NOTE: This is a joint review. Nick and I both purchased Slim Pro 110s on the air and decided to go radio silent until the reviews were finished. Nick’s review can be found here. Mine is obviously below. I will also admit that I have a strong personal connection with the original 110 and so that may bias this review.
Me reviewing the Buck 110 must be like a pen reviewer evaluating the Bic Crystal. This knife is so important, so ubiquitous, and so iconic that it almost doesn’t make sense to review it. It is part of knife collective unconscious, but with the Slim version there is enough of a difference from the iconic 110 that this is a little less sacrilegious.
In the first and final analysis this is a flawed knife. But the flaws are so easily compartmentalized and the strengths are so overwhelming that this is a knife that you can’t help but like. Its profile, the same as its beefier brother, is still damn near perfect with a strong (though not as strong by comparison) clip point with an easy, comfy handle. The Bos (pronounced: Boss, according to some guy named CJ Buck) heat treat again works its magic, rendering the very good S30V steel into something near state of the art. But there are rough spots here—blade play, a clip that looks like a novelty turkey leg from a traveling carnival, and a grind that could be a bit better. But this is not simply a mixed bag. This is a knife with such good bones and some really superlative specs that it is vastly better the flaws would lead you to believe.
Here is the product page. Do not confuse this knife with the Buck 110 Pro, which is an original 110 with G10 handles and all of the mass of the original. The MSRP is…wait for it…$110. Isn’t that spec-tacular? The Slim Pro comes in three different colors—green, tan, and black micarta. Here is the coordinated video review with Nick Shabazz. This is the first written review. Here is a link where you can find the Buck 110 Slim Pro at Blade HQ. Here is my review sample (purchased with my funds):
Twitter Review Summary: A sterling revamp of a classic blade with a few flaws.
If you like knives and you dislike the lines of the 110 you do not actually like knives. Simply put, this is a master class in great knife design and it has the history to prove it. The 110 has been in production longer than I have been alive. It has been in production since my mom was 9. If there is ever a case of the wisdom of crowds being true the 110 is it. I love this design. I have from the moment I first saw my grandfather’s 110 (which, after he passed became mine and is in photos in this article).
The main problem with the original 110 was that it carried like a kettle bell. It weighs almost half a pound. That’s too much to carry in a pair of jeans and forget about carrying it in a pair of slacks. It just won’t make your life pleasant. It was a “belt” only knife. But the Slim Pro? That is a different story. This knife breaks the magic barrier for knives—the 1:1. That is, its blade is longer in inches than the knife weighs in ounces. The blade here, like with the original, the blade is 3.75 inches. The weight here is a paltry 2.8 ounces. You will be hard pressed to find a better b:w, which, if you are doing the math is 1.34. For a knife with a blade this big, nothing else is all that close. We are in Al Mar territory. And even then the Slim Pro does the master one better. The Al Mar Eagle, which is ostensibly the same knife—micarta handles, lock back, thumb studs—has a 3.50 inch blade with a 3.30 ounce weight. If you want a big light knife look no further. The Slim Pro cuts a Military but carries like a Dragonfly. Honestly it is only 1.6 ounces heavier than the DFII. The b:h is .76, which is also quite good, too, edging into SOG Flash I territory (remember that knife?...oh the memories).
This is one instance in which the performance ratios tell you a lot. This is a great knife because you get so much for so little.
Fit and Finish: 1
There is a noticeable gap between the blade and the locking spine. It never disappears. The grind is a bit wavy. There is tactile blade play in the up and down position. There is simply no way to avoid it, this knife could have been more carefully made. None of these are fatal flaws and none really impact performance, but in an age when Reate is doing what they are doing everyone is held to a bit higher standard than before.
But the thing that makes the Slim Pro acceptable is the fact that everything else aside from these three issues is actually pretty good. The micarta is nicely finished with an edge chamfer that makes the handle a true delight. The clip, ugly as it is, is nicely finished. The thumb studs are nicely made. I suppose Nick would have liked no pins, but they don’t bother me all that much.
To paraphrase the great Winston Churchill: simple grips always, always, always, always work. They may not be as sexy as some weird, hyper exotic handle, but they never stink. They are the very definition of low variance. And, as time has proven, this handle just works. With a large swell in the back and plenty of real estate, I like the 110. With slimmer and less slick handles I like the Slim Pro better than the original. And if you complain about not having enough space on this handle then, well, go live with the Hendersons Mr. Sasquatch.
Its a slim, 3 ounce knife. What else could you ask for in terms of carry? I don’t like the pocket clip AT ALL, but I will save those point deductions for Retention Method. And so, if you have always wondered why I have two scores for this one aspect of a knife, this is an example of why. A knife can carry well even with an atrocity for a clip.
Let’s just get this out of the way—there is no such thing as alchemy. But a Bos heat treat is as close as it gets. Bos’s treatment protocols make 420HC perform like VG-10 and the same magic applies here. This is the best S30V I have used by a country mile. I don’t think the difference as is big as Buck’s advantage in 420HC, because there is not that much room for improvement, but it is noticeable. As an aside, Pete, any chance you’d do a steel test on Bos S30V? S30V in its normal iteration is on the edge between a 1 and a 2. This is a no brainer 2.
