Folding knives have become increasingly popular because of their versatility and convenience. These pocket knives fold out into a compact cutting tool that can tackle many everyday tasks. However, with the wide range of styles, sizes, blade types and feature options available, choosing the right folding knife for your needs can be challenging.
This article provides an overview of the various folding knife styles, suggests factors to weigh when making your selection and offers recommendations for different types of usage. With the perfect folding knife, you'll have a versatile tool that never leaves your side, ready to assist you with any task each day may bring. So read on to find your new every-day carry folding knife companion!
Types of folding knife locks
Within folding knives, there are three main types of locking mechanisms - lockback, liner lock, and frame lock. A lockback knife has a tang that extends into the handle scales, which then lock the blade open when the knife is opened. Lockbacks tend to be more lightweight and traditional looking. A liner lock uses a metal liner inside the handle scales that blocks the blade from closing. Liner locks offer faster and easier opening and closing.
A frame lock utilizes a metal frame integral to the handle that locks the blade open. Frame locks tend to be very strong and rugged, suitable for hard use. They also allow for a slimmer knife profile. Some benefits of each lock type:
- Lockbacks: Lightweight, low-cost, traditional style. Can be weaker for hard use.
- Liner locks: Easy to open and close, secure. Can add thickness to thin knives.
- Frame locks: Very strong locking, slim profile. Highest cost and smallest selection.
Folding knives can also differ by how the knife opens - manual button release, thumb hole/notch, or one-handed open/close. Button and thumb release tends to have slightly tighter closure. One-handed opening is most convenient but can be weaker.
Blade materials and shapes
The material and shape of a folding knife blade depends on how it will be used. The most common blade materials are stainless steel, carbon steel, and titanium. Stainless steel is affordable, corrosion-resistant and durable for casual use. Carbon steel holds an edge well but rusts more easily, good for high-end knives. Titanium blades are lightweight, non-reactive and beautiful, but expensive.
Each material has its benefits:
- Stainless steel: Resistance to corrosion, affordable, versatile. Works for most uses.
- Carbon steel: Holds an edge better, takes a razor sharp edge. Prone to rust, high-maintenance. Best for precision cutting tasks.
- Titanium: Very lightweight, non-reactive (won't stain or corrode). Expensive, excellent for lightweight knives.
Blade shapes include drop point (tapered to a rounded tip), clip point (angled tip), spey point (thick top tapering to a thin tip), leaf-shaped (rounded corners), sheepsfoot (nay flat shape). Shapes suit different needs:
- Drop point: All-purpose, versatile tapered cutting tip. Most popular shape.
- Clip point: Pointed stabbing tip, good for piercing.
- Spey point: Aggressive tapered point great for cutting ropes or slicing.
- Sheepsfoot: Narrow flat edge, safe shape for non-cutting tasks like scraping, whittling or food prep.
- Leaf blade: Balanced shape good for slicing, inline with spine for solid cuts.
Choose a blade material and shape based on your key cutting needs and cutting tasks. Stainless steel and drop/clip points work great for most casual and hard use. Carbon or titanium blades with specialized shapes may suit specialized hard use cutting better. The right blade for you depends on how and where you need to cut.
Handle materials and designs
The handle of a folding knife plays an important role in grip, comfort and style. Common handle materials include metals like stainless steel or titanium, plastics such as G10 or micarta, and natural wood materials like cocobolo or bone. Each has unique properties:
- Metal handles (stainless steel, titanium): Strong, durable and attractive. Can be slippery. Titanium is lightweight.
- Plastic handles (G10, micarta): Gripy, low-maintenance and budget-friendly. Can be lightweight or heavy.
- Wood handles (cocobolo, bone, etc.): Attractive, lightweight and comfortable. Can crack or split over time with hard use. Prone to water damage.
Handle designs include drop point/spey point handles that follow the blade angle, leaf-shaped handles with a curved spine edge, ramped handles with a high-prowed ramp, full-length hollow handles, or split handles wrapped around tang. The design affects grip, comfort and aesthetics:
- Drop point/spey point: Familiar, secure grip. Standard shape.
- Leaf-shaped: Curved edged that contours to fingers. Comfortable.
