Benchmade 556-1 Review
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” the old adage goes. Well, the folks over at Benchmade must not care much for cliché statements because the all-new Benchmade Mini Griptilian 556-1 adds a high-end flavour to the popular and already varied Mel Pardue designed Griptilian line-up. Yup, our favourite pocket-sized mid-range EDC just got better.
With updated styling and premium hardware, the 556-1 Mini Griptilian offers grey G-10 scales, blueliners, upgraded washers, a deep carry pocket clip, and CPM-20CV steel over other Griptilian model stablemates. A larger 3.45” version of this knife is also offered (model 551-1), both with sister models that are available with multiple blade types, serrated blade versions, and/or black DLC if that’s how you roll.
- Blade length: 2.91 inches
- Overall length: 6.78 inches
- Closed length: 3.87 inches
- Weight: 2.9 ounces
- Blade material: CPM-20CV
- Handle material: G-10
- Locking mechanism: AXIS Lock
- County of origin: USA
- Price range: About $160
The original Griptilian models have a bunch of possible colour/blade options to choose from. Benchmade even created a dedicated website to configure this plethora of selectable combinations (check it out here). So if you fancy yourself an orange nylon polymer handle, premium CPM-M4 tool steel clad in black DLC coating, you can make it happen. Despite all the sizes, colours, blade shapes, steels, and other variations that Benchmade offers with the original Griptilian, they neglected to offer G-10 scales direct from the factory.
Let’s be completely honest now. In the past the Mini Grip (as it’s often referred) has been a fantastic EDC for the money, combining a versatile lightweight package with a budget-friendly price tag to match. That said, the common criticism of all Griptilian models have been related to the cheap feel of the knife in-hand. The reason for this was the DuPont Zytel scales. In the past, if you wanted to upgrade your Griptilian from these nylon polymer handles, the only option would be to look to the aftermarket community. Such decisions can be debated, but the facts remain that if you are not a do it yourself, or not willing to forfeit your excellent Benchmade limited warranty, you are probably out of luck – stuck with the plastic, sorry I mean ‘polymer’ scales. The new 556-1 model fixes all that, and it looks great too.
Scales are one thing, but let’s discuss the business end. On the surface, the blade itself looks identical to that found on the original models. What sets the 556-1 apart is the CPM-20V steel alloy which you won’t find on any of the previous Griptilian models.
With the exception of the Doug Ritter Griptilian versions (previously offered in S30V, and recently in M390 as a limited edition), Benchmade has not offered the beloved Grip in a premium stainless steel like CPM-20CV. The vast majority of Griptilians utilize 154CM stainless steel, a long time Benchmade favourite which is a decent steel but falls way short of today’s premium steels like Elmax, M390, S90V and even the mass market crowd pleaser S30V. But times have changed. Knife fans are now under the spell of the steel marketing machines and Benchmade knows it.
CPM-20CV is Crucible / Latrobe’s stainless steel twin version of the excellent and currently hard to get Bohler M390. Carpenter also joined the party with their near-identical CTS 204P alloy. It’s a tool steel that uses the Powder Metallurgy (PM) process we’ve come to know and love which creates a much finer grain structure than coarse-carbide steels.
The result is formidable wear resistance and edge retention combined with impressive corrosion resistance due to a huge dollop of chromium. Benchmade heat treats the steel to 59-61 HRC, a tad shy of the 62 HRC maximum working hardness for 20CV. While it’s still fairly limited in the marketplace CPM-20CV is without doubt already developing a strong reputation for a low maintenance, all-weather blade.
Fit, finish and performance
So we know it’s new, we know it’s finally a premium EDC option, but how does it actually perform? The good news… Very well! The 556-1 is an easy carry, with G-10 scales that feel solid, but don’t cost you much weight over the original version. Size is still just as good as it was, making the slight sub 3 inch blade legal in most states with blade size restrictions. The deep carry pocket clip is a nice touch and is an easy winner over the more conventional Benchmade arrowhead clip seen in previous models. Our 556-1 Mini Grip came sharp, but not as sharp as we might like out of a box. We also noticed the drop point blade was ever so slightly off center to the left, but not a big deal at all. We were a bit surprised to find absolutely zero blue Loctite on the pivot screw, as we had no issue tightening the pivot down to get our drop point blade perfectly centre.
Field tests consisted of box cutting and breakdown, twine rope cutting, and child-safety protective plastic cutting, which all performed well. As a suburban commando EDC tool, this blade performed admirably. The drop point blade is a very useful shape that lends itself to most light use EDC tasks very well. The always consistent and strong Axis-lock worked as expected for easy open and close, and offers ambidextrous usage just like the dual thumb studs.
The smoothness and hydrologic feel of the open and close with this mechanism help to remind that this is a premium production knife. Remember though what your Dad taught you, the right tool for the job. This is a small knife and not an overbuilt hard user tool. If you are looking for a hard use knife or a defensive carry, you’d best look elsewhere. Aside from that general caution, the edge held up like a champ under our field test conditions.
After our cutting tests were complete, no blade edge roll or chipping at all was present. Wear on the blade seemed minimal. This stuff is great steel. The knife continued to feel sturdy when used and held the edge well, very well. Only minor stropping was needed to restore the blade to a hair popping sharpness. The G-10 scales also felt great. The grip on the scales felt, as the name implies, solid and “grippy” – if that’s even a real word. It’s not slick at all, thanks to the G-10 and continued use of the diamond riveted pattern displayed on all models that carry the Griptilian nametag.
