Guide: Cheap VS Expensive Knives, What to buy and what to look out for!

You are browsing the internet looking for a good knife to go camping, start bushcrafting, take on your hike or just because you want a good knife… a few thousand results pop up.. some cheap… some crazy expensive. What is good and what is bad is not always very clear. In this guide I’d like to introduce you to how knives are priced and what to look (out) for when buying a knife.
Let me start by saying this guide doesn’t even start to cover it all. Use your own common sense in choosing a blade. Also you’ll find that there are a lot of knives that would fit in between categories. This guide is to help you get a basic idea of what to look for and what to expect.

Basic rules

Before I start I’d like to define cheap and expensive. When we are talking about quality knives €100 – €250,- could be called a normal price. everything below would be ‘cheap’ and everything above would be ‘expensive’. To not divide this guide into too many categories I’ll stick with cheap and expensive where everything under €100,- is considered ‘cheap’.

Knives can most of the times be put in one of the following categories:
Cheap: Ugly and pretty good (€0 – €100,-)
Cheap: Good looking and (pretty) bad (€0 – €100,-)
Expensive: Bloody good and (pretty) good looking (€100 – €250,-)
Expensive: Bloody beautiful and decent to bloody crazy €200 – €3000,-)

So what puts knives into these categories? What makes up the price of a knife?

  • steel type
  • Handle Material
  • Sheath
  • Craftmanship / finish
  • How many are made? (limited / special edition?)

I’ll try to define knives in all categories and what you will most likely find in these categories.

Cheap: Ugly and pretty good

The cheap category is a hard one. The ”ugly and pretty good” is a small category and focussed on practicality and quality instead of overall looks. ‘Ugly’ is very personal and I don’t find these knives ugly at all but their focus just isn’t on their looks.  What materials can we often find in these type of knives?

Steel types:
– 12c27
– 14C28N
– 1095
– O1
– 80CrV2
– C100
– D2

The above steels are some very commonly used steels in cheaper knives that can be pretty good depending on how they are heat treated. If you are lucky like with Patriot Manly you can even find a CPM (powdered) steel in this price range however the above is a guideline for proper steels in this price class. The ones above are definitely not all but definitely the most common ones.
These steels are often very cheap to buy and easy to heat treat. A good safe zone for hardness in this budget class is 57 HRC – 59 HRC for stainless knives and 58-60 HRC for the carbon ones. These steels have decent edge retention and will be easy to sharpen. You wont be needing expensive water stones to keep these sharp.

Handle Materials
– Plastic
– Rubber
– Micarta
– Simple woods

Most of these cheaper knives have plastic/rubber molded handles or a plain looking micarta handles. Both are very sturdy and practically maintenance free. The handles are nothing fancy but offer a good and comfortable grip. A few knives in this category will have wooden handles. Often simple woods with little grain textures. Keep in mind that these often softer woods needs care like oiling. A common wood in this price class would be birch.

– Plastic sheaths
– Kydex Sheaths
– Thick leather sheaths (around  €100,- class)

Sheaths in this category are mostly simple looking plastic sheaths with little retention. Take care in packing these knives because knives can more easily fall out of the sheaths. Another cheap sheath material is Kydex. Kydex sheaths are a popular low maintenance option that offers good retention. A common problem with kydex sheaths is that they dull the edge of the knife they carry. This is caused by improper sheath design / fit.
A few knives under €100,- will offer a leather sheath with proper thick leather. Take good care in researching the knife you want to buy because leather sheaths in this price class are often thin cheaply made.

Knives in this category are often mass produced knives made by machines. Little to no handwork is used in making these knives.
Some good brands in this category are:
– MoraKniv
– Hultafors
– Patriot Manly (Hand made!)
– Terävä

Cheap: Good looking and (pretty) bad

People that are wanting to get their first knife often want a cheap but good looking knife. They often end up with a knife that sucks but looks decent. Below are some things to recognise a potential bad buy.

