Few knives are as iconic as the Buck 110 Folding Hunter. Its design is so elegant and timeless that it seems like it’s been around forever, while still feeling contemporary at the same time. Hard statistics are scarce, of course, but the Buck 110 has probably field-dressed more game than any other single knife of the last half-century.
The second knife I ever owned (after a Victorinox Tinker) was a dismal Pakistani knockoff of the Buck 110 because I couldn’t afford the real thing. More than 30 years later I finally treated myself to the original, and I really shouldn’t have waited so long.
Buck has sold millions of 110s, and millions of words have been written about them. In case you’ve been living in a fallout shelter since the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Buck 110 is a lockback folding knife with a brass frame and bolsters, and wooden scales.
Buck designed the knife in 1963 as a folding hunting knife with a mid-sized blade that couldn’t fold closed on your fingers. The lock was reported to be the world’s strongest and safest knife lock at the time, although some of them have failed over the years.
The 110 Folding Hunter wears a 3.75″ hollow-ground clip point blade with a sharp swedge on the reverse of the clip. The blade uses plain 420HC stainless steel,which in most applications is a so-so performer at best. After a heat treatment from industry legend Paul Bos, however, that ho-hum 420HC punches well above its weight and performs almost like a higher-priced supersteel with a hardness of HRC 58-60.
It there’s a weakness to the Buck 110’s blade design, it’s the thin and rather delicate tip. There are a lot of old 110s out there that have been hand-ground down to 3.5″ after their tips snapped off.
Other knife makers have learned from the Buck 110’s history. Many newer clip-point designs, like this Cold Steel Mackinac Hunter, have strongly reinforced tips.
The Buck 110’s blade has a right-handed nail nick for two-handed opening. The nick is just large enough to catch with your right thumb, but this method of opening is awkward and a little unsafe unless you’ve got huge hands. If your needs require one-handed opening, there are aftermarket thumb studs that clamp onto the spine of the blade. In my opinion, however, this old cowboy works best in its original ‘single action’ mode like a Colt SAA.
Here’s why: Unlike newer liner-lock knives, the 110 has a fairly stiff closure spring; it’s the same stiff spring which forces the lock closed and keeps it locked. It requires a lot of leverage to open the blade against this spring pressure, and this is why the nail nick is so far forward on the blade. Aftermarket thumb studs also have to be mounted fairly far forward, and they start to interfere with cutting.
Regardless of my tastes, many owners swear by their 110 thumb studs, and they’re easy to remove if they don’t work out for you.
The Buck 110 is not a small knife, and it really fills average-sized hands like mine. The grip is nearly 5″ long by 5/8″ thick, and 3/4″ wide at its narrowest point. This is a large grip for a folding knife, and what it gives up in ease of carry it gives back in comfort and control when you’re actually cutting with it. It handles more like a comfortable fixed-blade knife; it’s got excellent tip control, and you’ll be cutting for a really long time before your hand starts to cramp up.
Carry options are kind of limited, however. There’s no pocket clip, and this picture shows how the 110 is too big for ideal front-pocket carry. (Please, no Ron Burgundy jokes this time?) If your wallet is the right size and shape you can wedge the 110 next to it in your back jeans pocket, but you’ll probably carry it in a belt sheath.
Buck 110s used to come with handsome full-grain leather belt sheaths, but these have been replaced with lower-cost nylon sheaths. The Buck 110 is extremely affordable for an American-made knife, and the low-cost nylon sheath is part of the math that makes that possible. I know that nylon has a lot of advantages: it’s lighter, thinner, more durable, easier to clean, dries more quickly, etc. But this sheath doesn’t speak of premium materials or skilled craftsmanship, and it just looks wrong next to the beautiful 110.
I think the 110’s brass and wood just look better with leather.
And I’m not alone in this. Buck offers the premium leather sheath as a $15 accessory on their website, and there’s a large market for custom 110 sheaths. Open-topped leather sheaths like this custom basketweave are popular, along with cowboy-style loop holsters.
The 110 did quite well on the cardboard edge-retention test, cleanly slicing through 87 linear feet of corrugated box cardboard before it started to crush and plow through it. This edge retention is noticeably better than the excellent Kershaw Skyline and the equally outstanding Benchmade 300 Axis flipper.
The Buck 110 also exhibited really good ergonomics in the cardboard test, and the cutting didn’t to require much effort because the grips are so comfortable. My left hand was cramping badly from holding the cardboard, but my right hand was going strong wielding the 110. Grade: A
The 110 was an exceptionally good newsprint slicer right out of the box, and it even showed some ability to slice ultra-thin Shotgun News newsprint before I dulled it in the rope and cardboard tests. It was marginally sharper than the Skyline and Benchmade 300, but slightly less sharp than the Spyderco Native FRN. Grade: A-
After its solid performance on newsprint and cardboard, the Buck 110 was a big disappointment at the rope bench. It cut through 3/4″ Manila rope with surgical precision, but it took a dozen tedious sawing cuts to do it. It almost, but not quite, pulled through a loop of rope in one extremely hard draw stroke.
