13 April 2009

EDC Knives: Tactical Folder Design I

Much could of course be said about tactical knife design, but this post concerns only design as it relates to function. I will survey here just few basics that every buyer should be aware of with respect to opening, locking and carry designs. Materials I will cover another time. Tactical designs can differ greatly in operation, and every user will have different preferences. Forewarned is forearmed.

Opening Design

All true tactical knives are designed to open and close one handed, and are either auto or manual. Autos are popularly called switchblades. They open (and sometimes even close) automatically when one pushes a button or switch on the handle. If a knife requires any manual manipulation of the blade to open it, then it is a manual knife.

However, some manual knives are “assisted.” This means that when the user rotates the blade open as little as 20 degrees (it varies), a spring takes over and opens the blade fully. Really, the only difference between an auto and an assisted opener is whether you push a button the handle to open it (auto) or nudge a flipper or thumb stud on the blade (assisted). Here is a (slightly cheesy) YouTube demonstration of assisteds vs. autos by Duane the YouTube Knife Guy.

Contrary to popular belief, autos (switchblades) are legal to buy, own and carry in most states, with certain restrictions (by state). Federal law only regulates interstate sales, and that is in theory more than practice. But with a good design and a little practice, the user can open a manual, assisted or auto knife equally fast. An auto knife may in fact be slower to open than a manual, since it is usually carried locked (so it does not open in your pocket). So, unlock and then push button (auto) or just flick thumb/index finger (manual). Autos anymore are cool but pointless.

I discussed the basic kinds of openers in my last post: thumb stud, thumb disc, thumb hole, or index flipper. Of these, I find that thumb holes are slowest but offer the most opening control, while index flippers, though very fast and fail-safe, offer the least control. Thumb studs/discs take a little technique to use, and knife design is important for effective function, but they give the user the option of a very fast or a very controlled open.

I prefer a thumb stud on an assisted knife to any other opening design. You can pop the blade open instantly, normally, or open it in a relatively controlled way if necessary. But entirely manual knives are safer and, with good design and practice, can be opened as fast as an assisted. They also may also be easier to close one-handed, since you do not have to compress a spring. The ideal for me is my SOG Flash I. Light and safe to carry, deep pocket clip, grippy handle, fast to open and easy to close (the thumb lock release also compresses the spring). If I could only keep one of my EDC knifes, this little guy would be it.

SOG Flash I

Next up: Tactical folder design (part 2)

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