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February 23, 2009 Comments (0) Blades & Tools

KA-BAR BKT BK11 Review

Whether you are a person in the military, a rock climber, an outdoors enthusiast, a knife collector, or even a professinal chef, chances are good that you’ve heard the name Becker–more particularly, Ethan Becker.  Ethan is what we would have dubbed someone two hundred years ago as a "Renaissance Man".  His interests are varied, and he has contributed his knowledge to several different fields of endeavor.  For the military, he designed the CMI Figure 8 Descender and other mountain climbing gear.

He also designed the Becker Patrol Pack which is used extensively by Navy Seals.  For the culinary community, he has participated in updating the world-famous book, "The Joy Of Cooking", orginally written and published by his grandmother Irma Rombauer and his mother, Marion.  Ethan has taken over the mantle of keeping this influetial volume refreshed, and it is considered today to be one of the greatest teaching books for cooking ever published.

But, Ethan didn’t stop there.  He started his own knife design company known as Becker Knife and Tool and, in cooperation with another company, brought the outdoors and military communities several well-loved and respected knives–one of the more recent models being the BK11 (Becker Necker).  The new version of the BK11 as prodcued by KA-BAR Knives is what we’ll be talking about today during the course of this review.

Ethan Becker at the Ka-Bar Booth at the 2009 SHOT Show

The landscape of the knife-making industry has changed over the past few years, which resulted in Ethan having to seek out a new partner in bringing his knives to the market.  He found that partner in KA-BAR Knives.  During the last year or so, designs were enhanced, deals struck, and the production lines began rolling.  Once more, the Becker Knife and Tool line of products were hitting the streets.  Rather than just turn out products that were exactly the same as the previous versions, Ethan and KA-BAR expended some effort in looking over the current line.  During this hiatus, the time was taken to make improvements where it was felt improvements were needed.  So, when the KA-BAR versions began hitting the streets, users found products that were improved in some way or another, giving rise to the occasion of giving the line another look—even if they already owned some of the earlier models.  I am one of those folks that owns several of the earlier designs. 

One of my first, serious outdoors knives was a BKT Campanion.  I liked it so well that I follwed up with acquisitions of the BK7, the Patrol Machete, the Mach-Axe, and then the Becker Necker.  After speaking with the reps at KA-BAR, Woods Monkey was sent a couple of the new products that are now hitting the streets.  One is the BK9 Combat Bowie for which we just completed a review, and the BK11–the new and improved Becker Necker.  One of our other writers, Jeff Hamilton wrote the review on the BK9.  It was a good choice for him to write the review since he could give a fresh perspective on the large chopper as he rarely uses those types of knives.  I wanted to review the BK11 because I am partial to smaller knives, and because I had an older version in my stable that I could compare it to for this review.

Ethan Becker (middle) at the 2008 PWYP Event.

I’ll give full disclosure by letting the audience be aware that I know Ethan personally.  Though we haven’t spent years and years as best friends, I’ve crossed his path a few times at our annual PWYP gathering (article forthcoming) in North Carolina and recently at the SHOT Show in Orlando, Florida.  Ethan is an extremely friendly and outgoing person, and has a tale for just about any situation.  I’ve always been impressed by his down to earth nature and his passion for his various pursuits.  We are trying to work out the logistics of doing an audio interview with Ethan, but as you can imagine he has a busy schedule and it’s been tough to nail him down.  Maybe I can put him on the spot enough here that I can get him to sit in one place for an hour so we could talk to him about his storied career.  The first thing I would do is try and find out where his inspiration for designing knives comes from and also get his insights as to what makes a good field knife.  He’s got enough experience in the field to teach on the subject quite extensively.  But, more particularly, I’d like to find out how the BK11 came about and what he had in mind for its uses during the design phase.

KA-BAR’s BK11 (top) compared to previous version.

