Why are so many knives “Made in China?”

The reality of a global economy requires that at least some knives be made overseas

It is a question that we have asked in various ways over the years. There is the the quality angle. Sometimes from a purely price point of view. And we have examined the balance between cost, innovation, and place of manufacture.  I was clearing out some old links I had emailed myself and found this excellent piece from EveryDay Commentary that I had forgotten I had come across. It is perhaps the most concise and understandable treatise I have read on the subject.

It is an older piece and I did a quick search to see if Chris had covered it before my tenure as Editor. Ben from CRKT actually mentioned it in the comment section of another post. Otherwise it fell through the cracks and it is a good time to remedy that.

I have to break the news to you: we are not the folks that keep gear companies afloat.  No matter how much we spend we aren’t a large enough market to sustain a company any larger than say, Chris Reeve Knives.  If that is your game then great, but for the KAI USAs and the Spydercos of the world to survive they need to produce gear for a wide range of audiences.  Sure we all like the blank check, blue sky, cost no object production knife like the Jess Horn Spyderco or the Kershaw Tilt, but if we want these products to be made in the future, they have to be subsidized by the production and sale of the Tenacious and the Cryorespectively.  This is not a purely gear industry issue, either.  Studios wouldn’t survive on Oscar movies alone, they need the big budget explosion fests that we are treated to this time of year to pay the bills and make those movies possible.

He goes on to cover several categories of reasoning including production capacity, higher profit margins to support lower margin products, and the realities of modern distribution and consumer shopping patterns. In short, with few exceptions modern business requires at least a portion of a large companies blade line-up be imported.

“There are some exceptions to this trend–Leatherman has done an amazing job keeping almost everything in the US and still selling to Big Box (one of a dozen reasons that Leatherman is beloved by both the Big Box patron and the enthusiasts alike).  Then there is the entirely custom made market.  Podcast cohost and custom knife connessieur Aaron will probably never buy another Chinese made knife.  But in large, we need to face facts–overseas made knives are a requirement of the modern market.  We can still get USA made stuff, but if we want knife companies to survive we need to realize they are business first.  As a business, they need to maximize profit and going overseas is the only way to do that right now.  Things will change in the future, they always do, but for now we have to accept and embrace cheap overseas blades.  They make the stuff we like and love possible.”

Read the whole thing.

I know where many of you all stand on the issue. What I would like to know is if your opinion has evolved along with the knife industry or not.

Personally, I still prefer USA made blades. That being said, I have carried several Chinese knives as well from various price points and the world is still spinning. It may be going to hell in a bucket, but imported knives are purely a symptom and not the by any stretch the cause.

 

 

comments

  1. cmeat says:

    keeping american businesses afloat is all good.
    i just don’t have the same knee- jerk reaction to made in portugal or new zealand.
    so much industry left for asia suddenly that it still stings.
    it may be impossible to find homegrown products in certain markets. just accepting that which is offered at bigbox is cheap and easy for most.
    there is satisfaction to be had by doing the extra legwork (fingerwork?) in locating alternatives.
    ultimately a really good product from china can be embraced. limiting these economic votes certainly matters, however.

  2. It isn’t knives made in China that I have an issue with. It’s “American” companies that make their products in China that I don’t like. Whether it’s knives, clothing, or tools. Don’t play the American card and then import it from elsewhere.

  3. John Moses says:

    There is a good letter on A.G.Russell’s website as to why he has some of his knives made in china and it is worth a read. Certainly made me think. I do own several china made knives, some gerbers and a new schrade lumberjack that is surprisingly good. I tend to treat them with less respect and don’t mind abusing them as I do my USA blades. Hate that the chinese government is the real profiteer in this and the people make little. Oh, and don’t like made in USA pricing with overseas quality.

  4. elcas says:

    I’m not American nor chinese, but in between so the made in China or made in America is the same :it is imported to me
    , that being said i ‘d rather look at the quality and the cost rather than the place of production
    What I don’t like buying an American brand, paying American price for a Chinese piece
    I feel ripped off

  5. Spencer says:

    Some things that bother me a lot about the “Made in China/Designed in U.S.A.” phenomenon are:

    1. Hemorrhaging of decent-paying domestic manufacturing jobs for American workers, leading to decreased living standards and quality of life in the U.S.
    2. Substandard (and sometimes dangerous) materials frequently used in Chinese-made products.
    3. Continuing federal subsidies and tax breaks for American companies that offshore their manufacturing, funded of course by U.S. taxpayers.
    4. Extremely unsafe sweatshop working conditions for Chinese workers who produce “American” goods for squat.
    5. No price breaks for American consumers, but huge profits for the U.S. companies.
    6. American companies that practice the above usually turn a blind eye toward Chinese government corruption, unfair labor practices, environmental pollution, and financial chicanery.
    7. The same American companies bribe (but euphemistically call the practice giving “campaign contributions” to) corrupt U.S. politicians who support all of the above.

  6. Roger says:

    As someone who has worked in American manufacturing, this doesn’t and will never bother me. We’re part of a global economy, and businesses have to change to stay, not just profitable but, in business. Protectionism is anti-free market. It’s literally something espoused quite frequently by Stalin, and something Gorbachev noted helped destroy the Soviet economy.

    America is still a massive industrial giant, despite selling some of it’s business overseas. In fact, while our manufacturing sector has shrank it’s still larger than any EU state and larger than most EU states combined. After the second world war, Americans over invested in manufacturing. The US leads every other SUB-BILLION PERSON ECONOMY in manufacturing. We’re fine. Factories come and go. But we’re good, in fact we’re even better now because we aren’t focused on solely building every little thing ourselves. Self-sufficiency is good, but eventually you’re hurting yourself by bushcrafting every little utensil you could possibly need. Same deal with our country.

    Finally a lot of people harping on the “Made in America” tag are buying lies. Straight and simple. Sometimes the only thing actually made in the US is the tag stating it was made in the US. Slippery slopes aside, “Great you can make a car, where did you get the materials?”, these people will only be happy when lied to. Temper tantrums about *where* something was made is not a valuable criticism on the value of a tool.

    1. Most products that aren’t fully “USA made” are labeled on the packaging as being one of the following or something similar;

      “Assembled in the USA from imported material”
      “Assembled in the USA from domestic and imported material”

      There are plenty of companies, both knife and non knife that make 100% USA made goods though. Personally I commend them for that, and will almost always by that versus an imported item.

      Even companies that are just assembling their products here are atleast trying to make an effort.

  7. Grindstone says:

    If it’s quality, I don’t really care where it came from. Quality and price are what’s important to me.

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Why are so many knives “Made in China?”

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