So now there is a good 8 inch chef’s knife that cuts like a good leather knife
I do not think anyone was on the edge of their seats for Buck to start making kitchen cutlery, but they did, and they actually made a beautiful coke knife.
There are many different things about Buck 931, because of course Buck will not make a normal cooking knife:
It is lighter and uses a grind and steel that you probably will not find anywhere else in the kitchen cutlery world. The handle and balance throw some wrenches into the ergonomics if you’re used to using a clamp handle, but overall I’ve been amazed at how functional this knife is compared to many of the more traditional chef’s knives I’ve used.
I love this knife, but I am biased as a desperate knife reviewer who gets stuck in something distantly different by a knife for feeding word count, and this thing has given me a lot to talk about.
|Total length:||13.0 ″|
|Blade length:||8.0 ″|
|Handle length:||5.0 ″|
|Handle material:||Rosewood Dymalux|
|Very sharp with decent edge retention|
|The grinding helps to push out food decorations|
|Easy to maintain and refine|
|A little awkward in a squeezing grip|
|Thin edge rolls easily|
|Packaging is a low key game Russian roulette with your fingers|
I had a strange moment when I first used this knife, cut a dozen slices of a tomato without a single stick to the side, looked at the hollow grind and wondered if there was something wrong with me or about each another kitchen knife company in the world needs to make a coke knife like this.
The short hollow grinding on this blade may not stand out much to you if you are not the type to test dozens of knives every month, but it certainly sets me apart.
Grinding and cutting
Just so we are all on the same page, most chef’s knives have a full flat grinding, which means that the knife grinding increases in a straight line all the way back to the spine, making the entire side of the blade completely flat. This type of grinding gives a knife lots of versatility, which is a pretty important thing to have with a coke knife.
The grinding on Bucks coke knife has a steep curve that ends about a quarter of the way up the blade before going flat to the spine. These are the kind of things you would typically see on pocket knives, so it makes sense to see this from Buck. You can definitely bet that Wusthof would never even have thought of doing this against one of their knives.
The result of this is a leaf that bites hard and helps push food decorations from the side. It seems to me like a more effective form of hammer finish that some kitchen knife companies put on the blade to get air pockets to do the same. The science is the same at 931, it just happens more consistently because you just have a long indentation along the entire length of the blade.
I still end up with the odd pile of zucchini or onions that climb up the blade, but it is significantly reduced compared to pretty much every other coke knife I have ever used, including those with graton edges.
It also has a really aggressive bite that can start in a tomato skin without much effort. You have to push and cut a little because this knife is so light, but it sails right through what’s on your counter.
The other advantage is that the edge is thinner for a longer space behind the edge, which means that it will stay sharper longer than usual, despite the somewhat softer steel than average. I usually expect a kitchen knife to feel like it is braking after a day of heavy use, which to me might be an hour of thorough chopping and dicing. After a week of cutting tomatoes, onions, cilantro, carrots and meat, it felt like the 931 cut pretty much the same as when I started.
With a warning.
The Hollow Grind has a weakness, sort of
A thin grinding of 420HC is a good recipe for a rolled edge.
After my first half hour test of making salsa and cutting a beef spatula off the bone, there were a few imperfections left on the blade. They were not serious rolls, just small reflections that showed the edge was a little out of line. But I could feel it a few places where it had trouble starting cuts.
Fortunately, the 420HC responds well to a grinding rod, and the hollow grinding makes it really easy to angle the blade properly to it. Most chef’s knives should still be honed after a day of heavy use, so it’s not that bad.
The handle is a problem with extremes
Continuing down the list of things I am not used to looking at on a kitchen knife, this handle on the Buck 931 has some wildly extreme curves. A little too extreme for my liking, but still surprisingly nice in the hand.
Good in a full grip, but awkward in a pinch
It’s a little weird to adapt. The top of the handle is not sharpened to a tilt for the fingers, but there is also not a full amplifier, so if you try a clamp grip with this knife, it will feel very different.
Personally, I do not mind the feeling of it too much, but I can see that this is frustrating for a chef who has to move fast on a long day. With speed, the high curve of the handle at the top is likely to get in the way, but to cut a few tomatoes and onions along with a few slices of a steak for dinner, this is actually quite nice.
The awkwardness of the clamp grip with this causes the hand to cramp after a while, but it might just be a matter of adapting to hold this in a different way. Because of the way the weight of this round up in the blade has to pinch it a little higher than I am used to. Where bolsters on most chef’s knives put your thumb and forefinger either right where the edge of the blade starts or just below it, the Buck 931 places them a few inches above the edge of the blade.
