You may have noticed a lack of reviews of Buck knives. I have nothing against Buck. I reviewed the Vantage a couple years back, and haven’t gotten around to reviewing anything else because nothing else in their lineup interested me that much. Eventually I will get around to reviewing the 110 as part of a small series I am doing on classic knives, but beyond that the stuff from Buck hasn’t grabbed my attention. That is, until I saw the Marksman.
The Marksman is a collaboration with Grant and Gavin Hawk. Grant and Gavin are known for pushing the envelope with unique designs and locking mechanisms. They have done a number of collaborations with Kershaw, Chris Reeve, and Zero Tolerance. I think it was especially cool that they teamed up with Buck, because Buck is so well known as a very traditional brand, and Grant and Gavin are so well known for re-imagining the folding knife. It is an interesting juxtaposition, and it definitely got my attention. Toss in a 154CM blade, bearings, “made in the USA” quality, and a retail price of under $100, and I’m thinking there might be room for another Buck review on this website.
General Dimensions and Blade Details
The Marksman has an overall length of 8.25″, a 3.5″ blade, and weighs 4.3 ounces. This full size knife feels surprisingly lightweight thanks to the aluminum handle. I have mostly been using the Marksman for yard work and weekend chores, and it has made a great carry for those heavier duty applications. I have cut down bamboo, busted open zip ties, broken down boxes, and performed mild food prep. The Marksman cuts well and is lightweight and functional. It’s the kind of user knife like the Benchmade Volli, Hogue EX04, and Cold Steel American Lawman, that manages to remain in my collection. For whatever reason, most of my fancier knives end up getting sold, but I have a hell of a time parting ways with a good user.
The blade shape of the Marksman is classic Buck drop point. It has the oval thumb hole that they seem to favor, and the design is mild mannered when compared to the handle. It’s also a functional blade shape with a sturdy tip and high hollow grind. The blade has been left with a matte finish which isn’t anything too spectacular. You can still see some rough grind lines and the finish will pick up scuffs and scratches. The laser etched logos on the blade also has shown signs of wear and have faded after the occasional application of Bar Keepers Friend (a metal cleaner). I photographed the knife after using it regularly for a couple months and you can see how the black laser etching has been scrubbed away. I consider this a “happy accident” as I’m a big fan of sterile blades.
Buck went with good ole 154 CM stainless steel heat treated by Paul Bos. The edge has held up well and the Marksman is a fantastic cutter. I have mentioned earlier how I have been using this knife pretty hard (for me at least) and I have been pleased with the performance. It keeps a good edge yet remains easy to sharpen. I have always been a fan of 154CM so I am not particularly surprised by my experience. I will say that I have had 154CM rust on me a little on more than one occasion, so you need to keep an eye on it, especially if you are going to use the knife for food prep and not clean it like I have on several occasions. If you don’t let the knife get too crusty, a little of that Bar Keepers Friend will bring it back to new.
Handle, Ergonomics, and Pocket Clip
The Marksman has a black anodized aluminum handle with a steel backspacer. This makes for a lightweight and strong handle. The anodization on the aluminum has held up well and there are grooves milled into the handle for a little texture and visual interest. The backspacer integrates with the strap lock (more on that below) so you have something of a “closed construction” design. While aluminum isn’t the most sexy of handle materials, it is very practical. I think it suits the design of this knife. Although it first appears as if there is a lot going on with this knife, at the end of the day construction is simple and sturdy. All the pieces have been nicely finished and the handle has been well executed.
The Marksman is a full size knife. Ergonomically it is straightforward and performs like you would expect. What impresses me most when I use the Marksman is how nice and light it feels in hand. I will say that the strap lock is uncomfortable to use repeatedly – at least until you build some callouses up on your hands. The serrations on the lock are no joke, and they tore up my thumb at first. Having used the knife for months now I don’t feel anything uncomfortable, but it took some getting used to.
Buck went with a deep carry reversible pocket clip mounted on the butt of the handle. This is a lot like the clip found on the LionSteel SR-1. The clip itself is simple and sturdy. It buries the knife discretely into the pocket. I like the clip and the way the Marksman carries. It’s worth mentioning that the knife is fully ambidextrous.
Deployment and Lockup
Grant and Gavin really know how to shake things up in the deployment and lockup section. Sometimes I find myself starting to yawn when I put this part of the review together, but the Marksman really gives me something to talk about.
So you are probably already aware that the Marksman uses a “strap lock” to lock the blade in place. Chances are you have never encountered a strap lock on a knife before. It’s a big strip of stainless steel that runs the length of the back of the handle and snaps into place over a protrusion on the back of the blade. What makes it cool is that in the closed position, it serves as a big spring, and when you hit the flipper the knife launches open effortlessly.
I have never been a huge fan of assisted openers, but the action on the Marksman is really cool and satisfying. It’s unlike any other spring assisted knife I have handled, to the point where I am reluctant to even identify it as an assisted opening knife. Closing the blade is kind of like setting a bear trap, and the trigger takes only a very light touch. It makes a very distinct tinny sound when you deploy it. Even my girlfriend could pick up on the fact that something was different with this knife. If the novel deployment system wasn’t enough, Buck also included a caged bearing system. The bearings work great and the action is so smooth that the blade just falls shut. This is a knife that you can easily open with the flipper or the thumb hole.
To disengage the blade you have to pull up on the strap with the serrations on the side of it. The serrations are rough and your thumb will get chewed up when you first start using the knife – especially if you obsessively open and close it like I did. The initial pain is definitely a negative, but overall I found the strap lock mechanism endearing, and like it more than I thought I would. With some practice you can learn how to open and close the knife one handed. It takes some tough thumbs and a little finesse but even this southpaw has managed to figure it out.
Another interesting aspect about the lock is that it is fully adjustable with a set screw on the pommel. I have used the knife for months and have opened it thousands of times. I have yet to notice any blade play, but if some were to develop you could tune it out with the set screw and pivot.
Buck Marksman – Final Thoughts
The novelty of the Marksman is what made me buy it. The knife definitely has some novel features to it, and it doesn’t disappoint in that respect. But at the end of the day what impresses me most about the Marksman is that it’s actually a really good knife. The strap lock is unique, and I love how the blade deploys. The knife is also lightweight, tough, and functional. The materials are all high quality and it’s nicely put together – especially at the price point and considering that it is USA made. It carries well, cuts cleanly, and is a lot of fun to open and close. The Marksman has really grown on me. I would go so far as to say this is one of my favorite designs in 2014. I am glad I gave it a chance.
With all of that said I realize that this knife isn’t for everyone. The futuristic design is bound to polarize people, and the strap lock and it’s sharp edges could be a deal killer as well. But if you are in the market for something different and like a good user blade, then the Buck Marksman should definitely be on your radar. I liked it so much it earned a spot on my recommended EDC knives page.
I recommend purchasing the Marksman at Amazon.com or BladeHQ. Please consider that buying anything through any of the links on this website helps support BladeReviews.com, and keeps the site going. As always, any and all support is greatly appreciated. Thank you very much.