The under rated cheap knife.

Not open for further replies.

Carl Levitian

Jun 3, 2008
Like alot of knife knuts, I went through the stage when I was young, where I had to have the best, most hyped, high dollar knife around. I have to admit it; at one time I was a knife snob. Now I'm happy with w Victorinox bantam and classic, with an old Opinel or a Case peanut tossed in now and them. If I need a sheath knife, I have my old wood handle mora and an older Buck 102 woodsman.

How did I loose my knife addiction?

I became a cop.

For a while in the mid 70's I was on the Trinidad Colorado police department. It's kind of a long story how I got there from my native Maryland after I got out of the Army, so we'll skip that for now.

Cheap knives.

When I got to Colorado, I was still in my hype knife phase. My Randall 14 was my woods walking knife, my George Stone hunter was my game knife when I wasn't using my Randall trout and bird knife. In the late 60's early 70's those were the hight of custom made knives. But in Trinidad I came to a sort of awakening.

I remember one call we had when I was still green as grass in the spring. It was down by the Purgatoire river that flowed right through the town of Trinidad, and was a popular fishing spot right where it went under Commercial street. One hot afternoon, a couple of Mexican workers took some beer and thier poles and went fishing right at that spot. It was nice and shady under the big cottonwood trees that grew there. It was in easy view of the bridge over Commercial street, and pedestrian passerbys could see the area clearly.

Well, a falling out took place about 2 in the afternoon. Witnesses on the sidewalk over the bridge could see both men on thier feet arguing loudly, and gesturing with great gusto. We got the call as a possable drunk and disorderly call and were on the way when it was changed to a stabbing call.

On arrival, one man was down and dead, with the handle of a K-Mart Rapala brand fillet knife sticking out his chest in the area of his heart. The other man was running up the river bank, and was cought after a short foot chase. With all he had to drink, he was not running a strait line as we were. The body was trasported after the M.E. was done at the scene. The aftermath of the medical exam was interesting.

The thin pointy fillet knife was thrust into the chest of the victim at the hight of the arguement, according to multible witnesses on the bridge less that 50 yards away. The victim fell immeditaly and did not move. According to the M.E., death was instant, with the fillet knife blade glancing off a rib, and sliding right into the heart.

I remember looking at and feeling the Rapala afterward, and thinking "how could this thin little thing kill like that!" and making mention to an older officer that was sort of a mentor to this green rookie. I'll never forget his words.

"Kid, the human body is a frail thing, more frail than you think. After you do this job for a while, you'll see that you don't need one of those expencive custom knives you're fond of totin around. Hell, they kill people in prison with sheet metal shiv's made from the licence plate shot scrap, or sharpened toothbrush handles. Think about it kid."

Well, I did alot of thinking about it, and a sea change started to come over my view of knives. A month or two later another knife call did it.

The second knife call, I didn't feel much sympathy for the victim. One could almost say he had it comming to him. There was this guy who worked at the Allen Mine Company, who was in the habit of beating up his wife when he drank too much. A black eye here, a fat lip there. No charges pressed because she was afraif of him. But everyone has a point where enough by God, is enough. She got to her's.

One night he was slapping her around, and she got tired of it. At first she tried to run out of the appartment, but that angered him more so he beat her more. Then she tried to fight back, and he really gave it to her. The final report from the Mt. San Rafial hospital was two broken ribs, a broken nose, a lower jaw broken in three places, a couple teeth out, a concussion, and possable damage to the spleen.

But somehow she got her hands on the bread knife laying on the kitchen table.

It was a lousy knife. One of those cheap 1.98 things from the kitchen stuff isle at the supermarket, with a molded on white plastic handle, a serrated edge on a blade that was the thickness of a sheet of writing paper folded over 4 times. But it laid the bully low. When we got there, he was laying on his back on the kitchen floor, gasping and moaning, with this cheap bread knife sticking up out of his fat belly. The knife was sunk in about 1/2 way up its 10 or 12 inch blade and was wobbling with his every gasp. Kind of meshmerizing in a macabre way. He'd gasp taking in a breath and the knife would wobble over one way, then he'd moan exhailing, and the knife would wobble over the other way. Kind like AAHHHHH, wobble wobble, EEaaaah, wobble wobble.

He lived, but it took almost 5 hours of emergency surgey to pull him through. Not sure if it was worth it. The lady signed the compaint from her hospital bed, and the bully was sentanced to a couple years in the house of many doors. We had a judge in Las Animas county that took a very dim view of abusing women and children. The stabbing was ruled self defence.

