Pat Cascio’s Product Review: Benchmade’s Impel Automatic Folder

If ever there was a true gentleman, that person would be my friend– the late Grandmaster of American Kenpo Karate, John McSweeney. McSweeney was responsible for introducing American Kenpo Karate to Ireland many years ago. To be sure, McSweeney, was one of Ed Parker’s Black Belts, and if you don’t know who Ed Parker was, Google him. He was the Grandmaster of Kenpo Karate. Even Elvis Presley was one of Parker’s Black Belts. However, what I’m discussing here is a true gentleman, and John McSweeney was certainly at the top of the list, in my book. John knew how to treat women, and he knew all the rules of etiquette, too. Of course, underneath that gentleman was a true warrior, in every sense of the word.

This brings me to the subject of knives. McSweeney loved knives, all kinds of knives, and he taught knife fighting skills, as well as self defense against knife attacks. There is even a video out there of McSweeney teaching his method of knife fighting. I’m tying this all together with the Benchmade Knives Impel gentleman’s folder, a knife designed for the gentleman hidden in all of us.

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Back in the 1950s, it was very stylish for gentlemen to not only dress nicely but to also carry a small folding knife in their pocket; they carried a stylish folder for some of the chores that might require a cutting tool. I still remember when I was a kid growing up in Chicago in the 1950s, I saw many older gents in the neighborhood, whittling on a piece of wood to pass the time of day or using a small folding knife to clean beneath their finger nails. I’m not exactly sure when I started carrying a folding knife, but it was early on– maybe when I was five or six years old, but I carried larger folding knives, and I still do. Can you imagine what would happen today if your child were caught carrying a folding knife, or any knife, in school these days? Almost every place, it’s an automatic one-year expulsion from school. How upside down can this world be any longer?

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My oldest daughter bought me a small folding knife for my birthday one year. I want to say that she was about four or five years old; she’s now getting ready to turn 35. I carried it for many years and still have it. However, it wasn’t a gentleman’s folder, which has a small single blade and a nail file. It wasn’t anything fancy; it was just a small using folder. So, I guess that’s about as close as I’ve ever come to owning a gentleman’s folder in my life.

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Occasionally, I still see well-dressed men, pulling a small folding knife out of their pocket and using it to open mail or clean beneath their finger nails. To be sure, many are carrying stylish, small folding knives. It amazes me today when I see a man who is well-dressed in today’s society. It seems like we all dress-down. I’m guilty of it myself. Last time I wore a suit was when my oldest daughter graduated from college, and that was at least 12-14 years ago. My daily wear consists of cargo pants, a t-shirt, and hikers– the same “uniform” each day. I think things started to change back in the 1960s, during the “Hippie” era. To be sure, I was never a Hippie; I never had long hair or acted that way.

There are some really nice and expensive gent folders out there these days. Some custom knife makers only produce gent’s folders, and there is a big market for this type of knife. I recently received the Impel automatic folder, and one doesn’t usually associate an automatic folder as being a Gent’s knife. However, in my humble opinion, the Impel is without a doubt a Gent’s folder.

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A quick look at the Impel shows that it has a small 1.98-inch long blade, manufactured out of S30V premium stainless steel– one of the better powdered metals used for knife blades. Rockwell hardness is 58-60, which is just right for this stainless steel. The blade is a modified drop point– one of the most popular blade designs and great for all kinds of chores. The handle scales are machine aluminum with super-tough G-10 inlays in the handle scales and a tip-down pocket/clothing clip. Then we have the push button for fast automatic opening. We also have a manual safety on the Impel that locks the blade closed, so there are no worries about it accidentally opening when in your pocket. However, I’ve owned a lot of automatic folders over the years and have never used any safety; it only slows down opening the knife, if you have to search for the safety with your thumb to take it “off” in order to open the knife. The Impel was designed by custom knife maker Matthew Lerch, who is well-known in the knife industry, and this isn’t his first collaboration with Benchmade, either.

A close examination of the Impel shows the usual high-quality one expects from Benchmade. The knife is absolutely flawless in all respects. I’ve owned custom-made knives that weren’t as nicely made as the Impel. I like the G10 inlays in the aluminum handle scales. It’s a nice touch!

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With the 1.98-inch long blade, the Impel is perfect for opening UPS/FedEx packages that arrive almost daily at my digs. A quick “zip” through the sealing tape and a package is opened for me. The Impel is also great for opening letters instead of using a letter opener. The Impel is more efficient at this task, if you ask me. I removed a splinter from my hand with the Impel.

I tested blade sharpness by cutting some cotton clothes line, and the Impel zipped right through it. I also tested blade sharpness on some poly rope; the Impel sliced right through it, too. Another good test is shaving the edge of newsprint if you want to test how sharp a knife’s blade is. Many simply won’t shave newsprint, but it was no problem with the Impel, and even though I’m no gentleman (my wife says I am) I used the Impel to clean beneath my finger nails. However, one needs to go VERY carefully with the Impel’s needle-like point and the overall sharpness of the blade. While I didn’t cut myself while cleaning beneath my finger nails, I can easily see that happening, if one doesn’t pay attention.

So, where does the Impel fit into the scheme of things, when it comes to survival? That’s a good question. I’m sure this will be open to debate. Having spent 35 years in the martial arts and teaching knife fighting and knife defense skills to students, I can see the Impel being used as a weapon of last resort, if one’s life is in danger. The Impel could be used to jab a person in the eyes. If an attacker can’t see you, they can’t harm you. In a last ditch move, the Impel could be use to severe a ceratoid artery in the neck. You don’t have to have a long blade to reach an artery in the neck; not at all. The Impel can also be used out camping or in a survival situation to make a “fuzzy stick” to aid in starting a fire. It can even be used to dress out small game, like a rabbit for a meal.

My understanding is, and I could be mistaken on this, the Impel with it’s 1.98-inch blade is legal in California, even though it is an automatic opening folder. I recall reading some place that if the blade is two inches or under, it is legal in California. Plus, many police officers, who might have reason to pat you down, wouldn’t think that a knife with such a short blade would be considered a weapon of any sort, either. [Editors Note: Californians, you are responsible for ensuring compliance with your state and local laws.]

I would mention that when you press the button to open the blade on the Impel, make sure you have a good grip on the little knife; the coiled spring really slings that blade open, and on more than one occasion the knife left my hand because I didn’t have a good enough hold on it. I didn’t expect the spring to be that powerful.

Full retail pricing on the Impel is $165. That’s quite a bargain in my book. We are talking custom-quality in a Gent’s folding knife. It’s one that you would be proud to show off, while cleaning beneath your finger nails during a boring meeting. Little knives DO have their place!

– Senior Product Review Editor, Pat Cascio

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