Gear Assisted-Opening Knives – Unusual Suspects Patrick Vuong March 9, 2012 “Thwack.” It's the sound of a spring-assisted blade opening, and it makes us all warm and fuzzy inside. That reassuring sound tells us that our knife is locked and ready to go. This type of folder, sometimes called an assisted-opening (AO) knife, contains an internal mechanism (usually a torsion spring) that catapults the blade out when the user applies pressure to the knife's thumb-stud or flipper. Think of it as the semi-automatic of the knife world, straddling the line between manual folders and automatic blades. The benefits of AO knives are obvious – fast openings, one-handed operation, convenient carry – and the downsides are few. Some might argue that with more moving parts there are more chances for catastrophic failure, but that's like saying you should only stick to revolvers because semi-automatic pistols might malfunction. And, besides, we're not afraid to admit that we also own AO knives because they're just plain cool. With that in mind, we look at the most recent AO offerings available. Each manufacturer has put its own spin on the genre, and like choosing a firearm, only hands-on testing will determine your ideal blade. But we're certain at least one of these will strike your fancy. Brand SOG Specialty Knives & Tools Model SlimJim OAL 7.4 inches Blade Length 3.18 inches Blade Material AUS-8 Weight 2.4 ounces MSRP $75 URL www.sogknives.com The name says it all. SOG claims that the SlimJim is the thinnest AO knife in the world, and it's perfect for weight-conscious users. It can be carried tip up on the left or right side. The SlimJim has a sleek, futuristic aesthetic and a sharp blade. However, out of the box, it didn't consistently open all the way until we had broken it in. Also, the slide safety – flawless when the blade's locked open – still allows the tip to come out just slightly, even while locked shut. Overall, the SlimJim is a good, light-duty everyday carry (EDC). Brand Zero Tolerance Knives Model ZT Assisted Folder OAL 7.75 inches Blade Length 3.25 inches Blade Material S30V Weight 6.6 ounces MSRP $175 URL www.ztknives.us Activate beast mode! This heavy-duty knife feels wonderful in hand, thanks to balanced weight and a textured, ergonomic G-10 handle (which has a “quad-carry” pocket clip). The blade is crazy sharp. The ambidextrous SpeedSafe opening can be activated either with your thumb on the large stud or your index finger on the flipper, which also acts as a nice finger guard when the blade's deployed. It comes as no surprise that this genius design is by famed knifemaker Ken Onion, credited as creating the first AO knife. Though it might be a bit beefy for some as an EDC, everything about this U.S.-made knife spells top quality. Brand Benchmade Model Volli OAL 7.78 inches Blade Length 3.26 inches Blade Material S30V Weight 4.28 ounces MSRP $160 URL www.benchmade.com The Volli is Benchmade's newest AXIS-Assist knife, a line that combines the company's innovative locking system with a smooth AO function. The plain-edge, drop point-style blade has superb S30V stainless steel and ambidextrous thumb-studs. The comfortable handle sports contoured and textured G-10 scales. Made in the USA, the Volli is a balanced blend of size, weight, functionality, and durability. Brand Kershaw Knives Model Blur Glassbreaker OAL 7.88 inches Blade Length 3.38 inches Blade Material Sandvik 14C28N Weight 4.2 ounces MSRP $120 URL kershaw.kaiusaltd.com Made in the USA, this folder can be both an EDC workhorse and a first-responder's backup tool. As the name implies, this version of the Blur has a carbide glassbreaker on the pommel for shattering windows to get to trapped victims – or, if you're the unfortunate victim, it'll help you get out. Also, the handle provides strong traction due to its intuitive shape and Trac-Tec grip tape inserts. The semi-serrated recurve blade is great for slicing, penetrating, and cutting seatbelts or webbing. It also features Onion's SpeedSafe assisted opening, though without a flipper. Brand Gerber Model Propel Downrange AO OAL 8.5 inches Blade Length 3.5 inches Blade Material S30V Weight 4.28 ounces MSRP $164 URL www.gerbergear.com This U.S.-made knife features Gerber's next-generation AO technology, meaning a faster opening without sacrificing safety. The semi-serrated tanto blade is made of razor-sharp S30V, while the tactile desert tan G-10 handle blends well with various camo patterns – making the Propel Downrange AO ideal for military, survivalists, or hunters. Plus, the pommel houses a lanyard hole if you don't want to use the three-position pocket clip. Brand Columbia River Knife & Tool Model Fire Spark OAL 8.63 inches Blade Length 3.88 inches Blade Material 8Cr14MoV Weight 5.3 ounces MSRP $100 URL www.crkt.com The Fire Spark features CRKT's Fire Safe mechanism, the knife equivalent of Glock's trigger safety: The user must firmly press downward on the thumb-stud first before nudging it out. For the uninitiated (or a bad guy who's stolen the knife), Fire Safe makes it impossible for the blade to be deployed without first disengaging the safety – making this AO knife an interesting choice for law enforcement and military. (Two notes: it'll take some practice to open the blade consistently, and the location of the safety pin in the thumb-stud makes this blade right-handed only.) The Fire Spark also has CRKT's LAWKS safety lever, which locks the knife into a virtual fixed blade. Brand Coast Products Model Rapid Response 3.90 OAL 8.75 inches Blade Length 3.9 inches Blade Material 5Cr15Mov Weight 4.8 ounces MSRP $41 URL www.coastportland.com Don't want to spend too much cash on your first AO knife? Then this blade might offer the best bang for your buck. For less than the cost of 50 rounds of .45 ACP, the Rapid Response 3.90 gives you ambidextrous thumb-studs that activate a smooth opening and a fiberglass-filled nylon handle that's textured for a solid grip. It also comes with Coast's patented Max-Lock, a safety switch that can keep the blade locked in either a closed or open position. While the 5Cr15Mov stainless steel blade doesn't have the best edge retention, it sharpens easily. 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