Buck Model 557 Open Season Folding Skinner Knife
By Gary Zinn
In 1962, Al Buck, son of Buck Knives founder H.H. (Hoyt) Buck, introduced the Model 110 Folding Hunter knife. This was a truly revolutionary hunting and field knife, which prompted other commercial and custom knife makers to introduce what has become a rich variety of locking folding hunters, including those using back locks, liner locks, frame locks and other locking mechanisms.
Buck Knives Inc., currently under the leadership of CJ Buck (representing the fourth generation of Buck family knife entrepreneurs), has not forgotten its legacy of locking blade hunting/outdoor knives. The Model 110, in continuous production since its introduction, recently got new variants including the 110 Folding Hunter Pro, the 110 Folding Hunter LT and the 110 Auto Elite. Other locking folders in the Buck grouping of hunting knives include the Bantam, Folding Omni Hunter, Folding Alpha Hunter and Open Season Folding Skinner.
The focus of this article is the Model 557 Open Season Folding Skinner. The Model 557 and Model 556 (same design, different blade and handle materials) are currently the only folders in the thoroughly modern Open Season knife family. (See the opening text in the Buck Model 538 Open Season Small Game Knife article for more information on the Open Season knives in general.) I thank the good folks at Buck Knives for providing the review knife.
The Model 557 sports a premium S35VN blade and micarta handle scales, and comes with a leather sheath. The Model 556 is the same design, but with 420HC stainless steel blade, thermoplastic handle scales and polyester ballistic cloth sheath. The Model 556 sells at about half the price of the Model 557; both are as robust as any locking folder, of similar size, currently available.
These Open Season folding knives, in their current (2018) evolution, are a design tweak from models introduced a few years ago. The original Open Season folding skinners had liner locks and the upscale version wore a S30V blade and Dymondwood handle scales. The current versions differ in the switch to a back lock in both models and the change in blade and handle materials in the deluxe variant (called the Pro Series).
Although Buck uses the term "skinner" in their name for the models 556 and 557, the blade profile is not that of a true skinner. I consider the Buck Model 103 to be a prototypical skinner pattern knife, with upswept blade spine, a short drop to the tip and a wide, deep bellied blade with a cutting edge that curves sharply upward to a relatively blunt point. (See image below.)
The model 556/557 blade profile is actually a normal drop point pattern. This is not a bad thing, for a fairly wide drop point blade has sufficient depth and curve in the belly to be an adequate skinner, but still has the versatility that has made drop point blades so popular for hunting and general outdoor knives.
The Model 557 blade is 3mm (.12") thick at the spine and has 3-1/4" of sharpened edge. It is 1" wide at the grind plunge, with the edge running forward 1-3/4" to the belly, where the blade is 15/16" wide; this portion of the edge is slightly recurved. Then, the edge curves smoothly upward from the belly to the tip.
One might wonder if a 3-1/4" blade is adequate for a hunting/field knife. Certainly, the suitable size of knife can be different for different situations. A blade that is just right for dressing out a deer may not be large enough to efficiently work up a moose. That said, I have been using both fixed blade and folding knives for over half a century and I can think of very few instances in which I needed a blade with more than a 3-1/4" cutting edge in the field.
The S35VN blade is hollow ground and satin finished. The factory edge, formed by a narrow micro bevel, was Extremely Sharp, my top qualitative rating of sharpness. With wear-resistant S35VN steel sharpened to this acuity, the knife will go for quite awhile before it needs even a light touchup sharpening. (See Sharpening S30V and Similar Super Steel Knife Blades for techniques and tips on sharpening the new "high tech" steels.)
The only other item of note related to the blade is the thumb disk, which is just large enough (9mm diameter) to provide a means of rotating the blade open with either thumb. The knife opens one-handed as easily as can be expected, given that the resistance of the back lock must be overcome to rotate the blade. Starting the blade a bit and then flicking it fully open will not work with this knife, or any other with a back lock.
Despite the inherent resistance of the back lock, the blade of the test knife cycles smoothly and locks open with a reassuring click. There is absolutely no play or instability when the blade is locked open and it takes only normal pressure on the lock bar tab to release the lock. Nothing to see here, folks.