I ended up selling off my knife collection, and took to carrying just standard pocket knives, like my mentors from my childhood. Some sak's, a few traditional pocket knives from Case and Camillus and Buck.

But mostly it made me loyal to the early mentors like Mr. Emory Varhidy and his stick. I learned that even a cheap knife is capable of much more mayhem than one would guess. A cheap box store fillet knife or supermarket serrated edge knife can lay you open as well as the highly hyped Spyderco this or Benchmade that. And one should keep well away from a knife, keep the distance and carry a nice stick. I learned the use and value of a stick early on, but as a police officer I re-learned the value of distance.

I also learned a knife doeasn't need a knife magazine's blessing as the tactical knife of the month. It just needs to be sharp.
Awesome writing Levitian. I really enjoy your stuff...I'm about to do a "Find more posts" search on you.
Carl Levitian, I think we are using the wrong terms here.

An Opinel is cheap, but not of poor quality.

If you abused an Emerson, you would still have a quality knife, but with a poor edge.
Good read. I was told in LE training that a person armed with a knife, in attack mode, can go across at you over a 20-30 foot span in a mere 2 or so seconds, emphasizing the need for distance that you mentioned. I hate knives, but will have to live with them if I want to eat my steak!
Save a knife, carry an ASP ;)
Very nice piece Carl, inciteful and most of all honest.

And I'm sure you understand and agree with Tourist's comment regarding "cheap" vs. "inexpensive".

I have wondered myself where the whole "tactical" approach of thinking originated and if it is propelled by need and experience or machismo and marketing. That is not to say I have not been affected by it or even promoted it. I can understand it from a military service standpoint or a law enforcement perspective but admittedly scratch my head as to how that mindset relates to *my* daily living conditions and environment.

That is why, I'm almost positive, that my 'tactical' knives are drawer queens for the most part and my tiny Spyderco Copilot, SAK Soldier, and Leatherman Wave proudly wear the well-worn marks of something that is used and enjoyed everday. Interestingly enough, they haven't broken, sharpen easy, hold an edge well enough and probably cost me less than $100 on sale (actually one was a gift). Apart from making a dugout canoe, I'd could probably survive for a bit with just the three of them, or even two in a pinch.

This should be an interesting conversation...
I have some nice knives, no question about it. I also have this el-cheepo tiny Chinese fake spyderco that I think I paid all of $5 for and I call it "bad penny" because no matter what happens the knife keeps coming back to me! And it hold an edge. Who'da thunk it.
UK is going through a spate of lethal stabbings at the moment preferred weapon of choice a kitchen knife often or not from the pound shop :(
I've thought about making some type of "shiv" to sell. Doesn't take much to cut the neck and kill, for sure.
A couple things.....

I'm not a knife fanatic, I do like good tools. There's a handful of Pumas, Bucks, Gerbers, Kaybars, CS etc, here.

My EDC has devolved down to a Kershaw Scallion, though once I return to the workplace I'll probably add something better suited for cutting seatbelts, etc.

The Scallion was free. I found it.

There's an old Western 3 blade pocket knife here that was first my Grandad's , then Pop's. Grandad passed on in 1953. The biggest clip blade is well worn, and my aunt says her father carried a tiny whetstone also.

All the blades take a scary sharp edge as does my dad's old Case sheath knife.

As for improvised knives, I'm retired from the MD prison system.

A couple cases.

Two cellmates were arguing over the last jug of illicit hooch they had bought. Both had imbibed plenty already. When it got physical, one broke a plastic mirror and stabbed the other in the heart. The victim survived, but wasn't good for much.

I mean, even less than before.

Another I witnessed was when a new fish crowded an old hand in the chow line. Said old timer had a Number 2 pencil in his shirt pocket. After warning the newbie once, the oldster spun around when again crowded and buried the pencil in the chump's head. Didn't penetrate the skull, but part of the pencil was left under the scalp. Enough was left for the old timer to gash the chump's cheek with the remnants.

The chump was known as Ti after that, short for Ticonderoga #2. I didn't see him crowd anyone after that.

Another incident saw a biker type having a beef with a smaller, but jailwise inmate who worked in the prison hospital. The biker was big, bulky and pumped iron. The smaller inmate evened things up with a razor blade melted into a toothbrush handle.

200 stitches worth later, the incident was over. The biker survived by getting a transfusion before he got on the ambulance. A co worker was the donor.

Another toothbrush razor left the still visible scar on my left thumb. I broke up the fight.

The scar on the back of my right hand was from another fight, in the inmates dining room. A fork was the weapon. The user apologized afterwards, I wasn't his target. It didn't stop me from subduing him using the maximum force I coul get away with. I had four officers in the area and around 200 inmates.

Other weapons I recall being used included a sock with two bars of Ivory soap in the toe stuck inside another sock and tied off.

Rocks in socks were also popular. So were canned goods.

It boils down to just about anything can be used as a weapon and will be.
I have LOTS and LOTS of knives from Case and Schrade and Cammillus and Queens.
Lately I have been bitten by the Opinel bug and they have become my daily carry and work knives.
Capable of a very scary edge.
I got two that are outstanding. Both are Buck Diamondback fixed blades. One 3" and one 4".

They're not exactly cheap but they were when I bought 'em. Cabelas was blowing them out at $10 ea. I had a $15 gift card as part of their Christmas promotion for card holder/club members. With the card I got them for about $4 each with shipping.

The Diamondback line is one of Bucks import offerings. Some from China, others from Taiwan.

I only bought them to use up the gift card without spending much of my cash. After getting them I was very impressed with the knives. The edges are a bit on the brittle side so I assume these are not the "sharpened pry bar" type of knives that many are fond of.

The spine is as square as you can imagine making for a great ferro rod scraper. These things throw a shower of sparks! Use the (rather sharp) thumb grooves and its even better.

The sheaths are nylon with snap closures and kydex liners. Also impressive for the price.

Overall, I wouldn't feel under-knifed if these were all I had.

I've been using the 3" version in the kitchen just to test edge holding. I noticed that if left wet it will show some rust spots. Obviously stainless but a high carbon SS. Similar to Bucks usual 420HC but I can't be sure as they are imports. If buck has learned anything from Paul Bos and his heat treat and uses it overseas, I imagine these knives will last for a good long time, hold a decent edge, and continue to impress me.

Victorinox Pocket Pal sells for less than $15.

What we have is a 3 1/4", Equal End pattern with a main blade, that opens on one end, the smaller pen blade on the other, using a single back spring.

-The knife is sharp out of the box and ready to use.
-Blade geometry assists in the ability of this knife to cut as it does.
-Fit and Finish
-Comfortable in Pocket
-Society Acceptable
-Meets Legal restrictions in the UK, and USA, for most settings
-Lifetime warranty
-Easy to maintain, and sharpening can be as simple as using a Rapela "V" sharpener.
-Great Whittling knife, and all one needs to do is strop every 10 minutes
-The ability to clean fish, fowl, game, cut rope, cardboard, cut a chicken fried steak in a diner or cut a Porterhouse served in the finest steak house in town.
-Not expensive to replace if lost or stolen.
-To darn handy to not have, and one does not mind using it, loaning it, or even giving the darn thing away to someone in need of a knife.
-Works in a saltwater environment


The last time I stood in front of a Case Display with the new order with folks...well the mom and pop was just sick. The apologized and were going to send every damn one back.

Yellow handles , both CV and True Sharp, had edges not even finished to tip, rivets either sticking out, or "recessed" way too deep or both. ~ $36

Red Bone, looked worse than a whore's red lipstick, and at least a whore can get lipstick on a lip proper.
These were that bright of a red, then faded to white, near bolsters with a gap. ~$50

Prices just a average for series and knives in a mom and pop store.
It would take some work, to get these knives ready to whittle, heck, cut anything.

Contrast :

So...the Ladies have ordered Bokers.
Oh yeah, a tad more money, and bought from a online source that checked them out, and will give a no hassle money back if not happy.
~50, for these Tree Brand, with carbon steel , and Rosewood handles.

Sharp out of the box!
Fit and finish very very nice!

Ready to use.
So the good knife is the Boker, the fun, general purpose and all, including in emergency kits as back ups, the Pocket Pal.

Some folks remember what brung them up, and some don't, and don't seem to care.
sm said:
It would take some work, to get these knives ready to whittle, heck, cut anything.
Man, that's bad news. I almost bought a Case a little while ago. I might have got in before the change.

Instead, I got an Opinel No. 6 that I usually carry, a No. 7 for the tool shelf and an Okapi that I carried today. So far, so good, with these. I'm happy with them.
I have wondered myself where the whole "tactical" approach of thinking originated and if it is propelled by need and experience or machismo and marketing.

By and large, machismo and marketing. Give a tool some hard use and it will speak for itself. The ad copy people do their best to convince you a tool will speak for itself - i.e. the new dongle will be just as good as the old dongle.. but you already own the old dongle.

That's not to deride the legitimacy of the knife as a showpiece for class, style, wealth or geekdom (this last especially - look at all the nutso kookoo locking mechanisms we have nowadays!)

One of the instructors from my EMT class drove ambulances back when an ambulance was a hearse with white paint on it. He carries a slipjoint, and a leek - but he only carries the leek because someone gave it to him.

His first lesson was, it's illegal to carry a weapon on an ambulance 'round here, so remember you're carrying a tool. The second was, there's probably a better tool for the job, but if you use your brain you can probably improvise. Knives have cut for millions of years - there is always room for innovation in design and materials when incorporating other purposes into the tool (see: leatherman, atwood, EOD robotics.)
Sorry Carl, but a folks are killed by sharp pieces of glass and sheet metal all the time. And they're killed with cheap poorly made knives from the grocery/walmart all the time as well. The difference being that a cheap knife doesn't have many more uses and won't stand up to use as a tool where a quality knife will.

If you're just using the criteria of someone being killed as your definition of what a knife is good for you might as well carry a sharpened stick since that will do the job you've described.
All The Locks

... look at all the nutso kookoo locking mechanisms we have nowadays!
Well, it's good news/bad news, ya see.

If it wasn't for the patent system and predatory licensing practices, we'd have mebbe what, 4? 5?, locking patterns.

Same with assisted opening methods. In fact, seems to me, some of the locking techniques are partly a function of the opening method.

If folks was free to just copy an existing production design and improve as they could, we'd have fewer, but better evolved, locking systems.

The fact that the early worm "owns" the system-and-method for such-and-such a lock mechanism means that anyone else who wants to play has to 1) license what the other guy did, 2) come up with something new and different, or 3) adopt a method that's effectively in the public domain.

And, presto! Dozens of variations on the locking concept.

Mixed blessing, I guess. Commercial "area denial" strategies do, in part, encourage innovation and invention. And that's a good thing -- provided the "best of breed" method belongs to a company that survives.
Sorry Carl, but a folks are killed by sharp pieces of glass and sheet metal all the time. And they're killed with cheap poorly made knives from the grocery/walmart all the time as well. The difference being that a cheap knife doesn't have many more uses and won't stand up to use as a tool where a quality knife will.

If you're just using the criteria of someone being killed as your definition of what a knife is good for you might as well carry a sharpened stick since that will do the job you've described.

WOW! :what: I didn't get that from reading the original post at all...:uhoh:

I took it as a commentary on underestimating the ability of a 'cheap' knife and overestimating one's actual needs in a carry knife.

The trend that I've observed over the years (perspective: I'm 45 and got my first 'real' knife around the age of 7 or so...) is that there is some magical quality in the knives being produced today that makes anything carried yesterday obsolete. Knives that had proven themselves in the field at home and abroad were somehow just not 'good enough' for todays soldier, LEO, citizen, or hunter. Ok, a certain amount of progress is expected and designs such as the "Spydie Hole" and beefed up "liner locks" are wonderful, as are micarta and some of the 'wonder steels'. But it has gotten to the point where we are testing $400 camp knives on car doors. You have to admit that the customer base who *really* needs a knife like that is tiny relatively speaking. Most times a blade that size would just be in the way for most of the people who would be in a situation to use it. And how many rank and file Soldiers or Marines could even afford one?

Carl is 'preaching to the choir' I think and not *against* the choir. I appreciate his perspective and believe it goes a long way toward bringing a bit of reality into a subject that has become mostly Walter Mitty fantasy (picture the mall ninja with his kerambit and CIA darts). It's a voice in the wilderness saying "it's ok...your Grandfather's Marbles will not let you down..." At the least it encourages a look from a different perspective.

The realization that I've come to (for me now-for me...) is that most of the heavy tactical stuff is unnecessary or even unsuited for what I typically cut. The blades tend to be too thick the edge profile is closer to an axe than a knife etc. In other words-there are tools more suited to the job. If we want to bring the idea of carrying for defense into the discussion it changes the dynamic 'a little' but again, not as much as *they* would like us to believe. Another thing that puzzles me is the worship of "edge retention" and "staying sharp". It's always been my lowly experience that the harder it is to dull the harder it is to sharpen. I cut my teeth on high carbon blades and whet stones. Every knife ever made will get dull-period. The knives I use can be brought up to speed in 5 or ten minutes by hand using a stone and spit, including my machetes. I like it that way. For my needs that's what works.

Lastly, Carl's piece opened with "How did I loose my knife addiction?" It wasn't a sermon on why YOU should loose YOUR knife addiction. As I've alluded to before, I am re-evauating my own knife 'needs' right now. Every piece is on the table so to speak. From my 1970 Old Timer pen knife up to my most coveted John Greco and all the knives I've amassed in the last 38 years. Maybe by discussing it someone else will be able to break free from their own 'tactical hell' :neener:

Yes-"My name is Mongrel and I'm a knife nut" no more...


Just serious enough to make it interesting, but not serious enough to get worked up over....

So you can stab somebody with a cheap bread knife. That has nothing to do with what kind of knives a person uses or carries for peaceful purposes. I carry a custom, Loveless-style knife because I like it, and because it is a practical tool; not because it's better for killing bad guys than some other knife.

You weren't packin' that Randall trout and bird knife for CQB were ya?
Hso- obviously my post rubbed you the wrong way.

I know very well what a knife is used for, as well as knowing people are killed by sharp glass and scrap metal every day. Thank you for pointing that out to me, as that was exactly one of the points I was trying to make.

It seems like you missed the entire point of the post.

I was attempting to point out, that contrary to the garbage put out by certain magazines, one does not need a Emerson this or ninjadeathdealer that, costing hundreds of dollars to do serious if not fatal damage. As this IS the NON-FIREARMS WEAPON forum I was talking about the weapon aspect of the knife. If that offends you, then why is this called the NON-FIREARM WEAPONS forum?

This may a novel thought, but it is very possable to get a job done with less than a high dollar knife. Too many people belive that unless they have the equel of a pocket Excaliber, their comming from behind. Sure, from a collector standpoint a sebanza is a nice knife. But do you really need one? No.

As far as a cheap knife not standing up to use as a tool, I beg to differ with you, sir. I grew around blue collar working class men, and most got by very well with a carbon steel Colonial barlow and a old butcher knife in a homemade leather sheath. They used the cheap knife as a tool, and when the blade was worn down to a steel toothpick, it was replaced. Cheaply. But then they were not concerned with a status symbol, just a sharp cutting tool that got the job done.

If something about my post offended you, tell me what it is instead of sarasticly attackking me with a "Sorry Carl."

Good day, sir.
When I was a kid, the State Fair in Birmingham (AL) was a regular outing for my family. I remember the BPD used to have a travelling exhibit that appeared every year.

A feature of the exhibit was 'criminal weapons' that had been confiscated or taken as evidence. Sawed off shotguns, pistols, all manner of firearms. And then there were the slashy and stabby things. There was a wall full of still-bloody kitchen knives, steak knives, pocket knives, you name it- on display. LOTS of them.

Likely years worth of accumulation for a big-city PD, but still- it was a LOT...

Good story Carl - point taken. Hso, what you said is the very point he is trying to make, I think....

An Opinel is cheap, but not of poor quality.

And one could say the same thing of the Rapala filet knife murder weapon in question.
I own a few custom knives myself but honestly the most "work" is done by a "cheap" Mora knife. The other knives I buy for other reasons.

And one could say the same thing of the Rapala filet knife murder weapon in question.

Actually I own that knife and it is the sharpest in my kitcen lol

Though he focused on the lethality of cheap knives I felt like that was right-on for a couple reasons...

This is the non-firearm weapons forum

So-called "tactical" knives are marketed as such because their primary purpose is fighting...anyone who thinks people buy tactical knives primarily because they like apples and hate strings is probably incorrect

I agree that a cheap(er) knife can't do EVERYTHING a $300-400 knife can do for as long and as well, but it can come close. a $30 knife is not "worth" just 10% of a $300 knife in the field.
It seems it's being said, "a cheap knife used in an emotional state is justification to disbelieve the claims of better knives, which will be referred to in slighting tones."

If that's the inference, then applied to firearms, those "Gun of the Month" Kimbers, Kahrs, HK's, and others are not really necessary when you've got a 9MM Keltec. It'll kill'em just as dead as a Glock.

Put 50,000 rounds through it. Heck, put 50,000 rounds through most of the .45's, or even the service Beretta. They aren't touted and made to do it.

Therefore, all better grade guns are really just a waste of cash. And no, I don't believe it for a minute.

That's not what's being said here, is it?
Not open for further replies.