The Stagnation of the Knife Industry - See page 3 post

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It's all based on sales/demand IMO. I read an interesting article in either this month or last month's NRA magazine which I think kind of applies here. (This is using politics as an example but I DO NOT want to start a political discussion.) The basic premise was that for the last 8 years and they perceived for at least the next 4 we were going to continue with a Democratic WH which drove gun buying out of fear. Gun companies didn't do a ton of refining or put out tons of new models because things were selling. Now that we have found ourseelves in Trump's America, the fear of 2nd Amendment infringement is gone and many makers are rumored to be back to the innovation period.

Essentially I think the knife industry is going through the same thing, but also slightly differently. Knife companies right now are at a point where many of their well loved knives can be produced with a different scale material or different steel and customers are going to be happy. Case in point, I have no desire to own a stock Paras 3, however Blurple Para 3, sign me up. The knife industry has figured out that basically all they have to do is float out a "new" or modified design once or twice a year or every few years, then based on the popularity of what they put out they can start pumping out the "modifications" for those knives. Essentially, I'm waiting on you guys to tell Spyderco that the Para 3 is popular so they will make me a Blurple one. From a manufacturing and business stand-point it's brilliant.

Right now I think the "big 3" (BM, Spdy & KAI) are all testing the upper end of the market and trying to find out if people will buy "production" knives at a CRK price point. Right now nobody knows how many of these $400-600 knives they will sell, but if it's a lot, you can bet we will see more. You can also bet if it isn't and the old faithfuls start running out of optional materials, then and only then will we start seeing true innovation again.

So TL;DR, I do feel we're in an innovation stagnation, but I don't think it's a bad thing or something that will start to fester once the "old faithfuls" make their runs.
 

A.L.

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I sure am glad I am not the only one who has been thinking of this lately. I have felt more and more alienated during the few years with the knife scene. I remember when I started hanging out in the forums, everything was MUCH more utility oriented. Even the traditional forum these days feels inbred with the hysterical following of one brand knives.
 
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There are a few innovations happening: Lionsteel (Euro-Barlow, one piece billeted handles, new lock design), Real Steel (Ant-Lock), Hogue (sturdy button lock, new flipper design), and Andrew Demko (Scorpion Lock). These aren't groundbreaking or really that new, but they should be acknowledged.
 
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I'm a photographer and we see a lot of this in the camera world. In fact there is a lot of exact parallels. What I would say is that when there is so much saturation that manufacturers are making niche or jewellery type products or indeed just small iterations of the same product, that usually means that within the market saturation are a significant amount of incredible deals for someone who actually wants to use the stuff. Gear that would be unheard of in the past at close to the price range. Materials and capabilities which are unbelievably good. Yes the big innovation may not be happening but heck if it isn't a great time to buy a quality long lasting tool at a wonderful price. There will be a paradigm change, again, in time. Until then all the IG jewellery nonsense is the result of living in an age when the knife user has a plethora of quality options when choosing a working knife.
 

dalefuller

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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.

I've been lurking and following the discussion quietly because I'm interested in the OP's points. I think stabman has a very valid point here. Given the time frame of the OP's perspective, maybe we should be talking about "plateaus" rather than "stagnation". I imagine a plateau to be more of a pausing point before the next big steps.

I have a 65 year history of following the knife industry and I haven't yet seen a long period of time ( 10 years or more) without some useful innovations, even back in the "old days". Granted, the innovations were a little less dramatic back in the days when traditionals ruled the roost, but you could usually count on new patterns from one or more companies each year. And some traditionals even used liner locks (albeit of a different type) before they became popular in their current form.

So I think there's hope. It may be that everyone's just waiting to see what we want from them in future.
 
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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.

You definitely raise some good points here. CRK deserves to be knocked for this. Do not get me wrong I like CRK but they just stick to a few very dated designs and a few very dated steels... - they "update" the line up in very subtle ways, they produce what sells and do not invest nearly as much in R&D as they do in creating "different", scale patterns and in certs for the few models that they do have etc, etc.
 
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I have no idea how large of a production facility CRK has. My guess is that like Spyderco, they have essentially used up all their available space producing what they already sell even though Spyderco does come out with a few new twists each year. I see no problem with the industry plateauing. I also don't think stagnation is a good term. What do people expect? Stuff sells now, why change? or make some little changes which for the most part is what is happening. Spyderco seems to be trying to see if $300+ knives will sell for them.... I'll pass, I think.
 

FortyTwoBlades

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I think it's also plausible in these sorts of plateaus that a lot of innovation may be going on behind the scenes, but is being deliberately withheld until whatever the current trend is dies down. If the less-adventuresome models are still selling well it makes sense to milk them for all they're worth before putting out something disruptive that would then make those models seem less appealing.
 

