Pick up any old pocket knife and you’d be hard-pressed to open it with one hand. Most old knives used a nail nick opening system where tiny slots were put into the spines of the blades to help your fingernail grab it. However, this required two hands and people quickly tired of this cumbersome method.
Enter the thumb-stud, which began a revolution for quick, single-handed deployment. From that point on, pocket knives have become more and more streamlined with the invention of things like the spyderhole and the flipper tab. There even exist pocket knives that are designed to open as you pull them out of your pocket.
All these innovations are great and all, but when you open a pocket knife for the first time, you might wonder how people can make it look so easy. Well, there are specific methods to opening certain types of knives, but the biggest factor is simply practice and getting a feel for the movement. So if you feel like you have a defective knife, it’s probably just because your hands aren’t used to opening it.
That all said, here are some tips of how to open a pocket knife without straining your fingers or impaling yourself.
Different Types of Openers
Every type of opening mechanism will require a different technique in order to get it to work properly. From the simple thumb-stud to the Emerson wave opener, you’ll need to master specific movements in order to deploy your blade as quickly as possible. Below, I’ve outlined the most common systems and how to open them with ease.
There’s nothing much to this one. You hold the handle of the knife with one hand and grab the slit on the blade with your other hand.
This action is not only easy and safe, but it’s not as threatening as a pocket knife that can be deployed in a second. The biggest trouble is that it requires two hands, so it’s less likely to helpful in a sticky situation.
You’ll find this mechanism on most old pocket knives and on Swiss Army knives.
The thumb stud is the most common opening system for modern pocket knives and involves a stud that protrudes from the blade, which allows your finger to grab it and swing it open. The stud can be on one or both sides of the blade depending on the model of the knife.
To open a thumb-stud knife, clasp the knife between your fingers and your palm making sure it isn’t supported by your thumb. Then place your thumb on the stud and apply pressure directly away from your wrist and parallel to your arm.
It’s important that you aren’t applying pressure to the knife perpendicular to the handle but are moving up at a slight angle. Not only does this make it easier, but it will help the knife quickly snap in place.
Most modern pocket knives have a thumb stud opening system, some being from the brands Gerber, Benchmade, and Kershaw.
This is the trademark feature of Spyderco’s line of pocket knives and is very critically-acclaimed. The genius of the Spyderhole is that its great functionality was achieved by simply removing part of the blade.
You will find that the Spyderhole is much like the thumb stud except that it gives your finger more surface area to grab onto, which is easier on your thumb. Simply grab the knife between your fingers and your palm and place your thumb in the hole, moving it up and slightly at an angle.
This is my favorite opening system because of its simplicity and the way it feels. However, it does add a bit of width to the knife, which is necessary to accommodate the hole.
The Spyderhole is exclusive to Spyderco and Byrd knives, but other companies are adopting the idea of putting a hole in the blade as a thumb grip.
It’s like a pocket knife with a nose or something, but it actually makes for a pretty easy deployment. It’s also really safe, which is perfect if you feel like you’re going to cut your fingers off every time you open your knife.
Simply grab the knife from the back between your fingers and your thumb keep all digits clear of the blade’s path. Then press down on the tab with your index finger and the blade should flip open.
Zero Tolerance and Kershaw are two brands that use the flipper tab.
This is very similar to the flipper tab except it relies on friction to open. There’s usually a small serrated stub on the top of the knife that will catch your finger as you pull it back.
You can open this the same way as the flipper tab by holding the knife between your thumb and your fingers and sliding the blade open with your index finger.
Alternatively, you can grab the knife with just your fingers (no palm or thumb) and slide the blade open with your thumb. This is closer to how you would hold the knife when you’re cutting something, so it makes it a little faster.
Emerson Wave Opener
The most unique opening system on this list, the Emerson wave opener allows a pocket knife to be opened while you pull in out of your pocket without the help of your fingers. It may sound crazy, but the design is surprisingly simple, involving only a hook that catches onto the edge of your pocket.
