Kleenex is the brand behind the word “tissue”, Band-Aid is the brand behind bandages, and Benchmade is the brand behind the Osborne 940. And, after 21 years of production, one of the biggest names in folding knife history has decided to make a mini version, dubbed the Osborne 945. It’s quite the challenge to take on, specifically in terms of dodging internet commando’s and armchair warriors who set out to critique and pick apart anything and everything about…. anything, but Benchmade must have finally felt up to the task, and it paid off.
Key Specs: Benchmade Mini Osborne
After getting the Bugout and Mini Bugout, Adamas and Mini Adamas, Freek and Mini Freek, Crooked River and Mini Crooked River in their lineup, it seems long overdue and quite expected that they brought in the Mini 940, AKA the 945. Potentially bringing in a bigger target market where folding knives are legally limited to under 3”, Benchmade can only help themselves with higher sale volumes of knives with more options in sizes, unless, of course, the execution of the mini 940 falls short. Let’s get into the long and short of it, and see if the 945 can earn it’s keep in the Osborne legacy.
Making something shorter is all that is necessary to justify the “mini” nomenclature. But Benchmade doesn’t make a habit of a lazy execution of design. Rather, they made proper adjustments in other dimensions to accommodate the 945’s new outfit. And, within those changes, the blade has been thinned out both in the stock thickness (down to 0.11 from 0.12), and thinning out the cutting edge to match. In practical use, this is one of the more critical dimensions that needs to be accounted for when shrinking a somewhat small blade down to a very small blade. Without thinning out the stock and edge geometry, albeit a minimal amount, the knife would have a much harder time keeping up with initiating cardboard cuts and other similar use.
Keeping with their standard for many years, the blade maintains the CPM-S30V steel composition on the 945. The older iterations of the 940 were made in 154CM, then progressed to S30V, where their base steel begins on production knives. S30V is a steel that is commonly seen as “less than desirable” for a modern folder, but I argue that it’s still relevant in 2021. CPM-Magnacut is a steel that very well may take the place of S30V as a base model steel composition in coming years, but for now, I really have no major complaints about it. Edge retention, stainless properties, and moderate toughness are all attributes where S30V can still hold it’s own, and the 945 remains consistent in these ways.
Deployment / Lockup
The vast majority of Benchmade’s folders are deployed by dual thumb studs, and utilize the ever famous Axis lock. The 945 maintains this method, and as expected, is executed exquisitely. The shape of the thumb studs on a folder remains to be an aspect that most users may not ever seriously consider, but that’s only because they’re done so well. Even the infamous Sebenza has thumb studs that are frequently complained about, being pointed and without much tactile feel, but rarely is a Benchmade thumb stud complained about. They’re rounded well at the ends, they have subtle machining for ease of deployment, and can be removed via Torx bit tools for replacements. And, on the 945, there is very little room between the handle scales and blade when the knife is closed, so a thumb stud location and shape is vital for reliable, comfortable deployment.
When holding a small folder like the 945, one may have the thought that deployment may feel cramped with such a short handle and narrow profile. But, Benchmade has somehow made the 945 feel natural to flick out the blade, as much as with the standard 940. This particular aspect may be hand-size dependent, but for me, a large size glove handed person, it’s a non issue. I, for one, much prefer a traditional style detent, with a ball dropping into a hole or divot in the blade, coming from a liner or frame lock arm. I don’t like how much the blade can be moved around in it’s closed position, toward the position of opening the blade. My usual digression applies here, as it’s mostly a preference, and never a safety issue, as the 945 in particular sports such a small, lightweight blade. It would take a purposeful, hard shake of the handle to get the blade to move out of it’s closed position, but two thin springs holding the lock/detent bar just weigh on my mind.
When locked open, the 945 has the typical amount of side-to-side blade play found in almost any Axis lock. It’s comparable to a Spyderco compression lock when describing the amount of side-to-side movement, which translates to basically, very little. It’s not anything that would be noticed without looking for it, or during normal use. Short of an Axis lock omega spring breaking, I fully trust the lock to keep the blade from unlocking, even in very hard use. Unlocking the 945 is, or course, as simple and efficient as any Axis lock knife. Pull the lock bar downward, and let the blade fall to the closed position. The only issue I had in this knife versus other Axis lock knives is that the short handle allowed the butt of the handle to sit in the middle of my palm when unlocking, which allowed the tip of the blade to graze my palm when closing. This only happened maybe twice in my time using and testing the knife, and it never drew blood, but it’s a potential spot to watch for when handling this little folder.
