The Stagnation of the Knife Industry - See page 3 post

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My dad said back in the 1960s, 70s and up until the 80s it was no choices for a good production knife. Most were the same models year after year, most came dull, the quality wasn't there and fast opening knives were a novelty and mostly illegal. If you wanted a unique knife you had to go custom and most people just carried a Buck, Case or Schrade. He said it's absolutely wonderful how many great knives are available today and how much interest there is in them. Seems the good ol days weren't so good for knife enthusiasts.
 

CapitalizedLiving

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It's definitely an excellent time to be a knife buyer. A surfeit of options in all categories and price ranges. I'd hate to be a maker, but I assume the people who choose this profession or hobby are aware of the risks. Otherwise they fold and, well, another one bites the grinder dust.
 

stabman

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I don't really agree with the premise at all.

There are still functional innovations aplenty, such as the Tri-Ad lock, the new AXIS lock spring system on the Anthem, and all the innovations the OP thinks are trivial as well.

There are still plenty of "utilitarian" knives out there, with new variations offering grat performance coming out all the time.
It is easier today to go out and buy a knife as a tool that will meet your needs than at any prior point in history.

There are also plenty of "art" or "entertainment" knives if you want that too.
There have always been art and fantasy knives out there though; the original Bowie Knife craze was a case of people buying into a fantasy.
The only difference these days really is that people can share pictures of their art/fantasy/entertainment pieces more easily than ever before.
 
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CornSyrup:

Can you define what you believe constitutes "stagnation of the knife industry" Don't take this the wrong way I just would like to know what you think the facts that lead you to this statement.

I use the word "stagnation" to refer to what I would describe as "a rehashing of the same formulas with minor, ultimately insignificant variations." The definition of "insignificant variations" is up for debate, and what I consider insignificant, another enthusiast may not. However, a brief survey of recent releases by major production knife companies reveals that very little is being introduced to challenge the paradigm of existing technologies and materials.

I feel that it is only appropriate to back these statements up with some examples. As stated earlier, specific examples are here used neither to endorse nor to oppose these knives, manufacturers, or their enthusiasts.

My first example is that of Emerson Knives Inc. In an earlier time at Emerson Knives Inc., new models were rapidly being developed, offering sets of features unique not only to each individual knife but to the general production knife audience at the time. The introduction of bowie, spanto, persian and karambit blades on the CQC-13, CQC-15, Persian and Combat Karambit respectively. The Fred Perrin collaboration La Griffe. The introduction of the NSAR and SARK, knives designed for specialized use by first responders.

An examination of their new models, however, reveals an emphasis, beginning in 2015, on decorative features such as a hand-signed blade, different hardware colors, decorative liner and scale colors, often in limited editions. Many recent production models not only are variations on existing models but are conspicuously limited editions models, creating interest where there may not have been any otherwise. They recently released models which were a departure from their previous offerings - the Flipper CQC-7, the Iron Dragon, the Sheepdog, and the XHD Karambit - but this departure was merely a move towards conforming to the ubiquitous industry staple of S35-VN steel, titanium framelocks, and bearing pivots.

A similar situation can be observed with Benchmade Knives. The introduction of new product designs and innovations occurred at a rapid pace throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. The Auto-Axis and Axis Assist, the Nitrous Assist, the iconic pushbutton automatic series, the double-action OTF design, the SOCP dagger, the Triage series, the Lone Wolf and Heckler & Koch lines, and the Doug Ritter collaboration all amounted to a steady stream of new products which each offered unique features within the Benchmade product line, and sometimes features which stood out amongst competing companies' products as well.

However, an examination of newer models by Benchmade reveals, as with Emerson Knives Inc., an emphasis on slight variations on existing models (560 Freek, Azeria, 4400 Cabash, 4600 Phaeton, 4700 Precipice, G-10 handle upgrades to the Barrage and Mini-Barrage, Presidio II), re-branding of design and material variations as "hunting" or "premium" categories, all alongside a re-emphasis on titanium framelocks with bearing pivots (765, 761, Proxy) - likewise, a move conforming with this ubiquitous industry staple.

