Buck Knives dates back to 1902, and a Kansas blacksmith looking for a better way to temper steel farming tools to hold an edge longer. However, it was Hoyt Buck’s son, Al Hoyt, who revolutionized the knife industry in 1964—the Model 110 Folding Hunter was the first of their lockblade folders.
Folding knives with locking blades are not new. Lock-blade knives date back to at least the 1400s in Spain. In fact, for all of the Middle Ages, the best blades in the world came from Toledo, Spain. Medieval history aside, it was Buck Knives in the 1960s that first popularized the lockback knives in the US.
The term “buck knife” came to mean folding lockback knife, no matter who made it. This has been replaced by “tactical folder,” credited to custom knifemaker Bob Terzuola. But before tactical folder, it was buck knife. The Buck Model 110 Folding Hunter was the first modern folding knife considered strong enough to do most of the work of a fixed blade. And Buck knives come with a simple warranty: forever.
Today, Buck is one of the most famous brands of Made-in-the-USA knives. Buck recently introduced additions to their lines of knives that are of interest to law enforcement: one fixed blades and three tactical folders. The two TOPS/Buck CSAR-T models, for example, are a fixed blade and a matching folder with the same basic features.
Buck recently introduced its line of CSAR-T (Combat Search and Rescue Tool) folding and fixed knives. The CSAR-T series is collaboration between Buck Knives and TOPS Knives. Tactical Operations Products (TOPS) is a hard-core, custom knife maker also based in Idaho. The TOPS knife team has former members of SEAL Team 3, Marine Recon, Phoenix SWAT, Airborne Rangers along with some defensive tactics and martial arts instructors.
TOPS makes more than 200 different fixed blades, ranging from 1-inch blades to machete-length. They also make dozens of pieces of survival gear including axes, neck knives and folders. TOPS is the real-deal in the custom world, validated by being selected by Buck for a mass produced series.
The CSAR-T series includes three tactical folders and one fixed blade. The folder known simply as CSAR-T was the first knife from the TOPS and Buck collaboration. With the recent release of other folding knives in the CSAR-T series, this original knife has been renamed CSAR-T Pro.
The CSAR-T Pro is a for-real, tactical-use, harsh duty knife. It has an extra thick, 0.065-inch liner lock, and tough G10 handles. The 0.175-inch thick, 3 1/2-inch Tanto blade is made from ATS-34 stainless steel. In fact, half the height of the blade is that thick. Behind S30V, the ATS-34 alloy and its twin, the 154CM, are ideal for police use, offering a great balance of performance versus blade cost.
The CSAR-T Pro tactical folder was named 2010 Best of the Best by Field & Stream. This is also the knife sold through TOPS, as well as Buck. With online pricing between $75 and $88, for a tough folder with an ATS-34 blade, most cops would say the search for an excellent tactical folder is over.
New for 2011, TOPS/Buck introduced a lighter, slim-line and lower cost version of the CSAR-T using mostly the same design. The CSAR-T Avid uses a thinner blade (0.120-inch), made of a less expensive blade alloy (420HC). The Avid also uses a thinner liner lock (0.050-inch) and Santoprene ™ rubber handles instead of the G10 used on the CSAR-T Pro.
However, the Avid still uses the Pro dual thumb studs, still has the Pro oversize pivot pin, and still has both the wire bending features on the blade and the hex drive on the pommel from the Pro. In the final analysis, the original CSAR-T Pro is so much better in every way, and not much more money. That still has our vote.
The other new for 2011 folder in the CSAR-T series is the TOPS/Buck Responder. The Responder is basically an Avid folder with G10 handles. However, the Responder folder has two unique emergency services feathers: a glass breaker and a seat belt cutter built into the pommel.
New for 2011, TOPS/Buck introduced a fixed blade in the CSAR-T series. The CSAR-T Fixed is “meant for extreme use, i.e., cutting, chopping, penetrating and prying.” To do the things we normally do with a fixed blade, TOPS/Buck selected an extra thick (0.188-inch) blank of 420HC stainless steel. The full tang knife has a 4 1/2-inch blade and tough G10 handles.