There is an interesting byproduct of having a disk, rather than thumb studs, or a thumb hole to facilitate opening. The disk is positioned perfectly for a thumb rest if one uses a thumb-on-top power grip.
The handle of the Open Season Folding Skinner is a contrarian design. The handle is built around a pair of liners, much like any number of modern locking folder knives. The contrarian part is that the Folding Skinner liners are massive, relatively speaking. They are 2mm thick slabs of stainless steel. Even with holes in each liner to reduce weight a bit, they are far more substantial than the very thin, highly skeletonized liners found on some similar knives. There is also a sturdy blade pivot pin, the back lock mechanism and a steel spacer between the liners, behind the lock bar tab.
All of this adds up to a handle that is one of the heaviest (over five ounces of the 6.4 ounce total weight of the knife) among similar sized knives of the type, but it is also very strong. Drop this knife on the ground, run over it with your 4-wheeler and expect more likelihood of damage to your tires than to the knife. One could contend that the frame is overbuilt, but I cannot imagine anyone arguing that it is not as tough as woodpecker lips.
The Buck theme of a tough-by-design handle continues with the choice of canvas micarta for the handle scales on the Model 557. These are attached to the liner with Torx screws, three for each scale. Micarta and G10 are two of the toughest materials used on handles of heavy duty knives, so either would be appropriate here.
I prefer micarta to G10, for to me micarta feels better in my hand. That is a purely subjective, personal preference and I would not object if G10 had been used on this knife.
I am totally sold on the handle shape of the Open Season knives. The palm curve, flared butt and rounded edges combine to yield a handle that fits the natural contours of the hand. The ergonomic result is knives that can be held and wielded securely, without clamping them in a death grip, and that can be used forcefully or for extended cutting sessions, without abnormal hand fatigue.
I have now reviewed three knives with this handle design, the Model 557, Model 538 Small Game and the Model 550 Selector 2.0. The more I use them, the more I appreciate the exceptional ergonomics of the handle. Many modern style knives come with slab-sided, square-edged handles, which are anything but ergonomic. Buck is to be commended for getting it right with the Open Season handle design.
For the record, the Model 556/557 handle is 4-3/4" long, 3/4" thick at the middle, with width ranging from 3/4" at the throat of the index finger groove to 1-1/4" at the flared butt. Have I mentioned that this knife fills the hand well and is quite comfortable to hold?
This knife is too heavy and bulky to be comfortably carried in a pocket. Enter the sheath (belt pouch), which is made of sturdy leather for the Model 557 (polyester ballistic cloth for the Model 556). The leather sheath has three parts: front, back with flap to fold over the sheathed knife, and leather back plate with cutouts for threading the sheath onto a belt. A large metal snap secures the flap to the front of the sheath. The three pieces that form the sheath are sewn and riveted together neatly and solidly.
I found one small problem with the new sheath. The belt loop cutout was tight against the back of the sheath, so that it was hard to feed the end of my field belt thorough it.
I overcame this by slipping a shim through the loop and laying the sheath aside for a few days. The shim stretched the loop enough that now I have no trouble feeding the sheath onto a belt. The loop will easily accommodate belts up to about 1-3/4" wide, but anything wider will be a very tight fit.
I try to be objective when reviewing a product, pointing out both merits and shortcomings, so that my reviews are as informative as possible. Something I can criticize about the Open Season Folding Skinner knife is that it is somewhat heavy for its size class; but then I argue with myself that the weight translates into strength, which is a good thing for a hunting/field knife that must be depended on to hold up under heavy use.
With this in mind, I am willing to carry a heavier knife that I can depend on, rather than a featherweight specimen that might fail at an inopportune time. Of course, each person must decide his/her own tradeoffs regarding such things.
Chuck Hawks recently reviewed the Model 110 Folding Hunter Pro. He wrote, "This Buck Model 110 Folding Hunter Pro is my new favorite folding hunting knife. If I were allowed to carry only a single folding hunting knife on an important big game hunt, this is the one I would choose." I can echo those words with regard to the Open Season Folding Skinner.
I am tempted to send Chuck this knife, invite him to evaluate it against the Folding Hunter Pro, and then keep whichever he prefers and send the other knife back to me. I have a feeling, though, that he would just keep them both.
Copyright 2018 by Gary Zinn and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.