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Folding knives have long been a favorite knife design for those users who like the utility of a fixed blade knife but, prefer the portability of a traditional pattern pocket knife. In fact, most knife aficionados agree that the Buck model 110 Folding Hunter, which was designed by Al Buck in 1964, is still the single most iconic folding knife ever designed. However, while the Buck model 110 is certainly a classic, both folding knife designs and the materials that they are made from have evolved over the years and have given rise to numerous new American knife manufacturers while other, vintage, knife companies have faded into the past. So, below you will find both a helpful buyer’s guide to choosing a modern folding knife as well reviews of what I feel are the top ten American-made folding knives.
At a Glance: Our Choices for The 10 Best American-made Folding Knives
Click on one of the links to go directly to our overview, opinion, and features of each knife.
Folding Knife Buyer’s Guide
As mentioned above, most people choose to carry a folding knife instead of a traditional pattern pocket knife because they like the utility of a fixed blade knife but, also like the portability of a pocket knife. Consequently, folding knives are now often referred to as “every-day-carry” knives and, as such, they are often called upon to perform a wide range of cutting tasks. Therefore, because an every-day-carry knife is a constant companion for most people, choosing one with a high-quality blade steel is a wise choice. In addition, because most people today choose to carry their folding knives suspended on a clip inside of their pocket instead of in a belt pouch, choosing a folding knife with a blade made from a Stainless Steel is a far better choice than choosing one made from a Plain Tool Steel because the knife will be subjected to constant perspiration from the user’s body and thus, a stainless steel blade will require far less maintenance. Furthermore, when carrying a folding knife in either your front or your back pocket, you should also take the closed length of the knife into consideration because shorter knives tend to be more comfortable to carry in your front pocket while longer folding knives tend to be more comfortable to carry in your back pocket. Plus, because most of today’s users prefer to be able to open and close their folding knife with a single hand, the type of opening and locking mechanism a folding knife has should also be considered. So, below you will find information that explains each of these aspects of folding knife design in order to help you choose a folding knife to best meet your needs.
- Blade steels – As I mentioned above, because a folding knife is often called upon to perform a wide range of cutting tasks, choosing a folding knife with a blade made from a high-quality blade steel is a wise choice because high-quality steels will not only be stronger, they will do a better job of taking and holding an edge. However, it is important to note that blade steels are divided into two categories consisting of Plain Tool Steels and Stainless Steels and, the main difference between the two is the amount of Chromium they contain. Consequently, although Plain Tool Steels are very tough and do a good job of taking and holding an edge, they do not do not do a very good job of resisting corrosion due to their lack of Chromium. On the other hand, Stainless Steels do an excellent job of resisting corrosion but, most stainless steels do not take as fine an edge as Plain Tool Steels do and, they are more difficult to sharpen. However, because most people carry their folding knives in their trouser pocket rather than in a belt pouch, they are subject to constant perspiration from their owner’s body and thus, choosing a folding knife with a blade made from stainless steel is a better choice than choosing one made from a plain tool steel.
- Rockwell Hardness – Also, when looking at folding knife specifications, one specification that you will often see is something called the blade’s Rockwell Hardness. Thus, it is helpful to know that there are various Rockwell Scales which are used to measure the hardness of various materials and, that the Rockwell C Scale is the one used to measure the hardness of blade steels. Therefore, most blade steels have a Rockwell Hardness between 50 and 65 with lower numbers indicating softer, tougher, blade steels and higher numbers indicating harder, stronger, blade steels. Consequently, when choosing a folding knife, you should choose your blade steel according to your intended purpose for the knife. For instance, if you need a tough blade that will withstand impact and lateral pressure, then you should choose a tough blade steel but, if you instead need a knife with super edge holding abilities then you should choose one with a hard blade steel. Thus, most folding knives that have blades with a Rockwell Hardness between 55 and 60 HRC will serve well because the lower end of this range will provide a tough blade that will withstand both impact and lateral pressure while the upper end of this range will provide a hard blade that will hold an edge well without being too brittle.
- Closed Length and Blade Length – As mentioned above, because folding knives are now commonly carried in a user’s trouser pocket instead of in a belt pouch, both the closed length of the knife and the length of the blade are also important considerations when choosing a folding knife. For instance, most people choose to carry their folding knife in either their front or back trouser pocket and thus, it should be noted that folding knives with shorter lengths are often more convenient to carry in a front pocket while, longer folding knives are often more comfortable to carry in a back pocket. So, if you prefer one pocket or the other, then you might want to choose the closed length of your folding knife accordingly. In addition, the length of the blade is also an important factor because it not only affects the closed length of the knife, some cutting tasks work better with a shorter blade while others work best with a longer blade. Thus, you should consider looking for a folding knife with a 3.25 to 3.75-inch blade.
