The gentleman’s folder, or the “dress knife” as many people call them, seems to have gone by the wayside as the evolution of folding knives marches on. Like cuff links and high-end watches, these accessories were once a vital part of a gentleman’s attire when heading out for dinner or a special occasion. Although rarely seen, the flick of one of these slim folders is just as classy as the slow clap of a lighter snapping open. Alas, the industry has mostly moved past these knives in favor of more tactically-minded or just practical folders.
“We object,” says Buck Knives with their new Paradigm. It may be a little bit on the hefty side for a gentleman’s folder, but it is all class. With the standard 3-1/4-inch blade, the Paradigm is made for hard use and built for the outdoors, though it certainly wouldn’t look out of place indoors as well. This drop point folder touts Buck’s proprietary Shift/ASAP locking mechanism and an elegant presentation, but is it worth the stout price tag? Buck was gracious enough to send me a sample for review.
First, some specs:
- Blade: 3-1/4 inches (8.3 cm), S30V stainless steel or 13C26 Sandvik, drop point
- Length: 4-3/8 inches (11.1 cm), closed
- Weight: 4.2 ounces (119.0 g)
- Handle: Black/blue CNC contoured G10 or Micarta
- Clip: Stainless steel, reversible
- Made in USA
- Retail price: $163 for 13C26, $195 for S30v
- Street price: $100 for 13C26, $125 for S30v
The Paradigm comes in two flavors: S30v and 13C26 Sandvik. If you’re a fan of steel, you may have noticed yourself sitting straighter after reading that sentence. In the knife industry just like everywhere else, there is no “best” steel material. Many people, however, may agree that S30v is the ideal choice for folders. With just the right balance of carbon and chromium, S30v has an impressive level of toughness, edge retention, and stain resistance. That makes it especially suited for a folding knife, which aren’t generally expected to do hard-use chores like batonning. Coupled with Buck’s Paul Bos heat treatment—one of the most highly-praised in the industry—the Paradigm is an impressive blade. 13C26, on the other hand, is a perfectly bland workhorse.
I got the 13C26.
In fact, I opted for it, and there’s a number of reasons why. First, the 13C26 version is significantly cheaper than the S30v version, and is likely the most popular of the two. Secondly, trying to sharpen S30v is like trying to chop down a tree with your head. It is difficult, painful, likely to get messy, and in the end you’ll get a headache for your trouble. I have had experience with 13C26 before, and it’s an awesome steel choice. While it scores a lower hardness rating than its fancy cousin with the neat pedigree, the 13C26 is much easier to maintain. This does not mean 13C26 is easy to sharpen—it’s not—but S30v takes a whole new level of dedication to get it sharp again. Of course, you’re not likely to get it dull in the first place for a long, long time.
As a cutting tool, the Paradigm is superb. You can get 13C26 very sharp with minimal effort and the Paradigm quickly turns into a razor. There is very little to criticize the drop point blade over, and it can certainly punch outside of its weight class. If you have a Buck 110—and about roughly 40 percent of people probably do, or should—then you already know the benefits of having a dependable folder in the your pocket for all sorts of tasks. Just think of the Paradigm as an upgrade.
I believe the Paradigm is sold in both Micarta and G10 versions, but I personally prefer the Micarta variant. Although wood or more exotic materials may have been more visually appealing, Micarta is a strong choice for handle material due to its rugged construction. Like G10, however, sometimes it can be pretty ugly. The Paradigm is anything but ugly. Emblazoned with the anvil Buck logo and a wood pattern, it’s really the concise fit of all its components that makes the Paradigm an attractive knife.
Since it also comes with a specialized—and somewhat convoluted—locking mechanism, I’ll also go into detail on that here. I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with the Shift/ASAP mechanism, just like my relationship with how great cheeseburgers taste and how increasingly worried I am about my ability to see my toes. The first thing you may notice after you get this knife is the fact that you can’t open it. Now if you’re dumb like me, you’ll probably start tugging it every which way and wonder why the blade won’t come out. If you’re smart, you’ll read the instructions and realize that the blade won’t deploy until the Shift mechanism is activated.
As you can see, it is essentially lever-activated. However, once you press back on the bolster lock, the blade does not automatically flip out—which would probably rankle some lawmakers’ sensibilities—and simply frees up the blade for the flipper. Then you have to lock the Shift plate back in place. I found that the best way to open this knife was to push the plate back with my thumb and run my index finger down the flipper to both push out the blade and close the plate at the same time. It is a relatively easy two-step process, but if you’re used to other folders, you may take a while to adjust.
The drawbacks are notable. First, I do not believe there is a left-handed version. Secondly, its awkward deployment means it probably is not the most tactical knife for self-defense. Thirdly, the addition of another moving part to the knife means that it is another part prone to malfunction or damage. Don’t be too surprised if your pivot screw loosens faster than other folders.
With those drawbacks in mind, the Paradigm is a very versatile folding knife. The downfall of most gentleman’s folders is in the name: they are not really knives that are meant to be used. Most of them fall into one of three categories: expensive knives with exotic handle materials meant to be displayed, very expensive knives made out of steel that costs more than the plating of most space shuttles, and some variant of a Swiss Army knife. The Paradigm happens to be none of these. It is a hard-working knife that simply happens to look good.
The Paradigm makes for a great everyday carry knife, and is light to boot. I wholeheartedly recommend the 13C26 version for its price, and I’m thinking of purchasing the S30v version as well. Don’t be too put off by the difficulty of sharpening S30v, if I remember correctly Buck offers an affordable sharpening service and you’re probably not likely to request it more than once. The durability and craftsmenship of the overall product seems to be superb, although don’t be too worried if there is looseness near the Shift mechanism. It’s supposed to do that.
Images by Daniel Xu