Size matters sometimes. If you have large size hands and like to have a full purchase on the handle, this model may not be the right fit, and you might want to look at the Benchmade 551-1 (about $180), the big brother and scaled up alternative with a 3.45” blade and overall length of 8.07” as compared to the mini at a 6.78”. But if you prefer a smaller blade, have size restrictions based on laws in your area, or have medium size (or smaller) hands, the ergonomics are contoured perfectly. Feel is great when in hand, but after several minutes of continued box cutting, a hot spot from the pocket clip was apparent. Even still, this is fairly common, and not really too bad at all to live with.
Not everything is sunshine and rainbows in 556-1 Mini-Griptilian Benchmade land though. In addition to the blade being slightly off centre directly out-of-box, the blade had some minor side-to-side play after a few minutes of cutting, both in the open and closed position. We also experienced the side-to-side blade play getting worse when fondling the knife, and opening/closing it repeatedly. Issues continued as these same actions caused the blade to walk left of the centre well beyond what we saw when we first opened it.
The good news is that we easily found the cause of the issue to be a chronically loose pivot (as mentioned earlier in this review). The pivot screw loosens under regular usage conditions. It appeared as though no Loctite was added when the knife was produced; the simple fix was to add a single drop of Loctite to the pivot screw.
Once added, we then re-screwed the pivot until barely tight, and until the blade was a centre. Then we waited about 24 hours and Yahtzee! A perfectly centred, tight yet smooth action Benchmade Mini Griptilian with minimal blade play emerged. FYI: Another option to resolve this issue is by wrapping the pivot screw in Teflon tape instead of using Loctite. Pick your poison, but either option does the job just fine.
Competitive offerings in this reviewers opinion include the Spyderco Native 5 with S110V (model C41PDBL5), the Enzo Birk 75 3 -inch Carbon Fiber, the limited CPM-M4 variations of the Mini Griptilian (model 556-1303), the Doug Ritter Mini RSK MK1 (Knifeworks exclusive) with M390 blade. Also, the CRK Small Sebenza 21 and CRK Inkosi are in the same style though twice the price.
For the money and ease of purchase, the 556-1 stacks up well against the most competition. Only the Native 5 sporting a 3” S110V blade and the Mini RSK MK1 really compete in similar price (bang for your buck) and steel offerings (assuming you can even get your hands on the somewhat rare RSK MK1). Also, the RSK MK1 doesn’t include the updated handle scale material, or its new grey and blue digs. You’d have to spend some coin on aftermarket scales to update the RSK MK1 with scale appointments as nice as the stock 556-1.
As for CRK small Sebenza and Inkosi offerings, they compete in size, weight and ease of carrying to the 556-1. Both have good steels, with a small edge to the Benchmade. Overall quality goes to CRK, but the value easily stays with the 556-1 as you get plenty for your buck, and quality is still on the higher end size of the spectrum. The Spyderco Native 5 (model C41PDBL5), and other Native 5 variations offer lower cost alternatives with excellent blade steel of S110V, especially if you are into the Spyderco aesthetic. The only downside to the Native 5 is the dark blue FRN handle. But if you’re not shopping for a premium looking knife, and care more about pure performance, the Spyderco is a seriously good option (and value).
Next, an offbeat and often overlooked small EDC alternative is the EnZO Birk 75. The 3-inch S30V scandi grind blade is a great EDC option, with CF scales. As a quirky alternative, the EnZO competes in blade size and comes in cheaper at about 125 dollars. However, it just doesn’t have the same ease of carrying because of the dimensions being larger when closed and weighing in heavier. All in all, each competitive offering has advantages and drawbacks when squared off against the 556-1.
First, let’s talk price. A standard Benchmade Mini-Grip with a comparable configuration drop-point satin blade retails for $105 dollars but can be found for about $90 dollars online and in many retail stores. The 556-1 Mini-Grip described here has an MSRP of $195 dollars, but can be had for about $165 bucks. For the math challenged, that’s a $75 dollar premium price tag over other traditional Benchmade Mini-Griptilian models. Is it worth it? Well, like most things in life, it depends. After all, $75 bucks to one person might be a lot of money, whereas to someone else it might be simple pocket change. In my opinion, the 556-1 is absolutely worth it….but hey, I’m a knife addict.
Overall, the Benchmade 556-1 Mini Griptilian has what it takes to compete with both higher and lower end competitive EDC offerings, with better CPM-20CV steel and G-10 scale materials compared to previous Mini Griptilian offerings. Throw in the gray and blue colour makeover, deep carry clip, dual stud ambidextrous friendly blade and lock design, attainable price tag, and “a winner of an EDC Benchmade has”. …Yes, that was a gratuitous Yoda-ism.
Here’s the Brass tacks, folks: At about $165 bucks, it is hard to imagine another stock production offering that gives you as much substance and style as the Benchmade 556-1 Mini Griptilian. If you are in the market for an easy to carry, high quality, relatively budget-friendly EDC, perhaps you need not look any further. The words “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” need not apply. You’ve done good Benchmade, you’ve done really good.
The Good: Same excellent design as before, first-rate CPM-20CV steel, G-10 handle rocks, deep carry clip
The Bad: May experience minor production flaws
Bottom Line: Simply one of the best smaller EDC’s you can buy, and it’s sexy too