When shopping for a reliable pocket folder, it’s not just the brand you have to take into account. On the contrary, today many manufacturers who are known as good, traditional knife makers also market inexpensive knives made overseas that, when compared to their other products, are sub-par. Given that food for thought, we give you some tips about just what to look for.
Knife steel is a wonderful but confusing subject. You will hear all sorts of conjecture about just what a good quality steel is and what isn’t. However, the best rule of thumb to keep in mind is: is the blade marked at all? If the blade comes from a company you have never heard of or worse, isn’t marked on the blade at all, this is a red flag. For instance, if you pick up a knife and the only word that is printed anywhere on it is “Pakistan,” or “Stainless” odds are the steel in the knife or the overall quality itself is suspect.
Look for the steel type on the blade itself. Most makers of good quality knives, such as Kershaw, Benchmade, Spyderco, and the like, will generally list the steel grade on their blades. Others, like Case, Buck, and Gerber, will at least list it on the packaging or company literature. This type can range from simple 420 or 440 stainless, which is very common in the knife world, to more exotic varieties such as ATS-34. The good news is that these “knife steels” will have a Rockwell hardness rating all above 49, which means they can cut, remain sharp, and be resharpened. Rule of thumb: no markings or information, run gun shy.
If you are looking for a knife with a hold-open lock or assisted opening device, take these with a grain of salt. Any of these can fail. Liner locks have become extremely popular over the past decade and a lot of the big names have jumped aboard. The more traditional lock-back designs, such as those used on the classic Buck 110 have withstood the test of time and are no less reliable.
Beware of knives that are overly loose. This can be seen as a direct correlation to exactly how strong the lock is on these blades. For instance, if you can crack a knife open and have it lock with just a flick of the wrist—and it is not an assisted opening knife—you may not want to trust it too much. Wiggle that blade with the knife open and see how much play it has.
Don’t Fall Into the Country Trap
Modern companies move manufacturing offshore. That is a way of life in the 21st Century. While it’s great that many knife makers are able to keep their operations wholly in the U.S., others, in the interests of increasing market share, have gone with making some of their line in China and elsewhere. Many of these knives are of extremely good quality because at the end of the day, the big maker still has to put their name on them.
W.R. Case recently did this with their new Tec X series of tactical folders. These imports use AUS-8 drop point blades, carbon fiber handles, steel pocket clips, liner locks, and torx screws extensively. Case feels so strongly about these knives that they give them the same lifetime warranty as their regular made in the U.S. lines.
Benchmade has done this for years with their Vex series of knives. These Chinese-made knives used 8Cr14MoV Stainless steel powder coated drop point blades and G10 Fiberglass handles. The company guarantees them forever and includes them in their Life Sharp program.
In the end, look for quality, keep the markings, companies and mechanisms in mind, and above all, stay sharp.