I have owned and own blades that cost upwards of $2000. And for some serious knife collectors, that’s a drop in the bucket. Again, the old saying “you get what you pay for” most of the times apply. With knives, the steel and the exclusivity of the maker is what you are paying for. Yes, there are some extremely talented knife makers in the knife world, and good steel is more expensive than cheap steel. No doubt about that.
But you also have to keep in mind the purpose of your knife purchase as with all purchases in life. Are you buying a knife to collect? Are you buying a knife to go on an expedition to a place where if it breaks it could cost your life? What are you planning to do with your knife? What are you expecting the knife to do? Are you a fixer upper kind of person? Or are you about of the box perfection kind of person? Most of all, what can you get in the way of a knife for $30 or less these days?
One of our posters,Tins, asked my opinion about the big Bowie knives on Amazon and EBay. He was interested in the Damascus knives which were in the $20-$30 dollar range. A majority of these knives are made in Pakistan with “mystery steel” and stainless “surgical” steel which means cheap steel that will resist rust but won’t hold an edge for crap.
However, in my opinion, machetes and large knives don’t need to hold an edge necessarily, because you aren’t doing fine detailed bushcraft work, or processing game with an 8” and up blade for the most part (some people do, but it’s not the norm). Bowie knives were originally made for fighting, and self defense. Basically a frontier sword that was sturdier and more compact than military sword, and was a back up general camp tool.
The larger the blade, the longer the reach. The sharper and sturdier the point, the better the ability to stab through objects. What a Bowie lacks in exceptional edge holding abilities of cheap stainless steels, it makes up for in mass. The cutting prowess, more like chopping power, of the Bowie comes from its mass. When it comes to budget Bowie knives, size matters. And the other element it must possess is full tang construction.
Being able to be honed to a razor sharp edge, and holding that edge through a significant amount of work or abuse is not what one should expect in a budget Bowie. For $30 and less, you’re looking for as much bone crushing mass as you can get, length, and as thick of a spine as you can find. Even with a dull blade, the mass of the knife can do a lot of damage to bone. As long as the point holds, it will be able to poke through tough hides of animals and clothing of people.
The Bowie is a fighting/defensive knife first and foremost , a general bladed tool last, and an afterthought. Even quality high end Bowies will be undesirable for bushcraft or skinning. They are built to as a defensive tool and fighting tool, not a survival tool in the bushcraft sense. They originated during the period of time when it took upwards of a minute or two to reload a black powder gun. They were the original New York reload.
Thus, they are not intended to be razor sharp to whittle down feather sticks, or take the hide off a rabbit or deer (though obviously it can be done by sharpening the blade and using propper technique). So for $30, you can get a full tang large chunk of “mystery surgical steel” forged in Pakistan, and expect it to do what a Bowie knife was intended to do. I don’t often subscribe to the intimidation factor when it comes to self defense, but with a huge blade, even the most untrained person might deter an assailant.
If you’re in bear, mountain lion, coyote, feral hog territory, and you are not allowed to carry a gun, it is a better than nothing alternative. Animals have thick hides, fat, bones, connective tissues…you aren’t going to stop an attack with a 4” blade. You need a big long pointy object to get through to the vitals. A budget, full tang Bowie can do that for you.
So Tins, if you were going to pluck one off Amazon, I think this one has the best reviews. This guy reviews a lot of big knives, and especially the budget ones. The Timber Rattler Western Outlaw seems like the most well received of the budget big blades.