- Plain vs. Serrated Cutting Edges – Then, in addition to the length of the blade, the type of cutting edge that you choose also affects the blade’s utility. For instance, folding knives are generally available with either a plain edge, a partially serrated edge or, a fully serrated edge and, both plain and serrated edges have both advantages and disadvantages. For instance, plain edges provide a smoother cut and are relatively easy to sharpen but, they may not lacerate as easily or as deeply as partially serrated edges. Thus, serrated edges are a better choice for cutting tough materials such as rope and plastic zip ties. On the other hand, both partially and fully serrated edges will lacerate more deeply and do a far better job of cutting tough materials. But, serrated edges are also notoriously difficult to sharpen because they require a round ceramic sharpening rod of the correct diameter to match the serrations in order to maintain their edge.
- Opening Mechanisms – In addition to the other aspects of folding knife design that you should be aware of, you should be aware that all folding knives employ one of three different types of opening mechanisms. Thus, a Manual Opening Mechanism requires the user to use a nail nick, a thumb stud, a thumb pad, or a thumb hole to manually open the blade. But, you should also be aware that blades with nail nicks require a person to use two hands to open the blade or blades whereas, blades with thumb studs, thumb pads, or thumb holes allow the user to open the blade with a single hand. Then, some folding knife designs have an Assisted Opening Mechanism which uses a coil spring to assist the user in opening the blade by simply applying pressure to either a thumb stud or a thumb pad to manually open the blade approximately 30 degrees at which point, the coil spring will take over and automatically open the blade the rest of the way. So, when choosing a folding knife, you will also need to decide whether you prefer to open and close your knife with one or two hands as well as deciding whether you prefer a Manual Opening mechanism or an Assisted Opening mechanism in addition to choosing one of the many different types of locking mechanisms.
- Locking Mechanisms – Last but not least, in addition to opening mechanisms, we also have locking mechanisms. Thus, you should be aware that there are seemingly as many different types of locking mechanisms as there are folding knife manufacturers and each manufacturer would have you believe that their new folding knife lock is the strongest and best lock ever invented. However, the fact is that very little pressure is ever placed on the locking mechanism under normal use. So, rather than asking how strong a folding knife’s lock is, two far better questions are: does the lock enable the user to lock and unlock the blade with a single hand and, does the lock automatically compensate for wear as the blade is opened and closed over the lifetime of the knife? So, when looking at folding knife locking mechanisms, the first step is to divide them into two separate categories that consist of those such as Liner Locks and Piston Locks which enable a user to lock and unlock the blade with a single hand and, others such as Mid Locks and Back Locks that allow the user to lock the blade with a single hand but then require two hands to unlock the blade. Then, choose your folding knife according to your preferences.
The Top 10 American-made Folding Knives
American production knife manufacturers have long been known for producing high-quality folding and traditional pattern pocket knives and that tradition is still very much alive today. In fact, American foundries are producing some of the best blade steels on the market and, certain American knife manufacturers have purposely chosen to meet the demands of military and police personnel as well as civilians who have a specific need for a high-quality folding knife for every-day-carry and/or self-defense. Thus, the ten knives listed below represent what I feel are the best American-made folding knives on the market.
Emerson model CQC-7BW Folding Tanto
Designed by renown knifemaker Ernest Emerson who produces semi-custom combat knives designed specifically for police and military personnel, the CQC-7BW folding Tanto is one his most popular designs. Featuring a closed length of 4.65 inches, it has a 3.3-inch blade and, a weight of 5 ounces. In addition, it also features a Americanized Tanto blade design with a high flat grind and your choice of a plain or partially serrated edge made from your choice of CMP 154CM (which is a high end American stainless steel) or CPM S35VN (which is a very high end American “super” stainless steel) with a Rockwell Hardness of 57-59 HRC and your choice of a stonewashed or, a matte black, finish. In addition, it also features a triple choice opening mechanism in that it includes a flipper, a thumb disc and, the Emerson Wave opening mechanism which causes the blade to automatically open when the knife is drawn from a pocket. Plus, it also features a right hand only, tip up only, steel pocket clip.
