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Benchmade North Fork
Folding Knife review

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Benchmade North Fork Folding Knife

Well, it started as usual, or I should say, it happened again :) My coworker had a knife that I have not had before, I borrowed it, played with it for a weekend, did the usual maintenance routine, which included quite thorough cleaning, pivot tune up, and sharpening, of course. For starters, I wanted to learn more about the knife, so I did some digging around to find out more about the North Fork folder. Nothing special or strange about it, the usual folder from Benchmade, made in several variations, handle material varies from G-10 to wood, various blade coatings and finishes, serrations or no. The usual assortment in short. Actually, the reason I started digging for the extra info, was that the Benchmade site specifically referred to North Fork family. Like I said, it is the usual Benchmade folder production style. You could call McHenry 710 folder a family or any other folder or a fixed blade model too. Well, just my curiosity, nothing really important. While I was searching and researching North Fork, I did fine a few fairly colorful descriptions of the North Fork folders, including references to space age materials and surgical instruments. Now, the former - space age materials to be specific, can be applied to pretty much any high end modern folder, G10, Titanium, Aluminum alloys, those all qualify as space age materials and are widely used in folders. However, the surgical instruments mentioned in the context of the knives is more worrisome than welcome. I've mentioned that in number of other knife reviews and the knife steel FAQ mentions that as well. Long story short, surgical steel is just an elaborate and very misleading way of describing cheap, stainless steels not suited for modern knives. That being said, no issues with the North Fork family, they all use well known, tested and respected Crucible CPM S30V stainless steel. All in all, a nice, high quality folder, made with premium materials.

Benchmade North Fork Folding Knife

General

 - Since the knife wasn't new, I can't comment on the packaging first hand, but it's a Benchmade folder, so it'd be in their signature blue box, nicely wrapped and packed. Not sure if it comes with a pouch or not if that really matters to you :) I've inspected the knife thoroughly, minor wear and tear, signs of general light use, nothing else. Build quality is very good, which is what I'd expect from a reputable maker and a knife prices well above 100$. No general problems with fit and finish or execution. Everything is precisely machined and fitted. Very slight horizontal bladeplay, which could've developed over the time or it could've been there from the very beginning, but nothing that I couldn't fix by simply tightening the pivot screw. Generic classification of the North Fork for me would be a small, utility folder. Except, Benchmade markets it as a hunting knife. I'm not much of a hunter, but in general I don't see the usefulness of a folder for dressing a game or other tasks like that. Size aside, folders have moving parts, tight spaces, hard to reach spaces, etc. Fluids, fat, acids none of that really bodes well for all that. I've had to clean a couple of other folders, used to cut meat with BBQ sauce, which was dried in, caused rust to the level of pitting, etc. Now that was a nightmare.

Still, the North Fork blade geometry is similar to many other hunting knives. Unlike me, the owner of the knife is a real hunter, and I did ask if he had used North Fork as a hunting knife. Turned out he did, for dressing the game, specifically the turkey. He also noted that he wouldn't use a bigger knife for the same job. In the end, North Fork worked just fine, which speaks to both, knife usability and the user's skill. If I had to do the same I am pretty sure I wouldn't be as successful. And most likely I'd grab a bigger knife, and certainly not a folder, due to the reasons listed above. I have to note that even though the knife was used for game dressing, it was in very good condition. No rust anywhere, no discoloration, action was reasonably smooth too. No disassembly was required on the owner's part to maintain the knife, just normal cleaning and common sense maintenance, including oiling the pivot area. I note this separately, because a lot of times I have to fix/tune up folders and the pivot area has layers of dirt, lint and god knows what else, a good CSI could reconstruct what the owner was wearing and cutting for lifetime of the knife ;) What I am trying to say is that, the folders are not that difficult to maintain, even when used in harsher conditions.

