You can’t for sure without access to a pretty expensive machine. Performance testing can tell you if it’s performing as it should, the most easy being edge retention testing with manilla rope and a scale to test cutting force.
If the knife is less than $75 you can almost guarantee that it’s not M390 or S35VN.
Buy a reputable brand from a reputable dealer. After a day of use most people would probably be able to notice the difference between 8cr13mov and S35vn. Like mentioned, edge retention or ease of sharpening is the only way for a regular user to tell the difference between a quality “super steel” and a budget steel. Once apon a time 440c was a super steel.
As an “old fogey” with half a lifetime using only carbon steel blades, this was the exact alloy which has kept me away from stainless. Great alloys for any purpose are not cheap, but I’m looking forward to learning more about the cheaper good ones that have developed since 440c came into use for blades. I’d like the advantages of stainless as long as I can have the edge properties I get from my old-tech blades.
Pretty is as pretty does, and if pretty doesn’t, then it’s pretty bad.
You’ll easily know when you go to sharpen the knife. The difference in the task will be pretty hard to miss. But yeah to echo the other posters -> I very much doubt you’ll get a quality steel on a budget price.
The only reputable Chinese companies that use “real” imported S35V and M390 steel are “Reate Knives” and “Kizer” knives. You won’t find these Chinese made knives on Aliexpress, you will, but they are $20 fakes. Chinese copies of Chinese originals. Yes, it seems they do eat their young.
Another Chinese knife maker that might follow Reate and Kizer’s footsteps is Rike Knife.
They do use premium steels from M390 and S35VN and big knife stores like BladeHQ and Knifecenter are starting to sell some of their models.
They used to be available from Aliexpress but I think they know that to be taken seriously by knife collectors/users, selling their knives from Aliexpress might be diluting the brand name.
Not necessarily….I bought a CH 3507 with titanium scales and M390 Blade steel. It was 170.00 or so. Admittedly any big name knives claiming to be M390 under 100 dollars is almost certainly fake. M390 is even more premium steel than S35VN, and that was a very reasonable price for the quality of that knife.
I’m usually willing to experiment with < $50, but I’ve been burnt enough times in various places to go to someone with a known reputation for anything I expect quality from. Particularly when returns are not feasible. The SRMs were a good experience with relatively low risk.
I keep looking at fancier stuff (Kizer S35V my fanciest), but I’ll wait for a deal that I know is genuine on the next levels.
For off brand chinese knives I don’t spend more money on fancier steels Than D2… many years ago these brands jumped on the S35VN train because of the hype created by CR knives, and now the hype is all about M390, but they doesn’t appear to know about 20CV or 204P? Heat treat is a very delicate process and HRC doesn’t tell the whole story, however is all they have for marketing pitch.
I have tried bestech and civivi D2 and they give excellent sharpening results, but I would never spend $100+ on a green thorn or similar brand aliexpress knife no matter how good they claim to be.
I do have on order one of those super deal $65 Bestech titanium framelock S35VN folders from amazon, they show up from time to time but takes months to ship. I will compare it to spyderco S30V and S45VN to see how well it sharpens and how good is the edge retention.
CH brand knives had enough reviews and metal testing done to feel good about them. I have both a 3507 titanium with M390, and a CH 3002 titanium frame lock in S35VN…both still highly regarded. The rest of my Chinese brands consist of a crap load of Sanrenmu 910, both green and black, 9103, and 9104. Also a lot of 7010/710 varients. I also have maybe ten Ruike p801, and 108. The Ruike brand is sold by Fenix flashlight company but are made by Sanrenmu from most accounts. The 801 is like a higher priced 9103 with a flipper tab, and extra blue annodized hardware and slightly better 14c28n steel vs the 12c27 in the land. Those CH3002, and 3507 are extremely high quality, and have stood the test of time. The s35vn, and M390 hold an edge forever, but are not the easiest knives to sharpen. I have a crazy good KME sharpening system though, with all the bells and whistles. With patience and that expanded shrpener I can make my knives very scary sharp. I usually just use the Ken Onion Worksharp belt for cheap knives…not on 100 dollar plus knives though…they only see the KME sharpener. Will not wear out the diamond stones sharpening 10 dollar knives all the time. I have used the KME on a couple of the Land 9104, but that is it. I don’t have to sharpen the CH knives often, but do use them.
