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What Are OTFs For?

What Are OTFs For?

Types of Steel in Knives

The holidays are past, and a new year has come and gone — and perhaps you started 2023 with some new OTFs! There’s always room for a new automatic knife, but have you noticed that many people don’t seem to understand the point of OTFs. Perhaps you were showing an uncle your new automatic karambit or maybe you were displaying your OTF tanto to a brother-in-law. Then perhaps they looked at you and said something like, “That’s cool and all, but what’s the point of it?”

There’s much more to OTFs than simply style, and in this article, we will explain the various tasks for which these knives are well suited and reasons why people choose to carry them.

The Ever-Elusive Cool Factor

One of the most obvious reasons why people purchase OTFs is the uniqueness of their deployment action and just how cool it looks. You press a button and a sharp length of steel snicks into existence from a seemingly empty handle. It’s reminiscent of a scene from William Gibson’s 1981 cyberpunk short story “Johnny Mnemonic” where the titular character meets an assassin: “The little tech sidles out of nowhere, smiling. Just a suggestion of a bow, and his left thumb falls off. It’s a conjuring trick. The thumb hangs suspended. Mirrors? Wires?”

Neither, it turns out. The killer’s weapon of choice is an implanted bolo with a cutting edge a single molecule thick. It’s science-fiction stuff, but OTFs — which can seem every bit as magical — are very much real and a delight to own and operate.

Self Defense

Most knives intended for self defense are full-tang, fixed-blade weapons. It’s not hard to see why. Such designs provide maximum stability, ensuring that (unlike folding designs) the blade doesn’t unintentionally injure the individual wielding it. However, fixed-blade knives intended for self-defense have a distinct disadvantage: You can’t easily conceal them.

Combat-capable OTF knives easily slip into a pocket and can be readied in an instant. Unlike folding knives, they also won’t hurt you if they fail. In such cases, the OTF will fail to function, but the blade will simply fall safely back into the handle

Everyday Carry

How often do you find yourself needing a knife right now and not able to find one? If you own an OTF knife, keeping up on everday-carry tasks should be a piece of proverbial cake. Opening a package. Slicing an apple. Cutting twine. Even using it to eat with is an option in a pinch. Knives are inherently practical implements, and you’ll be surprised at the ways in which you can put one to use if you have it with you on a daily basis.

Emergency Situations

In our article about the practicality of automatic knives, we highlighted the Gerber 06 Auto, a knife commissioned by the United States military itself. Interestingly, although we imagine that OTFs and other automatic knives are combat weapons first and foremost, the majority of soldiers interviewed regarding the 06 Auto praised it for its usefulness in practical and emergency situations. One officer described how he ended up with a loose crown while in the field and used it to perform impromptu dental work. You might not need to attempt minor surgery, but an OTF can help you, say, remove a splinter. In more extreme situations, you could even employ one in hammering an object or cauterizing a wound. While less than ideal applications for an OTF, you’d still be glad you had one in such situations.

Camping and Survival

Camping and survival uses have some overlapping applications with emergency knife uses. However, employing a knife in the outdoors is something that most owners can more easily imagine. Clearing brush, making improvised tools such as a fork or a spit, and sectioning smaller branches for firewood are common enough tasks. OTFs can also be of use in more extreme contexts. Are you trying primitive camping and don’t have any tinder? Shave some off of dry wood. Do you need to fend off a wild animal or an intruder? Strap an open OTF to a branch to make an improvised spear. Want to set up a latrine, but don’t have a shovel? In a pinch, you can dig with your OTF. (Note, though, that this runs a high risk of damaging your knife.)


Whittling (i.e., shaping wood by repeatedly removing thin strips of wood from a branch, block, or piece) has lots of practical appeal when you’re in the middle of the wilderness. Consider our previous example of using an OTF to create tinder. Whittling, though, can simply serve as a pleasant diversion, a way to while away the hours as you peel back a branch from bark to pith. Some whittlers take a more project-focused approach to the craft. They carefully select both their creative projects and the kind of wood on which they will whittle. While these sorts of whittlers are primarily concerned with artistic output, they also can create practical works such as hooks, dining utensils, candle holders, and the like.

EMS, Law Enforcement, and First Responders

First responders often find themselves in pressured, time-sensitive situations where they need to have a blade ready right now. What’s more, they don’t always have two hands free to open one and definitely don’t want to leave an edged implement readied after it’s been used. OTFs satisfy both requirements, bundling usefulness and convenience in a single package.

Personal Interest in Exotic Weaponry

Did you know that the ancient Greeks used a belly-cocked crossbow in their conflicts? The Chinese bested them, though, by inventing a semi-automatic crossbow that could fire a score of bolts in almost as many seconds. China also pioneered the use of land mines during the 13th century. Time would fail us to speak about da Vinci’s organ cannon, blowguns, throwing knives, flamethrowers, machine pistols, caltrops, and … well, you get the idea. Many people have a personal interest in exotic weaponry, but such implements are anything but practical. The same can’t be said for OTFs. They appeal to those with an interest in exotic weaponry and yet can function well with common tasks.

We have a wide variety of OTFs available here at TacKnives. Peruse our selection!

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