Benchmade North Fork Folding Knife

Blade

 - The blade on the North Fork measures 75.50mm(2.97"), 12.3mm at the heel and 1.8mm at the same spot. For a folder it's rather thin, but still plenty strong for the tasks suitable for the folder of its size, in other words I wouldn't call it a delicate use knife, but you can always use it for delicate tasks, especially if you grind a delicate edge on it, I'll talk about that in a bit. North Fork features a sabre grind, drop point blade. Tapering section has a nice satin finish on it, and the flats at the spine have more coarse finish. The factory edge was standard 30° inclusive, but it was dull by the time I got my hands on it. Factory edge was on the coarse side, which I could tell while examining the edge, somewhere between 400-800 grit. Gimping is also present on the blade, in two separate sections at that. While the back gimping can be considered as grip or support improvement, the one at the blade tip is purely decorative. You can see both on the North Fork top image. There is also a slight recurve present on the blade, not overly pronounced, but at the same time it is enough to make sharpening the blade on the standard flat stone impossible. Either a belt grinder, or The Edge Pro sharpening system with its narrow stones, or as I did, flipped the whetstone stone 90° and used narrow side of it. Recurve does increase cutting edge length, not by much, but it does. You'll have to decide whether or not that small increase in edge length, plus increase in cutting ability are worth the increase in sharpening difficulty. Overall, North Fork is a very decent cutter, combination of the blade geometry, edge profile and thin blade. And finally, few words about the blade steel, which is the Crucible CPM S30V stainless steel.

As I said above, CPM S30V steel is widely used in high end knives and fixed blades. You can read more about the steel and the history of its creation in the link. In short, CPM S30V steel is one of the very few specifically designed for the knives. It's pretty successful in that regard, of course there are better choices given the specific task, but all in all, its a very decent knife steel. Based on my past experience with it, which I'd say is pretty extensive, since I've used CPM S30V steel knives in all shapes and sizes and at various hardness, I'd say that it works quite well with fine, polished edges, and even better with coarse edge. Fine edge isn't the best choice in most cases, save for the thin edge kitchen knives, but on the other hand, if the user prefers push cutting then it's still better vs. coarse edge. Ideally, if I was working with a custom knife maker, for a knife of this size or even bigger ones, I'd prefer hardness above 60HRC, and some custom makers do take CPM S30V steel to 62HRC. Given proper heat treatment and geometry CPM S30V steel won't chip even at 62HRC. North Fork is in the 58-60HRC range, which is ok, but 58HRC is on a softer side to me, and I can't really tell the difference in terms of sharpening difficulty between 58HRC and 60-61HRC, while I can tell the difference in terms of edge holding on the same steel when hardness is 1-2 HC higher/lower. Although, to tell that difference you really need to sharpen high performance edges. With thicker, rough edges hardness difference isn't that pronounced, not 1-2 points, proper sharpening matters far more. As for the rest, CPM S30V steel is a stainless steel, so the required maintenance efforts are not that great, but still, you need to make sure it's stored clean and don't neglect it, otherwise it will rust.

Sharpening

- Overall, North Fork knife a bit more difficult to sharpen due to its recurve blade, compared to the straight blades made out of the same steel. Like I said, I had to flip the whetstones to use the narrow side on the recurve. The edge wasn't damaged, but I was thinning it down, so I had to use coarser stone to begin with. I've picked Bester 700 grit Japanese waterstone to grind the new bevel, and it was more than sufficient. The new bevels were ready in just under 5 minutes. Next was the 1200 grit King whetstone, then the 3000 grit synthetic (blue) aoto waterstone and, few strokes per side on the 5000 grit Naniwa Chosera waterstone, followed by probably 5 minutes on a 10000 grit Naniwa Chosera Super Finishing Synthetic Whetstone. To finish the process I've stropped the knife on 0.5µm diamond crystal loaded leather strop, 0.25µm diamond crystal strop, and a plain leather strop.

Handle

 - North Fork features stainless steel liners and dymondwood handle. Personally, I am not very fond of wooden handle slabs on the folders for some reason, even though I love wood as a handle material on Japanese Kitchen Knives and fixed blades. If you like the wood handle you can have North Fork in Dymondwood, on the other hand if you prefer G10. That's as far as the handle choices go. Well, you can always try to get custom made, metal handle slabs as I do often, but it's not always easy. Even though I prefer metal handles, North Fork's wood handle does feel good in hand. Fit and finish both are very good. No sore spots after wood whittling or cardboard cutting. Comfortable in various grips. In short, no complaints from me. As usual, wood requires proper care to avoid degradation. Once in a while wipe with lightly oiled cloth, don't leave it wet, etc. I didn't do grip security tests with oily hand, didn't really see the point, smooth wood plus oil don't combine well, but wet handle was plenty secure. Obviously, for heavy duty tasks you need bigger handle and a bigger knife too, but for a small folder North Fork handle is just fine. Typically, wood handles need occasional oiling or waxing, there are number of options from camelia oil to bamboo goo, and they all do just fine, just pick your favorite.