The BK11 is a compact knife with a skeletonized handle that is small enough and light enough to be worn in a sheath hanging from the user’s neck.  It has an overall length of 6.75 inches with a 3.25 inch blade.  It’s constructed of the venerable 1095 steel with a black coating for protection from the elements.  1095 is a high-carbon alloy which will rust if not maintained, but that’s an easy enogh task, as is keeping the edge sharp out in the field.  The tip of the blade is a modified-spear point.  It has essentially the same strength, but the sharpened edge rises above the centerline of the blade which makes it easier to pierce different materials and allows for easier slicing with the little knife.  And, the most important feature for the avid outdoorsman is the significantly improved bottle opener compared to the earlier model.  It has a wider mouth for easier purchase on the bottle cap and works like a charm.  You have to have priorities here, folks!

Aside from the bottle opener, another difference that I picked up on right away was the smoother finish of the black blade coating.  The older model Becker Necker that I have has a rougher, possibly thicker, finish on it than the newer one does.  However, I like the newer finish better.  For a small knife like the Becker Necker, most of its tasks are going to be lighter work like carving and slicing.  It would seem to me that the smoother finish would create less drag during slicing activities.  For me, less drag equates to more efficiency and less effort.  I see this change as a positive for the new BK11.

The old Becker Necker has distinct grind line that’s not present on the new version.

Yet another change is the thickness of the new BK11.  Instead of the original .150 inch spec, it’s now .165 inch thick.  I’ve seen some discussion on the net about this added thickness possibly affecting the BK11’s ability to make thin slices of material.  It was actually stated by one person that it wouldn’t give you thin slices of tomato!  However, it was noted by another individual that this increase in thickness was to add strength to the overall knife, but that the grind of the blade was raised in comparison to the original knife to maintain its keen cutting ability.  And, when I inspected the grinds on the two blades, there is a noticeable difference.  On the old version, you can see where the grind line starts about 1/4 inch below the spine.  You cannot see that grind line on the new model.  It appears to be a full, flat grind.  To me, this different grind more than makes up for any perceived slicing deficiencies of a slightly thicker knife.  Coupled with the smoother finish, I’d say it comes out a wash, but with the benefit of a stronger knife overall!

And, for those that I’ve seen mewling about the possibility of increased weight with the additional 15/1000ths of an inch thickness, you need to be at home wrapped in a shawl watching TV with a Kleenex in your hand.  Enough said.

Injection-Molded Sheath For The New BK11

The next part of the package is a slightly mixed bag of opinions for me.  It has to do with the new sheath design that has been produced for the updated BK11.  First, I’ll say right up front that it’s a cleaner, more professional looking sheath.  It’s an injection-molded affair with eyelets around the edge, and it just flat looks better than the old style sheath.  Where the mixed emotions comes in has to do with the retention of the knife in the sheath.  No, retention isn’t the problem.  It’s getting the knife out of the sheath that requires a little effort.  As mentioned, this is an injection-molded sheath, and it is very strong.  I have no qualms at all with its build quality.  However, the tolerances must be very tight since it takes a strong jerk to get the knife out of the sheath.  While wearing the sheath on a piece of paracord around the neck, that jerk is a little unsettling.  There is ample room on either side of the mouth of the sheath to use a thumb to exert pressure and extract the knife, but that requires some effort as well.  This may be something that eases up a bit over time as the knife and sheath are used because I have noticed that it’s not quite as difficult to get the knife out as when I first tried it–but it still has a long way to go before it’s an easy process.  That said, I’d much rather have it be a little harder to get out of the sheath than have it so loose that the knife gets lost in the field.  That’s certainly not something you need to happen with a tool that you rely on to help you out in the woods.  Always better to err on the side of caution.

Ethan with some of his fans showing off the new BK11

As I mentioned earlier, we have an annual outing in North Carolina where we practice our outdoors skills.  Woods Monkey is giving away a few items at that outing, and one thing that we purchased was a Limited Edition CSM (Carbon San Mai) Becker Necker that someone will win.  While writing this review, I pulled out that sheath and knife to see if it had the same problem.  It didn’t.  The knife locked in positively so that it wasn’t coming out on its own, but extraction was a much easier process.  I thought it was possible that this was a later-run sheath and may have been re-sized slightly for that reason.  But, when I tried the regular (new) BK11 in the sheath that came with the CSM version, I had a little of the same problem.  It was quite snug and took a bit more effort to get out than the CSM Necker did.  It wasn’t as hard as the first sheath, but still quite tight.  It may having something to do with the coating on the blade, or slightly different sized sheaths, or a combination of the two.  It’s a strong sheath with a clean, professional design.  Just know that it may take a little time to break in for the user.

