This is an amazing time to be knife enthusiast as we are in a Renaissance of sorts. The market is flooded with wonderful knives for every conceivable purpose and at every price point. Materials, design, and workmanship are all generally trending for the better. This goes double for the Chinese knife industry; there are oceans of knives coming out of the country. With big, Western companies outsourcing production of quality knives, the Chinese are quickly catching up to the rest of the world in terms of their knife making prowess. A growing proportion of Chinese knives are shockingly well made and sell for shockingly low prices. That said there are clearly still plenty of low quality Chinese knives that are best avoided. Today we are going to look at some of the best low budget knives coming out of China. These knives are all very budget friendly and have all held up quite well in our extended testing.
The knives discussed here all cost less than $20 shipped to your door. Most will have better features and materials than the budget knives commonly found in Western brick and mortar stores. For the purposes of this round up, we will be comparing the Chinese knives to a generic knife available in the American market, something akin to the Kershaw Brawler. Most of these knives are also made in China and feature basic plastic scales, 8Cr13MoV steel, and plastic washers. We chose this one, but there are countless alternatives from companies like Kershaw, CRKT, Schrade, etc. that are all cookie cutters of one another. For most users these knives offer a functional utility at a low price point. Lets see how much knife $20 can buy directly from China.
Keep in mind there are some drawbacks purchasing cutting tools direct from Chinese vendors. Shipping take weeks instead of days, warranties are a few and far between, and several of these knives clearly borrow designs and features from higher end competitors. Some also make dubious claims as to the materials used. Having gotten that out in the open, let’s explore the best budget knives China has to offer.
Sanrenmu produces some of the finest small budget knives available, and the 7129 is a prime example. It is a small (mostly) gentlemanly stainless steel frame lock that all but dispersal into the pocket. It rides on polished phosphorous bronze washers, and the action is buttery smooth. Deployment is snappy to say the least and accomplished exclusively with dual thumb studs. Lock up is rock solid thanks to the stainless steel frame lock. The thin frame construction still allows the knife to disappear into your pocket and keeps the weight down. Plus, the fit and finish on my example is all but spotless. The finishes are consistent and the edges are well rounded with no burrs or sharp edges. Sanrenmus 65mm full flat grind 12C27 steel blade held an edge similarly to 8Cr13MoV, but should have higher corrosion resistance.
Unfortunately the ergonomics of this knife are only so-so. The design favors pocket-ability and crisp presentation over all out tactical grip. The small knife fills three and a half fingers on my XL size hands, and there is a finger choil for your pointer finger. The all steel construction is a little slick. That said, the grip is plenty secure for medium light tasks (i.e. food prep or breaking down cardboard).
While I think this is a tremendously handsome knife, the dragon graphic is a bit out of place. This could have been a near perfect gentlemanly carry, but the tribal graphic are just at odds with more refined aesthetics found elsewhere on the 7129. The last downside is that the pocket clip is tip up right side only; sorry, lefties! Though at a slim 1.8 oz the 7129 disappears into the pocket even for loose carry, so there is still some hope for lefties.
While the Sanrenmu 7129 was optimized for easy of carry, the Sanrenmu 7095 is tuned for comfort in hand. The construction, action, and size of both knives are nearly identical, however the 7095 has the addition of more hand filling and textured G10 overlays over the steel frame. As stated above, the ergonomics here are exceptional for a small knife. The handles accommodate a full 4 finger grip even for my size XL hands. There are choils for each finger, plus there is great gimping on the top of the blade for your thumb. The blade itself has a hollow ground making it exceptional at slicing as the steel behind the edge is very thin.
The biggest detriment to this knife is that it is exclusively for right-handed users. The pocket clip is right hand tip down only, and there is only a single thumb stud positioned for right-handed users. Technically the thumb stud is reversible, but stripping threads is always a risk with budget knives. There is also a hot spot on the top rear end of the knife. The G10 overlays end just shy of the lanyard hole, and the exposed steel liners make a minor discomfort in a tight grip.
