Author: Dan Carlson
It was early in the 21st century that Cabela’s began a quest that was to take years, but resulted in the finest series of production hunting knives available anywhere.
Until 2005, only custom knife makers used steel called CPMS30V (S30V for short) to create blades that were incredibly sharp, strong and corrosion-resistant. The hardness of the steel made mass production difficult, and anyone who wanted a S30V knife paid hundreds of dollars to have one made. Cabela’s knife experts were determined to create a line of knives made of S30V steel at prices its customers could afford. For assistance, Cabela’s joined forces with Buck knives, a company with more than a century of experience in producing quality cutlery.
Working with S30V steel posed the craftsmen at Buck with a formidable task. S30V is a crucible steel that begins as a metallic powder blend of steel, carbon, chromium, vanadium and molybdenum that’s forged into a solid metal. It is not only hard (Rockwell 59.5-61), but also has superior ductility, the ability to flex, bend and absorb impact without fracturing. From 2003 to 2005, Buck’s specialists focused on ways to produce high numbers of S30V knives in a cost-effective way that manufacturing equipment could handle. Paul Bos, one of the knife industry’s leading heat-treating authorities, helped Buck perfect the heat-treating process for the S30V knives. It took nearly three years of trial and error, but late in 2005 Buck presented Cabela’s with a prototype that met our strict quality-control standards and field-testing began in earnest.
Samples were provided to the Cutlery and Allied Trades Research Association (CATRA) for independent testing and determined to hold an edge 45% better than similar blades made of 420HC stainless steel. Field tests confirmed CATRA’s findings and then some. Cabela’s team of experts took what the company had named Alaskan Guide knives on many big-game hunts to evaluate their performance. On one hunt, a professional skinner was able to skin a bull bison without having to sharpen the Alaskan Guide knife once. He stated he would normally have had to sharpen his other knives three or more times to accomplish the task the Alaskan Guide knife did right out of the box.
Alaskan Guide knives owe their sharpness to Buck’s Edge2x™ technology, which creates a flatter and sharper edge matched to the function of the blade. Buck’s production technology is finished by hand to minimize the chance of overheating the blade steel, which can negatively impact its hardness. Lasers are used to measure the consistency of the edge bevel to make future sharpening easier.
To ensure Alaskan Guide knives are capable of withstanding the most abusive environments, Black Widow Diamond Like Carbon (DLC) is applied. It’s a super-hard diamond and graphite coating that resists oxidation, corrosion and scratches, and is ultratough with a low coefficient of friction, while enhancing the blade hardness to prolong the blade’s service life.
The Bos heat-treating process plays a major role in making the S30V blades on Alaskan Guide knives so hard. They are heated to a high temperature, cooled to subzero temperatures in a cryogenic freezer, reheated to several hundred degrees according to the blade’s intended utility and then cooled. This process makes the steel even tougher.
Cabela’s Alaskan Guide Knives continue to be modified to enhance performance, reliability, utility and appearance even more. DLC coating makes them nearly impervious to the elements. Customers can choose between rosewood and durable textured-rubber handles, and leather or Cordura® nylon sheaths. In addition to fixed-blade hunting knives, the Alaskan Guide line now includes skinning, caping, folding and crosslock models, as well as knives with plain or partially serrated blade edges. A fillet knife has also been added to the line for anglers. All are backed by a lifetime warranty.
The story of Cabela’s Alaskan Guide knives demonstrates a commitment to quality, excellence and customer service that changed the landscape of the knife-making industry. It’s been several years since Alaskan Guide knives were introduced but they remain among the top-rated, best-selling products Cabela’s offers.