The 4 Things to Look for in a Folding Knife

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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.


  1. Kelley March 26, 2015 at 6:27 pm #

    Based on these four points, do you have any knife recommendations? Maybe a top 5 or top 10?


    • JusticeP March 26, 2015 at 11:39 pm #

      Look for Gerber knives they work best and if anything goes wrong with it they will fix it for free. I have a Gerber that was passed down from my gpa to my dad and then to me. It has never been sharpened. And used many times. And still has a sharp edge


    • Justin White March 30, 2015 at 3:31 pm #

      I’ll see if I can work something up (very busy right now with DVD post-production). In the meantime the knife I have in the video is the 4″ Ti-Lite from Cold Steel. It meets all the criteria and I’ve been very happy with it.


  2. Rob March 26, 2015 at 9:54 pm #

    Some knives to look at are the CRKT knives. Particularly the m16-14, m16-13, m16-10, m21-14. These models have double quillions which prevent your hand from sliding onto cutting area when stabbing. The double quillion makes it nice when carrying the knife in the front pockets while in the closed position with tip up, the blade will spring to the open position when the knife is drawn and the quillion gets caught on edge of pocket(look for Emerson knives on YouTube for demonstration). Some might not like crkt because the knives are made in China, Otherwise I have various knives from Benchmade, Emerson, Spyderco and Boker.


  3. Huk March 27, 2015 at 11:58 am #

    Benchmade griptillian


  4. Lynn March 28, 2015 at 11:14 am #

    I was hoping for some recommendations.


    • Justin White March 30, 2015 at 3:32 pm #

      I’ve got something for that on the back burner right now (very busy with DVD post-production at the moment). Until then, I recommend the 4″ Ti-Lite from Cold Steel, which is the knife shown in the video.


  5. MarineFO March 30, 2015 at 5:08 pm #

    Benchmade locking mechanism!


  6. Phillip Watson March 30, 2015 at 10:03 pm #

    For the price Kelly, I’ve had great results with the Smith & Wesson Urban Commando with asisted opening. Very sturdy, holds a great edge and with practice you can get as fast or faster than a switch blade coming out of your pocket.


  7. Chris March 31, 2015 at 8:22 am #

    I’ve been carrying the Fox Dart for a few months now. It took a little getting used to, but now I wouldn’t trade it for anything. The blade is short enough to be legal almost everywhere, and no spring assist also makes it a non issue. Also, once you practice the pocket open using the “wave” a few times, nothing comes out faster.


  8. jimi dunsmore April 24, 2015 at 8:06 am #

    The best locking mechanism on any folder I’ve found are the cold steel folders. They use their proprietary tri-ad lock design. Look them up on YouTube under csknives. Many styles of blades to choose from for a very wallet friendly price. They have recently started doing videos on popular brands & a blade comparable of their own. They do stress tests & things of that nature showing the qualities of each blade. I personally highly recommend cold steel knives.


    • Justin White April 24, 2015 at 8:25 am #

      That’s actually a Cold Steel Ti-Lite I’m carrying in the video. They’re great knives.


  9. Bryan April 29, 2015 at 4:05 am #

    Gig’Em Justin!


  10. William April 29, 2015 at 8:41 am #

    When I saw the knife I said that looks like a Cold Steel Ti-lite. Checked the comments and yeap I was right. Cold Steel makes great knives, I have the Talwar and Spartan. I will be buying the Ti-lite soon with metal grips. Great video.


    • Justin White April 29, 2015 at 8:48 am #

      Thanks, William! I how to have more up soon.


  11. Brian June 2, 2015 at 7:29 am #

    If Balisong is legal then it meets all criteria. Its versatility makes it possible as a perfect weapon after fixed knife. Simple and reliable mechanism and the problematic “gravity assisted” actually ease balisong opening. Strip the flashy acrobatic moves and everyone can just drop-turn-lift to open single hand.



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