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Assisted Openers
April 2017
Dan Martinez  

Four assisted opening knives: Left to Right: Gerber FastFrame II; Schrade
24/7 M.A.G.I.C.; unknown Chinese promotional knife; Buck QuickFire

The Federal Switchblade Act was passed into law on August 12, 1958. It prohibits the importation and interstate commerce of switchblades or gravity knives. Well what are those?

The term “switchblade knife” means any knife having a blade which opens automatically –
(1) by hand pressure applied to a button or other device in the handle of the knife, or
(2) by operation of inertia, gravity, or both.

There were certain practical “shall not apply” exceptions to this law such as “pursuant to a contract with the Armed Forces” and to “the Armed Forces or any member or employee thereof acting in the performance of his duty”.

In 2009 another exception was added to the law which clearly establishes the legality of “assisted opening” knives, and other modern knives which have no backspring, but which can be quickly opened by pushing a thumbstud on the blade then flicking your wrist, seemingly in conflict with definition 2 above.

The law shall not apply to: “a knife that contains a spring, detent, or other mechanism designed to create a bias toward closure of the blade and that requires exertion applied to the blade by hand, wrist or arm to overcome the bias toward closure to assist in opening the knife.”

So to try to explain this in real-world terms, a switchblade knife has a spring mechanism that tries to open the blade, but is held in the closed position by the catch of a pushbutton in the handle. When the pushbutton is pressed, the catch is released and the blade is opened by the compressed spring.

On the other hand, an “assisted opening” knife may also have a spring which tries to open the blade, but there is no button in the handle that catches the blade to lock it in the closed position. Rather, there is some sort of a “cam-over” mechanism, such that when you close the blade past a certain point, the spring acts to close the blade instead of trying to open it. This is the “bias toward closure” in the language of the 2009 amendment.

So to get the spring to throw open the blade of an assisted opener, the blade has to be manually pushed open some small amount before the cam-over point is reached and the spring now acts in the direction of opening.

If this seems like a distinction without a difference, well I probably agree with you. An assisted opener, or even the Western Pronto folders I discussed in the last issue (no spring in those), will open just as fast as a legally defined switchblade.

Of course knives that are federally legal may still be illegal in certain localities. New York City comes to mind as a place that you have to be really careful about the type of knife you carry, unless you’re Crocodile Dundee.

Today I own four assisted opening knives, but I’m not going to go into deep detail discussing them. One reason is because it looks like some of these are either discontinued, or otherwise not presently available. It does no good to whet your appetite if you can’t get one.

But never mind about that. There are plenty of other ones on the market from all the major manufacturers with new ones being introduced every day. If you fancy that you need an assisted opener for yourself, I’m sure that you will be able to find one that satisfies.

I will say that of the four that I have, the Buck is the best quality. The Schrade is the lowest quality. Yes even lower quality than the unknown Chinese promotional knife.

The problems I have seen are that the screws that hold it together work themselves loose. And those screws are hidden under rubber covers that are glued on to the sides of the handles. There is a safety lock button on the side that only sort-of works, depending on how tight you make the pivot screw. If you loosen the pivot screw enough to allow the safety lock to work, you will have too much side-to-side blade play.

The Buck QuickFire opens quickly and smoothly. The Quickfire employs a lock-back button like their famous model 110. Though at 2¾” this is the smallest blade of the four, I still offer my recommendation for this knife.

Every one of these has a pocket clip. Assisted openers make great EDC knives. Besides, they’re fun to flick open.

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