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10 Things You Need to Know About Folding Knives

Before buying a duty or off-duty blade, consider the following.

June 21, 2012  |  by - Also by this author

5.11 Tactical's XPRT folder includes a glass breaker. Photo: 5.11 Tactical
5.11 Tactical's XPRT folder includes a glass breaker. Photo: 5.11 Tactical

6. Easy Opening

There are now essentially three types of folding knife actions: manual, assisted opening, and automatic.

Manual—A manual folding knife is one that requires you to physically open the blade, using a thumb stud, a cut out, or some other system.

Assisted Opening—The first thing you need to know about assisted opening knives is that they are not automatics. They are therefore legal in all 50 states (depending on blade length). In order to engage the blade on an assisted opening knife, you have to start opening that blade; you can't just push a trigger.

Automatic—Switchblades are illegal to own in all 50 states, unless you are military or law enforcement. This law is based on worries about automatic knife-wielding juvenile delinquents from the 1950s, as depicted in movies like "Blackboard Jungle" and "West Side Story." The law is ridiculous; most people who practice with manual folding knives can flip open the blade as quickly as they can push the trigger on an automatic knife. Plus, today's juvenile delinquents use AK-47s, so it seems strange to worry about their access to switchblades.

7. Keeping It Sharp

The most important thing for knife owners to know about sharpening, according to SOG's Cashbaugh, is to keep the knife sharp. "Don't wait until your knife is dull to sharpen it," he says. There is no one preferred way to keep a knife sharp. Some people swear by whet stones, others prefer honing rods, and others use ceramic or carbide sharpening devices and even pocket sharpeners. You can also take your knife to a professional. Whatever you decide to do, the critical concerns when sharpening are not to wear off too much steel from the blade and to keep the angle accurate. "Whatever brand knife you have, contact the company and ask them what the angles are for sharpening it," says Benchmade brand manager Jason Boyd. He also recommends that knife owners run a Sharpie pen over the blade edge before sharpening. "That tells you how much steel you need to take off. Your goal is to roll that steel back over."

8. Price Vs. Quality

Folding knives range in price from $5 to $500. And that $5 knife is functional. So why would anyone pay much more for a quality knife? The premium knife is made of better steel that holds an edge longer; it has better grips and liners, and it offer better design and engineering.

9. Know Your Policy

Some agencies have policies regarding what types of knives their officers can carry. Some don't. Know your agency's official policy regarding knives and find out if there's an unofficial policy. Don't wait until something happens on the street and you use the knife and find yourself jammed up.

10. Practice Saves Lives

If you carry a knife, be ready to use it. That means positioning the knife for easy access for you but  not for a perp, and practicing. "If you are carrying a knife, you need to know how to use it," says Gerber’s Raczkowski. "That means being ready to use it with either hand, whether it's the middle of the day or the middle of the night."

For More Information:

5.11 Tactical


Benchmade Knife Company

Emerson Knives



SOG Specialty Knives


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Comments (7)

Displaying 1 - 7 of 7

Bob @ 6/27/2012 5:17 AM

Generally good article on a neglected subject. Two quick notes. First, automatic knives are not illegal in all 50 states. They are, in fact, legal in 28 states. Federal law governs interstate shipment, exempting military, LEO, their procurement agencies, etc. Some states allow possessing but not carrying autos, though some require a CCW permit to carry them. I wholeheartedly agree that the laws are stupid on this point, and are based purely on movie hype.

Second, a serrated blade may be sharpened effectively with ceramic rods like those in the Spyderco Sharpmaker and other products. A generic rat-tail file will ruin a good blade. Personally, I only use ceramic sticks for routine sharpening and Arkansas stones for reshaping jobs, though I carry a small, fine diamond rod in the field just in case.

The Spyderco Military pictured on the first page is an excellent duty knife. It was designed for its namesake group, deployed military. It have proven very effective and popular, and can be easily and quickly opened and closed one-handed while wearing gloves.

Sgt. A. Shear @ 7/20/2012 8:39 AM

Very good article. I have carried numerous folders over my 35 years. I have found Zero Tolerance knives to be the best for the intended use. My choices are the ZT0350,ZT0301 for duty use.

Greg @ 8/3/2012 11:39 AM

I agree Sgt. I am a civilian and have used and carry knives for years. ZT is the absolute best brand, in terms of quality and craftsmanship. I found the blades to be of exceptional quality.

gerry maloney @ 2/6/2015 7:07 AM

hi your article is WRONG as to 1 point switchblades are NOT illeagle in.50 states indiana just repealed there law banning them as of july 1 2013 and alot of other states also.have repealed there laws these knifes pose no more danger than.any other knife the quick open spring knifes open even faster as they have no lock to contend with local laws may vary as to public parks and buildings please check first thanks have a great day and be safe. gerry

GWilliams @ 4/11/2015 5:27 PM

There should be a Uniform Knife Carrying Law on the Books for all 50 States especially if you have not used your knife in a threatening manner. Most States allow a Folder with a 4in. Blade to carried on your person and there are some that will only allow a 3in. Blade. there are those that Travel a lot such as truckers from State to State, They should not have to worry about breaking any Laws. Years ago I was stopped by the DOT and was Carrying a Vintage Folder that I had owned for Years, the Officer wanted to see it, He "Instantly Recognized" what he was holding, HE TOOK MY KNIFE "Just Because he wanted and thought that he could get away it, WELL !!! 6 months later and approx. $700.00 in a court I got my Knife Back and the Officer LIED cause he tried to say that my Knife was Misplaced in the Property Room. This Officer NEVER DREAMED just how hard I was willing to fight my Knife Back but I did and I'm still carrying it today.... A Bob Terzuola C15 GPS by Spyderco, Nuff Said !

Conrad Lingis @ 12/14/2015 6:25 AM

I think GWilliams might belong on some sorta watch list. Just sayin’...

Don @ 6/1/2016 6:15 PM

The author of this article is clueless about knife laws and truthfully no one is an expert on all fifty states, cause each is very different. Automatic knives "switch blades" are legal to own in many states and even legal to carry in a few, check your own states knife laws to determine what you may own and carry. Case in point every knife in existence is legal to "own in your home and on your property in massachusetts, but of course there is a list of knives ya can't legally carry off property.

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