The Cutting Edge: Collecting Inexpensive Knives

Spend any time on the internet whatsoever looking up knife stuff, and you’re bound to hit a few dozen discussions regarding “cheap” knives. In this context, cheap is referring to poor quality in materials, construction, performance, or any combination thereof. Today, cheap knives are almost synonymous with anything made in China, Pakistan, or other parts of Asia.

This is unfortunate, because many inexpensive knives come from these same regions, and they are anything but cheap. Even reputable production makers like Boker Tree and Kershaw suffer from perception issues when choosing to have some of their knives produced in these lower-cost regions.

I typically avoid what I call “Knife/Brand Bashing”, be it the regional discussion, the unknown metals used, the hear-say – whatever. Probably the only thing I have ever agreed with on such discussions is that one shouldn’t use a $10.00 knife for a $100.00 job. Knives are tools first – and with every tool, you need the right tool for the job. You don’t bring a butter knife to a steak house!

By and large, I like too many of these so called “cheap” knives. The brands typically being bashed in these discussions have some wicked cool frames. If I were to agree with anything in the discussions, it would be for the poor choice of scale color or material. What are these designers thinking of on some of these babies?

For me it is simple – all I want is an inexpensive knife that I can use to practice my wood working skills and perform upgrades on. So ugly scales and handles work for me. It inspires my creativity and causes me to ask, “What would a makeover look like?” So I look for inexpensive knives that already look cool, are desired by the mass market, and are easy for me to work on. The argument of who made it or where it comes from is never a factor. In the process, I have discovered some real gems out there.

Lipstick on a Pig

There are those who have told me that I am no better than those who produce these cheap knives because I keep buying them, which helps perpetuate the continued market for cheap products. It’s a knife….we’re not poaching ivory here. With or without me, there will always be high quality knives and cheap knives, expensive knives, and inexpensive knives. The art is in finding those gems that are of suitable quality for my needs at a price I can afford and am willing to pay.

Then there is the argument that my upgrades to the knife is not an upgrade at all, as it does not compensate for the poor quality of the knife; that’s it’s putting lipstick on a pig. My response is equally as simple - if you’re going to own a pig, then own a good looking one.

Which brings me to my point - if you’re going to own an inexpensive knife, why not own one with some style? True, my work only improves the overall aesthetics of the piece. It does nothing to improve the overall quality of the knife’s construction, materials, or its performance.  

But that can be said of any knife with an aftermarket upgrade. Spend $750.00 on a Painted Pony Buck 110 by Michael Prater and what do you have? A $50.00 Buck 110 with $700.00 worth of design work added. OK, so that one was a stretch, but you get my point. The quality of the 110 has not changed because Michael added some nickel silver, scroll work, and some high-end gem stones to it – only the value of it has changed. I am doing the same thing…sort of, just with lesser expensive knives that have not yet stood the test of time.

Here are three of the pigs I upgraded - "Tactico & Elegante" gentry knives. 


Affordability vs Quality

I have yet to meet anyone who considers themselves a knife collector and be satisfied with only one knife in their collection. They may exist; I just haven’t met them yet.

When asked how many knives I need in my collection, the answer is always the same - just one more. I am constantly growing my collection by upgrading, trading, and selling. My collection evolves as it grows, always maintaining that balance of quality I can afford. I have a few choice knives (think expensive) and a few classics, but largely I buy knives within the $9.99 to $69.00 range because that’s what I can afford. And to be honest, looking at the proliferation of folders and fixed blades vying for my dollar on Ebay alone, I could have a collection of say Rough Riders or Buckshot’s and never spend more than $29.00 on each! Budget myself at purchasing just two knives a month and within a year, I would have a collection that is very respectable!

Someday, even these perceived lower quality knives will have a place in history. Think of Imperial Knives, a sought after knife today that was in its time a “cheap” knife when compared to other American knife production companies. Their business model was “a knife for every man”. No one debates now whether or not Imperial’s choice of steel for these knives was any good, or the quality of construction using stamped parts, or if Rhode Island took jobs from Connecticut factories. Now they are collected.

As I stated, I buy very inexpensive knives for the purpose of upgrading them. Some I sell, some I keep.  Those that I sell are at a profit, but they are still inexpensive knives for the next buyer. Quality notwithstanding, the new “value” of the knife is determined by the purchaser and is based in part on its looks as well as quality of the knife. To see some examples, check out my photo album, “From the Wood Forge” to review some of the folders I have upgraded. I may not command the dollar value for my upgrades that a Painted Pony commands, but my art is out there nonetheless!

