“I was on a destroyer in Vietnam,” the grizzled man said. “The joke was that you could take your Buck knife while you were laying in your bunk, and you could stab right through the hull.”

The ship, he said, was built in 1943, which meant that by the time the U.S.S. Black made it to Vietnam, she was already an aging vessel. “The metal was only a quarter-inch thick when it was new, and it had been sanded and scraped on and covered in who knows how many coats of paint by then.”

U.S.S. Black underway in the early 1950
U.S.S. Black underway in the early 1950’s. Photo: Nav Source

They sailed—the man and the ship, the ship and its crew—from San Diego to the South China Sea, from the South China Sea into the brown water rivers that slice through the jungle country of Vietnam, most of the crew carrying with them the pocketknives that had become the tip of a running joke ending at their ship’s hull.

The lone traveler didn’t know that, just hours before, I had been in the office of CJ Buck, the President and CEO of Buck Knives and great grandson of company founder Hoyt Buck. To him, I was just another camper, and we were just two dudes sharing campfire stories by a cliff in eastern Washington.

But every campfire has a story, and every story has a point.

I sat and listened as the man told me a tale of the 1960s, of friends come and gone and waters conquered and forgotten. I watched him take a riddled old pocketknife out of his motorcycle bag as he sang songs about time. He didn’t know that—hidden in my own pack—I had a gift from CJ tucked away for him. And as his story ended, my story began.

The Spreader came straight from the factory. One hundred twenty miles and half a day’s drive away in Post Falls, Idaho, Buck Knives VP of Sales & Marketing Bob George had spent the morning showing me around the Buck Knives factory. This is the birthplace of every Buck knife, and it’s here that every single blade passes through the hands of over 100 employees before finally making its way to your shelves, then eventually to the hands of fishermen, hunters and (almost certainly) the crews of even the most modern naval vessel.

And while none of your customers are stabbing through the hulls of a warship (I hope),  it’s in this place that the joke of the U.S.S. Black began. What the old crew likely didn’t know, however, is that their blades might have really stood a chance against the aging hull.

The Buck factory is a whirling cacophony of high-tech heat treating technology merged with ages old blade-building tradition.

Here, you’ll find men and women still steadily crafting with hammers. Yet, you’ll also find state-of-the-art forging processes for heating, freezing and sharpening the same blades that are built by hand for filleting fish, cleaning a kill or cutting a cord. Some of the blades will even open a beer … if you ask them nicely.

“Oh, man. I love Buck knives,” the traveler exclaimed, revealing the old blade from his bag. “I’ve had this one for thirty years, and it’s never let me down.”

The reason for that starts in Post Falls. It starts with CJ Buck and—way before him, his great grandfather, Hoyt. It starts with the hundreds of employees handcrafting each knife every day, and it starts with retailers like you who are putting the product in the hands of the people who use them most.

Thanks to a chance encounter, I was able to share a new knife with an old fan. But you can do it every day.