This was the last of the cutting tests I did, however, and the blade had gotten dulled pretty badly in the cardboard test. My sharpening routine of diamond steel, ceramic sticks, fine-grit waterstone and polishing strop couldn’t restore the super-keen factory edge, and the 110 couldn’t bring it’s best game for this test. Grade: C+, but I’ll be revisiting this test once I can really resharpen this knife.
A hunting knife like the Buck 110 is built for hunting and camping, so I tested it on basic food preparation tasks: chopping celery, slicing tomatoes, trimming steaks and cubing chicken breasts. The blade performed amazingly well as a general-purpose kitchen knife, compared to the other non-kitchen knives I’ve tested. It handles like a thick paring knife, and despite the hollow-grind blade I had no trouble with wandering cuts or uneven slices.
The only thing I found myself wishing for was a few more inches of blade to work with: there’s a reason most kitchen knives are a lot longer than 3.75 inches. I also had to be careful not to get the handle or frame of the knife dirty, because this brass and hardwood classic isn’t dishwasher-safe.
Grade: B+. It’s a great little food slicer/chopper, but it’s a pain to keep clean.
Overall Blade Performance: B+, but this is likely improve after I figure out how to sharpen it. Or strike my colors and take it to a professional.
I’m not a master knife sharpener, but I’m no noob either. Regardless, this isn’t an easy knife to sharpen. If my Buck’s 420HC steel blade is in fact hardened to 60 HRC, this would explain why I’m having so much trouble putting a great edge back on it.
Knife forum users typically describe Paul Bos 420HC as ‘extremely hard but damned difficult to sharpen’, and my experience seems to confirm this.
Fit And Finish
As I keep saying, this knife is drop-dead gorgeous. The fit of its many metal and wooden parts to each other is all but impeccable, and the solid feel of this 7.5 ounce folding knife is very satisfying in your hand.
All of the metal-t0-metal and wood-to-metal fit is seamless, just like this. When the blade locks open, it feels as solid and precise as the slide racking shut on a Sig/Sauer P226.
But all was not quite perfect with this particular Buck 110. Blade lockup was Fort Knox-solid out of the box, but during testing it developed a small but perceptible sideways blade wobble. This would be a ridiculously easy fix on a knife with a pivot screw, but the Buck 110’s lovely flush-fit rivets cannot be tightened except at the Post Falls, Idaho factory so I’ll just have to live with it.
And the middle rivet shown here is maybe .3mm too tall, just enough to feel wrong under your fingers. There’s also a tiny blemish in the brass of the hilt, which escaped final QC hidden on the inside of the blister packaging it arrived in. But I’m really picking nits with these small blemishes, on a fabulous knife that costs less than $40.
There is no single feature about the Buck 110 that stands out above the rest. It’s a balanced package of comfort, beauty, performance, and strength. Buck got this knife almost exactly right almost 50 years ago, and it’s still popular because it’s still good.
I really wish I could tighten the pivot myself to eliminate that little bit of blade wobble. (And it’s so shiny that I’m going to feel terrible when it inevitably gets scratched up.)
RATINGS (Out Of Five Stars)
Modern and traditional at the same time, this beautiful knife looks great on your belt (in a leather sheath, that is), in your hand, or elbow-deep in an elk carcass.
Very sharp and precise, with great cutting performance from plain-Jane 420HC steel. Just two drawbacks: the tip is a bit delicate, and it’s a bear to sharpen.
Super-comfortable to use and cut with, but carry options are pretty much limited to belt sheath carry. If you absolutely must have a one-hand opener, you can do it with a $10 thumb stud.
The blade tip is a bit delicate, and the rocker lock isn’t the strongest design out there. But these are theoretical weaknesses, and this knife has withstood the real-world test of time. There are a lot of Buck 110s still in use after 30+ years on the job with hunters and contractors.
Overall Rating: ****
There’s a reason why Buck has sold millions of 110 Folding Hunters. They’re made in America, they’re beautiful, they’re sharp, they go like stink and they last for decades. Along with the Case Stockman, the Buck 110 is ‘the’ American pocketknife.
If you love knives, you should have one.
Type: Rocker-lock folding knife.
Length Closed/Open: 4.875″/8.75″
Grip Thickness: 7/8″
Weight: 7.2 oz.
Blade: 3.75″ hollow-ground clip point, 0.12″ thick.
Blade Steel: 420HC stainless, 58-60 HRC
Scales: Macassar Ebony Dymondwood
Construction: Brass frame and bolsters, steel lock, wooden scales.
Origin: Post Falls, Idaho. USA.
MSRP: $69, street price $35 and up.