The following is a story inspired by real events, but since I don’t want to make anyone feel bad for buying a cruddy gas station knife, many details have been changed to protect the innocent.
I wouldn’t describe my high school self as popular, but since gaining notoriety on Blade HQ’s YouTube channel, a few people from high school have reached out to talk knives. I’m happy to talk knives with anyone, but I was into knives in high school, too. Why not talk to me then?
The reason is that we’re all in different places on our knife journeys. This is nowhere more evident than with my friend who we’ll call Jimothy, who recently acquired a knife. He was positively thrilled to show me the knife pictured below, but I didn’t dare ask him where he got it. Since I like to show off my cool knives too, I showed him my Spyderco Shaman, with a terrifyingly sharp edge courtesy of my new Work Sharp Pro Precision Adjust. This was a tactical error, because he then asked me to sharpen his beloved new blade. If you can call it that…
My experience sharpening (or at least trying to sharpen) Jimothy’s knife has filled me with terrible resolve. If you gain nothing else from this article, just please promise me you won’t buy a gas station knife.
What is a Gas Station Knife?
A “gas station knife” is any knife that offers an attractive design at the expense of material and build quality. They aim to provide a real looker of a knife at a very competitive price. Yes, you can get them at gas stations, but they’re also common fare in malls, swap meets, closeout stores, and all over the internet.
We went on an adventure to the Flying J in Springville, Utah to find a gas station knife, and boy did they deliver! We found this awful wrench knife, and we’ll use it as a case study for this article.
Why Shouldn’t You Buy one?
I have four contentions to answer this one.
1 – Materials
Put simply, gas station knives cheap out on materials. Where there should be metal, there is often plastic. Where there should a blade steel with a real name and a known composition, there is mystery-meat “Titanium-Coated Stainless” ominously labeled “China.” Their gem inlays feel as cheap as they look. Think critically: do you think a knife with all those bells and whistles acquired for that price is really a quality tool? REALLY? DO YOU???
2 – Build Quality
If you watch Blade HQ’s YouTube videos, you know I don’t talk much about centering, lockup timing, blade play, grind evenness, etc. That’s because most knives I talk about on videos don’t have problems in these areas. Gas station knives have all of these problems. My buddies on the buying team make sure that Blade HQ gets well-made knives. There is no such person at the gas station, so a lot of shoddy work gets through their non-existent QC department.
3 – Knife Safety
Cutting corners on materials and workmanship does more than make a cheap knife, it makes a dangerous one. Cheap steels aren’t strong enough to hold a sharp edge without rolling (as happened with my Jimothy’s knife). That makes for dull knives, which require more force to cut with, which makes the knife exponentially more likely to end up three inches deep in your thigh. Cheap handle build quality leads to blade play, loose pins, and slippery lockup which can also lead to injuries. Out-there designs rarely allow a safe and secure grip on the knife, as is the case with this wrench knife. Listen carefully: POORLY MADE KNIVES WILL HURT YOU!
4 – Intellectual Property
I know, this reason is boring, so I’ll make it short. Gas station knives are often ripoffs of real knives made by real knife makers. Brands like Microtech, Cold Steel, and Chris Reeve are often knocked off, or completely counterfeited, and end up in gas stations. This robs skilled knifemakers and sullies their hard-earned reputations.
So what should you do?
While I’ve seen some gas stations that carry Leatherman, Victorinox, or Smith & Wesson, most just carry cheap knives that aren’t even worth the lint in your pocket. If money is that big of a crunch for you, don’t worry. There is a world of great knives for not a lot of money. For under $20, you can get the USA-made Buck Bantam, the EDC powerhouse CRKT Piet, or even scratch your Japanese itch with the Cold Steel Kyoto. Heck, I’d trust the $9 Mora Basic 511 with my life. There is a world of knives under $50, with many well under $20, that are quality tools.
Take this wrench knife. I paid just over $20 for it, and it’s truly awful. The Gerber Armbar Drive can be had for the same price, but it features a much more useable blade-to-handle ratio, and a real hex bit socket. You could do some real work with this tool. It’s not gimmicky, and it isn’t more expensive either.
Gas stations are designed to provide gas, and whatever else you need to get you by until you make it to your destination. Nobody expects to get a world class hot dog from a gas station, and nobody should think they’re getting a world class knife from one either.
Don’t be Jimothy. If you want a real world-class knife, stop looking at the Flying J, and start looking at Blade HQ. You’re laying down your hard-earned money, and you deserve a quality tool.