AliExpress is just a big open marketplace. Like the street bazaars of old, there are good sellers and bad. There are good brands and bad. Reputation matters and this can keep me away from unknowns. I’m a big fan of the work being done by LuvThemKnives and others to actually test some of the lesser known brands. We’ve seen bad brands like Eafengrow and Fura exposed. Meanwhile, we’ve gotten confirmation on some cool up-and-comers like Petrified Fish.
The stakes are higher for premium knives but the same principles apply. For instance, I’d have no qualms about purchasing from Kizer’s AliExpress store.
By the way…those CH knives are probably the smoothest flippers I have ever used…even better than my Ruike 801’s…and the Ruike is very smooth, especially for a 30 dollar knife. I use the Ruike p801, and Sanrenmu Land 9104 black stonewashed more than any other knives. I will not use the CH knives to cut up cardboard. They are just too nice to use as an everyday carry. The Spyderco and Benchmade knives I have, are in my opinion way overpriced. I have a few of each, but none of them were worth the cost to me. One of my benchmade auto has a broken spring, and the warranty requires sending the knife back for repair, instead of just sending me a spring. Even before it broke, it was not that great in my book. When I bought my Sanrenmu Land 910+ and 9103, 9104’s, they were all then under 10 bucks. I have mistreated those knives, but have yet to break one. I love the looks and performance of the 9104 black stonewashed version. In my opinion, the best knives I ever bought for the money. 12c27 is decent steel, and it runs on bearings…for under 10 bucks? Yeah I bought a lot of them. Gave a few to family and friends, but still have most of them, and now they are about 30 bucks usually.
It is fairly difficult for a knife maker to pass off a much cheaper steel as S35VN or M390 to a knife collector. I will likely know by how long it holds an edge. If not, I surely will first time I sharpen the blade. If the knife makers could make these cheaper steels perform like S35VN or M390, or even close to it, there would not be a need for this pricey steel. These super steels were created because the cheaper steels can’t be made to perform the same. It is not just the steel in a blade that matters though, it is also the heat treatment applied. If you put M390 in a knife, and it is not heat treated properly, it can still not perform. That has never been more true than with 440C steel. If properly handled 440C can approach the performance of super steels. If not, much cheaper steel can outperform it. The treatment on 440C is harder to work with than many steels, and smaller knife makers do not have the equipment to properly treat it. Supposedly 440C can not be used in an open air forge successfully, and once hardened you can’t remove imperfections or correct flaws. There is a great deal of variation on the quality of blades made from 440C due to how it must be treated to get it right. If you can do it right, it is an exceptionally good blade steel. In any case, it is amazing how many get knives made of super steels, and yet use more antiquated sharpeners. You need a very good sharpening system, and a lot of patience to get a really good edge, but it will maintain that edge a long time once you do. S35VN is not too bad, but M390 is about as hard to sharpen as I care to have. D2 is also fairly hard to sharpen. ZDP-189, S90 and S110…nope, I will pass on trying to sharpen those. The S35VN and D2 are probably the best balance of edge retention and ease of sharpening. There is a reason you see so many knives with those 2 steels. If you insist on going for S110, do not use a sharpening tool that allows you to screw up the profile…you do not want to have to re-profile those blades. Try to not use the more aggressive metal removal stones. It will be hard to polish any deeper cut grooves out. For me, life is too short for me to mess with a knife that is that hard to sharpen. I actually like 14c28n for most uses, it is not great at edge retention, but not horrible either. A few passes on the Spyderco Sharpmaker with the finest rods, followed by leather stropping, will bring it back to a razor edge. Same goes for 12c27.