Folding knives are *old*. Designers’ alterations have added countless innovations to folders over the years, including everything from thumb studs and various kinds of locking mechanisms to exotic fabrication materials and unique blade styles such as tantos, miniature cleavers, and super-stubby lengths. Still, the basic idea has remained the same, and folding knives have always stuck to a singular simple idea: These cutting implements should collapse into themselves and be smaller enough to fit in a pocket or on a belt. This design ideal is what has helped folding knives remain popular and relevant for literally thousands of years.
In this article, we’ll list six reasons folding knives are a popular choice, talk about what you should look for in a folding knife, and discuss the folding knives offered by TacKnives.
Six Reasons for the Popularity of Folding Knives
Throughout history, humans have fixated on various curiosities and commodities, allowing their interest to distort the true value of the thing in question, drive up production, and eventually lead to a fiscal collapse. Scholars call this phenomenon an economic bubble, and markets have seen such bubbles form around things as varied as silver, uranium, comic books, railway companies, corporate debt, residential housing, and (possibly) cryptocurrency. One of the earliest economic bubbles was chronicled by Mike Dash in Tulipomania. Writing of the 17th century Dutch obsession with the book’s titular flower, he described merchants who sold “drab and anonymous brown packages of no intrinsic worth, which resembled nothing so much as onions. Yet as unpromising as they might at first appear, flowers at this time were far more precious than the richest commodities that could be found piled up on the wharves of Amsterdam. Some tulips were so scarce and so greatly coveted that they were worth more than a hundred times their weight in gold, and successful bulb dealers could make huge profits.”
Bubbles can drive international specializtions even after they implode, hence Holland’s continued importance in the tulip market to this day, and some might feel tempted to conclude that the ubiquity of the folding knife exists due to some such similar frenzy. However, history shows no such similar pattern when it comes to folding knives. These implements owe their staying power not to speculation, but to their inherent qualities.
This section will highlight some of the characteristics of folding knives that have contributed to their popularity, including the following …
Portability and Ease of Access
Knives are wonderful tools. They aid with trimming plants, slicing food, whittling wood, defending oneself, cleaning game, gutting fish, starting a fire, serving as a stand in for common tools, and … well, the list just goes on and on. However, while larger fixed-blade knives can typically do all of these tasks (and more) quite well, they aren’t always easy to carry around. Meanwhile, stubby fixed blades might prove quite easy to schlep from point A to point B, but their lack of length may hamper their usefulness. That tension between portability and usefulness was rectified in the folding knife.
We’ve discussed the Hallstatt site in other articles, but for those not familiar with the find, know that it was an ancient archaeological site unearthed in Austria. While the Hallstatt site contained numerous artifacts, the one most applicable here is the Hallstatt knife, a simple friction folder that dated back to roughly 500 B.C. The need to have an easily accessible blade was so pressing that Iron Age metalworkers innovated and created an implement that’s still used today.
Wide Variety of Designs
Fortunately, newer folding knives have added more than merely a pivot point and a finger grip so they can remain open during use. Folding knife designs have multiplied exponentially to the point where basically any kind of folding knife you can imagine is available — and so are some you might not have! Innovations abound, from the truly useful to the wildly artistic to the bewilderingly idiosyncratic. Such diversity owes to variance in a number of factors, which include …
Size. Not every folder is designed to fit in one’s pocket, and you won’t have trouble finding examples with six-inch blades, examples that are every bit as long as most forearms and better suited for slashing through jungle foliage than quartering an apple. Similarly, you can also discover itty-bitty folders with blades little more than an inch, tiny knives intended for quotidian tasks (such as slicing twine) or extreme situations (like slicing free a seat belt or scraping a branch to make kindling).
Locks. While some folding knives don’t lock, most do, and the method of locking can dramatically alter how it functions. We’ve written at length about the most common kinds of folding locks, and that article includes detailed descriptions that we won’t repeat here. Suffice it to say that a folding knife with a slip joint or a ring lock will serve you well in utility contexts, while a button lock or lever lock is more appropriate when you need to deploy a blade quickly. Meanwhile, clasp locks and the ever-popular lever lock do a good job of standing up to increased force during use.
Opening Mechanism. The ways in which users open folding knives also differentiate different designs. Both the oldest types and some created just prior to World War 2 used gravity to deploy the blade. On the other end of the spectrum, spring-assisted knives have used buttons to open famous folding styles such as the stiletto. Other mechanisms between these two options in terms of complexity require the user to make contact with a mechanism near the blade’s spine and manually open the knife. The nail nick is the tried-and-true option that appears on classics such as Old Timer slipjoints, and thumb holes fulfill much the same purpose. Finally, thumb studs allow wielders to deploy knives with such speed that some confuse them with speedy OTF automatics.
