The personal, concealed carry arsenal is not complete without the most basic and primal of all personal protection devices, the knife. Other writers have written extensively about the virtues of the knife as a self-defense weapon, and I do not have much more to add to what has already been said. Experts such as Gabe Suarez and James Keating are infinitely more knowledgeable than I am in regard to the bladed, fighting arts. Therefore, I defer to their expertise. The knife is a powerful, self-defense tool, which is essential because it not only compliments a good handgun system, it can often go where a pistol cannot. Most of the knives in this article are legal to carry in most venues unless your local authorities feel that you are too incompetent to carry sharp things. (Better check your local laws to see how badly your rights are being violated.)
Most states have some provision for handgun carry, but most have bizarre knife laws. The powers that be (for the most part) do not realize that the term “arms” in the Second Amendment does not exclusively refer to firearms, but includes edged weapons as well. Knives must have a utility purpose to be carried legally in most states. Self-defense is apparently less important than opening boxes or cutting tomatoes. Go figure. All of the knives in this article make excellent utility knives and will cut tomatoes and boxes just fine. (I know because I tried them.)
Besides handwork and design, the main difference between a premium knife and a production knife is steel.
The purpose of this article is to review a short list of fine folding knives that can be had for around a hundred dollars. These knives will function and perform well. You will not have to compromise much if you purchase one of these affordable, tactical folders. I carried them, handled them, cut things with them, dunked them in a river, etc., for weeks. The test was not scientific or destructive. My wife, Kathleen, and I simply lived with them and used them.
More expensive knives can be purchased with premium blade steels, hand fitted parts, exotic grip materials and designer signatures. I do not degrade these beautiful works of practical art or the artists that create them. I have personally made a couple of knives. Therefore, I truly appreciate the time and skill required to make a fine knife. If you can afford to purchase custom made knives, I encourage you to do so. There are some wonderful designers out there that have contributed greatly to knife science. Please support them if you can.
Unfortunately, many of us do not have the money to spend three hundred dollars or more on a knife. Does this mean that those of us who may be able to shell out only seventy-five dollars on a knife cannot depend on it? No. In fact, there are many production knives that perform excellently and will not break your budget.
Besides handwork and design, the main difference between a premium knife and a production knife is steel. Folding knives are mostly made from stainless steel. Stainless steel is a steel alloy that is a minimum of 10.5% to 13% chromium (depending on whose table you are using). This chromium reduces the oxidizing potential of the steel, so it rusts and stains less. Stainless will rust, but less and at a slower rate than steel with lower chromium content. There are many more additives that affect the properties of knife steel. Some of the additives greatly improve the hardness and the ability of the steel to hold an edge, but they often add cost. Some premium stainless steels are 154 CM, ATS 34 and CPM-S30V. These are wonderful steels, which have some great properties. Using these steels in a tactical folding knife can increase the cost exponentially. Add hand fitting, exotic grip material and a master designer’s name, and you have a chunk of change invested.
… regardless of how “premium” your steel is, if it is not heat treated properly, then it will not perform well.
There are some very functional production grade steels that perform very well and will not require selling your firstborn to obtain a knife made with them. Many production folding knives are made from AUS 8 and 440C. Now, this should be taken with a grain of salt because there are premium grade knives that are also made from these grades of stainless. The reason is that regardless of how “premium” your steel is, if it is not heat treated properly, then it will not perform well. Some premium knife makers have developed very good methods of heat treating that make AUS 8 and 440C perform very well. Most of your affordable folding knives will be made from one of these steels or something quite similar. Most of the knives in this article are made from one of these steels. None of these knives are junk. They are made by well known and highly respected companies.