- Ramped handles: High-prowed ramp gives more purchase for a tight grip. Tactical styling.
- Full hollow handles: Lightweight yet bold. Can be slippery. Stylish.
- Split handles: Envelope tang for a snug grip. High-end, custom feel.
For the handle that suits you, consider how you grip the knife, grip texture needs, comfort and appearance preferences. Metal or high-grip plastic handles suit security needs while wood adds premium comfort and style. Unique handle shapes provide extra contoured comfort or tight control. With all these options, you can find a folding knife handle that perfectly complements the blade for your needs.
Choosing a folding knife size and weight
Choosing a folding knife starts with determining how and where you plan to use the knife. The size and weight of the knife should suit your intended purposes to ensure comfort and effectiveness. Factors to consider include:
- Blade length: Typically 3 to 4 inches for everyday use, up to 6 inches for harder tasks. Longer blades are less pocket-friendly but more capable.
- Handle size and thickness: Larger handles and thicker knives provide more control and grip strength for harder cutting. Slim handles are lightweight and concealable.
- Overall weight: Lighter weight knives (under 3 ounces) are ideal for everyday carry and lighter duty use. Heavier knives (over 5 ounces) balance better for forceful cuts. Too heavy and the knife will tire you out. Too light and it will feel insubstantial.
- Your hand size: Larger knives with larger handle scales suit hands with longer fingers. Slimmer knives fit hands of any size.
- Where you carry the knife: Pocket knives should be comfortably pocket-sized. Larger knives require sheaths or significant pockets.
Some questions to consider for determining size and weight:
- How do you intend to use the knife - light tasks, hard cutting, combat, slicing, dicing?
- What types of materials do you need to cut - rope, wood, bone, food, etc.?
- Do you typically wear tight fitting clothes or have limited pocket space? Or looser clothing and larger pockets?
- Do you have larger or smaller hands? Stronger or weaker grip strength?
- Would you prefer a lightweight knife for fast access or a heavier knife for more impact?
By evaluating these factors for your own needs and preferences, you can choose a folding knife size and weight that provides an enjoyable, effective user experience every time you handle it. The perfect size and weight of knife for you depends on how and where you will use it.
Additional features and accessories
- Pocket clip: Allows you to carry the knife in your pocket. Deep carry clips prevent the knife from showing in pockets. Reversible or ambidextrous clips suit either right or left-handed carry. No pocket clip requires a sheath for carry.
- Serrated blade: Teeth along one or both sides of the blade for cutting rope, cordage or abrasive materials like cardboard. Partial serration helps with controlled gouging and tougher cutting tasks.
- Hollow handle: A hollowed-out handle reduces weight while providing storage space. Can hold tinder, small tools, or survival essentials. Sacrifices some durability.
- Compression lock: A sliding collar around the handle that compresses onto the blade tang when opened to lock the blade in place. Faster, easier to open and close than a traditional locking mechanism.
- Sharpening stones: Whetstones and bench stones for sharpening and Honing the blade edge.
- Electric sharpeners: Fast and convenient sharpening at higher volume. Tends to achieve a less precise edge than manual whetstones.
- Sheaths: Protective sheaths for carrying and storing the folded knife. Made of materials like kydex, leather, cordura nylon and polymer.
- Belts and belt sheaths: Kydex or polymer sheaths that attach to your belt or waistband for concealed carry.
- Pouch sheaths: Softer sheaths that slide into pockets for casual carry. Secures the knife in a pocket sheath pocket.
- Case: A hard case provides hardshell protection and display of the folded knife. Includes a foam or felt lining.
Considering additional features and accessories that will enhance how and where you carry or use your folding knife will provide the most pleasant and effective user experience possible. With the options available, you can configure your perfect folding knife setup.
With a wide range of styles, sizes, blade materials and locking mechanisms to choose from, finding the perfect folding knife for you may seem overwhelming. However, by determining how you intend to use the knife and evaluating key factors like size, weight, grip needs and blade requirements for different uses, the options can become much clearer. Whether you need a knife for everyday carry, hard use, specialized tasks or collection, there is a high-quality folding knife that suits your needs.