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Cheap Knives: Why The 440A Craze?

Discussion in 'General Knife Discussion' started by Stargater, Oct 30, 2017.

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  1. Stargater


    Jan 1, 2015
    Years ago, I'd never heard a lot about 440A, but I was a Cold Steel fan. Lyn Thompson put out several runs of new knives with it and it seemed fine. The Recon One, Night Force, Pro-Lite lines all were made with 440A, and these knives came so wickedly sharp that several reviewers nicked themselves taking them out of the box. I spoke to a CS rep about them and it was clear he didn't like it. Cold Steel had bought a big chunk of the stuff, and the new lines of knives seemed to come out of box sharp and ready to use.

    But once the 440A was gone, CS switched to AUS8A with no drop in quality. I'm still using many of those 440A knives with no complaint and they seem to perform as well as the AUS8A, and they're easily sharpened.

    Since then, 440A has become the staple steel for cheap knives. And very few of them are adequately heat treated. My first bad experience with 440A came with the purchase of a couple of Böker Magnum knives. The blades were dull as butter knives and can't be sharpened. And recently, S&W went from using 440C stainless steel in its Homeland Security fixed-blade tantos to 7Cr17 (Chinese version of 440A). I've not used any knife made with 7Cr17, but I know S&W cut corners not only in its steel, but in their sheaths as well. The new HS knives may be just fine; I don't know how S&W heat treats its steel (I know it farms out its knives to other manufacturers). And my old HS was a good, heavy duty knife.

    In the old days (a few years ago), cheap blades used to be made from 420 stock. In fact, my first locking knife was bought at a Dollar Store. Soon the paint began to flake off the frame, but datgum that blade took a sharp edge! Soon after, I bought a couple of Maxams. (I'm carrying one of them now around the house. It's got a 420 blade that needs sharpening because I cut a plastic tab that dulled it.) But normally I carry my Spyderco Endura. The cheap Böker Magnum knives I picked up on a whim as beaters betrayed me, though. Made with 440A, the knives had lousy heat treat and wouldn't take an edge. You could file the points off and give them to an infant to play with and wouldn't have to worry!

    Another useful knife I bought was a $13 Frost knock-off of the S&W Homeland Security. Made with 420, it's gotten plenty of use around the house. We use it for digging weeds and cleaning out the wet grass I the lawn mower in the summer and chopping ice out of the wheel wells of our cars during the winter. The camo paint on the blade is still going strong and it's now in the trunk of my car with a sharp edge in the event of trouble. If anyone stuffs me there, they're going to find out how much damage a $13 Frost blade can do when they open her up!

    So what's responsible for the 440A craze and is it cheaper than the 420 that used to be the staple in cheap knives? And why doesn't it take an edge like the cheap 420? Do any of you have cheap knives you use around the house? If so, how about some photos? I'll try to get a few photos of mine if anyone's interested.
    bucketstove likes this.
  2. Hickory n steel

    Hickory n steel Gold Member Gold Member

    Feb 11, 2016
    I have this colonial made Sabre USA Swiss style scout that I bought last summer at a yardsale for 50¢, I'm told they used 440a and it easily takes an extremely sharp edge. Its a user that gets carried, but it does cut stuff around the house.
    Other than that any blades I own which I know are 440 something are cheapo Chinese garbage that I can't get to take a good edge.
    I don't know why non specific 440 stainless or sometimes specifically stamped as such 440a if that's even what they really use is so common on this junk, but they do and they definitely almost never treat it right.
    Last edited: Oct 30, 2017
  3. jc57

    jc57 Gold Member Gold Member

    Nov 28, 2012
    I have two Rough Riders with 440A steel. Definitely inexpensive, definitely made in China. The steel works OK for me. I can get a very sharp edge on it and it retains the edge about as well as Case's 420HC Tru-Sharp and Victorinox stainless, if not a little better. It seems like they may run it a little harder than the Case steel, because it doesn't tend to create as much of a burr when sharpening.
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2017
    jbmonkey likes this.
  4. Hickory n steel

    Hickory n steel Gold Member Gold Member

    Feb 11, 2016
    I didn't know they used 440a because they just say 440, but rough rider definitely does a decent job with their steel.

