Sometimes you just need to stir the pot, kick a hornet’s nest, kiss the hands and slab the babies, and slaughter society’s sacred cows. Some the knives you people buy are terrible, and some of the knives that have been real popular with the knife cognoscenti are objectively unlikable. Or maybe it’s just that they were once great knives but they’re outdated, overpriced, out of touch, or just plain old useless from the word go. Or a combination of all of those things.
Of course we’re not here to point out problems without offering solutions, so here are ten knives and brands you should think twice about buying – and suggestions of better alternatives.
I know, your dad had one, and your grandpa had one, and your grandpa’s dad had one, and Abraham Lincoln had one. But the Buck 110 is a terrible knife in 2020, even if you’re accounting for nostalgia. Nostalgia sold a lot of 2005 Mustangs, but that was also a great car by 2005 standards. It certainly looks cool, with the dramatic 3.75” satin finish clip point blade and the wood handles and brass bolsters – it’s very “1970’s hunting lodge in Nebraska” if that’s your thing.
But it weighs 7.5 ounces. That’s more than an Endura 4 and a Paramilitary 2 combined. It takes two hands to open, because it has no thumb stud/notch/hole, and it takes two hands to close – because the lockbar access is on the butt of the knife. It has no pocket clip so it requires a sheath to carry – which is fine because it weighs 7.5 ounces, but still. It’s not user serviceable because it’s pinned together, which would be okay if it were made well. It’s not. Buck probably has the best heat treat for 420HC in the world, but that’s kind of the same as being the fastest one-legged sprinter. For 45 dollars, there are real usable pocket knives you could buy. You could also make the mistake of buying a 110 from Buck’s custom shop which you can option up to 175 dollars with an S30V blade and fancy handles. Don’t do that.
Instead, buy a….
Cold Steel Broken Skull. No, seriously: ignore the dumb name (I know it’s Steve Austin’s ranch, it’s still a dumb name) and check out this modern interpretation of the classic lockback. For a little more money ($85 retail) you get modern S35VN steel, a 4” hollow ground clip point blade, a pocket clip, screwed together construction so you can maintain the knife, and Cold Steel’s mega-strong Tri-Ad lock. Oh, and the knife only weighs 3.1 ounces thanks to modern G10 scales over stainless liners.
Pop quiz! What costs $425, has cheap D2 tool steel, a blade that’s 0.19” wide with a high-angle low hollow grind and a rounded tanto tip, and weighs almost half a pound? It’s the Medford Praetorian Scout, the cheapest version of this US-built “heavy use” folder. Has the moment finally passed for super beefy hard-use pocket knives? Well, considering ZT is selling a 2.2” micro-folder now, it’s fair to say yes. And credit to Greg Medford – who is a guy I’d love to have a beer with – his brand is pivoting to more pocket friendly offerings. But the Medford is the chunky Praetorian, which seems like a product from a bygone era. The huge blade is almost twice the width of most folding pocket knives, and the primary bevel starts so low down the blade that the Praetorian seems more like a sharpened prybar than a knife. You could use it to shovel dirt, I suppose.
The purpose of these mega-thick knives – like the Praetorian and the Direware (remember Direware?) was always confusing. Baton through a car! Split firewood! Hammer through a hollow-core door! Chop bricks in half! Who is doing these things with a pocket knife, and why? And furthermore, who is subjecting a $400 knife to such abuse?
Instead, buy a…
Chris Reeve Sebenza. If you’re looking to drop $425 on a titanium pocket knife, it’s still hard to beat a Sebenza. They’re exceptionally well made, the new variant (Sebenza 31) is even nicer, and they’re extremely useful day to day.
One of the first “good” knives I bought was a Delica 4 in ZDP189 back around 2007. At the time it blew me away: so light, so sharp, such a solid feel in the hand. I remember cutting up limes with it to take tequila shots with my girlfriend, and waking up the next day to find the blade had changed colors. Good times. There’s nothing really wrong with the Delica; it’s just that the world has moved on since then. The Delica is pricey: ~$85 for VG-10 and ~$120 for ZDP-189, it’s gone up multiple times over the years as a result of continuous MAP price hikes from Spyderco. It doesn’t offer the good value for money it used to.
