If Spyderco is a company built around an opening method, then Benchmade is a company built around a lock: the Axis Lock. Strong, safe, and easy to operate, the Axis Lock has been one of the major selling points of practically all Benchmade folding knives since its debut.
It is easy to forget that the Axis Lock is only as good as the knife it is a part of—and Benchmade makes a lot of really great knives. Their catalogue runs the gamut, with a large selection of military-oriented fixed blades and automatic knives, to balisongs, to first responder equipment; some of their most popular designs, though, fall into the more pedestrian class of everyday carry blades.
Models like the Mini Barrage, the newly-released Valet, or the 940 in any of its iterations are all excellent, American-made tools. However, if everyday utility is the need, than no Benchmade better fills that need better than the 555HG Mini Griptilian.
Also, we encourage you to use the interactive table below to compare the Benchmade Mini Griptillian to other popular pocket knives:
Brief History of the Mini Griptilian
The Benchmade Mini Griptilian is a scaled-down version of the Griptilian, a very popular hard-use medium-sized knife. Like most other knife companies’ evergreen models, the Mini Griptilian comes in a variety of configurations; here are the major variations currently available (except where noted otherwise, the blade steel on all models is 154CM):
- Original 556 drop point model with thumbstud
- 557 tanto model with thumbstud
- Serrated 556 with thumbstud
- Doug Ritter variation with M390 steel and a wider drop point blade
- 555 modified sheepsfoot model with opening hole
- Serrated 555 with opening hole
All of these are winners (and the Doug Ritter variation is particularly tempting), but the best all-around choice for EDC, and the model discussed in this review, is the 555HG.
Below, please take a moment to view some of the best-selling pocket knives currently for sale on Amazon:
|1) Spyderco Tenacious
|2) Kershaw Cryo II
|3) Opinel No.7
|4) Gerber Paraframe
|5) Kershaw Knockout
The Mini Griptilian, as one would expect from the name, works great in the hand. There is texturing on the scales, on the liners, on the spine of the blade–everywhere. Some of it is sharp enough to provide real traction, but some of it is merely to help with indexing; that is, telling your hand where it is on the knife, which is helpful.
If you’re at all familiar with knives this simply means that you’ll always know where the blade is oriented in relation to your fingers and the material you’re working with. And while it is never a good idea to open or operate a knife without looking at it, in a situation where you’re forced to do so, it’s not a bad feature to have.
For as textured as the handle is, it is blessedly devoid of finger grooves or scalloping or any of the other attempts at “ergonomics” lesser designs often include.
Compared to the Spyderco Delica 4, the handle is a revelation: the Mini Grip has almost a full inch less space for your hand and yet is more comfortable and less cramped-feeling than the Delica, hindered as it is by unnecessary finger grooves. The Mini Barrage, another popular Benchmade EDC, has a very similar handle to the Mini Grip, but the Mini Grip’s is thicker, and thus more comfortable.
It is very similar in overall ergos to the full-sized Griptilian, despite being proportionally smaller; you get the feeling that Benchmade knew they had a winner on their hands and tried hard not to compromise it in as they scaled it down—and they succeeded.
- You can ready my review of the Spyderco Delica 4 here.
Benchmade loves swedges; multi-faceted grinds are the Cleopatra to their Antony. If they can introduce a bunch of sub-grinds to a blade, they almost inevitably will.
There isn’t anything wrong with swedges if they don’t affect performance, and because all the Griptilians cut well, I’m willing to forgive Benchmade’s enthusiasm, even if I do think they make the blades look unnecessarily aggressive.
The 555HG variant sports a modified sheepsfoot blade with nary a swedge in sight–simple and nonthreatening. It’s not just a looks thing, as it’s also more utilitarian than the drop point. In fact, the hollow grind, despite being fairly abrupt, chews through material like cardboard or plastic.
The Delica 4 has a very similar blade shape but will come with either a saber grind or a full flat grind; in my experience I find both of these to be inferior as slicers. The Mini Barrage, like the standard Griptilian, comes in a drop point blade, and so is similarly outperformed in EDC tasks.
Almost all of Benchmade’s standard models come in 154CM. This is the blade steel of all the standard Griptilian variations, both full-size and Mini, as well as the Mini Barrage. It is a solid, mid-grade steel: decent edge retention and toughness, and, unlike most mid-tier steels, it is very easy to sharpen. It’s better than the VG-10 of the standard Delica 4. The only thing to keep in mind with 154CM is that it is more prone to rust than other stainless steels in its class; it won’t patina or rust overnight or anything, but if you mistreat it for long enough, don’t be surprised to see rust forming.
