The Buck Marksman, internally referred to as Model 830, is a drastic departure from the majority of what the Buck Knives brand is known for. It’s futuristic, sleek, forward-thinking, and it’s an incredibly compelling everyday carry knife once you learn how to use it properly.
For many, the Buck name is forever associated with the classic’s like the Model 110 back-lock hunting knife, but the Marksman is about as different from that classic stalwart as a folding knife can be.
- Blade Length: 3.50″
- Overall Length: 8.25″
- Closed Length: 4.75″
- Weight: 4.3 oz
- Blade Material: 154CM
- Handle Material: Aluminium
- Locking Mechanism: Strong Lock System (SLS)
- Deployment Mechanism: Flipper
- Country of Origin: USA
- Price Range: About $90
The Marksman is a design collaboration with Grant & Gavin Hawk, the father and son design duo that have brought numerous fascinating designs to market through other manufacturers. There was the Kershaw E.T. with a multi-piece handle that pivoted around the knife itself, and the R.A.M. and the brand new Induction with the Hawk-Lock toggle switch. Zero Tolerance produced two of their designs, the dirt-resistant 0500 M.U.D.D. and the automatic 0650. They also did the (recently discontinued) Ti-Lock with Chris Reeve which integrated the locking mechanism into the spine of the blade instead of into the handle – an interesting design for sure. In addition, they’ve made designs for CRKT, Boker, Mantis, and Camillus.
The big draw to the Marksman is the lock, called the SLS (Strong Lock System, seriously) which is a clever variation of a strap lock. We’ll dive into the lock more later, but it has several unique attributes that make the Marksman a captivating knife to use and carry on a daily basis.
While Buck uses a lot of 420 high-carbon in their knives, the standard Marksman uses Crucible 154CM, which is a refinement of the classic 440C stainless steel with the addition of Molybdenum to increase hardness and edge retention – according to Crucible’s literature on the steel, 154CM offers 11-26% better wear resistance compared to 440C and can maintain several points higher hardness on the Rockwell scale. It’s not the newer CPM-154 variant which is produced through the powdered metallurgy process (which is used, among other places, on the Kershaw Launch line of automatics) but it is still a well-regarded “standard bearer” of mid-range cutlery steels.
Benchmade loves using 154CM, and it’s a favorite steel of mine. It can take a mirror polished edge and get absolutely screaming sharp, but it’s not bad to touch up on a set of stones and it holds an edge better than steels like AUS-8A or VG-10. Adding to the appeal of the Marksman is the Paul Bos heat treat. Bos runs Bos Services Co in Ohio, and does a lot of the in-house heat treatment for Buck. He’s widely considered an expert in the art of heat treatment, and the importance of his work is evident in that he gets billing on the side of the blade.
The blade itself is an ideal pattern for day to day use – 3.5” long with a drop point shape. The hollow grind on the blade ramps up towards the end of the blade, intersecting the spine about an inch behind the tip. Blade stock is 0.12”, thick enough so you don’t feel like you’ll randomly snap off the tip but thin enough to not get caught up in materials. As we’ll see, lots of things about the Marksman are “just right” compromises. There’s a sharpening choil at the base of the blade, but it’s got a “beard” – where the material flares out as the primary bevel transitions into the bolster, so the edge plunges downward. It’s not an annoyance when you’re using the knife, more-so when you’re sharpening it. A narrow oval thumb hole doesn’t protrude from the spine like a Spyderco, but rather is integrated into the profile of the knife and is just barely clear of the handle when closed.
The shape of the blade is a nice compromise between different usage styles. Since the primary bevel terminates well behind the tip it’s thin enough to penetrate material well, while the hollow grind makes the Marksman a good slicer. It’s not great for food prep, with the tip being mostly in line with the centerline of the handle and having a very shallow belly, but it’ll slice an apple in half like it wasn’t even there. A smooth satin finish on the blade is better than a bead blast but would still look better as a stonewash. I’ve sharpened the Marksman a few times now and it’s usually about a 20 minute task on a standard set of Sharpmaker stones – not as fast as, say, a Swiss Army Knife or something in 8Cr13MoV or AUS-8, but it’s not bad and it takes a wicked sharp edge pretty quickly.
