Becker BK2 Ė Subtle It Ainít
Sep 26, 2011 (Updated Jan 20, 2014)
Review by morilla
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:STRONG; Affordable; Can serve as the base for custom builds
Cons:Too heavy for many; Not the 'best' for slicing/cutting
The Bottom Line: Based on good steel, with surprising ergonomics, it's a medium-size knife for 'big' tasks.
I'd been hearing about the Becker BK2 for years and given the sheer number of fans, I gradually became more curious to see why so many seemed impressed enough to make it their get home/bug out/survival/back-of-beyond blade of choice. The problem was that I was not chomping at the bit to get one. Why? Been there, done that in terms of carrying BIG knives and the BK2 is often described, affectionately and critically, as a... beast, brute, "train wrecker," and "sharpened crowbar." While I'm all in favor of a sturdy design and robust construction, such appellation is not usually associated with cutting tools used in the applications I tend to put a knife toward.
Recommend this product?
When a local shop put a BK2 in stock (largely due to my expressed curiosity), I was a bit unimpressed when I saw it in the case. My first reaction was that it vaguely reminded me of the British MOD Survival Knife; something I would later discover wasn't as far off base as I initially thought. I was dubious that the ergonomics and utility would live up to the hype. However, when I grasped it, I knew I was hooked enough to pay the $71.99 asking price just so I could see how it would turn out.
For those who don't recognize the name Ethan Becker, he is an individual primarily noted for two accomplishments. First, is the Becker series of knives purportedly derived from and designed based on his extensive outdoor experience. The second is his involvement with the famed work The Joy of Cooking. Becker is the grandson of Irma Rombauer, the original author, and the son of Marion Rombauer Becker, who later co-authored the book with her mother. Now living in Tennessee, Becker (who claims to have attended Le Cordon Bleu in Paris) is listed on the cover, along with his grandmother and mother, as ‘author.'
The exact details behind Becker Knife & Tool Company are a bit ‘hazy.' Some online sources say that the company was started in 1986 as a subsidiary, or ‘brand,' of Camillus Cutlery Company. But, Camillus themselves used to indicate that BK&T began in 1980, with the two companies - "committed to bringing the finest tactical and survival fixed blades of uncompromising quality and performance to cutlery enthusiasts and outdoor professionals at an affordable price." (The 1980 date would be consistent with a 2010 interview of Ethan Becker which can be found on YouTube [see member Equip2Endure] where he states that the BK2 was the second knife he designed and it is almost 30 years old.) Clarity began in 2007 when Camillus went out-of-business and Ethan Becker regained the rights to has knife designs; turning to KA-BAR as the primary manufacturer beginning in 2008.
According to the Catalog
I suppose a good starting point would be the technical aspects provided by KA-BAR. Take immediate note that the ‘name' of this knife is the Becker Campanion, with an "A," and not the Companion, with an "O," as it is very often mislabeled. The designation "BK2" is the Item Number in KA-BAR's lineup. (Both were also used in the Camillus ‘catalog.' More in a second.) With that said, it is probably ‘best' known by the "BK2" moniker. However, before we go any further, consumers need to realize that there are three, slightly different generations; all of which are known as the "BK2 Campanion." While the knife, more or less, looks the same, there are some important differences in the ‘generations.'
The major difference between those made by Camillus and the "First Generation" version as produced by KA-BAR is, supposedly, the steel. While there is much speculation and debate on the subject, without getting lost in the weeds, Camillus used a proprietary 0170-6C carbon steel (RC 58-59). The KA-BAR versions of the BK2 utilize 1095 Cro-Van (1095CV) steel.
1095 is a popular steel for kitchen cutlery. It has inherent strength, holds an edge, and is relatively easy to sharpen; important considerations for a field knife. The problem is that, as an high carbon steel, 1095 will rust. By adding the Chrome (Cro), you add ‘rust' or ‘stain' resistance, while the Vanadium (Van) creates additional strength. Now, where this is significant is that 0170-6C was also designated 50100-B. 50100 is a steel containing Chrome and the "B" indicated the addition of Vanadium.
