Newbies: What to look for when choosing a knife

Sep 23, 1999
I see that there is a fresh crop of newnies floating around here! That is great, except it reduces MY chances at winning them cool knives each month

Anyways, a lot of the newbie posts have been questions about what to look for in a knife, so I thought I'd offer some advice for when you go knife shopping in one thread instead of posting this in several threads. And please, do add to my suggestions!

First of all, if you want a knife that will sharpen easy, take a GREAT edge, hold it for a long time, not rust, be nice and shiny with g-10 or micarta or something cool like that for a handle, you can have it. But it WON'T cost only $50!!!! Get that out of your head first and foremost.

O.k., with that in mind, suppose you want a folder. Decide whether you think you will scare people with your knives, or whether you can carry pretty much whatever you want. If you will scare people, maybe you will want a small Benchmade like this new benchmade Park Avenue:

Nice and small, and will cut great. For a lower priced option, a Swiss Army Knife will always do the trick.

If you have no sheeple restrictions, a nice large folder like the Spyderco Starmate:

A larger folder I find is more useful than a smaller folder, and they are quite comfortable to carry.

Now, a note on blade grinds. Look at how high the grind line goes on this Kasper fighting knife:

Now look at how high the grind line goes on these knives:

Notice that the grind line is much higher on the Sebenzas in the second picture than on the knife in the first pic? A higher grind line produces a thinner edge which means earier sharpening and improved cutting performance. however, it makes the knife edge relatively weaker. If you want a tough folder, get one like the Kasper fighter or a Buck Strider or something with a thick grind line. If you want a better cutter, get somethign with a higher grind line, like on the Sebenzas. This assumes, of course, same steel thickness.

If you will care for your knife, choose a carbon steel. It is less expensive and you get high performance out of the simple carbon steels. If you are not prone to caring for your steel or are going into wet environments, maybe you should look at stainless steels, but get good steel if you want good performance out of them. you can also get a coated carbon steel, but these still require some care.

Ensure that there is a good finger choil (finger cut out) or something designed in the handle to keep your hand from slipping forward onto the blade. If you value your fingers, re-read this last bit of advice. If you are choosing a fixed blade, get a guard if possible.


This fixed blade has no guard, but it has a generous finger choil to protect your hand. For a user blade, a single guard (i.e. no metal sticking up, but metal sticking down) is best. You will fint dimes when you want to put a finger on top of the blade or your hand or a thumb to press down on it and a double guard will get in the way. If you are going for a fighter, maybe a double guard is a better option.

I do not wish to use up much more bandwidth, so I shall end things with just a few more quick words of wisdom, sans pictures.

1) Make a list of the essential features and the nice to have features on a knife- this will definitely help you made a realistic list of knives for you.

2) Purchase the best knife you can afford. There is a reason a Cold Steel Trailmaster bowie works better than a Frosts cutlery bowie, and you have to pay for this improved quality. This is a reiteration of my first point, but it is a good one to repeat. Good equipment is more enjoyable to use, performs better and lasts longer.

3) Shop around for interesting ideas. There is a classifieds section here and on other sites. You can get amazing knife deals looking at these classifieds. A great way to pick up a user knife for sure.

4) If you like Cold Steel and want a user, get their catalog and pick up a factory second. They are cheaper and work jsut as well. Also, you can get a Trailamster Bowie factory second THAT IS COATED!! Good deal for a bush beating bowie.

5) Come on chat and make some trades!

6) For heavens sake, buy decent sharpening gear too. A knife you can't sharpen is useless. If anything, pick up a few knives at thrift stores (old kitchen ones for a buck) and a Norton stone from wal-mart for 6 bucks and have at 'er one afternoon!

7) USE THE SEARCH FUNCTION ON THE FORUMS! Many people may have asked the same questions you want to ask about a particular knife. Search away to read up on the knife you want to learn about. If you don't know what Micarta is, do a search. You will get lots of great info too; ditto for almost anything.

Well, there it is! Good luck in your knife buying. And hey, buy one for me too will ya!

"Come What May..."
Great post Crayola! Those are all the things that I learned the hard way. BTW, great collection of CRKs, are they yours?
Great advice...but...

.......if you don't know where the search function is, is there a search function to find it? jk(please don't hurt
Blackie, the search function button is located under the "post reply" button at the top of the page. See, that wasn't so bad.

A Pat on the Back is only a few inches from a Kick in the Butt.
Johan reminded me of a very important point. If you can't afford all of the knives you want, pictures are FREE!! I have a collection almost ready to burn onto a CD. While not as fun, or as practical as a knife, you do get quite a bit of the drool factor at least!

I guess I have one last point too. Learn about knife materials if you can, as that will help you in your decisions as well. You can often compensate for lost properties with the benefits of other materials. For example, on those Sebenzas the grind is high, producing a thin ede, but the steel is BG-42 which is tougher than many other stainless steels, so a tougher steel can take a thinner edge, all other things being equal.

"Come What May..."
A few more things to consider when buying a new knife. Its not always possible to handle before you buy if you buy online. So, find out opinions on handle comfort. Nothing worse than buying a nice new knife, then when ya go to use it and have blisters and sore hands in the first 5 minutes.

Also, dont discount a knife simply because of the steel used. I have seen companies and custom makers release a new model. The may say 'new XYZ knife has 440a, 440c, or aus 6 or 8' or whatever kind of steel they use in it. The usual string of responses from some folks is 'gee XYZ company, I would buy that knife if you used better steel' Now, take Spyderco for instance, they use aus6 and 8 in some of thier knives. Although those are not the highest grade steel out there, Spyderco knives generally have very good heat treat and get the maximum performance out of even mid-grade steels. And alot of companies use the steels because they keep the knives affordable. All else being equal, then sure a properly done bg42, or 420v is going to be a better performer, but aus6 or 8, 420hc and similar steels will give good performance when done properly.

Also, getting opinions here is a very good start, but remember, YOU are the one who has to be happy with your purchase, so take into account what you want and buy what makes ya happy.

Richard Todd - Digital knife photography
icq 61363141
My WebSite
Do your site a favor, get quality digital images!!!
New photos added!!!
I beg to differ on one point - you can build a pretty extensive and quality collection of Spyderco, Benchmade, CRKT, Cold Steel knives - never spending more than $50 each. I have.
I pretty much agree.
Not the part with guards though. Hopely newbies don't want to stab anything(/anyone
) (hopely more exp. comrades neither). If one only cuts with a knife, guard is not needed. Guardless fixed blade allows cutting with bigger part of the edge on boards etc. Coming from guardless knife culture I haven't seen any fingerless people around. All tools should be used with care. This post doesn't mean that guards are not functional - just that there are terribly good fixed bladed knifes without guards and one shouldn't pass them without at least a look.

"Good tools to sustain life, or at least make life more convenient"
-James Mattis
Great post! The only thing I can add to it is, get the best you can afford. ` Experience, your's and other's, will dictate future purchases.