Buck Marksman Review
Tony Sculimbrene 11.30.15
If Thomas Edison made knives, he’d be Grant and Gavin Hawk. The number of unique designs and innovations that pour out of the Hawk’s design studio and workshop in Idaho is staggering. From the MUDD (a knife with a sealed pivot) to the new Deadlock OTF Switchblade (with zero blade play, an OTF first), the creativity the father and son team have displayed is unmatched in the knife world. They are really the closest we have to an Edison.
In the past they have done collaborations with ZT, Kershaw and Christ Reeve (the Ti Lock is slowly moving up my list of knives I need to review). The Marksman is their first collaboration with Buck, and boy is it a crazy knife. The strap-style lock has been done in other ways, first by Pat Crawford, then scaled up to production levels by AG Russell (with Crawford’s blessing) and more recently by Andrew Demko with his AD-15, but the Hawk take on it is completely different. Here, the lock is not only super strong and super secure, but it is also used to propel the blade open and to propel it closed. This is an assisted opening and closing knife. Such a blade could come only from the mind of the Hawks.
The question is whether this feature makes the knife a gimmick or just a slick part of a very good knife. Read on to find out.
The Buck Marksman is a midsize folding knife with a 3.5 inch blade made of 154CM. The 154CM has Buck’s very excellent Bos heat treat, which, in my experience, makes steels punch well above their chemistry. Their 420HC that has undergone the Bos heat treat performs very well, more like AUS-8 or even VG-10 than other 420HC steels, such as those from Kershaw or Leatherman. It has an aluminum handle with a deep carry, over the top pocket clip. The knife deploys with either a thumb hole or a flipper. The blade rides on caged bearings. The blade is a hollow ground drop point design similar to, but larger than, the one found on the underrated Buck Vantage series.
Because of the handle material, the entire knife is quite light for the size, hitting four ounces on the nose. The lock is user-adjustable, one of only two production knives that I know of that offer the feature (the other is a Viper knife called the Technocut Free). Once dialed in, I found that the lock remained secure and in place over months of carry and use.
The Marksman was my annual vacation knife purchase so it got a full week of exclusive use outdoors hiking, doing food prep, and hanging out around the ocean. It was quite good in those roles, though being an August vacation, I was wearing shorts a lot and a knife of this footprint isn’t great in shorts, especially if, like me, you prefer smaller and lighter blades. When I got home I continued to mix the Marksman into my testing regime.
From the perspective of the blade shape this is a very conservative design. From just about every other perspective, this thing is downright avante garde, especially compared to the boring…er…traditional Buck line up. As a blueprint, this knife is quite complex. The locking system requires very precise cuts in the rear tang of the knife, and all of the cuts have to align perfectly when all of the pieces are together. I am not sure the user adjustable feature was design as that or as a way to tweak the knife post-assembly. Either way the interaction between the lock and the flipper is mesmerizing.
All of the design features run the risk of being clunky when put together. If not done just right, the crazy lock and the speedy flipper and the aluminum handle could come out as a pile of junk. Fortunately, they don’t. It all starts with the lock. Buck made the lock work perfectly. Once dialed in and cinched down, the strap never moved over months of use. This, in turn, made the “assist” for both opening and closing the knife work very well.
A word about 154CM: it’s still a very competent steel. In the Marksman, I have nothing to complain about with this steel. It cut through wood, paper, cardboard, cheese, apples, bread, and all sorts of other stuff with ease. I have touched it up on a strop, but only twice since August. Compared to the 154CM I have used on Emersons and Benchmades I like this formulation better. I don’t think I have a large enough sample size to say that the Bos heat treat is the difference, but given my experience with it on Buck’s 420HC, I can’t rule out the possibility that this proprietary heat treat adds to the steel significantly.
I have mentioned this before, but it’s worth mentioning again: the Bos heat treat is a real competitive advantage for Buck, allowing them to use lesser steels without sacrificing performance. I am not a metallurgist, but folks that are more knowledgeable than I am like Mike Stewart and Ethan Becker make pretty compelling cases regarding the benefits of a good heat treat. Slowly I am accumulating enough experience to add my voice to that chorus.
The Marksman is an innovative, interesting, and fun to use knife. It’s all USA Made, and it’s quite good in terms of its size and weight. The steel is excellent, and it cuts like a demon thanks to a pronounced hollow grind. This is NOT just a gimmick. This is a really solid blade and one that is very competitive in the market right now. I am not the only reviewer to like the Marksman–Dan loved it too. I think the Paramilitary 2 is probably better, but it’s not an open and shut case. Given how amazing the PM2 is, that’s quite a complement. The Idaho design team and the Idaho production company make excellent partners, and this is one excellent knife.