While Charlie Ochs’ “Florida Black Knife” certainly deserves credit for creating a market for modern military auto-openers, it was Benchmade’s “AFO” (Armed Forces Only) that was first truly issued on a large scale. Over the last couple of decades, the AFO has been adopted by practically every branch of the U.S. military, including the Coast Guard. Recently, Benchmade announced a new, product-improved version of the folder, designated the “AFO II,” that should make the troops even happier.
For those that haven’t been involved in autos that long, the first AFO’s were actually manufactured by the company on contract for Al Mar Knives. This marketing agreement was fairly short lived and the model was then re-launched as a Benchmade product. Benchmade took advantage of that change by quickly procuring large military contracts for the knife.
I can remember more than one barracks conversation during my own time in the 82Abn Division concerning the desirability of the U.S. Army issuing a heavy-duty, one-hand opening folder to parachute infantrymen. The Mk-2’s issued to jumpers from WW-II through the very early part of Vietnam were good but they were no longer in the supply system by the late 60’s. The orange-handled Airforce MC-1 “survival knife” was designed for people who hoped they would never have to make a parachute drop rather than infantrymen that jumped for a living. We all agreed it would be great to have a basic, utility folder, suited to a wide variety of field chores that also just happened to open at the push of a button. While it took another couple of decades for this to actually come to pass, the AFO was precisely what we were wishing for.
AFO II Enters The Fight
While not radically different from the original model, the AFO II has several notable improvements. The 154CM stainless blade (RC 58-60) is 3.56 inches long and .125-inch thick. The carry clip is reversible for tip-up or down, left- or right-hand carry. Along with the carry-clip, the knife comes standard with a very sturdy nylon belt pouch. There are four basic variations—stonewash finish with a straight edge or combo edge, or black coated in straight or combo edge. The handle is aluminum with a spine-mounted release safety. Changes to the AFO II also include a larger release button for use with gloves, a deeper self-guard on the handle frame, an open back for easier cleaning, and a built-in window breaker on the butt of the handle. The knife weights 5.80 ounces. Suggested retail prices range from $225 for the stonewashed straight edge model up to $245 for the black combo edge.
Once you get past the initial fascination of having the AFO II spring open, you find the knife is equivalent to any other working folder in the same general size range. Despite the myth that autos are only suitable for use by street thugs, there is no reason a push-button folder can’t be a totally utilitarian cutting tool. I’ve been carrying the new Benchmade around our farm for several weeks now, doing all my usual everyday cutting chores. Frankly, I haven’t found a single negative thing to say about it during this time. The handle is comfortable, the knife holds an edge well and, as expected, the serrations cut rope, nylon cord and webbing without problem.
Safeties on autos are always a bit of a contradiction. On one side of the coin, you want the knife to be instantly deployable with one hand, anything else defeats the purpose of it being spring loaded. But then you need to worry about mashing the release while it is in your pocket. While most autos have some type of sliding safety to prevent accidental releases, not all of them are really convenient for instant use. The spine-mounted safety on the AFO is completely accessible with the right forefinger before hitting the button with the thumb. If more speed is required, you will personally have to weigh the safety issue against the need to instantly deploy the knife. Let me add that this safety also locks the knife open so the blade cannot be accidentally released by depressing the button while in use.
The capability of being opened with either hand, even when injured, has long been considered one of the major advantages an auto has over other one-hand opening systems. As a left-hander, I can state it is not a problem to push the safety and hit the button with your left forefinger rather than your right forefinger and thumb.
Benchmade’s AFO can now rightly be considered a battle-proven standard among American military-issue knives. Moving up to the AFO II can only make this better. For more information, visit www.benchmade.com or call 800-800-7427.
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