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Chinese Knives

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(Left to right across the bottom: Land 912, Ruike P-801, Firebird FH41 CF, Y-Start LK5016, TwoSun TS112 Knight. Left to right across the top: Real Steel Black Cat, Kubey KU166) Looking around Drop I see some love and rather more hate for Chinese knives. It's one of those things where everyone's coming to the table from a slightly different direction and has their own reasons for feeling how they do. Not too many people are neutral on the topic. Sparks fly. Me? I'm a big white Midwesterner, born in a small-ass flyspeck of a town 20 miles south of the edge of nowhere. I've traveled some, but never to China; I've worked for Chinese businessmen, but only in the US; I don't speak the language beyond ordering food and I have about as many natural connections to the Chinese knife industry as I do to the man in the moon. I grew up seeing the cheapest things stamped 'Made in China' and knowing people who had fought, when they were younger, in the Korean War against Chinese 'volunteers'. (Which most of us learned about watching MASH.) To us, China was shady, an enemy, a punchline - a place where cheap BS got made, and if you would have asked me even as late as three years ago if any decent knives were made in China I might have still said no. I might have said 'maybe Taiwan. Not the mainland.' But I don't think I'd have ever said an unqualified yes. So that's where I'm coming from - the long way around. I'm just some dude that's been long since fed up with how lousy some things are made in our society, that one day stopped and took apart his $16 Chinese knife to see why it worked so well, and in the process began slowly but surely changing his mind about Chinese knives. If hearing that is enough that you're already prepared to disagree, and you're gearing up now and you're just looking for something to rebut - don't worry. It's cool. I know I won't change your mind for the same reason that I'm the only one that could change mine. Most people don’t change their mind, period. How it is. But some of these facts might surprise you a little all the same... 1) Most Chinese knife makers got their start taking orders from Western firms, with whom they still directly work. A lot of them are OEMs for the Western firms and they make the very knives that they're later accused of ripping off. The deals are made with the understanding that after a noncompete period passes the OEM will be free to market their own variations of the design, within a set of constraints that both parties agreed to in negotiation before finalizing it in the contract. Western firms don't draw too much attention to this sort of thing. They know that by and large their market segments are different anyway. They also, it must be said, keep going back to these OEMs. The deals are lucrative. So while they're generally pleased to see that their fans see them as being victimized by their OEMs, they aren't victims. They're volunteers, and they're taking your money to the bank. 2) Chinese knives sold in the West are commissioned by Western brands as the cheapest priced offerings they plan to sell that year, and their quality level reflects it. You, as the consumer, are supposed to want something more expensive - no matter how expensive your thing already is, no matter what you're buying or you've bought, you're supposed to already be wanting the next, better, more expensive thing that you couldn't afford. You're also supposed to think all Chinese work sucks. Even though you buy it. That's how captive markets work. It's the bottom tier of what's available to you in the store. That's also why when it's really a good piece of work, one that'd make you go 'whoa, this was made in China?' and maybe start thinking that the Chinese are making good stuff nowadays? Often you have to work hard to be able to learn that it was made in China. That’s down to the importers, because they want more money for what they sell. To most folks, Chinese still means cheap. It's only been in the last couple years that the best Chinese names like Reate and WE Knife have had the chops to ask for and get Western pricing for their high quality knives. 3) China has a whole city in its most populous province devoted to pocket knife and scissors manufacture, and they have operated it around the clock since the 1990s. It's called Yangjiang and it's where the majority of Chinese knives are made. They encouraged knifemakers to move there and set up shop. How many cutlery manufacturers are there in Yangjiang? Over 1500. That's not a typo, the city has over one thousand five hundred factories making knives or parts for them. It's the Chinese Solingen. The cost of this investment from the Chinese government was more or less paid for a thousand times over by all the orders from the West it's fulfilled in those decades since. Some of those operations are content to just keep making cheap stuff, because it's what they do. And