Looking for the highest quality folding utility knife for under $35
November 21, 2014 1:51 PM   Subscribe

I would like to give a few members of my firehouse each a small, folding utility knife, engraved with their name, as a gift. Because I'm getting several of them, I'd like to keep costs under $35 or so. I've looked at Benchmade and Buck, as I have each of those brands and have found their quality to be good, but I'd like to find the absolute best knife I can for the price. Extreme durability under conditions of brutal misuse is a plus.

The style most often carried by the firefighters with whom I work is a small folding knife with a pocket clip and locking blade, sometimes with a serrated edge (I prefer a serrated edge on mine, but it takes all kinds). These are used for a variety of station tasks, but not on emergency calls.

One example I've considered is the Buck Nobleman.

There are many "tactical" knives out there that are all about style, with pointless greebling meant to evoke firearms or god knows what. I'm not interested in that. I want a substantial, tough knife that looks and feels like it will last.

I would love to hear your experiences with other folding utility knives, particularly if there's an easy, inexpensive means of having them individually engraved.
posted by itstheclamsname to Shopping (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I gave Buck knives as groomsmen presents at my wedding many years ago. Every one of those knives is still being used daily today, as far as I know. Buck makes good, tough knives.
posted by blob at 2:18 PM on November 21, 2014

For my money, it's the Leatherman C33 series.

I carry the C33TX, which adds a Phillips and a Standard screwdriver, but the C33X with a combo (straight tip, serrated belly) stainless blade can be had for $22, leaving money in your budget for a trip to a local trophy and engraving shop, or Leatherman will do it for you for $6.95.

I'm on my third, because Neptune likes to claim your best tools for his own.

Last time I bought one I took the time to write to Leatherman to find out if the knives really are made in Portland, since they aren't stamped "made in USA". The sales manager who called me back said that because some of the forged pliers on multitools come from Mexico that it's easier to just leave off the markings from all the products. The C33 family knives are made in Oregon.
posted by Kakkerlak at 2:27 PM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

That Buck Nobleman looks like a copy of the Kershaw Chive, which I've had and loved for about 12 years now.

This place sells them engraved for $42. Depending on how many you'd order you might be able to get a price break.
posted by rhizome at 2:42 PM on November 21, 2014

Buck knives are okay, but they're also rather old-fashioned. We've got a wide variety of tool steels now but Buck still uses the 410-440 range almost exclusively, especially 420HC. There's nothing wrong with this—it's highly corrosion-resistant so it always looks good and is easy to sharpen—but for "durability under conditions of brutal misuse" you can do better.

I've had good luck with Spyderco. They offer a wider range of steels, blade shapes, handle shapes, and locking mechanisms. (Like blade steel, overall knife engineering has improved even in the past decade.) And they have some left-handed-friendly models, which may or may not be something you're looking for. (I'm a lefty so it's always a consideration.) It looks like there are partner engravers as well, like LazerDesigns. I'm sure you can find others, or have someone do it locally. If you look for sales, you'll easily find something in your price range.

I'll second Leatherman on the quality of their multitools, especially for the cost.
posted by Woodroar at 2:44 PM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I love the Gerber EAB. But then, I've never really liked having to sharpen knives. Boxcutter-style blades are cheap, really sharp, and even if you don't have spare blades at hand, you can just turn the blade around for a fresh sharp edge. Plus the EAB looks and feels lovely.
posted by pipeski at 2:47 PM on November 21, 2014

Opinel knives would look awesome with some wood burner work applied. Most no-bullshit knife in existence.
posted by oceanjesse at 4:15 PM on November 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

I have a SOG pocket knife that has served me well. I'm not sure if it's the style you're looking for (and I can't find a picture of the one I have) but they can engrave some of them.
posted by cp311 at 4:25 PM on November 21, 2014

I love knives. I totally hear you about the "greebling".

Here's an idea: along with each knife, also include a light-weight postage-paid container / envelope that's big enough to hold the knife. Put the recipient's name and address on it. Add a note that says: "this goes in your carry-on luggage" (or computer bag, whatever is appropriate).

The point being that if you get them a really nice knife, they might carry it with them always. Even when they travel. Even when they go through security. Many airports have some kind of postal drop-off point - so if they find themselves at the hands of a TSA employee doing the "I'm sorry but you can't take this through security" thing, they'll (hopefully) be able to drop the knife in the mail.
posted by doctor tough love at 4:44 PM on November 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

Came in to say the same thing as Woodroar - you might take a look at Spyderco. They have a series of knives they call "value folders" - Ambitious, Persistence, Tenacious, and Resilience. I've listed them in order of size; Ambitious has a 2.25" blade, Resilience is 4.25", others are in-between. The MSRP is way over your budget, but my experience is that retailers offer steep discounts that put them in your price range. I don't have any experience with engraving.
posted by kovacs at 7:54 PM on November 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

CRKT makes knives of very good quality for the money. A quick search on Amazon shows several options at or under your price point, like this folding serrated model. On second glance, though, the textured handle could be too greebly (greeble-esque?).
posted by gox3r at 9:45 PM on November 21, 2014

One possibility may be knives sold under the "Sanrenmu" name, from China. They are from a company that seems to make knives for several American companies, including Buck and Spyderco.

Interesting thing about this brand is that they are available in the US seemingly as gray market items via several sources in China/Hong Kong/ebay via mail, for very reasonable prices. Sometimes less than $10 delivered to the US. Quality is quite excellent, good steel, good workmanship, known to American consumers with the brand names of some of Buck and Spyderco's wares. 99% sure they make the Buck Nobleman in particular, pretty sure thy make or have made Spyderco's China-sourced knives. Sanrenmu offers lock blades and some modern-ish non-locking knives, some designs inspired by popular brands in the US, some designs quite novel. I've bought several from online vendor, Fasttech, which offers some of the best prices, and reasonable, fast shipping (or free shipping if one isn't in too much of a hurry).

A similar, well regarded brand name is "Enlan", whose offerings tend to be a little more expensive and physically a bit larger. It may be the case that Sanrenmu and Enlan come from the same factory.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:18 PM on November 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Seconding Opinels:
In 1985 the Victoria and Albert Museum in London selected the Opinel as part of an exhibit celebrating the “100 most beautiful products in the world”, featuring the Opinel alongside the Porsche 911 sports car and the Rolex watch. The Opinel was also selected as one of the 999 classic designs in Phaidon Design Classics, and has been exhibited by the New York's Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) as a design masterpiece.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 11:33 PM on November 21, 2014

Nthing Spyderco. Very good brand.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:28 AM on November 22, 2014

I really like my Kershaw Leek, but I can't speak to extreme durability or anything.
posted by supercres at 8:26 AM on November 22, 2014

Love my Leatherman C33. I have the straight blade flavor and Amazon tells me that I've had it for 4 years. I use it for barn work and it's held up great so far.
posted by anaelith at 4:56 PM on November 22, 2014

I used to read knife forums obsessively and have a few knives myself. In that price range, Spyderco and Benchmade are probably your two best options.

Spyderco also has a cheaper line called Byrd -- they are very good knives, just a little clunkier and heavier than the standard Spydercos.
posted by callmejay at 11:03 AM on November 25, 2014

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