ends up underwater. The Contego also comes with a reversible, deep carry, tip-up pocket clip, the mode of carry I happen to prefer.
At 9.25 inches overall, the Contego is a big knife; however, it is a large tactical folder that rides well in the pocket. Unlike folders that, even though clipped to the pocket opening, still feel like a rock bouncing around, the Contego rides in the pocket like a smaller knife. I continual get teased about my preference for small knives (“Real men carry big knives, Dave!”), but my preference for them is the way they ride in the pocket. The Contego might be the knife that changes my mind. The one downside to how the 810 carries might be the aggressive grip. I would expect the Contego to chew up pocket material over time, but that is the price one pays for a knife that can be held solidly under a wide variety of environments and weather conditions.
The grip configuration is quite ergonomic. With its checkered center, serrated edges and deep finger grooves just to the rear of the blade, the 810 just feels solid in the hand. The G10 comes with a high-tech feel to it that I happen to like. Jimping on the top edge of the handles is popular, while also being controversial. I like it, but a good friend of mine tells me it is because I am primarily a “gun guy.” He, being a “knife guy,” says that it is not necessary so he would not want it on a knife he carried. He says proper hand placement and design make for a solid hold on a knife and all jimping does is irritate the hand if it slips and is abrasive during long term use. My friend contends jimping merely gives the feel of a secure grip but does nothing to truly enhance it. While talking to Mike Janich about his updated Spyderco Yojimbo knife, he indicated he was no longer a fan of jimping for this very reason—and when Mike speaks, I listen.
How you feel about glass breakers will probably depend on your real world of work. If all you do is shuffle paper all week and then venture out for an occasional tactical-style fantasy weekend, you will likely find very little use for it. However, if you are in the street day in and out, driving a police cruiser, ambulance or fire truck you might very well find it useful. If your greater concern is whether or not you can get a proper reverse grip as the glass breaker stud interferes with thumb placement, then you can grind it off as does my friend. After all, like any tool, you must make it work for you…and I am not being disparaging here. Do what works for you!
The Contego blade is a classic Reverse Tanto, which is a well-known Osborne design. Not as tall, but longer than the Benchmade 950 RIFT, it looks sleeker, and aside from the swedge, it looks more like the model 940 to me. Like all Benchmade knives, the Contego came out of the box very sharp. With the blade being made from CPM-M4 steel, it should last a long time and hold an edge through rough treatment. Coated with either clear or black Cerakote, the blade is quite attractive in color. I have Cerakote on the slides of several pistols I own and I have always been very pleased at how long it lasts and retains its good looks. It is also quite corrosion resistant, a requirement for any tool intended for hard use in the field or on the street.
The clip used on the Contego is the lower ride style Benchmade has been using lately. It does not bury the knife in the pocket completely, just lowers it a bit for added stability. The clip is sturdy and mounts the knife solidly to the pocket making this a really good knife to take along when the knife needs to as low profile as possible. It should also be noted the Contego design incorporates a stainless steel back spacer (Cerakote black on black blade models) which makes the knife a bit stronger while adding to its good looks.
A tool is only as good as its performance, so it only stands to reason that I needed to do some cutting with this sleek, but large, folder. The first test was to open it and smack the top of the blade against a hard object to see if the lock would fail. I was not surprised to discover that no matter how hard I struck the knife blade it would not collapse…good to know when you are really cranking on your blade during a crisis event. Cutting also proved to be no problem using a section of seat belt nylon as a “real world” test. Whether a blade has serrations or is a plain-edge is one of those “9mm vs. .45” style controversies in the knife world and I freely admit to liking them. If you are one of those who feel they are unnecessary I have no beef with you. What I will say is twice during my law enforcement carrier I had to cut wet seat belt nylon and if it weren’t for serrations, I would still be there trying to cut…at least in my opinion.
As an “ultimate” test of the Contego’s sharpness, I hung a section of nylon cord and swiped at it to see how cleanly it would cut. This blade made it look like it wasn’t even there. I like the Benchmade Contego and I am sure I will find the right place for it in my personal security plan. If you like large folders that will go on the trail or in the street, this new Benchmade might just be the one for you.