The argument has been made that the bicycle is man’s greatest invention and here at Chris King you will find more than a few proponents of that notion. We wouldn’t be here if at least a few of us weren’t smitten with the bicycle. As much as we appreciate our beloved two wheelers we recognize that there are a few other noble inventions worth consideration. Aside from the obvious fire, electricity, toothpaste, I would like to draw your attention to the knife. Arguably humankind’s most essential tool, a sharp edge has long played an important role in humanities evolution. We were recently invited to visit Benchmade to learn what goes into producing high quality US manufactured knives.
Located just a few miles outside of Portland in Oregon City, the 55,000 square foot facility is a LEED Gold certified building that has been housing the company’s production since 1990. Established in 1988 by Les di Asis the company first found success with their bali-song knives. Better known as a butterfly knife in the US, these versatile blades were developed for workers in the Philippines to be easily opened with one hand. Their unique design looks similar to a butterfly, and the butterfly was adopted as the company logo and is proudly laser marked on every blade.
The company’s current offering of 150 different models is bolstered by a number of customizable configurations bringing the total of unique blades to well over 800. Creating easy customization is one of the main selling features that separate Benchmade from other high-end knife makers. Keeping 100% of their manufacturing under one roof allows the company to be extremely flexible in their production. Customers can choose from their completely customizable Griptillian models to individualized laser marking, blade shape, serrated or non, blade and handle color, and hardware. We took advantage of this option and had one of their 10” cooking knives laser etched on the spot for Chris King Café Chef Robert McSpadden.
In addition to their custom program another feature that sets Benchmade apart from its competitors is their proprietary heat-treating program that creates extremely strong and resilient blades. When pressed for details our guide David Fee flipped open his personal knife and casually noted that specifics would not be forthcoming. That the US military and law enforcement agencies purchase a large portion of the companies knives is a testament to the durability of their blades. Benchmade will also sharpen your blade free of charge for the life of the knife!
The Benchmade production process is streamlined and precise, each knife goes through what amounts to a 4-step process with each step honed to a crisp efficiency. However the final sharpening of each blade, the critical last step, is too important for mechanical automation. Sharpening is handled by an elite group of employees who test each edge by slicing a sheet of paper. It was amazing to see their speed and technique as each knife was given a fine edge. From entry-level $115 blades to their $1,500 custom Gold Class limited edition knives, each blade is given the same level of hand finishing.
As a domestic manufacturer we understand the difficulties of producing high quality US-made goods strictly sourced from a domestic supply chain. We were inspired by our visit to Benchmade and their dedication to making superior quality US-made goods. We look forward to discovering and sharing our experience with other domestically-focused manufactures both inside and outside of the bicycle industry.