You may think that assisted opening knives (often referred to as AO knives) are the same as switchblades. However, they are actually very different. Switchblades are viewed as “automatic opening” knives and in the United States are considered illegal.
A switchblade opens by pressing a button on the handle of the knife which releases a spring to open it. Although during the 1950s they were romanticized, the US Switchblade Act of 1958 outlawed them. Even most military and police organizations have moved away from using true “automatic” knives and have moved in the direction of using opening knives.
It is illegal to carry a switchblade under the 1958 law – but this does not apply to assisted opening knives. In addition to their legal differences, assisted opening knives work in a very different way than switchblades do. There are categories of switchblades: out the side and out the front. Usually, the blade of the switchblade are double-sided, while AO knives only open from the side and are blunt.
As previously mentioned, switchblades have trigger release buttons that open up the blades via an “always-on” spring. That means the blade fully releases as soon as you press the release button. Assisted opening knives only have buttons that are designed to get the blade opening started from the handle.
Users must complete the motion to open the knife. The knife’s blade is not under continuous tension the way a switchblade is and one or two contortion bars hold it in place. So AO knives don’t pop open the way that switchblades do. An AO blade instead opens by the user by about 45 degrees before the opening process is finished by the internal mechanism.
Which Brands Make Spring Assisted Knives?
These types of knives are produced by all of the major knife brands. There are several offered by Buck, including the Buck 295 Tempest that features a 3 1/4″ stainless blade and thumb stud to trigger the opening. Most other major brands have similar knives in their product lineups. Kershaw, Gerber, Smith and Wesson, SOG, and Benchmade all offer a good tactical folding knife or spring assisted knives.
Things have come a very long way. A pocket knife was practically a toy not very long ago. It was something that was used to clean out a pipe or a blunt knife that was carried by boys. That might have been true in the past, but today assisted knives are highly capable tactical and high-tech devices that are very durable and a number of different blade configurations are available.
The knife’s assisted opening makes it easier to extend the blade with one hand. That is the major feature of this type of knife and helps to set them apart from old kinds of knives that almost needed two hands to operate.
What can you use an assisted opening folding knife for? You will discover after you get one that it is a very useful tool for many different things and does an equally good job when used to pry, open things, cut, or scratch (like scraping mud off of boots).
Naturally, if you do lots of fishing, hunting, or angling, it is essential to have an assisted opening knife and a must-have product given its easy one-handed opening and portability. It can make a huge difference in an emergency to be able to open a knife with one hand.