Knife Review

Knife Review: Becker BK16

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Becker knives work for a living. That is the tagline on the box, and that encapsulates the BK16 that lies inside. Not designed for elegance, the knife is hard-working, functional and uncompromising. This particular BK16 was gifted to me by Ethan Becker himself and I can think of no better thank you than putting it to work.

Everyone out there makes a drop point with a blade in the 4-4 ½” range. It seems to be the best compromise between small enough to carry everywhere, but large enough to get some serious work done. How does the BK16 fare in this crowded field?


Detailed Specs
Manufacturer: KA-BAR
Designer: Ethan Becker
Blade: 1095CV Drop Point, Flat Grind, Textured Black Coating
Rockwell Hardness: 56-58 HRC
Scales: Ultramid nylon, Black and Tan sets included
Tang construction: Full Tang
Sheath: Nylon with front pouch
Country of Origin: USA (knife), China (sheath)
MSRP/Street Price: $109.85 / $70-80

Dimensions (measured on this test sample)
Overall Length: 9.12”
Handle Length: 4.791”
Handle Thickness:  0.831”
Blade Length (tip to scale): 4.323”
Sharpened Length: 4.097”
Blade Thickness: 0.177” (including coating)
Weight: Knife, 6.05 oz / Sheath, 3.3 oz


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Overview

The BK16 is Ethan’s personal favorite knife to have on hand for “woods-loafing” as he calls it. He says it is the knife he has been looking for since he was a teenager and the dimensions – roughly based on a knife he carried in those days, a Puma Hunter’s Friend – are just so damn useful (paraphrasing a bit here).

The sharpened length of the flat-ground blade is just over four inches long. It has enough belly to be a useful hunting knife and enough straight edge to satisfy carving needs.

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The steel is a variant on time-tested 1095 carbon, with small amounts of chromium, vanadium, molybdenum and nickel added to the mix. The added elements primarily improve through-hardening and grain-refinement during heat-treatment, but wear resistance and toughness are slightly improved as a result. The original name of this alloy (Sharon 50-100B) is no longer in common use. Ka-Bar refers to it as 1095CV or 1095 Cro-Van.

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In keeping with the utilitarian aesthetic of the knife, the Ultramid nylon scales are attached with hex-head bolts and hexagonal nuts. All you need is a single Allen wrench to take the scales off, thanks to the hexagonal relief on the nut-side. You have your choice of black or tan handles, and both are included in the box. Also available is an official micarta upgrade which comes in an even lighter tan color.

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I never got very excited by the sheath, but it is definitely versatile. Attachment options are myriad, with a velcro-and-snap secured belt loop and MOLLE loops on the back. I like that you can remove the sheath without taking off your belt, and with the velcro I was never afraid that the sheath would accidentally come off. I never mastered putting the sheath back on without removing the belt, but it is theoretically possible.

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The knife is held in by the dual snaps only – there is no retention from the scabbard itself. The snaps on mine were a bit tight, and I could rarely get the knife strapped down without having to use two hands.

There is also a small pocket on the outside of the sheath measuring about 3.5“ x 1.5“ that can be stretched to about an inch high. The pocket is covered by a velcro flap which means your gear can poke out the top a bit and still be fairly secure. 

Fit & Finish / Initial Edge

Overall construction of the knife is very well executed, apart from one little niggle.

The blade itself is perfectly fine – excellent grinds, evenly applied coating, adequately sharp – but the fit of the handle scales are slightly less than precise. Even though it is not discernible in actual use, perfectionists (hello!) will see that the tang is not perfectly flush with the scales.

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Even though I could never feel it when actually using the knife, I purchased a set of the micarta scales to see if they made a difference. Interestingly, they actually fit more precisely than the stock Ultramid. Judging by the conversation that takes place on the official Becker forum, this seems to be the norm.

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The factory edge on the blade was on the toothy side but was shaving sharp. Out of the box, this type of edge should handle rope and other fibrous materials with ease and I was able to push cut through a taught section of ¾” manilla rope with no trouble at all.

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Cutting magazine paper revealed that the edge was consistent across the entire length of the blade but the toothy nature made the cuts predictably less than smooth.

