A folding knife is a kind of pocket knife that is versatile enough to fulfill a variety of needs despite small in size and convenient in hand. It is useful to cut a meshed net stuck in a tree, a rope to tie up a package, and even wild weeds to make the path clear to reach at the destination. However, the reasons to carry a folding knife are more, as it is handy on the go and at home for slicing fruits, opening boxes, and even defending your own self.
Folding knives, generally, are more functional, safer, and more convenient to carry in one’s pocket. This is probably because the blade is out of sight and that the product as a whole consumes less space. These knives are small enough to remain inside the pockets or droop from a belt. At times, they come with more than a single blade.
What Makes Up a Folding Knife
Knives in general are made up of many intricate parts. However, the handle and blade are the most familiar ones. Designed for secure grip and safe manipulation of the blade, handle might have a tang, a section from blade reaching up into the handle. It might even have a bolster, which is made up of a metal and balances the product ahead of the handle where the blade is intersected.
The blade is attached to the handle via a pivot. This pivot enables the blade to move into the handle. The blade is composed of a few parts such as the point as the knife’s end useful for piercing and edge extending from the tip to heel for cutting. There is also a grind as the cross-section shape, spine as the thickest area, and fuller as the groove that lightens the blade.
What to Consider while Choosing the best Folding Knife
Just as in case of any consumer product, it is essential to consider some major buying factors. These are the factors that make you take the right decision, if you know and apply them properly to the collection of promising knives. Before exploring these factors, there are some facts for you to know.
- All folding knives that are manually closed and opened are legal in the United States.
- Automatic knives are legally allowed only in a few states. While some permit the possession of a folding knife, some mandate a Concealed Carry of Weapon (CCW) license. Thus, if you are willing to buying an auto opening folder, do look out for the laws in your area or state, including even the rules for shipping.
Getting up to the right folding knife needs good research time as well as effort. The market is flooded with a variety of folding knives, each varying in terms of brand, style, and function. To find the ideal one, you need to consider factors such as size, blade material, handle material, blade length, and locking and opening mechanisms. Finally, you also need to find out the popular brands.
Factors For Buying The Best Folding Knife
Factor 1: Positions
The folding knife you choose should be able to be in all three positions namely, close, partially open, and open. When in the open position, it should remain fully open until it is in use. In the partially open state, the knife should be able to open or close smoothly.
When in close state, no chance should exist for the knife to open on its own, particularly when it is within the pocket. Or else, there is always a high risk of injury. The efficiency of setting up these positions is critically dependent on the locking mechanism’s performance.
Factor 2: Locking Mechanism
This feature is essential to keep the risk of injury at bay while using a folding knife. These days, the folding knives are available with various locking mechanisms, each being favored for different reasons such as ease of use, federal validity, and apparent strength. However, all of them add to safety and stability. Here are some of the common locking mechanisms:
- Slip Joint: Is seen usually in conventional pocket knives wherein the opened blade is held in place with the help of a spring. There is no locking but the spring facilitates folding with some amount of pressure.
- Spine Lock: Involves a pivoted latch attached to a spring. It is possible to detach it just by pushing the latch, which also releases the blade.
- Button Lock: Is seen chiefly on automatic knives and comprises of a small push-button for opening the blade.
The locking liners have a liner wherein the blade is locked once it is being opened. At the time of folding, you need to move this liner to one side so that the blade folds. Automatic knives usually come with a frame lock mechanism to grasp the open blade via spring-loaded handles. On the contrary, lock back knives have a locking arm from handle’s butt into the rear of blade, fastening it behind the pivot point.
Factor 3: Opening Mechanism or Ease of Opening
This is an important feature to look for while buying a folding knife. Basically, a folding knife can have any of the following three types of opening or blade releasing mechanisms:
- Manual: You will have to open the blade with the help of thumb, via the cutout in handle, a small thumb stud, or with a totally unique manual system.
- Assisted Opening: This is very common type of mechanism but it is different from the automatic one. Here, you need to start opening the blade manually but without pushing a trigger or lever.
- Automatic Opening: This one needs no manual interference or some starting effort for opening the blade. It fully opens the blade via a built-in mechanism that triggers the moment you press a mall switch or lever. This is why a knife with such a mechanism is also called switchblade. Such a knife opens by utilizing the spring that has stored energy, which is released the moment you press a lever or switch embedded into handle. Such models are popular amongst military and law people, as they open with just one hand. However, they are restricted by law in several states of U.S.
