I’ve often said that we live in an age where everything is available without much effort, and the same goes for knife buying. With a diverse market and more choices available than ever before, one should be careful when purchasing a new knife.
Too many knives out there
While the abundance of knives and knife manufacturers is great for anyone looking for a new quality knife, it can also be a little overwhelming. This is especially true if you are new to the hobby or if you are not a hobbyist at all and simply require a knife for a specific purpose.
I’m frequently asked, “What should I buy?” or “Is Brand X or Model A a good knife?”
My typical response is… it depends.
There are numerous factors to consider when purchasing a new quality knife or, for that matter, purchasing a knife for the first time. And, before you can decide what to buy, you must first determine what you truly require.
I had some suggestions for new buyers, but I decided to consult with some friends, both inside and outside the knife industry, to get their thoughts on the matter. From the obvious to the more complex, here are the top ten factors to consider when purchasing a quality knife.
1. What do you need the knife for?
Understanding why you require a knife is one of the most important factors in determining what you require. Are you looking for a hunting knife or a piece for everyday carry (EDC)?
Is it a tool for a specific job or for use in your current position?
It could also be something you want for no particular reason. There’s nothing wrong with wanting something simply because it looks cool or you like it, but it’s important to be aware of that before making a purchase.
If you’re buying something “just because,” you might not be as concerned with the next nine suggestions.
2. Is the knife you want legal according to your local and state laws?
I know this one can be a bummer, but be aware of your local laws. Contact your local law enforcement agency if you are unsure. If you can’t actually carry the knife you want, buying it serves little purpose.
Worse, you don’t want to get into legal trouble. Nothing ruins the excitement of a new quality knife more than being arrested or cited and having your property confiscated.
3. What is your budget?
Let’s face it: the price is important. There’s no reason to look at $500 knives if you only have $50 to spend.
Window shopping, like looking at Lambos we’ll never own, can be enjoyable, but it won’t help us decide what to buy.
Knowing your budget and shopping within it will help you narrow down your options. It also informs you of what to look for.
A tight budget doesn’t mean you can’t get a good knife, but it does mean you have to be picky. There are many low-cost knives on the market that not only perform poorly due to inferior materials but are also potentially dangerous.
I can’t tell you how many cheap folders I’ve seen over the years where the lock either doesn’t engage properly or breaks after only moderate use. It’s worth it to spend a few extra dollars to ensure your safety.
4. Should you get a custom-made quality knife or a factory-stock one?
This decision may be influenced by your intended budget or simply by your preferences. Many custom makers have distinct styles or can provide services that mass-production companies cannot.
If you decide on a custom knife, do some research to find out how much lead time the maker has, as well as their terms and policies. Some require a deposit upfront, while others require the entire cost of the knife before they begin, and still, others do not require anything until the knife is ready for delivery.
Before you begin the process, you must decide what you are comfortable with. A custom knife can be extremely satisfying, but there is a trade-off in the form of potentially higher costs and longer wait times than simply purchasing one off the shelf.
5. Should it be a fixed-blade knife or a folder?
This is related to question 1, but it is still a secondary decision. Even after you narrow down your requirements, both a fixed blade and a folding knife may be useful. The difficult part is determining which works best for you.
Is the ease of use of a folder worth the inherent strength of a fixed-blade knife?
Will you carry a more cumbersome fixed blade over a folder that can be easily clipped to your pocket?
The best knife in the world is useless if you leave it at home. It’s like the old concealed-carry debate over whether a.380 in your pocket is preferable to the.45 ACP you left at home because it’s too big. It’s a decision you must make, but it’s one worth thinking about.
6. Does the steel of the blade matter to you?
Of course, the steel used in your knife matters, but how much depends on you and your intended use.
In general, any good quality steel with a good heat treat will do the job, but some will do it better than others. You must ask yourself several questions, such as, “Do I want or need carbon steel or stainless steel?”
Is frequent sharpening and retouching acceptable, or do I prefer steel with excellent edge retention?
People will most likely say they want less maintenance and better edge retention, but this comes at a cost.
Will your budget allow for high-end steel like S35V, or are you more interested in AUS8 or 8cr13Mov?
Not sure what it all means?
Be wary of blades that aren’t marked or that lack information. If it’s simply stamped “Stainless,” it’s most likely a low-grade 420J or similar steel that will quickly dull.
The bottom line is that it’s always a good idea to choose the best steel that your budget allows and that suits your needs. Having said that, companies such as Buck have been using basic stainless steels such as 420HC with a good heat treat for decades.
The vast majority of their customers are perfectly content with this, and they go about their lives never realizing that they “need” the latest wonder steel.
7. Does it fit properly?
It’s always preferable if you can try a knife before purchasing it, or at the very least handle one in the store.
You must ask yourself, “Does this knife fit in my hand?”
Is it too big or too little?
Are there any squared edges or corners that could cause hot spots during use?
Having a quality knife that does not fit you or is uncomfortable to use directly translates into a knife that will not be used frequently and will not benefit you, the user, in any way.
8. Do you need something else to purchase besides the knife?
The sheath is one of the most cost-effective features of fixed-blade knives. Take a close look at the sheath if you’re considering a fixed blade. Some are more like blade covers than practical sheaths.
Some custom makers do not provide sheaths at all, leaving it up to the customer to choose what they prefer. There are a number of excellent leather and Kydex sheath makers who can make you a quality sheath for your knife.
You simply need to know whether you’ll need a sheath to replace a subpar factory sheath or no sheath at all before making a purchase. Remember that this additional cost will be factored into your knife budget, so this critical aspect should not be overlooked.
9. Will your knife hold up to wear and tear?
When you invest money in a product, you want it to last. Take into account the entire product, not just the blade steel.
What type of grip does it have?
What other materials are incorporated into the design?
How are the handle slabs connected?
Again, it pays to do some research, especially on products that have been on the market for a while, and to get feedback from people who already own the knife you want. An internet search will help you with this.
If the product is new to the market, you may not find much information, but you can usually get an idea of its quality from feedback on similar items made or manufactured by the same maker or manufacturer.
10. Is it the real deal or a cheap replica?
I occasionally hear people say, “I found a knife exactly like that for a lot less money.” That is certainly possible, but there is a reason for it. The clone market is thriving, particularly on certain online auction sites.
In the knife world, the adage “you get what you pay for” is generally true. While you may find a knife that looks similar to the one you want, it will almost always be made of cheaper materials with lower production quality and will lack a decent, if any, warranty.
I’ve spoken with a number of industry professionals who had received clones for warranty service that they thought were genuine articles when they purchased them. They were then let down when they proved to be less durable than expected.
Purchasing knock-offs serves no purpose. You end up with a subpar product that won’t perform as well as the real thing. When it fails, and there is no one to back it up and make it right, you waste money.
It also disadvantages the legitimate designers, makers, and manufacturers who create innovative designs in the first place.
A genuine product will come with a warranty, and if you buy the genuine article, the producers will stand behind their product if something goes wrong.
When it comes to knives, it’s definitely a buyer’s market, and as a consumer, you’ll save time and money by being informed about your intended purchase.
Determine what you want and need, as well as how much money you want to spend. Then enjoy browsing through the incredible bounty of blades available to us now and in the future.