there's cheap startups that are essentially a building full of parts, stock, CNC machines and people with no secondary education or training in knives churning out knives made with boutique designs and materials but no craft. All that exists. But nowadays in Yangjiang, you also have a core residency of machinists and smiths and designers that know knives, that live and breathe them. Like we do. Like fat guys love pie. It's in the blood with these folks, their parents and sometimes their grandparents made knives. If you ask them what they do, they wouldn't say factory worker. They'd say craftsmen, you understand? They would not be wrong. They know about grinding. They know about heat treating. They know about ergonomics. And they don't want to do cheap work or be known for cheap work anymore. They want to make the best knives anyone can make, and their government has their back. (Google 'Made in China 2025' if you want to understand more about this.) 4) The majority of Chinese knives aren't even intended for Western markets, especially clones. And the people to whom those clones are marketed aren't people who were ever going to buy the original. We get outraged like it's all about us, and these knives are made to be snuck onto our own shelves in an elaborate bamboozle or something, but we only get them over here because enterprising people go get them and resell them in the West. IIRC only about 10% of Chinese branded knife production goes to the US. A large chunk of it goes to Eastern Europe, where Western brands aren’t established or are nalyevo. An increasingly larger piece of it stays in Asia to feed the demands of the new and growing Asian middle class economies. At times like this it's worth remembering that in terms of world population, every seventh person on Earth is quite literally a Chinese farmer, and those people aren't ever gonna buy the original Sebenza. The guy who wanted to buy a Sebenza to impress all his coworkers and buddies isn't going to go 'wait, I have a better idea, I'll impress them more with this $14 version'. And one more point: as many Western designs as the Chinese appropriated without paying for them? They have a ways to go before they catch up to the number of times Western designs have been used by Western companies without properly paying the designer, because of some contractual sleight of law, or just because they're bastards who don't always pay for things either. Let’s not forget that. So while the theory's fine, in practice a lot of the outrages about 'clones' end up being about as victimless a crime as home grown doob. It's what comes up when people discuss their issues with China, because people feel that talking about cloning and intellectual property won't get them accused of racism or whatever, and talking about other things might. The truth is, we usually don't like or dislike things for deep, meaningful, rationally well thought out reasons that we can reliably translate into words when someone asks. Babies like and dislike things. The process really doesn't mature all that much. We just pretend it has. And when you point out a few problems about the outrage over the knife ‘cloning’ issue, it generally doesn’t dissuade the outraged. 5) That's because it's not really about cloning or property rights for most folks. They see that as something that is wrong, not THE thing that is wrong. And folks don’t want to say what THE thing is, out loud, but it's pretty simple to understand: they feel threatened by the Chinese. The only real cultural analogue for this in the American social consciousness is war, which folks run with in their minds and share their words, because they feel an existential threat from the Chinese worker. It's all over their TV, it's what they talk about, they feel like China is a threat to them and many, many people they care about. It's one of the reasons some folks will never in a million years agree to anything I'm saying here -- they'd find it disloyal to their peers and to their kinfolk who used to work in factories that long ago shut down and moved production overseas. It's a social issue. And you know what? Misplaced as I might find it in this case, I respect honor. I get it. Like I keep saying, I don't expect to change anyone's mind. There's just one thing I want to ask you: all those shuttered American factories and workers out of their job.... you know how many of them got closed down because the Chinese came in, bought up and shut down, threw all the skilled laborers out of work, stole their retirement, hauled off everything of value, and went and set up shop back in China so they could make a killing selling us the things we used to make? Folks, this is important -- that has happened zero times. The Chinese, a Communist foreign power and the most likely nation to displace the US one day as the world's greatest superpower, our economic competitors and occasional battlefield enemy, the 'Red Chinese Menace' still never once did that to us. Neither did the Mexicans, neither did the Canadians. How'd those factories shut down? That was all Americans. Our own people. Remember back in the 90s all that stuff about the WTO? That was us. 