The beauty of wearing a neck knife is that you always have a blade close at hand.  You don’t have to search in a pack or fumble in and under clothing to get at the one on your belt.  It’s just there.  When I hit the woods last week for a full day of fun, I had the new Becker Necker on in place of the old one.  Even so, it still felt right at home.  I used it throughout the day opening packs, shaving tinder, and even used it to construct a Sprung Spear Trap.  The trap wasn’t that great since it was a first attempt and there’s a learning curve.  I’m writing an article about that learning process which I’ll have out in a couple of weeks.  However, the Becker Necker did it’s part and pulled its weight the entire time.  Aside from chopping, the BKT KA-BAR BK11 did every cutting job I needed done that day.

Storage capsules from www.goingear.com

One of the things I used the Becker Necker for that day was shaving some fatwood for tinder material.  Whether I just wanted to "fuzz up" the piece of fatwood to take a flame or shave some pieces off to store in a container for later use, the Becker Necker had no problems giving me thin enough tinder to easily take a spark and get a nice fire going.  In fact I got into it so much (I like the smell of freshly cut fatwood) that I shaved off enough pieces to fill up three little Silo Capsules (Joe likes to call them Scuba Tanks) that I got from www.goingear.com.  These little capsules are extremely handy to store small things like pills, tinder, fish hooks, screws, and so forth.  I’ve got bunches of these little capsules in my various kits, but what makes them especially handy is that you can attach them to your key ring.  If there’s one thing a person is always going to have with them, it’s probably their set of keys.  This mode of carry ensures that you have items with you at all times whether it’s medicine or essential survival gear.  They are waterproof, and they come in various sizes.  They’re well worth picking up, and if you’re interested, you can find them here

So, while the Becker Necker might not give you paper-thin tomato slices at dinner time, it’ll serve your needs quite well out in the bush.  When you consider that making fire is one of the primary concerns in an outdoors emergency situation, that should be a litmus test by which to gauge a knife.  Other things to consider are edge retention, strength, and versatility–not how it performs in a deli.  They’ve got other kinds of knives for that circumstance.  

I already liked my original BK11 "Becker Necker", and I like this newer version even better.  While there were some slight changes made, I think they were all for the better, and had no ill effect on the knife’s usability in the field.  It still handles as well as it always did, and there’s a lot of cutting edge for a knife with such a compact form-factor.  The size of the knife allows for multipe modes of carry with negligible burden–whether around the neck or any place you find to stash it.  Additionally, the sheath is also able to fit the metal belt clip originally designed for Tactical Defense Institute knife sheaths.  This feature increases the number of carry-option possibilities tremendously.  Instead of just wearing the sheath on a piece of paracord, it can be worn on the belt, a vest, or even in a boot.  Just this one little addition steps up the versatility of the Becker "Necker", and it’s a nice touch!  Though I didn’t have a chance to use the TDI clip, it would be the first thing I would pick up to augment the BK11 package. 

The BK11 is also small enough to be packed away in a compact survival kit, but still strong enough to be put to work on tough chores around the camp.  The skeletonized handle provides the ideal opportunity for cord-wrapping so the user will always have a length of cord on hand in an emergency situation.  And, there are several lanyard holes and lashing points that would make this very easy to attach to a stout staff for an improvised spear.  For such a small and minimalist piece of gear, it’s uses are really only limited by the imagination.

One thing I continue to be impressed with by KA-BAR’s offerings is the strong value they provide with their products.  The BK11 has a lifetime warranty and you can get one (if you shop wisely) for around $35.00 (U.S.).  For a knife with its pedigree, 1095 construction, warranty, and all-around versatility for under $40.00, I just don’t understand why anyone would not grab one as soon as they could.  It’s a fantastic little knife for a terrific price.  So, all that’s left now to do is wait and see what else Ethan Becker and KA-BAR Knives come out with next.  Based on my history and experience with his designs and their production standards, I’m sure it will be worth the wait!!

Visit:  www.ka-bar.com 

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