Similar in purpose to traditional pattern pocket knives, every-day-carry folding knives are designed to be general purpose utility tools. However, they have undergone significant changes in both blade design, blade steels, handle materials and even locking mechanisms since Al Buck introduced his iconic Buck model 110 Folding Hunter in 1964. For instance, most designs no longer feature bolsters and, Fiber Reinforced Nylon handle scales have replaced exotic hardwood scales which makes today’s folding knives much lighter. In addition, gone are the days of leather and nylon belt pouches which have been replaced by steel pocket clips. So, while I personally consider the new, modern, designs to be progressive, others consider them to be generic and lacking in aesthetics.
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Folding Knives Buyer’s Guide
Because an every-day-carry folding knife is often called upon to perform a wide range of tasks by its user, there are several aspects of knife design that should be considered. For instance, because most every-day-carry knives are now carried in the user’s pocket instead of in a belt pouch, stainless steels are a far better choice than high carbon Plain Tool Steels. In addition, because most folding knives are now carried in the user’s front or back pocket, both the closed length of the knife as well as its blade length are important considerations. Furthermore, because most of today’s users tend to prefer designs that they can open and close with a single hand, the type of opening mechanism a folding knife has should also be considered and, the same is true of locking mechanisms. So, below you will find valuable information on each of these aspects of folding knife design that will help you choose a folding knife to best meet your personal preferences.
- Blade steels – First of all, you need to be aware that blade steels are commonly divided into two categories consisting of Stainless Steels and high carbon Plain Tool Steels. However, because most folding knives are now carried in the user’s pocket where they are subjected to constant perspiration from their user’s body, high carbon Plain Tool Steels are a poor choice for every-day-carry folding knives due to their lack of Chromium even though they are often tougher and easier to sharpen then Stainless Steels are. Consequently, most folding knives today are made from one of the many different types of stainless blade steels instead. But, it should also be noted that modern stainless blade steels are available in a wide range performance and price options and thus, as the old adage goes, “you get what you pay for”. So, when purchasing a folding knife, the type of steel the blade is made from is an important aspect to consider.
- Rockwell Hardness – The Rockwell Hardness of the blade is another factor that should be considered when contemplating the purchase of a folding knife because it will, in part, determine the blade’s ability to hold an edge. Thus you should be aware that the Rockwell C scale is commonly used to measure the hardness of blade steels. Therefore, the higher a knife blade’s Rockwell Hardness is, the better it tends to hold an edge. But, at the same time, the more difficult it tends to be to sharpen and, the greater its tendency to break when subjected to lateral pressure. Consequently, when choosing a folding knife for general purpose use, blade steels with a Rockwell Hardness of 55 to 60 are a good choice because they will hold an edge well.
- Closed Length – Also, because most users today prefer to carry their folding knives in their pocket rather than in a belt pouch, the closed length of the knife is another important aspect of folding knife design that should be considered. For instance, if you prefer to carry your folding knife in your front pocket, then you might want to choose a shorter design but, if you instead prefer to carry it in your back pocket, then you might prefer a longer design. However, it should also be noted that while folding knives with relatively short handles are convenient to carry, they often do not provide a grip that is as comfortable or as secure in your hand as longer handle designs do.
- Blade Length – In addition to the length of the handle, the length of a folding knife’s blade is another aspect that should be considered when choosing an every-day-carry knife because the length of the blade affects both the length of the cutting edge and its reach. So, while shorter blades are often sufficient for most every day cutting tasks, there are situations where a mere one-half inch of additional length can make a world of difference. Consequently, while some users prefer folding knives with blades as short as 3 inches, others have a distinct preference for blades that are at least 3.5 inches in length and, in some cases, blades as long as 4.5 inches are in order.