While it may not sound like much on paper, it certainly feels weird when you start cutting.
Buck has compensated for this pretty well with the way they have shaped the handle. The curvature feels fine in a full grip, though the swelling is a little too pronounced for my liking. However, they have made a very subtle but very effective impression that the thumb rests on the back of the handle. It gives a really firm sense of control that almost makes up for the weird knife grip ergonomics.
It’s still not ideal. Many home cooks probably use their knives in a gorilla grip anyway, so I can understand why Buck might have landed on this handle design, but if they could just grind a slope at the top of the handle, it would go a long way to making this knife much more versatile and comfortable .
The material selection of the handle
It is possible that they have chosen this shape for the weight due to the different materials they offer for the handle:
There are rosewood Dymalux, which is a wood-based resin material, Slate Paperstone, which is a paper-based resin material, and elk antlers, which are elk antlers.
The two resin materials are usually easy to paint. I do not think Buck would have a problem integrating finger grooves that are thinned into the blade for a good finger grip. Antler, on the other hand, gets really whimsical the more you grind it. It’s the kind of thing that likes to crack when you grind it too hard or too thin.
So I think Buck made the decision to sacrifice professional ergonomics to offer a smart handle material. It’s frustrating at first, but if you look at how hard it is to find a decent coke knife with a bone handle from a large manufacturing company at this price, you can soften your view on it.
I don’t care about bone handles, so I’m still annoyed by all this, but you might not be.
It is worth noting that the elk antlers version of the 931 is a bit more expensive, generally takes longer to ship and does not dishwasher safe (not that you have to put any of these versions in the dishwasher). It turns out that it is harder to consistently grab bones for mass production than resin or wood. There you can just see.
Appearance and packaging
The knife itself looks pretty unique when it comes to kitchen knives. Unique in a good way. The shape is different and comfortable, and as I said before, you would be hard pressed to find such a good chef’s knife at this price, available with a deer bone handle. It’s great for anyone with a hunting lodge aesthetic.
The packaging is unique in a less good way. In fact, it borders on dangerous.
It is sent in a box that looks like it belongs on a construction site. Maybe that’s a plus for some people, and that’s fine. The real problem is in how they store the knife inside the box.
Most kitchen knife companies send their knives with a sleeve on the blade, and the whole knife is in a shaped piece of cardboard, so everything stays exactly where it needs to be when you open the package.
Bucks storage strategy seems to be to throw the knife in a box and wish us good luck.
They put the knife in a sleeve and they even throw a piece of foam over the top to prevent the tip from sticking through something. Other than that, this knife is pretty much free-floating in the box.
To top it off, the sleeve is not very tight and the piece of foam attached to the sleeve is a little too big for the box. So you end up with the cardboard sleeve being held inside the box, but not the knife. In fact, the knife is ready to break out like a jack in the box if you are not careful about how you open the package. The odds are pretty good that when you grab the handle to take it out, you will pull out a bare blade.
All that being said is that Buck really needs to improve the packaging for their kitchen knives. In the meantime, be careful and open this box while it is sitting on a level surface.
Comparison and alternatives
I do not think anyone else makes a coke knife like this, but it’s worth picking up a few others if you want something a little more traditional.
Victorinox Fibrox Pro seems like the best alternative to me. It is in about the same price range, comes from a company that also makes many EDC knives, and it is used quite widely by professional chefs around the world. However, the handle is very different and looks quite dull by comparison.
I also like the Lamson Premiere coke knife. It’s much heavier, but it’s also made by an American company, and it has one of my favorite handles I’ve felt on a western coke knife. Also, their knives tend to look much more interesting.
It might also be worth looking at something from the old Hickory set. Either the disc knife or the butcher knife. They do not offer anything like the same functionality (there is no Old Hickory coke knife that I am aware of), but if you are trying to find food knives with a rustic aesthetic from an established outdoor knife company, the Old Hickory thing has a similar vibe. Also the old Hickory knives are much cheaper.
If you are a fan of Buck knives anyway, you will probably love this knife. It has many items from their folders and outdoor knives that should make cutting with this pretty familiar to anyone who has used the Buck 110 or 119 a lot.
It’s probably not the best option for a professional chef, although the edge of this thing could probably keep up with most other knives used in restaurant kitchens. I think the handle may be too different to easily move into that world.
But that’s the core of it. The only thing I want to change about this knife is the tilt of the handle at the top, and maybe we’ll make the handle a little fatter while we’re at it. I’m into everything else about it from the way it looks to how it cuts. It is well suited for someone who occasionally gets a heavy workload in the kitchen at home.