Last Updated: September 21, 2017
Benchmade is a company that prefers iteration over innovation. Most of the new knives fall comfortably, and somewhat uninspiringly, within the boundaries of its recognizable, slow-to-change design language. Even really good new Benchmade knives, like the Valet, aren’t that differently from the Benchmades of five, even ten years ago.
I can understand Benchmade’s adherence to its own unchanging vision to a certain extent. When the stars align it results in some unforgettable knives. To my mind there are few knives under $100 that compare to the Mini-Griptilian as an all-purpose EDC knife, and I’ve always thought the 710 looked like an incredible large folder.
But, for a lot of folks, the Warren Osborne-designed 940 is the Benchmade knife, and one that I was long overdue in trying out – partly because I prefer smaller knives, and partly because in the gleeful, dizzying descent that is the first few years of knife collecting, you’re bound to miss a few standbys in all that whirl and headiness.
Once the honeymoon phase of my collecting was over, I wanted to settle down with a nice, mid-sized Benchmade, and started to consider the 940 seriously. By the time I was ready to pull the trigger the 940-1, a ‘premium’ rendition of the beloved blade, had released.
‘Premium’ doesn’t always mean ‘better,’ (unless there are performance benefits to Damasteel I am unaware of), and, with Benchmade’s Gold Class models it also means a 100+% increase in price. Thankfully Benchmade kept the 940-1 in their Blue Class line – the standard line for knives intended to be used. And while there is an increase in price over the vanilla 940, all of the changes Benchmade made – the carbon fiber scales and the slightly retooled handle, S90V steel – are performance-oriented. In short, while the 940 was already a classic, and I would’ve adored owning it, the 940-1 is, to my mind, the ideal version of an already incredible knife.
General Dimensions and Blade Details
The 940-1 has a blade length of 3 7/16”, a handle length of 4 ¾”, and an overall length of 7 7/8”. The weight is the first indication that the 940-1’s premium materials were chosen with performance in mind: this medium-sized folder weighs just 2.44 oz. To put that in perspective: the Spyderco Paramilitary 2, a knife that is widely lauded for the way it crams a lot of blade into a fairly lightweight package, is more than an ounce heavier (still a wonderful knife though).
The 940-1 features the iconic Osborne modified reverse tanto blade shape. Normally when I hear ‘reverse tanto’ I roll my eyes and expect tacticool sub-par performance, but thankfully that is not the case here. As a mid-sized knife, the 940-1 does everything I would expect it to do well. Punching through cardboard, whittling, even slicing an apple – it’s versatile and accommodating. Like all the best blade shapes, you feel like it was designed to do specifically whatever task you’re currently performing. I don’t love it for fine or delicate cutting tasks, but really there’s only one larger folder I know of that works well in those roles (smooches, PM2, sorry I called you fat earlier).
This good all-around performance can be attributed partly to the grind. When it comes to blade grinding, Benchmade has a lot of bad habits – swedges, facets, that sort of thing. Indeed, on paper, this grind is a mess: big swedge, the thinning-and-then-thickening out of the blade, the somewhat bulbous tip. You’d think there would be no way to make this a good slicer, but the bladesmiths at Benchmade pulled it off – if only just.
The reverse tanto can slice, pull cut, pierce, everything. It’s hardy without feeling bulky. I can cut up plastic or wood but when I slice up an apple with it I don’t get that ‘driving a railroad spike’ feeling I do from my Strider PT CC. My 940-1 is adequately thin behind the edge, but with such a small primary bevel I can see (and have heard of) unnecessary thickness before the edge bevel. In short, it’s a fine line, but, on my 940-1, they managed to walk it and make a good performer out of a very flamboyant design.
The other half of the equation is the steel: S90V. This is an exotic steel. I use the word ‘exotic’ purposefully because, even more so than something like ZDP-189 or M390, S90V feels very different from your standard steels. Its edge retention is totally singular – not in terms of how long, but rather in what manner it holds an edge.
