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Bargain or Just Cheap? – ESEE Avispa and Zancudo

Welcome to Bargain or Just Cheap? This series reviews budget friendly knives for a variety of uses in a short format. All of the knives will cost less than $50 (in most cases, much less) and will be purchased out of my own pocket. I’ll buy them, carry them, and use them in an attempt to determine if the knife is a bargain or just cheap.


If you are a manufacturer planning to create a budget knife, pay careful attention to what ESEE has done with the Avispa and Zancudo. They’ve kept cost down by getting the important things right and careful material selection. I’ll let the cat out of the bag right up front. These knives are great.

ESEE Avispa D2

Avispa Specs:

Lock: Steel frame lock

Pocket Clip: Left or right, tip up or down

Steel: AUS 8 or D2

Handle: Textured FRN front, steel back

Blade length: 3.5 in.

Blade thickness: .11 in.

Open length: 8.5 in.

Weight: 4.51 oz.

Zancudo Specs:

Lock: Steel frame lock

Pocket Clip: Right pocket only, tip up or down

Steel: AUS 8 or D2

Handle: Textured FRN front, steel back

Blade length: 2.94 in.

Blade thickness: .09 in.

Open length: 7 in.

Weight: 3.06 oz

Observations from Use

Both of these knives do a great job of getting the important things right which leads to knives with great performance and high perceived quality. It is obvious that care goes into ensuring that things like the frame lock, detent, grinds, and ergonomics are dialed in on these knives.

Both knives flick open with ease. They have positive detents and smooth bronze phosphor washers paired with thumb studs that are well placed and easy to find with your thumb. My examples were smooth right out of the box and became even smoother with some use and the tiniest drop of oil on each washer.

I’ve been able to handle several of these knives over the years and they all have incredibly consistent lock up. The frame lock contacts the blade tang at about 75-80% lock up. There is no blade play and plenty of room left to wear in with use. These are well executed frame locks.

These knives cut extremely well! The blades on both knives feature a similar profile. They are drop points with full height flat grinds. The point drops to the center of the blade so much that this is nearly a spear point shape. They cut aggressively thanks to their thinner blade stock and excellent geometry.

Both knives are offered with two steel options: D2 and AUS 8. Flip a coin. They are both good. The AUS 8 is stainless and very easy to sharpen at the cost of some edge holding performance. D2 is a carbon steel (very rust resistant compared to most carbon steels). It offers great edge holding but can be tricky for some people to sharpen. The knives are a good value with AUS 8 steel and an incredible value with D2. It is hard to find other knives with similarly high performance steels at this price.

The FRN scales offers good texture without being tough on your pockets and they are available in about a million color options. Both knives have full steel liners under the FRN scale. The liner is drilled with a series of holes to reduce weight on the Avispa. I wish the same steps were taken with the Zancudo. It could have been a truly lightweight knife.

The ergonomics on both knives are great. The Avispa feels large and hand filling even though it is actually quite slim. The Zancudo is actually smaller than a Spyderco Delica in nearly every dimension yet it still manages to offer a grip that all four fingers will fit and a longer cutting edge. That is truly incredible as someone who has been carrying a Delica for more than 15 years. They fit your hand, are slim in the pocket, and are large enough to do real work.

They’re good but not perfect. The FRN scales can tend to flex away from the steel liner a bit which is a little annoying. The pocket clips will ride directly on the frame lock bar if you switch them around for right pocket tip up carry which can make one handed closing difficult (though still doable). Those are pretty minor gripes considering that even the D2 version of this knife comes in at well under $40.

ESEE Zancudo D2

Bargain or Just Cheap?

The ESEE Avispa and Zancudo may lack gimmicks, flash, and pretense. However, they more than make up for it with cutting performance, ergonomics, and value. There is no doubt. These knives are BARGAINS.

Amazingly, the D2 version of these knives tends to cost only $4-5 more than the AUS 8 version and they are still less than $40. If you are feeling flushed with cash, there are D2 and Carbon Fiber options that still come in under $50!

I am using Amazon as the price base line for this series. All knives were purchased by me from Amazon:

ESEE Avispa on Amazon

ESEE Zancudo on Amazon


Our goal is to represent knives for a variety of uses from EDC, to outdoor, to tactical knives. Do you have a favorite affordable knife? Let us know about it in the comments!

