An Overview of the Rough Rider Brand

Why the overview.:

After writing about five or six reviews of different Rough Rider knives, it became apparent that I was struggling for superlatives so that every review wouldn't sound the same. This is not only a waste of my time, but also your time. For the sake of brevity, I'm going to give you my overall take on the Rough Rider knives and then within the reviews of individual knives, I will give you a breif overview and specifications. A series or pattern review will also be given when I have sufficient knives to warrant such a review. It seems that I have bought Rough Riders of just about every type and size. Most of my collection consists of traditional pattern slip joints but I also have fixed blades, liner-locks and lock-backs. Currentlly, the only types of Rough Riders I don't own is there small selection of novelty knives and foldign tactical knives. I have knives with all types of handle materials, G-10, Composition, celluloid, stag, and bone. Regardless of pattern or materials used to build the knives, I have always found the Rough Rider knives to be built to the same exacting standards I see in knives made by some of the more prominent USA made knife brands. I believe the only reason Rough Riders wear-out quicker is because people are more inclined to misuse a lower priced knife than they are the higher priced knife and not because it is a lower quality knife. This is why time and time again, Rough Riders are considered the best bang for you knife buying buck, especially when you tack on the Smoky Mountain Knife Works money back guarantee.

Why Rough Riders?

If you asked me five years ago if I would ever buy a Chinese made knife, I would've told you no. I literally stumbled on Rough Rider knives by accident and have since come to appreciate an exceptionally well made knife. While I'm not a crazy about off-shore production of any product, I do recognize that it is a fact of life and is now part of the global economics that is a driving force in the American economic machine. I also recognize a quality made knife when I see, regardless of where that knife is made and under what political/economic shadows that production may take place. For this reason, I have become a fan of Rough Riders, one of the best made knives you will find on the market today.


Rough Rider has often been voted as the best bang for your buck by knife magazines as well as knife users. There is no doubt there are better made knives on the market and there are lest costly knives on the market but Rough Rider knives are repeatedly considered under-priced for the quality and usability.

Typically other globally made knives of the same quality will cost 15% - %50% more than a Rough Rider. For instance If , Frost made Steel Warrior, Frost Family, and Blackhills, brand knives are often considered on par with the Rough Rider. However, where the Rough Rider may sell for $10, the Frost knives will sell for $12-$17. At the same time there lesser quality Frost knives sell for about the same price as the Rough Rider. I also have pocket knives made by Schrade, Winchester, Kershaw, Master Cutlery, and Buck that were made in China. . The Rough Riders are just as good, if not better than these other higher priced knives

The price difference between American made brands vs. Rough Riders, is the 3 to 7 times higher yet the Rough Riders use similar steel and other materials in manufacturing and often look better and work just as good, if not better in some circumstances. (See Case vs. Rough Rider)

The Blade Steel:

In most cases, Rough Rider knives are made with 440A stainless steel hardened to 56-8 on the Rockwell C scale (HRC 56-68) This refers to the hardness of the blade along the cutting edge and no necessarily along the spine or tang. The steel is similar in quality to most Buck, Case, and Victorinox traditional pattern folding knives. Similar steels include AUS6, 420HC, and Case's proprietary Tru-Sharp surgical steel. While many people deride the steel, it is in fact a higher quality steel found on many factory made folding knives manufactured not only in China but in the US.

including the bolster, pins, and springs. All of it has a brushed satin finish which gives the steel a nice luster which complements the burl handle.  The lock-back is very positive and makes a nice positive click when the knife locks open. There is a fine line visible once the blade is opened but the there is no play in the blade.

One of my favorite things about the knife is that with practice you can easily open it with one hand.  Grasp the knife blade between thumb and index finger, blade up, with the point facing away from you. Then simply flick downward like you do when grabbing a Spyderco by the thumb hole, then slide the knife into the palm of your hand.

Other Building Material:

For the most part, most Rough Rider traditional pattern pocket knives will have bone handles. The bone is cattle bone. It is a by-product of the meat packing industry. The bone has been expertly dried and cleaned. Bone is normally used because it is light weight, tough, durable, and resist shrinkage. It is also easy to dye and can be somewhat easily jigged or cut to resemble other items or just to improve its looks. It has always been a popular material for knife handles.

Rough Rider also use other materials such as reconstituted or synthetic stones and/or different type of wood. They have also used india stag and pearl in past productions but this material may not be used in future folding knives. Acrylic like plastics have also been used and are often referred to as celluloid. The material, however is not a true celluloid. It will not shrink or gas-out.

For fixed blade knives, the typical materials are stacked leather washers, different types of wood, and occasionally stag. In most cases, the knife will be full tang and have slabs riveted to either side of the tang but on some occasions, a rat-tail or hidden tang is used. In these cases, leather washers and or rolled stag is the normal choice for handle material.