Deployment & Lockup
Is this the best mid-range flipper ever? What? It very well may be. The Marksman uses self-contained ball bearings (in bright red races that can be seen when you peek through the scales when it’s closed) like a lot of modern flippers. It has a “light switch” style flipper tab with a little bit of jimping for traction, but the trick to the Markman’s superlative flipping action is actually the lock itself.
Most flippers these days (nearly all of them) are either liner locks or frame locks. The ball detent creates closed tension that when overcome by the user provides energy to flip the blade open. The downside with a liner/frame lock is that as the blade travels around the pivot to the open position, that detent ball rides along the tang of the blade and creates friction as well as sideways pressure. Eventually the detent ball will wear a small “track” into the tang and smooth out to a certain degree, but not ever to the same degree of the Marksman. It uses a strap lock that provides both closed tension as well as locks the blade in the open position.
It works with the machining on the tang of the blade, which has round cutouts where the strap fits into the blade in both the open and closed positions. When closed, there is a ramp that the strap presses against. Once the tension of the strap is overcome with the flipper tab, there is nothing pressing against the blade until it locks into the open position when the strap rides up over another ramp on the opposite side of the tang and drops into place. To release the lock you just lift the strap up.
Since there’s no friction while the blade is travelling, it opens incredibly well. Even the best-tuned frame lock flippers can’t approach the level of smoothness the Marksman provides. It doesn’t even have a particularly strong detent (like the muscular detent on the Factor Absolute) but it still snaps open with barely any effort, every single time. This kind of “outside of the box” solution is what the Hawks are famous for, such as their Out-The-Front automatic “The Deadlock” which has a unique inner mechanism that prevents blade play entirely when in the open position. It also makes the Marksman incredibly addicting to flip. The flipper tab itself works great to open the blade, as does the thumb hole – even used from the back in Spyder flick fashion. You can also flip the blade open by lifting up on the lock strap and flicking your wrist. There is a break-in period with the strap as it mates to the locking side surface of the tang – it has some stick initially and the strap itself is very stiff, but after a week or so of use it becomes super smooth.
It must be said, it’s extremely important that the user is familiar with how the Marksman works and how easily it free drops when it’s between the open and closed positions. If you’re not careful with the position of your fingers when you’re closing it, it will cut you very badly, as has been repeatedly mentioned by reviewers on Amazon and YouTube. Keeping your fingers clear of the path of the blade is a must with a knife that closes this smoothly.
Lockup is flawlessly secure, with no bladeplay at all in the vertical or horizontal axis. Blade centering on my example with off enough to see, but not enough to scrape the liners, and that doesn’t keep me up at night.
Features, Fit & Finish
The Marksman has a lot of cool stuff going on. The handle is a black anodized aluminum, with a series of horizontal stripes cut partially into the handle from the spine and the belly. The handles cut away under the strap lock, allowing you to see just the edge of the blade when it’s closed. The pocket clip is excellent: a stamped steel deep carry clip that mounts with two screws to the butt of the handle, it sits in a slot cut into the handle to locate it and can be flipped around for tip up right or left hand carry. It’s ideal: strong spring tension, a shallow curve at the end that doesn’t scrape paint or catch on things, and long enough to keep the knife firmly anchored in your pocket. It’s surprising how many knives these days get the clip wrong.
The strap is interesting, too. There are two screws that go through it to mount it to the backspacer, which also has a rectangle that protrudes through the strap to locate it front to back. There is a hole hidden in the backspacer along the butt of the handle which a small Allen key can be passed through to turn the set screw for the strap, adjusting tension to compensate for wear as the knife ages. Considering it’s steel-on-steel, the theoretical wear rate is incredibly slow, but it’s nice that G&G Hawk included this feature in case you want to adjust the preload.
