The Buck Vantage Select Small is a budget EDC knife from Buck Knives. Here is the product page. Here is a good street price. Here is Nutnfancy's review. The knife is widely available and can be purchased at Dicks Sporting Goods, Bass Pro Outlets, and tons of other places, even some Target stores.
The Vantage design comes in two sizes: small and large. It has three "grades" of finish: select, avid, and pro. The Select version has 420 HC steel and a molded FRN handle. Materials increase in quality as you go up the line. The Vantage bears striking design similarities to the Tom Mayo/Buck collaboration knives, especially the Waimea, with a clip point blade, an oval thumb hole opener, and similar sizes and proportions. Additionally, Buck is planning on releasing "Force" variants of the Vantage knives, with different handle designs and materials. There is also a green version of the Vantage, which uses a recycled material called paperstone. Finally, the Vantage design is very similar to the Buck Paradigm designs, which have upgraded materials and a different locking mechanism (which stinks, in my opinion). While all of these one-offs and variations make purchasing decisions more difficult, it helps Buck make new knives more cost efficient by amortizing the costs associated with a new design over many different makes and models.
Here is a good shot of the Vantage Select Small, with clip side shown too:
Here are two size comparison shots, one of the knife closed (along with a Delica 4 and a Dragonfly 1) and one of all three knives open:
I bought mine in January of 2010. I carried it for about two months when I first got it and I have carried it off and on since then. I have resharpened it once, but it was a significant resharpening, made easier by my Sharpmaker. I purchased the knife, in part, because it was so cheap (I got mine on sale at Bass Pro Outlet for $22). I also bought it on Nutnfancy's recommendation and to get a better look at the clip design. The knife's size has really reshaped how I think about EDC knives. Its blade is just about the perfect length, its handle is nice too, and its super slim carry can't be ignored.
The Select comes in 420 HC. It is treated by Buck's proprietary heat treatment method developed by Paul Bos. Frankly, steel that has this little carbon content could be treated by Hephaestus himself and it would not give this steel anything like a decent ability to hold an edge. It was decent at cutting open packages and blister packs, but anything fibrous was a challenge after only a few uses. On the plus side it sharpens very quickly and can get very sharp, it just doesn't stay that way long at all. For an EDC knife that is carried everyday, 420 HC just doesn't work. Opt for a pricier Vantage. You'll appreciate the steel upgrade.
This is a high hollow grind, with the grind ending about 4/5 the way up the blade. I like hollow grinds, especially ones this high (it reminds me of the Sebenza's grind), but the grind here is sloppy, at least on my version and the others at the store. It doesn't effect cutting all that much, but I use my knives as awls or a marking blade and the grind's unevenness sometimes skews a mark.
Blade Shape: 2
Perhaps the perfect all around shape (again reminiscent of a Sebenza). I also like the size of the blade. It strikes the right balance between useful edge length and lack of menace.
It uses a very stiff liner lock. The lock itself is stable, rock solid, in fact, but it is so far over on the tang that I am afraid it may bypass the blade entirely someday. That is a theoretical concern, but an actual problem is that the lock is SO strong that pushes the blade off center. Mine doesn't rub (though it is close), but many in the Vantage line do.
The shape of the blade, the dual opening mechanisms (which both work for me), and the clip are amazing. I really like the size of the knife, probably my favorite size knife. A Sebenza this size with just a flipper would be the perfect knife for me. Every single element of the design is a home run. And the blade:handle ratio is respectable .70.
Fit and Finish: 0
Just watch a few video reviews and you see--the fit and finish on this knife is poor. Mine has no fatal flaws, blade rubbing, blade stopping, missed locks, but everything is a bit out of whack. The blade is significantly off center. The grind, as I said above, is sloppy. The lock is not in the right place. And the upscale versions don't seem to have any better fit and finish, just nicer materials. If you can find one that has good everything, then you have landed a score, but Buck needs to work on this going forward. A great design is the hard part, grinding an edge should be the easy part for a knife company.
Retention Method: 2
Perfect deep carry clip. I am not a person that REQUIRES a deep carry clip. They make retrieving the knife a bit more difficult. But this clip is simply perfect. It is left/right positionable, but is tip up only. Also, has anyone noticed that it is the exact same design as the clip on the vastly more expensive (and overpriced) William Henry Kestrel? Take a peek at the Kestrel clip:
And the Buck clip:
Deployment Method: 2
The Vantage uses two methods: an oval thumb hole and a flipper. I think they could have gone with just one and I'd prefer a flipper, but both work. Neither is the best of their kind, but both work well. Some people with, um, more corpulent fingers may have a difficult time with the thumb hole, but my more slender fingers find it every time.
The flip makes a great finger guard. In a heavier use knife, like the large version, some jimping would be necessary, but in a knife this small it is no issue.
Given the size, lack of a hump, convex handle shape, and the clip, this is a wonderful carry. It melts into the pocket, hides well, and yet still can be retrieved easily. It can also fit in the coin pocket of your jeans but can make sitting a little pinchy. As a clipped on knife, this is a great pocket passenger.
Overall Score: 14 out of 20
This is a cheap knife. Its design echoes something much more expensive, combining features from Tom Mayo customs with a clip from a William Henry. Ultimately though the fit and finish aren't where they should be and the knife suffers. The 420 HC steel is less than ideal, but if the fit and finish issues were under control, I could overlook it. In the end you can get a bum knife, or luck out and get a pretty good, cheap EDC knife. This is an excellent choice for someone starting to carry a pocket knife. If you like it you can upgrade with less guilt.
One Year Update:
I have the Vantage Select in my car, bundled with a Leatherman Serac S3. It has always worked and I really like the 420HC steel. It has proven over more than a year of use that it is actually not that bad. The fit and finish is still really awful. The blade centering has gotten worse over time, but the overall design is so nice. I am trying to get all of the design features of the Vantage in a nicer knife by sending a Small Vantage Pro off to TuffThumbz to get an upgrade on the scales and a touch up on fit and finish. Given the fact that the 420HC steel has actually proven better than I thought, I'd give this an upgraded score.
One Year Score: 15 out of 20.