Have Knife Prices Gone Crazy?

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I don’t know if you’ve tried to buy a knife lately, but holy cow. When did knives get so expensive? 

I’m not sure if it happened so quickly that I didn’t notice, or if it happened so slowly that I didn’t notice. But it’s not unusual to pay at least twice as much for any given folding knife today compared to what it would have cost just 10 years ago. I can’t help but wonder why. 

For the record, I’m not at all suggesting that good knives should be cheap. 

Like anything else, it’s fair to expect that you’ll get what you pay for. The problem is, knife prices have gone so far off the rails that it’s hard to even get a good handle on what a knife is really worth. 

I’ve said before that if you want a good knife, don’t waste $20 on a gas station folder. Save up $100 and get yourself something good, like a Spyderco or a Benchmade. But at this point, there are precious few Spyderco knives that can be yours for $100, and a run-of-the-mill Benchmade knife is over $200.

Here’s another example. Not long ago, I wanted to write a roundup of the best EDC knives under $50. So I went through my drawers and pulled out some of my all-time favorite affordable knives that I’ve loved for years and originally paid less than $50 for. Of the dozen or so knives I chose, almost none of them were still available for under $50. Many had jumped to $75, $90 or even $100 or more over the course of just a few short years. 

So, the question remains: what is going on with knife prices? 

I don’t have a definitive answer to that question, but I have a few theories. In all likelihood, there is a combination of factors at play that are currently driving knife prices through the roof. 

Inflation, the Supply Chain, etc. 

I can practically hear you all screaming in unison, “IT’S THE ECONOMY!” Yeah, okay, that’s probably part of the story, but it’s not the whole story. 

Yes, inflation has been a problem in recent years, and you’ve probably noticed that the price of everything from a can of beans to a new car is higher than it was pre-pandemic. And of course there’s everyone’s favorite target of blame—that inexplicable network of companies and people behind the production and delivery of any given product—the supply chain. 

Of particular note is the price of gas, which spiked a couple of years ago. When the price goes up, the price of everything made or shipped with gas (including steel) also goes up. And even though gas prices have leveled out and inflation has slowed, prices never really go back down. 

Ultimately, I think this is a fairly small piece of the puzzle when it comes to the current state of the knife industry. Knives should rightly be a little more costly given these economic factors, but they aren’t enough to justify astronomical prices. 

The Rise of Super Steels

The increased price of knives is sometimes blamed on increasingly advanced materials, and the increasingly difficult, costly and time-consuming processes involved in making them. I don’t really buy this as a reason why knives are so expensive across the board. 

Granted, if you want a knife made using Elmax or whatever ultra-premium steel Crucible is producing these days, it’s fair to expect to pay several hundred dollars. Same goes for knives that are made by hand in small quantities by expert knifesmiths. Like any other product, knives will always have an upper echelon luxury category that costs way more for one reason or another. 

But all of this does little to explain why average, everyday knives are more expensive. I’m not upset when I see a MagnaCut knife priced at $300. I do get a little irritable when I see a D2 knife priced at $150. 

Proliferation of Cheap Knock-Offs

Here’s another theory I’ve heard. Cheap made-in-China knives are now so abundant and widely available that more legitimate and established knife manufacturers have to raise their prices to separate themselves from the knock-offs. In a sense, a higher price tag is a mark of credibility. 

I think there’s some truth to this, although I don’t know if they “have to” raise their prices so much as they “see an opportunity to” raise their prices. 

The other interesting side to this coin is that a lot of the more legit Chinese knife brands like We Knife, Civivi and Sencut are actually making quality products that are becoming some of the best buys in the budget category. 

While American-made knives are becoming too expensive to be considered affordable or budget-friendly, Chinese knives are filling the void they’ve left behind. And they’re doing so while increasing in quality, although it must be said that there’s also an intangible cost when it comes to lack of innovation. 

Corporate Greed

I hear this all the time. Knife enthusiasts love to blame rising prices on corporate greed, or some version of “they charge more simply because they can.” While I think this is completely true—welcome to capitalism—and it’s reasonable to be pissed off about it, this way of thinking conveniently ignores the buyer’s role in this whole system. 

Instead of saying, “they charge more because they can,” try saying “they charge more because we’re willing to pay it.” If we stopped buying expensive knives, you’d be shocked at how fast they stopped being expensive. That brings me to my next and final theory. 

Collector Culture

Pretty much all knives are more expensive than they were 10 or 20 years ago, but the biggest hikes have taken place in the everyday carry space. Pocket folders that can be categorized as EDC knives have become especially pricey, and it’s not a coincidence that the very concept of EDC has exploded in popularity in roughly the same timeframe. 

As a result, the place knives occupy in our lives has shifted. They’re no longer strictly tools. For a lot of people, they’ve become a hobby, a luxury, a collectible, even a status symbol. 

As soon as knife manufacturers saw us buying more knives than we realistically needed and posting carefully-durated photos of our EDC on Instagram, it didn’t take them long to realize that they could start selling us more knives at a higher price. The moment any product becomes a collector’s item, its price is no longer tethered to the value of its physical materials or the cost of its manufacture. It’s worth whatever you’ll pay. 

And look, I’m not out here pointing fingers. I’ve bought a lot of knives in my day, and there are plenty that I own simply because I like them, not because I need them. 

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with EDC or with collecting knives. But as EDC has grown from a niche community to a fairly large, mainstream subculture, it’s not totally surprising that knife prices have ballooned. 

I’ll be happy if that balloon bursts at some point and knife prices start coming down. But for now, it’s with remembering that, even though “knives as collectibles” have become more expensive, “knives as tools” are often still quite affordable. Kershaw, Gerber, Opinel, Cold Steel, CRKT, Ontario and many other brands still make simple, affordable knives that will do the job they’re made for, even if their design and build won’t necessarily set the world on fire.

But if you want something really next-level, it’s likely to cost you a bit more for the foreseeable future.

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