Why would I pay $25 to $400 for a jackknife you ask? I can find one that looks exactly like the brand name I want but for $8.95 on the swap messer meet or online?
The answer is the same for all things: you get what you pay for. Second, if you just want a knife for opening letters, packaged food, or for looking cool on your desk, a cheap knife might do the trick. However, if you really want to use the knife as an all-purpose tool, I strongly advise against buying a cheap slicing knife, as these break very easily and the steel is often brittle or has a very low Rockwell hardness. Sharpening is also more difficult and the blade doesn’t hold a sharp edge very long.
Another point to consider
Another point to consider is the reliability factor. If you bought the knife for the wilderness, for self-defense, or as an emergency tool, you want to be confident in the strength of the locking mechanism, the blade steel, and the overall integrity of the construction. You don’t want the knife blade to snap in half or jump right off the handles if slight lateral pressure causes the blade to become lodged in wood or other matter.
I’ve had a couple of these cheap knock off knives and they suck. They are weakly made from inferior steels. I often go to gun shows and often see a table full of knives advertised as “$5 or $10 each.” The knives look like the seller just dumped them out of a box. They are scratched and the pieces don’t fit together well, there are gaps between the pieces that should be tight. There’s a reason the knife is only $5 or $10.
Made in a foreign country
Think about it… the knife was made in a foreign country and then shipped to a warehouse in the US where a dealer bought it and sold it to knife retailers. Factor in the cost of materials, construction costs, shipping costs, storage costs, distribution costs, and finally the retail markup, and your $10 or $15 knife is actually worth about $2 in materials and construction. So…. If you’re buying the $5, $10, or $15 knife, remember that if you get into trouble, you only want to spend about $2 to get out safely. Just something to think about.
I know it’s tempting not to spend a lot of money, but you don’t really have to spend a lot of money to get a quality knife. Cynscorion Products offers a wide range of basic black tactical folding knives with two to three inch blades, which can be found at places such as Cold Steel or CRKT for as little as $29 to $45. You don’t have to shell out $100-$300 for the high-end status icon of semi-custom designer folding knives. Some of the best knife values can be found in the Cold Steel Voyager or Gunsite series and the CRKT M-16 series. These are very strong, high quality and popular folding knives. I own several myself. My favorite carrying knives are the CRKT M-1 and M-16.
A complete package
Cases are another area to watch out for. Some fixed blade manufacturers sell knives with sheaths as a complete package. Some unscrupulous sellers may separate the knife from the sheath and then charge a premium for the sheath. Check the manufacturer’s website or call them and ask about the knife you’re interested in. Does it come with accessories? Even cheap cases can be dangerous. Look out for fabric cases without a protective lining. Think about it. Do you really want to stick a sharp knife in an exposed cloth holder strapped to your waist or thigh? Try to get a good sheath made out of Kydex or a similar material.
The quality manufacturers also guarantee their knives against defects and usually replace their knives very quickly if they are sent in. Try returning your cheap Chinese-made swap meet knife after it broke.
Necessary to break the blade or lock
Tests were run on these cheap knives to see how much lateral and downward force was required to break or jam the blade. These knives always break with surprisingly little force. Remember……they are made to LOOK like the original……DO NOT WORK OR PERFORM LIKE the real brand name knife. Just like a fake Rolex or Montblanc pen, it’s all about LOOKING like the real thing, and you only pay for that…..looks. And some fakes can’t even look that good.
You also need to be aware that some sellers try to pass off cheap imitation knives as genuine. If you’re looking for a quality knife and come across a potentially great deal, slow down and look at the details.
Check the following:
- If possible, go to the website of the manufacturer of the knife you are interested in and download all the information about that particular knife. Check specifications for construction materials, length, width, weight, colors, blade types and download all images of the blade and the point where the blade meets the handle. Study the information and take it with you when you shop to compare it to the physical knife.
- Take a very close look at the knife itself. How much depends on the seller’s good offer. Read the writing on the blade. Check for spelling mistakes, inconsistent fonts, and print quality. Search by blade steel type and country of manufacture. Compare the knife with your downloaded images and information.
