Comparing the KA-BAR BK2 and the Buck 119 for your next fixed blade knife purchase? In this article, we compare these two knives, highlighting which we think is better, and why. We compare knife manufacturer history, blade steels, tang design, cost, and more. Let’s jump in and find out which of these we think should join you on your next outdoor excursion!
KA-BAR Brand History
KA-BAR Knives, Inc. is a well known and highly respected American knife manufacturer. Their roots actually lie in Sheffield, England which was, at one time, one of the most well known knife manufacturing centers in the world. However, due to the demand for quality cutlery in America at the time of KA-BAR’s formation, a group of 38 English knifemakers decided to leave their guilds and immigrate to America. They there settled in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and there formed a limited partnership which they named the Tridioute Cutlery Company.
With the formation, they had the intention of manufacturing and selling high quality cutlery on the American market and, this limited partnership is widely considered to be the origins of the present day KA-BAR Knives, Inc. Therefore, KA-BAR is one of the oldest American knife manufactures still in business today. They presently manufacture more than 100 high quality cutlery products and accessories which are sold through various distributors. They are also sold by many different independent retailers and mail order catalogs as well as through their online store.
Buck Brand History
In contrast, Buck Knives was started in 1902 by a young Kansas blacksmith name Hoyt Buck. At the time, he used worn out files as his raw material from which he handcrafted each of his custom knives. However, Hoyt was not completely happy with the performance of his blades. As a result, he started his quest to find a way to make his blades hold an edge longer led to the production of the first Buck Knife. As a result, Buck Knives became well known for their quality and craftsmanship.
The company continued to grow as demand for Buck Knives increased. Then, in 1947, Hoyt and his son Al decided to move to San Diego, California where they reestablished their knife company under the name H.H. Buck & Son. There they continued to supply the public with high quality knives. Then, in 1964, Al Buck used the skills that he had learned from his father to design and introduce the Buck model 110 Folding Hunter which revolutionized the production knife industry.
This knife eventually became one of the single most iconic lockback folding knives ever designed. Hoyt and Al Buck’s ingenuity and quality craftsmanship made Buck Knives one of the best known and most popular production knife companies in existence. This extended to their commitment of developing innovative new products by third and fourth generation Buck family members and continues today through their ongoing improvement of existing designs.
BK2 vs. 119 Knife Comparison
Therefore, both KA-BAR Knives and Buck Knives still have the reputation today among knowledgeable knife users of manufacturing high quality production knives and both the KA-BAR/Becker BK2 “Companion” and the Buck model 119 “Special” are prime examples of these two companies’ capabilities. However, although both knives are very popular models among avid outdoorsmen, they do drastically differ in both design and materials.
For instance, the KA-BAR/Becker Knife & Tool Companion knife which KA-BAR also calls the BK2 is a modern day field utility knife that was designed by Ethan Becker of Becker Knife & Tool and manufactured under license by KA-BAR. Thus, the KA-BAR/Becker Companion is a fixed blade knife that features an overall length of 10.5 inches with a 5.25 inch drop point blade design and a 0.25 inch spine made from 1095 Chrome/Vanadium plain tool steel with a Rockwell Hardness of 56-58 HRC.
In addition, the blade of the BK2 features a flat saber grind to provide superior edge geometry combined with a black, epoxy, powder coat to help prevent corrosion of the non-stainless blade steel. Plus, the BK2 also features full tang construction combined with Ethan Becker’s trademark, ergonomic, handle design which is made from Ultramid (a high strength, impact and abrasion resistant, thermoplastic polyamide manufactured by BASF) and which leaves a small section of the tang exposed on the pommel that is commonly referred to as a “glass breaker” but which can serve several different purposes. Plus, the KA-BAR/Becker Companion knife is supplied with a heavy-duty, molded, Kydex sheath which is MOLLE compatible. Last, the KA-BAR/Becker Companion knife has an MSRP of $121.49.
On the other hand, the Buck Special, which is also known as the model 119, is also a fixed blade knife that features an overall length of 10.5 inches and has a 6 inch clip point blade design with a 0.17 inch spine made from 420HC stainless steel and which has a Rockwell Hardness of 56-58 HRC. In addition, the blade of the Buck Special features a hollow grind to provide superior edge geometry combined with a plain edge and a satin finish as well as a small fuller (aka blood groove). Plus, the Buck Special also features hidden tang construction combined with Buck’s trademark, ergonomic, handle design which is made from black, Phenol Formaldehyde resin (a high strength, impact and abrasion resistant, synthetic polymer) combined with their iconic aluminum pommel cap. Plus, the Buck Special knife is supplied with a heavy-duty, black, leather belt sheath. Last, the Buck Special knife has an MSRP of $96.00.