Simply pull the knife out of your pocket and apply some pressure to the side of your pocket and the hook will grab it and flip the blade open. The only catch with this design is that the knife needs to be in a pocket to work.
This design was pioneered by Emerson Knives (hence the name), but has been adopted by some other knives including one of Spyderco’s known as the “Dragonfly 2.”
General Opening Tips
Often times a knife will be hard to open despite using proper techniques. This usually happens with new knives that haven’t been broken in. Luckily, the solutions are pretty simple, but some of them do have their risks. However, if you’re being careful, then there shouldn’t be any problems.
Oiling the Pivot
A recurring problem with knives is a lack of oil to help the blade glide open. This can happen with new and old blades alike, and if you’re in possession of an old blade, it could probably stand a cleaning first.
To loosen up your blade, simply put a few drops of your favorite knife oil (or just sewing machine/gun oil) into the pivot and open a close the blade a few times to work it in.
Loosening the Pivot Screw
On most pocket knives, you’ll find a star-shaped (torx) screw holding the blade to the handle and this can be adjusted. This will often help with cheaper knives that weren’t adjusted optimally, but think twice before messing around with any hundred-dollar knife because those are usually hand-crafted with extreme precision and you’ll probably ruin the joint.
To loosen the screw, you’ll need to grab a star-shaped screwdriver (or a flathead that fits snugly) and give the screw a few twists counterclockwise. Open and close the blade a few times to see if it goes any smoother.
After loosening the screw, you’ll want to tighten it a bit with the blade open to make sure it doesn’t come out. Holding the screwdriver with two fingers, gently tighten the screw until it starts to fight back.
Opening and Closing the Knife
If all else fails, you can resort to just wearing down the knife a bit. Some locking mechanisms involve tiny bumps (detents) to catch the blade when you close it and these can keep the knife from working smoothly. Simply opening and closing your knife a few hundred times could make a big difference in smoothing things up.
To do this safely and quickly, grab the handle with one hand and the spine of the blade with the other hand. Keeping the handle steady, bring the blade out about an inch from the handle and then back repeatedly and rapidly. Continue making inch-wide alterations with the blade at different positions until you feel everything is working smoothly (or until you feel like it’s doing nothing).
Other Opening Techniques
Whether you want to give your knife opening a bit of style or just want to open it faster, these techniques will definitely add flair and functionality to your quick draw. They’re all based on thumb stud knives, but they aren’t necessarily exclusive to those.
Most of them involve flicking your wrist, so there is some risk to performing them. Just make sure you have a good grip on the handle with your fingers clear of the blade and you’ll be fine.
The Thumb Thrust
Place your thumb on the stud and build up a bit of force at a slight angle. In an instant, give it a burst of power and the blade should swing open. It might also help to tighten the pivot a bit so you can build up more power.
The Wrist Assist
This one is pretty basic. It involves opening the knife part of the way and then flicking the knife to open it the rest of the way. This is the most common way to get a blade open fast and it works with almost any knife.
The Finger-less Fling
Similar to the one above, it’s possible to open a pocket knife without touching the blade at all. Instead of just flicking the knife back, you’ll flick it forwards first to get the blade partway out. You’ll want to flick forwards and back quickly and with a lot of force and your blade has to be pretty loose for it to work. It can also be dangerous, so caution is advised.
Consider yourself equipped to handle any split-second situation. With a bit of practice, you’ll be pulling out your blade faster than a lighting ball could zip across a hot stove. The next time you open the door to the delivery man, you’ll practically have the package open before you’ve even signed for it. Of course, when somebody else starts asking for a knife, there’s no doubt you’ll reach into your pocket and realize it’s still sitting on your dresser at home.
Hopefully you found this article helpful. If I missed anything or you have anything to add (or just want to write something), then I’d love to hear what you have to say. Feel free to leave a comment and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.