Benchmade and Emerson Knives Inc. are not the only production companies that exhibit this pattern. Both Spyderco and Zero Tolerance have recently relied heavily upon custom maker collaborations for their new product releases. As mentioned previously, these designs offer shapes and outlines previously unavailable to the general public. However, the incentive to purchase these knives is often based solely on that previous unavailability of the shapes and outlines that were proprietary to their corresponding custom knifemakers before the collaboration. Since these custom knifemakers' designs are all either titanium framelocks or linerlocks, so too are their production knife variants.

Here are lists of recent knives by Spyderco and Zero Tolerance that fit into this category of collaboration. You will notice that not only were the genres of knife (framelock, linerlock, flipper) already extant in both of their product lines, but that newer releases that do not fit into this collaboration category are generally variants of models which were also already extant in their product lines.

Brief list of recent or upcoming Spyderco knives that fall into this category:

  • SpydieChef
  • Magnitude
  • Rubicon
  • Rubicon 2
  • Gayle Bradley Advocate
  • Nirvana
  • Myrtle
  • Mamba
  • Positron

Brief list of recent or upcoming Zero Tolerance knives that fall into this category:

  • 0460
  • 0801TI
  • 0850
  • 0920
  • 0808
  • 0900
  • 0220
  • 0804
  • 0909
  • 0450

This, however, is not the full extent of what I consider as stagnation with regards to either Spyderco or Zero Tolerance. Consider the increased emphasis on limited edition knives by both companies. There is a dizzying array of these limited edition knives that utilize preexisting model designs with merely slight visual or material variants.

Incomplete list of LE offerings that are slight variations of existing models released by Spyderco in the past 12 months:

  • Native 5 40th anniversary "Sprint Run"
  • Military Green G-10 CTS204P "Knifeworks Exclusive"
  • Military Titanium Handles S90V "Knifeworks Exclusive"
  • Paramilitary 2 Cru-Wear Grey G-10 "Sprint Run"
  • Baby Jess Horn VG-10 "Sprint Run"
  • Lil' Lum Blue Nishijin Glass Fiber Handles "Sprint Run"
  • Manix 2 Composite CPM154/S90V Carbon Fiber Handles "Sprint Run"
  • Military Peel Ply Carbon Fiber "Sprint Run"
  • Paramilitary 2 Blue/Purple "Blurple" S110V "Sprint Run"
  • Lum Large Chinese Folder Pink G-10 "BladeHQ Exclusive"
  • Tenacious Blue G-10 "BladeHQ Exclusive"
  • Tenacious Green G-10 "BladeHQ Exclusive"
  • Military Brown G-10 CTS-XHP "Sprint Run"
  • Manix 2 Cruwear Carbon Fiber "Knifecenter Exclusive"
  • Manix 2 S90V Lightweight Orange FRN "Cutlery Shoppe Exclusive"
  • Military CPM M4 Natural G10 "BladeHQ Exclusive"
  • Military S90V Ti/CF "Knifeworks Exclusive"
  • Native 5 Maxamet

Incomplete list of LE offerings that are slight variations of existing models released by Zero Tolerance in the past 12 months:

  • MOLON LABE Edition 0808
  • Gold Plated Edition 0808GLD
  • Blue Anodized Sprint Edition 0808
  • Gold Plated Edition 0900GLD
  • Orange G10 Black Blade 0630
  • Orange G10 Black Blade 0562
  • Bronze Anodized 0801BRZ
  • Blue Bowie 0392BLUBOWIE
  • Black Purple 0392BLKWC
  • Wharncliffe 0392WC
  • Black Green 0392BLKGRN

This proliferation of limited edition and custom collaboration knives that offer little in the way of new features, the move towards titanium framelocks with bearing pivots by companies who previously did not emphasize them in their product line, and the slowing of the introduction of new features all contribute to my perception that the knife industry is in fact undergoing stagnation.

As always, these remarks are not intended to suggest that these companies had or have any alternative in these business practices, nor is it a judgement on these companies, their proprietors or employees, or customers. Neither are they intended to prescribe any course of action either continuing with or departing from these companies' current business practices nor are they intended to suggest that other companies do or do not engage in these business practices.
 
