One day I was surfing the net, ended up on Benchmade website, decided to sift through their catalog, once again, may be there's something new kindda thing. And there it was, a new knife, at least to me that was new. Model 156 CSK, Combat Survival Knife. Of course, the model name had enough toughness in them to get any mall ninja over excited, but the actual design was pretty appealing, simple geometry, clean lines, no complicated curves, etc. More along the classic lines. By then, as in 2007, M2 high speed tool steel was long gone from Benchmade steel assortment, which was pretty sad for all Benchmade knives enthusiasts, 5x prices on old M2 model knives prove that undoubtedly. Anyway, the alloy used in this knife was D2 tool steel, with which I've had some positive experience. So, I figured, I liked the design, steel was decent, why not try it out. And that's pretty much it. A week or so later I had the knife at home. By the way, later on, Benchmade discontinued 156CSK and introduced 158CSK II, which uses 1095 Steel instead of the D2, plus some minor changes in the design.
General- Benchmade 156 CSK is a general purpose outdoors, bowie style fixed blade knife. Combat and survival aside, it's a very nice blade for camping and hiking. The knife comes, or to be precise, used to come(since now it's discontinued) packed in Benchmade traditional blue box. Initial inspection didn't reveal any visible defects or problems. Quality and craftsmanship were the usual Benchmade levels, in other words very good for a production knife. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to a lot of people. The knife was all black, in line with all combat tactical rules ;) Ok, kidding. The handle was black because of the material and the blade was also black because of the BT2 coating used in it. That coating, besides making cooler looks has its own justification, mass market knife and using D2 steel in it which isn't very stain resistant, it's better to have some sort of coating for not so much knife carrying individuals. Well, may be it was pure design choice, but I'm inclined to think blade protection was part of the reason. The sheath(see the sheath image here) was also included, and it was a pretty good sheath too, nylon with kydex insert, complete with removable pouch, leg strap, and knife retention strap. The knife itself fit in the sheath pretty good, no problems getting it in or out. Fit was tight, but when held upside down, then knife would still fall out if I shook it hard enough, however, with retention strap that was no longer a problem. Overall, I liked the knife, solid piece, from reputable maker, good steel, good sheath. The only thing is, I never got to use it seriously, like many other knives. I've sharpened it, tested and experimented with it, then put it away and one day friend of mine was over, he really liked it so eventually the knife ended up being his birthday present. Can't say he's using it a lot either ;)
Blade- Now discontinued, Model 156 knife blade measured 152.40mm(6") in length and was about 4.5mm thick. That's quite hefty for the knife of that size, but like I said, it was more of a general purpose knife, designed to handle a lot of abuse, and besides as things are, mass market knives tend to be on the thicker side. Safer for manufacturers, less broken returns and lots of people like them thicker and heavier too. The blade geometry is a variation of the bowie, slightly dropped point, and the last inch and a half were serrated. Benchmade did make 156 CSK in plain and combo edge formats, and they do so for the current model, 158CSKII. I figured two instead of one is always better, especially that the length of the plain section was more than 5 inches. Given the general purpose designation of the knife, I figured, better to have options, who knows when serrations might come handy. As you can see, I was honestly planning to use this knife, but never came to that. Just testing.
The initial edge on the knife was about 40° included and I'm guessing finished about 800 grit or so. Typical Benchmade factory V grind edge, and I am not really fond of their edges to be honest, although i've has god exceptions as well. It's not really that important to me, I do sharpen my own knives and bunch of other folk's knives too. It should be quite obvious why I sharpen knives myself, but if it's not then you can read up on Why should you sharpen your knives article ;) I didn't measure the edge specifically, just sharpened it right away using my trusty edge-pro sharpening system, at 18° per side, which gives 36° included angle, the bevel width increased slightly, but noticeably, which lead to conclusion that the initial edge was more obtuse than 36°. After I was done sharpening on the edge pro, which already gave very nice mirror polished edge, I've proceeded with 0.50µm and 0.25µm diamond charged leather strops. Final step as usual was stropping on the plain leather. And the knife was ready for testing.
