Buck Mini Spitfire review
In this article, we’re going to review the Buck Mini-Spitfire by examining the knife’s blade steel, handle, ergonomics, and overall effectiveness when used. We’ll also compare it to the Spyderco Dragonfly 2 and Kershaw Skyline, as well.
The Mini Spitfire was released in 2014. The popularity of its larger predecessor, the Spitfire, led Buck to scale the design down to appeal to users who wanted something smaller. In addition to being smaller, the Mini Spitfire has a slightly redesigned blade shape: whereas the full size model had a slight recurve to it, on the smaller model this is thankfully absent. In fact, the decorative pivot is gone, and the thumbhole and thumb ramp have both been streamlined.
The Mini, like its big brother, is available in three colors, although plain edge is the only blade configuration available. Here is the complete Spitfire lineup:
- Mini Spitfire with gray scales
- Mini Spitfire with orange scales
- Mini Spitfire with green scales
- Spitfire with gray scales
- Spitfire with orange scales
- Spitfire with green scales
- Spitfire with serrations in any of the three colors.
The model under review is a gray Mini Spitfire but, as the differences in color obviously do not impact performance, what is written below can apply to any model.
Below, please use our interactive table to easily compare the Buck Mini Spitfire to a variety of blades in its class.
Ergonomics of the Buck Mini Spitfire
The Mini Spitfire makes a good first impression ergonomically. The handle is simple, a gentle curve with no scalloping, grooves, or other unnecessary embellishments. It is just large enough to accommodate all four fingers. The gimping (or jimping) on the thumb ramp and the back of the handle is well done.
However, when you begin to use the knife you begin to see there are issues, some minor, some grave.
The aluminum scales are pretty slick. In a light duty EDC knife like the Mini Spitfire, slick handle scales are tolerable. The issue comes from this slickness in conjunction with the thumbhole. This thumbhole is a narrow oval, and, unlike the Spyder Hole it takes obvious inspiration from, it does not keep your thumb in place as you’re opening the knife. With the slickness of the scales you feel like you have to wrestle the knife open each time. What should be one of the best, most secure opening methods is transformed into a dodgy mess.
The larger Spitfire, because of its differently-shaped thumbhole, opens more consistently, although the slick handle scales are more of an issue since it is a bigger knife, and will probably be put to harder-use tasks in which a secure grip is paramount. The Spyderco Dragonfly 2, a knife the Mini Spitfire is clearly meant to compete against, has a perfectly-executed, round thumbhole, and the textured FRN handles, in addition to being lighter than the Mini Spitfire’s aluminum scales, offer excellent traction.
Below, please take a moment to view some of the best-selling pocket knives currently for sale on Amazon:
|1) Spyderco Tenacious|
|2) Kershaw Cryo II|
|3) Opinel No.7|
|4) Gerber Paraframe|
|5) Kershaw Knockout|
Again, the Mini Spitfire makes a good first impression. Although I find the swedge, in conjunction with the opening oval, fairly ugly, the blade itself is a classic drop point, one of my favorite blade shapes. For EDC tasks there really isn’t a blade shape I prefer, although I would say that the Dragonfly 2’s leaf blade is its peer.
The issues arise with the grind. In general, Buck does a real “soft” grind on their blades. What I mean by that is the lines where the primary grind, and in this case the swedge grind as well, start, are not very crisp or sharp.
In some cases this is not an issue, particularly if the grind is radial, or far away from the cutting bevel. But in a blade as small as the Mini Spitfire’s, these soft lines mean that the knife, by design a hollow grind, cuts like a very obtuse, poorly done full flat grind.
The cutting bevel is thin and well done, as is typical with Buck knives, but the soft primary grind really catches on material as you pass through it. The full size Spitfire has the same issue, although it is a more aggressive cutter thanks to its mild recurve. The Dragonfly 2 outslices both of them by a very large margin.
It isn’t even close.
The Spitfire and Mini Spitfire’s blade are made of 420HC steel. This an unremarkable steel on its own, but one of the big selling points on Buck knives is that their steel is heat treated by Paul Bos. Bos is arguably the best heat treater in the business. His proprietary heat treat technique enhances the good characteristics of this otherwise very mediocre blade steel.
Buck’s 420HC gets very sharp very quickly and sharpens readily. I was expecting that edge to fade quickly, but in my testing of the Mini Spitfire it stuck around for a long time. In a non-Buck knife I would prefer AUS-8, another commonly-seen steel in this price bracket ($30-$40) over 420HC, but Buck’s particular rendition is quite excellent.
I like it better than AUS-8, and way better than VG-10, the default steel of the Dragonfly 2. As we’ve seen already, there are a lot of things Buck doesn’t do very well, but no one can accuse them of choosing poor steel for their knives.
I will say, however, that as good as Buck’s 420HC is, it is not a super steel, and it is possible to get the Dragonfly 2 with ZDP-189, one of the most exotic and extreme cutlery steels on the market today. This steel has insane edge-taking and retaining abilities, although it is not fun to sharpen. This flavor of the Dragonfly 2 is considerably more expensive than the Mini Spitfire, it’s true, but it is worth mentioning.
Like the Dragonfly 2, this is a pocket knife small enough to ride unnoticed in your pocket. The slick aluminum handle scales, while detrimental ergonomically, make the Mini Spitfire easy to pull in and out of your pocket. There’s nothing worse than a knife that won’t come out of your pocket without a fight, and thankfully that is not the case here.
The clip, however, is a bit of a problem. Not only is it unattractive, it has this strange, unnecessary hump near the top. This means that, if you bump into a door jamb or a wall in your house, you’re going to take a nice gouge out of them. Beyond this, if that hump catches something, you could very well bend the whole clip out of shape, ruining it altogether. It is, quite simply, not good. Buck seems to like it, though, because it was on the original Spitfire as well.
I much prefer the Dragonfly 2’s wire clip. In fairness, I find that clip very easy to bend as well, but that’s less because it catches unexpectedly on things than that it’s just not a very strong clip. Not my favorite, but a clear improvement over the Spitfire’s.
More bad news. All of the knives in the Spitfire line, like most Buck knives (with a few interesting exceptions) are lockbacks. Lockbacks can be excellent EDC knife locks because they are simple, ambidextrous, and low-maintenance.
The issue arises from extremely poor fit and finish. The lockback on the Mini Spitfire is just terribly, terribly done. First of all, it is aligned poorly: it rises above the back of the handle, invalidating the jimping on the spine of the knife. If you hold the Mini Spitfire up to light you can see that the lockback does not meet flush with the handle scales. The place where the blade tang and the lock meet is sloppy as well.
All of these issues add up to a knife with a ton of blade play. A little play is typical of even a very good lockback, like that on the Spyderco Dragonfly 2, but here you can basically rotate the blade in a circle, the lockup is so loose. Over time, that sloppiness is just going to get worse and worse. This is not a knife that you should buy, but if you do, do not expect it to age well.
As I mentioned above, this kind of fit and finish is almost to be expected from Buck. I’ve never had a knife from them that was well-finished. The 110 I have is sloppy. The Vantage I owned was sloppy. The full size Spitfire fared no better. The Mini Spitifire just happens to be the worst of the bunch.
The Buck Mini Spitfire is a bad knife. It is bad when you compare it to the knives it was meant to compete with, like the Dragonfly 2 or the Kershaw Skyline, and it is bad when you look at it on its own. The performance is poor, the aesthetics are poor, and the fit and finish is disappointing. And, at $30, it isn’t even that cheap. I still hold out hope that someday Buck will escape its stasis and wow us with a new knife design. But today is not that day, and the Mini Spitfire is not that knife.
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