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I would like to also briefly address production knife companies which manufacture at lower volumes than do the four examples I have given. I do not believe they are exempt from the general pattern of stagnation I have noticed in those four examples. Companies such as Chris Reeve Knives, Hinderer Knives, and Strider knives, likewise have a great emphasis on limited-production materials and visual variants of existing models, with newly introduced models themselves being the same basic formula with minor changes in blade and handle design.

Take for example the newest knife offerings by each of these companies - the Chris Reeve Inkosi, the Hinderer MP-1, and the Strider PR. The Inkosi is essentially a Sebenza 25 with slight internal and external updates, the MP-1 is a titanium framelock flipper whose major new feature is the "Hinderer Modular Backspacer System" - i.e. a backspacer that can be swapped with a different backspacer without tools, and the PR is a slight blade design change to the extant Strider SA fixed blade.

Meanwhile, Chris Reeve Knives' new offerings for 2017 are mainly graphical decorations of the Sebenza model - millwork on the frames and geometric CG editions. Hinderer continues to reissue the XM18 and XM24 models with insignificant updates such as the addition of a harpoon swedge, "fatty" blades with extra thick blade stock, and different scale styles and materials. Strider, likewise, reissues the SNG and SMF models with slight variations in hardware, handle frames, blade/edge grind, and blade steel.

As always, these remarks are not intended to suggest that these companies had or have any alternative in these business practices, nor is it a judgement on these companies, their proprietors or employees, or customers. Neither are they intended to prescribe any course of action either continuing with or departing from these companies' current business practices nor are they intended to suggest that other companies do or do not engage in these business practices.
 
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My dad said back in the 1960s, 70s and up until the 80s it was no choices for a good production knife. Most were the same models year after year, most came dull, the quality wasn't there and fast opening knives were a novelty and mostly illegal. If you wanted a unique knife you had to go custom and most people just carried a Buck, Case or Schrade. He said it's absolutely wonderful how many great knives are available today and how much interest there is in them. Seems the good ol days weren't so good for knife enthusiasts.

I agree with this and it fits my maturing industry statement. I still tend to like traditional knives and they certainly haven't changed a great deal in the last 20 years other than there are better made choices available now. GEC did this essentially.

The knife industry that most are referring to are the modern knives. They're okay of course. The big companies such as Benchmade and Sypderco continue make some of their best selling models with slight materials variations. People would miss not having a Native available from Spyderco. So improving the steel or different handles are a sufficient change for many who already own one or more of these models. It is not innovation, but it reflects giving the customer what he wants with some changes. That is why I say it is maturing.

As to Gaston's comment about some types of knives not being available except as handmade/custom orders. This is true, but I think it is a tiny portion of the market. I think you see some of the old favorite Kabar Beckers or ESEE's being discontinued in the next year or two simply because the market is saturated with these kinds of knives.
 
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I don't really agree with the premise at all.

There are still functional innovations aplenty, such as the Tri-Ad lock, the new AXIS lock spring system on the Anthem, and all the innovations the OP thinks are trivial as well.

There are still plenty of "utilitarian" knives out there, with new variations offering grat performance coming out all the time.
It is easier today to go out and buy a knife as a tool that will meet your needs than at any prior point in history.

There are also plenty of "art" or "entertainment" knives if you want that too.
There have always been art and fantasy knives out there though; the original Bowie Knife craze was a case of people buying into a fantasy.
The only difference these days really is that people can share pictures of their art/fantasy/entertainment pieces more easily than ever before.

The Tri-Ad lock's introduction in 2010 places it outside of the scope of the time period I am discussing. I contend that the Axis lock variant for the Anthem is a trivial innovation because it does not significantly affect the operation of the lock- like, for instance, the Axis Assist and Axis Auto did. While its consequence from a design standpoint may not be trivial, in my view its consequence to the end user is.

I agree that there are plenty of utilitarian knives being produced; I did not argue to the contrary. However, the same thing could reasonably be said in 2012, further back perhaps depending on your philosophy of what qualities are important in a knife. While I am not attempting to quantify or define "great performance" I am not of the firm belief that the fact that the quality level and the capabilities of knives currently being produced are higher than any point in history means that there is no further space for performance based innovation. Nor am I of the firm belief that this fact means that the knife industry is not currently stagnant.