Features, Fit and Finish
Featuring the common recipe of Benchmade ingredients, we’re left with aluminum handle scales, S30V blade steel, phosphor bronze washer pivot system, black painted pocket clip, and the beloved Axis lock. Benchmade has been using this combination of materials on the bulk of their product line for decades. Aluminum isn’t as strong as titanium, but typically will hold up to abuse quite well on a folding knife. The color will fade and chip off the handle scales over time, as will the paint on the pocket clip, but for most users, these battle scars are earned rights of passage in using your tool. Phosphor bronze washers are corrosion resistant, smooth, and wear slowly, making them a great choice for a folding knife pivot system.
Fit and finish on Benchmade folders has gone through some changes in the past few years. It seems that somewhere in the 2018 year range, Benchmade was going through some quality control issues. Blade edges were often uneven, blade centering was quite far off, and the action could be hit-or-miss out of the box. For some of us who tinker with knives enough, most of these issues could be fixed in some servicing and sharpening, but when paying the premium “butterfly tax” (the term frequently used for Benchmade’s premium pricing) should the knife need to be “fixed” straight out of the box? Certainly not. But, here in late 2021, early 2022, it seems Benchmade has taken the criticism to it’s assembly line and improved the finished product to a more acceptable level.
The body screws, despite their small head size (commonly T6 Torx) fit well in their cutouts. But, they often are longer than necessary, with the tips of them sitting inside the blade well. The stonewashed finish on the blade is smooth and even, leaving the feel of the blade without burrs or sharp edges, with exception of course to the cutting edge. The finish on the handle scales is quite chalky out of the box, as with almost all Benchmade aluminum handles, but quickly wears down to a smooth, comfortable feel after some use and putting the knife in and out of the pocket. Adding a little small touch to most of their packaging, along with the box and paperwork for the knife, comes a small pouch in case you’d like to carry the knife in the pocket and safe from loose coins or keys.
A pocket knife with a blade length of less than 3” may start to feel lacking when using it for certain tasks. But, the 945 touts a blade that’s right at the cutoff of my personal minimum, giving me just enough sharpened edge to efficiently cut whatever was necessary without having to adjust my grip or manipulate the materials being cut.
The reverse tanto blade shape is arguably the best available shape for utility use. The tip is low, allowing the user to keep the knife in a natural hand position for something like opening a box or package. And, breaking the box down to smaller pieces to fit into the trash can (which is becoming more and more common with so many of us ordering many of our necessities online), the 945 has just enough handle to get a full grip and rip down some longer pieces of material. The grind on the blade, being mostly flat ground, lends itself well to chores like this, while keeping a relative thickness for a moderately tough edge.
As much as a pocket knife may not be optimized for kitchen use, I like to use my folders for snacks for the kids, or just for testing purposes. Cutting up an apple with the 945 is doable, but really not the best tool. It’s just a little short for common Fuji’s, and just thick enough to split the slices along the broad side. It’ll work in a pinch, and tends to work better for smaller diameter foods like carrots, cucumbers and even meat, but for taller, bigger foods, the 945 is best left in the pocket. But, if you want to cut off a wristband from a venue, open some touch clamshell packaging, cut off a pesky tag or stray string, or even some thicker rope or twine, the 945 is right at home. Benchmade puts a very toothy, grabby edge on their knives from the factory, and they really cut well in their utility world right out of the box.
S30V will touch up quickly with something like a Spyderco Sharpmaker stone, and doesn’t take much time to fully sharpen on a bench stone or fixed sharpening system. A little further down that rabbit hole, is the idea of burnt edges. There are some extensive tests done, by individuals on youtube and other platforms, showing a progressively better performance out of the edge with each subsequent sharpening, typically peaking out after 5-10 edges. And Benchmade has been the biggest offender in this test. This is probably the reason so many people think S30V is “chippy”, as the edge may have been ever so slightly overheated at the factory when putting the initial edge on the blade. This is a steel that, when sharpened properly, holds a respectable edge, and takes a very keen apex in sharpening. Aside from this issue, I really have no issues with the steel, or how Benchmade heat treats it.