Hogue EX-01 model 34170 Folding Knife
|Handle lenght:||4.50 in|
(+) Excellent blade steel
(+) Aluminum handle is nearly indestructible
(+) Push Button locking mechanism is easy to manipulate
(+) Can be opened and closed with a single hand
(-) Expensive to purchase
(-) Needs some sharpening out of the box
Best known for their handgun grips, Hogue actually produces a wide range of products including their own line of tactical knives. Thus, they asked former Marine Recon Scout/Sniper and renowned custom knifemaker Allen Elishewitz to design the EX-01series of folding knives for them. Therefore, the model 34170 features a closed length of 4.5 inches and has a 3.5 inch blade with a weight of 4.6 ounces and, it also features a Drop Point blade design with a plain edge and a flat grind made from CMP 154CM (which is a high-end American stainless steel) with a Rockwell Hardness of 57-59 HRC and a stonewashed finish. In addition, it also features a manual opening mechanism with a thumb stud for easy one-handed opening along with a very ergonomic handle design made from 6061 T-6 machined aluminum handle scales combined with a push-button locking mechanism and a manual safety to keep the blade locked in the open position when the knife is in use. Plus, it also features a right hand only, tip up or tip down, steel, pocket clip.
Benchmade model 940/span>
Designed by custom knife maker Warren Osborne who was raised in the farming and ranching industry, the Benchmade model 940 folding knife was designed to be a folding utility knife for every-day-carry. Featuring a closed length of 4.47 inches with a 3.4 inch blade and a weight of 2.9 ounces, it also features a modified Nessmuk blade design made from CPM-S30V (which is a very high end American “super” stainless steel) with a Rockwell Hardness of 58-60 HRC and a plain edge with a hollow grind and a satin finish. In addition, it features an ergonomic handle design made from machined aluminum and includes manual opening mechanism with a thumb stud and Benchmade’s proprietary Axis locking. mechanism. Last, it includes a reversible, tip-up only, steel pocket clip.
Spyderco Native 5
Designed by Spyderco owner Sal Glesser, the Native 5 folding knife is also an excellent choice for an for every-day-carry knife. One of Spyderco’s more moderate designs, it features a closed length of 4 inches with a 3-inch blade and a weight of 3.7 ounces. Also, it features a Drop Point blade design made from CPM-S35VN (which is a very high end American “super” stainless steel) with an unknown Rockwell Hardness along with a plain edge and a flat grind with a satin finish. In addition, it also features an ergonomic handle design made from machined aluminum and includes manual opening mechanism with a large thumb hole and a Mid-Lock locking mechanism. Last, it includes a reversible, tip-up or tip-down, steel pocket clip.
Zero Tolerance 0350
Designed to be a slightly smaller and lighter heavy duty folding utility knife, the Zero Tolerance model 0350 features a closed length of 4.6 inches with a 3.25-inch blade and a weight of 6.2 ounces. In addition, it also features a Drop Point blade design with a plain, recurved, edge made from CPM-S30V (which is an American, stainless, “super steel”) with an unknown Rockwell Hardness and a hollow grind with a satin finish. In addition, it features an ergonomic handle design made from textured black G10 handle scales and includes both a flipper and a thumb stud combined with Zero Tolerance’s SpeedSafe assisted opening mechanism and a Linger Lock locking mechanism. Last, it includes a reversible, tip-up or tip-down, steel pocket clip.
Kershaw Ken Onion Blur
(+) Stainless steel blade
(+) SpeedSafe assisted opening mechanism
(+) Liner Lock locking mechanism
(-) Recurved edges are difficult to sharpen
(-) Serrated edges are difficult to sharpen
Not only does Kershaw offer one of the widest ranges of folding knives of any manufacturer on the market today, they are also well known for their quality and attention to detail and their Blur model folding knife is no exception. Designed by famous custom knife maker Ken Onion, the Kershaw Ken Onion Blur features a closed length of 4.5 inches with a blade length of 3.4 inches and it weighs 3.9 oz. Also, it features a graceful, drop point, blade design with a recurved, partially serrated, cutting edge and a hollow grind made from 14C28N (which is Swedish, high carbon, stainless steel) with an unknown Rockwell Hardness and a matte black, Diamond Like Carbon (aka DLC) finish. In addition, it features Kershaw’s SpeedSafe assisted opening mechanism combined with a Liner Lock locking mechanism and a very ergonomic handle design made from 6061-T6 aircraft grade machined aluminum with Tac-Tec thermoformed rubber inserts that provide a very positive grip. Last, it includes a reversible, tip up or tip down, steel pocket clip.