Handle Design. The handles of folding knives (indeed, the handles of basically *all* knives) fall into two broad categories: natural or synthetic. But each of those camps contains a manifold number of options. Natural handles may come constructed from bone, horn, leather, cord, or wood — and the types of wood used boggle the mind. Rosewood, oak, ebony, bloodwood, mesquite, blackwood, ironwood, cherry, walnut, maple, birch, bocote, hickory, amboyna, and more. Synthetic materials also offer many different options. Some are inexpensive and durable (polypropylene, polyoxymethylene), and others are pricey, yet formulated to be nigh indestructable (TeroTuf). Some combine attractiveness with usability (Micarta), and others sacrifice looks for toughness (Zytel). Folding knives have so many handle options that one can almost certainly find one with the desired combination of handling, hardness, and aesthetic appeal.
Clip Type. Clips designed to secure a knife in the pocket or on a belt have become common, and even a clip can significantly influence the usability of a knife. For instance, most regular clips are of solid construction and leave the butt of the knife partially exposed, making it easier to drop it. Wire clips remove much of the material, which renders the clip and the knife somewhat harder to spot. Clips made of milled metal are far stronger than traditional ones and difficult to bend, break, or otherwise deform. And deep-carry clips fully conceal a folding knife for maximum discretion.
Blade Type. By now, the theme should be evident: Basically every element of a folding knife comes in multiple permutations. That axiom holds true for blade types as well. Just as they vary in size, so folding knives also vary in style of blade. Drop points, one of the most familiar folding-blade styles, appear on everything from whittlers to tactical knives to EDC options. Clipped blades (where essentially one-third of the material near the knife’s tip has been removed, making an effective stabbing point) and spear points (bilaterally symmetrical blades that are usually sharpened on both sides) are the other two most common blade shapes. However, chisel-shaped tantos based on ancient Japanese designs have gained popularity, and more niche options such as the hook-nosed Wharncliffe and the curled hawkbill have also found fans. And one must also take into account the grind of the blade in addition to its shape, the way in which metal has been removed around its cutting edge to make it sharp. Some common grinds are …
- Hollow Ground: Designed for extremely sharp knives, the beveled section descending to the cutting edge has been removed until it is concave.
- Flat Ground: Used on generalist knives, flat grinds feature a beveled area that’s neither concave nor convex.
- Scandi: A style where the blade starts out unground and then in shaped in a straight, severe “V,” Scandi grinds remain strong over time and are easy to sharpen.
- Chisel: This sort of knife is only ground on one side.
- Hamaguri (蛤): This word originally referred to a specific kind of Japanese clam, and the shape of a hamaguri knife grind resembles that fat Asian delicacy. Essentially the opposite of a hollow-ground blade, a hamaguri bows out and works well when chopping.
Asymmetrical: This is a catch-all terms for blades featuring a different grind on each side. Such knives are intended to tackle different sorts of tasks or to have the strengths of one grind remediate the weaknesses of another
Availability of Both Budget and Luxury Versions
While you can spend a lot of money on a folding knife if you so desire, ponying up for rare handle materials, specialty steel, and bespoke designs, you don’t have to if you don’t have to. Unlike other kinds of tools, you can find perfectly acceptable budget folding knives in addition to highly expensive options. In fact, sometimes a cheaper knife might be a better option, especially when it needs to be put to hard use. Why? Well, for one thing, inexpensive steels might dull more quickly when put through their paces in a field setting. Additionally, owners might hesitate to whip out a luxury knife if it runs the risk of getting damaged.
General Societal Acceptability
Different types of knives have differing reputations. If you decided to quarter a piece of fruit with a stiletto, a dirk, or a Bowie knife, you can rest assured that eyebrows would rise. But employing a modest folder generally won’t cause any kind of disturbance. Perhaps a small part of the reason why folding knives have become the quintessential everyday-carry blade is that so many people are willing to accept them as such.
Speaking of EDC knives, they have thrived largely because of their immense practicality. Sure, vanity folding EDC blades exist, but most are meant to be used. Opening mail. Pruning plants. Dressing a kill. Starting a fire. A folding EDC can prove indispensable in these and a whole host of additional tasks.
Great Innovation and Diversity of Design
Did you know that some knife makers actually tattoo (for lack of a better word) designs on the flat of their folding knives? Others affix a clip to their offerings and design them to be so flat that they can serve as money clips. Still more manufacturers embed metal-reinforced holes in the pivot points of their folding knives, points designed to accept a climber’s carabiner. Or have them unexpectedly ratchet open through an intricate arrangement of clockwork gears. Or cause them to collapse into a credit-card sized rectangle that will easily slide into your wallet. You get the idea. Folding knife designs are bursting with creativity and innovation.
Why You Should Consider a Folder from TacKnives
Folding knives aren’t just awesome tools in general. We here at TacKnives also offer a large number of folding knives in varying designs. From variations in handle color and material to different blade lengths and types, we likely have just the folding knife you’re looking for. What’s more, we pride ourselves on providing high-quality knives assembled in the United States. See our folding knife line here.