In short, both steels are so similar that the minor variations in the mix aren't as important as the eventual heat treatment process in the actual knife construction. The 0170-6C was the designation used by Camillus and the 1095 Cro-Van is the designation KA-BAR went to prior to adopting the Becker knives. In other words, the primary difference is in the name used in the marketing and not in the steel itself; though KA-BAR's heat treatment is reputedly very good for this knife. Simply put, both designations are highly regarded for their strength, edge retention, and sharpening. Assuming proper maintenance (you must keep them oiled or they will rust), these steels are used in some of the sharpest, longest lasting, most respected, and some of the most sought after ‘collectible' knives on the market.
First vs. Second Generation, KA-BAR
While there may be a subjective difference in the steel used in the "First Generation" knives produced by both Camillus and KA-BAR, there are very decided, objective differences between KA-BAR's First and Second Generations of the BK2. Even though the steel remains the same, the design was altered slightly (or significantly depending on your point of view) in response to consumer feedback, current market preferences, and ‘available technology.'
To be sure, the overall stats remained, more or less, the same:
Blade Length - 5 ¼"
Overall Length - 10 ½" (Camillus listed it as 10 5/8")
Weight - 16 ounces (Camillus claimed 14.6 oz; but, that may not have included the sheath)
Steel - 1095 Cro-Van
Grind - flat
Edge Angle - 20 degrees
Blade Style - Drop Point
Blade Thickness - ¼" (0.25")
Handle Material - Grivory
At first blush, it's easy for many to not ‘see' the external difference and, just to add to the confusion, KA-BAR continues to use a photo of the First Generation in its online catalog. The First Generation BK2 made by both Camillus and KA-BAR has a pommel finished flush to the "Grivory" grips or ‘scales.' Introduced in 2010, the Second Generation BK2 produced by KA-BAR now has an extended pommel. While many presume that this is in response to the "glass breaker" pommels found on many of the current "survival knives" such as the Gerber LMF II (see link below) or the RC5 (RAT Cutlery 5)/ESEE5 derivatives of the BK2, such is not the case.
Becker claims that while it might be used for that application, that wasn't the intent. Neither was it created for use as a ‘hammer.' In the aforementioned YouTube interview, Becker states that the primary purpose of this pommel is to aid in splitting wood (and/or joints when dressing game). Unlike the "glass breaker" pommels which come to a point, the BK2 pommel is flat so that a ‘baton' can be used to ‘drive' the knife tip into a piece of wood. (Becker demonstrates this in the video.) A subsidiary use would be what Becker says is as a "headache maker" in a ‘tactical' situation. (The BK2 has its own NSN designation, making it an ‘authorized,' knife for military issue. KA-BAR also provides a serrated blade version for government purchase only.)
The other, major difference between the First and Second Generation knives is that while both have full-length tangs, the Second Generation's tang has been ‘skeletonized' or, more correctly, had two ‘relief cuts' placed in it. Ostensibly, this shifts the weight of the blade slightly forward to enhance the chopping abilities of the knife; with Becker claiming there is no sacrifice in strength.
KA-BAR states the following in regard to the BK2...
"For all those who camp, hunt or spend time afield. The Campanion works just as happily splitting out kindling as it does prying apart joints and skinning game, not to mention chopping onions for the campfire chili!"
I don't think they can make it anymore clear that the intended use is for ‘camp' and not necessarily as a ‘bushcraft' or as a carry-all-day, backwoods, delicate work knife. While it can be used for more ‘refined' purposes such as food preparation, feather sticks, etc., as is consistent with a ‘big knife,' it is better applied to ‘larger' tasks. Well, we're getting a little ahead of ourselves...
The first thing I noticed when picking up this knife is how surprisingly well balanced it feels in the hand. Many anticipate that between the ¼" thick blade/tang and the ‘largish' appearing scales, especially with the ‘palm swell,' the BK2 would be somewhat awkward to grasp. Given the 1 lb. weight, many more assume that it will be "too much knife" for comfortable use.
I wear large/x-large gloves depending on the manufacturer and this thing sits in my hand so well that you almost forget about the weight. It just feels like a knife should with one, minor quibble. The scales are attached using three 10-32 socket head screws which are recessed on both sides. That makes the holes noticeable, something that your fingers will be aware of as you grip the knife. They haven't create any ‘hot spots' or other detrimental effect for me. But, I have yet to reach the stage where I am "unconscious" of them either.
