Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Buying Swiss Army Knives on Ebay--The Realist

Another guest post from The Realist:

An early Swiss Champion. Later versions added pliers

Disclaimer: The following article reflects my personal experience with a dozen separate arms-length ebay transactions over a four month period resulting in the purchase of approximately 125 Swiss Army knives. This article reflects my unique circumstances, and subjective observations and opinions with regard to the knives purchased. Your mileage may vary.

Over the years, I have read various posts on various preparedness/survival sites about The End Of The World As We Know It (TEOTWAWKI) barter/resale. One comment several years ago by Mr. Rawles of SurvialBlog got me to start watching ebay for knives seized by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at airports. This combination of posts got me thinking about the topic of knives as a barter/resale item.

TEOTWAWKI means different things to different people, and I don't want to get sidetracked by that discussion. However, when it comes to barter/resale, products from a recognized brand will carry a value premium over generic or unrecognized brand products, and knives are no different. And no, I'm not going to amass a inventory of knives sufficient to become The Knife Man in some post-apocalyptic Bartertown. Knives are just part of a larger strategy of stockpiling things that could be used in a future barter/resale scenario (or even resale at pre-TEOTWAWKI flea markets or gun shows). I believe quality knives, like quality tools, are something that will hold their value over time.

For several years, I have watched the ebay auctions for TSA seized knives (as a saved "followed search"), either feeling the prices were too high, or what was being sold was not of interest to me. I did make few minor purchases for personal consumption, such as a pair of small Swiss Army knife (SAK) Classic SD knives, and a small lot of Leatherman Micra multi-tools to put in first aid kits.

But then, several weeks ago I saw a buy-it-now auction for SAKs being sold by the pound. I decided to buy a pound of SAKs to see what I got and what kind of condition they were really in. I liked what I saw. I ended up purchasing several of those one-pound lots. (The seller of the one-pound lots did not show pictures of the specific lot being sold, but instead only showed pictures of representative items. The seller was very clear that buyers would get a random selection. Unfortunately, it appears that seller has sold his inventory of SAKs, since I have not seen any recent one-pound SAK lots for sale.) I also bid on and won a couple auctions for lots of 25 Swiss Army knives (the lots pictured were what I purchased).

This knife-by-the-lot purchasing has been a learning experience (in a good way).

Four of the common sizes of SAKs: 111 mm, 91 mm, 84 mm, and 58 mm. SAKs are available with a variety of scale colors and materials. Shown are black nylon, red nylon, red Cellidor, and Stayglow nylon. This picture also shows different styles of the Victorinox logo: pad printed, hot stamped silver, inlaid metal, and pad printed.

If you've read this far, you are probably thinking to yourself "Why doesn't Mr. Realist buy lots composed of knives/multi-tools by Leatherman, Gerber, or some other major brand?" To answer your question, it hasn't seemed economically worthwhile to try to buy lots of seized Leatherman tools or Gerber knives. Except for the Leatherman Micra, they seem to sell for close to their retail price. I can get them new-in-package for less - sometimes significantly less - if I find them on sale/clearance. Knife lots for other brands just don't interest me.

There are also many auctions for mixed knife lots that are usually composed of cheap Chinese knives and multi-tools. I suspect there is a lot of sorting that goes on in the wholesale TSA-seized knife market, and these mixed knife lots are mostly the culls, salted with a few name-brand knives to make the lot more appealing.

There is a lot of bidding competition for the larger lots. The larger lots can actually end up costing more per knife than the smaller lots or the by-the-pound lots. It appears to me that the larger lots are being purchased for resale now. I can't imagine that all those people are doing what I'm doing and buying for TEOTWAWKI barter/resale.