'Downsizing', 'offshoring', and 'outsourcing'? That was us too. 'Service economy'? Yup -- us. "International supply chain" - us, with bells on. And we let ourselves get away with it, because whenever anyone objected the wealthy trotted out practiced 'free market' arguments, as though these markets are really free anymore, and not largely controlled by a comparative handful of unspeakably wealthy people born from old money and new industry, who were making an absolute filthy killing in the modern marketplace. They made it seem like the people who wanted to keep their jobs were just backwards, and needed to go off to college and learn how to be a software engineer instead. Now here we are, with large social groups of people, majority and minority, who feel like they can't get a job and they don't have a safety cushion. Your friends. My friends. There's a lot of rage and no small amount of fear. And it keeps people from looking around for the man behind the curtain or the large bag in his hands, which happens to be full of all the money everyone else is missing. But we don't see that guy, and we want someone to blame for everything. Enter the Chinese. So we have this narrative in America about cheapass Chinese labor, but the reality has been a little different for some time. The truth is if you buy a SRM or one of the affiliated brand names, or a Ganzo, or a TwoSun or any of the other Chinese brands that are trying to establish themselves in the West, and you open it up and look inside - really look at it -- you're going to see what I saw. And if, like me, you at the time had no particular reason to believe it until you saw it, it's probably going to be a little disconcerting. The build quality and parts are not just a little better than anything the Western brands provide on their budget models (invariably cheap white nylon washers). They're way better than that. Because you literally have to buy and take apart a midtech knife to find better than the sort of washers on a $16 SRM knife. And it goes onto the more expensive knives. If you open up a $25 SRM instead of a $16 one? You find caged ceramic bearings running in milled pockets in the blade. Up and down the cost spectrum they're adding value. When you can buy a precision made titanium and M390 frame lock with ceramic bearings turning on race washers for $70, you stop being as interested in paying several hundred dollars for the American version, and you start wondering exactly what's going on. Once you see it you can't unsee it. Our manufacturers have been selling us short for a while now, by comparison. They figure a wink is as good as a nod to the blind man. And we've all been falling for it. So yeah nowadays this loyal and patriotic American owns a lot of damned good Chinese knives (and a few shitty ones that snuck through the wire....I suggest avoiding Eafengrow, OerLa, WTT, Canku and Albatross in general). I'm happier for that. My Sanrenmus and Ganzos and Harnds and TwoSuns sit right alongside my US knives and UK knives and Spanish knives and Italian knives and German knives and Japanese knives, Nepalese knives, Swedish knives, Pakistani knives, El Salvadoran knives, South African knives, Filipino knives, Finnish knives, French knives. Even got a Swiss knife someplace. They’re knives. I buy them. There are limits. There's still plenty of junky knives coming out of China and I do a little research before I check out a new manufacturer. I seek out proven manufacturers when buying and avoid third parties whenever possible unless they're large enough to be held accountable. I won't buy an outright clone because even I can recognize in that case there's a meaningful property rights issue. That's money I can see coming out of the designer's pocket. But I'm OK going with legal definitions of different. So long as it's made of what it says it's made of, and there's visible design differences and it's got the maker's real logo on it, no fake logos, the law generally doesn't consider it to be a counterfeit item. If we've got that and it's well made, I could honestly GAF if it resembles a wildly successful Western knife. Chances are good I own that one too. By most some standards my knife collection is modest but you'd still have to hunt pretty hard to find a US knifemaker who could gripe about my buying habits. If someone can build me something solid and true in this day and age of perfidy and bullshit ephemera, coming from every direction? I’m interested. To me, that's its own honesty. That's where I come out on this. How about you? If that sounds good to you, check out the comments and you'll see a wide range of specific Chinese made knives I've bought and analyzed from an EDC use perspective. And as always -- if you liked this thread, and you have a Chinese made pocket knife that you think is cool, snap a quick pic and share it in the comments!
