Where to Buy Knives, Part 2
By Gary Zinn
In Where to Buy Knives, Part 1, I discussed four major internet cutlery vendors with whom I am quite familiar, plus six others that I believe to be major reputable players in the market. My focus in Part 1 was on the conventional knives one might own and use for everyday carry, hunting and general outdoor use. I think of these as pocket and belt knives.
I did not delve into sources of kitchen cutlery, machetes, sharpening tools, sheaths and pouches. This article, Part 2, will focus mainly on these items, plus I will touch on a few miscellaneous topics.
Good kitchen knives are important, but one does not need a twenty piece matched set of knives and accessories to get the job done. My wife uses a five inch utility knife almost exclusively in the kitchen. My daughter, who prepares a gourmet meal for the family about once a week, prefers chef knives in three different sizes. I help them frequently and do most of my damage with a straight boning knife or curved slicer (five and six inch, respectively) or with a four inch Cold Steel Canadian Belt Knife. We have several other kitchen knives, such as roast carvers, bread slicers, etc., but these get used only occasionally.
My point is that a few good knives that meet the needs and preferences of the food preparer are more important than having every kitchen knife imaginable. The key is to decide what one really needs; not only knives, but also related kitchen gear, such as cooking forks, spatulas, etc.
All the vendors I listed in Part 1 of this article carry a selection of quality kitchen cutlery, including individual pieces and knife sets. Beyond those, two other internet vendors may be of interest.
The site www.webrestaurantstore.com goes far beyond cutlery, but has a strong cutlery section. Click "Smallwares" on the home page of the site. Featured brands of cutlery include Victorinox, Mercer and Dexter-Russell.
Speaking of Dexter-Russell cutlery, their own website has a direct order store that covers the ten lines of food preparation knives that the company (the largest U.S. cutlery maker) sells. These product lines cover the range from utilitarian to very upscale, with items in each line priced accordingly.
Turning to local retail outlets, the big box department stores are not a good bet for quality kitchen knives. In Part 1, I said these stores have limited offerings of mostly lower quality sporting knives, with store staff who know little about knives. The same applies to kitchen knives from these sources. Retail houseware stores, though, are a viable source of good kitchen cutlery.
Discount Cutlery (www.discountcutlery.net) has by far the strongest position in machetes among my list of ten major internet sporting knife vendors. A scattering of brands and types of machetes can be found among the other nine.
Discount Cutlery does not dominate the niche, though, because there are two other websites that specialize in machetes. These are The Machete Store (www.themachetestore.com) and Machete Specialists (www.machetespecialists.com). See my article Machetes for further information on selecting, using and maintaining these specialized tools.
To guide the discussion of this subject, I will divide sharpening methods into the following categories:
All of the vendors I listed in Part 1 carry sharpening tools that fit in one or more of these categories. Bench stones are my way of doing the job. As I recounted in Knife Sharpening 101 - The EZ Method, I learned freehand sharpening at a young age and have refined my tools and techniques over the years. This method uses bench stones or a three stone unit, usually called a tri-hone, to cut and smooth a ground bevel on a knife. The edge is finished by honing with crock sticks and butchers steel (see Knife Honing with Crock Sticks and a Butchers Steel), or by stropping.
Most of the vendors from Part 1 offer stones that are suitable for manual freehand sharpening, but I want to add another that is a must-shop site for anyone wanting to put together a sharpening stone kit. This is www.bestsharpeningstones.com, which has an excellent selection of Arkansas and silicon carbide stones, plus diamond impregnated sharpening plates and even water stones.
Best of all, this site is a very good source of tri-hone (three stone) sets. Their house brand sets look as good as any I have seen on the current market and are very reasonably priced. They even offer a four stone set in two sizes. See the Arkansas Stones section of the website to study the full selection.
If one is interested in a diamond plate sharpener, I recommend the Work Sharp Guided Sharpening System and Guided Field Sharpener tools. Both are available from www.sharpeningsupplies.com.
For honing, the Lansky Master's Edge Sharpening System has everything that one is likely to need in a crock stick type sharpener. Many of the vendors I have mentioned offer this or other crock stick systems. Butchers steels can be found on many of the sites that carry a good selection of kitchen cutlery.