The CSAR-T Fixed has a very pronounced index finger groove and an exposed pommel. The handles use a roughened and grooved G10. The pommel has the essence of a straight blade screwdriver and a hex hole to accept various tools.
Buck makes a 15-bit tool set for the 095 CSAR-T series of folding knives and fixed blades. This accessory is actually well worth having, especially as a comparison to the fixed blade. The kit includes three Phillips, three straight blade, three square, five Torx and an adaptor-extender. The pommel of both the CSAR-T fixed blade and one of the handle liners on all the CSAR-T folders have the hex-shaped driver.
The CSAR-T Fixed weighs 8.8 ounces, and with the 4 1/2-inch blade, is on the small and light side for a lot of hacking and chopping. The 420HC is very corrosion resistant, but comparable to 440A stainless, will need somewhat frequent sharpening. This is a good enough knife for many SWAT uses, and is an excellent companion to the CSAR-T folder. A higher grade of stainless like the ATS-34 used in the CSAR-T Pro would have made the CSAR-T Fixed an outstanding choice.
Vantage Force Pro
Take Buck Knives at their word when they describe their three Vantage Force® tactical knives as good-better-best. The Vantage Force Select with a 420HC blade is only “good.” The Vantage Force Avid uses a 13C26 blade alloy. Like 420HC, this is a lower carbon, low chrome steel and has a hardness comparable to 440B.
In contrast to these lower end blade alloys, the Vantage Force Pro uses S30V blade steel. This is probably the best police-oriented blade steel available today. The S30V is one of the latest upgrades in blade steel in the age old battle between the hardness and edge retention of high carbon steel and the toughness and corrosion resistance of stainless steel.
Blade steels keep getting more and more of the best of both worlds – and S30V is among the latest of these widely available hybrid stainless steels. Just a few years ago, the best balance of performance and cost for police blades was Crucible 154CM and Hitachi ATS-34. Today it is S30V. As such, the Vantage Force blade alloy blade alloy is best described as “good” (the Select folder); “good” (the Avid folder); and “excellent” (the Pro folder).
The handle material likewise reflects an increase in quality and utility. The Select uses fiberglass reinforced nylon, the Avid uses 6061 aluminum and the Pro uses G10, which is fiberglass reinforced epoxy. The G10 on the Pro-series is even further textured with machined groves. The result is an extremely high-friction grip surface. All these knives have a reversible pocket clip.
The Vantage Force tactical folders all use a liner-lock design. The blades are made from 0.125-inch thick blanks. All of the Vantage Force folders are available with a plain blade edge or a police-oriented partially-serrated blade. We wish the pivot pin were a bit larger, beefier. The folders can be opened with either an oval thumb hole, or with the blade flipper. The index finger flipper works quite well.
The Vantage Force Pro is an excellent choice as a patrol folder. The 3 1/2-inch blade is long enough. The use of a liner-lock, only a “good” design, keeps the price down. The G10 handles spell absolute durability. With online prices of $70, the tactical folder is affordable. That is not much money for a Made-in-USA folder with a S30V blade. We definitely recommend the Vantage Force Pro.
What is 420HC Stainless Steel?
Where does 420HC fit in among all of the high carbon tool steels and high chrome stainless steels? Compared to the 440-series, 420HC is a low carbon, low chromium stainless steel.
Carbon gives hardness and edge holding. Chrome means stainless. Chrome adds toughness and rust resistance, i.e., chrome makes steel “stainless.” As such, 420HC is roughly equivalent to 440A, and in the lower end of stainless steels. It is a low cost alloy, a bit soft but very stain-rust resistant. Good for wet and marine environments.
What makes 420HC noteworthy is a shot of vanadium. Vanadium increases hardness and improves the ability to take a very sharp edge. The end result is a hardness midway between 440A and 440B. Caveat Emptor…440C, steps above 440A and 440B, should be considered a minimum, and most modern stainless steels are clear improvements over 440C.
Overall, the 420HC may be a bit soft for a hard use, police or tactical blade, which simply means it will need more frequent sharpening.