If you are looking for Swiss Army or traditional pocket knives, they usually have the nail notch, while the modern ones come with a flipper, stud, or a hole on the blade. No matter which one you choose, all of them allow opening the blade with just one hand. Another popular mechanism is the wave, which makes a section of the blade to jut out to grab the pocket for opening the blade. Here is a brief on each of these opening methods that relate some mechanisms mentioned above:
- Thumb Stud: Is a famous method and opted by many folding knife fans. It is in the form of a little cylinder that is raised on the blade. You only need to apply some pressure to it with the thumb for unlocking or locking the blade. The market is also offering its variations such as thumb plates and angled studs. Some plates do work as wave but needs more attention. As a result, such plates are not much in demand.
- Thumb Hole: Is more straightforward to use than thumb stud, as it demands less attention. It is in the form of a hole on blade, which you need to push using your thumb for closing or opening the blade. In some models, you may find an oval instead of a hole. While many brands are offering this opening method, Spyderco is the pioneer of it.
- Flipper: Is perhaps the latest method introduced in knives for opening the blade by using a small protrusion. You only need to apply some pressure on this protrusion to raise it above an embedded ball bearing inside the blade. This is regarded as a highly simple as well as quick method but works only with some types of locks. Another limitation is that the bearing needs to be well organized or else failure becomes certain. You will find good quality flipper knives from the Kershaw brand.
- Wave: Is a speed way of opening and closing the blade. It exists as a hook on the spine, which pulls the edge when you are taking the knife out of pocket or bag. On the flip side, this method really needs some good practice from your side to make it perfectly flawless every time you use it. Usually, it is employed in knives made for tactical purposes.
You are free to choose any method and mechanism of your choice. However, but choose the one that best matches your requirements. It is vital to keep in mind that each of them has its own benefits and limitations. Just for information sake, of all options available, flipper and thumb hole methods are mostly preferred because of more convenience in daily usage.
Factor 4: Blade Design and Style
The blade is the most significant part of a knife. Without it being of high quality, the handle is simply of no use. Well, there are many aspects of blade to consider, such as design and style, its length when opened, and material used to manufacture it.
Talking about the blade design, there are a few designs to consider, which is applicable to the tip or point:
- Normal: Features a straight and uninteresting back allowing to push the sharp edge’s rear part for extra force. It is ideal for chopping, cutting, and thrusting.
- Tanto: Is a Japanese style with thicker design useful for rescue operations and battles. The thickness reaches up to the very point due to which any chopping task becomes better than before.
- Drop: Is more conventional in shape and resembles a look of a kitchen knife. It is ideal for fine tasks. It is more commonly used for hunting and utility purposes.
- Spear: Is useful for generic cutting and piercing.
- Trailing: Is much like a fillet or hunting knife and is above the knife’s spine. This gives a big belly to the knife, which is comfortable for slicing and slashing.
You might even come across some more point styles such as hawkbill and shapefoot point. Well, you will have to check the specific uses of the point and choose one design.
In terms of style, you will also have to choose from smooth versus serrated blade. A smooth one has a straight edge, while a serrated one has a saw-toothed edge.
While a serrated blade is ideal for cutting and ripping through fiber like stuff such as rope, a smooth blade is more generic and ensures ease of sharpening. Serrated blades are better for jobs having sawing motions, while plain-edge ones are ideal for jobs with push-through cuts such as slicing and chopping.
Plain-edge blades are flat or hollow ground. Flat ground has a profile tapering to the sharp edge from the thick spine in a straight line, while beveled edges are part of hollow-ground design. A few folding knives come with two or more blades giving you a mix of plain edge and a serrated blade.
Factor 5: Blade Shape
Not many of us know that the manner in which a knife’s blade is shaped contributes to the overall quality. Majority of steel blades are usually shaped by forging due to which they are known as forged blades.
Such blades are constructed by heating just one steel piece after which the hot metal is shaped with the help of a hammer. On the other hand, you have stock removal blades, which get their shape by pulverizing and removing metal.
In both the processes, the steel needs to be heat treated after shaping. Herein, the metal is heated above a significant point after which the blade is allowed to cool down so that it hardens well. Once hardened, the blade is moderated for discarding highlights as well as for toughening the blade more.
Of the two types, forging is used to create more expensive knives, as the process takes more effort as well as time to make. However, the cost is worth it because the manual process makes the blade to last for a lifetime.
