The Buckeye – Battle Horse Knives All-Around Work Horse
A long ways back, I worked on a large cattle ranch in Northern Nevada. The ranch had a few buckaroos caring for cattle numbering in the thousands. We fed them on a 4,000 acre home ranch during the winter and ran them the rest of the year on enough range land to feed and turn them into money. The hands on the ranch consisted of numerous men able to work and handle cattle. Some were expert ropers, others great at gathering and herding, and a few hayed well and actually liked it. All were adequately skilled enough to do many types of ranch work including building fences and corrals, branding and ear marking, and “cutting” young bulls into steers. But occasionally a cowhand showed up that was good at all of the above-named skills, and could also break horses, ride rough string, repair motor vehicles and farm machinery, weld, use a coal forge, and could savvy how all of these skills fit into the overall success of a cattle ranch. These hands were usually not “masters” of any special skill but were competent and able to do just about everything well. This combination of traits and skills made them valuable to the ranch as a good all-around hand. When I began looking for a knife possessing this “all-around” trait, I found sorting through, researching, and trying out many knives to be sometimes fun, often time consuming, always expensive, and never quite satisfying. During the search I found many knives that were truly great at performing narrowly defined tasks, and although they could be used for other things, they were not always good at tasks outside of their specialty. Then I landed on the Battle Horse Knives Buckeye.
The Battle Horse Knives (BHK) Buckeye knife has a 4 3/8” long blade, 1 1/8” deep belly, and a stout 5/32” inch spine. In general terms the blade is a “drop point, but specifically its shape is a cross between a bush tool and a bush lore – keeping the pointed tip up just enough to maintain a good belly sweep without sacrificing the ability to use the tip in a manner centered tips are known for; bearing straight down to pierce into and cut material. The grind is a saber high enough to enable good slicing, while maintaining blade strength, and ground in a manner that culminates into a sharp robust tip. The blade is unsharpened a 1/4” from the handle’s integral guard which allows the user to choke up on the knife without giving up sharpened blade edge when cutting from a nonchoked grip. My narrow grip/handle is polished micarta, which makes it easy to keep clean, and is shaped to be comfortable in many different grips. Finally, the 5/32” width spine provides a good platform for the thumb when using the knife for hard push cuts. The knife has the overall feel of a tool that is ready to work at whatever task it’s called to do. It is a tool and not a work of art, devoid of frills or unnecessary features. Although not unattractive, its greater beauty is in the wide variety of work it will perform.
The first day I received the knife (neatly and protectively packaged with a working sharp edge) I took it out and made a few feather sticks and sliced chunks of wood off numerous branches. Then I cut up a bunch of heavy cardboard boxes and large plastic bottles that needed to be reduced to fit in a garbage can. I wanted to see if it would cut and slice. It did both very well.
A few days later I ran the Buckeye through a few tasks. I hadn’t yet sharpened the factory edge. The first task was cutting a heavy tin coffee can in half. Whether I want to or not, and despite good planning, I’ve often had to cut up a piece of tin to cover something, make a shim, or make a small bucket or container. I sometimes work in the desert miles from a hardware store, and a good knife must cut things from various available materials, like tin, to complete a job. The Buckeye easily pierced tin and then cut around the 3 lb. coffee can without a hitch. The knife’s stout but sharp tip punctured through the side of the can without causing a pressure dent. The integral blade guard covered by the handle scales allowed me to easily cut through the tin can while keeping my hands away from the emerging sharp tin edges. The task was complete without any unexpected cuts to either the can or my hand.
Now with a little cutting under its blade, it was time to see how the edge was holding up. The Buckeye’s steel is O1 and tempered to around 58 – 60 Rockwell. Battle Horse Knives are known to provide a good heat treatment to their blades, and many YouTube video reviews have attested to Battle Horse Knives’ good edge retention and toughness. But I wanted to see for myself, so wandered over to my small wood pile to see if I could make feather sticks from a piece of seasoned mesquite and another dry piece of hardwood I had on hand. I live in Arizona and mesquite is everywhere, so it is my wood of choice for just about everything from burning to tool making to cooking – I am surrounded by various tool sticks made of mesquite. Mesquite is hard and tough and not easy to cut when dry. When cut with a sharp knife, the surface of mesquite’s center wood is often polished glass smooth; it is hard stuff. Making feather sticks with the Buckeye was easy. The high saber grind combined with a good edge angle, and a handle/blade design allowed an abbreviated choke grip, which gave me the control and cutting ability needed to make short work of this task, on both hardwoods.
