When it comes to knife shopping, most of us don’t have many practical alternatives to Ye Olde Internet. If we don’t want low-grade imports in blister packs from Wal-Mart, we have to brave the teenaged wilds of the local shopping mall, only to find useless replica swords and massively overpriced Wusthof cutlery sets. Some big sporting goods stores have respectable knife counters, but you’ll rarely find a deep selection and good prices at the same time. If you’re very lucky, though, you’ll live within striking distance of a shop like Northwoods Knives in Hillsboro, Oregon. TTAK reader Aharon joined me for the 45-minute journey to this far-west Portland suburb this weekend, and it was totally worth the trip . . .
Northwoods Knives occupies a tiny and unassuming storefront on Main Street, in what used to be an outlying farm town near Portland, Oregon. These days Hillsboro is home to giant chipmaker Intel and the heart of Oregon’s ‘Silicon Forest’ but old Main Street still has a small-town feel to it.
When you venture inside you’ll find a well-lit and neatly-organized store. You’ll also start to salivate at the overwhelming glorious multitude of knives on display. I took a quick count of the knives in the display cases, and I gave up when I hit 500.
And these aren’t 500 blister-pack Gerbers: these are 500-plus Zero Tolerance, CRKT, Emerson, Benchmade, Spyderco, Chris Reeve, Kershaw, SOG and Buck knives, as well as dozens of handmade customs and small-run collectible blades of all descriptions.
In a tacit recognition that knife collecting is totally addictive, Northwoods’ knives are arranged like the booze at a liquor store. They may be grouped by manufacturer (instead of by bourbon, gin, vodka, etc) but the less-expensive knives with more common steels occupy the lower display racks, while higher-grade knives with exotic steels like S30V and 154CM shine forth from the coveted ‘top shelf.’
The grip and blade material of every knife are listed along with the price, so it’s easier to compare apples to apples across different manufacturers. The blade length isn’t always listed, which is frustrating if you’ve got silly local carry laws to comply with. Salesman and knife expert Eric was happy to take out and measure any blade we wanted to play with, however, and our numerous requests kept him pretty busy while he did the same for every other customer who came through the door.
Northwoods Knives is the only brick-and-mortar knife store I’ve visited which can compete on prices with the big Internet stores like Blade HQ or Knife Center. Most of Northwoods’ prices are right on the bubble with the best internet prices I could find on my smartphone, and this probably isn’t a coincidence because Northwoods also runs its own big-inventory knife website, www.knivesshipfree.com.
I couldn’t resist treating myself to a Spyderco Native, which was a full 10% cheaper than Knife Center’s best price. It’s the first Spyderco I’ve owned, and my first foray into S30V steel. (Full review to follow. Obviously.)
Everybody should have a local knife store like this. If you live in NW Oregon or SW Washington, drop in sometime and prepare to be amazed.