While I also agree that knives for decorative purposes have always existed, and that current technology enables people to participate in their ownership and enjoyment to a greater extent than in the past, this technology is related to the topic at hand because of the influence it has had on the knife industry in recent years. Decorative knives have always existed, yes, but the intersection of factors and influences creating the current situation I describe are unique to the present.
 
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I would like to also briefly address production knife companies which manufacture at lower volumes than do the four examples I have given.

In many industries, you don't look for groundbreaking innovations from the same people over and over again. You get one or two good things from a guy, then he refines for much of his career. Someone else comes along and makes his mark innovating somewhere else.

I think if you tried to follow three guys (and the firms you picked have most design work done by one man each) and expect them to show a rate of innovation you expect from the industry as a whole, you're going to be disappointed. A huge conglomerate like Apple can have big rates of innovation, but that's from constantly hiring new guys who maybe contribute one thing. The firms you picked are not these conglomerates with design teams.

Again, I see what you're getting at, but I'm not sure you're proving anything except that you wish people did things differently than they are. I'm not sure what you expect is reasonable.
 

FortyTwoBlades

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While I agree that this is occurring (the proliferation of an aesthetics over function approach), I only partially agree with your assessment that follows. Many innovations' practical consequences in terms of reliability, durability, safety and user friendliness were never noticeable to a large degree by anyone other than enthusiasts who carefully followed the industry. The innovations I mentioned in my original post are all examples - if knife companies had hypothetically chosen to ignore many of these innovations I doubt it would have caused a significant effect in the capabilities of knives.

However, companies are competitive because of their ability to offer what their competition cannot offer. Introducing innovations into a product line is important for attracting new customers, attracting customers of competing companies, and attracting purchases of their knives by existing customers who are faced with the prospect of keeping an older knife that still works or a newer knife that offers new features.

Companies are still offering innovations, because that is the only way they can hope to be competitive. However, these innovations are overwhelmingly in the "aesthetics over function" category because today's innovations are largely aesthetics over function. With some exceptions, for many companies there are simply no currently available innovations of the "function" variety to incorporate.

That's the thing, though--it should be "aesthetics after function" rather than "aesthetics over function". I'm not saying that aesthetics should be ignored, but rather that they should only be a concern after functional aspects have been optimized. You should be starting with a context of use, then designing a tool balancing characteristics that excel under those settings and circumstances for the intended prioritized range of tasks. Once those features are sorted out, then the aesthetic elements can be applied and the form given minor manipulations for aesthetic effect, but being mindful to do so in a way that has minimal impact on performance. The problem I'm describing is that a lot of designs these days are jumping straight to the aesthetic phase or applying aesthetics in a way that is distinctly detrimental to performance factors. And while technology often moves slowly, contexts of use often change pretty rapidly. One doesn't need to invent a new lock, steel, finish type, etc in order to produce a design that's filling a role that nothing (or not much) is filling at the moment. Innovation can often come in the form of taking existing tech and applying it differently. :)
 

stabman

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The Tri-Ad lock's introduction in 2010 places it outside of the scope of the time period I am discussing.

Ah, you are reducing the time-frame for what counts as "current" far more than I do.

If someone looks at one or two years, it is easy to have a perception of stagnation in just about any industry or field of human endeavour.
 
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In many industries, you don't look for groundbreaking innovations from the same people over and over again. You get one or two good things from a guy, then he refines for much of his career. Someone else comes along and makes his mark innovating somewhere else.

I think if you tried to follow three guys (and the firms you picked have most design work done by one man each) and expect them to show a rate of innovation you expect from the industry as a whole, you're going to be disappointed. A huge conglomerate like Apple can have big rates of innovation, but that's from constantly hiring new guys who maybe contribute one thing. The firms you picked are not these conglomerates with design teams.

Again, I see what you're getting at, but I'm not sure you're proving anything except that you wish people did things differently than they are. I'm not sure what you expect is reasonable.

