8 Custom-Designed Knives You Can Actually Afford

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The “holy grail”—it's the elusive, be-all and end-all item at the top of your wishlist that's just outside the realm of obtainable. As EDCers, we've all got that one knife we aspire to own. And more often than not, it's custom made, bordering on “if money wasn’t an option” territory.

You've seen every picture of that knife on Instagram pining for it, you've read every review, and you've even re-calculated your budget over and over again. And after all that, you still can't see yourself dropping two grand on a knife.

But don't worry, there is hope. More and more custom knife makers are teaming up with manufacturers you know and trust to bring their designs much more within reach in the form of collaboration production knives.

We've rounded up our favorite (relatively) affordable grails from 2016 in this guide. With any of these picks, you’re getting as close to all the design, functionality, and looks of a custom, on a blade you can use without worrying about its cost.

(More) Affordable Designer Knives

Kizer Gemini designed by Ray Laconico

Ray Laconico produces small batch and custom knives known for their clean design aesthetic and super smooth flipper deployment. The Gemini framelock is the pairing between Laconico and Kizer knives. Kizer produces some of the highest quality blades out of China, using materials imported from the US and Japan and finished by hand. The Gemini is the perfect size for EDC, with its S35VN blade measuring in at 3.125”. Its smooth titanium handles get the bead blasted treatment for a low-profile look, accented throughout with blue anodized hardware on the pivot and pocket clip.

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Zero Tolerance 0804 designed by Todd Rexford

The ZT 0804 is based on Todd Rexford’s custom knife called the “Gamma.”  This EDC-ready blade features carbon fiber and titanium scales, a custom machined titanium clip, a flipper opening mechanism, and corrosion-resistant DLC coating throughout. It's on the larger side, but the materials keep it light and easy to carry.

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CRKT Amicus designed by Jesper Vox

The Amicus is Jesper Voxnaes’ newest collaboration with knife manufacturer CRKT. The Amicus applies Voxnaes's signature 'simpler is better' design language in nearly every aspect of the knife. Ergonomic stainless steel handles, a beefy 3.4” 8Cr13Mov blade, and several carry options (a two-way clip and lanyard hole) round out a great production knife from one of the industry's top designers.

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Kershaw Pico designed by Les George

Les George has over two decades of knife making under his belt, after a long career as an Unexploded Ordinance Technician. If anyone can make a bomb-proof knife, it's him. The Pico is sized right, uses good materials, and fits both your carry and your budget. Its 2.9” drop point blade fits most tasks, and its compact length lends itself to everyday carry (not to mention most legal length restrictions). Made from hardy 8Cr13MoV steel, the blade comes with a double finish — satin on the flat edges, and stonewashed on the grind. Pair that with the polished, oversized pivot and the Pico brings a cool gray aesthetic to any EDC.

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Kershaw CQC-9K designed by Ernest Emerson

If you’ve been looking for a larger knife to EDC, few pack in as many features as the CQC-9K by Kershaw and Emerson. This all-black blade features Emerson’s “wave” opening system. The small hook on the blade catches on your pocket as you pull the knife out, opening the blade up in the process. On the handle there’s a G10 scale on one side for grip and a sturdy steel frame lock on the other. Not too shabby for right around forty bucks.

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Spyderco Nirvana designed by Peter Rassenti

Yes, the Nirvana by Spyderco comes with a hefty price tag, but it’s only 1/3 of what the custom knife would cost you. This sleek, streamlined folder oozes precision design throughout. The frame lock body is machined from a single piece of titanium with a unique “broken glass” finish. The S90V blade measures in at 3.74” and features Spyderco’s trademark round hole opener—a part of Rassenti’s original design.

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Zero Tolerance 0220 designed by Jens Anso

The 0220 is the first creation from Jens Anso and Zero Tolerance. The knife boasts a sleek design with features throughout you'd usually see only on a custom knife. Its blade shape is especially unique—a drop point with a slight recurve that’s great for cutting cord and rope. Zero Tolerance’s KVT bearing system also makes an appearance, ensuring fast and smooth flipper action. It’s finished off with a decorative pivot and an anodized aluminum backspacer for added flair.

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Kershaw Shield designed by Rick Hinderer

The latest collaboration between Rick Hinderer and Kershaw is the Shield. Inspiration comes from Rick's custom knife, the “Eklipse.” The Shield focuses in on excellent ergonomics. Deep finger contours on the stainless steel handles and a deep finger choil on the blade keep your hand from slipping during use. This sturdy EDC makes a capable daily carry with a price tag to match.

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What's your grail knife? Do they have a production collaboration option that's worth checking out? Let us know in the comments section below.

#kizer #crkt #spyderco #zero-tolerance #kershaw #buying-guides #knives #unique-knives #low-production-knives #top-10-custom-knives #simi-custom-survival-knives see all



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Discussion (29 total)

I don't know that I have a "grail" knife, but my favorite collab-designed knife is hands down the Kershaw Nura 3.0(https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00I0ROCR2/ref=oh_aui_search_detailpage?ie=UTF8&%3Bpsc=1&tag=bg999-20).

A great design; clean lines via small channels in the frame, a very fluid flipper, no blade play, reversible pocket clip for tip up carry(even though it doesn't look to be reversible), and a somewhat hidden loop area for a knife lanyard(it's on the back end of the knife, recessed into the body. Also, an amazing price at only $22.

My only complaint: the jimping is a little rough. A bit, but hardly noticeable.

Best buy for the money in lower-priced knives. That's my two cents on the matter.
Thank you so much for this article! I just read it two days ago, and started drooling over the high-quality low(er) cost knives listed.