It also lacks a few things that more modern EDC options have. The lack of a forward finger choil is odd (considering they could incorporate one into the design fairly easily) and makes the knife less usable considering its small dimensions. The action is bad even with copper washers. The lockback works, but the compression lock works so much better. The spoon style pocket clip feels old fashioned compared to the wire clip. VG-10 doesn’t hold an edge very well, especially for $85. Also, it’s screwed together but it’s harder to put back together than a Hitachi carburetor without a service manual. Time has passed the Delica and Endura by.
Instead, buy a…
Paramilitary 3 Lightweight! The Para3 LW is ~$15 more than the Delica 4 in VG-10. It’s better in every conceivable way. It has a 3” full flat ground clip point blade with a larger, easier to use thumb hole. It ditches the mediocre action of the backlock for the compression lock, which is easier and safer to use as well as less prone to dirt intrusion. It has a deep carry wire clip that works excellently. There’s a well formed forward finger choil, more comfortable handles, better blade steel (CTS BD1N is a useful upgrade from VG-10), and it’s lighter by 0.1 ounces to boot. The Para 3 Lightweight is excellent in all the ways the Delica is irritating.
I like Ernie Emerson, and it cannot be denied that he’s contributed greatly to the knife community with his designs. It can be argued that he created the modern tactical folder, and the effect his knives have had on the market is significant. He also invented the wave opener, the clever tab on the spine of a folder that pulls the blade open as you pull it out of your pocket. He has real design chops that are a mix of practical and dramatic.
But the knives his company makes are a let-down once you handle them. Some people appreciate the simplicity of the knives, but I’m not sold on the straight and Philips screws, the black G10 and stonewashed 154CM, the chisel ground edges, the real basic nature of the knives at the price point they’re marketed at. A CQC7 just doesn’t seem like $185 (retail!) worth of knife to me, even with the titanium linerlock. They’re sort of indifferently assembled and basic and they’re up against a slew of Chinese knives rendered in titanium and premium steels that are flawless from every angle. Emerson has added some modern features to some knives – like the Sheepdog, which has a bearing pivot and a flipper – but it’s also $215 retail and still has black G10 and 154CM. Fans will say they’re the toughest hard use knives in the world, but to me they’re just too expensive.
Instead, buy a…
Emerson collaboration with a production company! There’s a variety of Emerson designs made by other manufacturers, most notably Kershaw and Zero Tolerance. Kershaw makes a wide variety of Emerson collabs with the wave opener, some of which are now updated to D2 tool steel right around $50. They’ve got thumb discs, wave openers, bronze washers, and many of them have stainless framelocks which tolerate the stress of wave opening well.
There’s also the Emerson-designed Launch 5 automatic at $100, with top notch action and build. Zero Tolerance offers the 0640, an Emerson-designed high end folder we’ve reviewed previously that offers high end materials (20CV, carbon fiber, titanium) at the price of the regular Emerson models – with ZT build quality. They also used to sell the Emerson-designed 0620 and 0630 with wave openers and heavy duty hardware, which you can still find in some places. And if you prefer an automatic, Pro-Tech makes a pushbutton auto of the CQC7 in a variety of colors and blade shapes.
Brous blades offers a wide variety of really fascinating designs, a mix of sci-fi fantasy styling and everyday usability. They all look great in pictures, and there are some real big-name collaborations under the Brous banner (Sal Manaro, Mike Snody, Jake Hoback, Elijah Isham, Dustin Turpin, TJ Schwartz, and more). Frankly, a lot of my complaints with Brous are subjective – I don’t really like “Mall Ninja” flavored products, and a lot of Brous’ knives look like they’re two CAD file edits away from a two-tone ninja star. But opinions are like belly buttons – everyone but the android disguised as a human who lives next door to you has one.
What’s harder to defend is the quality and materials that Brous’ domestic-produced knives offer for how much he charges for them. I’m not sure what makes the XR-1 worth $460 dollars when it’s made out of 6AL4V titanium and a D2 blade – and a lot of high end Chinese makers are selling knives with better steels (usually CPM S35VN) for a half or a third that much. Anecdotal evidence isn’t conclusive proof, but the number of bad things I’ve heard about Brous’ blades are too numerous to ignore. Although I do still want to try out a Bionic 2.0 at some point (which seems well priced at $160), we run into the third issue: availability. EVERY Brous model on the website is sold out. Most Brous knives on BladeHQ are sold out. I can’t get one anywhere if I wanted to.