To my mind, this is the sweet spot, steel-wise, for most users. Anything higher-end and sharpening becomes difficult to do, and any lower and you tend to lose performance at an exponential rate. I’ve wanted more companies to switch to 154CM as their default steel for a long time, but, besides Emerson Knives (a one-time collaborator with Benchmade), there isn’t anyone else showing much enthusiasm for this perennially-underrated steel.
The standard Benchmade pocket clip is one of the best clip designs of all time. One of its principal charms is that it hardly feels designed at all; looking at some of the clips on recent Spydercos or Kershaw knives, you just get the sensation that their designers are over thinking the whole thing. A clip needs to be simple, durable, and not hideous to look at, and the 555HG’s clip checks all three boxes.
The spoon clip on the Delica is great too; this is one department in which the Delica can compete with the Mini Grip. The Barrage’s clip is what is known as the “Split Arrow” clip. You tend to see this clip on Benchmade’s ludicrously overpriced Gold Class knives, and while there isn’t anything explicitly wrong with it, it is a little less durable in my experience, and for that reason alone I prefer the Mini Grip’s clip.
In pocket, despite its girth, the Mini Grip carries very nicely—better than the full-sized Grip by a country mile. Part of what makes the Mini Grip’s thickness tolerable is that it is a short and narrow knife. Compare this to the Delica which, although it is thinner, carries wider and deeper, and thus worse, than the Mini Grip. The Mini Barrage, however, does win out carry, as it is about the same width, and thinner. That being said, that thickness is one of the appeals of the Mini Grip in hand, so it is something I’m willing to put up with.
The Axis Lock is Benchmade’s claim to fame. Originally featured on the 710, it quickly underwent a design revision that fixed some first generation problems and is now one of the most beloved folding pocket knife locks in the world.
Here, on the Mini Griptilian, the Axis Lock works perfectly. If this is your first Axis Lock knife, I will warn you that there’s going to be some stickiness the first hundred or so deployments until everything breaks in, but after that the Axis Lock is going to be buttery smooth to operate, and the knife is going to be rock solid when open.
The lockback on the Delica is totally fine, but the Axis Lock is both more fun and faster to use, so it pulls ahead. The Mini Barrage uses an Axis Lock too, but there is one issue with it—or rather, with the deployment method of the Mini Barrage and how it interacts with the lock.
The Mini Barrage is an assisted-opening knife. Essentially, there is a little torsion bar in the handle scale that keeps the knife closed and, when you push the blade past that detent, that bar flips the knife out the rest of the way.
The issue here is that it hinders one of the Axis Lock’s best features: its ease of closing. Once the Axis Lock is broken in, the blade, in between opened and closed positions, swings very freely, and so it is very easy to close one handed because it offers so little resistance.
With an assisted-opening knife, however, you have to overcome the torsion bar’s resistance as you close it; this resets the torsion bar for the next deployment. It’s actually hard and a little dangerous to do one-handed. So the inclusion of an assisted-opening mechanism in the Barrage gains nothing and sacrifices ease of use—dumb.
The Mini Barrage is a good knife, but this “feature” alone makes it inferior to the Mini Grip.
This is worth talking about briefly because the deployment method is what makes the 555HG superior to the 556.
The 555HG uses a thumbhole to open the blade. Thumbholes are easier to manipulate than the thumbstuds on the other Grip variations (as well as the Mini Barrage). The only downside to a thumbhole is that, as on the Delica 4 (and most Spydercos), because the hole takes up so much space and needs to be clear of the handle in order to be operated correctly, a knife with a thumbhole tends to be wider in the pocket than other knives.
The Mini Grip avoids this problem by placing that thumbhole very close to the handle. It is, in fact, slightly occluded, but not enough that it affects deployment, and it saves a ton of room in your pocket.
Once you try a Griptilian with an opening hole, it is really hard to go back. This is the reason, even above the blade shape, that makes it the one to get.
The Mini Griptilian is a canonical EDC knife in any of its variations. It is the knife that, if you go on forums and look around, you’ll see mentioned over and over again—and for good reason. It just gets everything right, as the 555HG has virtually everything you’d want in a reliable blade: good steel, ergonomics, clip, deployment method–it has it all. You should own one.
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