I’ve written at length about my preference for ‘clean’ edge retention, and S90V flies in the face of my predilection: even when very sharp I found its edge quite toothy. For a long time I thought I didn’t like S90V. I didn’t expect such vicious-feeling edge from a super steel.
But when I started testing the 940-1 for review, I came to appreciate it. Again, the 940-1 is a mid-sized knife, and for mid-sized tasks that toothiness is a boon: this thing chews through wood, cardboard, plastic, and other materials, with no appreciable diminishment in its cutting capabilities. S90V is aggressive, and I approve. Don’t let the classiness of the CF fool you: the 940-1 is a barbarian in a tuxedo.
Handle, Ergonomics, and Carry
The 940-1’s handle is a textbook example of the grip-neutral handle, and I love it. A straightforward, clean-lined handle that lets you hold it however you need to – more of this please, knife makers.
Whereas the vanilla 940’s handle is composed of two aluminum scales with a titanium spacer between them, the 940-1’s carbon fiber scales are separated by two gorgeous blue standoffs. There are nested partial liners, and everything feels sturdy and durable in the hand. The carbon fiber isn’t slick, and all the edges are rounded to avoid hotspots. The knife is slim and narrow: you will barely noticed this medium-sized knife in your pocket. The clip stays nice and low and doesn’t muck up your grip.
That clip is the standard Benchmade number, the same you see on the Mini-Griptilian – although here it appears to be Parkerized instead of painted. It’s a real B+ of a clip: better than adequate, less than stellar. I like the way at looks, and I like that it’s tough, because I’m pretty hard on clips, but in a perfect world the deep-carry butterfly clip from the Contego would come standard on the 940-1.
At least, if they can get the fit just right. I know Everyday Commentary did the swap and it worked great, but when I gave the Contego clip a try, it didn’t sit flush against the scales, and clacked obnoxiously every time I held the knife, so I went back to the default clip – which, lest we forget, is good at worst.
All of these good things come together and make the 940-1 a top-tier carry in-pocket. Narrow, thin, easy to retrieve, and totally unnoticeable in carry. Wonderful. Better even than my beloved PM2 (I’m sorry baby, come back!).
Deployment and Lockup
When you’re talking about an Axis Lock, deployment and lockup are intertwined, to the extent that the nature of the Axis Lock allows for a very recognizable, friction-free deployment. Once you break in an Axis Lock you have a glass-smooth deployment for years and years. I only own one other Blue Class Benchmade knife, a Mini-Griptilian, and as good as that feels to deploy, the 940-1 is even better: this thing closes on its own if I disengage the lock and it is at any kind of angle. This is a classic Benchmade-ism I wouldn’t change.
The only downside to this super-smooth deployment is a modicum of side-to-side bladeplay. Not enough to worry me on my pass/fail system for bladeplay, but definitely noticeable. But I’ve personally never had a larger knife that didn’t have a little play. It doesn’t make cutting any harder, and it doesn’t signify a weak lock. If I were using this knife for hard-use tasks it might bother me more (and I also wouldn’t want an Axis Lock for true hard use), but in the sort of things this knife is designed to do, it’s great.
Benchmade 940-1 – Final Thoughts
When I first picked up the 940-1, I was really hoping that it would quickly get discontinued so that it became a collector’s piece and I could flip it for an exorbitant, Hinderer-esque profit. Now that I’ve really thought about the thing, though, I’m glad it’s still around. I’m fairly comfortable calling this the version of the 940 to get: you get a really rad steel and better-looking and lighter scales on top of all the other things that make the 940 a classic, and it deserves to be carried, used, and loved by as many people as possible. And when you consider that, depending on where you shop, you’re only paying about a $70 premium for it, it seems like a no-brainer.
The 940-1 is the best version of one of the best pocket knives ever designed.
I recommend purchasing the Benchmade 940-1 at Amazon and BladeHQ. Please consider that purchasing anything through any of the links on this website helps support BladeReviews.com, and keeps the site going. As always, any and all support is greatly appreciated. Thank you very much.