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Are OTF Knives Practical?

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Are OTF Knives Practical?

The workings of the mind can prove perplexing, and the interior thought life of individuals ripples outward into the everyday world in odd ways. Philosophers call our subjective experiences qualia. Here’s an example of how qualia work: Think about the word “red” and the first thing that pops into your mind. This simple color possesses connotations as diverse as anger and love, passion and heat. Sometimes, though, qualia cluster, and impressions tend to center around a central idea.

Just consider the subjective thoughts that people tend to have around automatic knives in general and OTF knives in particular. If you were to ask individuals about their impressions regarding these blades, you’d likely get responses like “tactical,” “combat,” “flashy,” and “cool.” Some less complimentary terms might include “gimmicky,” “showy,” or “impractical.” But are OTF knives really not useful for everyday scenarios? We think the opposite is true. OTF knives can function effectively in both outdoors and everyday carry (EDC) contexts, and in this article, we’ll explain why.

The Practical History of Automatic Knives

As we’ve discussed in another post, automatic knives of one sort or another have existed for centuries, and while the tactical-looking, spring-assisted OTF blades we use today are newer innovations, the marketing for older American automatic knives proves instructive regarding their practicality. During the early 20th century, interest in automatic knives exploded. Designs focused on smaller pocketknife models, not unlike what you see today. One different thing, though, was the focus of the marketing. 

Rather than playing up seeming tactical applications of automatic knives, manufacturers highlighted their practicality. Ads set farmers, outdoorsmen, and anyone who needed to use a knife while having a hand occupied as their target demographic. Far from simply whipping up demand, such scenarios were both practical and likely. Users really were likely to find themselves cutting a hank of rope after tying a knot, dressing out game, or opening a bag of feed for horses or cattle. To these early adopters of automatic knives, the implements were eminently practical.

Interestingly, Americans weren’t the only people to grasp the usefulness of these sorts of knives. Germany introduced the gravity knife in the late 1930s, a kind of precursor to the OTF knife that deployed the blade through the power of physics rather than the stored kinetic energy of a spring. Though issued to military forces, these weapons weren’t intended for fighting. Rather, parachutists and flight crews were to use them to slice tangled rigging, cut individuals from rigging in the event of a crash, or even saw through the aluminum fuselage of a downed craft — all highly practical applications.

Rethinking the Usefulness of the OTF Knife

Of course, early 20th century America was a different place and time, right? Those knives were intended for hard use and were designed radically differently than the sleek, lethal-looking, contemporary OTF blades. The kinds of automatic knives you see today exist as much for show as any sort of practical use — or so the thinking goes. The truth of the matter is that the market for OTF knives is broad, and you’ll find knives suited for all sorts of tasks. In this section, we’ll consider a number of factors that may make you rethink the usefulness of OTF products.

OTF knives are compact and easy to deploy. This point may cause you to roll your eyes and murmur, “Of course they are! That’s the whole point.” But don’t underestimate the fact that OTFs cram a significant amount of blade into a pocketable form factor, and that matters when you think about one use for which they’re obviously intended: combat. Some like to denigrate OTF designs by saying that a fixed blade will always outperform an OTF or folding design during a fight. And, yes, fixed blades are inherently more stable since they’re comprised of one length of metal — but you can’t easily carry them around in many contexts. OTFs are simple to conceal, quick to deploy, and they make a big impression when you most need them to.

OTF knives remove added motion from the process of using a knife. The 1948 novel Cheaper By the Dozen focused on the teeming brood of the Gilbreth family as they rampaged their way through early 20th century New Jersey. When most people hear the title, they imagine the 2003 comedy starring Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt. They forget that the Gilbreths were real people and that the father and mother were efficiency experts. Their field was dubbed “time and motion study,” and it dealt with improving work by minimizing the number of movements employees performed. The Gilbreths likely would have loved OTF knives. Rather than needing to fumble two handed with a notched folding blade, users can get an OTF knife into working order with the push of a button or the flick of a switch. Sheathing it is every bit as easy, saving users time and hassle as they go about their tasks.

OTF knives are safer than other options. While OTF blades certainly don’t look significantly safer than fixed blade or folding options, consider several benefits that their designs offer particularly when comparing similar blade shapes. Classical daggers come in fixed-blade configurations, but we’ve already discussed how they often aren’t practical to carry. Dagger-shaped OTF knives maximize cutting area and minimize space while eliminating the potential injury inherent in a double-sided blade. Think about it: While folding daggers exist, having to close one without spring assist greatly increases your chance of cutting yourself. Similarly, the fact that OTF knives collapse directly back into their handles greatly reduces the chance of injury should a lock fail. In such instances, an OTF blade would never run the risk of coming into contact with your flesh. Not so with a folding knife! Lock failure could easily trap your digits between the cutting edge and the handle, which might lead to injury or even inadvertent amputation in certain circumstances.

Cutting an apple. Opening a box. Performing woodcraft-related tasks. Defending yourself from an assailant. OTF knives perform admirably in all such situations and more. Far from simply being showy, these unique blades can fit themselves to any practical tasks that you have in mind.

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