I fully expect to read this headline someday soon:
Knife Quality Decline Results In The Fall Of Western Civilization!
Okay, I know that’s not true, but it sort of seems like it!
Is Knife Quality On The Decline?
Knife quality is a big issue for me! I have bemoaned the fact that for a few years now the products that I purchased from my
My anecdotal evidence for the declining quality of knives
For more than 5 decades I have been able to walk into a feed store or hardware store in almost any rural part of the country, pick out one of the knives in the companies display case, take the one in the box the proprietor gave me, pay for it, stick it in my pocket without more than a cursory look, and walk out knowing that I had an object of near perfect perfection, and NEVER was disappointed…until a few years ago.
What happened to me after 50 years of buying about 6 of these knives per decade and wearing them down to the nail indent satisfied that they had served me very well is this:
I purchased a knife from a local western store. A large two blade knife in stainless steel. This was my first incursion into the land of nickel chromium steel knives, but I have found that these days I am more likely to be cutting some rope or an apple than the more serious knife work of my more rural woodland past.
I have worked extensively with various steels, stainless and otherwise at the forge and in foundries, and there is a reason I mention the fact of the metal type, which may, or may not have anything to do with the outcome.
I looked at the knife in a cursory way, purchased it and walked out, expecting the same results as always. Boy was I wrong! The clip point blade rocked on its spring lock surface when opened and pressure was applied to the cutting edge. This was not the knife quality I had come to expect from this company over the decades, so, I brought it up to the company which has a lifetime warranty and sent it to them at a cost of 20 bucks for shipping in the manner they recommended, and an additional charge for insurance, which was also recommended. I sent it to the company, knowing that it would be perfect when it returned.
My knife was nowhere near perfect when it returned!
Upon return after an extended visit with its manufacturer, the knife blade no longer rocked, but it had some other problems: The scales were a lot thinner, the bolsters did not match the size of the scales and the sharp bolster corners cut holes in my pocket. Furthermore, nothing was properly aligned, not the handles and bolsters, not the liners nor blades. I sent photos to the company along with description and commentary and then told them that I would not be sending it back as they suggested, but would just keep it.
No further communication from the company. I marked it down as a fluke, and threw the knife underneath a pile of disused socks in my sock drawer so as not to see it and be reminded of the ordeal!
The second sign of knife decline
The following year, while looking through the companies catalog, I saw another knife that really caught my interest. I talked with a local retailer who was willing to order the knife for me so that I could have a look and accept or reject the knife at his store, and have him take care of the details with his merchant status. I ordered in May, it arrived in late June, I looked the knife over in the dimly lit store. No rocking, no slack, it snapped into place with a satisfying click upon closing. I paid the man and walked out the door, only to find in the better light of my porch, that there was a minor crack in the bone handle intersecting a rivet!
I made contact with the company. I told them my story, send it back and they would repair it. I explained that I had been down that road already and was not prepared to add 30.00 worth of shipping and insurance to the 70 some odd dollar price of the knife just to be disappointed again!
They said they would send a shipping label and it would cost me nothing. I got the label, shipped it to them, and waited. By the end of August, I had my knife back, inspected it, and became even more disappointed! This knife had one scale about the thickness of a standard piece of cardboard, and the other handle around half an inch thick at it’s widest part, and a shield that was partially ground off, with a gap around it large enough for me to insert my thumbnail!
Needless to say, I was very disappointed!
Improving knife quality control?
I contacted the company again, sent photos, and talked with them via social media and on the phone. They explained that they had gone to great lengths to improve knife quality control, that they had spent more money than ever to make sure they shipped out only the finest products, but they did not seem to be so interested in the actual individual product of an individual customer. Eventually, with a little more coercion, they did offer to send me another shipping label and take the product in for repair again. More phone conversations ensued, but the emails ceased. I assume that they did not want to leave any written record of the problem at hand.
I owned the knife for 7 months before I was ever able to put it in my pocket!
It was the end of September when I next contacted the company to see when I might expect to receive my product. They were working on it. The end of November arrived and still no knife, so I questioned them about when I might be able to see my knife again since I hade purchased it 6 months prior and had yet to be able to put it in my pocket. They replied that they were in the process of working on it and would send it in a few days. I did get it, just a few days before Christmas. The handles were correct, no slack in the blades, no rocking, and the shield looked right. Sadly, the knife was gritty and the blades do not click and clack into place as they should, but I am hoping that this is something that will remedy itself with use.
What is most saddening about this is that a product on which I had come to rely after 5 or more decades of use was going downhill. I could understand one knife with problems, 2 in a row, and then pitiful repairs on both leave me with more angst and more questions than answers.
Is the type of steel the problem?
Is this a problem related to the type of steel? Is it possible that something in the manufacturing process for the stainless steel product is somewhat short of the carbon steel product? Is it an issue of handle material? Is the uniformity of the synthetic material somehow conducive to a better product in the long run?
Does the handle material some effect overall knife quality?
I thought I would do some testing. I purchased a couple of synthetic handled knives made by the maker in question from a couple of different online dealers. Both in stainless steel. In both cases, the knives had flaws big enough to warrant returning them! One had a painfully loose blade, and the other had a serious misalignment issue with the scales and the liners. Both were returned after talking to the respective companies selling them, and both were replaced with quality products within a few days.
The steel may be a different issue, although I still have only anecdotal evidence of the effect of the steel type on knife quality. I have yet to find a carbon steel product from this company that had any of the problems I ran into with the stainless steel product. I have wondered if stainless steel knives might be seen as less important than their standard material knives? Not really enough evidence to go on.
Why do I bring all of this up?
I say all of this because I want to enlist you, the reader, in the process of holding our commercial knifemakers feet to the fire! Not that it has to be done often, but in the few cases where a sub par product is made and sold to the public, we should do what good consumers do, and report it to the business without hesitation! If we do not do so, they may never become aware if they are slipping in the quality control department.
We have a responsibility to the rest of the knife buying community to make sure that we keep our manufacturers on top of their business by complaining about poor knife quality! It may sound sort of silly, but it is something we need to do to help keep the quality high!
They could be wondering why sales are dropping, and the last thing we need is another of our manufacturers moving facilities to another shore!