As mentioned in the previous section above, the KA-BAR/Becker Companion utility knife features an overall length of 10.5 inches and has a 5.25 inch drop point blade design with a 0.25 inch spine. Thus, although the blade on the BK2 is significantly shorter than that of the USMC Fighting and Utility Knife, it is also considerably stouter due to its significantly thicker spine.
In addition, although the KA-BAR website sates that the BK2 also has a flat grind, it actually has a semi-hollow grind which is a compromise between the strength of a saber grind and the superior sharpness of a flat grind and thus, it will accept a very fine edge hone. Also, the 5.25 inch drop point blade is a very good choice for a general purpose utility knife since it is long enough to perform the many different types of small tasks that might be required of it in a wilderness survival situation without being too long.
In fact, drop point blade designs are often favored by avid hunters over all other blade designs as well as by many experienced wilderness survivalists because the drop point brings the tip of the blade more in line with the center of the blade and thus, it not only cuts and slices well, it also does an excellent job of puncturing and drilling and thus, it is a good design for such tasks as making bark bowls.
Also as mentioned in the previous section above, the Buck model 119 Special features an overall length of 10.5 inches and has a 6 inch clip point blade design with a 0.17 inch spine. Therefore, not only does the blade design of the Buck Special drastically differ from that of the KA-BAR/Becker BK2, it is also three quarters of an inch longer than that of the KA-BAR/Becker Companion and, it is also a bit less stout due to its 0.17 inch spine.
In addition, the blade of the Buck Special also features a deep, semi-hollow, grind which enables it to be honed to an extremely sharp cutting edge. However, the semi-hollow grind also produces the thinnest edge geometry of all the various types of blade grinds except for a full hollow grind and thus, it is also produces the second weakest cutting edge.
Consequently, although the Buck Special has the size needed to perform various camp chores, it was actually designed to be a hunting knife rather than a wilderness survival knife and thus, is not particularly well suited for chopping or for splitting firewood using a baton. Furthermore, because the blade on the Buck Special is relatively narrow, the clip point is a very good choice of point profiles because the clip point serves to extend the belly of the cutting edge and thus, it creates an excellent profile for removing the hide from harvested game animals.
Consequently, both the KA-BAR/Becker Companion and the Buck Special would serve a user well as outdoor utility knives since they feature two of the most popular blade designs and, they both have blade grinds that produce fine cutting edges.
Also as noted above, the KA-BAR/Becker Companion and the Buck Special feature two entirely different blade steels. For instance, the blade of the KA-BAR/Becker BK2 is made from 1095 Chrome-Vanadium steel which is a very tough, non-stainless, Plain Tool Steel which consists of 0.95% – 1.1% Carbon which converts iron to steel, 0.3% – 0.5% Manganese which increases toughness and hardenability in steel, 0.4% – 0.6% Chromium which causes steel to resist corrosion, 0.06% Molybdenum which combines with Chromium to form hard, double carbide, bonds that help improve the abrasion and corrosion resistance of the steel during forging, 0.25% Nickel which adds strength and toughness to steel and also helps it to resist corrosion and, 0.161% Vanadium which helps to produce a fine grain structure during the heat treat stage to aid in honing the edge to a very fine degree and which also improves wear resistance to aid in maintaining edge sharpness.
However, because it contains significantly less than 10.5 percent Chromium, it is classified as Plain Tool Steel rather than as a Stainless Steel and thus, it is far more prone to corrosion that stainless steels are. Therefore, the blade of the KA-BAR/Becker Companion knife is coated with a matte black epoxy powder coat to aid in resisting corrosion but, even so, special attention needs to be paid to the cutting edge which remains uncoated.
In contrast, the blade of the Buck model 119 is made from 420HC (HC stands for High Carbon) which, despite its name, is a medium carbon stainless steel used extensively by Buck knives and which contains 0.40-0.50% Carbon which converts iron to steel, 0.80% Manganese which increases toughness and hardenability in steel, 12% – 14% Chromium which causes steel to resist corrosion, 0.60% Molybdenum which combines with Chromium to form hard, double carbide, bonds that help improve the abrasion and corrosion resistance of the steel during forging and, 0.18% Vanadium which helps to produce a fine grain structure during the heat treat stage to aid in honing the edge to a very fine degree and which also improves wear resistance to aid in maintaining edge sharpness.
