In the last post I explained how I arrived at the criteria I am going to use for selecting a fixed blade knife. Now I am going to lay out all of the candidates I am researching. The upper end options are pretty pricey and the lower end options are very inexpensive. It is rare for me to have such a wide price range when I am looking at gear, but the fixed blade market is a little different than the folding knife market. When you have so few parts to upgrade and/or pimp out, like on a fixed blade, the steel and its cost become the driving factor, especially because there is so much of it, compared to a folding knife (especially the 2.5 inch knives I prefer for EDC use). Thus, the price of the steel, which can vary widely, causes the price of the knives to likewise vary widely. INFI, as a proprietary steel, is not only expensive, but they have to recapture the R&D costs associated with its development. 1095 Cro Van steel, which has been around for a very long time, has very little cost associated with it. As such, at the high end, I have the Busse Boss Jack and on the low end I have the Condor Rodan. I'd love to buy them all and test them, but that is not going to happen. So, I will have to winnow the choices down by specs, price, and my criteria I laid out last time.
Busse Boss Jack
There is really no comparison in terms of a knife that can absorb abuse. Plus, the knife is simply an awesome looking tool:
Knife Test.com did a really graphic, abusive test of the Busse Battle Mistress with INFI steel, and it did quite well. Now the Boss Jack is not as thick nor as long as the Battle Mistress, but I am not planning on trying to hammer the knife through a CINDER BLOCK. It is the other tests that interest me, showing the amazing versatility of the INFI steel. Still, this is the most expensive or second most expensive of the knives I am looking at and that does not include a sheath. If I were going to use this blade everyday, then I think I'd probably opt for this blade, but as it is I am not sure I can justify the price. Still INFI steel and the simple elegant design are a siren's call for a knife knut, so it is still on the list.
Bark River Knife and Tool Bravo 2
Here is a shot of these beautiful blades:
Good god are they pretty. Nice steel, great handle design, great blade profile (they use a very hard to do apple seed or full convex grind). The size is just right too, at 7 inches on the blade. One drawback though is the use of a leather sheath. The other is the cost. Again this is an expensive blade at more than $200. If I am going to spend that much, I'd rather get the Boss Jack, so this is off the list.
There are lot of ESEE fans out there. Here is a fawning review of the ESEE 6. The price is not too bad compared to the higher end knives, clocking in about $132. The problem is that it uses 1095 steel. The steel is not bad, but the price, given that steel, is not too good. It is hard to justify this knife when there are knifes of the same size with the same steel for half the price. The BK7, one of the entries below, for example, has the same steel and the same length blade (though it is thicker than the ESEE 6) and costs about $62 online. There are even micarta handles for the BK7 which would make it a twin in terms of materials and even when those upgrades the entire package is still on about $100. I am sure this is a great knife. It has received stellar reviews. But for the price you can do better. It is off the list.
Ontario RAT 7
This knife is largely identical to the ESEE 6 (they have a shared heritage) and for the same reasons, it is off the list as well.
Cold Steel Recon Scout
Here is the first real threat to the Boss Jack. Here is Nutnfancy's review:
Say what you want about Nutnfancy, but he really does test these fixed blade knives and he knows what he is talking about. He may have gotten a little long winded, but he is very knowledgeable. He loved the Recon Scout and it is not hard to see why--decent steel, nice size and shape, and great sheath. I think this knife gets the edge over the Boss Jack. It is at least one third the price and I am not sure if my sporadic use will show the superiority of the Boss Jack. Definitely a top pick.
Cold Steel SRK
Another Cold Steel knife and another knife beloved by the knife community. It is easy to see why:
It is a bit smaller than the Recon Scout and it does not have a full flat grind. But it is seems to be fully functional survival knife. There are quite a few good tests out there that show it can cut and split wood with the best of them. And because of the reduced price, even compared to the $90 Scout, I think I could afford the stainless steel version of the SRK. I don't want to sound like a broken record playing the Cold Steel tune, but this is also a top pick.
Cold Steel Leatherneck
A new fixed blade with a blade size of 6.75 inches placing it between the Recon Scout and the SRK. Here is a good shot:
It also has a nice full flat grind blade, which is good for chopping, something the SRK lacks. So it comes down to stainless steel v. full flat grind. I think I will take the full flat grind and bump the SRK down on the list of contenders.
Ka Bar Becker BK7
Speaking of contenders, this is Ethan Becker's 7 inch blade.
Becker's designs have become a niche unto themselves for good reason--they are highly refined, well crafted, and surprisingly inexpensive for what you get. There is a premium S30V version of the BK7 with micarta handles, but the basic version is a 1095 Cro Van beast. It has a fabric sheath but for $60-70 online, it is a steal. You can upgrade the basic handles to the micarta ones and many people make sheaths for Becker's designs. As it stands, this is probably the number one contender. If I had to buy the knife now, without further research, this would be it. I want to narrow down the list a bit more but this is the leading contender.
There is always an argument about price that leads to a slippery slope. Here is the bottom of the slope. If the BK7 is just as good, for my purposes, as the Boss Jack, why pay the premium? But then, if the BK7 is just as good, for my purposes, as the Condor Rodan, why pay that premium? It is not to say that this analysis is faulty, but it is merely to suggest that this analysis has no end. Why not, instead, just cut the handle of the maul I have down to a more manageable size? That's free. The Rodan, it turns out, is a really good alternative, based on the product reviews around the 'net. It just happens to be a bit too short for my use. The sheath is also too basic and doesn't appear to be compatible with my bag.
EDIT: Missed one
Ontario Gen II SP42
A decently priced and sized blade, with a full flat grind. I missed this blade in part because of how hard the Ontario website is to navigate effectively. Browsing Knifecenter.com though pointed me in the right direction. This is like a combination of the BK7 and the Cold Steel Recon. Its only knock is a 3/16 thick blade. The price is super competitive, hitting the same price point as the BK7. Here is a shot:
Here is my preliminary rank:
2. Ontario Gen II SP42
3. Cold Steel Leatherneck
4. Busse Boss Jack
5. Cold Steel Recon Scout
6. Cold Steel SRK
Here are a few knives that looked interesting but didn't make the final cut:
Spyderco Rock (and Rock Salt): too expensive for what you get and probably too thin (1/8" thick) for serious chopping.
Spyderco Forager: great knife, but out of production. Secondary market prices make it the same or more than a Boss Jack. At that price point it is not such a stand out. If I could find it for retail it would probably be my number one choice. Some don't like the handle design though.
Kershaw Outcast: yikes, D2 steel is a little too hard for chopping, especially all of the dirty wood I would be collecting, full of sand and dirt particles that would probably chip the edge. A lot of folks also complain about the secondary bevel's grind.
Benchmade CSK II: this knife is virtually identical to the Cold Steel SRK and it has the Benchmade tax of 20%. No thanks.