    Rough rider knives aren't knives that I can personally be really proud to own, but I can't deny that they make a damn decided knife for the price and I'm not ashamed to own them. I just really wish they didn't polish their blades, I'd prefer satin or stone tumbled like Buck does.
    bucketstove likes this.
  5. Planterz

    Planterz Gold Member Gold Member

    Mar 26, 2004
    Excuse me if I seem rude - I'm not meaning to be - but I have to ask why you even bother with that crap? S&W, SWAT, Taylor, Frost, M-Tech, etc. You're already aware the steel is of low quality, and on top of that you know the heat treat is questionable. So why spend $10-20 on 2 or 3 or 5 knives looking for one of acceptable quality when you can spend that money on any number of $30-60 knives from reputable companies? $30 is better spent on an Ontario Rat folder than 2 or 3 flea market knives. Maybe you don't want to "ruin" a more expensive knife, but a $15 flea market is ruined before you even bought it. Low quality steel, questionable heat treat, potentially dangerous "lock", no warranty, etc.
  6. Final Option

    Final Option Gold Member Gold Member

    Feb 11, 2012
    I did not know there was a craze for cheap steel. Most of the conversations around here are the latest super steels. Usually on this forum conversations are not a race to the bottom, especially flea market type knives. Non the less enjoy your knives and questionable Steel with unknown QC heat treat.
    RevDevil and 19-3ben like this.
  7. GatorFlash1

    GatorFlash1 Gold Member Gold Member

    May 28, 2012
    The craze is caused because it is cheap stainless steel to use in the manufacturing process and it looks good in the finished knife. This keeps the cost down. You can have all kinds of neat designs and still make the blades from less expensive 440a. In my experience it doesn't stand up to any sort of daily moderately hard use. it is okay to skin an apple, open an envelope, etc. You don't want to lump all 440 steels into the same pot. The 440C steel is and was used by many custom knife makers because it holds up so well to the tasks at hand.

    If you can swing it buy a knife with a better pedigree. I EDC a Spyderco Gayle Bradley with an M4 blade because I don't have to mess around always sharpening the blade. It holds up to weeks of working around the house, shop, and yard. I'll pay a little more to save a bunch of time. But that's just me.

    Here are some videos from the Tube about stainless steels that you may find interesting.

    Last edited: Oct 31, 2017
    PoorUserName and bucketstove like this.

    BITEME Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 14, 2007
    Not a ton of experience with 440a but I did have a Maserin with the steel,the knife was homely but man could that thing cut boxes...it' been in storage for about 5 years, maybe time I pull her out.
  9. PirateSeulb


    Jun 6, 2017
    I think what we can really prove is that if you take an older knife from a reputable maker in the same steal as a new knife from a maker known for cheap bargain bin crap and compare them we see how much difference a solid HT makes.
    DocJD likes this.
  10. craytab

    craytab Gold Member Gold Member

    Jan 26, 2012
    That's because there isn't for hobbyists or enthusiasts. If anyone spends any quality time around this hobby they know that these cheap import "440a" knives are junk. Even as a new person and only a couple minutes of research here will tell a reasonable person that they are junk and there are far better options for not much more money. I know I can find an ~$20 knife from a reputable company in AUS8 or 8cr with a little research.

    Bought this for $15 a couple weeks ago:


    8cr, G10, quality company. Absolutely no need to buy cheap junk.
  11. marcinek


    Jan 9, 2007
    I'm with @Final Option and @craytab. I see no "craze" for 440A here. Maybe among non knife fans looking for a cheapo, throwaway "gas station" knife.

