The purpose of this article is to review a short list of fine folding knives that can be had for around a hundred dollars. These knives will function and perform well. You will not have to compromise much if you purchase one of these affordable tactical folders. I carried them, handled them, cut things with them, dunked them in a river, etc. for weeks. The test was not scientific or destructive. My wife, Kathleen and I simply lived with them and used them.
More expensive knives can be purchased with premium blade steels, hand fitted parts, exotic grip materials, and designer signatures. I do not degrade these beautiful works of practical art or the artists that create them. I have personally tried to make a couple handmade knives and truly realize the time and skill required to make a fine knife. If you can afford to purchase custom made knives I encourage you to do so. There are some wonderful designers out there that have contributed greatly to knife science. Please support them if you can.
Unfortunately many of us do not have the money to spend three hundred dollars or more on a knife. Does this mean that those of us who may be able to shell out only seventy five dollars on a knife cannot depend on it? No, in fact there are many production knives that perform excellently and will not break your budget.
Besides handwork and design the main difference between a premium knife and a production knife is steel. Folding knives are mostly made from stainless steel. Stainless steel is a steel alloy that is 10.5% to 13% chromium, minimum (depending on whose table you are using.) This chromium reduces the oxidizing potential of the steel so it rusts and stains less. Stainless will rust but, less and at a slower rate than steel with lower chromium content. There are many more additives that affect the properties of knife steel. Some of additives greatly improve the hardness and the ability of the steel to hold an edge, but they often add cost. Some premium stainless steels are 154 CM, ATS 34, CPM-S30V. These are wonderful steels and have some great properties. Using these steels in a tactical folding knife can increase the cost exponentially. Add hand fitting, exotic grip material and a master designer’s name and you have a chunk of change invested.
There are some very functional production grade steels that perform very well and will not require selling your first born to obtain a knife made with them. Many production folding knives are made from AUS 8 and 440C. Now this should be taken with a grain of salt because there are premium grade knives that are also made from these grades of stainless. (The reason is that regardless of how “premium” your steel is, if it is not heated treated properly then it will not perform well. Some premium knife makers have developed very good methods of heat treating that make AUS 8 and 440C perform very well.) Most of your affordable folding knives will be made from one of these steels or something quite similar. Most of the knives in this article are made from one of these steels. None of these knives are junk. They are made by well known and highly respected companies.
Emerson Reliant – Hardwear line, reliant, endeavor, Lightweight, well made. Sharp.
Emerson added their Hardwear line to their domestically made premium line to fill a market gap. The result is affordable, lightweight and quality knives. I gravitated to the Reliant model when swimming or in wet environments due to its lightweight and slim profile. Emerson has an excellent reputation and has brought new exciting designs to the market. The Hardwear line makes it possible to have an Emerson even if you are on a budget. www.emersonknives.com
Boker AK74 – The AK74 is a real bargain. It is a well made knife with a hard aluminum handle and a strong lock up. I wish it had a pocket clip like its automatic version. I liked the blade shape and the gripe shapes in the scales. It opened easily with a thumb stud. Its association with Kalashnikov gives it a nice mystique. How can they sell this knife at this price? www.bokerusa.com
SOG – Pentagon –. I love this serious, self defense knife. It opens smooth and fast. It is very slim and easy to carry. It is a simple direct design. I like this knife for weak hand side carry because of its simple opening system and its ability to be easily closed one handed. Its straight, spear point blade is reminiscent of a dagger. It was the easiest knife to deploy into the reverse grip, edge in or “pakal” position. When stabbed into dense styro-foam it had scary penetration. www.sogknives.com
SOG – Flash II – I have carried this knife in my weak hand side for several years. The self assisted opening system has functioned flawlessly for years with no sign of wear. This knife stays sharp through many cardboard box openings, rope cuttings and other mundane abuses that I have subjected it to. www.sogknives.com
Kershaw – Tactical Blur- This knife has become Kathleen’s EDC (everyday carry). Its flat profile makes it conceal well with women’s attire. The sandpaper like scales gives the user a sure grip no matter how much hand cream, water, oil, blood, etc. is present. The Tactical blur has a formidable blade that flashes to action in a blur by an assisted opening system. The Ken Onion designs are the Hallmark of Kershaw’s folding knives. The Tactical Blur is evidence of the quality of his designs. www.kershawknives.com
Spyderco Chinook II – This knife is a little more costly then the others in this review but, careful internet shopping you can find some great prices. This knife is signed by the great knife fighting instructor, James Keating of Riddle of Steel fame. Tests have shown that you could beat this knife to pieces before the lock up will fail. The Chinook II has become my “EDC” (everyday carry). This is a heavy pocket knife which I don’t mind but, this was a drawback for Kathleen because as she says “doesn’t wear baggy man pants.” You can see the influence of Master at Arms, James Keating in this knife design. It is rugged and powerful. The Chinook II is a serious fighting knife. Spyderco was visionary in bringing James Keating on board with this design.
Buck Police Advocate – I bought my first Buck folder in 1976. It was big, heavy and hard to open quickly (I loved that knife). Well this isn’t your dad’s old Buck. The Buck, Strider collaboration is shear genius. Buck has made it possible for almost anyone to own a Strider design. Its paddle shaped blade swings quickly into action and locks hard using a locking liner. This is a real workhorse. The Police Advocate brings a Premium Strider design into an affordable package. Who says you can’t have it all? This knife competes daily with my Chinook II to be my EDC. www.buckknives.com
CRKT – M16 special forces – The Carson designed M16 series of knives are very well thought out. The model I have is the M16 Special Forces. Its extended finger guards are built into the blade. When the knife is closed the finger guard is used to flick the blade into the open position. This is brilliantly simple. Some say that the finger guards snag in your pocket. The knife is quite large (smaller versions are available) therefore I found it more comfortable to carry the knife in my waistband. This type of carry eliminated any pocket snagging. The scales were a little slick for my sweaty hands but, manageable. The M16 Special Forces knife is well made and has a strong locking liner. It is also an excellent bargain. CRKT has terrific designs at affordable prices. www.crkt.com
These are just a few of the excellent production knives that can be had for a reasonable price. The companies listed above are known for quality and good customer service. You can be confident that they have a knife that will suit your needs. Knives are very personal tools. Try to handle samples before buying if possible. Buy a knife that you feel comfortable carrying everyday.