Emerson Hard Wear—Reliant: Emerson added their Hard Wear line to their domestically made, premium line to fill a market gap. The result is affordable, lightweight, high quality knives. I gravitated to the Reliant model when swimming or in wet environments because it is lightweight, with a slim profile. It has a simple and sturdy design, with one of the best pocket clips that I’ve ever used, and the handle contour forms an effective finger guard. Emerson has an excellent reputation and has brought new, exciting designs to the market. The no-frills Hard Wear line makes it possible to have an Emerson, even if you are on a budget. (www.emersonknives.com, 310-212-7455)
Boker—AK74: The AK74 is a real bargain. It is a well made knife with a hard, aluminum handle and a strong lock-up. I wish it had a pocket clip like its automatic version. I like the blade shape and the grip shapes in the scales. It opens easily with a thumb stud. Its association with Kalashnikov gives it a nice mystique. I don’t know why this knife is so inexpensive. (www.bokerusa.com, 800-835-6433)
SOG—Pentagon: I love this serious, self-defense knife. It opens smooth and fast. It is very slim and easy to carry. It is a simple, direct design. I like this knife for weak-hand side carry because of its simple opening system and its ability to be easily closed one-handed. Its straight, spear-point blade is reminiscent of a dagger. It was the easiest knife to deploy into the reverse grip, edge-in or “pakal” position. When stabbed into dense Styrofoam®, it had scary penetration. (www.sogknives.com, 888-SOG-BEST)
SOG—Flash II: I have carried this knife on my weak-hand side for several years. The self-assisted opening system has functioned flawlessly for years, with no sign of wear. This knife has stayed sharp through many cardboard box openings, rope cuttings and other mundane abuses that I have subjected it to. (www.sogknives.com, 888-SOG-BEST)
Kershaw—Tactical Blur: This knife has become Kathleen’s EDC (every day carry). Its flat profile makes it conceal well with women’s attire. “And regarding body shape,” Kathleen said, “I love this slim, comfortable knife, because big, chunky knives tend to stick out sideways or poke you in the flesh if you have curves.” The sandpaper-like scales give the user a sure grip, no matter how much hand cream, water, oil, blood, etc. is present. The Tactical Blur has a formidable blade that flashes to action in a “blur” by an assisted opening system. The Ken Onion designs are the hallmark of Kershaw’s folding knives. The Tactical Blur is evidence of the quality of his designs. (www.kershawknives.com, 800-325-2891)
Spyderco—Chinook II: This knife is a little more costly than the others in this review, but by shopping the Internet carefully, you can find some great prices. This knife is signed by the great knife-fighting instructor James Keating who is famous for Riddle of Steel. Tests have shown that you could beat this knife to pieces before the lock-up will fail. The Chinook II has become my EDC (every day carry). This is a heavy pocket knife, which I don’t mind, but this was a drawback for Kathleen because as she says, “I don’t wear baggy pants that are made for a man who has no ass.” You can see the influence of Master at Arms, James Keating, in this knife design. It is rugged and powerful. The Chinook II is a serious fighting knife. Spyderco was visionary in bringing James Keating on board with this design. (www.spyderco.com, www.jameskeating.com, 800-525-7770)
Buck—Police Advocate: I bought my first Buck folder in 1976. It was big, heavy and hard to open quickly. (I loved that knife.) Well, this isn’t your dad’s old Buck. In collaboration with Strider, Buck’s creation of this knife is shear genius. Buck has made it possible for almost anyone to own a Strider design. Its paddle shaped blade swings quickly into action and locks hard, using a locking liner. This is a real workhorse. The Police Advocate brings a premium Strider design into an affordable package. Who says you can’t have it all? This knife competes daily with my Chinook II to be my EDC. (www.buckknives.com, 800-215-2825)
CRKT—M16 Special Forces: The Carson designed, M16 series of knives is very well thought out. The model I have is the M16 Special Forces. Its extended finger guards are built into the blade. When the knife is closed, the finger guard is used to flick the blade into the open position. This is brilliantly simple. Some say that the finger guards snag in your pocket. The knife is quite large (although smaller versions are available), therefore I found it more comfortable to carry the knife in my waistband. This type of carry eliminated any pocket snagging. The scales were a little slick for my sweaty hands, but manageable. The M16 Special Forces knife is well made and has a strong, locking liner. It is also an excellent bargain. CRKT has terrific designs at affordable prices. (www.crkt.com, 800-891-3100)
Conclusion: These are examples of the excellent production knives that can be had for a reasonable price. The companies listed above are known for quality and good customer service. You can be confident that they have a knife that will suit your needs. Knives are very personal tools. If possible, try to handle samples before buying. Get a knife that will be a good friend and a reliable tool, but one that is also capable of defending your life if the need should arise.
[ Charles is a Quality Systems Manager in manufacturing and an artist who especially advocates self-defense for women, and has been very happily married since 1982. He believes that the 2nd Amendment is all about political freedom and self-defense, rather than duck hunting. And perhaps he is the only Jewish, Libertarian (who votes Republican), vegetarian member of the NRA. Charles also runs a pro-liberty blog at: http://theindividual.blogsome.com/ ]