I am fairly basic person when it comes to my knife preferences. The FRN Dragonfly 2 in ZDP-189 is PLENTY for me. I own a few customs but they are all pretty staid, well, except for one. But even that blinged out blade wasn’t terribly pricey. The focus here today is the explosion of kilobuck productions and which of these financial follies is the most egregious offender.
Without a hankering for rainbow trash metal, my knives tend to be cheaper than some of the blingiest stuff out there. That said, a recent IG Post by Sierra_Bound got me thinking about the most overpriced production knife. He was rightfully flagging the Damasteel version of the The James Brand Barnes as an offensively overpriced knife. I agree with him. But that blade is not even close to the worst offender out there. There are quite a few very expensive production knives. Boker has released some knives that use tank steel in their damascus that have been shockingly expensive. Similarly Spyderco’s Nirvana and Paysan have been very, very price. Moving up a tier, Liong Mah’s L1 looks spectacular and has a price tag to match. Rockstead has consistently pumped out kilobuck knives all with their mirror polished convex blade. Each of these knives are pretty costly but for obvious reasons—materials, design (like an integral folder), or finish result in increased costs.
But one company has consistently released exceptionally expensive production knives without such obvious cost sinks. I have reviewed a Shiro Neon and it was a truly great knife, but it was not worth the asking price—at the time around $700. It was not, for example, twice as good as the then $350 small Sebenza.
But we have to set a few things aside when venturing this far into the ultra lux price range.
First, there is 10%/100% rule. This rule, which I first heard about reading Stereophile at age 9 (weird, I know), indicates that you have reached the threshold of rational spending when a 10% performance increase costs 100% more money. It summarizes the cost dilemmas of high end enthusiast gear well. You aren’t going to find a knife that is twice as good as a small Sebenza. The reason is simple—its impossible, given current materials, techniques, and technology to make a knife twice as good as a small Sebenza. You can make better knives (see my Youtube series: Better than a Sebenza?), but your really only nibbling around the edges. A Paysan is a Sebenza integral with a different blade shape. A Rockstead is a Sebenza with a high polish grind. The Neon was a flipper Sebenza.
Second, its wrong to think of stuff in this price range as a commodity. Milk is a commodity. It is available in huge amounts and no one unit of measure of milk is any better than the other. Clearly Shiros are better flippers than a lot of knives. So comparing Shiros to other similar knives is not just an accumulative process. For example, you wouldn’t trade 10 CRKT flippers that are worth $70 for 1 Neon. It just doesn’t work that way.
Third, when you get to this price range you have to abandon a good deal of reason and prudence. No one on Earth needs a $700 folder. It is a luxury of luxuries. Even if you are something that uses your folder every day, like a warehouse worker, you probably don’t even WANT a $700 folder. So, to a certain extent, all purchases in this price range, and likely a good bit lower (I would suggest the TRM Neutron 2 represents the very best knife you are justifiably and rationally purchase), are irrational. We are engaged in a comparison of LEVELS of irrationality, not a comparison between the rational purchase and the irrational one.
But even with all those cavaets, the most overpriced production knife, in my opinion, is still a Shirogorov. It makes the Neon look like a penny pinching pick. It is a staggeringly overprice piece of kit. If you followed the IG post or read my prior mentions of this knife it is clear what it is—the Shirogorov Russian Overkill. This knife is a collaboration between RJ Martin, one of the very best knife makers around, and Shirogorov, one of the very best production knife companies in the world. So, of course, the price will be high. But the MSRP of $3,200 was (and still is) staggering.
Unlike the Barnes referenced in the IG post, this knife was not an integral. It did not have heavily machined handles. Nor did it sport an exotic damascus steel. It was a TFF with an M398 blade. It ran on a bearing pivot and looked a lot like the RJ Martin custom it was based on. But here is the problem—its MSRP was more than the price of an actual custom. I don’t mean the table price. At the time it was released, you could buy an actual custom Overkill on the secondary market for less than $3,200. $3,200 is a lot of money for a knife. An RJ Martin custom, which are both hard to find and highly sought after, might be justifiable on the grounds that it is a collectible that could appreciate in price made by a single, master craftsman. But the Russian Overkill was made by machines in a factory and can be made again as often as the market will bear. They may decide to never make it again thus increasing its collectibility, but the constraints on production are all self-imposed. Whereas RJ Martin can only make so many knives in a lifetime.
The thing that got me, aside from the comp to the custom, was the lack of anything special. It did, if reviews are to be believed, have a great action, but I am hesitant to use that as justification for two reasons. First, a lot of knives nowadays have great action. Its just not that big a deal anymore, especially when a CJRB Pyrite has world class action on a $260 knife. Second, post-purchase rationalization, especially at this price range is a real and debilitating thing. It makes honest critical evaluation all but impossible, especially of things as difficult to put into words as opening action. There are no empirical metrics here. But if you discount of the value of the knife’s action you are left with an overseas made titanium knife that opens via a flipper tab and runs a variant of M390. Stop me if you have heard this before. Virtually every enthusiast grade knife has the same specs or better. None of them cost $3,200.
In the end, I just can’t see how that knife is worth that money, even with the comparison-of-levels-of-irrationality caveat baked. More power to Shiro for selling a production knife for more than the custom inspiration. Shiro has dedicated fans and they have a right to buy whatever they want with their money. But for me, this is the most overpriced production knife in history, a high water mark in the evolution of the TFF market. It is the most gilded of lillies.
My Purchase Rubrics
I have long ago set rubrics for knife purchases—amounts I refuse to exceed. They are pretty straightforward. In production knives I generally don’t buy things that cost more than the current small Sebenza. I have broken this rule, of course, but it is not something I commonly do. I would, for example, buy a box elder burl inlay version of the Sebenza if I didn’t already have the Mnandi 1.0 with that inlay. If something is SUPER hot and needs to be reviewed, I will drop the cash, mainly to make sure you folks have my take on it. For my personal collection though, nothing is more than the small plain Sebenza 31.
In customs I have a higher threshold. I am not sure people every articulate why they are willing to pay more for a custom, so I will here. First, I like the idea of supporting an individual craftsman. While I am not a particularly talented craftsman, I do have fun doing a lot of woodworking. Seeing the skill and time that goes into these individual pieces of art and knowing in some way what it would take for me to do the same, I feel not only okay, but good spending more money on a custom than a production. Second, I also get that market forces have a lot more to do with prices for customs. People pay more, so makers should charge more. Though many customs aren’t BETTER mechanically than a Sebenza, I get why people would pay more for custom knives when they can turn around and sell that same knife for much more money.
So I get that customs cost more and I am happy to pay more. My rule is pretty simple—I will not pay more for a custom than what I paid for my Sawby, unless it is nicer than my Sawby. I paid $950 for my Sawby Swift. It is the finest knife I have seen and is my very favorite design ever. So its pretty good. But if a Walker double zipper came my way and I had the disposable income (and comptroller approval), I’d pull the trigger. But a lot of the custom tacticals out there just can’t approach the craftsmanship and design of the Swift and so I let them pass with nary a hesitation. I have broken the Sawby Rule before, but it was a special case and unlikely to ever happen again.
With those two limitations in play, I feel like I still have a reasonably nice collection and that I can review most knives. You won’t find a Russian Overkill here any time soon nor will I be reviewing a blinged out Ron Best Phase. But I think the world will carry on just fine without my takes on those kinds of knives.
I just wish I could be similarly disciplined with torches…