There is a lot of excitement around the recent repeal of the current laws in many states making automatic knives illegal. Here are some thoughts and information that may help you understand automatic knives better.
Are auto’s better than a manual or assisted opening knife?
My answer to this is, “absolutely not”. Truthfully, automatic knives are not any faster than assisted opening and manual flippers that incorporate a good quality ball bearing system in the pivot. There are hundreds of assisted opening knives that are just as fast or faster than most automatic knives. Truth be known, back in the mid 18th century when switchblades (automatic knives) were invented, the intent was not a superior blade deployment speed. Automatic knives back then were manufactured for the sole purpose of easy opening for people with physical disabilities, and women with long fingernails who struggled to open a traditional folder.
Reliability and ease of maintenance
By design, automatic knives, in general, will not be as reliable as a manual opening knife, this is especially true with OTF automatics. The OTF design is susceptible to failure as far as the blade locking up when fired (deployed), and not fully retracting when desired. The opening at the end where the blade fires out is susceptible to dirt, crud, and pocket lint migrating inside the knife where springs and mechanisms are located. This can cause lock up problems during deployment and retraction of the blade, and is the number one reliability issue with an OTF design. (Note: Some of the internal tolerances on your higher quality OTF knives are thousands of an inch.)
The other reliability issue with OTF knives is lubrication. OTF knives require more maintenance than any other knife. Each individual OTF knife will have its own requirements regarding the amount of lube/oil to keep it functioning properly. As an owner, you will have to determine how often lubrication is required to keep your knife functioning.
OTS (out the side) automatic knives are much more reliable than OTF knives simply because the spring in most designs is totally enclosed inside the knife handle, which eliminates the risk of contamination that occurs in OTF knives. It is very rare for a lubrication problem to occur with OTS, however, in very harsh and dirty environments, the OTS auto will require occasional cleaning around the pivot area.
Springs will only last so long for both OTS and OTF automatics, and will eventually fail. Some designs have internal moving parts susceptible to wear which can lead to a failure. So, if you are carrying a knife that you must depend on opening a 100% time, an automatic knife may not be what you want.
Buy from a trusted dealer
You can find a lot of automatic knives for under $50 – most of them will be made in China and you won’t know who the manufacturer is. When they break in a month or so, you will be done because there is no warranty on them.
The point is when buying an automatic, buy a name brand that has a warranty. It is important to review the type of warranty the manufacturer provides. It should be known, that some companies will not send your knife to you directly unless you are LEO (Law Enforcement Officer), or Military. Federal laws make it illegal to ship automatic knives across state lines unless it is going to LEO, Military, or direct dealers.
Having a trusted direct dealer is important when purchasing an automatic knife. A good direct dealer will take care of all the repair/warranty issues for you, including shipping both ways, and get your knife to you after it has been repaired.
So why all the buzz?
In my opinion, people usually desire something they know they can’t have. The stigma and negativity that Hollywood and TV has given auto knives over the years only adds to the coolness and the mystique. In conclusion, automatic knives are not for everyone. If you decide you want one, be smart about your purchase and realize they are what they are, nothing less nothing more.