- Plain vs. Serrated Cutting Edges – Another aspect that you should consider when purchasing a folding knife is whether you prefer a blade with a plain or a partially serrated cutting edge because they each have advantages and disadvantages. For instance, plain edges are well suited for cutting and carving and, they are relatively easy to sharpen. Whereas, partially serrated edges are well suited for slicing tough materials such as rope or plastic bands but, they are not well suited for carving and, they are very difficult to sharpen. In addition, they require a round ceramic sharpener of appropriate diameter to sharpen the serrations.
- Opening Mechanisms – Furthermore, you should be aware that all folding knives employ either a manual opening mechanism, an assisted opening mechanism, or an automatic opening mechanism. Thus, as the name implies, a manual opening mechanism requires the user to employ a feature such as a nail nick, a thumb stud, or a thumb hole to manually rotate the blade from the closed position to the open position. However, it should also be noted that knife blades with nail nicks require the user to use two hands to open the knife’s blade whereas, blades with either thumb studs or thumb holes enable the user to open the blade with a single hand. On the other hand, an assisted opening mechanism employs a coil spring to assist the user in opening the blade. Thus, in order open an assisted opening folding knife, the user simply applies pressure to either a thumb stud or a thumb hole to manually open the blade approximately 30 degrees at which point the spring takes over and automatically opens the blade the rest of the way. Therefore, while manual opening mechanisms are the most common type featured on folding knives today, assisted opening mechanisms are fast gaining in popularity.
- Locking Mechanisms – Although the list of folding knife locking mechanisms used to be relatively short, folding knife designers have developed so many different types these days that there are simply too many of them to describe here. Therefore, the main difference that you need to be aware of when choosing a locking mechanism is that while some types of folding knife locking mechanisms such as liner locks and piston locks enable the user to unlock, and thus close, the blade with a single hand, other types such as mid-locks and back locks require the user to use two hands to unlock and close the blade. In addition, when reading folding knife manufactures advertising describing the virtues of their proprietary new locking mechanisms, you will often see them mention the strength of their locks. But, this aspect is somewhat misleading because very little stress is actually placed on a locking mechanism when performing every day cutting tasks with a folding knife and thus, a far more important aspect of folding knife locking mechanism design is how well it will handle wear and whether or not it will automatically adjust to compensate for it in order to keep the lock tight.
The Top Five Manual Opening Knives under $100
A quick look at any of the newer knife manufacturer’s websites these days will quickly reveal that the line between an every-day-carry folding knife and tactical folding knife has become somewhat indistinct. Therefore, I have purposely chosen the five folding knives listed below because they each feature moderate rather than radical blade designs which are imminently well suited for the purpose of day-to-day cutting tasks rather than for use in tactical situations.
Buck Knives Folding Hunter
Founded by Hoyt and Al Buck in 1947, Buck Knives is one of the oldest American knife manufacturers still in business today and thus, they are one of the best known and most highly respected knife manufactures on the market. In addition, the Buck model 110 Folding Hunter, which was designed by Al Buck in 1964, is arguably the single most famous and iconic folding knife in existence! Featuring a closed length of 4.875 inches with a blade length of 3.75 inches and a weight of 7.2 ounces, it also, it features a classic Clip Point blade design with a plain edge and a hollow grind made from 420HC (which is an American, high carbon, Stainless Steel) with an unknown Rockwell Hardness and a satin finish. In addition, it also features a manual opening mechanism and a classic nail nick combined with a classic Back Lock locking mechanism. Plus, it also features a classic handle design with brass bolsters and Dymondwood handle scales and, it includes a heavy-duty, black, leather belt sheath.
|(+) Aesthetically pleasing||(-) Heavy weight|
|(+) Robust construction||(-) No pocket clip|
OKC RAT Model 1
The RAT Model 1 was designed by Randall’s Adventure Training (and is produced under license by Ontario Knife Company) to be a folding utility knife for both outdoor use and every-day-carry. Featuring a closed length of 5 inches with a 3.5-inch blade and a weight of 3.5 ounces, it also, it features a drop point blade design made from AUS-8 (which is a Japanese, high carbon, Stainless Steel) with a Rockwell Hardness of 55-56 HRC and a flat grind. In addition, it is available in your choice of a plain or partially serrated edge with either a satin or black epoxy coated finish. In addition, it also features a manual opening mechanism and a thumb stud combined with a Liner Lock locking mechanism. Plus, it includes one the most ergonomic handle designs on the market with stainless steel liners and Nylon 6 handle scales which are available in several different colors combined with an open back design and, it includes a reversible, tip-up or tip-down, steel pocket clip.
