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One Hand Only

One Hand Only
Tips On “Every Day Carry” Knives From A Knife Knut.

I mentioned a knife sharpener in last month’s column and it sparked a lot of questions—not about sharpeners, but about knives, mostly “every day carry” (EDC) pocket folders. As a certifiable Knife Knut, I’ll seize any opportunity to talk about them. So, at the risk of giving you more than you wanted to know, here goes!

The top two questions were what EDC knife I carry, and basically, what features and qualities I look for in such a knife. I can’t be very helpful on the former, because the knife I’ve carried virtually everyday for a decade hasn’t been made in several years. It’s a no-frills titanium frame-lock folder with an open-construction “flushable” frame, G10 grip inserts and a 3.75-inch blade of common 440C steel with some kind of durable black finish. It’s high quality, but not an exotic custom job. It’s perfect for me, maybe not for you—and there are others out there like it.

I try, test, evaluate and write about lots of knives, and although none have replaced my EDC folder, I’ve picked up some points, which might help you in your search. Here’s what I look for:

One hundred percent single-handed operation: You should be able to pull it out, open the blade to fully-deployed locked position, use it, unlock the blade, restore it to folded status and return it to your pocket using one hand only. The majority of your cutting chores may not require 1-handed operation, but it’s better to have that capability on tap than to need it and not have it. Long ago in a dicey situation I had only an Opinel folder, which required two hands to open, and locking the blade required twisting its collar. That nearly cost me injury or death, and it was the last time I carried it.

Additionally, the knife should be stable and secure in your hand throughout that process. This is both a function of the action/lock design and the dimensions and geometry of the knife. It’s something you can only determine with practical experimentation. If at any point in the process you don’t have a firm purchase on the knife and you may drop it, it’s not the knife for you. For me, most of the knives failing this test are too small from top to bottom (not length), and spring-loaded “assisted opening” designs.

If they’re too small sideways in the hand, I can only grip them with the tips of three fingers as my thumb opens the blade, making it too easily dislodged. Generally, the body of a folder has to be at least 4.5 inches long and about 1 inch in height to be stable in my hand, with thickness—width side-to-side—being far less critical. If the design is both too slim and assisted-opening, the knife can tend to jump right out of my grasp.

At least a dozen times people showing off their new folders to me have dropped ’em while trying to deploy or re-fold the blade one-handed. Try, try, TRY before you buy!

odd angry

Here (left to right), are a frame-lock and a liner-lock with solid engagement;
the liner-lock at right, ehhh… not so much.

Actions: Act, Locks: Lock!

Most lock-blade folders open using a thumbstud or “thumbhole,” a flipper, or both. With the first two, it’s all about the placement of the stud or hole, and your thumb! Test its appropriateness for you by repeatedly deploying the blade and asking yourself how surely and certainly it works for you, especially urgently or under stress. If it’s not sure and certain “dry,” it’s gonna be even less so when wet, muddy or bloody. I would also advise you against blades, which can too easily be flipped open centrifugally by flicking your wrist. Looks cool, but also tends to open itself in your pocket, with gaudy results.

Flipper opening designs employ a projection on the blade, which protrudes upward when the knife is closed, and often functions as a fingerguard when it’s open. Just push down—and usually, slightly back—with your index finger while firmly holding the knife with thumb, middle and ring fingers, and voilà!—it opens. For most folks, this allows a firm grasp, and one that works well with assisted-opening actions. In particular, lots of people with nerve damage or arthritis really like the flipper-assisted opening combination of features.

An EDC folder must have a locking blade. Having the blade close accidentally while you’re cutting simply isn’t an option in my book. There are far too many different locking-action types to cover here, so I’ll just make a few cautionary suggestions. Frame-lock and liner-lock designs are very popular and many are excellent. My EDC folder is a frame-lock. But their strength and resistance to being accidentally released depends on how solid the engagement is between the frame or liner and the butt of the blade.

Check the photo: Left to right, you’ll see my frame-lock and a liner-lock which both engage very squarely and solidly. On the right is a liner-locker, which barely engages at all, and may fail. If you’re checking out a frame-lock or liner-lock folder, open and close it repeatedly checking for consistently solid engagement. If it doesn’t engage to the same degree every time, whether opened forcefully or gently, you’re asking for an accident. Demand the same performance you would from your car’s brakes: consistent every time.

odd angry knives

Blade opening systems include (left to right) the Thumbstud, thumbhole, flipper,
and one with both a thumbhole and a flipper.

Size, Steel, Style

I’m a sucker for big knives, but I’ve found that folders over about 5 inches long closed, with blades over 3.75 inches and 5.5 ounces weight are the ones you may like, but you won’t carry. They “bottom out” in short pockets, jam into you when sitting or squatting, or they’re too heavy for comfort.

I carry my folder clipped inside the right front pocket, with the tip down and blade forward. That way it draws naturally into my hand, and when it’s inside the pocket I can simply reach down, place my thumb on the fabric over the blade’s spine and my index finger on the knife’s back, assuring me it’s closed and secure. If it came open, it would cut away from me. Whether you decide to carry tip up, tip down, blade forward or to the rear, make sure the pocket clip will accommodate that choice. I’ve had to pass on some fine knives because they couldn’t be carried tip-down, blade-forward.

There’s such an array of fine knife steels in use that if you buy a reputable brand folder and avoid blades labeled “surgical steel” or just “stainless”—both virtually meaningless terms—you’ll probably be well served. Just be aware that harder tool steels like D-2 hold an edge beautifully, but can be a pain to sharpen too. A little study is recommended.

For a general-duty EDC, plain and simple spear points or drop points are most useful. Unless you have a specific need for radically curved or fully serrated blades, they limit your folder’s utility.

Oh, there’s a lot more, but we’re out of space. If this helps you make one wise choice rather than fill a drawer with disappointments, great! Connor OUT
By John Connor

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  1. I’m a greenhorn with blades. Isn’t it illegal to possess/carry a blade that is longer than 6 inches? Aren’t “switchblades” illegal? What would be a good defense knife for a woman? Is there one that can be wrist-buckled so it can’t be taken away and used against you?

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