A sharp pocket knife is an invaluable tool for the hunter, the hiker, the angler . . . or just around the home and garden. There are thousands to choose from, so we thought we'd take a closer look at what makes a really good one. We've covered the important details below, and we've made a few recommendations. Our favorite, the Kershaw Blur Tanto Black Pocket Knife has strength and versatility for any situation, and it's compact, comfortable, and affordable.
Considerations when choosing pocket knives
When we compared types of blades, handles, and mechanisms, we came up with more than 600 combinations, and that's just styles of pocket knife, not different manufacturers. Saying you have plenty of choice is an understatement!
You'll want to think about purpose -- what you'll be cutting most of the time. The more effort you need to put in, the bigger the blade you want, and the better the grip. However, the drawback with a 6" pocket knife is that you need pretty big pockets. As a result, the most popular everyday-carry pocket knife size is between 2.5" and 4".
Blade steel is a big factor. Even a cheap pocket knife is usually stainless steel to resist rust, but high-carbon stainless steel is harder. It gives an edge that's a little more work to sharpen but stays sharp much longer. Various types of carbon steel are used on high-quality knives, but you need a number to check: 440C, S30V, etc., otherwise there's no way of telling how good it is. The drawback with some carbon steels is that they rust quickly, so look for a protective coating.
It probably goes without saying that you want a comfortable handle, but again there's huge choice. Bone or antler is traditional and offers decent grip. Wood has a nice feel, but is not as durable. Metals and plastics can be rugged but slippery when wet. Carbon fiber, titanium and various fiberglass laminates can be very light and strong (often used in tactical knives), but tend to be expensive. Again, we're back to purpose -- how light and durable does it need to be?
Blade locking keeps your fingers safe when the pocket knife is in use, and it's a common feature. Some have a spring mechanism for quick release. You need to be careful here. Blades that lock open are usually OK, but flick-knives or switchblades are illegal in some states.
Many people think of a pocket knife as a single-blade tool, but those with two or more blades are quite common. Multiple blades add versatility, but they usually need to be thinner to fit them in the handle. You'll need to think about that if you need blade strength.
Some blades have a serrated area, good for "sawing" through tough material.
Sometimes you want to attach your pocket knife to something rather than put it in a pocket. A key ring, lanyard hole or pocket clip is a useful addition.
Pocket knife prices
You can buy a cheap pocket knife for just a couple of bucks. Usually the blades are poor quality, and they soon fall apart. Decent quality starts at around $10, and between there and $30 you'll find hundreds of perfectly good, general-purpose models. Brand names, which usually means a better blade steel, run from $30 to $100. Above that, you're probably looking at handmade tools from small manufacturers, and you could spend several hundred dollars.
Q. What is the law regarding carrying a pocket knife?
A. Laws vary so much from one place to another that it's impossible to answer that question here -- you need to check local statutes. When flying, the law is uniform everywhere: You can put a knife in checked luggage, but not in a pocket or carry-on bag.
Q. Should I oil my pocket knife?
A. Experts recommend a quick cleaning once a month with soapy water and a toothbrush (to get rid of any lint, dirt or grit), then a light lubrication. PTFE-based spray oils are popular. Wipe off the excess. If you're using your pocket knife to cut up food, you might prefer a food-safe mineral oil.
Pocket knives we recommend
Best of the best: Kershaw Blur Tanto Black Pocket Knife
Our take: Top-quality knife from one of the industry's best names.
What we like: Super hard 14C28N steel gives superior edge. Rapid and secure "SpeedSafe" opening. Excellent grip from Trac-Tec handle inserts. Reversible pocket clip included -- carry tip up or tip down.
What we dislike: Very small. Occasional mechanism issues -- some loose, others too stiff.
Best bang for your buck: Boker Ts Twin Blade Copperhead Pocket Knife
Our take: A traditionally styled knife with twin blades for versatility.
What we like: Good-looking real bone handles. Nickel silver bolsters and brass linings for durability. A pair of high-carbon stainless steel blades. Good value.
What we dislike: Made in Germany? Yes, but from Chinese components. Bone color varies.
Our take: Multifunction pocket knife you can take almost anywhere.
What we like: Very compact knife from highly respected brand. Ideal for bag, purse or toolbox (popular with fishers). Seven functions. Available in 27 colors and finishes.
What we dislike: Small. Quality control can vary. Check upon delivery, and return quickly if damaged.
Bob Beacham is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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