Today I’m reviewing the Benchmade 531, designed by the incomparable Mel Pardue and successor to the somewhat mediocre Benchmade 530. As someone who was disappointed with the 530, I was super excited to check out the 531. The 531 is a light-use EDC knife aimed at the mid to higher end market, consistent with many of the other Benchmade offerings.
Benchmade is chock full of marquis designs, such as the Griptilian and the 940, but the Mel Pardue 530 never quite reached the popularity as those two giants for several reasons. The knife suffered from a few material flaws, such as flimsy plastic handle scales, and a bizarre dimpled version of the Axis lock. While that may not seem like enough reason to completely discount a knife, it was enough to cause serious users to turn their noses up, and I don’t blame them.
The Benchmade 531, which utilizes the same basic design as the original, fixes the issues of the 530 by implementing higher grade materials for a very reasonable price increase. Here we have a classic example of a reputable company like Benchmade listening to their customer base and giving them what they wanted in the first place.
- Blade length: 3.25 inches
- Overall length: 7.42 inches
- Closed length: 4.17 inches
- Weight: 2.1 ounces
- Blade material: 154CM
- Handle material: G-10
- Locking mechanism: AXIS Lock
- County of origin: USA
- Price range: About $130
While both the 530 and 531 share the same basic spear-point shape, the rest is basically night and day. The 530 was basically a dagger grind with a false edge on the top, but the 531 kicks it to another level with a high flat grind, light stone washing and a beautiful swedge towards the tip. Aesthetically, the 530 looked more like a weapon, whereas the 531 looks more like a tool.
With a blade stock thickness under a tenth of an inch (0.09″), and such a high flat grind, this thing is plenty thin behind the edge, which makes slicing a joy, and because of the spear-point shape and swedge at the tip, it pierces even better than it slices.
Benchmade decided to keep the same blade steel for this upgraded design, which is a little disappointing, but only because I’ve been spoiled by this brave new world of steel chemistry. The 154CM that is used in the 531 is a perfectly adequate steel despite my disappointment. It’s effectively an upgraded version of 440C, once the king of blade steels in the US until the newer, sexier set of super steels arrived on the scene over a decade ago.
As blade steels go, 154CM is well balanced between stain resistance, wear resistance, and hardenability, and Benchmade manages to squeeze out a Rockwell hardness of 58-60. Sure I would have preferred S30V but you can’t have everything.
Overall, Benchmade did an absolutely fantastic job of improving the blade on the 531, while still honouring the original design of Mel Pardue in the 530.
Easily the most noticeable and exceptional difference between the original and the upgrade is the handle. The 530 was equipped with Benchmade’s Noryl GTX (fancy term for thermo-plastic) handle scales, the same material found on the standard Griptilian handles. Noryl GTX may be perfectly durable and it is super lightweight as well, but something about a knife with a plastic handle just feels cheap, and you can squeeze and flex the handle on a 530, adding to that flimsy feeling.
Lo and Behold! Benchmade has heard your cries of anguish, and the 531 comes decked out with gorgeous patterned G-10. G-10 is a resin-soaked fibreglass cloth, made in layers and then compressed and baked, which results in a lightweight yet rugged material perfectly suited to making handle scales. The material can also be easily milled and textured, which Benchmade has taken full advantage of with the 531.
While it’s a softer G-10 than I’m used to holding, the handle scales are made grippy by an opposing arrow formation (or herringbone pattern), and the addition of micro dimples means that this handle won’t be slippery when wet. There is also an eye-pleasing blue-grey colour to the recessed areas, which fades to a navy blue so dark it’s almost black on the ridges. There’s very little about this handle that’s not to like other than the somewhat sharp edges described below.
Deployment & Lockup
You can always count on a fantastic speed of deployment when you invest in a Benchmade, they are knives made to be flicked out fast. The 531 doesn’t have the classic thumb studs of a Benchmade knife, they’re more like thin tubes with a ridge at the top but they are easy to use thanks to a nice bit of contouring on the handle scales around the thumb studs. I must say I don’t love these thumb studs. A word of warning, on occasion the thumb studs can snag on the edge of your pocket resulting in unwanted deployment, so take care in this regard.
The gentle slope guides your thumb down just below the ridge of the thumb stud and encourages you to push up rather than out, which makes for a pleasant snap into place when the blade meets the stop pin and the Axis lock springs into action. Benchmade proves again and again that a knife doesn’t necessarily need ball bearings to open like a dream, bronze washers can do the trick as long as tolerances are properly accounted for.