|(+) Super ergonomic handle design||(-) Relatively low Rockwell Hardness|
|(+) Good choice of blade steel|
|(+) One hand opening and closing|
CRKT Shenanigan Z
The Columbia River Knife & Tool Shenanigan Z was designed by renowned custom knife maker Ken Onion and features a closed length of 4.875 inches with a 3.25-inch blade and a weight of 4.1 ounces. In addition, it also, it features a drop point blade design with a swedge made from AUS-8 (which is a Japanese, high carbon, Stainless Steel) with a Rockwell Hardness of 58-59 and a hollow grind with a bead-blasted finish. Plus, it also features a manual opening mechanism with a blade flipper and a Liner Lock locking mechanism and, it includes a very ergonomic handle design made from Glass Reinforced Nylon handle scales in your choice of either black or Realtree Extra camouflage pattern. Plus, it includes a right-hand only, tip-up only, steel pocket clip.
|(+) Very comfortable handle design||(-) Flipper instead of a thumb stud|
|(+) Excellent blade design|
|(+) One hand opening and closing|
Kershaw Injection 3.5
The Kershaw Injection 3.5 was designed by custom knifemaker Todd Rexford and features a closed length of 4.5 inches with a 3.5-inch blade and a weight of 4.4 ounces. In addition, it also, it features a drop point blade design made from 8Cr13MoV (which is a Chinese, high carbon, Stainless Steel) with an unknown Rockwell Hardness combined with a plain edge, a flat grind and, a bead blasted finish. Plus, it also features a manual opening mechanism and thumb stud combined with a Liner Lock locking mechanism and, it includes a very ergonomic handle design made from G10 handle scales and, it includes a reversible, tip-up only, steel pocket clip.
|(+) Good design for every-day-carry||(-) Blade steel is less than ideal|
|(+) One hand opening and closing||(-) Somewhat heavy|
Cold Steel Pro Lite Clip Point
The Cold Steel Pro Lite Clip Point features a closed length of 4.5 inches with a 3.5-inch blade and a weight of 3.2 ounces. In addition, it also, it features a Clip Point blade design made from 4116 (which is a German, high carbon, Stainless Steel that is also known as “Solingen Steel”) with an unknown Rockwell Hardness combined with a plain edge, a hollow grind and, a bead blasted finish. Plus, it also features a manual opening mechanism and thumb stud combined with a Back Lock locking mechanism and, it includes a very ergonomic handle design made from your choice of either black or blue Glass Reinforced Nylon handle scales and, it includes a reversible, tip-up only, steel pocket clip.
|(+) Good blade design||(-) Poor choice of blade steels|
|(+) Good handle design||(-) Requires two hands to close|
So, when choosing a folding knife, the first step is to determine whether you prefer a purely utilitarian design for performing common cutting tasks during the normal course of your daily routine or, a purely tactical design for use in tactical situations or, a hybrid design that incorporates aspects of both types of folding knives. Then, you should choose a knife with a blade design, a closed length and, a blade length that is appropriate for your intended purpose as well as your manner of carrying. Then, you should also determine whether you prefer a knife with a manual opening mechanism or an assisted opening mechanism since many jurisdictions restrict or regulate the ownership and carry folding knives with automatic opening mechanisms. Last, you should also carefully choose the type of locking mechanism your knife has since some types can be unlocked with a single hand while others require two hands. However, there is such as wide range of folding knife manufacturers and designs on the market today that, with a little research and consideration, you are sure to find the perfect folding knife for your intended purpose and preference.