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Partizan Knife Sale at Bastion – Save 50% Today Only

Bastion is offering their Partizan knives at 50% off today only. The Partizan is one of my favorite every day carry knives. It is extremely slim and light with classic lines but also very stout so it blurs the line between gentleman’s knife and tactical folder.

All three variations are on sale. Each one features a slightly recurve, drop point blade ground from D2 steel. The handle options include G10 with a liner lock, sculplted carbon fiber with a titanium frame lock, and a full titanium frame lock.

Check out the Partizan at Bastion Gear.

Bargain or Just Cheap? – Victorinox Paring Knives

Welcome to Bargain or Just Cheap? This series will review budget friendly knives for a variety of uses in a short format. All of the knives will cost less than $50 (in most cases, much less) and will be purchased out of my own pocket. I’ll buy them, carry them, and use them in an attempt to determine if the knife is a bargain or just cheap.


I’ve written about Victorinox Paring Knives before so its no secret that I love them. They are marketed as kitchen knives but these dirt cheap knives are useful for everything from everyday tasks, to hunting, and even self-defense.

Specs:

Handle: Polypropylene (shape and texture varies)

Blade Length: Varies

Overall Length: Varies

Weight: .9 ounce

Sheath: Not provided

Observations from Use

I own a stack of these. At around $6-8 a piece, I don’t mind keeping a stash of them on hand. I’ve been using and abusing the same 8 or 9 for at least 5 years and I have yet to break one.

I use them in the kitchen, for processing meat animals and game up to white tail deer size, for general utility tasks, for fishing, every day carry, and just about any other way you can use a knife. Are they good for batoning fire wood? No, but that doesn’t mean they are weak. You just need to be realistic with their use. At less than an ounce a piece, you can manage to carry one with a hatchet.

They are surprisingly good hunting knives and I people are often surprised to find out we use them to dress deer. Instead of worrying about sharpening your knife in the field, you just carry a handful of them. If one gets dull part way through field dressing (it probably won’t), just grab the next one. That saves time, money, and weight in your pack because a handful of these knives still weigh less than most field knives.

The biggest snag with keeping these knives as general purpose knives is finding a sheath but that is becoming easier now with the proliferation of kydex benders. Victorinox also offers a couple of cheap options that can be purchased separately. I use their BladeSafes which are are plastic blade covers that open like a clam shell and have small rubber pads inside that grip the blade when closed. They are secure enough to allow you to carry the knives in your pack safely, very affordable, and best of all… dishwasher safe. That makes cleaning blood, fur, and animal fat out of them a breeze. I also use a KSF Pocket Sheath to carry one almost every day.

Bargain or Just Cheap?

These knives are most certainly BARGAINS. They are dirt cheap but perform far beyond the low price would lead you to believe. As far as I am concerned, everyone should have a stash of them.

I will be using Amazon as the price base line for this series. All knives were purchased by me from Amazon: Victorinox Paring Knives on Amazon


Our goal is to represent knives for a variety of uses from EDC, to outdoor, to tactical knives. Do you have a favorite affordable knife? Let us know about it in the comments!

Bargain or Just Cheap? – RUIKE Hornet F815

Welcome to Bargain or Just Cheap? This series will review budget friendly knives for a variety of uses in a short format. All of the knives will cost less than $50 (in most cases, much less) and will be purchased out of my own pocket. I’ll buy them, carry them, and use them in an attempt to determine if the knife is a bargain or just cheap.


You would think that it would be easier to find bargain fixed blades than it is to find bargain folding knives due to the simplicity of a fixed blade knife. However, that isn’t always the case for one reason – sheaths. Most bargain knives come with terrible sheaths and by the time you replace the lousy included the sheath, the knife isn’t a bargain anymore. It takes a little digging but there are bargains out there beyond the standby Mora.

RUIKE Knives is kind of like the knife division of Fenix Lights though their affiliation with the flashlight maker isn’t always spelled out clearly on their website. They make a number of interesting and value minded knives but there is one in particular, the RUIKE Hornet F815, that drew me in several months ago.

Specs:

Steel: Sandvik 14C28N

Handle: Textured G-10

Blade length: 3.35 in.