Instead, buy a…
If you’re really entranced by Brous’ designs, the Import Line he recently launched seems like a good deal – they’re made overseas with plainer handles (usually black G10 over stainless liners) but they still use D2 tool steel blades, which is a good blade steel at the $50 price point these knives come in at.
Spyderco Para 3
I think few modern EDC knives have been quite as hyped-up as the Spyderco Para 3, when it came out in late 2016. Years of rumors and speculation on forums and Facebook groups swirled around the imminent release of the “baby PM2”, which was given several presumed names including PM3, Paramilitary 3 and even “Minuteman.” I was beyond excited for the 3” PM2 spinoff, which packed the same textured G10 handles, compression lock, and flat ground clip point as its beloved older brother – until I got one in my hands.
Our review of the Para 3 wasn’t exactly fawning. The shrunken ergonomics of the larger PM2 felt awkward on the Para 3, especially with the gaffed placement of the pocket clip in the middle of the handle creating a chunky hotspot when you used the knife. It had a great action and fine build quality but the lack of a notable price gap from the much more usable PM2 was confusing, and I was left cold by the experience. It’s a popular knife with collectors (thanks to the astonishing number of sprint runs and dealer exclusives that have spawned from that original black G10/S30V model) but I always felt Spyderco made a number of better knives in the 3” range.
Instead, buy a…
Not to sound like a broken record, but a Para 3 Lightweight. The Para 3 LW fixed the ergonomic issues that plagued the Para 3, with a deep carry wire clip mounted further back on the handle – as well as being around an ounce lighter and 30 dollars cheaper. The blade steel isn’t as nice, but upgrades and sprint runs solve this issue. Also, the G10 handled Native 5 is a nicer EDC than the Para 3 for my money.
We can’t understate the importance of the CRKT M16 – it helped to popularize the concept of a modern tactical flipper knife in today’s society. The Kit Carson designed folder was a lot of people’s introduction to flippers, mine included – I still remember seeing one for the first time when my uncle handed me his, which was found under the seat of a used car he’d bought. The 1* (One Ass To Risk!) logo was fascinating, and the whole “tactical military” vibe of the knife just blew my mind, having been used to nothing but Swiss Army Knives previously.
I owned two CRKT M16’s, one was a small frame with a black coated tanto, then I had a full size with a spearpoint. I remember liking both of them before I traded out for other knives (story of my life) and that was that. Then I recently handled a newer M16 again and was aghast at how awful it was. The handle is so thin, it doesn’t flip worth a damn (nearly nonexistent detent, nylon washers, overly tight pivot), it had rust on the inner (non-stainless) liners, fit and finish was bad, and in the decade plus since I’d handled one CRKT has added a truly infuriating secondary lock system to the knife that makes it remarkably annoying to close.
CRKT makes some great budget knives these days, but the M16 is no longer one of them – even though it makes up a huge part of CRKT’s sales! They could update the knife for modern times with IKBS, a stronger detent and no more LAWKS, but the knife sells so well I doubt it’ll ever happen.
Instead, buy a…
Any other budget friendly CRKT model. They make some great inexpensive knives.
Every industry is prone to fads and trends. Even Mercedes-Benz stuck tailfins on some cars in the 60’s, and Jaguar decided the stately XJ sedan needed some big alloy wheels and a supercharger in 1995. While we’d all like to pretend that the knife market is steered solely by function – Make them lighter! Sharper! Stronger! Sleeker! – it’s very much susceptible to following trends, even when they make no sense.
And folding cleavers make no sense. There seems to be a pile of them now – led by the immensely popular Gerber Flatiron, the crowd favorite Kizer Sheepdog, the CRKT Ripsnort, the CJRB (subsidiary of Artisan) Crag, the Boker Phalanx, Spyderco Roc Cleaver, Honey Badger “Wharncleaver”…. They’re multiplying! Shut the door before the goo gets in! Gerber’s had so much success with the Flatiron they’re coming out with another budget model – the 7Cr17MoV bladed, micarta handled Asada (great name!) and a high end Fastball cleaver.