**This would seem a propitious moment to talk about the scales. Many people do not care for the Grivory, claiming they are too ‘slick.' I have not found that to be the case, but I don't use this knife in the "wet." KA-BAR does offer a set of Micarta scales for the BK2, priced at $40, which can be purchased separately. Those who prefer this option for aesthetic or other reasons typically find that the socket head screws which come with the knife are too short and slightly longer ones must be purchased at a local hardware store to properly fit the Micarta scales. Still others ‘modify' the stock Grivory scales by adding striations, stippling, or some other ‘roughening' of the surface (including simply adding duct tape) to achieve what they perceive to be a better grip. **
Speaking of the socket head screws, they require a 5/32 or 4mm (0.15625 & 0.15748 respectively) hex key; something which is not included with the knife. When researching the BK2 prior to purchase, I found mention from numerous authors that these screws had a tendency to work loose; particularly if you do a notable amount of chopping and batoning. Thus, the first thing I did with mine was to apply blue Loctite. To this point, I have not had a single problem.
Bear in mind that may sound counterintuitive to those who see opportunity with the reliefs cut into the tang of the Second Generation knives. Between those reliefs and the semi-hollow nature of the Grivory scales, some feel it to be a location for storing a tiny ‘survival kit' or, at the least, some form of tinder. To each their own, but... While I do carry a 5/32 hex key (screws marked "Made in USA" means SAE to me) with the knife "just in case," I have two thoughts on this concept. First, I'd rather feel confident that the screws are unlikely to come loose than know I'll have to be very conscious of regularly tightening them; all the while hoping that when they do come loose that a nut/screw isn't irretrievably lost 10 miles from trailhead, 25 dirt road miles, and a further 15 asphalt miles from the nearest hardware store. Second, if I am in a position where I have to disassemble my knife for tinder, the situation is likely such that I'd be leery of or flat-out lack the ability of doing so.
Chopping - I'm not a fan of ‘chopping' with a knife; at least not when an axe would be more appropriate. That said, the BK2 does a better than fair job if you keep your expectations realistic. By that I mean that you'll see a considerable number of online videos demonstrating how this or that knife can chop down trees. We even see it in Man vs. Wild on the Discovery Channel and facetious reference in movies such as Six Days, Seven Nights where Anne Heche asks Harrison Ford if he wasn't one of those ‘guys' who go into the jungle with a pocket knife and a Q-Tip, then build you a shopping mall.
Simply put, if you think you'll need a ‘wood pile' or will have to chop down saplings for shelter, take an axe. Your knife is there for other chores. Yes. There will be those times when ‘chopping' with a knife serves a specific purpose. For instance, just about two weeks ago, I shortened a piece of hard, dry, seasoned wood about 1 ½" in diameter with the BK2. I held the 5' piece in my left hand and ‘chopped' symmetrically around the piece, coming away with a 2' section that served my needs. The knife did the job splendidly, leaving me with a fairly ‘blunt' end on the piece of wood, no chips in the blade, an edge still sharp enough to shave tinder, and obvious wear on the coating.
While the BK2 bit nicely with each swing and the weight of the blade helps, I'm glad I wasn't trying to chop my way through something ‘big.' While the Grivory grips did a decent job vis a vis shock absorption, chopping with a knife is energy consuming and relatively inefficient. The same holds true for...
Batoning - Another thing you'll see in those online videos is a cutlery store of knives being used to split fireplace log-size blocks of wood. That's not what ‘knife batoning' is about. The principle is simple - wet wood often has a dry ‘center' and a knife can be used to access that dry center for tinder and kindling. This usually entails pieces of wood no larger in diameter than the average adult male's forearm; say 4" - 5" maximum, usually less. (If thicker wood than that is wet to the center, you've got bigger problems.) The idea is to split the wood to utilize the dry portions in sizes small enough to be shaved for tinder and small kindling which will then ignite larger pieces; often ‘dead' branches broken from trees.
In short, batoning is not intended for ‘splitting rounds' or processing a wood pile into ‘fireplace' logs. In addition, ‘proper' technique also indicates that sufficient blade length be exposed on both sides of the wood being split so that the blade can be ‘batoned' evenly; i.e., you don't just pound on the tip. Thus, with a 5" blade length on the BK2, you're looking at a realistic diameter of 3" - 4" for whatever you wish to split. (I don't recommend pounding on the Grivory handles. They're reasonably tough; but...)
