What to Pay for a Good Blade?

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Knife type, quality of metal, name brand. . . all these things and more influence the price tag of a new knife. It’s tricky to generalize prices across different types of knives (e.g., tactical vs. pocketknives), but we gave it a go! For this story, we consulted a handful of experts to assemble a pricing guide. See the following for our “stab” at generalizing knife value and cost before you pull dollars out of your pocket and slap them down for a new blade.

$20 and under: Simple fixed-blade knives made with quality steel blades can cost less than $20 and serve basic purposes without any frill. The common Swedish Mora knives, for one, come to mind. However, most folding blades, multitools, or larger camp knives at this price are guaranteed low-grade and chintzy.

$20 – $40: Our experts cite this as the opening price range for a basic blade. There’s no shortage of quality fixed-blade knives and folding knives in this range. You can get a quality knife in this group, though blade and handle materials will be “entry level.”

$40 – $80: Now we’re getting into mid-range quality knives. Expect to see better materials, more durability, extra features, and more refined design execution. There will be stronger locks on folding knives, better sheaths on fixed blades, and overall more attention to detail.

Said Jeff Freeman, Knife Innovation Manager at Gerber, “USA-made knives can be in this price range, mostly with fiber-reinforced nylon handles. Soft over-molding can be added to the substrate nylon handles to give a grippy feel.” You might see aircraft-grade, machined aluminum with machined grip inserts. On folding blades, Freeman said, you can find “decent assisted-opening knives with durable and strong locks” at this price level.

Getting more technical, Freeman added that black or gray titanium nitride (TiN) or black oxide metals are more prevalent for blade and metal handle coatings for protection. Finally, in this range there is usually a strong replace or repair warranty for the life of the product.

$80+: There are always exceptions, but spending this much on a knife from a trusted brand is going to be a safe play. This price will get you a product that will stand the test of time. Top-quality blade and handle materials plus beautiful design and construction should be included in this class.

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A $269 tactical knife from Gerber Gear, made in the USA

Said Freeman, “generally these can be ‘hard use’ knives built to withstand extreme use in unforgiving environments. Higher grade steels such as CPM S30V, D2, 154CM, O-1, A2 are more common.” He continued, “Handle materials like machined 6Al-4V titanium and mil-spec hard anodized 6061 aluminum are here, as well as various epoxy stabilized machined or hand-formed hardwoods.”

For fixed blades at this level, high-quality leather with thick welts, strong stitching and tough handle straps are the norm. Heat-formed Kydex is also common in this price range for military-grade tactical tools.

Freeman noted full lifetime warranties and U.S.-designed and U.S.-made knives (from U.S. materials) as common here.

For folders, the lock is going to be bullet proof, even backed up with a secondary safety. No side-to-side or up-down movement is noticeable when the blade is in the open and locked position.

—Patrick Murphy is assistant editor at GearJunkie.