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Finding the Right Knife

My first perfect knife was a Cub Scout knife. It was perfect because as we headed to our ‘60’s Pontiac Bonneville to go shopping, my dad turned to my mom and said, “I think knife shopping is a man’s job.” My mom smiled, turned around and left without saying a word and I got spend the day shopping at guy’s stores with my dad.

If I recall correctly, what we came home with was this Cub Scout knife is made by Camillus:

(Photo courtesy of:

It was easy to pick the perfect knife, I knew what I needed (the Cub Scout knife), I had a budget, (whatever my dad would spend), and like most men of his generation my dad was an expert with any hand tool, and frankly just about everything else.

Well things have gotten a lot more complicated since then. So, if you need to buy a knife and you are not about to jump into a 60’s Pontiac Bonneville, then here is some advice on how to get the job done right.

I made this easy for you, if you just want the bottom line as fast as possible, you can read only the items in bold. If you want to read my ramblings, you can dig into the meat of the story. Good luck and good shopping!

1. Know how you are going to use your knife

Dating back to the Stone Age, knives are one of the oldest tools known to man, So, it is no wonder we have come up with some many ways to use them. Are you looking for an Every Day Carry Knife (EDC)? A fancy knife for when you are feeling all dressed up? A multi-tool to take on a bike trip? Fishing knife? Hunting knife? or knife for self defense? Whatever it is there is probably a knife made just for you.

2. Have a budget in mind.

Just within Team CastleGate we have bought and sold knives from $30 to $300,000 Samurai swords. Just as there is a knife for every use, there is certainly a knife for every budget. Chances are there will always be a knife that you can’t afford. Don’t miss a car payment or risk your marriage over a knife. Have a budget in mind.

3. If you need help ask questions.

Check the web, ask your friends, well maybe… after all they are your friends. If they knew the answer they probably would have told you already. Feel free to ask us too, it is what we live for.

What knives are commonly used for this task? What knives have the top ratings? Are the knife materials consistent with my intended use? Does this specific brand make quality knives all the time, or is their actual quality hit or miss? If you don’t know don’t be afraid to ask.

4. Know how the knife feels in your hand

Oops, now you wish you bought more from that little knife shack in town before they went completely out of business, right?

The balance of the knife, how the knife handle feels in your hand, the feel of the opening and closing mechanism of a good folder, these are key considerations. So what can you do to get that knife in your hand?

  1. Buy local – never a bad thing (unless it is just from a heartless big box store)
  2. Visit CastleGate at one of our events or store near you
  3. Go to knife shows
  4. Ask one of the experts Blade HuntersTM to help you find the right knife from you

5. Know a little bit about knife steel

Entire articles and entire books are written about blade steel. But here are the basics to help you work your way around the knife show. You are going to a knife show right?

Stainless Steel
Stainless steel resists corrosion and is easy to maintain. This does not mean that it is “rust proof” it just rusts a whole lot slower than other steels. This is usually achieved by adding chromium into the steel. Examples include 140CM and 440c.

Carbon Steel
Carbon steel is usually more durable and easier to sharpen than stainless steel. It is typically used in “hard use” knives and swords. Carbon steel will usually allow for a sharper edge to the knife. But, the edge will wear faster. The knife will also rust if not kept clean and slightly oiled after use. Two popular Carbon steels are 1095, typically used in knives, and 1055 typically used in swords or longer blades like machetes.

Tool Steel
Tool steel is used to make tools and even used to make tools that make other steel tools… I will just leave it at that, other than to say Tool Steal has to have a high hardness rating, cannot lose shape easily, and must hold a cutting edge under intense use. D2 and W2 are common steel tools used in knives and larger blades. O1 and A2 are popular forging steels, frequently used in combination with other steel types.

Super Steels
There is a nearly infinite list of steel types used in high-end knife making with each maker having his or her preference based on the intended use of the knife and the process used in making the blade. Some popular super steels include: CPM S30V, VG-10, BG-42, Bohler M390, and Elmax. Of course, the more super they get the more super the price. But even these super steels are becoming more and more common as knife enthusiasts as a whole become more sophisticated.

Ceramic knives can be extreme sharp and extremely hard. But they are also frequently brittle which limits their usefulness unless you get into some extremely expensive exotic ceramics. But, one area where ceramics is making a strong dent in the market is kitchen knives where they undergo long hours of use in relatively controlled conditions.

6. Know a little bit about common knife handles

It would be literally impossible to list every product ever used in the making of a knife handle. But, let’s just stick with the basics:

Fixed blades frequently use: leather, G10, Micarta, antler, bone and wood. A synthetic material called Zytel is increasing popular in entry level, or basic working knives.

Folders usually scales made of: aluminum, duraluminum, titanium, carbon fiber, and a combination of any of the other handle materials mentioned above.

Choosing a favorite is in the eye and hand of the beholder.

7. Buy from a respected knife manufacturer

There are some big names in the knife business, but sadly, that does not always mean they make good knives. If you find their knives in the local Walmart or big box store, watch out, they are now trapped in a business model where that mega retailer forces them to produce a passable knife at the lowest possible price. Some of them even go so far as to have the vendor make cheaper knives just for them, same name, but NOT the same quality.

8. Buy from a trusted dealer

This is where we come in. You should not have anymore questions on this subject. Moving on...

9. Consider buying more than one knife.

You may come to realized that you need more than one knife. In this case it is better to get two quality single-use knives than one expensive all in one gadget. Look at history books, check out war photos, or go even go to a busy construction site. How many all in one tools do you see of any kind? If you are going to be using them a lot, maybe you need more than one knife.

10. If you screw up, send it back and try again.

If you bought from CastleGate that is!

What not to do:

Here are some lessons I have personally learned the hard way:

  1. Don’t buy a knife that comes in clam shell packaging. - That should really be enough said. But, you are buying a knife whose very packaging is designed solely to ensure you buy it on looks and not quality and does everything in it’s power to keep you from opening the box. Remember the lesson about big box retailers. No knife should come in a package that requires an even better knife to open it.
  2. Don’t buy a knife that is too embarrassed to say where it comes from. - If you buy a knife from China, buy a knife that says proudly I am $#@& made in China. Not some name like BadTechUSA with the USA tagged on the name just hoping you were asleep and wouldn’t notice it is a crappy knife from China. Kizer makes good knives in China and they are proud of it. That is whey we sell Kizer knives.
  3. If you can’t buy a good knife, don’t buy one at all – Of course this is harder than it sounds. But, .if you can’t afford a good knife, simply don’t buy a knife at all. Save you money until you can, spend it on something, else, borrow a knife, or make one yourself. It is not that hard to do and way cooler than a cheap knife. Cheap knives are like scooters, they are fun to have until your friends see you with them. Actually cheap knives are no fun at all. They are downright dangerous and will fail on you when you need them the most. Just say no to cheap knives.
  4. Be very careful buying on eBay or Amazon etc. - Listen you dummy (I am talking to myself here). If it seems too good to be true, it is actually too good to be true. But, please feel free to learn from my mistakes. Several top knife makers have gone on record lately stating that even they can’t tell the fake knives on eBay, Alibaba and Amazon from their own knives, until they try to use them.
  5. Don’t buy a folding knife for a fixed knife’s job. – You wouldn’t ask a boy to do a man’s job would you? Let’s end on that note, with 80% of all knives sold in the US being folders, that statement should generate some debate.