The Presidio II and Claymore are convenient, fast and flicking fun!
There’s really nothing like a quality folding knife, especially one you can deploy quickly. Over the decades, a particular model fitting this motif of folding knife, called the “switchblade,” has developed a colorful history. To some of us, this conjures up images of ducktail hairdos, stiletto knives and sock hops.
In fact, some federal legislation was anchored in 1958 to try and curtail the growing “menace” of the quick-opening pocketknife. More recently, the term, “auto,” has been used to describe a folding knife that can be rapidly opened by some mechanism, such as a push button.
Perhaps more notably, laws regarding these knives have been relaxing in the last several years. Benchmade, which has crafted quality cutlery options over the last three decades, is leading the way with some outstanding options, such as the Auto Presidio II and the Claymore.
I’ve used Benchmade knives personally and professionally for a number of years. Because of my varied, outdoor-based forms of recreation and a number of tours in law enforcement, wildland fire, EMS, search-and-rescue and emergency management, I’ve found that this brand offers high-quality products that are dependable.
While adding more moving parts or functionality to a simple folding knife presents opportunities for failure, Benchmade hits the mark in a couple of unique platforms that offer absolute performance for the price.
Auto Presidio II
The Auto Presidio II is a beast of a folding knife! Gripping it in the hand, it’s rugged, substantial and feels as if you could use it to pry a turret off a tank. The overall impression is very tactical (it has a muted bronze grip and gray blade coating) and beefy. This isn’t a pocket whittler; it’s an auto knife built for hard use.
“The Auto Presidio II is a beast of a folding knife. Gripping it in the hand, it’s rugged, substantial and feels as if you could use it to pry a turret off a tank.”
The grip is simply marvelous, and many design features combine to provide outstanding traction. First, the overall shape reveals a slight swell toward the rear, filling the palm. Next, near the pivot, the grip curves outward along the spine and underneath, forming a quillion to arrest the hand from slipping forward onto the blade. Jimping on both of these surfaces supports this worthy effort.
Finally, the thickness of the grip, along with ribs machined into the outer surfaces, makes for a knife that won’t easily slip from the user’s hand. While it’s heavier at 6.32 ounces than the Claymore, it isn’t cumbersome in the least, thanks to the aluminum grip.
Another added feature is a lanyard hole through the end of the frame through which the clip is mounted. This extra utility was carefully added so as not to interfere with the knife opening or closing.
Within that grip lies the method of blade deployment: the much-vaunted Auto AXIS mechanism. I’ve been using AXIS lock knives for a while and have found them to be a marvelous way to open a knife that works well for right-handed and left-handed users. For the uninitiated, simply pinch the frame between the palm and fingers and then use the index finger and thumb to pull back on both studs. This frees the blade to arc outward until it locks into place.
Closing the blade means pulling back on the studs again and then pushing the spine of the blade until it folds back into the grip, locking into place again. The blade can’t return to the closed position until the Auto AXIS is retracted. Benchmade also tests this mechanism for failure, and it is tough, assuring the blade won’t close on your fingers.
There’s also a jimped lock switch mounted along the spine between the liners. Pushing it toward the pivot activates the lock with a click! Pulling it back deactivates the safety feature. The lock disables the Auto AXIS’s ability to move, effectively preventing the blade from opening when closed or from closing, once opened.
The 3.72-inch blade, itself, is a drop-point configuration with about half of the edge that’s near the pivot serrated. While it’s a drop point, it almost looks like a spear point, with the swedge along the spine giving aid to this impression. I’ve come to find this style of blade highly functional: The serration gives a great start for rough cuts that save the standard edge for the finer stuff. Between the serrated section and the handle is a small, but functional, choil. The CPM-M4 steel chewed up everything I threw at it—and asked for more. It also touched up nicely on a ceramic sharpener without much effort. This steel truly lives up to its reputation.
The Auto Presidio II has a metal clip that’s considered “deep carry.” This means the knife mostly sits out of view below the pocket line. The clip is sturdy and has a nice opening where it interfaces with the pocket, making the folder easy to stow. It’s also sufficiently strong so you don’t have to worry about the blade slipping out of your pocket on a bike, motorcycle or other inclined position. This clip is reversible (using two small Torx bolts) and allows the user to configure it for left- or right-hand draw from the tip-up position.
Finally, the Auto Presidio II comes with a couple of extra accessories that enable you to customize how you carry the auto knife with you. A black, tactical nylon sheath was included in the box. This sheath was PALS-/MOLLE-compatible and, at first blush, seemed pretty straightforward because of a flap over the top that uses hooks-and-loops to retain the knife. However, I learned that users could also fold the flap back onto itself and configure the sheath like a taco pouch.
There are also a bungee cord and toggle that allow users to adjust retention tightness to their preference. Included with this sheath is a black, MALICE CLIP from Tactical Tailor. This wonderful piece of plastic makes mounting PALS/MOLLE accessories easier and more secure.