One of the reasons I prefer a 5/32” blade over a 1/8” blade is because I often place my thumb on its spine when using a knife, and because of the Buckeye’s excellent handle/guard/blade transition design, it begs the user to choke up when doing heavy push cuts. That Battle Horse Knives is able to design a knife with this feature without sacrificing cutting edge length, increasing blade length, or lessening the knives cutting effectiveness when not choking up (because the cutting edge is still close to the handle/grip) is an apparent testament these knives are designed by folks who use knives.
The spine is cut at a very sharp 90 degree angle and is useful for scraping, striking a fire rod, and other tasks. But be careful because it can cut you. I know it can because I managed to slide my thumb just a bit when doing a heavy push cut and shed a little blood as a result. The Buckeye’s right-angle spine throws sparks off a fire stick like the 4th of July and scrapes like an edged blade, but again remember this feature can cut both ways. This is not a criticism of the Buckeye. Instead, it’s an affirmation of its sharp 90-degree spine.
From hardwood feather sticks I moved over to a tire I used a few weeks back to drag a discarded saguaro cactus a half mile to our yard. My wife and I had found the large 16-foot cactus plowed over by a housing developer and decided we wanted its skeleton. After getting proper permission we skinned the cactus to lessen its weight and tried to lift into a truck bed – no dice, it was too heavy. So, we chained it to the truck and began to drag it home, but the asphalt began to rub off the skeleton’s bottom and the chain began to wear through, so we stopped and reassessed the job. We loosened the cactus from the truck hitch and left it on the side of the road to race home to retrieve a couple old tires to use as skids. I had a Schrade knife on my hip that evening and used it to cut tie-off holes in the sidewalls of the tires. It started out with a waning edge, and after a few good cuts it became dull and required a lot of pressure to finish cutting. But night had fallen, and I had no time to find another knife to complete the tasks, so we forced the blade to do the work. The Schrade had a blade configured the way I liked, and I’d modified the edge so it would cut, but the 1095 steel with its heat treatment didn’t stay sharp when cutting through the truck tire. We finally got the holes cut in the tires, hauled them back to the cactus and successfully used them as skids to drag the cactus home. So back to the Buckeye.
To mimic the tasks described above, I used the Buckeye to cut holes and long cuts in the heavy sidewall of the same light truck tires we used to skid the cactus. I wanted to see how its less than fresh edge could cut and slice through heavy rubber laced with steel cords, and to see if its tip was up to puncturing through rubber and nimble enough to make small holes, like the ones needed to thread rope through for tieoffs. The Buckeye did all I asked of it, and I’m sure it would have made the work quicker and easier than the Schrade had that night. An important trait of an all-around knife is getting a job done quickly when time isn’t on your side. Time is something we can’t make, but if we have a sharp knife on hand when needed, and it stays sharp throughout the job, we have a better chance of utilizing the time we’ve been
given. The Buckeye hadn’t arrived on the night of the cactus, but it will be on my hip for the next adventure.
Cutting through truck tires can dull a knife, so to check the edge, I went back to the wood pile and found a piece of pine to make more feather sticks. Again, the Buckeye handled the task with ease, making a feather stick I’d later use to build a fire. I did however sense the edge might benefit from a little touch up.
So, I found a rock with a somewhat flat surface from a nearby rock pile and touched up the edge with it. I cannot count the times I’ve found myself with a dull or dulling knife away from a whet stone, and had to use a rock or another piece of something hard to sharpen an edge. If you own a knife with a steel blade that cannot be sharpened with a natural stone in the field, in a pinch, it is not an all-around knife. I own a lot of knives; but a knife with a blade that holds an edge, yet can be easily resharpened using common whet stones, is a knife I will carry and use. I own one knife, made from some “super steel” that so hard that it keeps an edge for a long, long time. But it is so hard to sharpen that I have to send it to the maker to sharpen it when it dulls. It resides in a cabinet along with some other useless knives.
The Buckeye’s O1 steel retains an edge, is easy to touch up, and easy to sharpen if dulled. These positive traits are valuable in an all-around knife and cannot be overstated.
With a somewhat decent “rock sharpened” edge I took the Buckeye over to the work bench to race it against a razor-sharp Buck 110. The track was a 1.5” diameter dried mesquite limb; a sharpened stake would be the finish line. The Buckeye began the contest with a decent edge, but not a razor edge (it was not shaving sharp). The Buck 110, known as a great slicer, began with a shaving sharp edge. The Buckeye finished the race in a little under 4 minutes 50 seconds, while the Buck 110 did it in 2 minutes 40 seconds – a difference of 2 minutes and 10 seconds. The Buckeye sliced and cut through the mesquite with each push or pull. It did not bounce or slide off the wood, but bit into it and removed material. Even though the Buckeye has a thick spine and saber grind, it reliably slices and cuts wood without skidding. And even though the Buck 110 is hollow ground and has a smaller degree edge angle (made to slice and cut easily), it too had a tough time removing material from the cured mesquite branch. The Buckeye held its own in this match-up, even though the Buck 110 held an unfair advantage in grind, edge angle, and initial sharpness.
