Case vs. Rough Riders

I'm going to create the ultimate blasphemy among knife collectors. More than one source has claimed that when it comes to the global knife market, Rough Riders are the best value for your money. I'm going to go one step further. I contend that when it comes to traditional pattern pocket knives, Rough Rider knives are the best value for your money, regardless of brand or country of origin. to prove my point, I'm going to compare Rough Riders to probably America's most iconic knife brand, W. R. Case & Son.

On average, for the price of three Case knives, I can purchase eleven Rough Riders. This was determined by comparing the average cost of my Case knife Collection divided by the average cost of my Rough Riders.  The prices used in the comparison were the lowest price quoted on either Amazon or SMKW web site for the knife in my collection.  (As some of my Case knives are old collector knives that cost more than  today’s market price, I looked for the closest current production Case knife that was similar in pattern and handle material for a more equitable cost).  

Obviously if all you bought were the cheapest Case knives, the Rough Rider to Case ratio would drop. But not all of my Rough Riders cost $9.99 and not all of my Case knives cost under $30.  The average prices for my Rough Riders came out to   $11.76; for Case knives, the average was $44.26.  This is just the cost of the knife, not the shipping charges or taxes. (11.76 x 11 = $129.36 vs.  44.26 x 3= $132.78 --thus for the cost of three Case is slightly more than that of eleven Rough Riders!) Your math may come out different depending on your on personal collection. Another way to put it is Case knives cost on average 366% more than a Rough Rider. 

You might say, “So what?  Case knives are better?”  But are they really? Let’s take a look.

Perhaps Case knives are better but are they 3 2/3 better than a Rough Rider? I don't think so Let's do some comparing.

Blades, the heart of the knife::  

Most Case knives are made with a Stainless Steel blade called “Tru-sharp Surgical steel.  Many sources state that this is none other than 425M or 420HC stainless steel.  The HRC for Tru-sharp Steel is around 55-57.   Case isn't really up front about what the steel is. In theory they could change to a lower quality of the steel and continue to call it Tru-sharp. Its a company name and as such they decide what tru-sharp steel is.

Today's Tru-sharp steel is about the same as Rough Rider’s 440A Razor Sharp Stainless Steel which has an HRC of 55-57. Edge retention of both knives is the about the same.   Of course Case also makes knives with Chrome Vanadium (CV)  blades which are carbon steel blades similar in quality to 1095 carbon steel.  The HRC on these blades is around 56-58. Edge retention is improved on the CV blades but the knives also cost $10-15 more than the Tru-sharp knives with similar scales and frames.

Scale material:

Almost all of my Case knives have bone scales.   The same probably goes for my Rough Rider knives. For this reason, I’m going to compare bone scales to bone scales.

Admittedly, the edges of Case’s bone scales seem to be more rounded at the edge, but the difference is small.  Also depending on your tastes, the dyes used in some Rough Rider knives can be less than inspiring. But this really depends on the series.  This also seems to be a matter of opinion. The same can be said for Case knives.   There are some jigging patterns and colors used by Case that I really find unappealing, other I tend to love.  Unfortunately, the price of Case knives will sometime vary dramatically depending on the bone color and jigging pattern. This doesn’t seem to be the situation with Rough Rider Pocket knives.  The prices tend to fluctuate a couple dollars between the most expensive scales and the least expensive.  Among the bone handles there is very little difference in price unless special packaging is included.

For everyday use, Case produces knives with Delrin scales.  Delrin is a thermoplastic developed by Dupont.  While it is a perfectly acceptable scale material it is cheaper to use than bone. Even Case knives with Delrin handles cost twice as much as a bone handled Rough Rider knife in the same pattern.

Fit & Finish

As far as fit & finish goes, I have to admit on some of my Rough Riders, the pins aren’t completely flush. But  on many occasions I don’t notice the slight protrusion until many days of carrying the knife.  Case also tends to do a better job polishing the blades. When you do the light test to see how tight the springs are, it is minimal for both brands.  It is truly a tie.  Both knives come with a manufacturer’s warranty against defects.

Over all, I feel the fit and finish of both knives are exceptional.  Yes I’d  give the edge to Case, but it is a slight edge, not a 366% better than a Rough Rider!

Walk & Talk

Walk referes to how smoothly a knife opens and closes. Talk refers to the blade snap, that is the sound the blade makes when it opens and closes. I honestly can't tell the difference between the wlak and talk of the two brands. Both open very smoothly. and both have a realtively quite snap opening. Both make a louder snap closing. Both have a deep choil that prevents the blades from making contact with the back springs. Admittedly some patterns of Rough Riders are accused of beign nail breakers, that is very strong springs making it difficult to open. but I've expereinced the same with a few Case knives. I think it has more to do with the pattern than the brand.