SOG Flash II
One of S.O.G.’s more unusual designs, the SOG Flash II is a good choice for an assisted opening every-day-carry knife. Featuring a closed length of 4.5 inches with a blade length of 3.5 inches and a weight of 3.1 ounces, it also features a Drop Point blade design with a partially serrated edge and a flat grind made from AUS-8 (which is a Japanese, high carbon, stainless steel) with a Rockwell Hardness of 57-59 and a satin finish. In addition, it features a very ergonomic handle design made from Glass Reinforced Nylon and a thumb stud with SOG’s S.A.T. assisted opening mechanism combined with a Piston Lock locking mechanism. Last, it includes a reversible, tip-up only, steel pocket clip.
Buck Bantam BBW
Another folding knife that also serves well as an every-day-carry utility knife, the Buck Bantam BBW folding knife features a closed length of 3.75 inches with a blade length of 2.75 inches and a weight of 1.5 ounces, it also features a Drop Point blade design with a swedge and a plain edge with a hollow grind made from 420HC (which is an American, high carbon, stainless steel) with a Rockwell Hardness of 58 and a stonewashed finish. In addition, it features a thumb stud combined with a manual opening mechanism and a very ergonomic handle design made from Injection Molded plastic with a Mid-Lock locking mechanism.
A handy and lightweight little folding utility knife, the Gerber LST is an excellent little folding knife for every-day-carry. Featuring a closed length of 3.61 inches with a blade length of 2.63 inches and a weight of 1.2 ounces, it also features a Drop Point blade design with a plain edge and a flat grind made from 420 HC (which is an American, high carbon, stainless steel) with an unknown Rockwell Hardness a satin finish. In addition, it features a very ergonomic handle design made from Glass Reinforced Nylon and a manual opening mechanism combined with a traditional Back Lock locking mechanism. Last, it includes a reversible, tip-up only, steel pocket clip.
Case Abalone Medium Stockman
(+) Beautiful appearance
(+) Most popular traditional pocket knife design
(+) Extremely useful every-day-carry utility knife
(-) Excessively expensive
(-) Unknown blade steel
(-) Requires two hands to open
Although the Case medium Stockman is actually a traditional pattern pocket knife rather than a folding knife, it is nonetheless a good choice for an every-day-carry utility knife. In fact, although the Barlow pattern used to be the single most popular traditional pocket knife pattern in America, the Stockman pattern has since taken its place and the Case medium Stockman with Abalone handle scales is one of the most gorgeous traditional pattern pocket knives on the market. Featuring a closed length of 3.63 inches and a weight of 2.5 ounces, it also features a serpentine handle design and round, nickel silver, bolsters with traditional Clip Point, Sheep’s Foot and, Spey, blades made from Case’s Tru-Sharp Surgical Stainless Steel with an unknown Rockwell Hardness and a mirror polished finish. Plus, it also features beautiful abalone handle scales with nail nicks on each blade and a Manual Opening mechanism with a Slip Lock locking mechanism.
So, when choosing a folding knife, the first step is to decide what level of performance you need from your knife and then choose a blade steel that meets or exceeds those needs because the type of blade steel that you choose will have a significant effect on the price of the knife. Thus, stainless blade steels like AUS-8 and 440C are excellent choices for folding knives because they represent a good compromise between a tough blade steel and a hard blade steel and thus, they do a reasonably good job of resisting impact and lateral forces (prying) while also doing a good job of holding an edge. Then, there are high end stainless steels such as ATS-34 and CMP 154CM which are even better choices and, last but not least, there is the new crop of so-called “super steels” such as M390 Microclean and CMP S30V which are made from a metal powder in order to achieve a superfine grain structure for the ultimate in toughness, wear resistance, and edge holding ability. In addition, you should also pay attention to the Rockwell Hardness of the blade that you choose because the hardness of the blade works in conjunction with the blade steel.
In addition, don’t forget to pay attention to the closed length of the knife so that you don’t purchase one that is too long or too short and, also pay close attention to the type of cutting edge the blade has because, while serrations do cut tough materials better, they are not as good for slicing and carving and, they are difficult to sharpen.
Last, be sure to pay attention to whether or not the knife’s opening and locking mechanisms will enable you to open and close the blade with a single hand or, whether two hands are required so that you can choose according to your preference.
Or, in order to save both time and effort, you can choose one of the ten knives listed above since each knife is American-made from high-quality materials with meticulous craftsmanship and decades of experience thus, they are all extremely well designed and well made folding knives that meet the demands of hard use individuals.