Quiet

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A ton of people have raised some great points in this thread, and it's been an excellent discussion to read through. I will state that my viewpoint is perhaps along the lines of "Why change what doesn't really need changing?" Knives by their very nature are simple both in design, and mechanically. I am not sure what new innovations are possible at this point that wouldn't just be variations on basic principles that have already been established. A new locking mechanism? I don't really see that as huge innovation. There are a ton of lock designs out there, so what's one more? Blade shapes? Knife materials? Deployment methods? I am not sure we're ever going to see some super game-changing new innovation at this point in the game (I could be wrong!), so given that, why should it be an issue that companies* aren't constantly producing new innovative and different products? CRK has been mentioned a few times, as an example. They sell every knife they make, why should they spend a ton of time and money innovating when they run the possibility of changing the product that they are A. known for and B. that brings the customers to buy everything they make? Chris Reeve isn't losing sleep at night because he doesn't sell flippers with ceramic bearings and blades of M4/M390 after all. The guy is selling all the knives he can make with a design and materials list that hasn't changed in years. I'd say that's pretty admirable, certainly nothing to be "knocked" over. Spyderco, they're doing great despite bringing a ton of knives to the market which are all essentially similar (Spyderhole, some sort of good steel, G10 scales, neat or funky design, rinse and repeat). Same with the rest.

I mean, I get that there will always be people out there who just want to always see new, shiny, and different. That's essentially the main drive that keeps the auto industry afloat, after all. But at least with knives, there should be no negative connotation applied just because companies aren't bringing out new game-changing technologies every year. Hey, maybe we'll have pocket lightsabers one day, which would be cool. Until then, it's either a fixed blade (a piece of steel with some sort of handle), or a folding knife (a piece of steel, and some sort of pivot and handle arrangement).

That's just how I see it. I enjoy seeing all of the new products all the companies are coming out with each year, and I recognize that they are all riffs on the fixed blade, or folding knife. Of course they are, that's what sells, and these companies are making money doing it.

Anyway, great thread.




*Companies are in the business of making money first, and foremost. Innovation is only one method by which to achieve that goal.
 
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A knife should have a blade that cuts in the way the user needs it to cut, should be reasonably easy to open when needed, and should safely stay open during use. Everything else is just everything else.
 
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Just a quick shout out to a new maker with amazing innovations not mentioned yet (at least I dont think), Snecx Tan.
Yes he is a IG star but what he is doing is amazing.
I have talked with him a bit and I like his attitude for making his knives for himself and what he wants.
I want to contribute more and have things to say in this great thread but no time at the moment.
Cheers
 

ICS

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Fantastic thread and some very well thought out view points. Having not been in this game very long, made my first knife in October 2015, so just on 15 months ago, I have always wondered what continues to motivate knife makers. It is obvious that the more you make, the better you get and so on, so that motivator is a no brainer, especially if you combine it with passion and some basic skills. It seems though that eventually it takes someone to come up with a new idea, then everyone heads down that path, to either replicate it or improve upon it. This is never more evident than in the folding knife industry and I often wonder how far it will be taken before the added bits and pieces completely take over from the basic premise of what a knife is and what it actually does.
Being a very basic person myself, I am always thinking how things can be improved without going too much into the science of things.
For me, it seemed that most knives start out with a blade, then what other fixtures it needed, then finished up with the handle.
I wanted to make a large knife, a Bowie, something I had never done before. Most of my knives had been fixed blade hunters with various styles of tang etc. etc.
I wasn't convinced that what I have learned so far would satisfy my needs so I thought about what I could do to improve the design of my knife handle in order to take advantage of the bits I had chosen to build it.
First was the handle. A piece of Sambar stag antler with coronet in place and a Tyne cut off the top. No problems cutting it in two for scales or boring a hole down the middle etc. etc. (not for this knife)
Hence, the "coat hanger" was born.
I did some basic drawings of what I had dreamed up, usually if it works in my head, it will work in practice.
I know that slotted tang knives have been made before but I'm not sure if it has been done this way, I am sure someone will correct me if I am wrong.
Here are the bits.
c390b3c7593baed3859f7aed36a8595b.jpg

Next, the guard goes on from the back and is wedged in place from underneath.
5af92f087b56944a2f2773758be3409e.jpg

The slotted antler is then fitted to the hanger at the rear and slid up and into place. The steel can become a feature at the rear of the handle too and protects the coronet if dropped.
443f8d7e91878aa654ba77179cc40203.jpg

6257da1f72f732a47175a73865bf2045.jpg

The locking ferrule is then slid up and into place and pinned at the top.
14bd54982c80b9473816d29b0954495a.jpg

And here is a picture of the finished prototype.
4f54b70601e6fcd38d8fb646ab34cfce.jpg

For me, as a new maker, innovation is alive and well. I am not convinced that knife making is stagnating per se, I am sure there is a great deal of innovation and new ideas out there just waiting to be discovered and or put on the table, as I said before, it just takes someone to think it up.
Admin, if I have put this in the wrong place, please delete.
Cheers and thanks for the great thread, ICS



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Blades have always been a status symbol ranging from a tool of the working man to I have money to spend on fancy stuff. The big problem is that knives really aren't as essential to life now as they were. End of the day, a sharp object will still cut most of what you need it to do. Combine that with our consumerist culture we have very pretty knives that feel and cut like crap. In that sense, we have regressed.