A collection of inexpensive knives to me can be as important and awe inspiring as a collection of Randall Made knives or a vintage set from Case. Purchasing knives for the purpose of adding to your collection should be no different than buying any other tool – buy the best you can afford (or are willing to pay). This principle is even truer if you plan on using the knives in your collection. I buy knives to use intentionally, and I buy knives to collect which are capable of being used, but instead keep as mint condition.   

So in summary, remember that low cost does not always mean poor quality, or that being expensive automatically equals quality. While something of quality always costs more, it’s a matter of affordability when collecting knives. I also caution against excluding knives produced in one country or another. By doing so, you may very well miss out on some real treasures – those knives that might actually be of very good quality at a very low cost! Believe it or not, these do exist. I know because I am finding them all the time.

Here’s to your collection, and to whatever the quality your knife is!

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Tags: Beginning, Blog, Collecting, Inexpensive, Knives, Lars, Ray, iKC

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Comment by tim payne on March 28, 2015 at 10:25

Lipstick on a Pig....  wonder when lars is coming home?  you are missed lars!

Comment by Lars Ray on March 17, 2015 at 10:37

I absolutely agree Tobias, and exactly to the point! Knife collecting is never about investing for retirement, but having any knife that will increase in value is always a plus! And I suspect, if history indeed repeats itself, that today's inexpensive knives will soon follow suit. And, as with anything that is fashionable, the increased turnover of styles, brands, and materials, many of the popular knives found today will be discontinued in a year or two - thereby creating a finite number of available pieces (even if in the millions produced).

Comment by Tobias Gibson on March 17, 2015 at 8:36

good article, Lars.

What I've noticed is that many of the inexpensive knives of days gone by have increased in value.  Do they demand similar prices as the more valued brands?  Absolutely not! but then an Imperial or Colonial did not cost what a Case knife cost.  for instance the old Kamp kings and forest Master cost around one or two dollars when they were first sold.  not used one in good conditions go for $5-10 every day of the week.  That's a 500% increase in value. Ones in mint condition go for as much as $25!    not to shabby for a one dollar cheap=o knife.

Comment by Charles Sample on March 16, 2015 at 21:38

Lars, you should submit this to Knife World.  I would like to see it there.  (Which reminds me, I have to renew my subscription!)

Comment by Lars Ray on March 16, 2015 at 19:26

Ha! Thank you l.lantz - that is wonderful praise from you.

The key is to keep you interested. It's so easy to get bogged down in techno-knife speak, then it no longer is fun to read. With so many things going on in iKC vying for one's attention, it's got to be good!

Thank you for your comments!

Comment by tim payne on March 15, 2015 at 20:45

a silver tongued devil indeedy

Comment by Lars Ray on March 15, 2015 at 20:08

impressive blog lars!  you sure can spit the words out well.

Thank you Tim...I have been called a "srebrny piórem diabeł!" may times (silver tongued devil).

Comment by tim payne on March 15, 2015 at 20:02

impressive blog lars!  you sure can spit the words out well.

Comment by Jan Carter on March 15, 2015 at 19:59

I would like to buy everything American too but as I said my collection would be much smaller.  And I like collecting knives!

That to me is the point these days.  Collect what you like and dont break the bank.  We went from only collecting Case, to adding in the GEC lines and about that same time I found iKC.  I also found a great diversity, one of those being Colonial Knives.  Not all are USA made these days but a company that has pride in what they do produce and keep it affordable.  AG Russell is another one that has worked hard to produce quality while maintaining an affordability to any collectors price point 

Comment by Charles Sample on March 15, 2015 at 19:35

Great blog Lars!  I agree with everything you said.  If it weren't for inexpensive knives I couldn't have nearly as large and as nice a collection as I do.  My main focus is on two brands, Case and Rough Rider, and two patterns, Case Mini Blackhorns and fish knives.  I only have one knife that I paid as much as $100 for.  It is a custom knife I had made using antler from one of my deer kills.  It cost $200.  I probably will never buy another knife that expensive.

The most I have paid for any RR was around $20 or so and they are quality knives.  Of course the Mini Blackhorn pattern is a subset of my Case knives but they are inexpensive too.

I would like to buy everything American too but as I said my collection would be much smaller.  And I like collecting knives!

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