Gear Automatic Knives Buyers Guide Erik Brooks May 9, 2016 Join the Conversation Who doesn't like automation? Technology has given us ATMs, motion-sensor doors, and belt-felt full-auto M240 Bravos. Naturally, we love automatic knives, too. Sadly, they're highly regulated in the United States and around the world. Many politicians fear this genre for the same reason they fear guns: ignorance. So let's drop some knowledge. Automatic blades open, well, automatically when you push a switch, lever, or button. While there are variations, they can be lumped into two categories: folding and out-the-front (OTF). The former looks and works similarly to a common pocket knife. The latter has a sliding blade that shoots out the top of the handle. A double-action OTF can both eject and retract the blade using a switch or lever. A single-action OTF will only automatically eject the blade and requires you to pull back a charging handle to retract the blade and reset the spring. So, does “automatic” mean better? Not necessarily. As with firearms, which knife you buy should be dictated by what you plan to use it for. Want a speedy self-defense weapon? Some auto knives open slower than manual folders. Looking for a heavy-duty tool? Consider a fixed blade. After all, more moving parts mean more chances for failure. Also, some autos don't have safeties, so accidental activation can leave you with a hole you weren't born with. Then there's that whole legality issue. (Note: Not all of the companies whose knives are featured here will sell them online due to federal laws. You may need to find local independent retailers.) But, if you've done your legal research, have the cash, and live in a region where auto knives are kosher, you're sure to find a knife here that gets your autonomic nervous system pumping. Make: Microtech Knives Model: UTX-70 OAL: 5.91 inches Blade Length: 2.44 inches Blade Material: Elmax stainless steel Weight: 1.23 ounces MSRP: $230 URL: www.microtechknives.com Make: SOG Specialty Knives & Tools Model: SOG-TAC Automatic OAL: 8 inches Blade Length: 3.5 inches Blade Material: AUS-8 stainless steel Weight: 3.8 ounces MSRP: $207 URL: www.sogknives.com Make: Kershaw Knives Model: Launch 5 OAL: 8.5 inches Blade Length: 3.4 inches Blade Material: CPM 154 stainless steel Weight: 4.1 ounces MSRP: $180 URL: www.kershawknives.com Make: Gerber Gear Model: 06 Auto (special edition) OAL: 8.5 inches Blade Length: 3.8 inches Blade Material: S30V stainless steel Weight: 6.3 ounces MSRP: $223 URL: www.gerbergear.com Make: Spyderco Knives Model: Autonomy OAL: 8.62 inches Blade Length: 3.7 inches Blade Material: H-1 steel Weight: 5.4 ounces MSRP: $350 URL: www.spyderco.com Make: Pro-Tech Knives Model: Dark Angel OAL: 8.9 inches Blade Length: 3.75 inches Blade Material: 154CM stainless steel Weight: 3.7 ounces MSRP: $350 URL: www.protechknives.com Make: Benchmade Knife Co. Model: 3321 OAL: 9 inches Blade Length: 3.96 inches Blade Material: 154CM stainless steel Weight: 5.1 ounces MSRP: $425 URL: www.benchmade.com Interrogating the Suspects Microtech UTX-70 411: Microtech and founder Anthony Marfione are known for automatic-knife innovations. Their Ultratech model is a modern classic. The puppy we're testing here is the low-carb version of the Ultratech, reduced in size by 30 percent (hence the name UTX-70). It's the smallest and lightest one in this buyer's guide. Like its bigger brother, the UTX-70 is a double-action OTF with a spring that remains at rest in both the open and closed positions to minimize fatigue. Made in the USA. Pros: Brilliant engineering matched with top-quality materials. The auto action is lightning fast, opening and closing with a satisfying “thwak” sound. The 6061-series aluminum handle and sharp Elmax blade are available in various options. Cons: While quite comfortable to carry in your pocket, it'll feel like a Q-tip in the hands of those with huge booger hooks. Like most OTF, we're not sure how the tang will hold up to hard-core abuse laterally. SOG SOG-TAC Automatic 411: The SOG-TAC lineup was designed as a backup weapon for cops and troops, so it's built to withstand plenty of punishment. It fits in the medium-to-large category, but feels compact due to its slim and lightweight 6061-series aluminum body. The clip-point blade features a black titanium-nitride finish and a partially serrated edge, but it's also available with a plain edge. It features a safety switch that can keep the blade locked opened or closed. Pros: Though not blindingly fast, the auto opening is smooth and reliable. While not a top-tier steel, the AUS-8 blade is plenty sharp when stabbing and slicing. The ergonomic handle fits like a glove in the hand. The reversible pocket clip can be worn on either side. Cons: The jimping on the blade's spine is a little too