All these knives available at BladeHQ.The natural, obvious choice to an alternative to the 945 Mini Osborne is, wait for it… the 940 Osborne. Only about $15 more ($175 for the Mini and $190 for the full size), the standard Osborne is the original, classic, iconic Benchmade knife. But, the Mini was made for a reason, and those of you looking to buy a sub 3” blade folder probably don’t want to look at the full sized model for one reason or another.
So, let’s take a little dive into the titanium frame lock world, and look at the small Sebenza 31. Full disclosure, I’m a huge CRK fan, and tend to work them into reviews somewhere along the line for one reason or another. But really, Chris Reeve made the first high end folder that changed pocket knives forever, and it’ll never be forgotten. So, taking the $175 3” Benchmade and pitting it against the $350 Small Sebenza may not seem fair, but in the grand scheme of life, what’s another $175?
The Sebenza’s weight, at 2.8 ounces, is only about half an ounce heavier than the 945. They both have a blade length between 2.9-3”, have similar stainless steel blade compositions, and both come from a USA based company with great warranties. And here is the crux of the issue with pricing on Chris Reeve Knives, for half the price, you get a very similar knife in hand, although tolerances and materials are undoubtedly better on the CRK. Benchmade’s Lifesharp program is great for those who would like to send their knife in for free sharpening for the life of the knife, and a replacement blade can be had for a nominal fee (approximately $30). CRK on the other hand charges $150 for a replacement blade, but they do have a “spa” service where they will revitalize the knife back to original fit and finish. We have yet to see the Insingo blade available on the Sebenza 31, but it is due out any time now, and has a very similar profile to Benchmade’s reverse tanto.
Moving on, the Ontario Rat Model 2 in D2 steel is a… steal. This knife is probably the best bang-for-your-buck of any 3” folding knife I’ve ever handled. It’s stout, solid, well finished, and cheap, cheap, cheap. That’s right, for the low, low price of $37, this Taiwan made folder can be yours with the push of a button. The steel, while not as “premium” as S30V, or stainless for that matter, is good enough for most casual use without any problems. The handle scales are nylon rather than G10 or aluminum, but feel just as good as any G10 I’ve used. At 2.75 ounces, a 3” drop point blade, and a solid liner lock, the “R2D2” (Rat 2 in D2 steel) is about as good as it gets for the money, and it compares quite admirably to the 945.
And finally, Benchmade’s own Mini Bugout can be another alternative to the 945. At 2.8”, the blade is shorter, but uses the same S30V blade steel. The Mini Bugout has a taller blade, with a full flat grind, and a standard drop point shape. Using grivory handle scales on the Mini Bugout versus the 945’s aluminum, the Bugout series has been long criticized for having some flex in the handle scales. There are tons of aftermarket options for the Bugout knives, both standard and Mini, but that comes at an additional cost. Fortunately, the Mini Bugout is quite a bit cheaper than the 945, at $119 for the base models. The standard Bugout is available to be customized in Benchmade’s custom shop, allowing for different blade steels, handle scale materials, and colors, but the 945 and Mini Bugout are not part of this special program offered by the manufacturer.
Benchmade has done a great job of turning a classic into a Mini. The 940 Osborne has been in production for decades, and the Mini 945 only makes sense to add to the lineup. It would have been nice to see some refresh in terms of materials, especially considering the nearly $200 price tag, but considering the alternatives, warranty, and customer service, the 945 fits right in to it’s niche market, and target audience. It holds it’s own in use, carry, and ability, while maintaining a friendly size that packs a punch. It feels good in hand, looks great, and is reliable and built well enough to use for years, and can be serviced in just about any possible way by Benchmade.
- Well executed version of the full size, under 3” blade, easy to carry, master of utility work
- Possible overheated edge, priced slightly high for materials