The knife is one tool that no prepper should ever go without, and you’ll never find anybody in the prepper-sphere or the business of survival instruction that recommends otherwise.
Many of the popular and high performance bushcraft and survival knives carry with them a correspondingly high price tag. Especially for compact knives, you might be left with a sense of disbelief when the bill arrives.
Why are knives expensive? There are many factors that determine the cost of a knife, from the various design processes, various production elements and the type of steel used. A designer knife maker will often charge a premium for a one-of-a-kind, handcrafted product. For mass-produced knives, the cost of setting up an assembly line, and all of its expensive machinery is also factored in.
Do you get what you pay for when you buy an expensive knife? Generally, but it is up to you to know what you are paying for and even more important to know if it will make a difference for your particular application. We will examine all of these factors and more below.
Design Takes Time, and That Means Money
Though a knife is a fundamentally simple tool, there is nothing simple about designing a high-performance knife, unless you are creating the most elementary kind of blade.
Any knife maker that wants to put out a quality product, and especially a product that will turn a profit by attracting the public eye, will spend a considerable amount of time, effort and energy on design.
Even major manufacturers who are cranking out a time-tested and well-known design will need to optimize and refine it for mass production.
These various iterations will go around and around through the R&D cycle before heading to engineering and then the machinists all of whom will be making changes, recommendations and dire prognostications about various elements of the design.
This can lead to multiple, expensive design interactions and change orders before the first machine is ever started.
Only after all this is done is a knife ready to head to the factory floor for production, but the costs don’t stop there!
Any manufacturer will be spending a fair bit of money just to get the chosen knife design ready to go into production, and they will spend even more during production, though the end purchaser might not attribute all of these behind the scenes processes to the cost of the finished knife.
One of the most important procedures in production of any tool (but especially a knife) is quality control.
Good manufacturers will spend fortunes ensuring that each and every finished knife meets their high and exacting standards. In certain cases the rejection rate might be as high as 50%, and they don’t necessarily sell the lesser offerings as factory seconds.
This is all in quest of keeping their brand value high, but in this case knives that don’t make the cut still cost the manufacturer up front, and that will be factored into the market price of a given knife.
There’s also cost accrued from waste, from mistakes and other mishaps that invariably happen on the factory floor. Everything that goes into the bottom line for a manufacturer will be factored into the price of the product one way or the other.
Any major manufacturer of knives is operating as a business and businesses that don’t turn a profit stop being businesses in short order.
Small Shops and Master Makers
You might think the price of high-end mass produce knives are jaw dropping, but chances are you haven’t even dabbled in high prices if you haven’t shopped for a true one of a kind or small batch knife made by a boutique knife maker.
These small outfits are oftentimes operated by a team of a dozen or less, and in many cases in knife making even a single individual who does everything themselves, from front to back.
A true artisan of knife making will cut out the basic shape of their knife from stock, shape it, grind it, battle it, finish it, sharpen it and even produce, by hand, a handle in one of any variety of materials to suit the client’s desires.
This type of bespoke craftsmanship is increasingly rare in our automated, globalized and mass market world, and while it is reassuring that the old ways still persist the old ways will cost you an arm and a leg.
If you simply must have a knife made to such a standard by a single individual, then it is a cost you must pay, period. Any convict can turn out a rusty shiv capable of opening someone up, but only a true master can produce an heirloom quality tool.
Special Steels Dramatically Increase Costs
One inescapable and universal factor that contributes to the sticker price of any knife is the cause of materials, and for the vast majority of knives that means steel.
The sheer variety of steels available on the market today is nothing short of mind boggling, and though all of them that are typically used for knife making are adequate for the task of providing a sharp edge, manufacturers have not been content and are constantly pushing the envelope when it comes to performance or special purpose formulations.
There are budget steels, state of the art steels, middle of the road steels and everything in between. You can have steel that emphasizes edge retention, steel that emphasizes sharpness, steel that is virtually impervious to corrosion or steel that can give you a little bit of everything.
This will all come at a price, of course, and the higher performance level that is desired the more you will have to either give up another factors or pay in order to have a cutting edge, pardon the pun, steel they can do everything.
It is the type of steel more than anything else that is directly reflected in the price tag of most knives. In fact, many manufacturers offer knives in one of several steel choices. This makes it easy to see how much the price will increase or decrease based on your preferences in steel.
Modern knives might surprise you with how expensive they can be, an often out of all proportion with their size. How can such a small hunk of steel cost so much!?
But as with most things much of what influences the cost are hidden to us, factors like design, production processes, quality control, research and development and the type of steel used for the blade itself and other components.
All will determine the market price of a given knife, and are included in quest of ensuring a knife meets expectations. As performance increases and buyers are ever hungry for better and better blades, we can expect costs to continue to rise over time.