aggressive. Surprisingly, the blade jiggles a bit in our unscientific, two-handed lateral strength test. Kershaw Launch 5 411: In recent years, Kershaw Knives has teamed up with famed knife-maker Ernest Emerson to produce his groundbreaking custom designs at mass-market quantities for a more affordable cost to the consumer. The Launch 5 isn't exactly one of their cheaper collaborations, but it's no less impressive. It features a push-button action, a CPM 154 blade, and an aluminum handle. The Launch 5 is made in the USA. Pros: Intelligent design that aligns with both Kershaw and Emerson's lineages. The blade, with stonewashed finish, cuts and punctures like a laser. The pocket clip is reversible for right- or left-side carry. Cons: It's advertised as having a recessed push button that's level with the handle, though a simple feel and visual test reveals that it's close, but not quite. Since it doesn't have a safety or a sheath, you'll have to be mindful of unintentional openings. Gerber 06 Auto 411: Like most 06 Autos, this model features a blade with premium S30V stainless steel and an aluminum handle with a lanyard hole and a pommel for striking or breaking glass. Unlike most 06 Autos, this is a special edition model honoring the model's 10-year anniversary. This birthday edition features an OD green Cerakote on the handle and the Stars and Stripes laser engraved on the blade. Naturally, it's made in the USA. Pros: Drop-point S30V blade keeps a sharp edge and easily fights off rust. Comes with a nylon pouch even though it already has a reversible pocket clip. Comes with a colored safety switch — when we see the familiar red dot there's no mistaking that it's go time. Cons: Despite being automatic, the blade's opening is slower than Steven Seagal in a 100-meter dash. If you prefer lightweight everyday-carry (EDC) knives, this will be a couple of ounces heavier than you'll prefer. Spyderco Autonomy 411: Originally designed for U.S. Coast Guard rescue divers, the Autonomy is a hard-core tool that can survive not just the usual EDC abuse, but also underwater emergencies. The blade is made of H-1 steel, a nitrogen-based alloy that's immune to saltwater corrosion. All other components — including the reversible pocket clip — are rustproof and feature a black coating for added protection and increased ninja-ness. Made in the USA. Pros: Despite the sheepsfoot profile with a rounded tip (for cutting seatbelts, etc.), this razor-sharp blade stabs pretty well, too. The only model in this bunch to feature G-10 scales, which is tough and comfy. Integrated safety helps prevent accidental openings. Cons: The handle grooves are too deep. The oversized firing button (so divers can index it while wearing gloves) looks goofy and sticks out a lot. Would prefer a “red is dead” safety color scheme that firearm owners are used to. Pro-Tech Dark Angel 411: Pro-Tech is a family-owned company known for making high-quality auto knives, in addition to fixed and manual blades. This version of its Dark Angel (model No. 3232) comes with a desert-sand aluminum handle and a 154CM stainless steel blade with a black diamond-like coating. As a single-action OTF, it comes with a safety, a pocket clip, and a nylon sheath. Also available with a stonewashed-finished blade and a black handle. Made in the USA. Pros: The OTF firing action is fast — like Jerry Miculek fast! With clean lines and quality materials, this is an aesthetically pleasing cherub. The sturdy clip folds over itself, allowing for a deep-pocket carry. Cons: If you've been spoiled with a double-action OTF, pulling back the charging handle on a single-action OTF will feel less glamorous. Too bad the safety doesn't turn red when unlocked to let us know that it's ready to fire. Benchmade 3321 411: The Pagan is the latest family of auto knives from Benchmade. Like its siblings, the 3321 we reviewed features a chisel-ground blade, meaning only one side is beveled while the other remains flat — making it stronger and sharper than blades with two or more bevels. It's also a double-action OTF with an aluminum handle, a pocket clip, and a MOLLE-compatible Cordura sheath. Also available with a black-coated blade for $440 total. Made in the USA. Pros: The OTF opening and closing is smooth and rapid. The 154CM blade steel is one of our favorites. Ambidextrous operations, thanks to the switch sitting on the flat part of the handle. Easy on the eyes in addition to being smartly designed and well made. Cons: At more than four C-notes, it's the most expensive of the bunch. Much like a gun's trigger, the switch has some slack before it breaks and fires the blade. Still, if we're gonna carry it on our bodies outside of the sheath, we'd prefer it if it came with a safety. 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