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Unusual Suspects – Budget Blades

Last issue we focused on pricey Damascus blades. Like a gold-digger, they’re strong, sexy, and wallet-busters. So, in this edition of Unusual Suspects we’re swinging to the other extreme: budget blades.

Owning an inexpensive folding knife is just prudent. After all, it’s painful to have a $300 model damaged, lost, or stolen. And thanks to advancing technology and great designs, some economical knives don’t trail too far behind the premium knives.

What qualifies as a “budget blade?” Everyone’s definition is gonna be different, but most can agree that 50 bucks for a knife is doable; that’s equivalent to a dinner for two at a good restaurant. We chose this price maximum because it’s the intersection where functional design, solid materials, decent construction, and affordability all meet.

The drawback is that they’re almost always made in China … which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if the quality control is there. Don’t believe us? Read on to see if there’s a budget blade that makes the cut for you.

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Make: Browning
Model: Wihongi Signature Hemp – Small
OAL: 6.75 inches
Blade Length: 2.75 inches
Blade Material: 7Cr17MoV
Weight: 2.4 ounces
MSRP: $20
URL: www.browning.com

411:
The most striking feature of this folding knife is the Polynesian etching on the blade. The Maori warrior motif is a nod to the knife’s codesigner, Jared Wihongi (a Utah-based SWAT officer and Kali master of Maori descent). The hemp Micarta handle recalls a time when hemp was used to make strong rope for heavy-duty tasks. Combining the two aesthetics produces unique symbolism that matches its sturdiness. Made in China.

Pros:
> Despite its stature, the knife fits well in our medium-sized hands.
> Lowest price tag
> Sharp out of the box
> Drop-point is our favorite blade shape for everyday carry (EDC) due to its versatility.

Cons:
> Partial serrations are better suited for larger blades used for sawing fibrous material, such as rope or branches.
> Pocket clip orientation is tip-down and right-handed only.

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Make: Bear & Son Cutlery
Model: 61105
OAL: 7.375 inches
Blade Length: 3.25 inches
Blade Material: 440 stainless steel
Weight: 3.7 ounces
MSRP: $50
URL: www.bearandsoncutlery.com

411:
Bear & Son is known for its butterfly knives and traditional-style pocketknives. Bear Edge is the company’s tactical lineup, of which the 61105 belongs. This folder looks like other costlier folders in the industry, but keeps the price tag down by pairing a 440 stainless steel blade with a bead-finish aluminum handle instead of, say, 154CM steel and titanium scales. Like all of Bear & Son knives, the 61105 is made in the USA.

Pros:
> Aluminum handle is ergonomic.
> Adjustable pocket clip for righties or lefties
> Built in Bear & Son’s Alabama factory

Cons:
> The action is sluggish.
> The blade has a bit of lateral play.
> The liner-lock feels gritty when disengaging it to close the blade.

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Make: Tangram Series
Model: Orion
OAL: 7.375 inches
Blade Length: 3.31 inches
Blade Material: Acuto 440 stainless steel
Weight: 3.6 ounces
MSRP: $35
URL: www.amazon.com

411:
Tangram Series is an entry-level roster from Kizer Cutlery, one of the first China-based companies to make high-end production knives out of premium materials. For the Orion, Kizer teamed up with U.S. knife-maker Dirk Pinkerton to create a tactical one-hander for EDC. The result is kickass. The modified Wharncliffe blade is ideal for self-defense, the handle is stylish and grippy, and the pocket clip can be worn left or right and tip up or down.

Pros:
> Assembled in China? We couldn’t tell.
> Made of Japanese Acuto 440 steel, the blade shreds cardboard like a machine.
> Flipper tab and liner-lock work seamlessly
> Handle is made of our favorite material: G10.

Cons:
> Forefinger groove is a little too pronounced, meaning folks with bigger index fingers might find it too tight a spot.

