When looking for a quality knife, it’s hard to avoid coming across two brands. Both Buck and Gerber have been around a while and offer numerous blades across a large spectrum of needs. When it comes down to it, how can someone know which to choose? I have learned quite a bit about both companies and can give you all the info you need to make an informed choice. But first, let’s quickly answer the question of which company is better.
Generally speaking, Buck knives deliver higher points in the three qualities we look for in steel: corrosion resistance, hardness, and toughness. This is mostly because of their iconic heat-treating system, which they apply to even their basic knives.
These brands are in similar categories of quality, though, and the statement above is just a general guideline. Both of these brands will likely offer something that could suit your needs, and each brand is the leader, and loser, in different areas. We will look at these wins and losses below.
Meet the Makers
Buck is an American company founded and run by multiple generations of the Buck family. Hoyt Buck, the creator of the first Buck knife, became a blacksmith’s apprentice in 1899 at the age of 10. He went on to develop a new way to heat-treat steel so it would hold an edge longer. This lent itself to the creation of the first Buck knife in 1902.
Hoyt Buck went on to set up a shop with his son Al in San Diego. The store was called “H.H. Buck & Son,” where Hoyt continued to make each Buck knife by hand. He made 25 knives a week until he died in 1949.
After his death, Al Buck took the lead of Buck knives and incorporated in 1961. 1964 saw the invention of the Model 110 Folding Hunter knife, one of the first-ever folding hunting knives considered as strong as its fixed-blade counterparts. This knife was mass-produced and has sold over 15 million units since 1964.
Buck was run by Al’s son Chuck, who then passed it on to his son Cj, who continues to act as CEO, Chairman, and President of the company. Cj’s mother, Chuck’s wife, also serves on the Board of Directors, making Buck a true family operation.
Buck has always focused on using and expanding upon the heat-hardened steel technology that Hoyt created over 100 years ago. This is why many of their knives are hard to sharpen on the consumer end, though they are resilient to breaking and chipping.
Gerber is another American company, but it didn’t start out as a knife business. In fact, the first carnation of the Gerber company was an Ad Agency in 1910. While working for this agency, family member Joseph Gerber found great success in mail-out cutlery sets containing handmade kitchen knives. In 1939, Abercrombie & Fitch requested a large stock of these knives to be sold in their catalogs, and Gerber Legendary Knives started that same year.
Over the years, Gerber Legendary Blades became one of the largest names in the knife industry, and their product line grew to include multitools and other outdoor goods. They grossed almost $100 million in 2003 and were the second most-sold multitool in America. (The first place position being held consistently by Leatherman.)
Historically, Gerber has been known as a huge producer and distributor of knives, but they are not generally known to be leaders in invention or innovation. They traditionally bring in external knife designers to help create their new products and improve upon existing ones.
They produced a large line of knives with world-famous outdoorsmen, Bear Grylls, though they have faced ridicule for the extensive recalls of some of the products in this line, and many products in their other lines as well.
Where They Are Made
Buck still produces many of their products in their large American factory in Idaho. They make 85%, or 192, of their knives at this location, with the other 15% being made overseas.
Gerber has an American factory in Portland, Oregon, where 139 of their products are made today. This only equates to about 21.8% of their products, however. The rest of their tools are produced overseas, mostly in Asia.
What They Are Made Of
Buck knives are so well-made that I actually recommend their 104 Compadre Camp Knife, which is excellent for bushcraft. It’s pretty much a work of art, in my humble opinion. Take a look.
The first of these is 420HC steel, which is their standard steel for most basic blades. This steel lands in the middle of all of the requirements for a blade. It is quite durable and rust-resistant, but easier to sharpen than their other blades. It’s Buck’s iconic heat-treatment that makes this steel better than the 420HC of other companies.
Tip: If you want to sharpen the knife yourself, there are some models you need to avoid. The 13C26 Sandvick, S30V Steel, and the 154CM steel are all extremely durable steels that are difficult to sharpen yourself. These knives should be taken to a professional knife sharpener, or returned to Buck for sharpening- with a fee.
The 5160 Steel is the springiest of all steels, making it shatter-resistant, though it is not heat-treated.
The handles of the Buck knives vary as well. They offer textured handles for better grip in muddy and wet conditions, wood and metal handles for durability and style, and composite handles for extended product life and handling ability.
Gerber’s knife blades are also made of stainless steel. Their line of products includes half a dozen types of steels with various degrees of reliability.
The lower end steels they use include 7Cr1 and the 7Cr17MoV. These are typically regarded as poor quality steel because they have too low carbon content to hold an edge. I recommend avoiding these blades.
The higher end of their products use S30V or 420HC steels. S30V was once thought of as a great compromise between the three main steel qualities, corrosion resistance, hardness, and toughness, though in more recent years, the S30Vs have been hardened too much in processing, causing them to chip easily.
The 420HC steel that Gerber uses is not the same standard as the 420HC steel that Buck uses. Because of Buck’s superior heat treating technology, their version of this steel is much more reliable than Gerber’s.
If you do decide to go with a Gerber knife, I recommend picking one of the coyote brown versions. They are made in the USA while other models are often made in China. The Gerber StrongArm is a pretty darn good survival knife.
- Buck Knives- Offer a “Forever Warranty” on their products. This includes all defects and manufacturing flaws. It does not cover normal wear and tear of their products, though they offer an assessment and possible one-time, 50% discount on a new Buck knife if yours is broken.
- Gerber Knives-Offer a limited lifetime warranty within North America. If you’re outside of North America, this lifetime guarantee drops to 25 years. Their limited warranty covers defects in materials and workmanship, but not in any damage from the use of their products.
When looking to purchase a knife, there are many things to take into consideration. The quality of the knife is among the highest of these, but there are other important criteria. Different brands fall into different standards of knife-makers, and it can be difficult to compare one brand to another if they are in similar standard categories.
Bottom Line: Though Buck and Gerber live at similar price points on the knife market, they don’t share the same product quality level.
Buck’s heat-treated stainless steel makes even its most basic knives outlast and outperform Gerber’s knives of the same steel. This does not even consider Gerber’s knives being made of lesser steel, of which there are many which are.
Perhaps it’s Buck’s long history on the market or the fact that they have been innovators for more than a century, but their knives are generally of better quality than those of Gerber’s. That’s not to say that Gerber’s knives don’t have any merit, but overall they cannot meet Buck’s standards.
Pro Tip: If you do shop Gerber, be sure to stick to the higher quality steels, and avoid anything with a “7Cr” in the name of the steel.