Manual sharpening systems using guided sharpening tools (clamps, jigs and small sharpening stones mounted on guide rods) are quite popular. I have had enough experience with them to understand why. They yield quite precise and consistent bevel edges and can do everything from heavy grinding to fine polishing with the appropriate range of stones.
I do not prefer this system over freehand sharpening, because it is slow and it takes some fussing to get the setup right for each blade being sharpened. However, I will not argue with anyone who prefers this sharpening method.
For those who do, reasonably priced guided sharpening kits such as those made by DMT, GATCO and Lansky are widely available. Professional grade guided sharpening kits are offered by Edge Pro and Wicked Edge, but these are ridiculously expensive.
If one is comparison shopping among these systems, www.sharpeningsupplies.com is a must visit website. This vendor has all of the brands of guided sharpeners I just mentioned, plus a variety of other sharpening supplies.
I can quickly dispense with manual and powered pull through sharpeners. I have tried several of these at one time or another and I dislike all of them. My experience is that they give poor results and can damage blades, if not used very carefully. I do not recommend them and will not discuss them further.
Finally, power belt or wheel sharpeners merit mention. Most of these are professional grade machines and are unreasonably expensive for personal use.
For instance, SharpeningSupplies.com sells the Tormek T4 wheel machine. This costs almost $600 with a set of clamps, jigs and guides included for precise sharpening of knives. This is a heavy investment for a home use sharpening tool.
However, there is at least one power sharpening tool that is more reasonably priced for personal use. Knife designer Ken Onion has teamed with Work Sharp Tools to develop the Work Sharp Ken Onion Edition Knife Sharpener.
This is a power sharpener that uses easily interchanged abrasive belts to sharpen knives, scissors and other edged tools. Besides easy belt interchange (five different grits), key features include a dial adjustable sharpening guide (15 to 30 degrees) and variable speed (1200 to 2800 SFM). Replacement belts, blade grinding and tool grinding attachments are available. The basic tool, with a complete set of belts, retails for about $140 in 2016.
I have no personal experience with this tool, but everything I have learned about it is positive. Dr. Jim and Mary Clary have a basic review of it on Guns and Shooting Online (Work Sharp Ken Onion Edition Knife and Tool Sharpener). This tool merits consideration by anyone who has a lot of sharpening to do and who wants consistently good results.
Finally, there are miscellaneous sharpening and maintenance items, such as compact field sharpeners, needle files, strops, honing oil, metal cleaners and protectants, polishing compounds, etc. The vendors I have mentioned stock these items. One just has to do some searching to find what is wanted.
The selection of sharpening tools and cutlery maintenance accessories at local retail outlets is typically very sketchy. Marketing of these goods has become mostly an internet business.
Sheaths and pouches
The internet is your best bet for sheaths and pouches and all of my list of ten leading vendors, except The Blade Shop, carries at least a few items. Replacement sheaths/pouches for highly popular knives are common (e.g., KA-BAR USMC knives, Buck Model 110). Otherwise, it is a matter of finding something that works.
For instance, I wanted a belt pouch for a SOG Trident folding knife. I found a nylon pouch marketed under the Kershaw brand name that is just right. A few years ago, I needed to replace a damaged sheath for a Parker Eagle hunting knife and the best fit I found was a sheath for the KA-BAR short USMC knife.
Cabela's and Bass Pro Shops
Any discussion of outdoor gear sources must include Bass Pro Shops and Cabela's. Both of these marketing giants sell brand name sporting knives and related items, although these are not their primary product lines. Besides their prominence in internet and catalog marketing, both also have retail stores throughout the country. I envy anyone who lives close enough to one of these to pop in and browse at will.
Most shooters are familiar with MidwayUSA. In addition to their huge line of shooting related products, they also offer a solid selection of sporting knives and related items.
I have done business with Midway for many years and I have never had a single problem with order fulfillment or customer service. I have mainly bought shooting and reloading products from them, with only a few knives in the mix.
I check out Optics Planet whenever I am shopping for a rifle scope. I did not notice, until recently, that they also have an extensive knives section on their website, with 11,000 items listed. I have not ordered knives from them, but have had no problem with them on scope orders. I will definitely use this site when I am comparison shopping knives in the future.