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GarrettFerrell
0
Dec 25, 2021
I have no problem at all with original Chinese knives.I personally don’t buy Chinese clones of popular knives and I rarely buy Chinese made knives of an American brand (ie. Chinese made Kershaw,Buck,Spyderco,etc) though I made an exception for a copper+D2 Kershaw Natrix and the S35VN LW Spyderco Tenacious but 99 times out of 100 if I’m buying a Kershaw,Buck,CRKT,Gerber,KaBar,etc it’s going to be made in their USA factory.I will only make an exception for the Chinese models if I’m really liking the design and it is made in a decent blade steel(D2,Sandvik 14C28N,VG-10,N690,154CM,AEBL,Nitro V or better)..with that being said,I’m a big fan of Reate,Kizer,WE/Civivi,Bestech and Kansept and I think Artisan/CJRB,Real Steel,QSP,Steel Will and Two Sun all do a fine job with their more budget friendly knives...I don’t do Chinese clones of popular designs.Im all about original designs but that’s just a personal preference.I have no problem with others buying clones..now counterfeits I am completely against,where they not only copy a design but also add the original company’s logo.Im also completely against counterfeiting blade steels,where they label a cheaper steel like 7Cr17MoV or 8Cr13MoV as M390,S35VN,S110V,etc..this is why the only Chinese knives I’m willing to buy are from trusted Chinese manufacturers like Reate,Kizer,WE/Civivi,Kansept,Bestech,Real Steel,Artisan/CJRB,Steel Will,etc or the rare occasion I buy a USA brand knife made by a Chinese manufacturer
RoFe66
1
Apr 11, 2021
There have been a few discussions on the internet lately if TwoSun really uses S90V. The cutting tests showed significant differences to the cutting performance of other knives using the same kind of steel. The testers concluded that it was either not S90V or the blade had a fairly low HRC. Do you have any information whether TwoSun uses legit S90V and M390?
reswright
3830
Mar 17, 2021
As this thread may not be here much longer one way or the other - it's been fun doing and sharing all this research with folks who were in a position to benefit from it. I've already dropped a copy of the post over in Reddit at https://www.reddit.com/r/BudgetBlades/comments/luo7xo/chinese_knives/ anticipating that this community wasn't long for the earth and feeling like this post was something that might still be useful to someone. I have no particular plans for copying any of the comments or pics so those of you who saved this post or otherwise found one of the reviews useful you may want to find save and copy the info you originally wanted to keep on hand before this thread goes the way of all things. And you want to do that with any other post you saved as a reference or something to look back at. Sometime before March 23 2021 :)
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sphill
0
Mar 6, 2021
I don’t have a problem with Chinese knives, universally speaking. I do however have an issue with them making them that are so close to the real thing or an exact clone. The Land in your picture is a perfect example.
reswright
3830
Mar 6, 2021
Minor reframe here for you: the Sebenza design is over 30 years old at this point. You can't patent entire knives, but if you could, and when the first patent expired you somehow magically got a second patent on the Sebenza, it too would still be expiring right about now. And you can't even patent an entire knife, only a design element like a lock or a special kinda pivot or whatever. Truly new elements get patent protection, but patents expire by design. They're meant to give people a relatively short window to capitalize on a genuine innovation but then they expire and the innovation is free for anyone to use. Trademark protection can't extend to an entire knife either, only design elements like a Spyderco Round Hole or a logo or a name -- which is why crossbar locks are super common now but Benchmade can still sue you into oblivion if you call it an 'axis lock' which is their trademarked term. The patent on the Axis Lock expired several years ago, so the design itself is fully legal to copy with zero variation, the same way that frame locks and liner locks were once patent protected and are now on everyone's knives anywhere. And the bottom line here is if the knife, no matter how close a copy otherwise, doesn't have a trademarked logo or design element on it, and it doesn't make use of a patent protected element, it's fully legal no matter how much it resembles that Sebenza. It's what we call a copycat item. And that's what the Land knives are, fully legal copycats. A lot of people don't really necessarily understand this, they think it's something that the Chinese couldn't do if they set up shop and built them in America, and it turns out they could. The Land 910 series doesn't incorporate any CRK trademarks or copyrighted material, so it's actually 100% legal to do, not even a gray area. It has a frame lock on it, an innovation that was once patent protected by CRK as the 'Reeve Integral Lock' but the patent expired a long time ago so everyone uses it. So that Land 912 in the