$20 ARCLITE vs. $200 Arc Lite

I fell in love with the lines of Darrel Ralph's Arc Lite neck knife the instant I saw it. Though neck carry has never been a big favorite of mine, the Arc Lite offers sound ergonomics in a compact and efficient package that makes an excellent fixed blade substitute for a pocket knife. I think of it as a pocket tactical paring knife.

My handmade Arc Lite is made of CPM420V, and has G-10 handle scales, the standard retail price of which is $225. When I saw that Camillus would be producing a 420HC stainless steel version of the Arc Lite for $19.99, a knife with the same great lines and ergonomics for roughly one tenth of the price, I naturally wondered, would I have been just as happy with the $20 Arc Lite as I am with the $200 Arc Lite? Christmas was coming up, so I ordered a few Camillus Arc Lites for friends, and one for myself, what the heck, they are only $20, you can use them up like popcorn!

Here's a picture of standard skeletal Camillus Arc Lite, one with a parachute cord wrapped handle, and my hand made Ralph Arc Lite:

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The profile of the Camillus Arc Lite is almost identical to the hand made version with a couple of notable differences. The Camillus version is just a little wider over its entire length, and the edge bevels are ground farther back. The wider profile gives the skeleton handle more to hold on to, and the longer edge grind gives you, well, a longer edge. I don't need the thinness of a skeleton handle myself, so from the start I intended to wrap it with para-cord for more leverage and control. This turned out to be slightly more complicated than I thought. The cutouts in the handle make it impossible to pull the ends of the cord under the wraps, so I had to glue some pieces of Kydex onto the handle before I could wrap it. The added grip and comfort are well worth the effort though. I also had to cut down the sheath slightly to accommodate the cord wrap.

The next thing that I wanted to know was whether a decent cutting tool could be made out of 420HC by my standards, standards formed by years of carrying Boye Dendritic Steel, M-2, and CPM420V blades. So in order to find out what kind of staying power the 420HC edge had, I went out to the garage for some heavy cardboard shredding:

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Haha! Yah, right.

I sliced some heavy cardboard into strips until the edge had gone off to the point that the knife would no longer cut through 1/2" sissal rope efficiently. I wanted to see how much the blade could do before it was no longer an efficient cutting tool, and needed to be sharpened. The Camillus Arc Lite shredded a fair stack of cardboard before it would no longer cut through the rope efficiently, a stack that left me thinking "Not bad." The edge geometry of the ARCLITE is good, and high alloy edges cut rope very aggressively.

Then I needed to see what the hand made CPM420V Arc Lite could do in comparison. The CPM420V Arc Lite sliced up a stack of cardboard strips about twice the size and still cut through 1/2" rope with alacrity. Satisfied that I had demonstrated the vast superiority of CPM420V to myself, relieved that the $225 price tag was well earned, and a blister forming on my thumb, I quit.

Judge for yourself if you think the Camillus Arc Lite holds an edge $20 worth:

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So what you get from the $200 hand made version over the $20 production version is at least three or four times the edge holding, maybe more. The hand made version is also made of full 1/8" stock and is presumably quite a bit stronger than the production model. There are certain intangible differences too. The grind lines on the hand made version are sharp and the edge termination at the choil is beautifully finished. The hand made version is also available with G-10 or micarta handle scales.

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In summary, I would say two things: the $20 Arc Lite is a very viable product, and the $175 hand made Arc Lite is well worth the investment for the cutlery aficionado. A neck knife, after all, is a small emergency backup type of knife. It is designed, not for regular hard use, but to carry in a concealed and unobtrusive manner, and to be effective for tactical urgent use, that one time seatbelt cut, or the incidental small chores that most of us use a small pocket folder for. For that mission, the Cumillus ARCLITE CUDA, is generously adequate.

With a cord wrapped handle, the Camillus ARCLITE offers a stable and comfortable grip. Extended cardboard cutting resulted no hot spots, the only blister formed on the middle of my thumb from pressure on the thin blade spine. The slightly larger blade and edge of the Camillus, along with the wider and thicker grip provided by the cord wrap actually made it my slight favorite between the two for a while. After a fair amount of kitchen duty though, the hand made continues to by my favorite. The nylon cord wrap on the Camillus washes well, but holds enough water to stay damp for an hour or so after washing. This wouldn't be a problem without the cord wrap of course, but the cord wrap extends the usability of the knife significantly. Also, the 1/8" of additional cutting edge was not a practical advantage for actual use.

So both are great knives, and both provide great performance per dollar.
May 28, 1999

Nice post. Been wondering if I should get a few of these myself. Sounds like I should. Thanks


Follow The Path of Fantasies.
now that's a hands-on review! Excellent job of review done by one of the few people around who're in a position to do the comparison. Given all the pre-Christmas interest in the Camillus version, I've been waiting for a review. Yours exceeds expectation.
One question: you say the paracord wrap was well worth the effort but that it involved cutting down the Kydex sheath a bit. Could you elaborate? The one Kydex sheath I have seems quite tough. What do you use to cut on one of these?
Hacksaw, bimetal blade 1, Kydex 0.

Then I finished the edges with 240 and 400 grit sand paper.
Steve, great review. I have a handmade with blue/black G10 scales, and what makes it special for me is that it was handmade by Darrel just for me. I know DDR must of thought about this comparison being made, and I'm sure he decided there was a market for both knives. I know Camillus makes a quality product and the Arclite is a great knife at a great price. When the talk first started about the production version there were some people here that actually complained about the steel used even before anyone had even touched the knife.

And the point was made by WillF of Camillus if you wanted something different see Darrel for a custom, and he's right. I think there are a bunch of people who are going to want both the production and the handmade, Why? How many other custom Darrel Ralph knives can you buy for $200 or less?

"Will work 4 Knives!"
My PhotoPoint Site
Great review Steve. Thank you. What kind of steel is 420HC?


Hi Bug,

420HC is a low carbon (around .4%) medium alloy stainless steel.

154CM it is not, but it allows production companies to make great designs for low prices with fair cutting performance.
Steve, great job on your review. I personally have been able to hold an Arclite custom. It is a super blade IMO.

I am glad to see your post and comparison of both versions. The review was both informative and appears to be fair.

Thanks again. I fairly new to all the different types steel, etc. So these posts are a learning experience for me.