Steel types:
– 440 stainless steel (440, 440A, 440B and 440C)
– 420HC
– 1075
– 1055
– 8Cr13(MoV)
– 9Cr15(MoV)
– Aus-6
– Aus-8
– Damascus

And a whole bloody lot more…. The steels above CAN indicate a bad buy. Still, it really depends on the heat treatment. Especially with the 440 steel knives you’ll often just buy a piece of steel that only looks like a knife. Most cheap knives are labelled as 440-stainless. This often means the knife uses 440A steel which is a very low budget steel that doesn’t hold an edge at all. 440C however can be a proper budget steel with the right heat treatment but simply most of the times isn’t well heat treated. My advice is to do some research before buying the knife. The same thing goes for 1075, 420HC and Aus-8… it can be decent but most of the times simply isn’t. The MoV steels are Chinese made steels. Steel Will for example does a decent job using these steels but then again… most of the knives that use an ”MoV” steel suck. Last but not least you can find damascus knives in this category. These are often made in Pakistan and do not use a core steel. These damascus blades are pure decorative and not useful at all. Another thing to keep in mind is that the HRC hardness is often not mentioned on these ‘bad buys’.

Handle Materials:
– Structured / grainy woods
– Micarta
– Exotic looking materials / plastics
– Steel / brass bolsters

These ‘bad buys’ can also often be recognised because the handle look to fancy for what you expect in this price range. The knives use grainy woods (zebra wood for example) or use plastic that looks like antler / ivory. Sometimes these cheap knives even make use of a combination like mixing wood and micarta or on of the previous two with a good looking brass / steel bolster. Making these more expensive handles often result in the use of a very cheap steel with perhaps no heat treatment at all.

– Thin leather
– Nylon

9/10 times these type of knives will come in either a flimsy nylon sheath of a flimsy leather sheath with little to no retention. Sometimes they are finished with a nice looking stamp.

Knives in this category are often made in China, Thailand or Vietnam. Brand names are often missing. Often they are made to look cool and attract children / teenagers into buying them.
Buying your knife in a proper knife store instead of a tourist shop can often help a lot.

Expensive: Bloody good and (pretty) good looking

Like I said before. Looks are very personal but in the higher price you are much less likely to find ‘ugly’ looking knives.
In this category I would fit most production knives build for professional use. After owning an ‘Ugly and pretty good’ knife this will probably be your next step.

Steel types:
– CPM-3V
– CPM-154
– CPM-Cru-Wear
– CPM S30V
– Z-wear
– N690(Co)
– VG-10
– CoS
– Elmax
– M390
– Sleipner
– K720
– So much more!

In this category you’ll find a lot of high quality ingot steels but also more and more powdered steels (often referred to as Super Steels). These steels vary too much from eachother to really talk about. Most of these steels focus on a good balance between wear resistance, toughness and corrosion resistance. Others focus on extreme toughness or extreme edge retention but are very hard to sharpen or rust very easily. These knives are often between  €100,- and €250,-. It is key that you do your research on the steel of the knife you want to buy. Are your stones able to sharpen that steel? Do you prefer edge retention or toughness? All these factors play a huge role in choosing your ideal blade.
In this price range you’ll also find laminated blades. The lamination process (sandwiching a core steel between 2 softer steels) is pretty expensive to do but will add a lot more flexibility to a knife making it less likely to break. Factors like this can put a knife using a mediocre steel into a much higher price class.

Handle Materials:
– Grainy woods (burls)
– Stabilized woods
– Micarta
– Horn / bone handles
– G10
– Brass / Steel bolsters
– Anything else

Most common handle materials in this price range is wood and micarta. You’ll often find more exotic woods like Olive wood, walnut wood or burls with crazy wood patterns which are pretty expensive to begin with. Some of these woods and burls will also be stabilized with epoxy or wood hardener to make the wood almost like a synthetic product making it unable to shrink/expand or rot. In this price category you can actually find anything. Some knives use more expensive steels or laminations but use more practical or cheap handle materials. The most important thing to look for in this price class is the build quality.

Quality / thick leather
– Zytel
– Kydex

Most of the knives in this category will come in good quality leather sheaths or at least have the option to get one. The sheaths focus on good retention or locking the knives in place with a strap. Some knives will also have the option for a care free synthetic sheath like Kydex or Zytel. Even in this price class you’ll have to do some research on the brand’s kydex sheaths as the possibility is still there that it will dull your knife.