Finally, about the clip. North fork features a tip up carry clip, and it is a reversible(left/right). I do prefer tip up, though no big issues with tip down, but I do know folks who are adamant about one or the other, so if you are one of those people, now you know what it is. As for the rest, it is a pretty typical Benchmade style clip, plenty secure for pocket carry and not intrusive in hand and during the knife use.

Benchmade North Fork Folding Knife

Usage

 - On my part, the usage was the usual set of various household items and minor backyard chores. Obviously, by the time I went for testing the knife was reprofiled and properly sharpened. Started up with wire cutting, because I was curious if 58-60HRC was on the softer side. 3 different types of wires, copper, steel and aluminum. Straight push cuts, holding the blade vertically as steady as I could. No edge damage was present, I suppose after all it was closer to 60HRC. Next one was the RG-6 coaxial cable. Besides the copper at the very center, RG-6 cable also has a copper mesh, plus 3 layers of various plastic insulation. In other words, easy way to damage any edge if you are not careful. Still, when properly done, and the blade has decent steel at high hardness, you can do that by hand, and with no damage to the edge. Because the north fork is on the smaller side it wasn't all that easy, mainly lack of space on the blade to place my palm on. Assuming this isn't your daily routine and for me that was just one of the tests, there were no issues observed. Otherwise, I'd advice to use dedicated cable cutter :)

Cardboard testing I did just because... I know how CPM S30V steel behaves on the cardboard, and it's one of the better ones. Still, when I have to cut lots of cardboard I pick fixed blade, with thinner blade profile and lower behind the edge thickness, typically my go to knives for that are: Phil Wilson CPM S110V Meadows Skinner Custom Knife or Phil Wilson CPM-10V Utility Hunter Custom Knife, or something along those lines. I did cut about 100" cardboard, mainly to estimate prolonged use with constant pressure on the palms. North fork did very decent job, recurve, slim blade and sharp edge did make it all easy, but like I said this isn't the knife to pick as a dedicated cardboard cutter. The rest was rubber sheaths, about 7-8mm thick, which I managed to process ok, rubber does tend to stick to the blade, but it wasn't that thick to hamper cutting significantly, and then some plastic tubing, which was fairly easy. Last was the wood whittling and pry/twist test. Wood whittling lasted for about 2-3 minutes, the knife performed well for a folder of its size and it'll do pretty good for finer work to. Pry/Twist was the usual, stick the blade into dried wood about 2-3 mm deep and twist it to test the edge stability. No damage incurred. In the end, the blade did loose its initial sharpness, but after all that cutting it'd be unreal not to loose sharpness level it had initially, final grit I've used was ~100K. The blade still could shave, but would miss a hair or two, but wouldn't break skin in the process, which is always good. Restoring initial sharpness was a few passes on a ceramic rod, and then the same sequence of leather strops, 0.5µm, 0.3µm and then 0.25µm followed by plain leather strop.

Conclusions

 - In short, nice little folder. Quite high cutting ability and user friendly. Axis lock is IMHO th best folder lock there is, I personally prefer over any other lock mechanism used in folders for last decade and today. Wood handle slabs are not my favorite on folders, even though like I said, I do prefer wood handles on my kitchen knives. And I do know I am more or less minority on that. You do have a choice to get G10 handle slabs on your North Fork by the way. Not being a hunter, to me North Fork is a small folder which I'd use successfully for all sort of cutting if I had one, but as the real life experience, and first hand account from the owner showed, North Fork does work well as a hunting knife, so there you go, if that's what you were looking for. I suppose if I ever get out for actual hunting trip, I'll be carrying half a dozen knives to test in "wilderness", and I doubt folders will be amongst them, but who knows. Fit and finish wise, North Fork gets as good as high end folder can be, and CPM S30V steel is one of the best stainless steels used in modern knives. If you are willing to sharpen and maintain your knife, it'll server you well and for a long time.

Specifications:

  • Blade - 75.50mm(2.97")
  • Thickness - 1.81mm
  • Width - 12.30mm
  • OAL - 173.00mm(6.81")
  • Steel - CPM S30V steel at 58-60HRC
  • Handle - Dymondwood
  • Weight - 91.50g(3.09oz)
  • Acquired - 03/2017 Price - 145.00$

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Last updated - 06/21/17