Stay & Play

Stay refers to if the baldes reamains in place when you open the knife Play refers to how much the blade wiggles (side to side) when in the open position. I could go on a rant, but in the end the current production Case knives and Rough rider knives both come with springs strong enough to hold the blades in the open or closed position. They also normally arrive new with tight pins that keep blade wiggle to a minimum. I use my Rough Riders a lot more than my Case knives, and over time, the Stay and play remains the same as the day I bought them. Obviously, if you abuse your knife and apply a lot of torque to the blade, you'll eventually develop play in the blade. But so far my Rough Rider Scout knife with its screwdriver is doing just fine. It is holding up as well as any of my Camillus Scout knives or my Victorinox Swiss Army Knives. When the Case Scout Jr. cost over $60 and has a screw driver half the size of the Rough Rider, I for one see no need to use it. So stay an play won't ever be an issue for the knife because it will never be used.

Blade Rub

Blade rub is when blades hit the side of the liners or makes contact with other blades that are closed within the knife handle. Some knife pattersn are more prone to blade rub than others. For instance a certain amount of blade rub can be expected with canoes and sowbellies. However blade rub should be non-existent in a toothpick, peanut or trapper. The tell-tale sign of blade rub is usually a small vertical line that forms on the blade being rubbed. It is normally caused by tip or the sharp edge of another blade making contact with the blade when it is opened and closed. This line seems to form on the sheepfoot blade of Rough Rider Sowbellies. It also happens on Rough Rider Canoes. Guess what? I had blade rub so bad on Case Canoe I had to send it back for repair. The knife arrived with the small pen drifting so much it prevented the main blade from closing. Case fixed the blade, but the small line on the pen blade is still there. Case informed me "A certain amount of blade rub is expected in some knife patterns." I knew that already. There is also a faint line of the sheep foot blade of large pattern stockman and mt Case Eisenhower. Matter fact, I can find blade rub in my Swiss Army Knives, and my stockmans and canoes from other knife makers as well. Both Rough Rider and Case will fix or repair knife blades that are causing blade rub due to factory error. But some times it is just the nature of the beast.


When it comes to variety, Rough Rider actually blows Case out of the water.  Same goes for usability. Why spend $40 on a knife you’re going to use when you can spend $10 and get a knife with the same life span?

For example, the cheapest Case Hawkbill goes for around $25. The cheapest with a bone handle goes for around $40 You can pick up just about any Rough Rider hawkbill of the same size and pattern for around $11. This includes the very popular yellow composition handle as well as the bone handled versions. The armor hide cost about $15. The most expensive Case goes for $60 but has a CV blade.

Rough Rider seems to make a knife in just about every pattern in the Case line up.  The only real exceptions are the Seahorse Whittler and the Russlock.  That’s two for Case.  Rough Rider on the otherhand currently produces a Rigger (Marlin Spike), a linerlock Sodbuster ,  two styles of locking canoes, a wide variety of fixed blades, a Canittler, and several other patterns  that are either no longer offered by Case or were never offered by Case.  Rough Rider also doesn’t go around putting knives in  “a vault” simply to drive up the collector value. Yes knives go out of stock or are discontinued, but it isn’t done artificially.

Traitor! How can you buy Chinese Junk instead of American Made Knives!

Yes!  Case is made in America. However, while Rough Riders are manufactured in China it is an American company and like Case, they are sold world wide! Honestly, every time I buy a Case knife, I feel like I’ve been over charged. Every time I buy a Rough Rider, I think, “This knife for that price?  What a great deal!” How can I justify buying a $42 knife when an almost identical knife of an almost identical quality is available $12?

Should I spend almost four times as much simply because it is the patriotic thing to do? When did spending hard earned cash foolishly become the American Way?  I love America but America needs to find a better way to get me to buy American made products than trying to call me un-American when I buy foreign made products; especially when those foreign made products are sold to me by Americans trying to make a living.  Heck even the original Camillus knives were imports! (Notice, I ignored the Chinese Junk comment. That dog don't hunt anymore, buddy!)

They won’t ever be worth anything?

First let me say,  “Thank you Nostradamus!”  I’m not able to predict the future, I’m glad someone can.

Will a Rough Rider retain its value over time.  Who knows?  I’m sure Case fans will say not as well as a Case.  Maybe so, but I’m not buying knives under some obscure notion that some day one I’ll be able to retire when I sell them.  I buy a knife because I like it, not because it’s a good investment.   I plan on using my 401K for retirement. (that and a shopping cart, if the economy doesn’t turn around)

I expect the knife to be a good value when I buy it, That is, it should be worth the price I’m for it in the here and now.  I’m of the school that many of the knives bought today, especially those made by Case, are with the collector in mind.  As such they also will not increase much in value for many, many years.  There are collector’s items and there are collectable Items.  You won’t really know what a collector’s item is until a future demand for a particular item is established.  

Unless you can predict the future you really don’t know which if any currently produced knives will be collector’s items. Like Case, Rough Rider also makes knives with the collector in mind but at a price that actually may lead to the knife being used and not just stored.  This is a scenario similar to the most sought after Case knives.  The old Case knives that people seek out as collector’s items were good, inexpensive knives that were cheap enough to use every day.  People bought them with the intent of using them. Thus the ones that managed to survive in near mint shape are the ones that are worth lots of money (at least for now) Ten years from now even those knives may go down in value.  Thus I find it kind of silly to buy a knife as an investment. 

This above everything else is why I own ten times as many Rough Riders as I do Case.

Don't believe me? Check out these You Tube reviews of Case and Rough Rider knives..