Folding Knife Selection, Carry & Access
*Please note, it is YOUR responsibility to know and understand the laws regarding carrying a knife. This post is for information purposes only.
I’m often asked by clients and friends what I think is the best knife to carry for personal defense. The vast majority of time I recommend a small fixed blade knife (SFB) of 2-4 inches length. This suggestion is heavily dependent upon the individual’s lifestyle, job or unique circumstances. In timed drills comparing the access and deployment of folders vs. small fixed blades set up for in-fight access the SFB beats the folder every time. This is simply because the SFB eliminates one whole step in the deployment process; the fine motor skill of having to open and deploy the blade.
Scary Fixed Blades
Sadly, many people believe that carrying a fixed blade knife for personal protection is either too difficult to conceal or looks too “aggressive”. This has always interested me since it is not frowned upon by these same individuals to advocate every day carry of a “defensive” pistol such as a 1911 .45 with two extra magazines yet a 2.5 inch small fixed blade is aggressive and difficult to conceal. Because of these or other reasons a larger percentage of citizens, Law Enforcement Officers, Corrections and off duty military personnel carry some type of folding knife. Thus, the focus of this article will be on selection, carry and deployment of “tactical” folding knives (TFK) for personal protection purposes.
Folding Knife Selection
Selecting a folding knife for personal defense requires as much thought as choosing a handgun for every day carry (EDC). From my observation of clients who attend folding knife or edged weapon classes, most people just go to a local sporting goods store and pick whatever knife looks the best to them. This is unfortunate because a TFK or SFB can be carried more readily in non-permissive environments than most CCW pistols and is an extremely viable personal protection option. Selection of a folder for personal protection or on-duty carry should not be a random process and a few elements should be taken into consideration. A personal protection folder needs to meet some basic criteria:
Strong Lock/Hold Open Mechanism
It is imperative that whatever folder you choose, that it stay open during interpersonal defensive use. You may be thrusting the blade into hard surfaces such as bone which could cause a weak lock to collapse. Various locking mechanisms are available to include traditional lock backs, liner locks, rolling locks, lock-pins, mono-lock and the axis lock. Most commercial grade “Tactical Folding Knives” feature one of these type locks and they are all suitable.
If you choose a $15 Chinese made knife as your EDC folder, don’t be surprised if it closes on your fingers one day. Carefully test out a lock-back knife if considering it for EDC for personal protection purposes. Depending upon where the lock mechanism is placed along the spine of the folder, one of your fingers could depress the lock causing it to close when gripping the knife tightly such as during a critical life or death situation.
Fit In Hand when Closed
The closed folder should fit in the hand with some impact surface available at the top and bottom. You may have to access this knife while under attack and duress. The exposed hinge-point and pommel of the folding knife provide an effective impact surface if necessary.
Tip Up or Tip Down Carry
This is mostly personal preference however I personally advocate looking for a folder that allows tip UP carry when in the pocket. This carry method eliminates having to rotate the folder into the hand when drawing from your carry position. This rotation is an additional step to this fine motor process stealing time during a possible life or death situation.
Robust Opening Mechanism
Research the different opening mechanisms such as the stud, wave, spyderco-hole, disc, auto-open, assisted-opening… Some, who can own and carry them, love auto opening knives. One word of caution, under stress you may hit that button and open that knife when you may not want it open. Waved knives, like everything, have pro’s and cons and do require proper training in indexing and blade deployment (opening).
Recommended Opening Mechanisms
I recommend the stud mechanism or spyderco-hole like on Spyderco or Benchmade folding knives. These mechanisms are simple to deploy and will not open without me. Assisted opening knives like many CRKT now manufacture or the Kershaw collaborations often require a less than robust grip on the knife in order to activate the assist mechanism which could lead to major problems, such as dropping the knife, during standing grapple and in-fight weapon access. Don’t believe it? Run a hill sprint, do 50 push ups then try accessing and opening an assisted opening folder while a friend taps you on the head from distance with a broom. These training “modifiers” create distraction, disorientation and stress which may be experienced during an altercation. If you can access the folder repeatedly (9 out of 10 times at least) and deploy the blade without dropping it then maybe its good to go for you.
One Hand Opening
The folder you choose must allow you to open it one handed, with either hand. During an assault your primary or support hand may be tied up fending off, pushing a loved one out of the way or striking an incoming attacker. You need to be able to access and deploy your folder with one hand and under the pressure and stress of an assault. Get a training drone (dulled safety training blade) and repeat the drill outlined above but this time have your training partner put on boxing gloves and throw mild-moderate strikes at your head.
