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The Benchmade AFO 2 Automatic (“switchblade”) is designed with a number of tactical features, but it is just compact and light enough to serve as an everyday carry utility knife. Appropriately, the company describes it as an “enhanced-utility” knife. Check your local laws, of course; the elite rulers do whatever they please, but they heavily regulate what objects we can possess. Mine came with a discreet canvas sheath, a MOLLE compatible plastic clip, and a nifty little dogtag survival kit. Get the exact same combo here.
NOTE: Due to typical government silliness, federal law prohibits the interstate retail sale of switchblades, but if your merchant has a distribution center in your state, that’s not a problem. It just makes it more expensive.
When I went shopping for a new folding auto, I was not particularly interested in its tactical or self-defense applications; I was more interested in a utility knife. About 90% of the time I reach for a knife, I’m opening an envelope or package, or cutting a string. Occasionally I carve a toothpick. Rarely, (actually, NEVER YET) do I use it in a real combat situation.
[Edit 24 April 2015] I was unwilling to do a torture test on my brand new AFO 2, but Benchmade did one for us:
Features of the Benchmade AFO 2 Automatic
Here are some factors I considered when I chose the AFO 2, not necessarily in order of importance:
- Size. I wanted it small enough to fit comfortably in my pocket or on the belt. The AFO 2 is 5 inches closed, 8.5 inches open.
- Weight. Too heavy, and I would only leave it behind. The AFO 2 weighs just less than 6 oz.
- Discretion. I love my cross-draw ESEE 3, but it is not discreet. I wanted something I could carry into a business meeting or a nice restaurant. The AFO 2 has a belt clip that can be positioned 4 different ways, and comes with a small, black sheath that fits on your belt or is MOLLE compatible for attaching to a pack.
- Glass breaker. This was a factor, but not a deal-breaker. I’ve never had to use one, but I’d like to be able to, just in case.
- Safety lock. I don’t like recessed buttons; I like them to stick out so I can easily feel them. That makes them susceptible to opening in your pocket, so a safety lock is useful. I actually don’t use it that much, but it’s nice to set it when I put the knife out where children might reach it. My only complaint is that I’d rather have the lock on the side, behind the button, instead of on the spine. It’s a very minor gripe, though.
- Pronounced finger choil. The AFO 2 has a deep finger choil, which allows for a lot of force on the bladework. It’s a little far back behind the cutting edge to be suitable for long stints of carving, but you can choke up over the hilt if you’re careful. For this reason, it would be useful to have some jimping on the blade.
- Steep thumb ramp. Although the jimping is cut rather smooth, that’s not a problem because the ramp is so steep, again allowing a good bit of force.
- Flat blade stop pin. Cheaper autos have a cylindrical stop pin, which eventual indents the spine, causing the blade to play in the open position. Not good. The AFO 2 has a flat stop, so you have a much broader contact area.
- Stainless steel. I’m a great fan of high-carbon steels, but not in a folder. The AFO 2 is made with 154CM steel hardened to between 58 and 61 Rc. This is rather hard, so it will keep an edge longer, but take more work to sharpen. It’s more brittle than my ESEE knives, but well suited to its intended purposes.
The handle is 6061 T-6 black anodized aluminum. It is very stout, and 0.6 inches thick. Only very small hands will find it too bulky.
Benchmade AFO 2 Photo Gallery
AFO stands for “Armed Forces Only,” but that moniker is just a relic of a thankfully bygone era in which autos were forbidden for civilian carry almost everywhere. Many jurisdictions are now relaxing prohibitions on civilian carry. List of US switchblade laws by state. The AFO 2 is an update of the original 9050 AFO that was famously used in all four branches of the US military. The update increased the size of the release button and button lock mechanism, added jimping, steeper ramps, a glass breaker, an open back-spacer for easier maintenance, and a stiffer spring for faster opening and greater safety.
Also Consider the Benchmade 4300 CLA
There are more compact selections at Benchmade. One I’m especially pleased to recommend is the brand new 4300 CLA (“Composite Light Auto”). Impressed with its sleek but rugged appearance, I spoke with one of those involved in the design at Benchmade, and he confirmed that it was specifically designed for those seeking a smaller, lighter auto for the pocket; it weighs less than 4 oz. It has the lock on the side of the handle instead of the spine, which is ergonomically more efficient, and it weighs a third less than the AFO 2, largely due to the G10 handle construction. If I have only one EDC automatic, I prefer an anodized aluminum handle, which is harder, and a hardened pommel, preferably a glass-breaker. Because of those preferences, I chose the AFO 2 even though it is heavier and slightly larger. Like the AFO 2, the 4300 CLA is available in satin or black, plain or serrated edge. The 4300 CLA is not available with a Tanto blade. The belt clip is reversible, but only in a tip-up configuration.
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