If You Want a Good Pocketknife, $100 is How Much You Need to Spend
Among folks who are interested in knives, you’ll often hear a common story. We all seem to have had a father or grandfather who owned a well-worn and much-loved pocket knife that seemed as ageless as they did.
Knives like that get passed down through generations. And a lot of people get pocket knives of their own because they plan on handing them down to their own kids someday.
Of course, these days, if you want to buy a knife that will last long enough to become an heirloom, it will cost a lot more than it would have in your grandfather’s day. On the plus side, knives have also come a long way. Today’s knife buyer has a lot more options than previous generations had.
Here at Tech Writer EDC, we get a lot of messages and emails asking for knife recommendations. Specifically, one of the questions we get asked the most is, how much should I spend on a pocket knife?
There’s a lot to unpack in that question, but today we’re going to take a shot at answering it as best we can.
Budgeting for a Pocket Knife
I’ll get straight to the point. If you want a good pocket knife, you should be willing to spend $100 on it. Now, hear me out…
There are pocket knives out there in every conceivable price range. If you want to buy a knife for $10, you can. If you want to drop a grand, you can do that too. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend doing either, but for very different reasons.
Cheap knives are cheap for a reason. Yes, you can pick up a pocket knife at your local gas station for the price of a six-pack, but that knife will be dull in a day, and probably fall apart in a month if you’re lucky.
Even most “real” brand-name knives in the $20 to $30 range have a lot of problems. Lousy steel, sub-standard locks and badly-designed handles are par for the course with a lot of knives in this price bracket. You don’t start to really get into a higher quality range until you get to around $50, and even then, it’s really hard to find a knife that will truly stand the test of time.
That brings me back to my point. $100 can buy you a knife that will last a lifetime if you take care of it properly.
Why Spend $100 on a Knife?
$100 might sound like a lot of money to some, and not so much to others. At the end of the day, you have to spend an amount you’re comfortable with. But for my money, I’d rather wait a little longer and save a little more to buy a really good quality knife. Basically, I’d rather spend $100 on something good than waste $50 on something that I’ll just have to replace in a few years.
And here’s the thing… knives have gotten expensive. Ten years ago, I would have said you can absolutely get a great knife for $50. But a lot of the great knives that cost $50 then are going for well over $100 now.
It’s honestly kind of crazy. I don’t love the direction knife prices are going in, but the fact remains that if you really want quality these days, you have to pay for it. If you walk into a knife store (or, more realistically, open up Amazon) with $100 in your pocket, you can choose among a wide range of really top-quality knives.
What Makes a Good Pocket Knife?
Another related question we hear all the time is, what’s the difference between cheap and expensive pocket knives? Or, to put it another way, if I’m going to spend $100 on a knife, how can I be sure it’s really better than a $50 knife?
These are great questions. Ultimately, you’re paying for quality, and there are any number of ways to differentiate really good knives from merely-okay knives.
The type of steel used to make a knife blade is one of the biggest factors that goes into both the price of the knife and its overall quality. Granted, a knife doesn’t have to use the most high-end steel to be a good knife, but it’s still important to know what you’re getting.
The two broad categories of knife blade steels are carbon steel and stainless steel. Simply put, carbon steel has high carbon content that gives steel improved hardness and strength. Stainless steel has higher chromium content, which adds corrosion resistance and improves toughness.
But within each of those categories are countless variations. All the different types of steel used to make blades—420HC, AUS8, 1095, 8Cr13MoV, D2 and 4116 just to name a few—can be confusing and, to someone not overly familiar with their differences, a bit overwhelming.
The best advice we can give is, if you’re looking at a particular knife, find out what kind of steel the blade is made out of, and do a little research. In particular look for these five key qualities:
- Edge retention
- Corrosion resistance
- Ease of sharpening
- Hardness (resistance to scratching, cutting and abrasion)
- Toughness (resistance to fracturing)
Keep in mind that no single type of steel will score perfect marks across the board. You’ll most likely have to sacrifice one quality for another, but look for a type of steel that meets your needs and scores well in the categories that matter most to you.