FortyTwoBlades said:
That's the thing, though--it should be "aesthetics after function" rather than "aesthetics over function". I'm not saying that aesthetics should be ignored, but rather that they should only be a concern after functional aspects have been optimized. You should be starting with a context of use, then designing a tool balancing characteristics that excel under those settings and circumstances for the intended prioritized range of tasks. Once those features are sorted out, then the aesthetic elements can be applied and the form given minor manipulations for aesthetic effect, but being mindful to do so in a way that has minimal impact on performance. The problem I'm describing is that a lot of designs these days are jumping straight to the aesthetic phase or applying aesthetics in a way that is distinctly detrimental to performance factors. And while technology often moves slowly, contexts of use often change pretty rapidly. One doesn't need to invent a new lock, steel, finish type, etc in order to produce a design that's filling a role that nothing (or not much) is filling at the moment. Innovation can often come in the form of taking existing tech and applying it differently.

stabman said:
Ah, you are reducing the time-frame for what counts as "current" far more than I do.

If someone looks at one or two years, it is easy to have a perception of stagnation in just about any industry or field of human endeavour.

Thank you three for these perspectives, this is a good reality check for me. I understand and agree with these points.

I am glad that the discussion continued to the point where I could hear these thoughts.
 
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I think I need to agree and disagree with the original post. Innovation of knife design and technologies were stagnant for centuries before we got the materials revolution in 80s (more or less). New ideas have come in bits and pieces since then. These have already be accounted for in the well presented original post and additions since. Some new innovation comes along and everyone jumps on the trend and produces their variation or "alternative" to the design. These real innovations come randomly and they have been spaced out quite far in some instances. I am referencing real innovations in ease of use, materials, or durability.

There have always been art and presentation knives. It has always been this way and always will be. Practicality and price are out the window with these. If there i something that can make money, it gets made whether it is a good idea or not.

The problem I see is that there has been a blending of art and fantasy knives with what should be practical designs. Functions or design that actually add nothing to the real use of knives are being thrown into what would otherwise be great knives. The two realms seem to be getting blended more and more and making the offerings on the market all look too similar. Man jewelry, toys, desk flippers, are all diluting the real use knives by forcing these fashions into many if not most of the knives available right now. Sure practical doesn't need to be ugly and boring. I am all for different designs and preferences unless all they do is add cost and bling where it is not wanted. Of course if people want to buy such things, it is their money. I just wish that the people with all the money to spend on the knives like this were not the major influencers on knife designs for those who want practical designs. Money speaks.

There are some people trying to come up with new ideas. But as someone has already said, knives are generaly simple devices and coming up with something really new is not an easy task. Luckily for us the knife blade revolution is upon us and we have so many steels to choose from at different price points. If anything, I would say that is the most recent innovation, steels.
 

stabman

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Thank you three for these perspectives, this is a good reality check for me. I understand and agree with these points.

I am glad that the discussion continued to the point where I could hear these thoughts.

No worries. :)
It's been a good discussion. :thumbup:
 
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No worries. :)
It's been a good discussion. :thumbup:

Agreed. Very thought provoking, Cornsyrup. I like this sort of discussion much better than just slinging mud at some feature, company, or knife one doesn't like.
 
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My dad said back in the 1960s, 70s and up until the 80s it was no choices for a good production knife. Most were the same models year after year, most came dull, the quality wasn't there and fast opening knives were a novelty and mostly illegal. If you wanted a unique knife you had to go custom and most people just carried a Buck, Case or Schrade. He said it's absolutely wonderful how many great knives are available today and how much interest there is in them. Seems the good ol days weren't so good for knife enthusiasts.

I like staying with those brands.
 
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This has been an excellent discussion.

Manufactured products and even whole industries pass through a period of rapid innovation, followed by a period of consolidation, in which the gains made in the earlier period are solidified and gradually iterated upon. I see this in automobiles, computers, airplanes, steelmaking, smartphones, and so much more.

Rather than "stagnation," I prefer "consolidation." These stable, more boring periods of slow iteration provide the jumping off platform for the next phase of rapid innovation. Just as consolidation in the desktop/laptop computer market provided the launch pad for smartphones to take off from, the consolidation of bicycle tech in the 60's and 70's exploded into a storm of innovation powered by the mountain bike revolution.

