What is the best action for a folding knife? This question is the cutlery equivalent to asking which caliber handgun is better. But, sometimes even difficult questions need to be addressed.
Before we can discuss which action is better we need to understand what the different actions are. If you are a “knife guy” bear with me for a moment. Act as if you are buying your first folder and have no idea what you are doing. Just for a moment while the other catch up.
Three types of actions
Manual – this is the traditional style folder which is opened by hand, maybe even two hands, such as the old fashion pocket knife. Yes, this includes models such as Swiss Army knives but can also include modern tactical design models.
Automatic – this design uses an internal spring mechanism and an external button to deploy the blade. Think switch blade. Many modern fighting knives use this design.
Spring assisted – this model is a hybrid of the manual and automatic designs. The user must start the blade deployment with their finger or thumb, often via a stud or hole for easier access, after which an internal spring bar takes over.
So which is best?
For many, the answer is personal preference. If you carry a knife for the purpose of being “tactical cool” or relieve your time as a Boy Scout then there is no need to look any further. Carry whatever accessories best.
But if you carry your knife (or knives) for a purpose, if you depend on them to do more than take up space in a pocket, you need to dig deeper.
The manual opener has seen a bit of a slump in recent years. They are slow to open, sometimes needing two hands to do so. Although not always the case they can be heavier with a more utilitarian design as opposed to the sleek, flashy fighting design of the automatic models. Many considered them the equivalent of carrying a six shooter in a world dominated by semiautomatics.
But the old fashion manual does have some advantages. First, it is dependable. There are less moving parts and therefore less chance something will break. Second, they tend to be more versatile. With a wide variety of designs available, it is possible to get a simple whittler small enough to fit in a coin pocket, a massive wood splitter that will take up your entire belt or anything in-between. Third, they are legal almost everywhere (although California may still find a reason to say “No”)
Automatic openers are sexy, sleek man killers popular with the cool crowd. They open lighting fast and can be deadly in the right hands. Perfect for James Bond but not the best choice for everyday carry. The same mechanism that allows the blade to deploy so quickly is also prone to malfunction- which leaves the knife useless. The blades tend to be thinner, lighter and unsuitable for heavy cutting or prying and may require a second knife be carried for such tasks. Plus, they are illegal in a growing number of states and difficult to purchase across stateliness.
This brings us the spring assist, the compromise or middle ground of the knife world. This design allows you the heft and brute strength of a manual coupled with the quick deployment of an automatic. Although not quite as fast it is possible to open a top of the line SA, especially one equipped with a thumb stud or hole, quick enough for most situations and one handed. Plus, they are more widely available (an legal) than automatic versions.
All things considered, it is my personal opinion that a quality SA is far more useful than an automatic opener. Many in the knife world agree, including a growing number of former auto carriers. This is why I carry one as my everyday knife while my Buck folder sits in a tackle box and my Kershaw Launch is strapped to my tactical vest.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.