Rough Rider has also used a composition material similar to Delrin in both folding and fixed blade knives.

In most cases, the traditional pocket knives feature sing le ringed nickel-silver bolsters similar to the old Camillus knives. They also feature brass pins and liners and stainless steel back spring. Most scales are pinned to the brass liners. Most shields are also nickel-silver.

Fit & Finish.

Fit & finish describes how well a knife was put together and assembled. In the case of Rough Riders the fit & finish is on par with most American made knives and in many case better. Most of the pocket knives have well polished blades. the scales are normally pinned to the liners with brass pins. Bolsters and scales fit snugly with no gaps between them and everything is sanded smoothly so there are no protrusions. Liners, spacers and back-springs also fit tightly with only a minimal amount of light showing.

As with most pockets knives that have blades opening on opposite ends and sharing a common back-spring, you will occasionally have blade rub. This is most noticeable with the canoe pattern. You will find the same problem with canoes made in the USA as well as imported and globally produced canoes from other companies. This is also a common problem with some stockman patterns such as the sowbelly. Blade rub is about the same as what you see as the knives made by W. R. Case & Son. If that amount is acceptable for you then you will find the Rough Rider fit & finish excellent.

As for knives usch as trappers and single blade type folders, blade rub is nonexistent. the Blade drop cleanly into the frame with no wobble and come out smoothly even when you use the nail-nick.

Stay & Play.

Stay & play refers to how well the knife blade stays in position when open. Other terms you hear are "weak spring" or "blade wobble" My experience with Rough Riders is when the blades are open they open and when closed, they remain closed. On most knives, the back springs are normally strong enough to keep tension on the blade without making it hard to open and close the blade. Blade tension is similar to the knives I own made by Bear & Son, Case, and Queen. Blade wobble is also very slight if at all.

Walk & Talk.

Walk & talk refers to how well the knife opens and closes and if it has a good snap to the blades.Walk and talk is directly related to the strength of the back-spring and size of the blades. A common complaint has been that Rough Riders are hard to open due to a very strong back spring. I've found this to be the case on only two of the knives I've bought. The first a small black pearl whittler and the second a large boxcar whittler. On my other 90+ Rough riders, the knife pull was similar to that of other pocket knives. All of the knives have a nice walk and talk. However, there is no doubt that the closing snap is louder than the snap you get while opening the knife. Of course this is the same with almost every other pocket knife I own.

The down side.

When it comes to Rough Rider's the most common complaint is their slip spring is too strong, making it difficult to open/close the blade. Admittedly, I've bought a few Rough Riders with very tight back springs, however this is not the situation with most of the Rough Riders I have bought. I'm believe the problem (if that is what it is) occurs within certain patterns.

For instance, the pen blade on Rough Rider Peanuts is a difficult blade to open. This is primarily due to the size of the blade and the length of the very short back spring. In comparison, the pen blade on a peanut made by W. R. Case & Son, displays the same characteristic and is actually harder to open! However, if you made the spring weaker, I suspect it would wear out or break fairly quickly. Sometime the peculiar nature of the spring is an inherent flaw of the pattern and not so much the knife maker. Short blades has less leverage so they are harder to open. This is simple physics and not a design flaw.

As Rough Rider makes knives in a multitude of frames. more so than many American knife companies, there will be patterns that present different physical characteristics.From what I can tell, the so-called "nail-breaker" pull on Rough Riders is related to certain knife patterns only and is not something that happens with random knives in every pattern.

The other complaint is often that the knives are not made in the United States. Indeed the bulk of Rough Rider knives are made in China. A small number of their knives have also been made in Pakistan. To date, at least one Rough Rider is made in El Salvador. So far, no Rough Riders have been made in the United States. Smoky Mountain Knife Works over-sees the production of Rough Rider Knives and does rigorous quality control checks to ensure the products meet their high standards. They perform the same quality checks on all of their globally produced lines including Marbles, Colt, American Hunter, and several other house brands. Furthermore they offer a 100% money back satisfaction guarantee with every knife they sell. If you are a person who refuses to buy knives made off-shore by American companies, then Rough Riders as well as 90% or more of knives made by U.S. Companies are not for you.

The up side:

On the upside, Smoky Mountain Knife Works guarantees 100% satisfaction. If upon buying a knife, you're not happy, return it. If the product was deemed defective, they not only refund the purchase price of the knife but all shipping charges. However if there was no defect, then you will be out the shipping charges. This is what SMKW means with talk about taking the Rough Rider Challenge: Buy it, if you don't like it, send it back and get your money back. If you are looking for a quality made, reasonably priced knife to carry or collect, you probably can't find a better knife for the price you will pay for a Rough Rider. I've taken the challenge over 90 times and plan to take it many more times in the future!