Billed as a Combat/Survival blade, the Benchmade 158 CSK II is intended to be a general, “catch-all” type blade for use out in the field. Woods Monkey takes a look at its construction and tests its performance backwoods style.
Benchmade categorizes their knives by intended user with a color code. This knife is one of their “black” knives intended for law enforcement, military, fire fighters and other professional users. Just the same, all of us enthusiasts can get in on the game as well, and that was our thinking when we asked for a demo unit for review. After getting the 158 CSK II in the mail, I immediately found every way possible to put it to use. I used the knife on family campouts in the high country, and in chores and experiments around the home place. One of the first activities was experimented with a hobo stove I built and using the knife to get a fire going. The 1095 carbon steel blade sharpened up well with a small pocket ceramic stone and easily cut a feather stick and some small twigs. I gathered some dead juniper leaves and found a couple pieces of pitch around an old stump.
I used the knife to chop through some larger hardwood juniper and maple twigs and limbs to get them down to stove size. By holding the knife by the end of the grip and swinging it like an ax, it chopped through the limbs with no problem and was very controllable. I then batoned the knife through some hardwood limbs about 3” in diameter with no trouble. The thick 0.180” full-tang blade easily held up to the beating, with no signs of damage to blade or finish.
The spine is finished with nice square corners along the top edge, perfect for sparking a ferro rod. I used the knife to spark the pitch and juniper leaves and got the fire going pretty quickly. Again, there was no sign of wear to the black finish on the blade, even though the ferro rod sparks usually discolor the blades of other knives. I think the finish either protects the blade, or possibly just conceals the sparking discoloration in the black powder coating. The blade is hardened to 57-60 RC according to the literature from Benchmade, so it did not dull quickly and was pretty easy to sharpen up after use with a few strokes of a very fine diamond or ceramic stone.
The Benchmade Model 158 CSKII knife came with a heavy black leather sheath with a plastic (ok, maybe polymer) strap on the back. The sheath is well stitched throughout and riveted at stress points. The sheath’s simple snap strap at the bottom of the grip securely holds the knife in place, but allows ready access when needed. The top of the sheath has a belt loop that will take belts up to about 1¾”, and the plastic strap on the back is for larger belts, say military canteen belt size, and to attach to MOLLE or ALICE gear. The polymer strap has a fastener at the bottom that requires a tab be lifted to open the strap to attach it to the MOLLE attachment. The strap then easily slides back into the latch to lock it in place on the belt. It’s easy to put on, and holds up well at the fastening point, though it was almost impossible to get it undone when tightly attached on a pack. It held up well, though, through various activities.
I was surprised that the sheath came with thongs made of leather instead of paracord. The leather thongs are good sized and well oiled and should last a long time. The lower thong is about 36” long and threaded through holes at the toe of the sheath; the other is also about 36” long and is woven into holes inside the upper belt loop. I would not place it there to wear on a belt as it interferes with both belt and knife, but it’s not difficult at all to remove. If desired, you could put this extra thong through the brass lanyard hole in the knife handle.
On one campout, my brother in law had just purchased a Cabela’s Alaskan Guide 8-man tent with all the trimmings. Where he wanted to pitch it there were aspen shoots growing everywhere, some only 8-10 inches and on up to 2-3 feet tall. I used the Benchmade to cut these sprouts off below the ground so there’d be no stub to poke holes in his new $800.00 tent. The knife was pretty sharp as received from the factory, and the 6” straight clip-point blade easily cut the shoots off, with no damage or dulling to the blade after slicing through the clay and gravel soil. The black powder coating held up without a scratch. I was glad the blade is straight, not serrated, as that’s the type of blade I prefer in this kind of knife.
I won’t win the lottery this year because I used up all my luck in drawing both elk and whitetail tags this year. I plan to take this knife on those hunting trips in November and December and see how it performs at dressing out game as well. While the choil is very short and there is no facility to “choke up” on the blade, the built-in finger guard is very well placed near the center of balance, which permits good control. I generally prefer a shorter blade, say 3½-4”, for field dressing game but this 6” blade handles well and is nicely balanced. For what I consider to be a big knife, it is nice to use.
Through out the time I used this Benchmade knife, I found the Santoprene Overmolded handle to be comfortable and easy to grip even when wet. It rained a lot on us while camping, and it even snowed and hailed. No rust on the blade, no slips on the handle, no worries. It balances well, and in use does not feel like it is over 10 inches long. The knife weighs 7.75 ounces according to Benchmade literature, and confirmed by my old postal scale. The sheath weighs about 5.75 ounces according to my scale, but as mentioned was very well made.
As far as performance goes in the field, the Benchmade 158 CSK II exhibited the typical “Benchmade” quality that most of us have come to expect. If you’re looking for a general use field knife to throw in the pack and be a “Jack of all trades”, then you might want to put the 158 CSK II on your list as a contender, and give it a closer look!