Spine Thickness: .14 in.

Overall length: 7.48 in.

Weight: 3.7 oz.

Sheath: Injection molded

Observation from Use

I was initially drawn to the Hornet because I was looking for a full sized fixed blade knife that was both stout and lightweight. I like flat grinds and drop point blade shapes for general use. The Hornet seemed to hit all those points. It has been on several adventures since then, spending a lot of time tucked into a Hill People Gear Runner’s Kit Bag, and has served me well.

The Hornet is relatively lightweight while still offering the durability and comfort of a full tang knife with slab handles. The knife’s most distinctive feature is its skeletonized handle with textured G-10 slabs. This feature is VERY well executed. They slabs are fit to the tang very well and RUIKE even took steps to chamfer the edge of the G-10 inside the lightening cutout. The result is a knife that is lightweight for this type of construction, more comfortable to use than a knife without handle slabs, and that offers great grip even with gloves.

RUIKE uses Sandvik 14C28N at .14″ thick on the Hornet. Sandvik 14C28N is a great steel that takes a fine edge without much fuss. This knife cuts and slices well at .14″ thick and with the relatively tall, flat saber ground blade. It cuts well but is also stout enough to stand up to hard use like batoning.

The sheath is made from injection molded plastic. Like many plastic sheaths, it is bit bulkier than a real kydex sheath would be. However, it is functional. It has adjustable retention (not often seen on injection molded sheaths) and secures the knife well. The included clip works well for belt carry and is adjustable for a number of angles. I removed the clip on mine since I generally carry it in a pack or Kit Bag.

Bargain or Just Cheap?

The RUIKE Hornet F815 bumps right up against our $50 limit for this series but it packs a lot of features not commonly found on bargain fixed blades. It is well designed. It offers a great balance of durability and lightweight. It comes with a functional sheath. It’s a good looking knife with very good fit and finish. The steel is not a bargain basement steel. I call it a BARGAIN and like this knife a lot.

I will be using Amazon as the price base line for this series. All knives were purchased by me from Amazon:

RUIKE Hornet with Black G-10

RUIKE Hornet with Orange G-10

Note: This design is also be available from Sanrenmu, who may actually be the OEM maker of the Hornet, with lower grade 8Cr14Mov steel for considerably less money. I purchased the Hornet because of the better steel and the backing of RUIKE for any potential warranty issues.


Our goal is to represent knives for a variety of uses from EDC, to outdoor, to tactical knives. Do you have a favorite affordable knife? Let us know about it in the comments!

Bargain or Just Cheap? – Kershaw Emerson CQC-4K

Welcome to Bargain or Just Cheap? This series will review budget friendly knives in a short format. All of the knives will cost less than $50 (in most cases, much less) and will be purchased out of my own pocket. I’ll buy them, carry them, and use them in an attempt to determine if the knife is a bargain or just cheap.


I’ve been carrying and using a Kershaw Emerson CQC-4K mostly because I was able to purchase it for $15. The ultra-low price was my initial attraction to it. It is one of the lowest priced options in the already very budget friendly line of Emerson designed Kershaw produced knives.

Specs:

Lock: Frame Lock

Pocket Clip: Reversible, Tip up only

Steel: 8Cr14MoV

Handle: Textured G-10 front, 410 steel back

Blade length: 3.25 in.

Closed length: 4.2 in.

Open length: 7.4 in.

Weight: 4.1 oz.

Observations from Use

There is a lot to like here. The size is great for EDC – plenty of blade for most EDC tasks, a long enough handle to support four fingers without crowding, and its very pocketable. The Emerson designed Wave Opening Feature works and is a great feature to have. The spear point blade has some belly, plenty of straight edge, and a useful point. The handle is comfortable in the hand. I find that it is also a good looking knife.

8Cr14MoV steel is a budget steel. It performs similarly to AUS-8. It is a stainless steel that sharpens easily. It lacks the edge holding ability of super steels but I find it completely acceptable. It is a solid, budget friendly steel and Kershaw seems to do well with it.

The lock on my example is very good. It locks up somewhat early so there is room for it to wear in and it does pass a spine whack test. The lock bar doesn’t stick and the detent is fairly strong and positive.