Such a ‘small' diameter limitation is something the critics point to as a ‘problem' with this knife. My response is that they are being unrealistic in their expectations for a knife. There's nothing to be gained in risking damage which precludes use of the tool in its primary purpose - cutting. With that said, given the ¼" thick spine, the full tang construction, the tip strength, the steel, etc., the Becker BK2 is one of the very few knives I feel ‘comfortable' doing this with; though it does wreak havoc with the coating.
Slicing, Dicing, and Cutting - I have to say I was mildly disappointed when I first got the knife in that the edge was not as sharp as it should have been. Truth be told, there was even a ‘rough' spot in the edge. Then again, for a mass production knife at this price point, I wasn't expecting ‘scary sharp' out-of-the-box. Let's just say it needs some work to get the knife up to its potential when it comes to cutting.
What is that potential? In a nutshell, this knife is never going to excel at fine cutting/slicing; unless you put some work into it that the average individual is unlikely to pursue. While that may sound like heresy to some, it's simply reality. That doesn't mean you can't accomplish tasks such as creating feather sticks, shaving tinder, etc. What it does mean is that there are better choices for such applications.
For instance, as an experiment, I took the BK2 out with a Fallkniven F1. Taking a small piece of wood, I used the BK2 to create tinder shavings and ‘feather' one portion. I then pulled out the F1 and there was no comparison. While I could ‘make' the BK2 do the job, the Fallkniven just cut through that wood like a hot knife through butter; creating finer shavings and curls with the factory edge. (On the flip side, I would not have used the F1 to split the piece of wood down to the smaller size pieces as I did with the BK2.)
Let's put it this way, while the BK2 would be useful for butchering larger game animals in the field and have some utility in quartering, I wouldn't want to use it for the more ‘delicate' task of dressing the animal. Likewise, it is simply too large to ‘dress' smaller game. Sure. You can make it work with a little ‘technique' and care, but life would be much simpler with a smaller knife. Not to mention that if you have been using the knife for chopping/batoning, I'd hesitate to use it for food processing due to the wear on the blade coating.
Prying/Digging - The tip on the BK2 is very strong. While I would not use a knife to regularly pry open crates, boxes, etc., in a ‘survival' situation, there are advantages to having a ‘sharpened pry bar.' One of the things I ‘discovered' while playing at prying open some decaying logs is that the tip ‘digs' very well in the sense of creating a divot. (This means the knife can prove utilitarian in creating something such as a fire drill set.) Just be aware that you can drive the knife deep enough into a log that it can become wedged and difficult to remove; let alone apply sufficient leverage to actually pry.
The Coating - The BK2 has a black coating to protect the blade. I'm not all that big a fan of coated blades; no matter what is used. In this case, if you utilize the BK2 for ‘camp' chores such as batoning and chopping (e.g., those things the knife was intended to be used for), the blade coating will not only wear quickly, it will actually flake off in small chips. I noticed the flaking, which exposes the bare metal, from the first time I batoned a piece of wood. (This is why I don't recommend using the knife for both chopping/batoning and food processing. You don't need to be consuming flakes of coating with your food.)
Given the 1095 Cro-Van steel, this tendency also means you need to be very conscious of keeping your blade oiled to prevent rust. In fact, some will simply strip the finish entirely and ‘force' a patina; something many feel to be superior protection than the factory coating. But, that brings us to...
The Real Core of Popularity?
As well as this knife performs, I suspect that the real core of the BK2's popularity rests in the fact that it is a solid blade, made of good steel, which can be used as the basis for a ‘custom' knife project. Aside from the Micarta scales offered by KA-BAR, there are many others (including "neon" colored) which are commercially available. There are also an infinite number which the home craftsman can create for themselves. If you peruse the forums, you'll find where individuals have demonstrated an almost endless creativity in adapting the knife to their own sense of what is ‘proper.'