Surely the consolidation now occurring will eventually germinate a new era of radical innovation the likes of which few can imagine at the present time.
 
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We all have our favorites. When one finds a production knife like the Spyderco Paramilitary 2, any change except for blade steel is blasphemous. Most enjoy their traditions and resent change that does not bring something big to the table. Even then, favorites are favorites. Carbon steel is beloved even though it requires much more care. Companies know they have to keep customers happy and most times that means doing a small amount of things EXACTLY the same rather than waste resources on R&D for changes no one wants. Stagnation connotes dirty rancid water but in this context, it can mean maintaining a time honored tradition.

Also,.the forces behind the IG phenomena may have more in mind than selling knives. The innovation is in how the product and ELU interface rather than the product itself.
 
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My dad said back in the 1960s, 70s and up until the 80s it was no choices for a good production knife. Most were the same models year after year, most came dull, the quality wasn't there and fast opening knives were a novelty and mostly illegal. If you wanted a unique knife you had to go custom and most people just carried a Buck, Case or Schrade. He said it's absolutely wonderful how many great knives are available today and how much interest there is in them. Seems the good ol days weren't so good for knife enthusiasts.

For large fixed blades, and even for many folders, the mid-80s to early 90s had nothing to envy compared to what we have today. The reason you think there were fewer custom makers in the 80s is because many custom makers of that era are forgotten today... Look at the Levine's Guide to knives from the mid to late 80s, up to the early 90s, and the range of high-innovation top quality stuff 30 years ago was just astonishing...

I think the level of innovation, and even quality, from customs was generally higher than what we have today, being easily distinguishable from factory, while today it is almost the reverse... Personally, today, I absolutely prefer high end factory knives to high end customs... The entire custom market was far more "functional" innovation-driven then, it was the factory stuff that tended to be more "traditional"...: Probably as it should be. Today this has completely turned on its head...

The custom knife hobby as a whole also had a much higher profile than it does today, since there was over a half dozen mainstream knife magazines by the mid 90s, and very few remain today... This is true of many marginal hobbies that have now become far more "parochial" thanks to the Internet. As late as 2000 I remember being in a very remote town of 30 000 in northern Canada, and in a grocery store shelf, with maybe 50 magazine titles, I found one specialized knife magazine: Something unthinkable today...

You only have to remember the prominence of knives in 80s and 90s movies to realize how narrow the hobby is today... The most prominent recent "showbusiness" knife is probably Daryl's Busse, and it was quickly replaced by junk, and hardly anyone noticed...


Gaston
 
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I find myself buying older models of knives that I never bought before simply because there aren't many new, original designs anymore. I am also re-buying some folders, that I used to have, simply because they were good, and different than what is currently being produced and designed. These are old models, 5-10 years.

I also am buying cheaper folders that are just different from the crowd of clones. (I recently bought my first cold steel folder in decades, just because the model was "new" to me and my collection, and stands out from the rest. Not a bad knife by the way.)

I also am buying more fixed blades simply because of the variety of designs that I don't already have. There are still many really different designs in fixed blades that I don't already own, I can't say that about my folders. Too many current new folding models are basically just like what I already have. A machete and a Scandinavian grind birch handle are nothing like the rest of my fixed blades. These are interesting, fun, and DIFFERENT new additions. Yes, these have been around forever but I haven't had them before.

Not many new folders out there that aren't very similar to at least one folder I already have.

Titanium slabside frame-locks, Gaaa! Enough already!
Except of course if you put different woods on them, then you can keep selling the same old stuff forever, but, I digress.

Yes, I think there is a definite stagnation in the industry. I am losing interest in knives, particularly folders, simply because of the lack of innovation and original design.

The cost of "groundbreaking" folders, like the latest high end ZT's, seems to be more because of the bling, not the new tech. I don't want to spend 6-700$ for original bling. That's not innovation. Even the bling is stagnating.
 

Charlie Mike

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$2000+ folding prybars that can't cut for $hit...
 
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