The 4 Things to Look for in a Folding Knife

[This is an archived post from Mad Science Defense, currently on indefinite hiatus, and may not reflect the usual tone and content of Author J.R. White and/or the Storyteller at Large Blog. If you have arrived here via links from a website elsewhere in the tactical and combatives training community, we wish you the best in your skill development journey.]

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The 4 Things to Look for in a Folding Knife

The folding knife is one of the most ubiquitous tools in America. Go into any hardware store, sporting goods shop, or outfitter in the nation and you’ll find several to choose from. And, at least where I grew up, the folding knife was an integral part of American boyhood.

With folding knives so readily available, and legal to carry in more places than a handgun, it’s no surprise that more people are choosing a folding knife as a primary self-defense tool or to supplement their regular concealed carry.

But despite the wide range of folding knives available, not all blades are created equal. The folder market has some outstanding entries, but is also flooded with knives that are cheap, gimmicky or simply not suitable for defensive use (even thought they may be great for their intended niche).

If you are considering adding a folding knife to your self-defense options, these are the four things you need to look for (Video after the text):

Can it be opened with one hand (and with either hand)?

You need a knife that can be opened with one hand. If you’re fighting in the clinch, blocking a strike, holding a child or otherwise unable to use both hands, you’re only going to have one hand free to access and open the knife. And even if using the knife in a non-defensive setting you may need to open it with one hand (for example, putting pressure on a wound with one hand and cutting away a seatbelt with the other if involved in a car accident).

Does it lock solidly open with a positive locking mechanism?

The blade needs to lock open firmly, with no wobble in any direction. You should not be able to accidently close the knife (closing the knife must take a conscious action by the user). If you have to use your folding knife to defend yourself, adrenaline will be pumping through you body. You and your attacker will both be moving and fighting hard. When the knife is used, there will be tremendous forces exerted on the blade. If your locking mechanism isn’t up to it, you could find yourself with the blade snapped off or closing on your fingers.

Is the blade quality steel that will hold a sharp edge and is designed to penetrate?

The purpose of a defensive folding knife is to cut and to stab. If your blade won’t hold a keen edge over hard use, it won’t make the cuts you need when it counts. The deeper cut is the one more likely to disable an attacker, and the sharper blade cuts deepest. It’s also very important that the profile of the blade is conducive to penetration. When your attacker is wearing heavy, thick, or even just loose fitting clothing, stabbing can still be effective while slashing becomes less reliable.

Is it legal to carry in the areas you frequent?

Laws regarding knife carry vary widely from state to state and even city to city. In fact, if you’re carrying a folding knife for self-defense, it may be because a fixed blade is illegal to carry in your area. There are regulations about blade length, type and deployment mechanisms. Some of these can be confusing or vague, and many seem unjust. But… we’re the good guys, which means we follow the rules and obey the law. Our respect for the law is what separates us from the criminals, even as we recognize that some laws are silly or arbitrary and undeserving of that respect. Make sure your knife is legal.

There are many other desirably qualities in a knife. For example, you need a way to carry the knife consistently oriented for fast access. You also want a grip that doesn’t get slick when it’s wet, whether with sweat, blood or water. While those things are important, they didn’t make the list because they can often be dealt with after the fact. A clip is nice, but belt pouches and pocket holsters can address the carry issue. A slick handle can often be stippled or dressed with grip-tape. But if your knife can’t be opened with one hand, won’t stay open under hard use, and won’t stay sharp or penetrate a layer of clothing, that’s a problem that can’t be fixed.

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