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Benchmade 810-1401 Contego M390
Axis Lock Folding Knife Review

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Benchmade Contego 810-1401

Benchmade Contego has been around for a while before I picked it up. I did like the design, but the default configuration was black G10 and CPM S30V steel. Neither is really wrong, but I have way too many knives to go for something I am not very interested in. I have already used enough CPM S30V knives, and because of that I've skipped Contego for a while. Then I've stumbled upon the knifeworks exclusive Contego, which was offered in Bohler-Uddeholm M390 PM steel. Now, that was more interesting. I'm not quite certain about Black/blue G-10 being more interesting than plain black G-10, but for what it was worth it, I liked it better. I've ordered it and after short time I got it. They were offering laser engraving as well, but I missed that on the website, otherwise zknives or zknives.com would've been nice on the blade :) Well, no matter, the knife is good, and so is the M390 steel. I've been carrying it as an EDC since then. It is a real workhorse.

Benchmade Contego 810-1401 And 942

General

- Benchmade Contego is one more collaboration between Benchmade knife company and custom knife maker Warren Osborne. Check the image attached to this section, you can clearly see similarities between the contego and Benchmade 940 models. I consider Contego to be 940-s bigger brother. Benchmade 810-1401 Contego arrived packed in a black box, like other high end and exclusive run Benchmades. Inside the box, black push which has a knife inside. My first impression was, wow this thing is huge. Even though I've seen bunch of pictures of the Contego on various websites, and I thought I knew what would it be like, still it was considerably larger than what I have imagined. Not that I was disappointed in any way though :) I like folders big or small, as long as they are well designed and to my taste.

Box opening ceremony was followed by mandatory inspection. Careful examination revealed no problems with the knife. Satin finish on the blade was very even and smooth, no scratches or defects. Same for the handle, well machined, no uneven places, all parts fit together well. No gaps, no wobbling. Lockup was solid, and no blade play whatsoever. Action is smooth, as it usually is on most of the axis lock knives I've had. Blade is almost perfectly centered, thumbstuds are both, catchy and user friendly, in that they don't tend to stick into your thumbs when opening the knife. Overall, it is a solid, sturdy folding knife, not as big as REKAT SIFU or Camillus Aftermath, but still it is a hefty piece, more substantial in hand than Benchmade 710 McHenry And Williams. I suppose mainly due to bigger and fatter handle. Doesn't feel annoyingly bulky though. I am referring to both aspects, pocket carry and usage.

Benchmade Contego 810-1401

Blade

- Benchmade Contego features 101.00mm(3.98") long blade, which is almost 4mm thick around the thumbstuds., 3.95mm if you want the exact numbers. The blade is 27.5mm wide in the same spot. Not a small folder by any standards as you can see. The blade itself is a satin finish, reversed tanto geometry, which(reversed tanto) appeared on earlier incarnations of Contego, BM 940 specifically. Personally, I find reverse tanto more utility use friendly than the original tanto, but still not as versatile or visually appealing as more traditional blade geometries such as clip point or drop point. Well, in a way reverse tanto is a drop point, in that its point is below the spine line, but way too angular. Top swedge if that can be called a swedge is similar to the one found on 940 and 942 models, but it's longer.

Anyway, satin finish is semi mirror finish actually. The blade features Benchmade logo on the left side and Model plus Osborne logo on the right side. M390 indicating the steel used in Contego is located on the blade, between the thumbstud and the handle. No other markings. Overall, it's a strong and versatile blade. I can do delicate work with the tip just fine, and the 4mm thick blade can handle hard work as well. Factory edge was on the coarse side and not as sharp as I'd like, the usual :) My guesstimate for the factory edge sharpening angle was ~20° per side. I've sharpened it before starting using it, obviously. Considering that the knife was intended for medium/hard utility use I choose 15° per side which is universal enough, especially if you have a decent steel.

Steel

- Overall, I am quite happy with M390 steel performance with coarse and polished edges. It combines high corrosion resistance with high wear resistance, reasonably good toughness and as a result of all that, I think it is one of the top choices for folders and small/medium knives. I wrote a lot more about Bohler-Uddeholm M390 steel in Benchmade 805 TSEK Folding knife review, you can head over there for more info on M390 history and sharpening experiments.

Sharpening

- I've used M390 in BM TSEK for a while, with different edge types, and this time I've decided to EDC it, with high polish edge. Sharpening process included standard sequence of whetstones and finer abrasives. Started with Beston(Bester) 500 Grit Whetstone, to thin down the edge to 15° per side. Then Bester 700 grit whetstone, followed by 1200 grit King Super whetstone, 2000-3000 grit Synthetic Blue Aoto stone. Each step took less than 5 minutes to raise the burr on both sides of the edge. Next was the Naniwa 5000 Grit whetstone, and 10000 grit Naniwa Super Finishing whetstone. Final steps as usual were stropping on fine abrasives: 0.50µm leather strop, 0.30µm aluminum oxide abrasive film, 0.25µm diamond loaded leather strops, and finally stropping on a leather.

Benchmade Contego 810-1401

Handle

- Considering that Contego is an evolution or a big brother to 940 Osborne, the handle is very similar to 940 handle as well. Not that it had to be, but it is :) No complaints on handle on my part. Very solid, sturdy handle. Liners are about 1mm thick stainless steel. They do have holes drilled in them, reducing the weight and increasing the strength. Handle slabs are made out of G-10, which is mixed black/blue. Not sure how do they do that, but looks more interesting than a solid color slab. G-10 on the handle is smooth enough not to become an irritation during prolonged cutting sessions, and at the same time it has enough texture not to worry about the slippage.