What do you DO with a folding cleaver pocket knife? A cleaver is supposed to be heavy so it can be driven through meat and bone for food prep. It’s also supposed to be tall and wide so it can separate tendons and bone with a strong swing. All these attributes make a cleaver shaped blade terrible as an everyday carry prospect. The lack of a tip also means it can’t pierce things (which is what a lot of pocket knives are used for) and most of these knives don’t place the handle high enough above the blade to even be useful for food prep. What’s the point?
Instead, buy a…
Literally anything else that’s useful as a pocket knife.
Older SOG EDC Knives
I realize that YouTuber Nutnfancy was a gateway into the knife hobby for a lot of people. I’m guilty of having watched a few of his 45 minutes long videos discussing such complex topics as “knives shouldn’t be heavy.” He’s been an influential voice in the community for a long time now, and most of the time his advice is on point. Knives should be light.
But he’s also spent a lot of time telling people they should buy some older SOG models like the Flash 1, Aegis, Trident, Twitch II, and several other SOG knives from the bad old days. Back when SOG’s were like gas station Kershaws, with quality to suit. SOG is busy turning the bus around these days with absolute home-run knives like the Terminus XR I reviewed last year and the Seal XR and Kiku XR.
These are light years away from the older SOG folders. The Aegis falls in between the G10 Terminus XR and the Carbon Fiber Terminus XR in terms of price, but has worse blade steel and a much worse lock and action than either. The Arc-lock was SOG’s interpretation of an axis-style lock before the functional patent expired a few years ago, and it’s fiddly and wobbly and annoying in a way that’s hard to comprehend after you’ve used the XR lock even once. AUS-8 was a good blade steel in 2001. This knife costs $60!
The Twitch II costs the same ~$40 as the G10 Terminus XR, and rattles like the interior of a 2001 Camaro that’s spent its whole life driving on the worst roads Detroit has to offer. It combines a lockback with an assisted opener mechanism, which is as illogical and irritating to use as you think it is. The SOG Spec Arc was one of the worst knives I’ve ever reviewed, and was also confusingly expensive.
Instead, buy a…
Newer or redesigned SOG Model, which are all so much better it’s hard to believe the same brand makes them. Hell, if you like the design of the Aegis, Twitch or Flash, SOG has revised versions of all three coming out with better materials and locks. Seriously, the new knives from SOG are game-changers.
Cali Legal Autos
Variety is the spice of life, and there are already enough “normal” knives out there, so we shouldn’t complain about weird stuff – after all, there’s a lid for every pot. You don’t have to buy one. But what is the point of a Cali-legal auto knife?
If you’re unfamiliar, Cali-Legal Autos are automatic knives that fit into a loophole in California law which restricts the size of legal carry switchblades to 2” unless you’re qualified under federal law to carry something larger (paraplegic, first responder, etc.) Confusingly, a LARGE number of manufacturers have developed products to fit into this loophole, which are neat, but pretty useless.
There’s a SHOCKING amount of them. Kershaw makes three different Cali-legal autos in the Launch series – the 4, 9, and 10. Boker makes one, amusingly named the Kompact. Pro-Tech makes some – the odd-looking Half-Breed, the Sprint, Calmigo, the Runt, and Magic Whiskers. Hogue makes the hilarious looking A01 “Cali-Legal” Microswitch, which has a 1.9” blade but the full sized handles of the regular A01.
What do you do with a Cali legal auto? It’s barely long enough to open mail with. Food prep? No, unless you’re just eating grapes for lunch. I guess you could whittle a stick very slowly? Or cut up half a banana. Or give it to your friend with freakishly small hands to boost their self-esteem. I don’t know. I kinda think California made it legal below two inches because they didn’t want to be accused of banning all switchblades, but they were just hoping you didn’t want to carry one anyway.
Instead, buy a…
Regular sized push-button auto. They’re all pretty much the same price anyway. Or if in California, a full sized regular knife. Modern bearing flippers are just as fast as autos, but aren’t illegal to carry.