The Buckeye was still working sharp after the race, but I dug out my old Washita stone and put a very sharp edge on it, and then used a hard Arkansas stone to make it shaving sharp. Both stones are natural, but easily sharpened the Buckeye. I then took the razor-sharp Buckeye and made a stake point from the same mesquite in 3 minutes and 13 seconds – now just a hair over a half minute more than the Buck 110. Not bad for an all-around blade that is bull stout compared to the Buck. The Buckeye is a very good cutter and slicer.
Finishing up this day’s knife workout, I used the Buckeye to split some mesquite kindling and built a small fire using the feather sticks made earlier in the day. I don’t use a knife to baton large wood into small wood but will baton kindling when I’m too lazy to drag out a hatchet or a big knife. One of the reasons I bought the Buckeye was so I could split kindling with it when needed – it of course, works. I also used the Buckeye’s 90-degree spine to throw sparks from a fire rod (I usually use a striking steel and not my knife to throw sparks). Needless to say, it only took a couple throws to splash a load of sparks on the wood to ignite a fire.
A well-designed knife combines all parts and aspects of a knife – blade shape, grind, edge, handle, blade to handle transition – in a manner that complements each other and causes the knife to work for, and not against, the user. There are other knives made in shapes similar to the Buckeye, but I’ve not found or used one, that combines all of the parts and aspects better than the Buckeye.
I’ve carried the Buckeye for more than months. It has climbed more than half a dozen trees with me and performed as needed. I climb trees to remove branches overhanging roofs or to bring the tree down. The grip on my Buckeye is polished micarta and narrow, which makes it a bit slippery in big sweaty hands; once causing me to fling it from a tree into Hersey’s Kiss sized hard crushed granite 30 feet below. There was no damage to the edge, but the spine took a couple scratches. My groundman, used to watching for things falling from above, attached a lanyard and tossed it back up to me and I put it back to work cutting, with some light prying and chopping thrown in. One thing I noted with this knife is its sheath. It is Battle Horse Knives #9 sheath of pouch design. It is well constructed and best of all, well designed. The opening at the top is tight enough to secure the handle when fully sheathed and prevents the knife from accidently coming out, even when it’s not carried completely vertical. But the section of the sheath that houses the blade is generous and allows the user to insert the knife into the sheath without precisely lining it up. Even better, it seems as one inserts the knife into the sheath, the front part of the grip moves into the sheath a half inch or so before the blade begins to take its position in the blade section of the sheath – allowing the grip to align the blade as it enters the narrower portion of the sheath, and thus ensuring an easy resheathing process. Why does this matter? Maybe it doesn’t to some, given the popular emphasis on tight sheaths that don’t rattle. But to me, an impatient lazy man; I want a sheath that holds a knife safe and secure until I need it, then allows a quick deployment and quick resheathing, especially 30 or 40 feet above the ground, balancing between limbs and ropes, needing to re-sheath quickly to free my hand to grab a descending limb before its weight overcomes the leverage I need to control it. I have, of course used other knives when climbing trees, but after nearly cutting through heavy leather sheaths forcing the blade back in them in a hurry, they sit where they belong, in a drawer somewhere unused. I appreciate a company that understands a sheath is part of a knife and not just an afterthought or an appeasement to current marketing trends. It should also be noted – it doesn’t rattle. Well done, Battle Horse Knives.
I’ve used the Buckeye to butcher small game, including cutting wings off over a dozen doves. During dove season I clean my doves and the hunting parties, which adds up to a lot of doves. One of the most tedious and time-consuming tasks of cleaning doves is removing the wings. It is a snap with the Buckeye. I simply lay the edge against the wing near the shoulder and push it through the bone to the wood underneath it. Very fast, very efficient, and with little effort – task done. During the last hunt I cut thirty wings in a matter of minutes without any fuss with no ill effect on the blade. Bones are hard on a blade and can often chip or roll an edge, but not on this knife. The task was finished, and the edge remained straight and sharp.