Ergonomics

In three words? Nimble, nimble, nimble.

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Balance of the BK16 is superb; the tipping point sits right at the index finger. Some may find the handles a bit on the thin side, but I found them adequate for my glove-size-large wearing fists. Your mileage may vary.

The Becker handles get a lot of flak for their smoothness – the Ultramid is plasticky and has only a hint of texture. They don’t exactly feel very nice, and I get why people mod or replace them, but the reality is that they are perfectly adequate.

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The micarta scales do add a tiny bit of thickness and some more texture, but also weight to the handle. The balance point shifts rearward a little as a result. The micarta sports a matte finish rather than polished. This aids grippiness, but also opens up the door for potential hot-spots under heavy twisting.

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The contours of the handle work extremely well for me, and those ergonomics are primarily responsible for keeping the knife secure in the hand, a job they do quite well. There is just enough meat for a full grip, but the area around the index finger narrows a bit which is great for fine control.

Sharpening

The 1095CV is a breeze to sharpen with the Spyderco Sharpmaker. Field maintenance is not a task to be dreaded, whether using a small strop, flat stones, or pocket-sized diamond plates.

The generous sharpening choil also makes it easy to get the entire edge sharp, all the way back to the heel.

TESTING

Woodworking

I decided to do something a bit unusual for the first wood test on the BK16 – making a primitive atlatl.

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First I cross-grain batoned a suitable branch to the size I needed. I cut straight through, rather than batoning a “V” in order to stress the blade. It suffered no ill effects.

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Next, I batoned a small “X” into one end as a starting point for the spur…

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Using the top of the “X” as stop cuts I started to notch out the wood…

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A little batoning to thin out the top side…

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Stripping the bark and refining the shape…

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I couldn’t find a very straight piece of wood for the dart, and I improvised the fletching with duct tape, but as a proof of concept, the atlatl worked quite well for a first attempt.

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I did all of the work with the Ultramid scales installed and hot-spots were nonexistent. I never had a problem hanging on to the knife either.

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Tent Stakes & Feathersticks

I carved out a few small tent stakes and as demonstrated above, notching is easy with the BK16. I use a chest lever grip to make the points, and while the Ultramid was fine, I prefered the micarta for this task as the front of the grip is a little bit flatter.

I also preferred the micarta when shaving curls for the feathersticks. Again, this comes down to personal preference. While the Ultramid does the job without trouble, the micarta seems to fill my hand just an iota more. Not much, but enough to feel a difference.

Drilling/Tip Strength

The pommel of the knife does have a protruding tang, but thanks to the downward angle, there is adequate real estate for pressing down during drilling tasks.

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The tip of the blade is technically above the centerline, but it is right in line with the area of the pommel that your palm engages. As a result, the blade twists easily around this axis, making divots with aplomb. Comfort is far better than the photos of the knife might suggest.

Batoning

The BK16 stands up to batoning just as well as its larger Becker kin. I like the profile as well. The thickness and the angle of the primary bevel are similar to the Fiddleback Forge Bushfinger I tested which went through wood like a champ. Like that knife, the BK16 had no trouble turning an armful of logs into kindling.

Cardboard

After all of the woodwork, the blade coating was a bit scuffed up, but the real test of its hardiness will be our gauntlet of corrugated cardboard. Rather than using the Spyderco Sharpmaker this time, I put a high polished convex edge on it with the Ken Onion Work Sharp instead.

I started the test with the micarta grips installed but they were a little bit pinchy in the draw cuts I employed, so I popped the Ultramid back on, alleviating the issue.

After 415 linear feet of cuts across the grain, I was feeling drag from the blade thickness and coating slowing the knife down. After a couple of consecutive plows I called the test.

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I tested the remaining edge on newspaper and the blade would no longer cut. The coating held up great though, much better than my ESEE Izula-II which showed significantly more wear in this test after cutting through less material.

Food Prep

I don’t like using blades with roughly textured coatings on food, so I will eventually strip it away. In the meantime, I cleaned the coating as best I could and tested it on some potatoes and onions.