The strap has jimping on both sides where you place your thumb to lift the strap so you don’t slip off of it, which can be a little rough at first on your thumb. A decorative pivot has torx fittings on both sides – the pivot barrel isn’t keyed to the handle – that allows you to hold the pivot on one side and adjust it on the other.
Fit and finish isn’t perfect on the Marksman. In fact, the Marksman I’ve been using for the last 8 months or so is actually the second Markman purchased off of Amazon. The first one had two of the body screws floating around loose in the box, which I quickly discovered was because the threads in the backspacer were stripped out. It was quickly exchanged for another example (thanks Amazon Prime!) but both examples exhibited a strange defect: a scratch running the height of the blade, from edge to spine, deep enough to feel with a finger nail, in the exact same spot.
There is also the somewhat uneven finish of the blade, a series of different color stripes along the primary bevel some of which are almost scratches. The markings on the blade are also a bit heavy-handed: one side displaying the “Buck USA” logo halfway down the blade, the other side with the Bos symbol, the marking “154CM” and “G&G Hawk Collaboration.” Some people say it’s easy enough to remove the labels with a scotchbrite pad, and maybe also even out the finish, but it’d be better if it had more minimal branding and a stonewash finish. Oddly, two of the body screws (which have flat heads) stand slightly proud of the scale, while they’re flush on the other side – all the way tight, however. The black anodization finish holds up about as well as can be expected – it’s better than paint but it does tend to wear thin around the edges, especially at the end of the handle, but it adds a little visual character.
I, frankly, love using the Marksman. It’s a pleasure to flip open and flip closed incessantly. It’s also a great cutter. The blade shape is extremely practical, good for everything from cutting up food to popping nylon straps and breaking down boxes. The Marksman is decently thin behind the tip, making it a good knife for piercing cuts, and it almost replicates the initial puncture ability of a spear point due to the primary grind terminating well behind the tip. There’s not any belly for rolling cuts, so prepping dinner wouldn’t be fun, but this is a tactical knife. The Marksman (along with the Gayle Bradley) have me pretty convinced about the superior slicing abilities of hollow ground blades, and they turn what would be a mediocre slicer if it were flat ground into a great tool. Edge retention is good, approximately on par with how long Benchmade’s 154CM holds an edge, with wear showing up as micro chipping rather than rolling.
Ergonomics are fair. The aluminum handle’s grip is improved by the grooves cut into it but it’s still not as great for a hard use knife as something with more purchase like G10 or Micarta. There is a G10 variant of the Marksman available exclusively from SK Blades made in house at Buck that has green G10 scales as well as a Bos heat-treated S35VN blade, which is stonewashed and flat ground. These are limited production so availability is questionable, but priced at $125 the SK Blades exclusive seems like a good upgrade for the money. The ergonomics are basic but sound, with the handle and flipper tab forming a finger guard in the open position. The strap lock itself is a good flat surface to rest your thumb on, and the long shallow pocket clip doesn’t make any hot spots when you grip down on it. Demerits for a lack of a forward choil, but that’s just me.
As far as carry goes, the Marksman is solid. A weight of 4.30 ounces is fairly light considering the aluminum handles, bearings, and stainless strap lock. The protruding edges of the strap lock can be rough on whatever else is floating around in your pocket (phone screen, etc) so exercise care. As mentioned earlier the clip is exemplary, with perfect spring tension and a nice shallow angle to the end of the clip so it doesn’t grab on steering wheels and car doors. It can be slightly difficult to get onto your pocket, especially if you have thicker seams, and it makes quick work of denim due to the placement of the clip contact point relative to the grooves in the handle. This could definitely use improvement, but destroyed pants pockets are a way of life at this point. It’s slim in profile measuring under a half inch thick and the long clip distributes the weight well.