Unfortunately, there are some things about this knife that I don’t like. It is heavy for its size due to it’s thick 410 steel lock bar side and a full steel liner under the G-10 handle scale. The thumb disk doesn’t line up well with the relief cut in the handle making it difficult to access. Finally, the primary grind on this knife is a short, hollow grind that leaves the edge fairly thick. It cuts reasonably well but not as well as it could with a higher primary grind.

Bargain or Just Cheap?

If you like Emerson Wave Openers like me, you won’t find a cheaper one, especially with real G-10 handle scales. Unfortunately, the strange spacial relationship between the relief cut in the handle and the thumb disk strikes me as an avoidable design flaw with a very noticeable impact on how easy you can open the knife.

This knife might be a bargain when it can be found around $15-$18 but other than that I’ll say… Just Cheap. If you are going to spend over $20, I would pass unless you are drawn to its smaller size in relation to other Kershaw Emerson models. I think there are better, but larger, options in the Kershaw Emerson line like the CQC-6K which I will review at a later date.

All of the knives for this series will be purchased by me on Amazon: Kershaw Emerson CQC-4K


Do you have a favorite affordable knife? Let us know about it in the comments!

Bargain or Just Cheap? – Real Steel H6-S1

Welcome to Bargain or Just Cheap? This series will review budget friendly knives for a variety of uses in a short format. All of the knives will cost less than $50 (in most cases, much less) and will be purchased out of my own pocket. I’ll buy them, carry them, and use them in an attempt to determine if the knife is a bargain or just cheap.


I have always been very leery of Chinese knife manufacturers due to their historically poor quality and penchant for knock-off designs. A friend cautioned me about throwing the baby out with the bath water and introduced me to a several Chinese knife manufacturers that are worth a look. One such manufacturer is Real Steel and their H6-S1 is the subject of today’s edition of Bargain or Just Cheap?.

Real Steel offers several variants of the H6 but there is one that I believe really stands out – the H6-S1. This knife floored me with how good it is for the price.

Specs:

Lock: Frame Lock

Pocket Clip: Right pocket, Tip up only

Steel: Sandvik 14C28N

Handle: Textured G-10 front, steel back

Blade length: 3.39 in.

Blade thickness: .12 in.

Open length: 7.76 in.

Weight: 3.8 oz.

Observations from Use

This knife is exceedingly likeable. It is at the upper end of our $50 price limit but it is dripping with great features, hallmarks of quality, and functional design.

The 14C28N is a step up from the blade steel found on many Chinese knives or any budget knife for that matter. This Sandvik steel is easy to sharpen, takes a polished edge VERY well, and holds it well enough for EDC tasks. I was very happy to see a Sandvik steel being used here. The drop point, slightly recurve blade has plenty of spine and features a full flat primary grind. It cuts and slices very well.

The handle is well contoured and comfortable with more than enough room for all your fingers. Both the G-10 and the steel lock side of the knife are thick and sturdy but overall the knife feels and carries very slim. Speaking of G-10, the thumb studs are actually machined G-10 that matches that handle color. They are large and easy to operate. The knife opens easily and smoothly with a flick of the thumb without even having to use your wrist.

The lock on my example is excellent. It looks up with about 60% engagement so it is very sturdy with room to wear in over time. The lock bar features a very unique and very cool feature. It has a disk that at first glance looks like any Hinderer style lock bar stabilizer (a small stop designed to prevent lock bar over travel). Closer inspection reveals the fact that it can be pushed forward into a second position that actually blocks the lock bar from moving completely! In this position, the knife can not close on your hand without some kind of catastrophic breakage. The disk locks in each position with strong detent action so it is extremely unlikely that you will accidentally activate or deactivate it.

This knife is impressively light for a knife of these dimensions. There is some milling on the inside of the steel handle scale to remove weight. A full height flat grind also reduces weight as does a liner-less G-10 handle scale. It is larger in every dimension than the previously reviewed Kershaw Emerson CQC-4K yet it weighs less!

The pocket clip isn’t a true deep carry clip but it does place the knife very low in the pocket which is nice for professional settings. It is very stout and holds the knife securely.

Bargain or Just Cheap?