While the knives are all used, their condition has ranged from almost new (they look like they had spent a couple weeks in someone's pocket before being seized by the TSA) to rough condition that had seen a lot of use and abuse (including broken blades). Blade condition has ranged from still having the factory edge, to reasonably skillfully sharpened a few times, to heavily/unskillfully sharpened, to twisted broken blade tips, to (once) a blade broken in half. Some SAKs will have some company's logo imprinted on them, and a few have had the name of the former owner engraved on them. (Pro tip: Don't engrave your Social Security number on your knife.) Most of the scales have been in fairly good condition (functionally intact), while a few have been cracked or chipped. The overwhelming majority of SAKs have come with the classic red Cellidor plastic scales, with black being the next most common color. Overall, their condition has been very good.

A few of the knives have been unusual models that may have value as a collectable SAK. I have not pursued the collectability of SAK knives.

A comparison of a real Classic SD (right, black scales) knife with an imitation (left, red scales) knife. The imitation knife lacks the Victorinox logo, and the nail file is rather crude and lacks the small screwdriver bit at the tip of the blade. The other implements are also lesser quality, with the scissors unable to even cut the paper of a cash register receipt.

Real vs. Imitation Swiss Army Knives

A single pass through the ebay SAK auctions will quickly illustrate that there are a lot of "Swiss style" knives being sold. Only two companies, Victorinox and Wenger, ever made genuine SAKs. Wenger was purchased in 2005 by Victorinox, and the Wenger product line was integrated into the Victorinox line in 2013.

The Victorinox knives carry a distinctive logo with a cross inside a shield and are marked "Victorinox" on the ricasso (base) of the main blade. Wenger knives carry a similar logo with a cross inside a shield and are marked "Wenger" on the ricasso of the main blade. (There are exceptions to these observations, but those exceptions are beyond the scope of this article.)

(Note: I acquired several Swiss style knives, shown in some of the photos, in preparing this article. Their quality ranged from poor to abysmal. One of those knives had many of the same faults as I found with the multi-tool encountered in my review of the Atlas Industries Be Read Bag (http://practicaleschatology.blogspot.com/2015/09/the-realist-atlas-industries-be-ready.html).)

Three different "Swiss style" knives commonly seen on ebay. All are made in China. All have significantly inferior tools and blades.

There are a handful of Swiss style knives for sale on ebay made by respected European knife companies, but they are fairly uncommon and fail my "recognized brand" requirement.

I can't offer a lot of guidance on ebay knife lot buying other than suggesting you look at completed sold auction listings to get a feel for what a knife lot typically sells for, look on Amazon to get a feel for the street prices of new SAKs, look at the SAK web pages mentioned in the resources for this article to become familiar with what real and imitation SAKs look like, look carefully at the auction pictures and description, check out the feedback of the seller, decide what your risk tolerance is and hence what you are willing to spend, and be a disciplined bidder. Also remember, unless otherwise stated in the auction description, the knife lots you are buying are used knives that have not been thoroughly inspected by the seller and are in "as-is" condition.

Cleaning and Repair

Some of the knives are surprisingly dirty. The knives have ranged from very clean to having a meal's worth of old food jammed down in the various crevices of the knife.

I clean each knife with soap and water (including sanitizing with a mild bleach solution, followed by a rinse), oil the pivots, inspect for obvious significant defects, and generally grade them. (The grading is for my own consumption to better gauge the value of the lot.)

(Cleaning notes: Rubbing alcohol will start to dissolve the Cellidor plastic of the scales, so don't use alcohol for sanitizing SAKs. A strong bleach solution will react with the aluminum spacers laminated between each layer of the SAK, so only use a weak bleach solution, and don't soak SAKs for a long period of timein the bleach solution.)

At this point, I haven't started trying to sharpen the blades, although some have been razor sharp. A few have had broken tips that I should be able to sharpen out without it affecting functionality and looking like they were reshaped.

The setup for straightening a bent corkscrew, using a mini bar clamp and a 9-in-1 screwdriver.

A surprisingly number of SAKs have had a bent cork screw. Fortunately, I figured out an easy way to bend them back without breaking/stripping pivot pins or rivets. I use a Vise-Grip mini bar clamp and the hollow shaft of one of those 9-in-1 screwdrivers to bend the cork screw back into position. The mini bar clap is used to compress the scales and laminated layers together so they won't be pried apart when bending the cork screw back into position. The hollow shaft of the screwdriver is slipped over the corkscrew to facilitate bending it back into position. Occasionally, the cork screw is bent up, so I'll use a small adjustable wrench to hold the base of the cork screw in place while I bend it "down."

