If you need or want a pocket knife and don’t want to spend a third of your paycheck on it, there are a bevvy of options. Sorting through these options, however, is exceptionally difficult.
Not only are their hundreds of budget knives out there, but a lot of them are positively awful, many using steel from the inferior Cr series (8Cr13MoV being the most common and a bit below average, anything less, like 7Cr, should probably be a dealbreaker).
Among the many inexpensive knives out there, Buck makes some of the best blades. Most Buck knives are made in the USA, there are number of solid designs, and they all run Buck’s own 420HC. This steel is truly Buck’s secret advantage.
Here is why.
The steel performance of a knife relies on three things: the grind or blade geometry, steel chemistry, and heat treat. The secret to Buck’s 420HC stems from its heat treat.
Many years ago, Buck formed a working relationship with Paul Bos, Blade Hall of Fame member and probably the most famous heat treater in the world. Most steels come with instructions on how to heat treat them from the steel maker, but Bos modified 420HC’s heat treat protocol and in the process made the steel perform exceptionally well. His protocol is, of course, a trade secret and has been used by Buck even after his retirement—Paul Farner carries on Bos’s work at Buck.
Over the years, my experience with blade steels demonstrated to me that Buck’s 420HC really punched above its price point. Some digging and waiting proved this intuition to be true.
In the cutlery world, edge retention tests are done using a CATRA machine, which forces a knife to make a series of precise cuts in a standardized medium (usually thick, sand impregnated paper). These tests show that Buck’s 420HC performs better than other brands’ 420HC blades.
Similarly, and a bit more close to reality, Pete over at Cedric and Ada Outdoor performs a series of cut tests on blade steel and has developed a huge database. He cuts sisal rope until the blade no longer cleanly slices paper. In these tests Buck’s 420HC did quite well.
For example, the default “cheap knife steel” 8Cr13MoV made 39 cuts. Regular 420HC made 44 cuts. VG10 made 75 cuts. Buck’s 420HC, however, made 67 cuts. Buck’s 420HC can be found on knives that are as cheap or cheaper than 8Cr knives, and yet it cuts almost like the standard bearer from Japan, VG10. Note that D2 and 14C28N also do well here but they are usually found on knives a bit pricier. Pound for pound, or penny for penny, its very hard to beat Buck’s 420HC.
There are a lot of good knives from Buck that run their 420HC. I like the Vantage series, though, having owned two, they can be a bit spotty on the fit and finish. The venerable 110 is excellent, but ginormous. Its smaller brother, the 55 also sports the steel and look of the 110 in a package have the size. Finally, the Rival series is a very nicely designed knife that is both cheap and has a Buck 420HC blade. The only Buck I have handled that I would always avoid is the Spitfire and Mini Spitfire. Their fit and finish issues were beyond what is tolerable.
If you are in the market for a good work knife, something that won’t break the bank, the best value in the world in terms of steel is Buck’s 420HC. It has proven its value over many decades and it is truly a secret weapon.
Buy Now(Buck folding knives via BladeHQ)
Buy Now(Buck Rival Knife via Amazon)
I concur, I own two Buck Vantage Select small and a Buck Vantage Avid large, both in 420HC. The steel on these for the price is great. They are easy to sharpen and they hold a great edge, with standard use. The edge retention was much better than my US made Kershaw Link in 420HC. I also like the size on the small Buck Vantage, you pretty much forget it is clipped on your pocked and the smaller blade will take care of most all your EDC needs. My next Buck Vantage will be the Pro in S30V.
If you are ever in the Spokane area, they do factory tours. Just across the state line in Idaho.
I had the opportunity to do a wifi survey and walked every part of the building. As someone who geeks out watching how it’s made, it was a good day.
there may be better knives but at what cost?
you will never go wrong with a buck knife. i had to use one of my fixed blade buck knives to split the pelvis on a deer and through my fault i broke about 3/16 from the end of the blade. they would have replaced it but since it was a handle that was no longer offered and had been a gift they agreed to repair it. it came back reground and as good as new. that is priceless service.