pic is full on legal, and what's more it's a hellapile easier to flip open. CRK famously says the Sebenza isn't meant for snap flip opening, it voids their warranty -- and a bunch of people who paid bank for their Sebenza ended up with bruised thumb tips anyway trying to be able to snap open them. But the Land flips like a switch. A lot of people find it distasteful, which is their right I suppose. Sounds like this includes you. But make sure you understand that the Chinese are not doing anything here that we do not do in the US all day long. By way of illustrative example: Do you get upset when Coke releases a new product and six months later Pepsi has their nearly identical version, or when McDonalds and Burger King and Wendy's copy each other's new menu items? Did it upset you to see how many car bodies, including a Chevy and even a Mercedes Benz, duplicated the shape of the Toyota Corolla? Do you get upset when you go into Aldi's and see all the house brands that expertly ape commercial brands? Or when you go into a clothing store and find designs that shamelessly borrow from something a major fashion house released previously? When a new breakthrough pop star's sound suddenly spawns a bunch of similar sounding acts... or an established act suddenly releases a throwback album that sounds a hell of a lot like the Beatles or the Stones? Everyone rips off the Beatles and the Stones these days, to the point that we don't even think about it. I'm not trying to gotcha here, BTW. But people in the US have this funny habit of getting our noses out of joint over stuff like this when it's a Chinese competitor, and they start talking about intellectual property and stuff, and literally everywhere else in their life they ignore it, or maybe talk a little smack as they buy and use the items. Call them on it and they go 'hey, you don't know me, I hate that stuff too' but somehow there's never any evidence of it from their social media accounts and prior posts. The irony is the supreme unoriginality of that reaction. No one's out in the streets over US copycatting. "Fine," some people go. "It SHOULD be against the law, though." And the thing is, it's ok not to like it, but when you strengthen the laws to prevent anything like a copycat item from being sold, existing companies with existing designs just use those laws to sue their competitors any time someone makes anything even remotely close to their item. It becomes a tool used to discourage actual competition. I mean, the laws are the way they are now and companies like Cold Steel are still doing stuff like this wherever they can, trying to say that san mai construction is their trademarked thing and so on. Everyone knows it's BS but unless you have the lawyers lined up and ready to defend your case everyone is extremely reluctant to take on a persistent litigator like Cold Steel. The net result is that fully legal competition is discouraged. If you strengthen patent and trademark protection, how much more legal competition are you prepared to snuff out in order to do so? The law of emergent consequences is merciless in this regard -- there are no ways you can keep something from a Land 910 from being built that do not immediately lock down the market and ensure its dominance by the companies big enough to hire full time legal staff to do nothing but bury competitors in copycatting claims. This would keep most new knifemakers from ever being able to get started because it's so hard to come up with a design that doesn't echo many other designs -- we've been making knives for literal millennia now. The official line in capitalism is that this sort of competition, after a patent expires, is healthy, good for efficiency and good for the consumer. If you think no one should buy a knife that's fully legal to make and own because it's disrespectful to a 30+ year old design from a guy who's now one of the richest knifemakers in the world, then be aware that's a collectivist idea, not a capitalist one. Radical collectivism for the poor bastards, unfettered capitalism for the rich? Again, not trying to gotcha here. But you wanna think about this stuff too. And here's something else to think about: CRK famously refuses to release a budget version for people who, you know, don't wanna pay five bills for a pocket knife, because CRK thinks it would damage their perception as a prestige brand for a bunch of poor schlubs who can only afford $25 to have one. Likewise they refuse to market an easier flipping version of their knife despite a TON of feedback asking for it. So who's screwing the American consumer, here? The guy saying 'screw you, I will never, ever release a fast flipping version of my 30+ year old design with less expensive materials so working class people have access to a decent knife for a decent price, because it will interfere with my ability to charge $700 for a high end version that bruises your thumbs trying to open it'? Or the people making those knives available in a fully legal fashion at an astonishing quality for like $25? I know which one I think is out of line - and it's not the people putting good