Factor 6: Blade Length
This is as important as the design or style. The right length is always decided as per the usage purpose. Most folding knives offer blades that are two to six inches long. If you wish to use a folding knife for normal daily chores, it is best to choose a standard option with 2-3 blades that are 2-3 inches long. These blades are handy to cut envelopes or slice apples. The plus point of multi-blade knives is that they come with some options for blade to choose from, which you select as per specific needs.
Another scenario is wherein you need a folding knife specifically for outdoor use and that too for heavy duty tasks. In this case, a single blade with more length than standard is ideal. Such a bigger blade is usually serrated. You can even choose a partially serrated model wherein the blade closest to the handle is serrated and the remaining part of the blade is straight, which is ideal for slicing.
You can even go for another option, which is a blade with plain edge, which is considered best for slicing as well as self-defense.
Factor 7: Blade Material
Usually, different varieties of steel is preferred for folding knives, as steel is strong and hard enough to prevent blade deformation. However, each type of steel gives different favorable characteristics. Usually, you will prefer rust resistance, edge maintenance, and easy sharpening.
If you will be doing heavy cutting, a high quality blade is worthy of your money even if it is costly. Well, it is vital to know your usage purpose for the knife and budget before choosing the blade material. If you choose steel, here are the different varieties to know:
- Carbon: Is rugged to ensure maximum durability, easy to sharpen, quite sharp, and is cheaper. It also maintains its edge well. However, it is not resistant to rust due to which it is not good for use in the long run.
- Stainless: Is an advanced version of the carbon, which does not rust. It also does not require much maintenance. However, they need somewhat effortful sharpening.
- Carbon Stainless: Is ideal and costliest one, as it does not rust even if it is oiled or get stained or discolored. It maintains its edge well. A popular material in this category is 154cm known for its extra hardness to keep corrosion at bay. This is ideal for small blades. VG-10 is a trendy version of 154cm, and has superior resistance to corrosion as well as longer edge retention. Another popular name is S30V, with high-vanadium steel known for its exceptional resistance to rusting and wearing and ideal toughness.
Talking about the hardness, the average steel has it measured between 50 – 60 Rockwell [a measurement of hardness]. A rating over 60 indicates brittleness. Following are other materials to consider for blade:
- Laminate: Uses several metals to form a layered slot. For instance, harder, but more fragile steel is squeezed between an outer layer of tougher and softer stainless steel for increasing resistance to corrosion. Well, this material is costlier than steel blades, but more affordable than the titanium ones.
- Titanium: Is more flexible than steel as well as resistant to wear. However, it is less hard and is unable to retain its sharpness. The titanium blades are perhaps the most expensive ones.
- Ceramic: Is light yet hard but needs proper care to retain the sharpness for years without maintenance. It is brittle as glass so proper handling is required. You cannot sharpen or repair due to which a ceramic blade is discarded once it wears or chips. Ceramic blades are costlier than steel blades.
Factor 8: Handle
- Plastic: Is easy to maintain or take care but becomes weak and slippery with time. However, you can go for high grade plastics making up injection-molded handles and are fortified with fiberglass or Kevlar.
- Wood: Offers good grip but is tough to maintain, as it warps or cracks with extended exposure to water. Nevertheless, these issues are overcome significantly by modern laminated woods.
- Synthetic: Has several different forms all designed to ensure the best grip as well as more durability than wood, plastic, and leather. Below are a few recommended synthetic materials to consider:
- Celluloid: Is a type of artificial plastic made up of cellulose nitrate and capable of rendering any of those seven rainbow colors. The material can even mold into a highly natural color such as amber, horn, wood, pear, ivory, stag, and tortoise shell.
- G-10: Is exceptionally powerful, durable, lightweight, and resistant to water as well as moisture material created from fiberglass. This latter glass is well compressed after been soaked in resin. While the typical color of G-10 is black, it can take up other shades as well. It takes care of the grip even in bad or wet conditions, which is why it is mostly used in making the handles of tactical and survival knives.
- Micarta: Is commendable for its extraordinary toughness but is still not more than G10. Micarta is a synthetic mixture made using cloth or paper and phenolic resin. Usually, canvas micarta is used in making the handle of folding knives. While the standard colors are yellow or tan, ageing can turn the same into red or brown.
- Zytel: Is an unbreakable thermoplastic that is extremely disobedient to shocks and abrasion. Well, this is the secret of its high level of durability. You can expect a satisfactory grip level from this material although it has somewhat textured surface. It is also an economical material to choose. All these facts make Zytel one of the most chosen materials for the handle of a folding knife.