Limited production and dealer exclusive knives
Limited production knives come in many guises. Fanciers of traditional pocket knives are likely familiar with Case Limited XX Edition and Remington Bullet knives. These are examples of annual or otherwise recurring special knife models that are typically made in limited production runs.
Some production knife makers, purposely or inadvertently, do small production runs of some knife models for various manufacturing related reasons. These include limited overall production capacity, special materials, or extra time and steps needed to produce a particular knife model. Semi-custom and custom knives are, by definition, limited production items.
Locating limited production knives can be fairly easy or rather difficult, depending on the situation. Annual limited editions are usually easy. For instance, if I want to find available Case Limited XX Edition or Remington Bullet knives from recent annual runs, I can google either of those terms and add the year I want (for example, 2015) and I will get hits that lead me to vendors who have the knives in question.
Finding other limited production knives can be a challenge. For example, I know that Queen City tang stamped knives are always limited production items, but if I google that name I do not get any direct hits. Instead, the hits will lead me to dealers that carry Queen Cutlery Co. knives and then I will have to browse them for the specific knives I want.
A better approach to finding specific models of knives from smaller makers, such as Queen and Great Eastern Cutlery, is to start with the list of dealers on their own websites, whenever these are provided. Queen Cutlery and Great Eastern Cutlery provide links to their main dealers.
Dealer exclusive knives come about when a given maker and dealer or distributor have a close working relationship and collaborate to create unique knife models. A great example fell into my lap as I was writing this article. I got a weekly e-mail newsletter from KnivesShipFree, wherein proprietor Derrick Bohn announced that he has just received a limited number of Northwoods Madison Barlow knives from Great Eastern Cutlery. This knife is really a double exclusive, in that Derrick Bohn owns the Northwoods tang stamp and he occasionally has Great Eastern Cutlery make short runs of specific patterns and handle treatments with that tang stamp.
Great Eastern Cutlery routinely makes dealer exclusive models for several of their distributors. They call these SFOs ("special factory orders," I infer). These are best identified by studying the GEC website, paying special attention to current or recent production announcements and the latest yearly production summaries.
There are dealer exclusive situations scattered throughout the knife marketing world. A.G. Russell Knives has several exclusives listed at any given time. Mr. Russell seems to especially favor exclusives based on some of the classic Buck knife models. Most of the exclusives he offers are upscale and priced accordingly.
Shepherd Hills Cutlery (www.casexx.com) is a mega site for anyone who is into Case brand knives, dealer exclusives or otherwise. Click the "Handle" tab on the main page to get a listing that identifies all of the handle treatments available, including dealer exclusives. This site is comprehensive and well organized. Anyone seriously shopping Case knives should have it bookmarked. The only reason this dealer did not make my top ten list is that they only handle Case knives.
Counterfeit and junk knives
The internet is largely unregulated and there are shysters lurking behind the main pages of some cutlery websites. These are the peddlers of counterfeit and/or junk knives.
I googled "counterfeit knives" and in the first few pages of returns I counted over a dozen reputable knife makers who have posted warnings about their knives being counterfeited. Some of these warnings are general in nature, while others list specific models of their knives that are widely copied. Some even identify specific websites that are selling counterfeit knives.
All of these warnings have a common theme, to the effect that if any knife carrying their brand name is offered at a "too good to be true" price, then it is probably counterfeit and should be avoided. I cannot offer any better general advise or warning.
Junk knives are equally odious, but are easier to identify. These are distinguished by ridiculously low prices and offbeat brand names, or sometimes no brand name at all. Such knives invariably will have inferior materials and shoddy workmanship and are good for nothing, other than to separate gullible buyers from their money.
I am sure that I could build a top ten list of counterfeit and junk knife marketers. I refrain from doing so, because one of more of the sleaze bags I would be calling out might sue me. That said, the counterfeit and junk knife websites are not that hard to detect. Besides the "too good to be true" price test, the other thing I would suggest is not to do business with any unfamiliar website without vetting them to be reassured that they are an honest and dependable vendor of genuine products that are realistically priced.
Despite the buzz kill tone of the previous topic, I return to what I said in concluding Part 1 of this article: it has never been better for anyone who is looking to buy cutlery. I still say, "buyers, enjoy the ride," but would add the caveat "drive carefully!"
Copyright 2016 by Gary Zinn and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.