One of the worst problems that plagues cheap knives is poor locks. A knife with a shoddy lock can close up on you unexpectedly, potentially causing serious injury. So buying a knife with good locks is a very real safety issue. There are quite a few different locking mechanisms available, but the three most common are:
- Lockback: Sometimes referred to as back locks or spine locks, lockbacks are some of the oldest and simplest folding knife locks. A lockback knife has a pivoting lock bar inside the grip. A notch on the lock bar catches the blade and secures it when it’s open, and an exposed section of the lock bar serves as a button of sorts..
- Liner Lock: To operate a liner lock, the user must bend one of the knife’s liners inward, which holds the blade in place in the open position. Liner locks are very common (especially in cheap knives) and aren’t generally suited to heavy wear-and-tear due to the thinness of most knives’ liners.
- Frame Lock: Widely regarded as a superior variation of the liner lock, a frame lock works by essentially the same principle, except that the frame itself forms the locking mechanism on one side of the knife. This heftier lock is both simpler and more effective than a liner lock, and is more common on high-end knives.
The grip of your pocket knife is the part you actually interact with the most, and it’s just as important as the blade itself. A good knife needs a grip that is durable, comfortable to hold, and ideally non-slip.
The shape and texture of the grip come into play here, as well as the grip material itself. Some of the most common grip materials include:
- Stainless steel: Handles made of stainless steel are very durable and corrosion resistant, but also heavy and can be slippery.
- Titanium: Lighter and stronger than steel, titanium is an excellent metal for knife grips (though it is more expensive). It has been described as having a “warm” feel to it compared to other metals.
- Aluminum: Although it is often seen as cheap, aluminum is lightweight, durable and corrosion resistant. It can be textured for better grip, but is otherwise just as slippery as steel.
- G-10: A resin-based fiberglass laminate, G-10 is tough, lightweight and durable. It can also be textured for a secure grip. It’s common in tactical knives.
- Micarta: This composite material is typically made of linen, canvas or paper in a thermosetting plastic. The pros and cons of micara are similar to G-10, though many would argue that micarta looks better.
- Plastic: Lots of folding knives have plastic handles, and they vary widely in quality. Ultimately, “plastic” refers to a wide range of polymers that are, for the most part, inexpensive and not especially durable.
- Wood/bone: Folding knives with wood or bone handles are not as common as they once were, but many are still made. These materials are valued mostly for their natural beauty, but wood and bone handles can also be quite durable.
Sturdy Construction & Longevity
Sturdy construction and longevity are two qualities that tend to go hand-in-hand. If you want a knife that will last a lifetime, it simply has to be well made. You also have a responsibility to care for it to keep it in good working order over the years, but that’s a topic for another day.
Strength and quality construction are areas where you really see a difference between budget knives and higher-end models. More expensive knives are simply built better. From sturdier locks and hard-wearing grips right down to better quality screws and pocket clips, little details can make a huge difference in the lifespan of your knife.
Looks aren’t everything, but they’re also not nothing. If you’re going to invest in a knife, invest in one that looks good to you. The knife you carry can be an expression of your style, so look for one that matches your aesthetic.
Most cheap knives just look cheap. They simply aren’t made with the attention to detail that top quality knives are. A great knife can look like a work of art while still being a functional tool, and you’ll often find that the best-looking knives are meticulously designed and made with care rather than simply being stamped out in a factory.
We have wanted to write this article for awhile, but our recent attempt to round up the best pocket knives for $50 pushed us over the edge. It was very hard, very hard indeed to put together a solid list of EDC pocket knives at the fifty dollar mark. It just reinforced the belief that to get a great pocketknic=ve, you need to spend around $100. I think we’ve made our case!
Blair Witkowski is an avid watch nut, loves pocket knives and flashlights and when he is not trying to be a good dad to his nine kids, you will find him running or posting pics on Instagram. Besides writing articles for Tech Writer EDC he is also the founder of Lowcountry Style & Living. In addition to writing, he is focused on improving his clients websites for his other passion, Search Engine Optimization. His wife Jennifer and he live in coastal South Carolina.