Fixed Blade Fight: Busses v. Barkies
Tony Sculimbrene 10.22.13
It happens to every geek gear. A little bug bites you and the next thing you know, you’re on a frantic search for information. You’re watching YouTube videos like they contain a hidden code that will reveal the location of the Holy Grail. You’re searching forum boards for details and Google images for pictures (God love those people that do size comparison shots). At some point you realize that you are in research mode, a form of Gear Geek bliss second only to “outdoor use” and “unboxing” bliss. I am right there right now. The thing I am researching is a small EDC fixed blade.
I am not a huge fixed blade user. I have a few, an Ontario RD-7,
which is a decent knife with a sheath that seems to be designed by someone trying to sabotage Ontario with a product liability class action lawsuit. I also have a Skyline fixed blade which is an incredible design with a comically large and bad sheath. Both lack that next level of refinement and I’d like to get a fixed blade that I can carry with me on hikes without taking it out of my pocket. Basically I want the ESEE Candiru with handle scales and slightly better steel.
I’d also like a KYDEX sheath. And yes, I know I am picky.
Listening to the Knife Thursday podcast, I heard JR talk about the utility of a good small fixed blade. Between that and recent trips into the great outdoors, I began to think I just might be better off with a small fixed blade instead of a folder. Plus, the premium small fixed blade market is something I don’t know a ton about, but the research has led me to the point of one of the great brand battles of all time. It’s not as publicized as the “Nintendo v. Sega” battle of the early 90s or the great AT&T v. Verizon battles now, but its participants are even more staunch and, well, they are armed.
It’s a great comparison too because these two companies have about as different approach to the market as is possible. Busse markets their knives as combat ready war tools while Bark River goes old school with hunting and bushcraft as their main proposed use. Busse makes models when they want and then phases them out when they are all sold. Busse releases are so erratic and rare that if you see something you want, you’d better buy it now. (By the way, Anniversary Battle Mistress = pure steel sexiness.) Bark River has a production schedule and ample supply. If you want a Barkie you can probably find it. Busse’s idea of options includes different colors of their trademark cake frosting-thick powder coat, while Barkies come in roughly 10.98×10 handle materials and colors. Busse doesn’t do sheathes, while Barkies come in sheathes that would not be out of place in the 1870s. These companies represent two radically different approaches to the same market niche. Their fans are equally ardent and different.
I come to this war as a brand agnostic. I know what I want: a tough as nails fixed blade that is still easily pocketable. The Busse Mean Street and Mini Fox River (both available) fit that bill. These are two really amazing pieces of cutlery and yet another exhibit in the argument that we are in the midst of a Golden Era of Gear. There have always been great fixed blades, but never this cheap, this plentiful, or with this level of high performing steels. The Morseths, Morans, and Randalls of the world were and are great, but they were never really widely and readily available. Once you adjust for inflation, they were pretty expensive and, because they were custom made, there were never a ton of them. Now there are Busses and Barkies that are just a click away.
In the end I think I am coming down on the side of the Barkies, the PSK in particular. I love the Mean Street, but I come to the EDC world and the knife world through woodworking so I am blown away by the variety of handle scales. I am also eager to try out the always tricky-to-make convex edge. It provides so much support behind the actual cutting bevel that the knife behaves and sharpens differently from a hollow or flat ground blade. Finally, I’ll just come out and say it: I want a sheath. Busses don’t come with sheathes. I get it. I understand why (it’s so you can get one made to your specs), but come on. Throw in a simple KYDEX number so that I can at least play with the blade while waiting for my custom number to be made.
It also has to do with the PSK’s dimensions. This is a tiny blade. I get that, but that is what I want. I want something I can drop in a pocket and not attract attention. I want to be able to run and hike with it and not have it feel like I am carrying a pocket full of lead. I also like the wide blade shape. A fixed blade EDC that I would use will have a lot of fire prep work ahead of it. It will also have a lot of package opening tasks in its future. A wide blade just makes these things a bit easier.
I am, by no means, done looking at fixed blades. I have also not become a Bark River convert, though I could see it happening. The Busse allure is too strong, though. It’s hard to resist powder coat as thick as one of my philosophy term papers in graduate school and a steel that seems to be left over from Weapon X. A Battle Mistress is in my future. I know it is. But for now, given what I am looking for, I think I am going to have to come down on the side of the Barkies. One can resist the call of a convex blade for only so long and then it has you in its thrall.That, and who can pass up a knife with dinosaur bone in the handle?