EDITOR'S NOTE: Every once in a long while my evil twin escapes and writes something that is funny but also terribly mean. He last appeared here (though some would argue he also tore Anne Trubek's anti-cursive argument to shreds...that's not Tony's Evil Twin that is Cross Examination Tony, a perhaps equally inappropriate approach for an enthusiast website and someone my wife really hates). Alas, he escaped just in time for the series on the collapse of the custom tactical market. I apologize for him right now.
Hello Dummies! I hope you're happy. Your plan "investment grade cutlery," unsurprisingly, has failed. I hope you weren't shocked. You probably were, but whatevs...
Well, the custom tactical market turns into a smoking, fiery Super Fund site of overpriced, overbuild, same-same titanium turds, the production market has been chugging along. For those of you that have a few spare bucks after dropping $2,800 on a knife that both looks like and cuts like a brick, there are quite a few impressive options out there.
Remember before you "ascended" to the world of custom tactical knives? Remember when steel actually mattered because you actually cut stuff with your knife? Quaint, right? Well, production knives offer you a huge range of steels, some that are never seen in the custom tactical world. So put your acid/stone/tumble washed N690 away (even though it cost $1,500) and return to the world of performance steel.
Spyderco has continued to put out high end designs with uber steels. There was a run of HAP40 blades for their ever green knives and people really liked them. They also have updated quite a few knives with S110V, which is 75-80 more Vs than you get on most custom tacticals. The PM2 in S110V and the lightweight Native 5 in the same steel both look really great. Hell, they are even doing a run of Maxamet on sub-$200 knives, knives that, if you remember, worked well and were light enough to actually carry (the Manix LW and the Native 5).
ZT has decided to do custom tacticals without the spotty fit and finish (which you lauded as a sign that it was hand made) and the exorbitant price tags. You know that Sinkevich you have pined after? You can buy one of his designs for under $200. And guess what? Unlike the gorilla-sized custom, the ZT0450 actually cuts things AND fits in a pocket.
Crazy, I know. And if that is not enough, they have Hinderer flippers that actually flip, RJ Martin knives that...well...I can't think of a snarky way to describe them...but look....RJ Martin knives that you can afford and are semi-available! And if you are really daring you can buy one of their Uber Triples, knives designed by Jim McNair and others, who, while lacking the name recognition of famous random guy with a garage grinder and IG account, are people that actually know how to design and make knives. Its strange how that works--knife companies, unlike IG fanboys, require actual skill at knifemaking. This is a wacky world we live in.
Bark River continues to plug along releasing at least one blade each week that hasn't seen use since 1910 when it last slayed a buffalo.
But unlike the custom fixed blades you are used to, these quirky designs use, brace yourself, something other than O1 or A2. They run all sorts of steels--3V, M4, and lots of other letter number combinations you probably forgot about as you journeyed through the land of half-baked designs put out by some guy that has a beard, a grinder, and one tenth the talent of the guys on the line at Bark River.
One sad bit of news, though, Benchmade has pretty much become irrelevant to knife fans. When you left, their line up had five or six different brands, many of which competed with each other. Each year since you have been gone, they have either added or dropped a brand or both. Also, right before you left their line up was approaching critical mass with Axis locks. Well, they reached that critical mass about two years ago and the plant in Oregon exploded releasing one of those ring things like when the Death Star blew up in the updated Star Wars. That ring thing sent out a massive wave blades that, by design, have blade play and mediocre lock up. They also have sketchy fit and finish and grinds that look like they were done by a person with an inner ear infection. These are great features for you, as the sloppy craftsmanship can ease you back in to a world of knives where tolerances and fit and finish matter. You can start out with an Axis lock and the blade wiggle will remind you of the custom tactical you bought from the maker on Instagram for $700. Then, when you are more comfortable with the idea of precision, you can upgrade to a ZT or a Spyderco where there is no blade play. It will be a hard transition, but you can do it.
You could also look at some of the Chinese brands--Reate, Rike, WE, and Kizer.
There you will find the exact designs you wanted from a custom maker that had a two year wait, but with better materials, equal fit and finish, and 1/8 the price. Its so amazing to get what you want without having 85% of the joy of knife ownership being found in waiting and anticipating the knife's arrival.
There are bevy of surprises waiting for you. All with great steels, good designs, low prices, high availability and...guess what...you don't have to fawn over them on IG. You can just buy one. You don't have to be pretend to befriend a knifemaker or tell him he is an artist every time he posts a picture of an unattached pocket clip. You can just buy stuff. The dude a Spyderco grinding Maxamet blades has more important things to worry about than your IG likes (such as changing belts twice per blade). So welcome back. We missed you while you were out being stupid. So sad about depleting your children's college fund though. That's a bummer.
And for those of you that have moved on to watches...good luck with that. I am sure it will turn out just as good as your investing foray into the custom tactical world.