Handle- More often than not, Benchmade uses G10 epoxy glass composite as their handle material of choice, actually a lot of makers do, including custom knife makers. G10 is cost effective, durable, easy to machine, impact and scratch resistant. In short, lots of benefits. Anyway, this time the handle material was different, the spec list on the website stated Santoprene®. I had no clue what that was, looked and felt like some type of hard rubber. Quick search on the net revealed the truth, Santoprene® is a mix of EDPM rubber and polypropylene. Later is being used in knife handles on its own as well, e.g. Henckels and Wusthof kitchen knives. Anyway, whatever the composition of the handle material, the important thing was the handle design was quiet ergonomic, and unlike G10, the handle felt a bit softer and more comfortable in hand. Later on, when chopping seasoned wood with the knife, the handle proved to be more palm friendly too. The handle has a single fingerguard, which is a welcome addition, since the blade isn't all that wide to provide its own protection from slippage. There is significant texturing on the lower side of the handle, obviously to improve the grip security, especially when your hands and the handle are oily or wet. Additional feature would be the lanyard hole at the pommel and that completes the handle description.
Usage- Like I said above, Benchmade 156 CSK was used mainly for various tests. Well, as usual that's good enough to get a good fill for the knife and its capabilities. Given the fact that it was a D2 tool steel I was dealing with, I didn't spend much time testing its edge retention. I've used quite a few knives from D2 steel, from Benchmade, from other companies, form custom makers. Unless it's something special and different, like Bob Dozier made D2 knife, who is perhaps the top expert with D2 steel. Overall, Benchmade D2 works pretty good, quite high abrasive wear resistance and not to chippy either. From earlier comparative tests, I could see that Benchmade D2 generally held edge a little worse compared to Neil Blackwood's American Ninja D2 knife, while being more resistant to chipping. Subsequent test cutting just confirmed the same. So, given all that, I was mainly interested in the knife cutting ability, ergonomics and comfort in use.
I've started testing with simple cutting works, obviously that was the cardboard. Given the thickness of the knife it wasn't as efficient in terms of cutting as for example Phil Wilson's CPM 10V utility hunter, however that knife (Wilson's custom) is optimized for cutting and Benchmade 156CSK is more of a general purpose knife, and for that kind of a knife, it did cut pretty well. Of course, 100K mirror polished edge did help too. About 30 minutes in cutting, I've decided it was enough for that test. The handle was comfortable, I didn't feel any irritation on my palms, even though the knife is relatively thick, i.e. I had to apply greater force to make a cut. And for the record, I was not wearing gloves. I've tried couple different grips for cardboard cutting and the handle was comfortable in all of them. Next was the rope rest, and although the knife already dulled to certain degree, quick steeling using about five strokes per side did restore the edge. By the way, despite all the pro rough edge arguments, high grit finished edges work very well for the rope. I've tried two different types of rope, and 156 CSK handled them just fine. That was mainly cutting ability test, D2 steel produces quite aggressive edge, thanks to its larger carbides, and I was testing once again high polish edges. Worked out pretty good once again.
Next test was much more heavy duty, I've chopped several limbs on the seasoned wood. Obviously, 6" long blade isn't the best choice for a chopper, but it was still better than other, thinner knives. So, overall I'd say it was ok chopper for its size. Main goal in this test was the handle comfort, and that was very good. My knife chopping skills of course leave a bit to be desired, but for testing that was enough. Chopping ability was ok, and I didn't find any damage to the edge afterwards. Santoprene® handle was more user friendly than wood, G10 and other, harder materials. Although, the key is the user or knife operator's technique, since people have bee chopping with wood handles for millennia. One more test was wood whittling, mainly from ease of use perspective. For that work, straight edge is preferable, over serrated one, and given the size of the knife, you'd have to choke on the blade to do precision work, which is where the serrated part comes in, well for that purpose, it better not be there, but then again, like I said, it is a general purpose knife and chances are, as a one knife do it all tool, it'll have to cut something that requires serrated edge, and wood whittling can be done with other parts of the knife is really necessary. I didn't try batonning, but 4.5mm thick knife at 6", I am sure 156 CSK won't have any trouble with that.
Conclusions- I liked that knife and if I didn't have hundreds of other knives, I'd probably use it a lot more than I did. At any rate, it is a pretty good choice for a camping or hiking knife. if you are deploying for a combat duty, it's a good choice too. Tough knife, it can take quite a bit of an abuse and when properly sharpened, it's cutting ability it pretty high. Add there very decent sheath, with a removable pouch and you have a quite versatile knife for your adventures. One thing I am really curious about is the newer version of the knife, 1095 steel will certainly be tougher, but edge holding won't be as good, granted that it is hardened to 57-60HRC, and to be honest I am not fond of 3 HRC spread in hardness specs. As it is, I'd rather have D2 version, but then again, that's just me.
- Blade - 152.40mm(6")
- Thickness - 4.50mm
- OAL - 273.05mm(10.75")
- Steel - D2 tool steel at 59-61HRC
- Handle - Santoprene®
- Acquired - 04/2007 Price - 80.00$
Last updated - 09/01/11