The fit and finish of this knife is very good. It has better than average steel, better than average materials, clever features, and a very functional design. It also happens to look great! It gives the impression of quality. I’ve seen them as low as $40 but they usually average around $45 for most variants of the H6. Honestly, I would feel good about this knife at twice the price.

There is nothing cheap about this knife other than the price. The Real Steel H6-S1 is most certainly a Bargain.

I will be using Amazon as the price base line for this series. All knives were purchased by me from Amazon: Real Steel H6-S1

 

Note: There are a number of H6 variants and colors available. The features vary significantly from variant to variant. Be sure you are buying the H6-S1 if want the features shown in this review.


Our goal is to represent knives for a variety of uses from EDC, to outdoor, to tactical knives. Do you have a favorite affordable knife? Let us know about it in the comments!

TOPS Knives to Sell Pre-Production Fieldcraft Folder

The Fieldcraft Folder is perhaps the most anticipated knife that TOPS Knives has ever dreamed up and the pro-production version is about to go on sale. On July 18th, TOPS will offer a special edition of the Fieldcraft Folder that is limited to 50 pieces – the first 50 knives made to production specs. These pre-production models were produced after TOPS spent years dialing the processes that it would take to produce their first in-house production folding knife.

Each of these 50 special editions will come with a serialized box to match the knife, a knife cleaning mat, a bottle of Breakthrough Clean knife oil, and of course a TOPS whistle.

The Pre-Production Fieldcraft Folders go on sale July 18th. Stay tuned for additional details.

TOPS Knives

Outdoor Adventure Supply Recon Survival Tool

I am a sucker for sharpened shovels, especially when they don’t cost an arm and a leg. The Recon Survival Tool came to my attention via EJ Snyder who, according to his Facebook page, has been using one for about a year and it has been performing well.

This tool looks like a real outdoor multitasker with design elements meant to stand in as a shovel, brush hook, hatchet, saw, hammer, and knife. The handle seems to be relatively well designed with a guard and the ability to change where your grip depending on your task.

Outdoor Adventure Supply who markets the Recon Survival Tool states that it is designed and patented in the USA (likely made over seas somewhere). It is made from some non-specific stainless steel with G10 handle slabs and weighs less than 2 pounds. The Recon Survival Tool comes with a sheath and ferro rod.

Check out the Recon Survival Tool at Outdoor Adventure Supply

Big Changes at Survive! Knives

Survive! Knives has been hinting toward big changes for a while now and their upcoming SK series of knives hasn’t exactly been a secret though details were sparse. That all changed yesterday when Survive! rolled out new details on the future of the SK and GSO series.

The Survive! GSO series of knives have been in high demand and that is an understatement. The demand has easily outstripped the pace at which the semi-custom line can be produced and the knives are back ordered out more than a year in most cases. Enter the SK series. The SK series of knives will be more of a high end production line produced by Millet Knives, a well established OEM producer with a great track record of quality, and delivered to Survive! for finishing. The hope is that the SK series would be able to be kept in stock to meet the demand of most users and the GSO series can continue to be Survive! Knives’ more premium, hand finished line.

The SK series consists initially of 3 different models: SK 3.5, SK 6, and SK 12. Pre-orders are already open on the SK 6 and SK 12. You can read details on all the SK models on their product page: SK product page at SurviveKnives.com

You can read what Survive! Knives has to say about the transition on their blog and view the video below for more details.

JRS Knives Tanto

Every knife guy has heard the oft repeated mantras about “tanto” blade tips being made extra durable to penetrate things like armor. I guess that is probably true in some cases but if you look at many tanto blade designs, especially so-called American Tantos, they often have tips that come to an extreme point and are as fragile as any other knife. The legendary tip strength of the tanto seems to be a case of saying something often enough that it becomes true.

JRS Knives grinds their 007 Tanto in a unique way – a way that may actually lead to the kind of fabled tip strength often associated with the Tanto design. The primary bevel is full height flat ground and then a thick cutting edge is applied leading edge of the knife. The 007 Tanto has a straight edge near the grip where the user can exert the maximum leverage and control in the cut and a more robust cutting edge near the tip where knives are often damaged during abuse. The result is knife that looks ready for just about any chore you can throw it.

Check out JRS Knives at their website and on Instagram.

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