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Surprisingly, the blade showed a tendency to wander (only slightly) when going through the spuds. I was still able to get my dice, but it was a little more haphazard than I like.

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I was able to slice onions fairly thin, but again the blade thickness caused some tracking issues.

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It is adequate enough for camp use, but if you anticipate using the BK16 often for food prep, I suspect you will be happier if you strip the coating.

Conclusions

The Becker BK16 is an easy knife to recommend. As is hallmark with the Becker knives, the BK16 is constructed with time-proven steel and the ergonomics are well thought out. Best of all, it is priced within easy reach of all but the most cash-strapped.

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The handles should work for all but the largest hands. Whether you choose to stick with the stock scales or upgrade to micarta is a matter of personal preference. The micarta feels better in the hand but the Ultramid is lighter, better balanced and even less prone to hot spots.

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As a knife for the outdoorsman, the BK16 is ideally sized for having on your person at all times. The blade shape and geometry lend themselves well to a wide range of tasks. If pressed into duty as a camping, hiking, bushcraft, hunting or survival knife, this blade has what it takes to get the job done.

Postscript

I couldn’t get out of this review without mentioning the culture of modification that surrounds the Becker knives. When it comes to modding potential, you can think of a Becker like an Old Hickory on steroids. Solid steel, good construction, made in the USA, and affordable enough to monkey around with. It could be something simple – stripping the coating and adding a patina,  adding liners to thicken up the scales – or something more complex like custom handle scales or blade regrinds. I asked the Beckerheads at the official Becker Forum on BladeForums.com if they wouldn’t mind me posting a few of their mods, and here are some cool examples of modded 16’s that were offered up. Thanks gents!

Forum member Aikiguy has added some liners and strategic stippling to the handle of his 16.

Forum member Aikiguy has added some liners for width and strategic stippling to the handle of his 16 for added texture.

User SaturatedShadow has gone for a full strip and modified the blade into a clip point and added some stainless steel handle bolts.

User SaturatedShadow has gone for a full strip and modified the blade into a clip point and added some stainless steel handle bolts.

All of these started as BK16s before user hawkhead got his hands on them.

All of these started as BK16s before user hawkhead got his hands on them.

And here is his fully finished modified wharncliffe knife ground down from a 16.

And here is his fully finished modified wharncliffe knife ground down from a 16. Beautifully done!

Discussion

9 responses to ‘Knife Review: Becker BK16

    • They’re all pretty great. I have about a dozen, but my all time favorite is still my first, the BK9. I bought it mainly to have at base camp for batoning, and some of the splits I have managed with that knife can only be described as heroic! It is a lot easier to control for smaller tasks than you would think too… good balance.

  1. I never expected the altalt! Way to change things up.

    I like the look of the knife, but can’t help being put off by the sheath (prefer kydex) and the textured coating to the blade. I get the practicality of it but I somehow want to see steel on a blade

    • The sheath isn’t my favorite either. Plenty of makers out there will make kydex for the 16.

      If you like leather, I found the sheath that comes with the LT Wright GNS is an excellent fit for the 16. This is the K-style sheath that you can order from the LTWK website and comes with a dangler and firesteel loop, made by JRE Industries. Good stuff!

  2. I have the BK16 and BK17. I got the BK17 for hunting and it has butchered a lot of game and various livestock from my farm. I use the BK16 for foraging and bushcraft. It is a companion knife I carry with a larger knife like the Cold Steel Trail Master (a much larger working knife) or the more elegant but equally capable BRKT Teddy II. I own several excellent knives and the BK16 is my favorite small knife. I like it just fine with the stock scales and coat, but if the design were made in a better stainless steel that accommodated the often soggy weather of my home province of Nova Scotia, and had something like Zytel grips, it would be perfect.

  3. Funny I carried a Hunter Pal , Puma for years losing it on a deer hunt . I still regret the loss. Although the looks are vastly different the Becker functions much the same. I can’t say a lot about use . I carried it on a SAR mission the other night , other than you could forget it was on your belt . Hope to put it to use this weekend with SAR training . I have high hopes.

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