At around $85 on Amazon, the Marksman is a remarkably good value for the money. The Tanto version varies in price, sometimes going for more or less than the regular. It has a different handle design – a “fracture” pattern of grooves cut randomly into the grip, as well as a black oxide stonewash coating to the blade. The dramatic American tanto with a sharp angle isn’t for me. There’s the aforementioned SK Knives G10 version as well as the rare Marksman Elite, a limited edition of only 250 units. At $180 retail, it bumps the steel up to exotic CPM-S90V with a stonewash black oxide coating, a fuller groove instead of a thumb hole, and a blue titanium Cerakote finish on the handle with slick carbon fiber inlays. Maybe too pretty to use, but definitely worth drooling over.
The full size Benchmade Griptilian with plastic scales and a thumb stud is about $100, offering lesser materials and features for more money. It is a little bit lighter at 3.82 ounces, and the Axis lock offers knife fidgeters similar satisfaction as the SLS lock. The Benchmade Barrage combines an assisted open action with the Axis lock and a satin finish 154CM blade, also with plastic handles over steel liners, for about $130. There’s also a safety switch on the spine if you want to leave the blade locked closed.
Of course, around this price range is the elephant in the room – a Spyderco Paramilitary 2 retails for around $125 in the standard satin finish CPM-S30V and black G10 handles. It’s very similar in size to the Marksman, a 3.4” clip point blade and 8.28” overall (the Marksman rings in at 8.25”) but a half ounce lighter. It also offers a 4 way pocket clip and Spyderco’s fantastic compression lock. Another all-time great is the lightweight bodied Spyderco Manix 2 in CPM-S110V, with a 3.4” leaf shaped blade in one of the longest edge-holding steels on the market, and Spyderco’s unique caged ball bearing lock. At only 3 ounces, the Manix2 Lightweight may present a big shape in the pocket due to the bulging spine but will hardly weigh your pants down. Or your wallet, at about $120 retail. There’s also a version in CTS-BD1 with cool translucent blue handles for around $85, which is similar in performance to the Marksman’s 154CM blade and much easier to sharpen than S110V.
Much thinner and sleeker than the Marksman, with more a slant towards light everyday tasks, is the lust-worthy Boker Urban Trapper. Long, thin, and crazy light (between 1.7-1.9 ounces) the Urban Trapper is a superlative flipper – with a strong detent and an IKBS bearing pivot it pops open like a switch. The choice of materials is charming: cocobolo wood, carbon fiber, or black G10 over stainless scales, or a skeletonized titanium framelock.
CRKT’s high end version of the Homefront is also tempting, with textured aluminum handles, a hollow ground drop point blade in AUS-8A, and the ability to be taken completely apart in seconds with no tools to clean it. It might be a gimmick, but it’s a cool one. A little more expensive at $115, though, but offering similarly innovative thinking.
The US made Buck Marksman is an unexpected triumph of a knife, primarily because I’d never have expected Buck to make it. It’s incredibly innovative, but it’s innovation that actually works – and works well. It pushes the envelope of lock and flipper technology, and that’s the sort of phrase usually followed by a caveat like “which is why it’s flaws are easy to accept,” but the Markman doesn’t have glaring flaws. It’s easily up there in my book with the Spyderco PM2 and the Benchmade Griptilian for greatest full size EDC blades. It’s good value for money, solid lock, excellent flipper, useful blade shape, and superb clip make it hard to dislike. If you’ve written off Buck as half-baked Chinese junk, the Marksman is a sign of the shifting paradigm at the company – which recently experience a changing of the guard in February of 2017 with a new CFO and COO – towards making higher quality products, and making them in America. I highly recommend it.
The Good: Frictionless flipping action, brilliant lock, practical blade shape and geometry, perfect pocket clip, great cutter
The Bad: Break-in period for strap can be challenging, some fit and finish issues, inexperienced users may injure themselves, tears up pockets, bearded sharpening choil
Bottom Line: A home run for Buck, and highly recommended to every EDC knife nut.