Three small torx screws are used to hold handle slabs on the liners. The backspaces is a solid stainless steel piece, about half the length of the handle. It also covers most of the handle butt too. Makes it quite efficient for crushing or hammering small stuff. Both the backspacer and the thumbramp have gimping, or ridges in other word. And that's not all the gimping there is on the Contego handle. Three separate sections of gimping on the underside as well. IMHO too much. I am no big fan of excessive gimping. I don't think it adds a whole lot to the grip security, but does become an annoyance when exerting significant force during cutting. After cutting cardboard for about an hour, I did wish some of that gimping wasn't there.

Still, it's not that annoying to make me to disassemble the handle and smooth the gimping with a dremel tool or on a belt grinder. I did do that with the SOG X-42 Field Knife, thumbramp on that one had very aggressive gimping and I had to smooth it out using a dremel. Never regretted doing that and the knife is far more user friendly, at least in my opinion. Other than excessive gimping no real issues with the handle, and given my use that doesn't become an issue as usual.

Finally, let's talk about the clip. Stainless steel, polished. Very nice clip I might add. Contego clip is a tip up carry type, i.e. attaches to the butt side of the handle. However, it can be placed on either side of the handle. Two screws hold the clip in place, and so far i have not had an issue of those screws becoming loose, even tough I've been carrying Contego for almost a year now. Judging by my pant pockets, it is quite pocket friendly too, no tears so far :)

Usage

- I didn't really do any extensive tests with Contego. I was already familiar with M390 steel, and I knew how it would perform, especially that it was from the same maker. However, I did do a few prolonged cutting sessions on the cardboard, because I was interested in knife usability and handle comfort. As I mentioned in the handle section, after about an hour of cardboard cutting I did feel irritation in a few places on my palm, where the gimping was on the handle, more from the inside, not so much on the backside. While wearing gloves, gimping was far more useful, but living in California, Bay Area I don't need to wear gloves, unless I am doing some sort of yard work, which happens very rarely. For normal EDC use gloves aren't necessary, but I don't use the knife for hours real hard either.

As for the edge holding results, they were just as good as with the Benchmade 805 TSEK, in other words very good results for a stainless steel in a folding knife. M390 is one of the best combinations of high wear and corrosion resistance. At the same time, it does have good toughness for what it is and 60-62HRC hardness range gives reasonable edge strength as well. I did cut more wiring with Contego, mainly because I needed to, but few things were for testing as well. I suppose the most abusive stuff to the edge was all the clam shell plastic packaging I had to cut during this time. I have that stuff, pretty sure everyone does. 15° per side edge is not exactly what I'd call a thin edge, but it is still considerably thinner compared to most of the stock edges. Still, Contego took all the abuse and so far I have not experienced a single chip or visible roll on the edge.

Other than testing the edge endurance limits with tons of cardboard, various types of wiring and plastic, Contego served as my "rough use EDC" for almost a year. As such, it had to open numerous envelopes, consider that easy case of cardboard, rope, rubber, more types of plastic, and some of the tubing, PVC, rubber, whatever. Naturally, had to cut some food as well. Obviously, having about 40-50 high end kitchen knives at home, I had no need to use Contego for food cutting. But there is always a chance you need to cut something food like when you are outdoors, backyard grills, etc. Mainly vegetables, steaks, etc. While Contego isn't as sharp as my 300mm Shigefusa Kitaeji Fugubiki, it is still plenty sharp for every day food cutting and any utility cutting too.

One other outdoor use, which I also considered a mini test, wood whittling. I had to make improvised skewers from wood sticks, and Contego was the knife of choice. Sharpening those sticks was mainly push cutting exercise, and high polished, convex edge is very well suited for that sort of work. Obviously, 100K sharp edge helps there too. Once I was done making those skewers, I did some more twist testing, sinking the edge into the wood about 1-2 mm and twisting it out. No edge rolling or chipping.

Conclusions

- Very good folding knife, if you consider ~200$ price tag acceptable. Well, premium quality knife, from premium stainless, powder metallurgy steel, and from the premium knife company too. Personally, I think it is a quite good price/performance combination. Design is pretty good, I like it anyway. I do wish it had less gimping on the handle, but it isn't a real issue to me at least. If I get bothered by that gimping at any time, I can easily smooth that out. Been there, done that. So far, it happened only once, when I was cutting through the cardboard for over an hour. Other than that no downsides the whole package.

Fit and finish are very good, axis lock is one of the best locks for the folding knives out there, M390 steel is also one of the best choices for folders. If you like the design, the rest won't let you down. For a folding knife, Contego can take substantial amount of abuse and dish out significant damage too. That is, if you sharpen it properly, it is a good cutter. Despite of its thick blade, I have not attempted any prying, simply because I think it's not the right thing to do with a folder. Nor is the batoning. At least I had no pressing need to do any of that during my trails with Contego. Well, now you know what do I think of it, and the rest is up to you as usual :)

Specifications:

  • Model 810-1401
  • Blade - 101.00mm(3.98")
  • Thickness - 3.95mm
  • Width - 27.50mm
  • OAL - 237.00mm(9.33")
  • Steel - M390 steel at 60-62HRC
  • Handle - G-10
  • Weight - 162.20g(5.48oz)
  • Acquired - 12/2013 Price - 195.95$

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Last updated - 02/09/15