Yes you can.
I’m not a big fan of their assisted opening folder. https://toolguyd.com/buck-inertia-knife-review/
But for the most part, my other Bucks are great, especially for the money.
I’ve used a buck vanguard hunting knife for years, and was never disappointed with it.
I switched to a mora knife a few years back, and it has taken the prime spot in my big game bag. Mostly because of the price/performance ratio… Its so good, and so cheap I could just throw it away and buy new rather than sharpen.
I recently picked up 2 buck 110 lt worth the cpm 154 blades and they’re great. A little blade play is to be expected.
It’s odd… When I was in Scouting, I swore by these types of classic locking blade, or fixed blade with sheath types. I didn’t trust a Victorinox/Swiss Army because it didn’t lock, and I didn’t really trust many other knives because they weren’t strong enough. I had a Millitary Surplus 8″ Survival Kit blade, and a kind of Made In China/Mexico no-name folder with lock that both lasted through everything I could put them through in 8 years of service.
But, ever since College, I’ve swung toward Multi-Tools, and Utility knives… So, with all these “Old Timers” here (Which kinda bothers me, since you guys are even more valuable for your experience than the title “Old Timer” denotes.), with Anthony and Stuart on the topic… I gotta ask… Is it common to move away from these folders? And, is there a reason I can’t seem to figure out if I need one of these anymore?
People did just fine before modern times typically with something like a carbon steel 3/32 or 5/32 thick, 6 inch butcher knife with a wooden handle paired with an axe for everything from skinning game to building a cabin. A super strong lock is not neccessary if you have a sharp knife and you are using it properly. Modern steel is vastly superior to earlier metallurgy, though sometimes manufacturers use really crappy steel to cut cost. A traditional trapper style folding knife or jacknife served many people just fine. Choose a blade for your needs. For EDC, a thin blade made of decent steel (420HC, 1075-1095, VG-10, or many other good steels), at about 3 inches with a nice thin point like a spearpoint, leaf, wharncliff, or modified sheep’s foot will be ideal. Don’t buy an overly thick or overbuilt pocket knife, that usually makes for a terrible knife. A utility blade is great if you often need to cut harsh or nasty things like carpet. Being able to skillfully sharpen a knife makes many knives practical. The knives on multitools such as Leatherman are just fine. Don’t bother with serrations unless you cut a lot of nylon. Don’t get caught up in the hype and you don’t need anything expensive. Not that it means much but I’m 26.
Buck does an excellent job on their steel.
Edge retention also depends on what you are using the tool for which determines the angle of the grind. The final and most important thing on an edge is a fine polish
The ONLY benefit of 420HC is that it can quickly be redharpened without using expensive sharpening tools but that’s because it’s so crappy that it dulls practically on its own. 420HC is a low-end, low-alloy steel, heat treated or not its still garbage. It’s used, mainly, by cheap, low-budget knife manufacturers to make, well, cheap, low-budget knives, this steel was also used to make machetes and swords but, as far as I know, people switched to steels you claim are worse a while ago, mainly because heat treating 420HC does make it harder but you can’t make gold out of clay and therefore the edge holding properties, toughness and any other attribute of “good” allow aren’t impressive. Sure, you can buy a Buck knife with a 42OHC blade and use it as a utility/ EDC, hoping that Buck was able to heat treat it so well that, despite the laws of physics and chemistry, it will somehow be better than all your previous 420HC experiences but you’ll be disappointed, mainly because no matter what you do… Super steels are as good as they are because they use Vanadium, Molybdenum, Niobium, Nitrogen, the melting process is done in vacuum by micro spray in most cases. I highly doubt that Buck knives suddenly built a foundry and licensed Crucible’s CPM tech, not at those prices. This knife is garbage and I don’t know how much Buck paid you to write this article but, do yourself a favor and take it down, otherwise your integrity is going to evaporate as quickly as a bleeding edge on a knife made of 420HC.
He’s an idiot buck Bos heat treatment is cryo heat treat quenched to 100 below 0.f. to cool then heated again lower temp to bring it back from brittle or chipping.most can’t get it rite that way.(hard)
Re- olig k.
