Thursday, March 17, 2011

Buck Vantage Select Small Review

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:

Open:



Closed:



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.

Steel: 0

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.

Grind: 1

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.

Lock: 1

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.

Design: 2

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.

Grip: 2

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.

Carry: 2

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.  

10 comments:

  1. Re: Fit & Finish:

    I just handled two different Buck Vantages at a big box sporting goods store -- one Avid and one Pro.

    Yikes. Both had MESSED UP liner locks. With a wrist flick or the flipper it was impossible to get the lock to engage the blade tang; they were effectively nonlocking knifes.

    Pushing the blade open directly with the thumb oval, or using both hands, it was still hard to engage the lock. With effort it would *slightly* engage. Still nothing I would want to do work with.

    It's a great looking EDC design but based on this hands-on experience it seems like a non-starter. This breaks my heart for a Made in USA product.

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  2. Hi Tony,

    I was just perusing some of your older reviews after looking at Dragonfly ZDP review (I'm wavering between that and the serrated H1 since I live on a lake).

    I may be lucky but I have two small Vantages (a Select and a Pro) with very good centering and lockup. Honestly, I love them both, especially at the price point. Mine came later in the production timeline which likely means that QC improved.

    The design and size is just right for me and they both fly when I use the flippers. I'm sad to see that Buck discontinued the small models in the Vantage line. I think they had the potential to be classics.

    I always enjoy the site. Thanks.

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  3. After a good experience with a small Vantage Select, I decided to go for a Pro version. It was a big disappointment. The blade was decentered enough to rub on the liner. My efforts to recenter it worked, but caused the pivot to tighten up too much resulting in difficulty in getting the blade out. Flipping was impossible. Besides that, the liner lock was way too far to the right, resting against the liner. I sent the knife to Buck, and it was returned in basically the same condition. The nice customer service lady I communicated with told me that all the small Vantage Pros were like that !

    Eventually, the matter was resolved when they sent me as replacement a large Pro in which the blade was reasonably well centered and the lockup early enough. It flips great. Considering the money, time and effort involved, it all worked out. In the end, I wound up preferring this version anyway, and now it is my most used folder.

    It is possible Buck had too many problems with the small Vantage and discontinued it for that reason.

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  4. former Buck customerMarch 26, 2013 at 2:31 PM

    If you send your Vantage back to Buck (like I did) for an off-center blade problem, they will simply tighten the pivot screw to the point that it is no longer a flipper knife, put it in a box, and ship it back to you. To avoid this problem simply avoid buying one of these low quality knives and go for a Benchmade or Kershaw; two companies that stand behind their product line and offer honest customer service.

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  5. Have to eat some of the words from my comment above.

    Back at the same big box store recently, I saw three Vantage Select Smalls in blister packs, which let me visually inspect blade centering. None were terrible and two looked spot on, so I took one home. It's a nice little budget blade. I really appreciate the design touches discussed in this review.

    You have to do a little tradeoff with the pivot between blade centering and ease of deployment, but it's not obnoxious. I got it decently centered and still deployable. The flipper requires a bit of wrist English.

    A big relief is that my Vantage's liner lock is perfect. Snug, zero blade play, easy to disengage, perfect 25% engagement.

    My blade primary grind is coarse, like you described in the AdVantage review. Flitz polish helps slightly. I am going to take some fine sandpaper to it. Blade shape is beautiful.

    The pocket clip is amazingly refined in use, worthy of all the praise given in the review.

    So what lesson do I draw? There are, in fact, some non-futzed Buck Vantages out there and they are good EDC options. I would advise to INSPECT IN PERSON before buying. Don't buy them on the Internet unless you can tolerate the risk of defects/returns.

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  6. I keep occasionally EDCing this little blade because it's handsome, mostly squared away, and I adore the pocket clip.

    I will say that if I wrote a review I'd give the Deployment Method(s) only a 1. You get a fairly awkward thumbhole and a fairly lame flipper. It would be preferable to have just one method that is genuinely convenient and reliable.

    Fiddling around with my Kershaw Skyline, after carrying the Vantage, it struck me how inferior the Vantage flipper deployment is. Skyline flipper is a whole nother class -- way impressive for an affordable production knife.

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  7. Those lacking the very minimal mechanical aptitude required to adjust blade centering or lock positioning should probably avoid liner lock knives all together. With enough use almost all of them require adjustment. The Vantage is an admirably simple design. I can adjust centering and lock position is less than 5 minutes. I can disassemble and fine finish the entire thing in 20 minutes. Vantage is well worth the small effort for the bargain price. Only tool required is a T6 torx and if you own knives, you should have one. Scares me that people who can't figure out the flipper drive cars on the same roads as me. Sad how helpless and inept our society has become.

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  8. Some updated experience with the Vantage series:

    I picked up a Vantage Avid Large with the Bos treated Sandvik 13C26 blade. Quality steel, takes an insane edge, but somewhat prone to staining. It's interesting that Sandvik's own data sheet says 13C26 is good for pocket knives *if* they are "surface coated." The Vantage Avid is not surface coated.

    The action is a little crude on my large Avid. The liner lock engages tightly with no blade play -- but it is unpredictable, almost random, in where it engages on the tang. It can be anywhere from 50% to almost 100% on a given deployment. The liner is also rather stiff to disengage; much more so than my small Vantage Select, which has consistent, perfect 25% lockup.

    The flipper on the large Avid is sluggish compared to the small Select. On the positive side, its large thumb oval works better than the one on the smaller knife, for predictable reasons. I would say the small Vantage is primarily a flipper knife with a secondary deployment of a thumb hole. The large Vantage is the reverse.

    (BTW I figured out the key to making the flipper work better on the Vantage series. Don't place your finger pad on the flipper itself, as you would with e.g. a Skyline or Ripple. Place it in front of the flipper stud, on the little facet of the handle scale that forms a sort of shelf there. Then draw your finger back *across* the flipper stud in one motion. Cutlerylover mentioned this in a video. Big improvement! Using this technique I can now reliably deploy the small Vantage with the flipper without needing a wrist flick. The large Vantage, alas, is a little challenging to flip even with this technique.)

    The corners on the Avid's Dymondwood handles are sharp and create hot spots. The cheaper FRN-type material on the Select Small actually makes for a more rounded and comfortable handle. Expect to need to sand down your Avid to reach the same level of ergos as the Select.

    Overall I like the Avid. It's a handsome knife. Some people's cutting tasks will really bring out the strengths of the razorlike, slightly temperamental 13C26. But the Select, and particularly the Select Small, strike me as the sweet spot of the Vantage series.

    Of course, Buck's Bos S30V is THE BOMB for a working EDC blade. I'd love to try a Vantage Pro Small, if only I could find one at my local stores. I am hesitant to spend more than $30-$35 on a Vantage knife that I can't inspect in person.

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  9. Eased the sharp edges of the scales on my Avid using 220 grit sandpaper. Worked beautifully. The Dymondwood material is homogeneous so sanding it does no cosmetic harm.

    Now it feels very good in the hand.

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  10. I just purchased a Buck Select large and a Kershaw Skyline. I am much more impressed with the Buck Select.The Buck is just as sharp out of the box as the Kershaw. The blade centering on my Buck is perfect and I can easily deploy the blade with the thumb hole or flipper.The Buck Select has the deep pocket clip and smooth scales which makes this knife a joy to carry..The Buck Vantage is a very underrated USA made knife. In my opinion the Buck is a better value than some of the Chinese made competition ie. Spyderco Tenacious.

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