I do have one small gripe though, when it comes to dressing small game. I would prefer a more smoothly finished blade. Although the grind lines on the Buckeye is like other handmade knives in its class, I’d like a more polished finish – simply because it is easier to clean. I use a pellet gun to get cottontail in the local brush patch surrounding my house, and most of the time it’s a routine exercise – shoot the rabbit, hang it and peel off the hide, then cut it into pieces to cook. But one day I shot one a little far back and then had to shoot it again in the neck to kill it. I hung it as usual, but had to remove the shot up part and head before peeling the skin off to get it out of the way. I used the Buckeye to remove the head at the neck, covering the blade with blood. No big deal, usually. Then I peeled the skin off (you don’t need a knife to skin a rabbit) and opened the body cavity to look for the liver. I found it and it had yellow spots on it – an indication it could have tularemia (“rabbit fever”). Rabbit fever is contagious and can be transmitted from the blood of an animal through the pores in human skin. So, I stopped, got rid of the carcass, and spent the next half hour cussing all the grind groves in my knife that had to be brushed out from spine to edge with brush to ensure all the blood was removed, which took more time and care to clean than a knife with a satin or polished finish. Because I knew I’d use the Buckeye to clean and butcher game, I bought it with smooth micarta grips for easier cleaning. I wished I had asked for a more polished blade as well. Is this real problem? No, it’s a work around that will only bug me in certain instances when I need to work more and longer than I want to.
I didn’t draw a deer tag this year, so skinning a deer with the Buckeye will have to wait. I have over a lifetime skinned and dressed a lot of deer, with a variety of knives, and I am confident the Buckeye will skin and dress deer very well; its blade shape, edge geometry, overall design, and comfortable handle ensure it will. But, just for fun, I skinned a “tuna” (prickly pear fruit) with it. In the desert where I hunt, prickly pear cactus are everywhere, and in the fall are usually full of fruit. The fruit, whose core tastes like a mixture of Kiwi and Watermelon can be a nice treat. The core is wrapped inside a stiff thin skin covered with dots made of many very sharp spines that penetrate the skin on your fingers and are hair thin and hard to remove. One way to get to the fruit is to place the tip of a stick on the top of the fruit to hold it still while you “skin it” to expose the core; then cut the core from the cactus pad. Sometimes however, the fruit will detach from the pad while skinning if the knife isn’t sharp enough, and the edge profile isn’t thin enough to cut through the skin without “shaking” it loose. To really test the Buckeye’s skinning edge profile, I decided to skin the “tuna” without holding it with a stick. It performed the task without knocking the fruit loose. With the skin gone, I grabbed the fruit, cut from the pad and ate it. This one was a little bitter, but the knife completed the task with ease. Not bad for a knife with a 5/32” spine and blade stout enough to cut through light truck tires.
After months of using the Buckeye for most everything I use a knife for, I must say it is a great all-around knife. It carries easy without being too long or heavy, is stout where needed for hard use tasks, cuts and slices easily through a variety of materials, is comfortable in many grips when being used for a variety of cutting holds and pressures and is easy enough to maintain. It is good as it came “stock” from the maker, and I will use it a lot going forward.
I will, however, make a few changes on the next Buckeye I buy. I will ask for some liners between the micarta handle and tang to increase the grip thickness to accommodate my XL hands and will ask for a more polished blade. These “improvements” are to fit me and my use needs and may not be the same for someone else.
Designing and building an all-around knife is far more difficult than building a knife for a specific task. An all-around knife must do the tasks of many specific task-built knives, and it must do it in many different hands and categories of applications. And while using the “right tool for the job” is sound wisdom, no one can carry around a bucket full of knives in anticipation of what they will encounter in a day’s work. One must rely on the knife on their hip to do many jobs well. Making and offering a good allaround knife is a challenge many knife makers skirt around and few do well. I tip my hat to Battle Horse Knives for taking up the challenge and delivering an exceptional all-around knife. Is this knife the valuable all-around knife I’ve been searching for? Is it like the all-around ranch hand I mentioned at the beginning of this review? Well, let’s see. A good and valuable all-around ranch hand is a man, who after years of experience has learned, adapted, and applied his experience and skills to meeting the needs of a ranch. He is dynamic, where a knife, once made, is static. Being static, a knife, once built, is unable to learn and adapt to the many cutting and other tasks an all-around knife must do. However, the person, whose mind and hands design and build the knife, can learn, adapt, and apply their experience to the knife they build. And I must say, the designer and builder of the Buckeye has proven his experience and skill in building a knife that is as close to a perfect allaround knife as these hands have used. When I thread my belt through the sheath carrying the knife I expect to work on many different tasks for the day, it will be a Battle Horse Knives Buckeye.