Lockup on my 531 is good, but not perfect. Because the handle is so slim, and the stainless steel liners are only partial, you can flex the blade side-to-side a tiny bit on mine, although your experience may vary. But it doesn’t bother me like it might if my 940-1 or Griptilian had blade play, because this knife is so much thinner than either of those two, and it isn’t made for the same level of hard use.
Features, Fit & Finish
I would say the beauty of the G-10 is a feature of this knife, and if you hold both the 530 and the 531 in your hands, you’d be inclined to agree with me. The 530 was a starkly utilitarian knife, and by comparison, the 531 is a hell of a looker, a knife you’d be happy to take out and show a coworker. Oh, and boy is this thing lightweight…I mean super light. It’s even lighter than the 940 which already feels like a feather.
If you look closely at the side of the handle scales, you can actually see the multi-coloured layers of fibreglass used to make the effect on the face. The nested steel liners are jimped at the top of the spine where your thumb rests in the sabre grip, and there is an hour-glass shape to the handle which swells at the top to keep your thumb from moving forward. I will say the handle is lacking some chamfering on the edges and it would be nice to have it a little smoother.
On the front, the handle is milled and shaped, not in a full finger choil, but enough that your index finger is locked in place to prevent both pushing pressure and pulling pressure. Two holes are milled out of the handle scales to allow for a lanyard to be installed if you like as well.
When I received the knife from Benchmade, it came with their newer split-arrow clip with the black paint, a clip I absolutely detest. Luckily as a company, Benchmade likes to keep their customers happy, and after a quick phone call, I had a new silver deep carry clip shipped to me. The knife is almost invisible in your pocket with the deep carry clip installed.
Initially, the pivot screw was loose, a problem I’ve had with Benchmades before, but a little blue Loctite on the screw fixed that problem as well. Added up, it’s not much to ask for a knife that serves me so well, but damn do I wish it would arrive ready to go and without issues.
Let me say right off the bat, this isn’t a knife made to be abused chopping through the wood in the outdoors. Nor is it really a tactical knife. It’s a medium or light use EDC pocket knife, and that is all I tested it as.
It makes an amazing paring knife in the kitchen, gliding through onions, apples, and a 2-inch thick ribeye steak. Outside of the kitchen, it demolished cardboard boxes, opened mail with ease, and helped me break down a few hundred feet of paracord into small 10 foot sections.
After a light stropping, my edge was back to shaving the hair off my arms (to the eternal laughter of my friends), and making wafer-thin slices of garlic. One of the best features of a knife with great stain resistance is cleaning it is a breeze. I’ve run this knife through the dishwasher, and thanks to its open construction it comes out spotless.
You’re probably expecting me to list the 530 as an alternative to the 531, but you’d be wrong! The issues with the 530 are a bit too much for me to suggest that you spend your valuable money on one. In fact, I’m struggling a little to call out a direct competitor to the BM 531. So, shameless plug for one of my favourite small EDC knives that you can have fun flicking open and afford on a shoestring budget – the Ontario RAT 2. It’s super lightweight, fits fantastically well in the pocket, and has a great flat ground blade.
Now, these two knives really aren’t in the same ballpark when it comes to your wallet: the 531 sells for around $130, and is well worth it, whereas the RAT 2 can be had for as little as $25, and bats well above its price class. The materials may not be top of the line, AUS-8 is fair but not exceptional, and the handle scales are basically textured plastic, but the knife serves perfectly well for everyday use.
Benchmade may have stumbled a bit with Mel Pardue’s design when they made the 530, but they have certainly hit their stride with the 531. While much of the competition is focusing on big ‘n’ beefy knives built to withstand a nuclear attack, Benchmade is focused here on what we sometimes lose sight of – a well made cutting tool. The 531 is a pleasure to use and own, and for the small increase in price from the base model 530, it is worlds apart.
Sure, you can get plenty of knives for a fraction of this price but the quality and performance here is streets ahead of many of those cheaper offerings. Is it perfect? No, but at this price point and considering this is the US made complete with Benchmade’s lifetime warranty it’s more than deserving of my recommendation.
The Good: G-10 is nice, slim and lightweight, decent performance especially slicing, good looker
The Bad: Sub-par thumb studs, handle edges could be smoother
Bottom Line: A top performer in the sleek ‘n’ slim EDC category