Over the past year, several readers have raised concerns regarding China as the origin of both blade steel and knives. Questions range from the integrity of Chinese steel to actual offshore blade production (profiling, heat treatment and Rockwell measurement). While the following probably won’t alleviate everyone’s uncertainty, most will see the manufacturing logic in the use of Chinese produced blade steel.
Competition between manufacturers is intense and both the cost of materials and manufacturing is continuing to spiral upwards. The same thing is true in the firearms, optics, electronics, footwear, clothing and other industries. Turning to China, with its considerable cost-saving benefits (lower labor and material costs), is simply the next evolution in an ever-changing world economy.
More and more cutlery manufacturers have become importers, outsourcing many of their products to offshore makers. For a long time, cheap labor and inexpensive materials enabled Japan to be the cutlery manufacturing location of choice. As those costs have risen, China, as a blade steel and cutlery manufacturer, has gained significant importance.
The cost of moving raw blade steel any distance is an expensive proposition. Shipping rates have skyrocketed in recent years. It makes no sense to ship bulk steel from one location to another and then experience considerable waste in the blade production process. Likewise, shipping steel to the Far East (or anywhere else) and then paying for return shipping on the finished cutlery product isn’t a particularly brilliant idea. This is readily apparent when the competition is using steel from the same country of origin as the finished product and spending less on both materials and labor. The bottom line is that when the customer has a choice of similar products (with the offshore product costing far less than the one domestically produced), guess which one the customer selects?
There are a number of Chinese blade steels, most of which are formulated to replicate steels produced in Japan or this country. For example, the Chinese-made 8Cr13MoV is a mirror image of the Japanese AUS-8. Likewise, the 3Cr13 Chinese steel is identical to domestically produced 420J2. If you’re hard on a knife, a blade crafted from 420J2 or AUS-8 will provide the necessary combination of toughness, stain resistance and sharpening ease. However, a similar knife with 3Cr13 Chinese steel blade will offer the exact same performance parameters at a considerably lower price point. If you want a blade with greater edge retention, then the nod goes to AUS 8 with its higher carbon content and broader range of alloy content. However, the Chinese-made 8Cr13MoV blade steel offers the very same carbon and alloy content package and a lower retail price at the point of purchase.
A good example of cutlery outsourcing to China can be found in the new Columbia River Knife & Tool (CRKT) Veff “Marine Utility Knife” (M.U.K.). Designer Tom Veff is an avid angler and wanted a fishing knife that featured a high degree of alternative usefulness. The end result was a full-tang, fixed-blade design that featured an offset handle, a drop-point blade with a combination edge (straight/concave serrations), and a soft, grooved polypropylene handle. While the knife could have been made from domestic 420J2 or Japanese AUS4 steel, the use of 3Cr13 Chinese blade steel allowed CRKT to offer it at an extremely competitive price of just $12.95.
In today’s market, manufacturers are constantly pressed to remain competitive. Look around your home and you’ll see the many trusted brand name appliances and electronics bearing the “Made in China” label. All things being equal, product features and the purchase price are often more important than the country of origin.
For more information on the CRKT Veff M.U.K. knife, visit www.crkt.com, or call 800-891-3100.