knives into working hands. I should add that if the Land 913 was actually meant to pass for a Sebenza at point of sale I'd feel quite different. That's not even a remotely gray area of the law, it's counterfeiting and even a laissez faire guy like me will stand up and say that it's stealing from someone else's business. Show me a Dicoria clone of the Sebenza, I'm out of it, I won't buy one, I'm ok with you hunting them down with an IP lawsuit, I'm ok with you confronting someone who bought one. But the Land? It's a damn good, damn inexpensive knife that is in many ways the best value available at that price on the knife market today. It is, to wit, something Chris Reeve Knives could have built themselves and have been begged for decades to make, and steadfastly refuses to do. Not here to change your mind -- only you can do that. Only here to fill in the rest of the picture. But once you see the rest of the picture, most people start feeling a little differently about it after a while. :)
(Edited)
reswright
3830
Mar 5, 2021
Orion

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Kickstarter button lock multirow bearing nitrogen Sandvik manufacturing excellence. I’d have rounded the G10 and allowed for a lanyard but this was a steal.
reswright
3830
Feb 20, 2021
TwoSun TS192, Micarta/14C28N

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Need a ginormous slipjoint?
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Like, an absolute brute?
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Look no further. The TS192 is your man. :)
(Edited)
reswright
3830
Feb 15, 2021
Harnds Time 14C28N/jade G-10

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Harnds with a new model that you can flip, thumb flick, or finger flick open.
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Smooth action.
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Thing I haven’t seen them do before: recessing a deep clip in a collar fixture:
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ceramic bearings in a bronze ring, works already polished:
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clean:
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Back together with a touch of aquamarine dye:
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another really strong budget design from them.
reswright
3830
Feb 13, 2021
Defcon TP68 Pan (black handle)

Freetiger FT21 (tan handle)


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These knives are mostly identical builds. Total exterior differences: the FT has a backspacer and a slightly different clip. I think it even comes in the same colors. Edit: well, the hardware is mostly identical. But the DEFCON has less expensive bearing cages that are looser on the pivot. Technically that matters less than how well the outer diameter matches the size of the pocket, but a closer fit, like on the FT, is better - and the FT has more bearings there, improving stability and reducing likelihood of crush points forming in the path from lateral force on the blade.
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The Freetiger has a blade coating and better bearings, and costs $10 less. Shrug. Both knives look like the Pohl Force One:
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They cost several hundred dollars less, tho. And yet they both drop shut.
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reswright
3830
Feb 13, 2021
Interestingly the Freetiger is advertised as having a 'G-lock'. That's Ganzo's name for its axis lock. I've been fairly sure for a while that Ganzo makes at least some Freetigers; maybe they're making some Defcons too. Because I'm pretty sure the same factory made both these knives.
reswright
3830
Feb 9, 2021
After having had the Freetiger FT11 apart a few times I'm concluding that it was built in house by Rike. Probably designed by them too. The scale and liner are very Richard Wu and the bearings and fittings are the same things I see on Rike -- in fact, the bearing cage on the FT11 is the same one that's on the Rike 1902, which is a $200 knife. And a good one at that. Seriously have not found a value 'project' knife like the FT11 in a while. It's got good bones.
reswright
3830
Feb 9, 2021
Bestech Falko 154CM/G-10/CF/Ti

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Pretty standard Bestech work. Clean, CNCed. Nice anodized hardware. Good steel. Good Kombou design. a kinda cool thing:
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they used a bearing instead of a second screw. I like it.
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hardened washers with faint pathing: not milled races. Ceramic bearings. 154CM polishes up nicely:
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back together:
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beautiful knife. I guess this price point ($150) is new ground for them? Honestly I’d expect a bit more finishing at that price, and real bearing races. And a keyed pivot. But it’s still got stuff going for it. Nice balance and it's a good looking blade.
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