- Kraton: Is almost similar to Zytel in terms of type. The major difference is that Kraton is relatively softer and flexible. Because of these qualities, the material is used as a wrapped coat around the knife’s tang or as an insert. From the buyer’s viewpoint, the material ensures good grip as well as security while the knife is in use.
- Rubber: Is preferred over plastic because of cushioning ability and durability. It is also one of the most preferred materials for pocket knife handles. The material gives a very soft and textured feel. Its use is just like Kraton, as an insert or a wrap. While you can expect a really good grip, the durability is not as commendable as other synthetic options.
- Delrin: Is one more trusted thermoplastic with a highly dense and heavy feel. However, it is truly a smooth material to choose. Unlike some other synthetic options, Delrin is a softer material due to which it is subject to scratches and scuffs. Despite this quality, it is commendable to know this material is quite durable.
- Mother of Pearl: Is made up of mollusks that are referred to as the external layer of pearls. The look is shining white but the functionality is lasting. It is usually used in costly models.
- Stainless Steel and Aluminum: Is known for its sanitary and durable properties but the blend proves to be a bit slippery. To this at bay, these handles come with indentations, bumps, or ridges, which ensure extra grip. However, due to good heat conductivity, these knives can be risky and uncomfortable, if used without gloves.
- Carbon: Is a strong material with great aesthetic appeal.
Plastic and rubber handles are for those who are budget and do not expect them to be highly durable. If durability is what you need for frequently handling tough tasks, it is best to go with Kydex or G-10 synthetic materials.
While options such as wood, leather, and Mother of Pearl are known to add a charm to the overall look, they are not so durable options. They are also likely to wear out or break as time passes. On the other hand, Kydex and rubber are economical but are subject to scratches. Still, it is recommended to choose rubber for enjoying safe grip in bad conditions.
Many choose plastic material for folding knife handles but it is only ideal in terms of price but not in terms of durability. Aluminium or Zytel is ideal for all those who are weight conscious, as nothing can be as light as both of them. If you wish to have all stars, nothing can beat G-10, as it is unbelievably powerful, safe, and resistant to moisture.
Factor 9: Blade Finish
It is vital to check for the finishing material on the blade, as it is responsible for visual appeal, reduction in friction, as well as resistance to rust. While you have different options, some of them are the most common ones.
First, the black-coated finish refers to dark matte look and is more resistant to corrosion. Second is Teflon that looks polished and aids in reducing friction for giving improved cuts. Third, black electroplating finish is a non-reflective option and is usually used on steel to reduce its reflectivity. Lastly, you can go for satin finish if you wish a cosmetic change in looks in terms of luster.
Top 5 Folding Knives
Kershaw Ken Onion Blur:
Not for all states, this one is ideal for all daily uses. It has a 3-3/8-inch smooth or serrated blade made up of Sandvik 14C28N Steel known for corrosion resistance and strength. The lightweight handle is made up of anodized aluminum and has Trac-Tec inserts for ensuring a proper grip even in slippery or wet conditions. The knife has SpeedSafe assisted opening mechanism that prevents accidental opening away. Overall, the knife is 7.9 inches long.
This one is lighter in weight and features 3.5-inch flat ground blade made up of AUS-8 Steel known for its durability and hardness (55-56 HCR). It also features ergonomic nylon handles, liner lock, spine jimping for great control, and a 4-way position pocket clip.
Gerber Bear Grylls:
This one comes with a drop point style blade that is deployable with one hand through dual thumbstuds. The fine edge is useful for multiple applications for survival. The lightweight knife features a lock back mechanism and textured rubber handle.
BlizeTec Survival 5-in-1:
Is a survival knife for outdoors, is incredibly light, and has five tools inside such as LED light, magnesium fire starter, and seatbelt cutter. The blade is ultra sharp and is made up of stainless steel. The handle is made up of anodized aluminum.
TAC Force TF-705:
This one comes with an assisted opening mechanism for one-handed deployment and liner lock for secure locking. The 3.25-inch blade with 3mm thickness is partially serrated and is made up of stainless steel. The handle is of aluminum and comes with a glass breaker and a bottle opener.
Well, it is expected that you will come across a variety of folding knives, each differing in terms of price, brand, blade, and style. However, with the aforementioned buying factors, we assure you a smooth shopping experience.
With these factors, the chances of buying the best folding knife are maximized. Such a knife is likely to be truly versatile, provided you take it from a reputed brand as well as buyer.
Just do not be carried away with models that are too cheap to match with the existing range of market prices. Do pay some dollars more but avoid ending up in a big loss after investing in such a small deal.