The 7095 comes in two varieties and both can be found with several colors of G10. There is the locking version described here, and a non-locking slip joint version with a few extra tools hidden in the spine. The non-locking version includes a glass breaker, Philips bit, flat head screwdriver, cap lifter, and a seat belt cutter.
The Ganzo Firebird F753M1 is a well-rounded, easy to carry knife. It is also the little brother of the Ganzo G751. This smaller version runs on an Axis lock with milled steel liners and G10. It comes in several colors including a handsome carbon fiber veneer. The full size knife felt a bit ungainly, but the ergonomics are vastly improved at the smaller size as it feels a lot more natural in hand. Deployment can be done either by the dual thumb studs or by depressing the Axis lock and using a wrist flick. Unfortunately, the action is a bit stiff out of the box, but it will break in over time. The blade is made of 440C steel and clearly had better edge retention than 8Cr13Mov in my extensive testing. The blade also finds a fantastic balance between piercing and slicing ability as the saber grind comes to an acute but somewhat beefy point. Despite having a collection of more expensive knives I find myself choosing to carrying this one often.
The F754 is a comfortable, well-rounded EDC blade with a do-everything blade shape. This full size Ganzo also features an Axis lock, milled steel liners, and the choice of several colors of G10 overlays. The action is not as smooth as most of the other knives listed here, but that is the only real fault the F754 has. The drop point full flat grind blade is a classic do-it-all shape. It has plenty of belly for slicing and enough of a tapering point to accomplish most piercing tasks along with a generous blade length for deep cutting tasks. Ergonomics are all-around good, and users with smaller hands seem to really like this knife as the simple shape lets them easily grip a big knife. This is a handsome, well-rounded knife with few weaknesses.
This is likely to be the highest value knife on this list. The Jin02 knife features the nearly unheard of combination of both an Axis lock and ball bearing action. These two features combined eliminate any drag on on the blade during deployment. Typically a lock bar or detent would push on the knife during travel and impede its movment. The Jin02 moves like its on rails, the action is just on a different level than anything else. I can’t say enough about how enjoyable this knife can be as a fidget toy.
The knife is made with highly milled steel liners and thick and hand filling G10 scales. This is very good in hand, but makes for a wide 4.6 oz in your pocket. Fit and finish are very good, with all of the surfaces and finishes matching up well. The G10 has a lovely organic texture, and there is a wonderful polish applied to all of the heard wear.
The blade is advertised as D2, however it is not uncommon for Chinese companies to advertise 9Cr19MoV or the like as a D2 equivalent. Whatever the steel is in truth, its edge retention is a clear step up from 8Cr13MoV, though maybe not quite D2 good. It does takes some work to sharpen, especially setting the initial bevel, and it stays sharp for longer than you would expect from a $15 knife.
The Ganzo G722 is an overbuilt, tough-as-nails frame lock folder. While Ganzo is most famous for their Axis lock knives, their frame locks can also be quite good. The G722 is shockingly well finished for a knife coming in at under $15. This big tank of a knife utilizes a stainless steel frame lock, 440C blade steel, a deep carry pocket clip with glass breaker, and a massive slab of G10 on the presentation side. While the big slab of G10 makes the knife slightly lopsided in hand, it does balance the weight nicely. This knife begs to be used hard, so the extra width fills the hand and enhances grip tremendously. The second consequence of G10 only on the presentation side along with a naked steel frame lock on the back is that this knife slides out of the pocket with very little friction. If you are constantly deploying a knife from your pocket for heavy use tasks, this is a perfect fit for you that won’t beat up your pockets like some overly textured knives will.
The most impressive feature of the Ganzo G722 is the impossibly thin cut-out for the frame lock. Ganzo uses wire EDM technology to make this cut paper thin. Most frame locks in this price range generally use much cruder machining that leave wider, unsightly cuts. Additionally the G722 frame lock is protected by an over travel stop, another rarity at this price point. It is a small disk the keeps the frame lock from over extending and thereby weakening the lock up over time.