- Next, check the box and the instructions/owner’s booklet that came with the knife. All brand manufacturers offer a brochure about their warranty, maintenance and safety. If the seller says there is no box or instruction manual, start wondering and look at the knife very carefully. Will the knife be sold new or used? A used knife may not come with the box or instruction manual.
- Internet sales of cheap knives are to be avoided at all costs. You cannot physically hold the knife. The seller may provide blurry images or not fully describe the knife. Then there’s the old, “I don’t know much about it. I’m only selling them for a friend” excuse. Also look out for the following phrases: “Cold Steel like”, “CRKT like”, “CRKT style”, “SOG Style” or similar phrases. A knife is either a Cold Steel knife or it isn’t.
- Finally, listen to your inner voice. Do you feel uncomfortable or are you sure that the knife is genuine? And when you’re in a store, always get a written receipt detailing the name and model of the knife, and find out about the return policy.
Nothing is safe. But buying a knife that’s generally selling for $49 for $25 should be a warning sign that something may be amiss.
Now back to the title of our story. Guess what happens after your cheap paring knife breaks? Hopefully not after you come back from the hospital after the lock failed and cut your finger. You buy another knife! If only the knife were cheaply made you could buy a dozen and throw them away when they break, but then you’re spending the same money or more for a quality knife and you don’t have to worry about your fingers, let alone that that there is also a manufacturer that will replace your knife if it breaks and you have not misused it.
Oh yes, please don’t use your knife as a crowbar; It’s a cutting tool, not a screwdriver, crowbar, or hammer. This is how almost all knives break and the manufacturers know it.
Buy a multi tool if you need a knife/screwdriver/mini pry bar/piercing tool
So the moral of the story is you can’t buy a Ferrari for the price of a Chevy Cavalier or a Rolex or for $40. That’s not the reality. So don’t expect to buy a high quality 2 or 3 inch folding knife for $16.
Now that I’ve explained why you shouldn’t buy a cheap paring knife, it’s time to give you some information on buying a quality knife.
Whether you’re buying your first quality folding knife or your 20th knife, it’s an exciting experience, but not an easy one either. With so many knives out there, it’s hard to know which one to choose. I hope this brief discussion helps you.
Quality knives, whether tactical folders or fixed blade combat/hunting knives, can be expensive and you can quickly spend a lot of money. Whether you want to buy just one knife or several, you need to think carefully about your knife purchase. Some people will buy an everyday knife, a dress knife, a shooting range knife, a hunting knife, and then some knives just because they look cool. That’s fine as long as you can afford it. You need to decide whether you are going to buy just one utility knife or two, or start a collection and think about how you will build that collection.
Before you decide to buy a knife or start a collection, think about what you intend to use the knife(s) for and how a particular knife fits into a larger collection. I’m not telling you not to buy multiple knives, just buy wisely so you minimize the number of knives you toss in a drawer to collect dust or give away.
When I first became interested in knives I went down this route but luckily I caught myself before I got too far and asked myself what do I need this knife for? I usually answered myself with….because it’s better than the last knife or makes it “whatever” better than the last. I quickly realized that the knives I’ve bought in the past were for the wrong reasons. I only bought them because they were in front of me and they looked good. So…..Where is this going?
Before you decide to buy a knife or start a collection, think about what you intend to use the knife(s) for and how a particular knife fits into a larger collection. I’m not telling you not to buy multiple knives, just buy wisely to minimize the number of knives you throw in a drawer to collect dust.
Important knife features to consider
Buy the best quality you can. (Duh!) All the knives I sell are from quality manufacturers. They are knives that I would buy and own myself. In fact, I own a few of some of these brands and will likely buy more. So if you decide to buy a knife that I sell, at least buy a quality knife and take care of point one.
