The recently introduced "Bucktool" from Buck Knives has been winning much acclaim from the press. However, for all its nifty features, and it does have its share, it falls down in some vital areas from the perspective of being a survival tool. One of its best features is that the tools and knife blades lock in position, a notable safety feature.
The tool measures 4 1/8 x 1 3/8 x 9/16 inches. It is equipped with two 2 1/2 inch knife blades, a drop point with a 1/3 serrated edge and a sheepsfoot with a fully serrated edge. Its complement of tools includes a combination can and bottle opener, #1 and #2 Phillips screwdrivers and 1/4, 3/16 and 3/32 inch common screwdrivers. Opened, it gives you a 1 11/16 inch needle nose pliers with wire cutter. The handles have icons embossed upon them to tell you which tool is in which handle, a nice touch, but frankly, it's not a big deal. The overall quality appears reasonably good, which is what you would expect from Buck.
The Bucktool is unique in the way it unfolds. The handles are rotated in opposite directions away from the faces of the pliers which nest between them. In practice, you generally hold one handle while rotating the other around 360°. If they haven't already done so by then, at the 180° point, the handle hits a stop on the pliers and the pliers fold out. This simple, yet sophisticated operation gives it the highest "fiddle factor rating" of any of the multi-tools. It is addictive and will drive your friends nuts after a while.
This unique opening method offers a number of advantages. Foremost among them is that when used in pliers mode, the handles are smooth. They are also sculpted and rate as the most comfortable of all the multi-tools. By rotating the handles only part of the way towards fully open, you can take advantage of additional leverage at 90° or at 180° they are fully extended for added reach. This latter mode of operation turned out to be very comfortable to work with, avoiding some of the annoying offset problem you encounter trying to turn a screw when any of these tools are closed.
As for drawbacks to this opening method, we noticed three, two are relatively minor, though one concerns me long term, the third a bigger problem. First, carrying this in your pocket just doesn't work all that well. While it is a bit bulky, the problem is more that the handles tend to rotate apart at times and especially when trying to retrieve the Bucktool from the pocket. I suspect most will carry it in its nylon sheath.
Second, when using the pliers, the handles flex slightly together when squeezed together tightly. This appears to be caused by a less than rigid connection between the handles and the plier jaws. This is a rivet style pin hinge joint that is not adjustable or field repairable. I have some concerns over the long term effects of this looseness and whether it will become a failure point for the tool. Only time and experience will tell. For the present, it a more an annoyance than anything of consequence.
A more serious drawback of this design is that when twisting the pliers clockwise, the handles have a tendency to move towards the closed position, reducing the maximum force you can exert. The good news is that we most often need maximum effort when trying to loosen something that is stuck, which usually involves a counter-clockwise rotation, and the handles are against the stops in that direction.
Each of the screwdrivers is equipped with a slot that is supposed to make it easier to unfold the tool out of the handle. This is an issue, because the locking mechanism incorporates a spring that keeps the tools in the folded position, but also makes it difficult to open the tools. The good news is that this means that when you pull up one a tool, the rest don't come with it. The bad news is that it does take some leverage to unfold the tool. The slot is effective on all but the shortest tools where is just barely effective. Of greater concern were all the split finger nails incurred by those who tried the tool. Unlike a simple milled slot in the face of the tool, as used on the can/bottle opener and many folding knives, this open slot tends to trap the finger nail and tear it as it goes over center of the spring. Users tend to be a lot more careful with the second one. The slot has another minor drawback. The added bulk above the blade shortens the effective reach of the already short screwdrivers into a tight space.
The Phillips screwdrivers incorporate a unique design. Rather than just offer a single size, or one that undertakes to work for both common sizes, a la Leatherman, Buck offers both a #1 and #2 blade. In order to fit them into a compact package, Buck slices them in half. While it looks pretty weird, they appeared to work satisfactorily, though it isn't as secure in the slots as a conventional Phillips head is, you must hold the tool perfectly aligned or the bit may slip. It is also much more difficult to retain a screw on the tip to place it where desired when you cannot use your fingers to start the screw.
The locking mechanism works pretty well. The lock incorporates a spring steel release button which protrudes ever so slightly through a open slot in each handle. To unlock and close a tool or blade, you depress the spring. This works, but one person who tried it did manage to cut themselves when closing the drop point blade. Their finger was over the open handle and as the blade was moved overcenter of the spring tension, it sprung downward far enough to slightly cut the finger. Since it is difficult to operate the release button without grasping the handle firmly, I doubt this will be the last slice anyone incurs. The simple solution is to make sure you have hold of the blade and move it by hand rather than just pushing it. We had no problem with the sheepsfoot blade which seems to have a stiffer hinge point.
We found the sheath design to be somewhat uncomfortable in use, a notable deficiency since it will most likely be carried in its sheath. The sheath rides high due to the lower relative position of the belt strap. This tends to impinge upon a person's side as they work or sit down. The belt "loop" itself was also a bit of an annoyance. It has far too much slack, so the pouch moves around at will, rather than staying more or less where it is positioned. Finally, the sheath uses a stiff metal snap to secure the cover flap. This makes it something of a bother to close without the Bucktool in the sheath and, if left open, and flapping, it rattles in the most annoying manner. Velcro would be a better choice, in my opinion.
Finally, we come to the Bucktool's suitability for survival use. I cannot fathom why the designers serrated one third of the drop point blade. There is already a fully serrated sheepsfoot blade. By partially serrating the drop point blade, they seriously compromise its functionality, as noted in the "Serrations or Smooth Edge?" discussion of survival knives on this site.
The lack of a file is a serious omission. I would gladly sacrifice one knife blade for a good file. A file is one of the most versatile tools and any multi-tool without one is falling down on the job.
The Bucktool is generally a decent piece of equipment. Only time will tell how durable its novel mechanisms will be. As for its major failings, from the perspective of survival, they are both easily remedied, should Buck decide they want to do so. Buck has previously added features to their products for different markets and in response to customer requests, the CrossLock folding knife series being an excellent example. Hopefully, they will do the same with the Bucktool.
For evaluations of the other multi-tools available, check out "Handy Tools".
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Revision: 014 January 20, 1999
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