U.S.A. –-(AmmoLand.com)- Everyone should love hearing stories about people who took hold of the opportunities offered by the American Dream. Too many people nowadays think that this is something given to them by the government. That’s not it at all. America is different from all other countries in that whether you come from a rich background or are a brand-new immigrant, the sky is the limit if you hustle.
I was reminded of the above after recently visiting the Benchmade knife factory. I thought that you might enjoy hearing their success story. To begin, let me give a brief historical line:
- It all began in a small shop rented in a second-story mezzanine in California in 1980 by Les De Asis under the name of Bali-Song. They started off making butterfly knives (Hence, the butterfly logo). Over the next 8-years, they grew in fame and changed their name to Pacific Cutlery Corp.
- In 1990 they moved to Clackamas, OR to be in knife country and changed their name to Benchmade Inc. They were the first knife company to employ laser cutters. They then became the world leader in automatic knife manufacturing and began supplying military units. (I didn’t realize it but Oregon is the knife capital of the world. Portland alone has 19 knife manufacturers).
- Due to massive expansion, in 1996 they moved from the 15,000 sq. ft. shop in Clackamas to their current location in Oregon City which is 144,000 sq. ft.
I arrived at the Benchmade factory early so I could take pictures of the outside and visit the retail store in the front of the building. On a story of this nature, I like to talk to the employees and get a feel for the culture of the company.
Right off I was impressed. Everyone I talked to in the retail store was friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable. Matt Glass their marketing guru was driving down from Seattle. Upon arriving, Matt introduced me to Alti Einarsson, one of the Benchmade Manufacturing engineers. To begin, I love that Benchmade is an American company and uses American parts. After talking with employees and finding out that there were quite a few with over 20 years of seniority I was impressed. That tells you that it’s a good company to work for.
The tour began with Alti showing me the sheets of metal they used to produce the knives. They receive sheets of various grades of metal. They are flat sheets somewhat similar to a sheet of plywood. Since the metal is too hard to stamp, they laser cut the knife blanks. The blanks then pass through the various departments. If I remember correctly after laser cutting the blank it is then transferred to the next department which puts the hollow grind on the blank, next it is polished smooth to remove any grinding marks and so forth. The metal is tempered and on and on the process goes.
To some degree, it is space-age technology with computers guiding some of the processes and yet some of the processes are done by hand. I was surprised to see that the actual cutting edge is not put on by a machine but is hand-ground on a grinding belt guided by the operator’s hands and eyes. Wow, they have to be (and are) good to be able to apply different angles to each model of knife strictly by intuition.
Another step that impressed me is how they assemble the knives. They have a few in-line work stations and as one worker completes a task, they pass it on to the next co-worker. But one thing that really stood out to me was the making of their custom knives. One employee with 23 years of seniority sat at a bench assembling knives one at a time according to the order. It was cool to see some old-time workmanship.
The last step is one of the girls inspects every knife to ensure that it is sharp and functions as designed. Knives are then stored in a warehouse and segregated by orders. Every Benchmade knife is made in this factory.
Wow, impressive tour. I see why Matt and the Benchmade team is so proud and wants to get their story out there.
A few comments from Benchmade:
In addition to the knives being made in the USA, Benchmade is committed to sourcing materials from domestic vendors of the highest caliber. Most of the blade steels, from stalwarts like CPM-S30V to the new CPM-S45VN, are produced by Crucible Industries, a leader in U.S. steel manufacturing. Those rigorous standards also extend to other materials, such as titanium. While imported titanium is less expensive than its U.S. counterpart, Benchmade has refused to compromise on the commitment to domestic producers. With demand at historic levels, their dedication to 100% U.S. production remains the backbone of our business.
Oregon remains to be the hotbed for knife producers and Benchmade is setting the standard for adapting and overcoming. They also know that the future of the industry is dependent on the people of Oregon. Les de Asis was a strong proponent of educating skilled trades. As such, they have a strong commitment to Clackamas Community College (their local community college) to support a new maker space where students and community members could use digital tools and manufacturing equipment. The company also has a long history of hiring CCC students for their manufacturing workforce and this space is a resource for the next generation to learn and experiment with cutting-edge technology.
And as we come to a close, I have to say, great visit and great company!
P.s. – Check out their 9070SBK-1 Claymore. It is the slickest assisted opening knife that I’ve seen!
About Tom Claycomb
Tom Claycomb has been an avid hunter/fisherman throughout his life as well as an outdoor writer with outdoor columns in the magazine Hunt Alaska, Bass Pro Shops, Bowhunter.net, and freelances for numerous magazines and newspapers. “To properly skin your animal, you will need a sharp knife. I have an e-article on Amazon Kindle titled Knife Sharpening #ad for $.99 if you’re having trouble.”