Consequently, 420HC is very near to the perfect blade steel composition of Carbon, Chromium, Molybdenum, and Vanadium and thus, while it is not a tough as 1095 Cro-Van, it does a far better job of resisting corrosion due to its relatively high Chromium content. Plus, all Buck knife blades are heat treated by Paul Bos of Bos Services Company who is a well known blade steel heat treating guru which enables Buck Knives to take an extremely fine edge that rivals some of the premium blade steels in edge sharpness.
Thus, although the blade steel featured on the KA-BAR/Becker Companion is a non-stainless steel while that featured on the Buck Special is a stainless steel, they each have advantages and disadvantages over the other that might cause a user to choose one knife over the other.
For those of you who are not familiar with the term “tang” in relation to knives, only knives with fixed blades have extended tangs because a knife’s tang is commonly thought of as an extension of the blade to which the handle is attached. Consequently, while folding knife blades do have tangs through which the pivot pin is inserted, they are very short and thus, the handle scales are usually attached to the knife’s liners rather than the tang. Also, there are several different types of tangs and thus, as mentioned above, the KA-BAR/Becker Companion utility knife features a full tang which the strongest of all tang designs and which also adds a considerable amount of weight to a knife for more heft in the hand and better balance. In addition, unlike the Buck Special, the KA-BAR/Becker Companion features an exposed section of the tang which is not covered by the handle scales and thus, it can be used to break glass or plastic windshields in the event that a person finds themselves trapped in a downed aircraft or a disabled vehicle. Therefore, the exposed section of tang is commonly referred to as a “glass breaker.
On the other hand, the Buck Special knife features a hidden tang which is not as strong as a full tang because it is necessarily more narrow than a full tang but, it does enable a knife maker to add a handle to a knife that completely encloses the tang. However, it also provides a less positive balance to the blade and thus, knives with hidden tangs often have metal pommel caps to aid in balancing the knife.
Due to the full tang featured on the KA-BAR/Becker Companion, it necessarily has a pair of handle scales made from a synthetic material called Ultramid which is a high strength, impact and abrasion resistant, thermoplastic polyamide manufactured by BASF which are attached to the knife’s tang via three Chicago-type screws. Therefore, the handle featured on the KA-BAR/Becker BK2 utility knife is both very ergonomic and very tough as well as being impervious to the absorption of moisture in addition to chipping or cracking.
However, the handle of the Buck model 119 is made from black, Phenol Formaldehyde resin which is a high strength, impact and abrasion resistant, synthetic polymer that, combined with Buck’s iconic aluminum pommel cap, creates Bucks signature handle design.
Consequently, because the handle material used on both the KA-BAR/Becker BK2 and the Buck model 119 are both very tough, synthetic, impact and abrasion resistant materials, there is really no advantage to material one over the other except perhaps the fact that the Ultramid used on the KA-BAR/Becker Companion has a slightly textured surface whereas, the Phenol Formaldehyde resin used in the Buck Special is highly polished and thus, the Buck Special has a very smooth grip.
Best Value & Our Pick
Last, judging the value of one knife compared to another based on their respective costs is inevitably a subjective matter because one person may consider a particular type of blade steel, tang construction or, handle material to be more valuable to them than another. However, in the case of the KA-BAR/Becker Companion knife versus the Buck Special knife, there is both comparison and contrast to be made.
Thus, while the KA-BAR/Becker Companion features a blade made from 1095 Cro-Van which is a non-stainless blade steel, the Buck Special has a blade made from 420HC which is a stainless steel and, because a knife’s blade is its most important part, the type of steel the blade is made from does bear consideration. Then, there is the matter of tang construction since the KA-BAR/Becker Companion has a full tang whereas, the Buck Special has a hidden tang but, considering the relatively small size of each knife, tang construction is really not a significant issue.
In addition, because both knives feature handle materials made from synthetic materials which are very tough and which are not prone to chipping or cracking, there again, their respective handle materials are not really an issue either. Therefore, because the KA-BAR/Becker BK2 has an MSRP of $121.95 while the Buck model 119 has an MSRP of $96.00, both knives represent a good value for the money since both knives feature high quality construction and both are made by companies with a very good reputation for producing cutlery that will last a user a lifetime.
So, all things considered, both the KA-BAR/Becker Companion and the Buck Special are both good choices for hunting and/or for use as wilderness survival companions since both knives are made from a very good choice of blade steels as well as featuring the two most popular blade designs and, both knives feature nearly indestructible handle materials. Therefore, choosing one knife over the other is really a matter of personal preference.