Think of it this way, a truly ‘custom' knife will cost hundreds of dollars from a knife maker. Most people don't have the means to create their own blades from scratch. Being able to obtain a solid blade, made from good steel, at an average price of $70 - $75 (the range for new starts around $60 up to the $107 MSRP), to use as a base is a real boon for many with dreams of a ‘custom' knife and the skills to make it happen. To be fair, this thought did seem to enter into the design parameters as Becker himself claims to have started, at an early age, by doing exactly that. (Once again, note the YouTube interview.)
As an example, the closest competitor to the BK2 is the ESEE 5. In many respects, it is arguably a slightly altered BK2 with better quality production. (The knives are so close in design, shape, and size that many of the sheaths for the ESEE 5 are eminently usable and tight fitting with the BK2.) While some will argue that the 1095 used in the ESEE is inferior to the 1095 Cro-Van used in the BK2 and might debate the relative ‘value' of the alterations from the perspective of aesthetics and personal application, the fact is that the ESEE 5 retails for an average of TWICE that of the BK2; i.e., about $140 - $160.
Speaking of Sheaths
Many feel that the standard sheath of the 2nd Generation BK2 is an improvement over the older ones. Okay. But, it's still not the ‘best' thing on the market. Keeping it short - while it allows for ambidextrous carry by swapping the belt loop from one side to the other and has excellent retention, the glass filled nylon, "Made in Taiwan" sheath is problematic for belt carry. A thumb ramp helps with the process of removing the knife, but the belt loop is so large that even a standard Load Bearing Belt doesn't provide enough resistance to keep the loop from ‘coming with you.' At times, it's almost necessary to use two hands just to remove the knife.
Some will rig a leg tie-down to mitigate the problem; but, I find such to be a problematic ‘solution' at best. One ‘suggestion' I did find online (I can't find it at the moment and forgot to bookmark it) is to remove the factory loop and fit the sheath to the MOLLE Back and accessory pouch sold by ESEE for their ESEE 5. My only hesitation, were I truly interested in regularly carrying this on a belt, is the fact that this MOLLE back has an MSRP of $45 (the accessory pouch runs $20; but, the combo is sold for $60). That's almost equal to the price paid for the BK2.
For the same reason, it's tough for me to justify the extra expense of a good leather sheath. JRE Industries has reputedly good sheaths for the BK2 which cost $69 - $79. Then there's the ultra-heavy duty leather sheath offered by Hedgehog LeatherWorks (which also sells the BK2). Made to order, with a 4-week build time, depending on your choice of options, their sheath will set you back $189 - $259. Once again, something that's a bit hard to swallow for a knife that cost $72.
I'm not a ‘fan' of Tek Loks and I don't run around the woods in MOLLE vests. This is why I carry the BK2 in a pack such as the Mountainsmith Lumbar Day Pack or the Arc'Teryx Bora 30. (see links below) However, the sheath design which will sorta/kinda work with a Tek Lok and allows for attachment to a MOLLE vest, permits me to lash a Maxpedition Single Sheath (see link below) to the BK2's sheath in which I place a Leatherman Wave (along with a couple of other items - see the Maxpedition Single Sheath review).
This additional gear is critical in that I wouldn't necessarily want the BK2 to be the only knife I had with me. In the endless debate surrounding the question - "If you could have one just one knife..." - for my purposes and techniques, this wouldn't be the first one that springs to mind. That doesn't make the BK2 a "bad" knife or even a poor choice. It's recognition that the design is a compromise. While you can make a big pack carry a small load better than you can get a small pack to carry a big load, the same logic doesn't always apply to knives. Though the KA-BAR BK2 is made in the U.S. and is considered a "medium" size knife, it's as large as you can go without straying into "big" knife territory. As such, it can do many things, but there are any number of knives which perform specific tasks better.
In my book, while you can't haul an entire cutlery shop or hardware store with you, that means carrying a small selection of tools better suited to task-specific applications. Even though the ergonomics of both the BK2 and the ‘kit' I've attached to it are seductively tempting, given a choice, I'd rather have an axe and a ‘smaller' knife for more ‘subtle' applications than be forced to make the BK2 fill the roles of both. That doesn't mean it sits in the closet; but, I think of it as a CAMPanion rather than a trail companion.
You know... There could be some logic behind why Becker chose to name it such.
Reviews Cited Above
Mountainsmith Lumbar Day Pack
Arc'Teryx Bora 30
Maxpedition Single Sheath
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