The folders handle should have a non-slip texture such as a checked or stippled surface made of G10, zytel or ABS plastic. Hands may become covered in sweat or blood making anything you grasp slippery and difficult to retain. No stainless steel or polished wood scales for a personal protection knife if you intend to possibly defend your life or the life of a loved one with it.
Different blade designs offer different advantages. This choice is often an aesthetic choice for the untrained or driven by a specific “methodology” or martial training system. If you have trained or follow a school of thought that teaches slashing as a primary defense then a curved or drop point blade may be for you. If you follow a more point driven methodology then a triangular, needle-point or tanto blade design known for penetration is more applicable.
Laws can vary greatly depending upon what city, county or state you reside in and depending upon who you are speaking with. For example, NYS law says nothing about blade length. However, I have spoken to numerous Law Enforcement Officers and district attorneys from different counties that say four inches is the legal limit. It has also been stated to me that blade length is measured from where the sharpened blade starts or what is referred to as the choil or on a fixed blade where the ricasso ends; essentially the edge or “sharpened” surface of the blade. Another individual told me blade length is measured from where the “metal starts coming out of the handle” to include the choil and ricasso.
What this means is that you could have a 4 in length “sharpened” edge according to knife manufacturer specifications (which is what the manufacturers go by) but when you add the unsharpened choil and ricasso you have 4.25-4.50 inches of “blade”. This may or may not make that knife illegal in any given jurisdiction. Because of this obvious lack of clarity or uniformity I recommend folders that are spec’d out at 2.5-3.5 inches for every day carry. (Be aware, NONE of this is legal advice.)
A few weeks back I posted some info and links to various states and their respective knife laws: NY/NJ/PA State Knife Laws.
Finally, when selecting a folding knife careful attention should be paid to the method in which you intend to carry. The most common method found on folding knives today is the pocket clip. This allows the folder to be clipped inside a pant pocket, waistband, shirt lapel or a myriad of other locations. Look for a strong metal clip which can be attached to either side of the knife for left or right hand carry. Some folding knives such as older Cold Steel models first came with plastic clips which were prone to breakage.
Choose a knife with a clip that is dark in color, the idea is to remain low profile when carrying any personal protection tool. Some folders come with a bright silver clip which draws attention and/or reflects light. A dark clip will blend in with clothing and not stand out. While I have carried a folding knife clipped in my pockets for many years without incident I will point out that in places like New York City the visible sign of a pocket clip is enough to be stopped and possibly frisked by NYPD. In todays society running personal protection gear in a covert manner, unseen to good guys and bad is not a bad operating procedure to consider.
Folding Knife Carry
Practical Concealed Carry of any personal protection tool is an essential consideration and skill set. Where and how you carry the folding knife is just as important if not more so than the actual knife you choose for EDC. If the knife is carried in a location that is difficult to access under duress then you are putting yourself even further behind the curve during a reactionary encounter. For the purposes of this article I am going to focus on folders which utilize a carry clip. Some considerations for choosing appropriate carry of a folder for personal protection include location, clothing types, concealment and accessibility with both hands.
Probably the most commonly carried location for a folding knife is the strong side front pant pocket. One can observe numerous strangers in public and spot a folder clipped in a pocket in this location. I doubt it is because any of them have taken an edged weapon training course. Strong side front pant pocket offers many advantages such as access with either hand, convenience and most importantly comfort. Depending upon what type of shirt you wear it can also be easily concealed. Most importantly this location places the folder in front of the hip in a location where access and deployment of the blade can be achieved even under the pressure of extreme close range attack or during standing grapple with an assailant.
If pant pocket carry is your chosen method then it is important to look at the various pant pocket designs. Look at the picture below (Image 1A) and note the slant on the pocket of my cargo pants compared to my jeans. This slant causes the folder to ride low and places the it along the seam of my pants.
To deploy the knife from this location my strong side hand is on my hip and strong side elbow is rearward of my hip thus putting my arm in an anatomically weakened position. The further my arm moves rearward of my hip, away from the muscles of my core/torso, the weaker it becomes. What this means is that during access of the folder from this position if an aggressor attempts to grab my hand to prevent me from accessing and deploying the blade, I will be at a disadvantage and have to fight harder to overcome them.
As stated previously whenever carrying any personal defense tool our goal should be to do so without anyone knowing we are armed. Being low profile provides us many more advantages than disadvantages. Selecting a carry location that meets the above stated criteria and provides maximum concealment may depend upon physical characteristics or the clothing style we choose to wear. This is a highly individual choice and subject. My recommendation is to always check before going out that none of your EDC personal protection tools are visible which includes the clip of the folding knife.