My 55 years of using knives daily says you have no idea of what makes a great knife. Your chemistry, physics, and technical knowledge won’t prove true out in the real world. Remember if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Most models of Buck knives don’t need fixing. Dollar for dollar you will not find a better knife.
Oleg K which company of crappy 8cr13mov blades paid you for your comment? Kershaw?
Everyone who actually uses knives in the field knows Buck knives are excellent
Regardless of cost 420HC is a garbage steel which is the reason these are cheap. Give me any Japanese alloy blade over this.
Ive never had a buck in my collection that could actually hold an edge. I still have a few really old buck knives from when I was a kid that my dad gave me. I dont actually use them anymore because I prefer Spyderco,but the Bucks are built like tanks and heavy like one too.
Last knife I bought was Boker Kalishnikov mini. Specifically a version with S30V blade steel. That’s been a very good knife at what I consider a reasonable price. Think I paid less than $75 for it IIRC. Not cheap but not nearly Sebenza territory either.
I’ve been carrying a Buck 305 Lancer (or the 375 Chinese clone) for about 30 years; actually several of them as they are small enough I loose it every year or two and have to buy another. Day to day useful is very high yet it is small enough it doesn’t stand out as a lump in my pocket.
When the edge starts showing some wear a couple of strokes on my Crock Sticks corrects things.
Yikes! My comment caused me to go looking for another Lancer and it looks like it has been discontinued. Buck doesn’t list it anymore on their web site. Amazon was out too except for one private seller wanting about $90. (In their dreams.) I was able to find they still carry the 375, for as long as stock lasts I guess. I ordered 3 which should last me @10 years. 🙂
This may be one of those divided by a common language moments. I understand the keeness on firearms and when I am at home in Ireland at our kind of a farm there are various firearms available (though the younger generation seem to be more orientated towards crossbows and carbon fibre catapults with ball bearing ammunition) for vermin control. I understand the very expensive knives beautifully crafted which clearly belong in the same category as expensive wristwatches and pens. What I am failing to get is the differentiation between different kinds of workaday knives. I have knives that I use to perform tasks but I would really struggle to justify anything above the Olfas, Taijima bladed box cutters and Mora knives that are in my toolkits however they do not see much use. I can understand wanting to have a suitable knife for a specific function such as skinning deer however I do not get the impression that is the topic of discussion here. The nearest I can get is that my kitchen knives are Global made in Japan however these see daily use. I am genuinely curious.
You kinda hit it there with the firearms. In North America (Yes, I’m saying it’s true in my native Canada as well, though we have a much smaller population density, so it doesn’t appear from the outside to be the same.) there is a deep connection to preference for tools and weaponry.
If I was to randomly say “SPYDERCO SUCKS!!!” in one of these threads, those who are devoted to them would be very emotionally devoted to tearing me down for saying that. And there would be many others who would add their own bad experiences with Spyderco knives to my comment in my defense.
The truth is, I don’t believe Spyderco Sucks in the slightest. I have no opinion on them at all, in fact. But, I used them as an example of one of those brands that many of us on the other side of the Atlantic have an emotional attachment to.
(To the Spyderco/Anti-Spyderco fans out there: I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to get you riled up, I was just demonstrating a point that Redcastle was asking about. You guys are both okay in MY books any day!)
But, back to your question, Red. The big deal really isn’t one. It’s a very loud one, yes, but not big. It’s pure, unadulterated, passion for a brand. A hunter isn’t going to use a butter knife to skin a deer, this is true. There’s an element of necessity of use to all of these arguments, without a doubt. But, when so many of these knife users have ONE bad experience with a brand, they go searching for another to do the job. When they FIND a brand that doesn’t fail at whatever they use it for, they really become Cerberus from Greek Legend. A Three-Headed dog with a Snake’s tail, devoted to guarding the gates of the Underworld from those that might be unworthy. Every one of these people will fight tooth, nail, and snake’s tail to defend “The Knife Brand that Saved the Day” and argue that all others are Unworthy, just as Cerebus would.
