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June 12, 2009 Comments (0) Blades & Tools

Benchmade Activator Review

Activator12aI’ve long associated Benchmade with high-quality folding knives.  Many outdoorsman that I speak with and respect have actually used their folders as their main woods knives for many years, choosing to shed the weight of a fixed blade.  While Benchmade has certainly not abstained from producing a fixed blade model (their line already includes several very popular models such as the Nimravus series, Griptillian, and Rants), the Activator is my first hands-on experience with them.  I was most certainly not disappointed!  The Activator is a purpose-built woods & hunting knife with a basic and no-nonsense design.  I knew from prior [internet] research that this blade looked functional, but out of the box I was just plain excited to get it dirty.  In person, the first attractive aspect that I noticed was that it comes sharp!  It was most definitely shaving my arm clean, with no sharpening by me.  That’s a big deal in my opinion, as I’ve even received custom knives that didn’t come adequately sharp.  What good is a dull knife???  But I digress…

Activator03aThe Activator is relatively new to the knife scene, having been released in late 2006.  But since that time it has become a respected tool to many outdoorsmen.   After some snooping around, it’s not terribly hard to see why!  For starters, the fact that Mike Snody (well renowned custom knife maker) designed this blade is certainly an attention grabber!  His touches are quite evident in the Activator, with his characteristic gentle curves and light Japanese influence.  Secondarily, it’s quite impressive that the blade comes in D2 tool steel.  Some (like me) have a love/hate relationship with this particular steel for knives: it’s durable as heck but sometimes a pain to sharpen. Either way, it puts much more confidence in my hand than any 440C blade ever will.  The high flat grind is another big draw for this blade.  It makes for a mean slicer, and pushes through wood quite nicely when batoning.  More towards aesthetic considerations, the Activator comes standard with some gorgeous stabilized winewood handle scales.  The scales are not weighty but still have a smooth, dense feel to them.

Activator10a

The Activator comes with a simple leather sheath.  It’s not leather that you’ll easily confuse for that of your favorite custom sheath-maker, but it’s suitable to the blade and quite functional.  The leather itself is of good quality however, well smoothed and at least 6 ounce material.  A button-down strap lashes the blade into place when on your belt, and it is readily available after a natural swipe of your thumb against the strap.  Retention was quite good; once locked in place I tried to jostle it out of its sheath when upside down, with no loss of a toe.  There are no adornments on the leather save the Benchmade logo.   Overall, it’s of good quality with strong stitching, and ‘straight to the point’ in its function.  I’m certainly cool with that!  I prefer my dime go towards the blade anyway.  In use, I found the gentle recurved edge on the Activator makes for a superb cutter.  It made short work of a watermelon for sure!

Activator04aWood was no exception to this rule either, particularly on green wood.  It made quick, sharp cuts without breaking/tearing even thin twigs.  At 3.6”, the blade is not overly large, but provides a really strong level of control for carving or for fine cuts.  When using a thumbs-up grip, there are secure (but not too rough) serrations along the spine just in front of the handle that give really positive support.  I also went so far as to use the Activator to baton through some ~3” thick oak branches that I had cut down earlier in the afternoon and this blade didn’t care a bit.  The blade length made for a small baton target, but an adequate one.

There was unfortunately one aspect of the Activator that didn’t work well for me, which is the thinness of the handle overall.  Amongst outdoorsy friends I’m a notorious chubby-chaser as far as handles are concerned, so this finding isn’t terribly surprising.  Basically, my hands became more quickly fatigued and cramped during longer carving sessions.  Obviously for a few quick slices here and there, like serving some summer sausage on the trail or cutting paracord to length, handle size doesn’t make a lot of difference.  But when you need some good edge control over a longer time frame it becomes an issue.  This is not to say that the Activator won’t work like a charm in someone else’s hand!  I’m quite picky.

Activator07aIf at all possible, I like to get a second opinion on a ‘test’ knife.  My wife was available so I lent it to her for kitchen use.  My only rules were to use that knife exclusively during dinner preparations that evening.   Our meal included quite a few veggies including some potatoes, green beans, carrots, and onions.  She reported that the Activator was clean-cutting through all of these, making genuine slices rather than borderline crushing strokes.  She also used it to section out a piece of sausage for a stew (delicious by the way).  Through all of it, she felt the Activator was perfectly comfortable to use, and certainly sharp enough.  It is also noteworthy that I had still not sharpened the blade by that time!  A strong indicator of the 60-62 Rockwell hardness and D2 edge holding ability.

One activity I wasn’t able to use the Activator for was prepping wild game.  I really feel that this knife would excel around a hunting camp for game of almost any size, short of needing bones cleaved.  The sweeping elliptical shape was great for opening meat in the kitchen, and I would imagine it equally effective on a fresh squirrel or rabbit.  I’ve got a stepbrother who is an avid deer hunter and I plan to send him on his next trip with the Activator at his side!  If anyone knows how to abuse a blade, it’s him (just don’t tell him I said so).

Activator02aOverall, Benchmade has put out another real winner of a knife.  The quality is as high as I’ve come to expect from them, with exemplary fit & finish for a production blade.  It’s difficult to ignore the winewood slabs, high flat grind, and D2 steel, especially at this price point.  I’ve abused it several times over from the woods to the kitchen and it’s not missed a beat.  Combined with the sheath, it makes a very clean-cut, slim, and lightweight package that you’d find difficult to notice when on your belt.  My one complaint of this blade is an entirely personal issue; I just am not a fan of thin handles for knives that see heavy woodworking duties.  On a hunting blade this is much less important of course, so long as the handle gives adequate traction amidst blood & guts.  Any hunter (I fairly surmise) or weight-conscious woodsman would be served quite well by the Activator, and hard-pressed to find a better bang for your buck in a production knife at the roughly $90 street price.

Visit: www.benchmade.com

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