It is essential that you have the ability to access the folder with both your strong side and support side hand, standing or on the ground. Every day carry in a boot or sock may provide excellent concealment but may prove difficult to access with your support side hand while under stress or being assaulted. This is another reason strong side front pant pocket carry is recommended. This location offers easy access with either hand standing or on the ground. It does require a little practice but not as much as you may think. Note in the picture above (Image 1B) the two folders in the pocket. One runs along the seam of the pants. Carrying the folder this far outboard can limit the ability to access the tool with the support hand efficiently. I recommend carrying the folder as far forward of the hip as possible.
Folding Knife Access & Deployment
For the purposes of this article I will focus on access of the folding knife from the most commonly carried position based upon my experience and observations, the strong side front pant pocket. The accessing methods outlined herein will apply to other locations but modifications may be necessary. This includes accessing the folder from its carry location and then the conscious use of force decision whether to deploy the blade or not. This process may require great effort such as fending off an attacker with your support hand while simultaneously clearing your cover garment with your strong side hand, gaining purchase on the folder, removing it from the carry location and then thumbing it open. Or, it may simply mean removing it from your pocket prior to walking out into the parking garage. The context of the situation you are faced with will determine the methodology you utilize.
MDTS Access & Deployment Methods
Covert access of the folding knife is a pre-determined action. You make the decision prior to any visible or known trouble has ensued. You may palm it in the closed position in preparation for potential trouble or in anticipation of attack your situational awareness has identified. The closed folder in hand can be utilized as an effective impact tool when delivered as a hammer fist or other modified empty hand tactic. Carrying the folder in this manner is low profile and does not draw attention that you are “armed”. Covert access is recommended whenever entering unknown areas where intuition or body alarm warns there may be trouble.
In-Fight Access (IFA)
In-Fight Access takes place when a flash confrontation or spontaneous attack has occurred. You are taken upon by surprise. Proximity was not effectively maintained due to a lack of situational awareness or intentional distraction by the attacker(s). You are forced under pressure of attack to access the folding knife “in-fight”. IFA may be attempted during some type of standing grapple with your assailant or on the ground.
SouthNarc and ECQC
Practical, unarmed physical defense skills are necessary in order to effectively deal with this type of situation. Knowledge of positional advantage and timing; the “where and when” of how to get the folding knife out and into action is also important. It’s beyond this post to detail the dynamics of in-fight access. A few core concepts derived from SouthNarc can and should be outlined:
1) Momentarily secure a dominant position
2) The aggressors hand closest to the folder must be secured
3) A proper understanding of timing decisions. When is it safe to access and deploy folder without jeopardizing retention and overall safety. If these are adhered to then the S.T.A.B. deployment procedure outlined below can be used. Seek out SouthNarc for his ECQC (Extreme Close Quarter Concepts) course or EWO (Edged Weapon Overview) to gain an in-depth understanding of this material.
Ranged accessing of the folder is when a threat has been identified. Proximity to threat or positioning provides time and distance to aggressively access and deploy the knife in preparation for attack. Your situational awareness indicates that a threat to your life is imminent. You make the use of force decision to deploy the folding knife as an aide to personal defense of life. Robust & timely access conveys to your attacker you are skilled and have the required intent to use the knife to defend yourself or others. This aggressive action also serves to anchor your fighting mindset in preparation for combat.
Access the folder via the the MDTS “S.T.A.B.” method = Slap, Tuck, Access, Brace
Folding Knife Recommendations
I am not a big fan of recommending knives to people. It is like selecting a handgun, a highly individualized decision. However, there are a few folding knives that have been my personal go-to’s again and again over the years. A few other factors to consider before purchasing.
1) Price. There are some very nice $100 folding knives on the market and custom folders well over $500. If you are a collector this category may interest you. If you carry a folder every day, in and out of a car, it will sustain wear and tear. It may be damaged or it may fall out of your pocket and be lost.
2) Utility. Ultimately, most will utilize a folding knife for utilitarian purposes. So, make sure whatever folder you choose is capable of a little work, when needed. A Karambit folder is a beautiful, purpose driven knife. It’s not always conducive to use in and around others in public work spaces.
A few recommendations:
This article in no way totally comprehensive regarding selection, carry and deployment of a folding knife for personal defense. It is not a substitute for attending hands on training where the elements outlined here can be demonstrated more thoroughly. I hope this article provides the reader with points to consider when selecting a personal defense folding knife.
See MDTS Schedule for a Small Knife Skills class near you