‘Made in China’ Steel | Columbia MUK Knife Review

Over the past year, several readers have raised concerns regarding…

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?

Fine China?
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.

Load Comments
  • The Realist

    Yeah. Not longer afterwards, the world will turn to the US for low-cost communist labor – after the economy crashes and a socialist revolution, of course. See how that works?

  • Ray Hare

    I amused by Steve Whipple’s 17 lines of which he has shown that there is much more than quality and price involved when buying yourself a stainless steel 3Cr13 knife. Cheap product even if made in USA.
    China has a population of 1,347,350,000
    USA has a population of 314,505,000 so one would say that 1.3 billion multiplied by 50c would be more money earned than an American earning $100 per day.
    Yes communist governed China.
    Economic reforms introducing capitalist market principles began in 1978, the opening up of the country to foreign investment, and permission for entrepreneurs to start up businesses.
    From 1978 to 2010, unprecedented growth occurred, with the economy increasing by 9.5% a year. China’s economy became the second largest after the United States.
    So really it’s too late anyway, the icecap is melting while you want your knives to kill animals and produce more carbon for your greed & paranoia!

  • KnifeKnut

    While these steels may be comparable to US/Japanese ones in terms of chemical specification I wonder how they fare in terms of manufacturing quality i.e. impurities. This has a large effect on the performance of the finished blade. Quality of manufacture and heat treatment are also large factors. I have a cheap CRKT Hammond Cruiser made of 8Cr13MoV. Love the design and build quality is good but the edge rolls and chips every time I cut something more demanding. Renders the entire knife useless… Also had a China made Boker Plus in 440C, a well known high performance steel, faulty heat treat ruined that… save the money you will spend buying several cheap and useless knives and instead buy one good quality one that will actually perform. Chinese made knives are not yet in that category at any price point. There are reasonably priced quality knife brands available. Zero Tolerance for folders and Fallkniven for fixed are two that spring to mind. There are plenty of others too.


  • Mike Melancon

    Loved reading the responses to the article. Couldn’t agree more.


  • Super90Girl

    I agree, we need to change. Buying all this stuff from China, a communist country, is anti-american, because we as American do not stand for that, we are against communism. Everyone is so concerned about getting the cheapest price on something, that we have gotten to the point we have sacrificed our principles by which our country came into existence and have forgotten the faces of our fathers and those who have died to make this country free.

  • Steve Whipple

    More anti-American, pro-Chinese tripe from Mr. Hollis! I’m sick and tired of reading about how Chinese products are the equivalent of American products and, because they’re cheaper, they’re more appealing to consumers than American products. Never mind that Chinese products are cheaper because Chinese workers make approximately 50 cents per day. (By the way, how are Americans supposed to compete with that kind of pay rate? Is that what Mr. Hollis and others of his ilk consider “fair trade?”) Chinese products are made by Communists, and every dollar that goes to Communist China is adding to the war coffers of a nation seeking to conquer our own. Articles in American magazines ought to be praising the superiority of American products and supporting the future of the American workforce, not adding to the short-sighted, self-defeating notion that a cheaper price tag should be the ultimate aim of business. Americans need to wake up to the fact that if no one in this country has a job because all of the manufacturing has gone overseas, it won’t matter how cheap the products on our shelves are! Meanwhile, the Chinese knife industry of which Mr. Hollis is so enamored is re-writing Lenin’s pronouncement: We’ll sell the Capitalists the knives with which we’ll cut their throats!