Cheap vs Quality Grafting Knives

I have a two-bladed folking Victorinox grafting knife that I bought in 1996. Looks as good today as when I bought it, and it’s done thousands of grafts over the years. I have a very fine whetstone that I sharpen it on, multiple times per season… whether it needs it or not. Still plenty sharp enough to cut myself multiple times per year!

I was teaching a next-door neighbor to graft, yesterday, while topworking some callery seedlings on his property. I was showing him how you should cut ‘away’ from yourself - but I almost never do… I’m wondering if I need a left-handed knife… trying to make straight flat cuts ‘away’ from my body, I had to make multiple strokes… I’d often watched videos and noted that folks in them sure seemed to do a lot of ‘whittling’, compared to my basic cuts. That’s what I feel like I’m doing when cutting ‘away’… whittling. But, if the bevel on my knife was directed in the opposite direction (or I used my left hand - whoo, talk about dangerous!), I could see that I might be able to make that good straight, flat cut with one stroke.

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I personally find I have much more control and safety cutting towards myself. It’s easy to support everything, make a quick strong cut, and stop. The stopping is easier because you don’t need to put as much force into the cut, so it doesn’t fly away from you when you get out the other side. Think of it as using a paring knife (where you cut towards your thumb, and the thumb is pushing the food into the knife blade while the blade makes a slicing motion) rather than a slicing knife. I move the blade maybe 2", and there’s not really a way for it to get out of control. I think chip budding would be all but impossible if you were cutting away from yourself.

Of course, all of these statements are contingent on the knife being properly sharp. It should be about as difficult as cutting a potato (ok, maybe a rutabaga). If you have to force the cut, it’s not safe.

This video does a great job of showing what I’m talking about.

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Kinda nice one got relatively recently, never used it. Just thought id share…


Seems razor sharp, should the edge be a bit more noticable?
Like here is a cheap blade i sharpened recently where can see the edge a bit better…

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She’s a beaut! I wouldn’t worry about the edge being more visible. That’s about what my Due Buoi looks like. It’s less visible because the blade isn’t as thick immediately behind the edge. So, assuming the same sharpening angle, there will be a shorter distance of beveled steel. Trust me, that’s a feature not a bug. As you use up the initial edge, you’ll eventually want to thin the edge behind it as you work into the thicker part of the blade. But that’s likely some years out.

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Not exactly identical but awfully similar to the Antonini knife I purchased a few years ago.

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Not to knock on Antonini (I’m sure they’re perfectly fine), but you can’t judge it on looks alone. There are cheap knives on Ali Express and Temu that look nearly identical (at least in the photos) for a few dollars apiece, shipped direct from China. I suspect (but have not confirmed) that the knives are disappointing. You can’t go on price alone, either, as the exact same knives from the same manufacturers are also showing up at $30 or more on other platforms. There’s relatively scant info on the web about any grafting knives other than Victorinox/Felco and Tina, so a little sleuthing is in order to figure out if you’re actually getting something worthwhile.

Was simply pointing out that it looked “similar”… Possibly an OEM arrangement where one company produces for the other… Possibly just coincidence… Possibly one blatantly copied the other… Don’t know…

Am betting there’s a lot of the “blatantly copied” as far as those “shipped direct” ones :wink:

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Sorry, didn’t mean to come across as criticizing you. So many people shop on looks alone that I think it bears repeating.

I think there are only so many ways to shape a grafting knife, and there’s no patents on the shapes or on using rosewood scales. So they all look pretty similar. The difference, of course, is in the details. Some of those show up pretty well in photos (although I’m sure they pick the ones with the fewest flaws), but others won’t. I look for things like what steel is used, how it was hardened, how many rivets are holding the scales on, is the bark lifter (if present) actually shaped in a useful way, how thick does the blade look, single or double bevel. These matter to different degrees. A good steel poorly heat treated is no good, more rivets doesn’t mean better performance but suggests a higher build quality. The actual shape of the bevel and blade and bark lifters are probably the most important, followed by having a quality steel. After that, I look for clues that the manufacturer is going the extra mile to make a quality product: more rivets (should be at least 3 unless it’s glass filled nylon handle) to keep the scales on, short tang, a properly stamped brand on the tang, and properly ground/proportioned features. And if course there are some details of fit and finish and how it feels in your hand, which are pretty much impossible to assess unless you can get to one in person.

The Antonini you show seems to tick most of the boxes. It’s shaped well and the bark lifter on the blade appears to be ground thin enough to actually do something. It’s obvious that it’s single beveled. The (very minor) counts against it are: fewer rivets than more expensive models and softer steel than I prefer (perfectly fine, I just prefer one with better edge retention).

The super cheap knife pictured above, even though I’m sure they pictured their nicer looking ones, shows a few warning signs. The bud lifter looks way too thick, the tang protrudes far from the handle (reduces control of the edge), and it appears to be a double bevel with a fairly thick blade. Steel is only specified as “stainless,” which could be anything. Judging by price, odds are it’s not very good.

The other thing to note is that if you take an identically shaped blade with identical steel quality, it will be more expensive to make it a folder than a fixed blade. So I’m especially skeptical of ultra-cheap folders. There are some sub-$15 fixed blade grafting knives out there that I think would probably be decent.