Fixed or foldable knife:
First determine the purpose of the knife. A hunting, survival or wilderness knife will most likely be best served by a 6 or 7 inch fixed blade knife. The way I see it, large fixed blades are for hunting, fishing, soldiering, and bear hunting. They are intended for outdoor use in the wilderness or in the mountains or for combat and survival situations. However, they are also usually impractical to carry in your pocket or on your belt around the house or in the city or suburbs. At best, other people will think you’re a maniac playing Rambo, at worst they’ll call the police. Big mean looking knives and a suburban environment don’t mix. In addition, it is usually illegal to carry these large-bladed knives face down or openly.
Folding blade knives are a much more convenient knife to carry and use. Folding knives can be carried in a typical pocket without sagging, or tucked into a waistband, purse, or personal calendar. They are lightweight and most of the time below the local government’s maximum legal blade length limit.
Important point here! Contact your local police in person or check local community codes online to find out what the maximum allowable blade length is for your area. It is almost always less than 3.5 inches and can be as low as 2 inches. Get caught with a knife over the legal limit and it’s a concealed weapon.
Folding knives have made incredible advances in construction and design in recent years. Locking mechanisms reflect the biggest gains in my opinion. Blade styles, handle materials, and shapes are nice, but do they really improve the knife? Does a G-10 plastic handle really improve the knife’s cutting performance compared to a micarta or kydex handle? I believe that the material of the knife handle is mostly a matter of preference but does not create any measurable benefit to the knife or its cutting abilities.
Two of the newest materials, titanium and Kevlar, put a smile on my face. Think about it. Titanium. Lighter and stronger than steel, it was originally developed for aircraft engine parts to withstand the extreme stress and heat of a jet engine. This material on a jackknife handle makes the knife better……how????? For the extreme cost of titanium compared to a weight saving, I can’t see the advantage over say aluminum.
Kevlar is used for bulletproof vests, but now it’s used for knife handles. Why am I still trying to figure out. Question? What do you intend to do with a Kevlar knife handle? Planning on repelling a barrage of 15 bullets with your handy dandy bulletproof knife?
When choosing a knife handle material, I look for a material that will not slip when wet, will not chip or tear easily, and will be durable. Aluminum and all of the current wonder plastics are light and strong enough for my knife handle material needs and much cheaper than titanium or Kevlar. Wood was the historical knife handle material as well as bone or deer. In fact, almost every material has been used for knife handles over the centuries. Anyhow, I’ll limit my discussion to the most likely materials you’re likely to find on the modern day tactical folding knife.
Just choose the handle design and material you like. A knife is a very personal choice.
Folding knife blades come in a variety of styles and shapes, and every designer/manufacturer wants you to think their blades are the best. Well I think they are all equally good just with different designs. Some may have advantages over others for specific situations, but for general use I do n’t think a clip point, tanto point, drop point or modified whatever will really matter functionally. Choose the blade style you like.
I believe it’s all a matter of design preference and the need for manufacturers to release something new every year.
I think the two main points to consider (pun intended) are steel and edge type.
These two characteristics have a direct effect on the cutting ability, edge retention and sharpening of the knife. Think about it. The purpose of the knife is to stay sharp and cutting. Everything else is secondary or aesthetics. Important for sure, but secondary. So……
First, choose a quality steel that resists rust, has good edge retention, and is easy to sharpen. There are numerous steels currently used in knives, and some are scrap. If you are unsure about the steel type of the knife, ask.
Pay attention to the type of blade steel and how prominently it is mentioned in an advertisement. A knife from a quality manufacturer like Cold Steel, CRKT or Benchmade will tell you what steel they use. The cheap knife makers or trade knives just say stainless steel. Also 440 A and B are very different and of very poor quality than 440-C steel. Ask if the temperature is at least 440 °C.
Many people have their own opinions about which knife steel is the best. Likewise, which truck, which beer or whatever is best. I like 440-C, AUS-6, AUS-8, 154CM, ATS 34 and S30V. There are other equally good steel alloys which I messer list on my information pages. All have different advantages and disadvantages in terms of edge retention, sharpening and cost. I’m not a steel lover, just trying to provide some basic information and keep it simple. For more information on knife steels, see