Blade Shape: 2
This is a beautiful blade, albeit a bit less sinister than its beefier brother. Personally, I really like this shape better as it is less scary and, frankly, more functional. Beautiful and functional? Yes, sign me up.
The grind itself is very thin and the edge is exceptionally toothy even after a significant cardboard recycling session (my youngest son got his first big boy bed). The blade is thin to begin with and the grind takes it even thinner. Its not the steadiest grind either but its lack of evenness is really not functional at all.
Deployment Method: 2
Retrofitting a thumbstud on nail nick design is always a dangerous proposition, but Buck knows the 110 in the same way that Chevy knows the Corvette (which, interestingly is exactly one decade older than the 110). The result is a knife that works with the thumb stud. The backlock is still massively strong so you will need some thumb calisthenics, but once you get the hang of it, the thumb stud is undoubtedly effective.
Retention Method: 0
Avert your eyes. This clip is ugly. Its also not that great at actually retaining the knife. Because it is so short and the knife is so long, you get a very distinct pendulum effect in the pocket. Additionally, because it is so wide and deep carry, this thing is a intense paint scraper. If I were blind, on roller skates, and carrying fifteen janitor-sized keyrings on my belt I might do more damage in a parking lot, but that is only a maybe.
Hopefully some clever machinist with come up with a clip that is more traditional in appearance and function and remedy this clip. Compared to the curvy silhouette of the Spyderco spoon clip, this thing looks like a Thanksgiving Day ham (mmmm...ham....). I don’t mind billboard clips, but when the billboarding impacts function, it bothers me.
This is the only truly bad part of the 110 and even then it is not that bad as it is a sign that Buck is pushing innovation. I just wish that in that push they would have shrank their logo. That would have fixed every problem. And, by the way, when you make a knife as iconic as the 110, the knife itself is basically a logo for Buck. No billboarding needed when your knife is this famous.
If anyone knows of a clip swap that works, please post it in the comments section.
It wiggles. But it is a lock back. Still lockbacks don’t need to wiggle. But that is more a fit and finish issue than a lock issue. Never once did I feel like the lock was about to fail, even with thin handles.
Fidget Factor: high:
This is not a flipper, but for a thumbstud lock back, the amazing micarta handles are very, very inviting for your digits. The knife is not so heavy that its a pain to handle either.
Fett Effect: very high:
Micarta ages so well and eventually gets a smooth, almost polished feel. I really, really like that, especially on a knife with likes as classic as the 110.
For $80 you get quite a bit of awesomeness. Good steel, good materials, classic design. It is not a screamer and I’d like to see better fit and finish at this price, but its still a good buy.
Overall Score: 17 out of 20
Often in my reviews I am arguing for a position—namely the merits of the score I have given the product. In this case I don’t have to argue as strenuously. History is on my side. I am not forced to make comparisons, witty turns of phrase, or logical deductions—no knife has been as successful as the Buck 110. And so, in one very real sense, I know that I am right when I say that this is a great blade. Its not a perfect blade. The score indicates that. But this is a knife that truly exceeds the score, a knife that does not fit well into a series of points and a tabulation at the end. The trick of giving you all of the good stuff of a 110 while shedding weight like a UFC fighter before weigh in is truly staggering. In short, pay no attention to the 17 out of 20, if you like knives you should handle a Slim Pro. Heck, the 112, which is the smaller version of the 110, looks promising too.
I don’t want to give Buck a pass for the gappy and wiggly lock up or the clip, but there is only so much I can care about those things when I am getting a historically great design with a blade to weight ratio that is off the charts. For those of you that like big blades, this is the knife you should carry. Don’t burden yourself with the pocket hamburgers you have been carry until now.
In the end, this is the best way to put it—the Buck 110 Slim Pro is one of my most favorite, if flawed, knives. Note that you can rearrange the score, take off 1 point in Grind and Lock while upping the score on Fit and Finish and end up with the same overall score.
The Competition (Special Edition)
Instead of doing the normal competition I want to do a thorough comparison between the original (seen on left below) and the Slim Pro (right).
First, let me say that no knife will be better than THAT particular 110. It was my grandfather’s knife and when he passed away two October’s ago it became mine. I really love this knife. I still remember using it on a fishing trip I took with him when I was 10. It struck me as a hefty chunk then and it still does now.
Overall, obviously there is a huge weight and thickness difference between the two. The grip on the original is okay, but mainly good because the girthy handle fills your hand. The materials, however, do nothing to help. They are slick and slippery. The micarta on the Slim Pro is, on the contrary, perfectly grippy in all conditions.
I also really like the fact that clip point is not so clippy. The exposed rear tang on the original isn’t terribly offensive, but it is even less so with the Slim Pro. The balance on the Slim Pro is actually, well, balanced and because of that the knife feels especially quick and agile in the hand.
Then there is the steel. Bos S30V is better than Bos 420HC. Duh. But both are significantly better than other versions of their respective steels. As I said above the S30V is not THAT much better than regular S30V but that is because there is less space for improvement.
If you have a thing for nostalgia, get the original. If you like knives, get the Slim Pro. All of the things that make the 110 historically important, but with modern touches and less of the stuff that made the original inconvenient to carry.