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Make: Coast Products
Model: FDX302
OAL: 7.5 inches
Blade Length: 3 inches
Blade Material: 7Cr17 stainless steel
Weight: 4 ounces
MSRP: $23
URL: www.coastportland.com

411:
The FDX302 has the second-lowest MSRP in this buyer’s guide, but by no means does it feel like it. The standout feature is Coast’s Double Lock System, which provides a secondary means of preventing the blade from closing unintentionally (and reminds us of CRKT’s Locking Liner Safety). Its skeletonized frame-lock body isn’t just for looks; it helps keep the overall weight of the hefty stainless steel handle down. Made in China.

Pros:
> Double Lock System
> Robust construction
> Comfy handle
> Easy on the wallet

Cons:
> Even though it has a three-position pocket clip, this frame-lock knife is only ideal for right-handers.
> Not the sharpest blade of the bunch.

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Make: Kershaw Knives
Model: AM-4
OAL: 7.75 inches
Blade Length: 3.5 inches
Blade Material: 8Cr13MoV stainless steel
Weight: 2.8 ounces
MSRP: $50
URL: kershawknives.com

411:
In the late ’70s and early ’80s, Al Mar Knives was among the first to popularize tactical knives. Flash forward almost four decades and Kershaw is now teaming up with the company to bring its vintage designs into the 21st century, and doing it with contemporary updates and quality materials, but at reasonable prices. The AM-4 is one such example, adding a flipper, frame-lock, and SpeedSafe-assisted opening — all for 50 bucks. Made in China.

Pros:
> Feels as great in hand as it looks.
> Unlike many other frame-locks, the AM-4 is easy to unlock.
> Polished and contoured G10 front scale
> Kershaw’s SpeedSafe assisted opening is fast and smooth.

Cons:
> Sorry, frame-lock translates as “righties only”

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Make: Gerber Gear
Model: Haul
OAL: 7.9 inches
Blade Length: 3.1 inches
Blade Material: 5Cr15MoV stainless steel
Weight: 4.9 ounces
MSRP: $41
URL: www.gerbergear.com

411:
In the past year or so, Gerber has launched something of a new initiative: bring in a fresh generation of fans by giving them a wide range of entry-level knives at low costs. Some perform better than others. But fear not: The Haul can hold its own. Made in China and also available with an orange handle, this assisted-opening folder is ideal if you like beefy knives that look modern, but won’t cost you a mortgage payment.

Pros:
> Fits perfectly, regardless of grip style (i.e. thumb-supported, hammer, reverse, etc.)
> Surprisingly, the Chinese 5Cr15MoV blade slices and stabs with ease.
> Cross-bolt safety with plunge lock is safe and easy to use.
> Assisted opening deploys blade with a satisfying “thwak” sound.

Cons:
> While a nice addition, the gritty cross-bolt safety needed some lube.
> Glass-filled nylon handle scuffs easily and won’t hold up as well over time as other materials.

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Make: Outdoor Edge
Model: 3.5” Divide
OAL: 8.25 inches
Blade Length: 3.5 inches
Blade Material: 8Cr13MoV stainless steel
Weight: 4.2 ounces
MSRP: $50
URL: www.outdooredge.com

411:
As part of Outdoor Edge’s Survival Series, the Divide is designed for campers, hunters, hikers, and preppers. But this large folder could feel right at home in concrete jungles, too. It was codesigned by company president David Bloch and custom knife-maker Jerry Hossom. Made in China, the Divide also comes in baby brother size (6.9 inches overall). Both small and large versions have options for a plain edge or a partially serrated edge.

Pros:
> Opens easily, whether by flipper tab or ambidextrous thumbstuds
> The 8Cr13MoV blade made short work of cardboard during our test cutting.
> Disengaging the frame-lock doesn’t feel like you’re arm-wrestling yourself, as sometimes happens with knives of this type.

Cons:
> Ergonomics for the handle make it comfortable for a saber grip, but less so for other grips (e.g. thumb-supported or reverse).
> Right-handed orientation only

 




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