Knives in this category are still often mass produced by machines or are partially finished by human hands. Some good brands are:
– Fallkniven
– Bark River
– Lionsteel
– EnZo
– Casstrom
– DuloKnives (Custom knife maker)
– CAD Donati Knives (Custom knife maker)

There are a lot more quality brands but the above are some names I think deliver a very good quality knives. A lot of other ‘quality’ brands have a lot of good knives in their assortment but also offer a lot of shitty ‘over the top’ knives that loose focus on the purpose.
Fallkniven is a brand who focusses on low maintenance knives for cold and wet conditions. Using no BS materials they make some very high quality knives. A brand like bark River focusses on the customisable aspect. They offer a huge variety of models, steel types and handle materials making it possible to buy a kinda unique knife (that’s even partially hand made). In the end most real knife brands offer knives in this category.
Custom knife makers also fit in this category but be mindful… some do a brilliant job in heat treating (even cheaper steels like O1) while some others can make some good looking knives but goof up the heat treating process. It’s key to do your homework about a custom knife maker before you order your knife.

Expensive: Bloody beautiful and decent to bloody crazy

This is a pretty hard category. A lot of custom knife makers probably fit in this category. Most of these knives fit in the price range between €200 – €3000,-. Knife makers that dare to ask a lot are probably artists in terms of looks and finish or use some of the most exotic steels out there.

Steel types:
– ZDP – 189
– Cowry X
– K390
– Vanadis 4 Extra / CPM-4V
– CPM M4
– D2
– O1
– Much more

As you can see both simple and crazy steels are listed here… This is because these higher priced knives often get their prices from the expensive steel they use and the expensive heat treatment they need. However, on some occasions you will find very simple steels like D2 or O1 in these price range. Often these knife makers have focussed on perfecting their heat treatment on these steels making them the best of what that steel can achieve. Their price comes not from the steel per se but often from the amount of time that is put into the finish of the knife. Perfect edges, perfect fits, nice decorations etc. these all take a lot of time while not adding to the performance of the knife. They turn their knives into art. The only one being able to judge if that is worth it to you is you.
Not all knives in these price range are hand made though. Mass production brands will have their crème de la crème knives and their limited edition knives in this price class as well. These knives are their pride an they’ll probably perform like monsters.

Handle Materials:
– Mammoth teeth
– Manta Ray Skin
– Stabilized woods / burls
– Horn / bone handles
– Combined materials

From mammoth teeth to stabilized pine cones… you’ll be able to find anything in this price range. Custom knife makers often love to put exotic materials in their handles. I’ve even seen stabilized corn handles… Stabilized burls and grainy woods are most popular making each knife unique in looks. These handle materials can be very very expensive though.

– Quality often decorated thick leather
– Wooden sheaths (Japan)
– Kydex

In this price class you should at least expect a good fitting safe sheath that doesn’t dull your knife. Some knife makers prefer simple sheaths while some like to decorate them with leather stamps.

– DuloKnives (Custom)
– MalanikaPuukko (Custom)
– Storm3DKnives
– Fallkniven
– Bark River
– Rockstead
– Sandrin Knives (Custom)
– Autine tools (Custom)
– Northmen Guild

Most of the above knife makers / brands offer knives in a lower price class as well but have some of their more high end or prestige knives in this price category. Brands like Rockstead and Sandrin Knives offer knives in crazy steels like Cowry X or Sandrin with his pure Tungstun Carbide knives. These exotic knives have their prices in the thousands… price to quality never rises in the same amount. You will always pay 100% more for 10% more performance. It’s how the world works. Just do your research or you might end up paying 100% more for 10% less.


Liked it? Take a second to support {sitename} on Patreon!


4 thoughts on “Guide: Cheap VS Expensive Knives, What to buy and what to look out for!

  1. Fantastic info I approached dulo knives via email the reply was 3 months from
    when I make the order he said roughly 180 euros but depends on the steel fit
    and finish and dimensions of the blade, I need to do some more research on
    length of blade I want I was thinking 4.5 inches not sure how thick I want it and
    vanadium 4e steel what you guys think any suggestions

    1. Thanks a lot mike! 4.5 inches sounds good. However, I don’t think you can change the thickness of V4E at Dulo. The plates are one thickness. Grinding V4E down would be very time consuming and expensive.

Add Your Comment: