Cut Out a Piece of the Knife Market

Good merchandising and product knowledge will put more knives in your customers’ hands and more cash in your register.

Cut Out a Piece of the Knife Market

I’ve owned plenty of knives in my day. Some I liked a lot. Some not so much. Good blades have been lost or destroyed; cheap ones have hung around.

But I’ve never had 30 new knives of various sizes and styles to test on every task I could imagine putting a knife to. It’s allowed me to compare and really understand the features I like in a knife.

I could have written this story a year ago right after I unboxed all these knives, but that wouldn’t tell you much. So I waited a year. I lived with them. I cut everything from fishing line, light-gauge wire and zip ties, to cardboard boxes, beer cans and fresh-baked bread. 

Several served stints as my everyday knife, clipped inside my right front pocket for weeks at a time. Others rode in my truck, spent time in the ice shack or served a communal role around the camp table. They’ve gutted deer, subbed for screwdrivers and split kindling.

I’m not a bladesmith or edged weapons expert, but I can tell you what I liked and what I didn’t, and which ones you can feel good about recommending to your customers.

The Finer Points

When it comes to folding knives, the locking mechanism is one of the biggest differentiators. That typically comes down to backlocks, liner locks or frame locks. Liner locks are my personal favorite because I like to be able to open and close a knife with one hand. You can do the same with a frame lock, although there were none in this test. It’s a far more difficult task with a backlock.

On the other hand, liner and frame locks are much more difficult for left-handed users to operate. The classic backlock will serve them much better.

Of course, blades are pretty important, too. Length, width and thickness all play a big role in determining the tasks a given knife is best suited to. My favorite folders typically have blades in the 2 1/2- to 3 1/4-inch range. Much more and they become uncomfortable to carry clipped inside a front pocket. When it comes to blade type, drop-point and clip-point knives are the most common among both fixed-blade and folding knives for hunting and everyday carry. 

Handles don’t make a knife for me, but they can break it. I’ve had friends proudly show me knives with bone and antler handles that look impressive but just aren’t very comfortable in hand. If that’s the case, it doesn’t matter what kind of steel the blade is made of because it won’t get used much.

Personally, I’m not picky about handle material. Wood, Micarta, various metals, G10, carbon fiber – they all work. More important to me is how it fits the knife and the overall feel and balance. Rubberized handles can be nice, too, but I don’t care for the way they feel inside a pocket so I think they’re best suited to sheathed knives.

Brands and Blades

I set out to test a variety of hunting and everyday-carry knives, although some knives are much larger and heavier than anything I’d ever carry or use hunting. Nonetheless, I ended up really liking some knives that wouldn’t ordinarily interest me. And that’s another point for stocking a good variety of brands and styles. Give your customers an opportunity to pick up a quality knife and they may be moved to buy it

Some of these exact models or colors may not still be available, but some equivalent certainly is. 

I’d never heard of BucknBear, but the two knives company owner Atif Shabbir sent me — one retails for $39 and the other for $69 — are two of my favorites. The Small Green Hunter’s Damascus blade is going to draw plenty of eyes, and everyone who looks will think it’s more expensive than that $69 price tag. Its size and shape make it an effective skinning knife. The BucknBear Black Panther is one of the knives I carried and used most. And the bearing action makes this knife incredibly smooth. It flips open fast enough that my sister thought I was pulling out a switchblade to open a box for her.

The three knives I received from Ontario Knife Company are among the stoutest of the test lot. The RAT7 and even the smaller TAC1 are both bigger than anything I need for hunting — I actually found them more useful in the kitchen — but they’re also really nice knives. The simple canvas micarta handles feel good in hand and offer nice leverage over the substantial blades. They can cut rope, split kindling and still slice frozen venison into steaks. 

I didn’t get as much use out of the company’s Hunt Plus Recurve but I fully intend to put it to work one way or another. And like the rest of the OKC lineup, it’s another quality knife that will grab attention in your store. The synthetic rubber handle naturally makes me want to choke up and put my index finger on the spine of the heavy 4.4-inch recurve blade. It has the feel of a good skinning knife, but OKC makes a separate Hunt Plus Skinner for that purpose. 

The Remington Heritage Series small folder is a nice size for everyday carry. The knurled Guibourtia wood scales are comfortable and a nice visual distinction from many knives in this class. The lightweight knife (2.8 ounces) features a 2.7-inch drop-point blade and carries well clipped inside a front pocket. More important, it has a good edge and a nice feel. While it’s not the smoothest opening knife it’s not bad, and I can easily take it out of my pocket, open the blade, cut something, close it up and put it back in my pocket with one hand — the main reason I prefer a liner lock. It’s not one of the knives I started using most early on, but it eventually found its way into my pocket and stayed there quite a while. At $29, people aren’t looking for an heirloom to pass down, they just want a decent knife that’s comfortable to carry. The Heritage Series — a fixed-blade version is also available — more than fits the bill. 

Remington also impressed with the 3-piece Sportsman set. The minimalist fixed blades feature a black oxide coating and sport orange plastic scales — a nice feature when you set a knife down out in the woods. A hard plastic sheath carries all three blades. I wouldn’t want to carry it on my belt, but it’s become a fixture in my hunting pack. The smallest blade is a nimble gutting knife and the others are skinners that cut above their price point. 

Among the backlock knives, Bear & Son’s 4 ½-inch assisted-opening Bear Edge was the easiest to open with one hand and is a great option, especially for lefties. If I was going to gut a deer with any of these folders — fixed-blades are my preference for that task — this would be the one. It has a comfortable handle that isn’t bulky, a sharp 3-inch drop-point blade and jimping that starts in front of the lock and extends all the way up the spine and onto the back of the blade. It’s got good weight without being heavy, and it feels agile in hand.

The larger fixed-blade Bear Edge is another really solid knife, although the handle scales felt a little too thin for the heft of the blade and I personally don’t care for serrations on a hunting knife. Still, this is a cutter that can handle some use and abuse. 

The Bear & Son small Stag Hunter is rather diminutive in stature. So much so that it looks like a child’s version of a larger hunting knife. I questioned what it would be useful for when I took it out and set it on the table, but quickly found two uses. First, it sliced open the side of a pack of Landjaeger from Country Fresh Meats remarkably cleanly. Any knife can cut plastic packaging, but the small Stag slipped in and provided quick access to those tasty meat snacks with surgical precision. Second, the narrow yet stiff blade did a very nice job removing a jammed 12-gauge shell. And later, cleaning a woodcock. After that it wound up on a friend’s belt for a good stretch of fall.

Sheffield came to the table with the lowest priced knives in this test. All were blister-packed, something to consider when thinking about merchandising. Some, like the Ramage folding knife, were an odd combination of size and construction and I just didn’t find much use for them. Others, most notably the Cervus, delivered good size and proportion, and a comfortable handle and blade shape that made it inherently useful. I used this knife to quarter a deer and take the backstraps out, and it worked quite well. And with a price tag under $15, it’s worth the money, even if it isn’t as durable as pricier knives. The company’s Herod fixed-blade falls into that same category, although I didn’t like the faux bone handle as much. 

Damaged blades are never an issue with the Razor Pro from Outdoor Edge, a company that’s leading the replaceable-blade trend. The folding knife features a replaceable razor-blade knife on one side and a concave gutting blade on the other. A blade holder provides rigidity while replacement blades — the knife comes with a pack of six — ensure a perfect edge when it’s needed. I was sent a Razor Pro Combo for testing, which includes the Razor Pro, six replacement blades, a slim aluminum-handle folding saw and a sheath that keeps it all together. It’s a solid combo that addresses the needs of most hunters.  

The LeDuck is another interesting entry from the Outdoor Edge Survival Series. It might not look like the typical hunting knife with its duck-head handle and short, deep-bellied blade, but it worked very well for skinning a deer. The more I used it, the more I liked it. One of my friends also used it to clean a few woodcocks. A rotating clip on the locking hard sheath allows easy attachment to just about anything, or the clip can be removed and the knife worn around the neck with the included lanyard. 

Buck Knives have been popular forever, and there’s good reason for that. Good knives at a reasonable price will always appeal to your customers. The company sent three knives, and I like them all. The 840 Sprint was one of my favorite folders overall. The sleek nylon handle’s contoured sides feel good in hand and the 3.125-inch drop-point blade is nimble and capable as an everyday carry knife. A bearing and flipper make this one of the smoothest openers in the bunch, and it’s an easy knife to operate with one hand. It also comes in a bunch of colors. 

The Pursuit small folder is a good little knife, too, but its lack of a clip makes it necessary to carry it either in a sheath — included — or loose in a pocket. Neither are my ideal for this type of knife. But for anyone who prefers that style, this is a solid option. The large Pursuit fixed blade is a solid knife as well, with the same non-slip handle as the small folder. But I prefer the size and profile of my Buck 102 Woodsman for handling game, and that’s the primary reason I’d carry a fixed-blade knife of this style.


Selling Knives

When I buy a knife I want to feel how it fits my hand. I want to feel its weight, proportions, handle material and edge. If it’s a folder, I want to feel the blade open and test the lock and release mechanism. I can go online to see photos and get specs — weight, length, etc. — but I can’t do any of those other things. 

I’ve bought plenty of cheap folding knives at the gun shop, gas station and home improvement store. Rarely was that the item that brought me into the store. I’ve stopped for shotgun shells, provisions and everything in between and picked up a knife in the process. And that’s another advantage to stocking a good selection of knives across price points in your store: They can be impulse buys. Not may people stop into your shop for a box of 20-guage bird loads and end up walking out with a $1,200 shotgun, but knives are different. 

A $15 knife in a little display on the counter is a little add-on that also adds to your profit. Some will see those knives, remember they need a new blade for their pocket and pick one up because an extra $15 is no big deal. Others will do the same, but might decide it’s worth spending $20 or $30 more for something a little nicer. That’s even more profit for you. 

Of course, that’s just one small segment of the knife market. While inexpensive EDC knives that people are willing to treat badly present repeat sales opportunities, there are bigger single-sale profits in higher-quality knives, and that’s why a good selection of knives that fit a variety of intended purposes will help you with margins and turnover. It doesn’t require a big footprint and it can help put knives in your customers’ hands.

 The thing that repeatedly came up among my friends who looked over the test knives and grabbed one or another for random tasks, is that certain knives just felt good in their hands. There was a connection, and if you can make that connection in your store, you’ll also make sales.


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.