They say that a good working knife should not cost more than a day’s wages. Depending on where you live, minimum wage is anywhere from $7.25 to $15 an hour. For the purpose of this article, we will use the Federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour times 8 hours for a total day’s wage of $58. Can you get a good working knife for under $58? The answer is yes, and the author will show a few knives that were acquired (or can be) for less than that amount. These are not “tactical” or “combat” knives, but instead are simply designed to be inexpensive reliable working and survival tools for individuals on a budget.
Despite being disparaged by a few self-proclaimed online “survival experts,” the US military-issue Pilots Survival Knife has been carried and successfully relied upon as a working and survival tool by veterans from the Vietnam Conflict to the present day. The current government contract version is made in the US by Ontario Knives. They were also made by Camillus and Utica, and good quality Japanese-made versions were available for private purchase at PXs during the Vietnam Conflict. Today, one made by Onatrio (the current contractor) can be had within budget at a local Wal-Mart. Used ones can be had at prices ranging from within budget to collectible-level for early Vietnam-vintage models in good condition.
Swedish blade offerings such as this Erik Frost Mora have always been well-represented by users seeking a good cheap working knife, and few will argue about the choice. Mail order prices enable one to purchase two knives and stay within budget. (One is none and two is one.)
In a similar vein, albiet on this side of the Atlantic, Russel Green River Works knives have a similar reputation among those seeking a good cheap working knife, and are also well-received by those in the know. They make several styles of blades for different preferences and tasks. Shown above is a general-purpose “Dadley” style knife. Pricing via mail order is similar to the Swedish knives.
No cheap knife article would be complete without mentioning the humble Swiss Army Knife. Medium-sized models such as this Super-Tinker are well within our budget constraints, and have definitely proven themselves time and time again as a good quality dependable working knife.
Used equipment sources should definitely be pursued when seeking a good cheap knife. Tag sales, flea markets, auctions, gun shows, and “trading posts” have proven to be good sources for working steel. The following blades were procured via the previously mentioned sources at prices that were well under budget.
This Ka-Bar 1233 hunting knife was found at a local trading post. Although still in production at a price within budget, many current Ka-Bar knives are now made in China. This gently-used one cost a little less than ½ the new price, and was made in Japan, a country known for producing decent cutlery.
Here we have an example of two old high-quality kitchen knives that were re-profiled and then re-purposed into longhunter/rifleman-style blades. The top knife with the antler handle is actually a George H. Cowen from Sheffield England. They were found at a trading post and gun show, and were but two examples of good-quality, low-collector value working knives that were within budget, even taking sheath construction into consideration.
How does more than one knife for just a Dollar sound? That was the amount paid at an auction for a box of assorted kitchen and household goods that contained this collection of carbon steel Old Hickory (made in USA by Ontario) knives. They’ll require a little cleaning up and sheaths will need to be made, but even with the needed refurbishing materials, one will still come in well under budget. They are knives that have been used as a working tool by skilled outdoorsmen since the Fur Trade era.
All the knives shown in this article were purchased at an amount that was less than one day’s wages at the standard US Minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. Knives purchased without sheaths were purchased at a price that would allow for the purchase of adequate leather-working tools and materials to construct a sheath and still remain under budget. This provides an additional bonus by equipping an individual with the tools and initial impetus to learn a skill that could be developed into a useful trade and profitable sideline to supplement their income. In some instances, an individual could purchase used knives at well below their usual street value, clean them up, make a sheath, and offer them for sale to fellow survivalists at a fair and reasonable price while still having a good profit margin.