I've been wanting a Emerson Commander knife for at least 10 years, but can't justify the price tag of $200.00 or more to myself. Then, when I read this article, I saw the Emerson designed Kershaw CQC-9K with the same blade shape and "wave" opening feature that I've wanted so long, for ⅛ of the price of the smallest Commander.

Needless to say, I have a new knife in my pocket! I also have the CRKT Amicus in my wishlist now.

Though, as for "...you can actually afford" I'm not sure how the Spyderco Nirvana at $500.00 on Amazon, the ZT Rexford at almost $300, and the Kizer Gemini at almost $200.00 fall into the "affordable" category...
I've found my affordable, EDC Grail knife. Only $40 and its been excellent to me every day for a year and a half https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00I04JDPQ/ref=cm_sw_r_other_apa_rgz5xbTV5NNCY?tag=bg999-20
CRKT Eros SS, if you don't feel like following the link
Just gonna say that I've had a Pico since they shipped and it's a WONDERFUL knife. I paid $25 for it and it's (honestly) the best knife I've ever owned under $100. Smooth as all get out, simple to tear down and clean...and I'm a leatherworker. I cut leather all day with mine. Paired with my DMT field sharpener I've almost forsaken my bench stones completely.
Had not seen tge Spyderco Nirvana before but it sure is nice looking.
nice knives...don't suppose you have any options for people who believe liner locks are instruments of SATAN !?!
Sure, some of these are frame locks.
And why would that be? Never had any problems with those...
I really wish there were a *Small* Nirvana without the patterning! Also, the 0220 made me see the light when it came to flipper openings.
That patterning is grotesque, IMO. Reminds me of the neon art that was popular back in the 80s. *shudder*
Great article! I want every one of these now!
Odd list.. I wouldn't consider a 25$ Kershaw to be a grail knife, especially considering there's a 400$ spyderco next to it... Just my two cents.... Lol
I don't think Emerson and Hinderer qualify as Custom Maker, they mainly do design for production models. For affordable custom maker design, look at Mid-tech is way better than production. Little more money but away better quality and finish than a production.
Thanks, but I'll stick to my Kershaw Blur.
Pocket knives are a consumable imo. Not paying more than maybe $70-80 tops for something I'm actually gonna use to do work. Cold steel code 4 beat a sebenza in a torture test. Custom knives pfffft
"And after all that, you still can't see yourself dropping two grand on a knife."

Two grand for a knife.....if I only had two grand to blow....that would be enough for my EDC and GHB.
What the heck is with EDC.com posts about knives almost never highlighting ones with serrated edges (or partial serration)?
I think it's because those are favored by a minority ; when you look at units sold, I think ten to fifteen percent are serrated...
Maybe that's because serrated blades are a niche? I have a partial serrated CRKT M-16, and I hate the blade. The serrations severely hamper the available cutting edge unless you want to just tear something to shreds. Plain edge are much better for smooth cutting in my experience.
Concur, but for things like packages having a blade that's got the lower part serrated makes things a lot easier.
Kershaw Pico & Shield...."Grail"?

Spyderco Nirvana...."Affordable"?

ooooo k.

No offense Ed, but do you know anything about knives?
I think you've missed the point of this entirely. It's affordable versions of high-end custom knives. So yeah, a $400 Nirvana is definitely more affordable than the custom. The cheapest one on AZ Custom Knives (all sold) is $1625, with none of the handle finish. To get that, you need another $70 minimum.
Or the Shield: the cheapest Eklipse on there is about $500, some are > $1000, and one is $4k.
So yeah these are all less-expensive versions of the custom knives in question. Seems pretty clear.
The title doesn't say that, the title says these are affordable knives. Simple.
For some, a knife over $100 isn't affordable. I know for me, I am on a tight budget, so I never, ever spend more than $175 these days. And I HAVE bought custom knives for under $400, just throw the actual maker's site. And that was a few years back...
Oh, the point should be embodied in the title of the article. It doesn't say what you said. Suggest you read the title of the article and NOT insert words that aren't there just to be argumentative
Well, I for one understood what they meant, and I agree with you, Patrick. These are essentially custom designed but mass produced to keep them relatively affordable.

I love the lines and the oversized pivot on that Pico.
Things have changed a lot; EDC has caught on, and these days $400 *barely* gets you a so-called 'semi-custom' knife (of which 80% are not really semi-custom - but that's a discussion for another day).

Now $400 "only" gets you a higher end mass produced knife!
Nope. "8 Custom-designed knives you can actually afford". The word "affordable" is not used at all, subjective to every person in general, and specifically implies here that you are more able to afford these knives than the custom knives on which they are based. Yes, $400 is affordable compared to $1600-2000. And if you can't afford $400, you can't afford $1600 so neither one are affordable to you.
Nowhere does the title say "these are affordable", and neither do I. I said they are "affordable versions", which implies things. Maybe I should've been more clear so you can understand, but I guess it's my mistake for assuming someone would be able to read between the lines and understand implications. Of course, if you can't understand how the word affordable has as many definitions as there are people on the planet, that affordable is completely relative, and that an article can't ever say any one thing is definitively affordable, then I just can't help you.
Also, for the Nirvana in particular, the article start that section with "Yes, the Nirvana by Spyderco comes with a hefty price tag, but it’s only 1/3 of what the custom knife would cost you. " which is an explicit statement that says that this is an expensive knife and that, because affordability is relative, the Spyderco version is affordable compared to the custom.