At first, I wasn’t sure what the reference to “Claymore” meant; whether it referred to the Scottish sword of historic fame or the M-18 Claymore mine. Subtle clues, such as the raised dashes and dots along the top of the grip, provided the answer.
Upon investigating, I learned these dashes and dots spell out “F-T-E” in Morse code and stand for “front toward enemy.” A small pocketknife couldn’t reasonably be likened to an enormous, two-handed sword. On the other hand, drawing the comparison to a small, but highly explosive, device implies a big bang in a small package. Thus, the Claymore is aptly named.
“ … Benchmade hits the mark in a couple of unique platforms that offer absolute performance for the price.”
First impressions of this knife are decidedly more militant in appearance. It offers a ranger-green grip and flat-black coating on the blade. The only exception to this theme is the stainless steel release button mounted on one side that’s positioned for the right thumb of the grip. It’s also more svelte, thinner and lighter, tipping the scales at only 3.5 ounces.
The grip is made of Grivory, a tough thermo-plastic, and it features ribs with larger fields in between that are covered in textured bumps to add control. This approach works well without being overly abrasive to clothing or your hands. Much like the grip of the Auto Presidio II, the Claymore’s grip swells near the pivot to create a quillion, and there’s also jimping on the top and bottom to prevent hand slippage onto the blade. Interestingly, there are no full-length liners in this knife, although the grip remains rigid despite this. The grip also features a lanyard hole that doesn’t interfere with the blade’s movement.
“There’s really nothing like a quality folding knife, especially one you can deploy quickly.”
The deployment feature on this knife is a simple push button that’s mounted on one side of the grip, near the pivot. The way this is designed, right-handers will feel perfectly indexed with the back of the grip in the palm of their hand and the button near their thumb. Southpaws will have to adapt.
I found that using a thumb-over grip, with my index finger pushing the button, worked just fine. Closing the knife involves pushing the release button once again and then applying pressure to the spine of the blade until it swings closed and locks into the grip.
“I’ve come to find this style of blade highly functional: The serration gives a great start for rough cuts that save the standard edge for the finer stuff.”
There’s a lock next to the release button. It’s a toggle that can be pushed forward or pulled back. Bright-red paint underneath the lock (similar to some firearms) indicates when the Claymore is “off safety” and ready to deploy. As on the Auto Presidio II, this lock deactivates the button, preventing users from opening the knife when closed or closing it once it’s opened.
The 3.6-inch blade of the Claymore is made from CPM D2. This is a processed version of the venerable D2 tool steel that’s been powderized and re-smelted, giving the final metal more-balanced properties and better edge retention. A true drop-point shape, the swedge and grind line actually sweep up toward the tip—almost reminiscent of a clip point.
Again, once I tested it, I found the combination of serrated and straight edge very capable of slicing through a number of various materials. After running through a cutting test, the Claymore still shaved hair.
While auto knives are increasingly becoming legally accepted in approximately 40 states across America, don’t assume this is true in your neck of the woods. Ignorance of the law is not a defense. More importantly, you might have to dig a little deeper than simply using the Internet for your research. I’ve seen areas for which state law indicates one thing is permissible, while a city ordinance absolutely prohibits the same thing. Do some research and find out the hurdles (if any) in your area. Keep in mind that if you travel, the rules might change significantly.
The utter convenience of being able to quickly open a knife with a single hand is outstanding. Without a truly scientific method of measuring the deployment speed, I’m relegated to using a word such as “quickly.” Nevertheless, I can tell you that both blades open in less than a second, even though the Benchmade Auto Presidio II and Claymore are high-quality knives with different approaches.
“ … I wasn’t sure what the reference to ‘Claymore’ meant; whether it referred to the Scottish sword of historic fame or the M-18 Claymore mine. Subtle clues, such as the raised dashes and dots along the top of the grip, provided the answer.”
The Auto Presidio II is definitely the more “tank-like” of the two—a girthy beast ready to slog through just about anything. Mount this up to your plate carrier or belt or stuff it into the included pouch, and you’re ready to go.
The Claymore takes a lighter, and perhaps swifter, approach while still providing superb cutting power. I could easily tuck this into the pocket of some slacks, a suit coat inner pocket or a classic pair of blue jeans without being weighed down in the least.
All in all, both options will get the job done and provide years of service.
In 1980, Les de Asis formed Bali-Song (in California), a company dedicated to the production of handmade knives of the same style. This company grew over the next several years but eventually morphed into Pacific Cutlery Corp., which ran until 1988.
Taking the lessons learned from these early ventures, Les relaunched with “Benchmade”—a name that was meant to describe the company’s efforts of combining manufacturing and custom work to create quality, handmade knives. Now based in Oregon, Benchmade still carries on this tradition and assembles all its products in the United States.
A version of this article first appeared in the October 2021 print issue of American Outdoor Guide.
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