For the blades with bent tips, I first tried straightening one tip by bending it back with pliers, and only succeeded in breaking the tip off. More successfully, I have straightening them by gently hammering them back to flat against a hard surface such as a anvil or top of a bench-mounted vice. While the result was a serviceable blade, it looked like a bent tip that was straightened.

Some of the knives also have had stiff pivots, in some cases sufficiently stiff that it almost impossible to open the blade. Applying a drop of a light oil - I've been using Remington Rem Oil - to the pivot, working working the blade several times, and letting the oil have overnight to fully penetrate the pivot, has significantly improved mobility of the pivot.

A few knives had loose scales. A small dab of glue (e.g. super glue) on top of the posts the scales snap onto will hold the scales in place. Be sure to remove the tweezers and tooth pick before gluing to avoid permanently gluing them into the scales.

Replacement Parts

Most SAKs leave the factory with a toothpick and tweezers stowed in the scales (the plastic sides of the knife), while some older SAKs lack the channels for these accessories. The toothpick and tweezers are sometimes missing by the time they get sold on ebay. I purchased a genuine Victorinox "replacement parts" kit that has an assortment of frequently lost/damaged minor parts and accessories, including toothpicks and tweezers. These replacement parts can be purchased individually or in small lots, but their cost will quickly exceed the cost of the kit. (Those small replacement parts may also have barter/resale value.)

There are three types of tweezers and two types of toothpicks for the SAK knives. The tweezers are either "large" with the end you grab with a fingernail to pull it out being beveled to match the curve of the scales, "small" with a straight end, or "short" with a beveled end. Toothpicks are either "large" with a beveled end or "small" with a straight end. The "small" straight accessories are what are typically found in the small Classic SD knives.

A few of the knives have had broken or bent springs for the scissors. While the scissors could be used without a spring, they are easier to use with a spring. Spring replacement only requires pliers.

Replacement scales are available. These scales are sold primarily for collector restoration purposes, and hence are too expensive to consider for repair of used knives intended to be profitably bartered/resold.

Buying for Personal Use

If you are looking for SAKs for personal use, single knives or small lots of two to four knives are plentiful on ebay. Both new and used SAKs are sold on ebay. The prices for individual knives or small lots will be significantly higher than the per-knife cost of larger lots, but you have much
more information with which to make a purchase decision and can get exactly what you want. Individual and small lot used knives will generally be graded for quality.

One feature worth considering for a personal SAK are "Stayglow" scales. In daylight, the Stayglow scales have a bright florescent yellow appearance. In the dark, they have a greenish glow. Once "charged", the scales will glow all night long, suggesting they use a strontium aluminate phosphor. Knives with Stayglow scales sell for a premium over similar non-Stayglow knives.


There is a lot more to learn about SAKs than can be presented in this short article. Learning about SAKs is a lot like learning about the various firearms and their variants produced by one of the more prolific firearms manufacturers.

There are many different models of SAKs, both discontinued and currently produced models, plus models that have evolved over time, plus limited production models. Even in my limited sample of SAKs, I have seen discontinued models, old and current versions of particular models, and samples of limited production models. Please review the resources below for more information on the rich variety of SAKs.

Numerous survival/preparedness articles and posts have discussed various post-TEOTWAWKI barter scenarios, including goods that the authors believe would have value post-TEOTWAWKI. In this article, I have added my opinions to that larger discussion.

Let me close with this thought: Do not acquire items specifically for barter at the expense of delaying or short-changing your personal preparedness.


Swiss Army Knife resources:

Swiss Army brand's knife pages:

A SAK collector's site, with many good pictures to help identify versions and discontinued models:

From another SAK collector's site, "Victorinox" on the ricasso:

Swiss Army Knife Encyclopedia:

Counterfeit SAK differences:

Common fakes:

Grading/Quality of SAKs:


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