20 April 2009

EDC Knives: Cheap Chinese Clones

The subject of Chinese knives is not simple. You used to be able to dismiss knives from places like China, India and Pakistan out hand. Perhaps you still can the last two. It is, however, a fact that China and Taiwan have become the primary centers for knife manufacture, including excellent value blades from top brands.

I have in front of me, for example, a Spyderco Tenacious with a big “China” stamp on the tang. The full-flatground blade is made from 8Cr13MoV, which is a good Chinese steel, with excellent G10 scales, phosphor-bronze washers, skeletonized liners, lined lanyard hole, perfect lockup, and superb fit and finish. Everything you expect from a Spyderco, and for $35 (street). In times past, Spyderco only made their value Byrd line in China. But times are changing.

The Spyderco Tenacious: Chinese and affordable, but no cheap clone.

Likewise, I personally have found the new wave of Chinese slipjoint folders, with genuine bone handles, to be very impressive. I have one in my pocket right now. When I pop the blade, it “talks” (snaps) as well as a classic Case, but at one-quarter the cost.

Of course, loads of junk knives are also made in China, sometimes collectively called “cheap Chinese clones” (CCCs). Some CCCs are literal clones of expensive branded knives, from the $140 Benchmade Stryker (clone here) to the $30 Böker Subcom (clone here). Many more just borrow design elements from popular branded knives without copying them whole-cloth. These are not always generic products. Most bottom-feeding brands also do this shamelessly.

Bad CCCs often look the look, but just don’t work right. I have a CCC in my desk at work that looks like a tactical knife, but is in fact a tail-lock slipjoint. That means you cannot open and close it one-handed, a basic feature of tacticals. Another CCC I own is a proper one-handed opener, or intended to be, but the proportions are just wrong. It would take a four-jointed thumb to open one-handed, and the clip screws constantly come loose, too.

But I bought a $10 CCC in Mexico that opens brilliantly. In fact, it's even spring assisted . Give the index flipper a nudge and the blade pops right out. It even looks good. But the build quality is terrible. The blade is very poor steel, the liner lock too thin, the blade lockup scary bad, and the pot-metal handle weighs a ton.

Same knife as my Mexican CCC, maybe a clone of my clone, found on eBay. This one is stamped "Duck USA," but most certainly made in China.

Many CCCs are of course made in the same factories as fine branded knives. They may use cheaper materials, but the build quality can still be very good. Both of the clones I link to above have received some surprisingly good reviews, and they are startlingly inexpensive.

In the end, I think country of origin indicates little about knife quality, by itself. It is true that most premium knives are made in the US or Europe, but I think that is partly because premium buyers demand it. I’m very comfortable buying a Chinese-made knife from a reputable brand. However, bottom-feeders and generics are hit and miss, and I’ve returned more than one. Caveat emptor.

Next up: American Slipjoint Folders

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