    But here it seems people generally know you can get very good knives in very good steels for a very low price. No need to buy crap, just like craytab mentioned.
  12. wazu013


    Dec 14, 2011
    You're right Cray.
    Besides their 8cr line, Kershaw has been putting out some really nice knives lately. The Link comes to mind. You can actually pick up a USA made product with premium steel for an affordable price if you act fast when they're released. It makes sense to save a little money and buy quality. Unless your goal is to just fill a knife roll with also rans.
  13. James Y

    James Y

    Feb 18, 1999
    I have some older Kershaw knives, a Blackout and a Leek, bought back in the early 2000s, that IIRC were 440A. This was before Kershaw switched the basic blade steel in their U.S. models to Sandvik. 440A is definitely not a favorite steel for me, but in the ones I have, not too bad, either. They take a good edge and seem to sharpen up nicely (especially the Blackout, which I've used a lot more than the Leek).

  14. Mo2


    Apr 8, 2016
    440anything is a pretty bad steel option for a knife in comparison to what's available.

    Unless it's been heat treatment by someone to its optimal like Paul Bos etc. Even then it doesn't keep up with other budget steel options like Sandvik, d2, etc.

    I see no reason other than cost to use these old steel types. Even if your not a steel nerd like me. 8cr13mov 440x etc should be avoided. Too bad Kershaw and crkt won't stop using it.
  15. craytab

    craytab Gold Member Gold Member

    Jan 26, 2012
    AUS8 and 8cr from a quality company fill a role for budget friendly options. "440a" or whatever it is from a shady company preys on the uninformed or willfully ignorant consumer. I see crkt as a different option than kershaw as CRKT over charges and underdelivers in quality as compared to kershaw using the same steels. If Kershaw stopped using 8cr they would lose a huge piece of the knife buying market and would no longer have a budget line at all. Think about the impact of that on the rest of the company. Not everyone needs or wants the latest supersteel and that is good because I doubt you would have them either without the budget lines of major companies subsidizing your steel nerd needs.

    I'm no steel snob. That said, I bet I have had, have, and used most of the high end steels you have. I still own and use knives in the AUS8 and 8cr range. There is no way I am doing what I have done with this knife with my higher end stuff:
    They fill a role for many.

    8cr and AUS8 is as low as I will go in a modern folder though. 440a gas station stuff is a different story and is off the table.
    danbot likes this.
  16. 22-rimfire

    22-rimfire Gold Member Gold Member

    Nov 20, 2005
    I generally just stay away from brands (any knife) made for S&W, Frost, and similar brands. The exception for me with 440A are Rough Rider slip joints which I think aren't bad for both the money and using. Puma SGB line uses 440A. I have one. Can't say much about it other than it is sharp as hell. I have other similar knives that fill that role and the Puma pretty much stays home untried and untested.

    The steel doesn't get discussed much here other than in passing and often part of a negative comment on a particular knife.

    I think everyone should occasionally step back away from the latest super steel and try out a lesser steel on a lower priced knife just to see how it does for them. I'm glad the steel is used and as a lower priced knife (usually) available for the less interested knife user.

    About the worst steel I use is on SAKs and I use them a lot. Works for me.
    Kels73 and colin.p like this.
  17. DocJD


    Jan 29, 2016
    I just went to the jungle and searched "folding knife" and got a Tac-force <$9 ( 440 steel) as their best seller with over 700 reviews and 4.3 stars . So , If you didn't already know better , why wouldn't you buy one ?
    10fingers likes this.
  18. 22-rimfire

    22-rimfire Gold Member Gold Member

    Nov 20, 2005
    I would suggest that you don't lump all 440 steels into one pot. Randall still uses 440B, and 440C is pretty good steel if done properly. Dozier uses D2 mostly and it is quite good. Next you will say that A2 is crap steel for knives.
    353, craytab and marcinek like this.
  19. Mo2


    Apr 8, 2016
    Wat? Re read my post. Cause I didn't say anything is wrong with d2. Just the 440x and 8cr13mov and lower stuff. I'll add aus8 to that too.

    They should upgrade to Sandvik, d2 or other improved budget steel.
  20. marcinek


    Jan 9, 2007
    By "440anything" do you include 440C? Because that is not a "bad steel option for a knife in comparison to what's available" in any way shape or form. Just like @GatorFlash1 pointed out above...it remains a favorite of many custom makers.

    And since when is D2 a "budget steel"? Performing on a level with D2 is pretty difficult.

    You sure you are a "steel nerd"? :confused:
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