Knives have been around since before the beginning of recorded history. Various mainstream archeological digs have unearthed evidence of man’s usage of knives dating back plus or minus 8,000BC and some research even prior. The historical evidence throughout the evolution of mankind with regards to development of early edged tools demonstrates that the knife was one of the very first hand-held tools ever created. No one really knows if the knife’s first use was as a weapon or as a tool. In fact, more than ten thousand years later the debate still rages on today with regards to the development of modern knife usage (weapon or tool) policy for US law enforcement agencies.
As with all useful inventions, the knife was a pretty good idea and withstood the test of time – lots of time, roughly ten to possibly twenty thousand years worth of time. Overall knife design went through various stages of development. The very first materials were most likely a sharpened bone or stick. Later on chipped stone and eventually modern metallurgy came into play.
The very first knives were of course “fixed” – meaning that there were no moving parts. An early knife user simply reached for his fixed knife and pulled it out (hopefully by the handle) and began using it. Throughout history, the knife proved to be such an effective and efficient tool that it was further refined and developed. New variations were added such as a more comfortable handle and more sturdy materials which were able to hold an edge longer. Later on down the timeline sheaths were invented so that the knife could be carried by the owner for both convenience and in such a manner as to not inflict any unintended bodily damage upon himself or his neighbors.
By the time of the Roman Empire knives were very well-developed and in addition to functionality, aesthetics had entered into the development equation. New innovations flourished in the manufacture of knives until roughly about the 2nd or 4th century AD when, according to archeological records, folding knives where introduced.
Although fragments were found sporadically from various cultures, the first complete folding knife unearthed demonstrated clearly advanced workmanship. Drawing upon both functionality as well as aesthetics, these early Roman knife-makers developed one of the world’s first truly functional folding knifes.
Elsewhere on the planet there were other innovative ideas, such as carrying the blade between two broken pieces of bone. The concept of “knife between broken bones” originated in the Philippines. The term “Bali” (like the island of Bali located due east of the island of Java in the Indonesian Archipelago) literally translates to the word “broken”. The term “soung” is from a dialect which means “bone” – the two terms used together literally translate to “broken bone” or more appropriate when referring to the folding knives of the Balisong Barrio in the Philippines “knife hidden in broken bone”.
Categories of Knives
Today, in the knife world there are tens of thousands of models, styles, blades and handle configurations. At the one end of the spectrum there are big long knives that border on “short sword” and at the other end of the spectrum there are extremely small customized hand, finger and toe knives which border on the edge of “improvised weapons.” The world of knives incorporates any and all in between.
The world of knife-making is additionally divided into two general partitions of manufacturing: custom knives and production knives. The difference between the two is that custom knives are for the most part hand-made – that is manufacturing of the knife without the use of modern “tooling” and mass-production processing. As a result of this time-intensive and hands-on process, the cost to make a custom knife is higher.
Production knives, on the other hand, are mass-produced and involve the use of factory tooling and assembly processes which reduces overall costs and in the end allow the buyer more affordability.
Regardless of manufacturing considerations and in order to further classify the immense volume of such a wide and diverse set of cutlery, it becomes necessary to first break down this massive hodgepodge of varying sizes, types, materials, styles, etc., into two general categories of knives.
Fixed and Folding
In the knife world there are two general classifications of knives – these are commonly referred to as “fixed” and “folding.” The term “fixed blade” is applied to the type of knife that has no moving parts. A “folding blade” is that type of blade which is defined by the fact that it has moving parts. “Fixed Blade” is synonymous with term “Fixed Knife” as “Folding Blade” is synonymous with the term “Folding Knife” – there are advantages and disadvantages with regards to both categories.
As with all edged tools there’s a plus and a minus corresponding to every feature. It has been said that “good or bad – everything has a price tag” this axiom can also be applied to the world of knives, specifically the difference between fixed and folding blades.
Referencing a fixed blade, the plus is that there are no moving parts on a fixed blade which by default makes it more reliable than a folding knife, but the price tag is that in order to carry a fixed blade you need a sheath and it requires that you wear that solid piece of steel somehow affixed to your body when sitting in your car, driving around on patrol, going to meetings, etc.,
The folding knife is generally much smaller and therefore more convenient to carry than its fixed counterpart. However the trade-off is that the blade is small and it does in fact have moving parts which render it by default less reliable than a fixed blade.
A fixed blade can be defined as any pointed or sharpened, single or double-edged blade secured to a fixed handle. Well-known examples of a fixed blade would be the classic Bowie Knife, Scottish Dirk, American K-Bar and the classical British “Commando” double-edged dagger. Even a broken piece of glass or steel shank with duct tape wrapped around one end would classify as a fixed blade.
Although a great knife to have with you in the event of digging a hide (if you are a sniper), tearing into drywall (if you’re a professional law enforcement specialty team member), prying into a window or door (if you are forced to make an ad hoc entry), etc. one must keep in mind public appearance. How would a fixed blade be perceived by the public – especially if you were an patrol officer with a major metropolitan police department? What about going to a meeting with a Bowie knife tucked in behind the waistband of your suit pants? These are important considerations when deciding between fixed and folding.
A folding blade can be defined as any pointed or sharp, single or double-edged blade which in any way can be folded, coiled, bent or otherwise secured in such a fashion as to be rendered disabled or “unlocked” in the “folded” position. Examples of a folding blade would be a pocket-knife such as a Swiss Army, Boy Scout (or even Cub Scout) knife or a “combat folder.” Switch blades and “combat” automatics also qualify as folding blades.
In the world of folding knives there are only two mechanical categories – “assisted” and “unassisted.” The term “assisted” applies to any folding knife where anything other than the usage of the human hand “assists” in the moving of the blade from the closed or unlocked position to the open or locked position. Some examples of this assistance would be say “spring assist” and “gravity assist”.
The term “unassisted” generally applies to those folding knives in which can ONLY be moved from the closed or unlocked position to the open or locked position by “manual effort” alone and with no assist from gravity, springs, coils or other forms of mechanical assistance that may be utilized in such a manner as to assist in the movement of the blade into a locked or open position.
The term “Gravity Assist” can be applied to any knife that with minimal manipulation with the human hand, may move the blade form the closed or unlocked position to the open or locked position in such a manner as to utilize the natural forces of gravity to assist in this movement. Two such examples would be the “Butterfly” (aka Balisong) and the Tri-fold models among others.
The term spring assisted applies to those folding knives where the application of a spring or springs in either coiled or uncoiled configuration utilized in such a manner as to in any way assist or partially assist with the movement of the blade from the closed or unlocked position to the open or locked position. In the world of spring-assisted folding knives there are generally two categories of classification: 1. Automatics (aka “autos”) and 2. Semi-automatics.
The term “Auto” is an abbreviation of the word “Automatic” which is applied to any folding knife which utilizes some form of spring system by which to move the blade from the closed or unlocked position, all the way to and including the open or locked position. A classical example of an auto would be a switchblade.
The term “Semi-auto” is an abbreviation of the term “Semi Automatic” which is applied to any folding knife which utilizes some form of spring system by which to partially move the blade from the closed or unlocked position, part of the way toward an open or locked position. A classical example of an auto would be a “spring-assist semi-auto.” Generally these types of knives have additional moving parts in or as part of the handle (sometimes hardly noticeable) which assist in the release of the spring in such a manner as to assist with the movement of the blade.