Didn’t think that at all! And apologies if I came across sounding “defensive”… Was literally just a “hey that looks almost identical except for rivet placement”.

But yeah you’re absolutely right, there’s only so many ways to “differentiate” with the given materials and purpose…

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That’s what I did, I had a cheaper grafting knife that I beveled for a left hander, and as you speculate, it makes cutting away from yourself much easier with better results. When I do a cleft graft, I like to cut the wedge cutting away from myself with that knife.

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I had the chance to look at a Zenport grafting knife yesterday, so I took the opportunity to examine it closely. Steel is 440A, which is softer than I prefer, but I’d still consider it a good knife steel if properly heat-treated. It’s reasonably well built and has an excellent blade profile. The bark lifter is properly machined and will work great. The pull force required to open and close is a bit less than a Swiss Army knife. That means it is easy to open and close, but doesn’t feel quite as solid when open. It’s also very light weight. Not really a pro or a con, but interesting to note. I like the feel of a little heft, but can appreciate the lightness as well.

Note that this only has two rivets holding it together. In this case, that is fine. The type of handle they use doesn’t require liners, so it only needs to be secured fore and aft. This is a personal preference thing. If you like the inexpensive, lightweight glass-filled nylon*, go for the Zenport. If you like the heft, look, and feel of wooden scales, go for the Due Buoi or a Tina. The picture doesn’t capture it well, but this orange is extremely hi-vis. If you’re prone to leaving your knife places, this may help you find it again.

The other thing I will say about the handle is that the profile is more rounded. It’s hard to tell from the picture, but it’s rounded enough that it has a tendency to roll rather than stay on its side. Not a huge issue, but I like my knife to stay exactly where I left it when I put it down.

All in all, this is a decent quality knife. It’s using a decent steel, and they cut costs not by cutting corners but by using materials that cost less to produce well. This is not a premium knife, but it is a good knife. Currently about $13 on Amazon. At that price, you’re getting a lot more knife for the money than the Pueldu knives. Zenport may be a budget option, but it’s clear they actually understand how these tools are supposed to function.

*Due Buoi also makes some knives with this handle material. They opt to add a third rivet. The purpose of this is to shorten the effective length of the spring, making for a stiffer open/close. Again, whether that’s good or bad comes down to personal preference. The blade is of a higher quality steel on the Due Buoi.

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I like the extra rivet. As a former knife dealer I can say most of the few returns I had were on knives that had a long back spring, Which snapped.

It is clear many budget/value brands invest very little in their handle area metallurgy.

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I have a zenport for right hand and one for left hand that I use mostly for bark grafts and they work well and easily resharpen. For angle slicing wood I rely almost entirely on a zen garden two blade that is priced similarly and sharpens razor sharp. It has held up for years. None are lock blade for those who prefer that.

I bought an Antonini Old Bear a couple months ago. I really struggled to find a single bevel grafting knife that has a locking blade. This one checks those boxes. I couldnt find many photos online…so here are some.

I am happy with it. Fit and finish is as expected for a cheap knife. Functionally, its great. Lock works. Blade is indeed single bevel, but required a bit of sharpening as the edge isn’t perfect from the factory.

I was worried the metal wouldn’t have good edge retention, as they dont advertise a particularly high rockwell hardness. It’s been good though. I’ve done about 40 bark grafts with it, so that includes shaving some end grain. I touched it up halfway through, but it didnt really need it. Apple and pear.




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Thanks for the detailed pictures! On their website, it says they shoot for 54-56 HRC, which is decent. Can’t find much info on the 1.4060 steel they are using other than that.

I’m always a little leary of those lock rings for any work that requires some force. However, I see that there is a solid tang behind the sharpenable portion of the blade, unlike on the Opinels. That’s promising for it’s sturdiness and longevity.

Edit: On the pictured blade, it says 1.4060. On their page for the grafting knives, it says 420 steel at 54-56. Other Old Bear models say 1.4060 at 56-58. There may be multiple versions of these out there, or maybe they made a production change recently.

Yw! The lock ring is metal and it locks surprisingly securely both open and closed. It’s tapered, so as it locks, it wedges and removes any play or wiggle in the blade when open. My biggest issue is remembering to lock it, since it doesnt lock automatically! I’m too used to liner-lock knives!

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Does sound a little more solid than the Opinels. Or at least than my 20+ year old Opinels. They do wedge in, but I think they loosened up over time.

I also like the walnut handle. I wish the Due Buoi came in walnut instead of rosewood.

What do you guys use to lubricate the swivel top area of a grafting knife? Think i read it should be lubricated so opens smooth over time.
Only have mineral oil at the moment, will that do?

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That should be OK. I use Norton’s honing oil because it’s food safe (not that I plan on cutting any food with this) and lightweight. You could use 3-in-1 oil, or a dry lubricant like moly or graphite. The dry lubes would be better if you tend to get your knife dirty.

I will say the walnut is very low weight, and since there is no metal in the handle, when the blade is open, the knife feels a bit front heavy. I bet the rosewood handles are a bit denser at least?

Also fyi, the walnut on the Old Bear comes unfinished. I did slap a single coat of danish oil on the handle.

Good idea for a topic, btw.

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