People aren't demanding comfortable blades that cut well. They want some heavy 0.25" thick titanium/G10 eye candy in the flavor-of-the-month supersteel that'll maybe see some cardboard and packing tape. Makers know that is what sells and they're happy to oblige. However, I'd say fixed blades are experiencing a mini of renaissance kicked off by Ray Mears and the bushcraft/woodcraft craze. We're getting a plethora of simple, high-functioning blades that still look nice. But again, that is what is being "demanded" from that crowd. "Tactical" blades seem to largely be all form and minimal function because we are no longer stabbing eachother.
 

stabman

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"Tactical" blades seem to largely be all form and minimal function because we are no longer stabbing each other.

Maybe you need to use some "tactical blades" for regular tasks before making that assertion.

I do all my "bushcraft" tasks with "tactical" knives, pretty much.
The same features that make an effective "tactical" knife translate well into the woods. :)
=> Ergonomic handle that can handle hard cutting comfortably
=> Sturdy lock that prevents hand injury if one makes an inadvertent mistake along the way
=> A blade that actually cuts things
=> A study blade that won't break easily, which generally means a spine thick enough to be comfortable when bearing down on it with the thumb of the off-hand for certain carving tasks
 

Charlie Mike

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Maybe you need to use some "tactical blades" for regular tasks before making that assertion.

I do all my "bushcraft" tasks with "tactical" knives, pretty much.
The same features that make an effective "tactical" knife translate well into the woods. :)
=> Ergonomic handle that can handle hard cutting comfortably
=> Sturdy lock that prevents hand injury if one makes an inadvertent mistake along the way
=> A blade that actually cuts things
=> A study blade that won't break easily, which generally means a spine thick enough to be comfortable when bearing down on it with the thumb of the off-hand for certain carving tasks

I think he's referring to "tacticlol" blades...

P10100581.jpg
 
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I just bought Benchmade Ares 730, old one with burgundy G-10. Why the f... they can't making such knives anymore - non flipper, compact edc tactical folder under 5 oz. with very sensual design. I like style from late 90's and early 00's.
 

Sal Glesser

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Hi CornSyrup,

Very astute observation with an excellent presentation. The discussion following the post has also been exceptional. (Thanx for the heads-up Kristi).

I would like to add a category to your lateral development that was only touched on lightly. Entertainment. The variations and innovations can be discussed worldwide as a form of entertainment, such as this one.

The concept of 3D art vs function is one that Eric and I discuss often. It seems the customer wants both and we can see distinct differences in the evolution of both. I would also like to add, s mentioned, that the customers understanding has significantly increased in the last decade, which adds to the variety possible. However, in a pallet of innovation, safer and more reliable locks also come out of the pile. In the world of steels, S110V might be a slight improvement over S90V, but the newer Nitrogen steels have raised head and shoulders above others in corrosion resistance, which is a boon to those working and playing in salt water.

Another area that we see intruding in on the development, is the many new anti-knife laws in many countries that force designers to peel back the onion.

sal
 
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Great thread guys I really enjoyed the read. So in my mind there definitely has been stagnation. I remember when I first got into knives seriously as a teen and learned of kit Carson's auto lawk and flipper along with Mr glessers spydie hole and pocket clip. When I started looking at fixed blades I saw that most high end fixed blades were marketed as "hard use" knives. Now I never thought much about edge geometry back then or just the burden of lugging such a prybar. Then nos came out with his destruction tests and I thought well that's not scientific but it did expose a few companies for false advertising at best. Now years later it would seem that perhaps those videos themselves had something to do with the stagnation of the knife industry. Production companies that marketed their blades as hard use had to make them thicker and heavier then ever. This I believe led to knife makers being more concerned about people destroying their products then trying to get better performance. Then came the super steels, the super locks, the coated stainless blades and so on. However not many took notice that these knives were gradually becoming less of a knife and more of a pimped out "sweet" looking pry bar. The fact is the prices for these knives were getting so high that it's plausible they were rarely if ever used anyways. The consumers kept buying and still continue to buy these knives I speak of today. I do see things changing however as the new trend seems to be thin is in. Now just to be clear I don't fault those makers wether they be big production or a one man op. Historically knife makers have not made awesome money. When given the opportunity I can see why they would take it. I would just like to see guys that take pride in making a knife that performs as a knife make a decent living and get some recognition. I believe innovation now is such things as heat treat combined with great edge geometry with guys like Nathan carothers,Phil Wilson,Fred hackonson leading the way. This is just my .02 cents for what it's worth.
 
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