The BIG deal is about finding the knife you genuinely NEED, and championing on with it. You don’t have to be forced into buying anything you don’t feel is right.
Now… I carry 4 Leatherman tools, and a DeWALT Folding/Retracting Utility Blade Knife on my belt every day. Many of the posters here would call me insane for trusting the 420HC blades used on my Leatherman tools, or the Carbide, Steel, and other materials used in the DeWALT knife. But, I don’t skin animals. I don’t need to cut through bone, even though the saw on the Leatherman Wave and Surge COULD do it easily. My setup isn’t for everyone, and many of these devoted knife users would probably argue I’m wrong. But no one HAS to listen to them. If we’re being honest, I’ve never needed to sharpen my Leatherman blades. The 420HC may go wrong for the knives being used elsewhere, but these suit me just fine. They do precisely what they were bought to do, and are quite enough for me. In fact, if they were any sharper, I’d be worried I’d cut myself putting them away.
You are not imagining things when you see us all put up a fuss over specific alloys, or specific knives. We’re very passionate people when it comes to OUR BRANDS. Though, if I’m being totally honest… I’m somewhat softening with that, and losing some of my fire. I have weakened quite a bit with my acceptance of the DeWALT versus Milwaukee debates. I’m a DeWALT OWNER, but I consider the point at which someone is stepping up to choose between “Red or Yellow” to be a deeply defining personal stage, and I no longer think it’s up to me to have an opinion which way someone goes at that stage. They’ve both balanced out as a single level of tools on the progress ladder. I think very highly of other tool companies for specific things, and many of those things are NOT on “My Team” so to speak. The same goes for these Knives. There’s a lot of give and take going on between the brands, with MANY good points to be made!
fantastic informative post. I like seeing a reasonable thread on knives and knife use with some verifiable basic scientific information.
And so it goes there are reasonable priced useable knives out there for people willing to put a modicum of effort sharpening the thing they use often.
Jacob James Sebastien
Buck definitely upped their quality control with the Buck Spitfire now, it is a Very Solid an Slim pocket knife, An Very Strong Lock Up With Absolutely NO Blade play in Any Direction” Luv my Spitfire #722 💪🇺🇸
My spitfire is also solid and wish someday they upgrade blade to there heat treated CPM s30v only if sells very well they might?
Buck s30v is as good or better heat treated than four times the price Chris reeves s30v.also bucks back locks stronger than Chris reeves frame locks,it’s been tested,also bucks prices are for average people who need knives
I have the Buck Selkirk 835 pocket folder that I LOVE LOVE LOVE!! It’s beautifully designed, functional, and, well made. It’s manufactured in China and 420HC. Even though I do love it, I’m reluctant to use it as my EDC because, yes, it does have to be touched-up more often than my current EDC (way more), and, I’m afraid of it chipping out, as other 420HC knives have done on me just through general use.
I just wonder why Buck has moved away from using it’s own 420HC in many of its newer American-made models if it’s really all that great. If it’s to compete with the newer steels, then isn’t it the same as sacrificing integrity? I mean, when you do one thing really well, then that is what you stick with; you don’t need to change the formula. Any successful entrepreneur can testify to this.
Maybe they realize, that, with all the newer and better steels (and now more affordable than ever), that, 420HC is becoming obsolete, especially at Buck’s prices? You’re basically paying for the name at this point.
There is a huge percentage of the knife market that only buys American-made and Buck could thrive off of just that if they recalled all their overseas operations home. Conversely, there is a huge percentage they have alienated that absolutely WILL NOT BUY their Chinese-made knives.
Maybe Oleg K is right and you “can’t make gold out of clay”? Without even mentioning a competing brand, he’s perceived as being paid to trash Buck. Let’s face it, he’s right – even at it’s best configuration, 420HC will still always be 420HC.
It’s just time the matter is resolved once and for all. 420HC still has its place in the market, just not at $50+ for a small folder when you can find a knife with better all-around options at the same price.