The Cutting Edge

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Why Do People Hate Assisted-Openers?

Kershaw Cryo” by Luke Detwiler is licensed under CC BY 2.0

If you were to peruse some popular knife forums, you’d think the invention of the assisted-opening mechanism was the worst thing to happen to the knife world.

The truth is that the average user could not care less whether the knife is spring-assisted. As long as it opens reliably and is relatively cheap, most people barley notice.

So, why do most knife nuts seem to hate assisted-opening knives with a passion? These are the most common arguments against assisted blades.

(Note: I’m being the devil’s advocate and citing some common arguments. I honestly don’t have a preference between assisted-openers and manual folders.)

1. Assisted-openers are dangerous

One of the biggest complaints about assisted-openers is that they’re dangerous. There are stories from people across the internet who say an assisted opener engaged while in the pocket. Those with flipper tabs are likely more dangerous because they can open up pretty easily when some pressure is applied to the edge of the closed knife. (This is a problem that can be mostly prevented with right-handed tip-down carry where the pocket would help keep it closed.)

I’ve carried assisted-openers before and never had one open. However, I have had an unassisted knife open slightly in my pocket. I don’t remember the circumstances that caused it, but any type of knife can be dangerous. Take a look at what could happen with an auto:

A first for me. Boker Kalashnikov opened in my pocket. from knives

Some have even complained that the strength of the assisted open is so powerful that the knife feels like it’s going to jump out of the hand.

2. Safety lock negates any advantages

To combat the first complaint, many knives come with safety mechanisms that keep the blade closed. For example, many Kershaw SpeedSafe models have a little peg that slides behind the blade to keep it from opening up accidentally. While it does increase the safety of the knife, it also counteracts the quickness and accessibility of the knife.

If you have to take out the knife, turn the safety off, and then open the knife, people say you are better off with a manual folder.

3. They’re illegal in some places

OK, so assisted-opening knives are legal pretty much everywhere in the United States, but that hasn’t stopped some police forces from arresting law-abiding citizens with knives that can open with the help of a spring.

In fact, the Canada Border Services Agency has essentially banned the import of all assisted-openers (and some manual folders) into the country. Amazon has also stopped selling many types of assisted-openers to people in states like New York and Massachusetts. If you live in one of these places (especially New York), it might just be easier to go without it.

4. They break more often

Assisted-opening mechanisms work in a few different ways. An amount of force is often applied to the knife with a bias toward closure until it reaches a certain point where the bias is toward the open position.

I’ll let Kershaw describe how the SpeedSafe mechanism works:

The heart of SpeedSafe is its torsion bar. Closed, the torsion bar helps prevent the knife from being opened by “gravity;” it creates a bias toward the closed position. To open the knife, the user applies manual pressure to the thumb stud or flipper to overcome the resistance of the torsion bar. This enables the torsion bar to move along a track in the handle and assist you to open the knife.

Because the torsion bar is tasked with so much work, it is highly prone to failure. This means users will sometimes have to replace the torsion bar to get the knife working again. There are many “how to replace torsion bar videos” on YouTube as well, such as this one:

In a manual folder, the design is often simpler and therefore less likely to break under use or pressure.

5. Spring-assist knives cut corners

This is a pretty common argument among diehard knife enthusiasts, but many people accuse companies of using assisted-opening mechanisms to cut corners. Others say a spring-assisted blade is akin to cheating.

What the argument boils down to is the claim that some companies use the mechanism to ensure a poorly performing knife opens all the way every time. It takes some more effort and tweaking to make a knife that opens quickly and smoothly without the help of any mechanism.

Some people say this is why so many less expensive folders from China, for example, boast assisted-opening mechanisms. There is likely some truth to the claims, but many brands put them in to legitimately help people open knives without much work.

6. They’re unnecessary

Piggybacking off the previous argument, assisted-openers are just unnecessary to some people. Not only do some manual knives open just as quickly and reliably but do so at the same price point.

For example, a knife like the Kershaw Chill is superb. It is elegant and smooth as butter and it doesn’t have SpeedSafe. Then there’s an iconic knife like the Kershaw Blur that uses it but could work just as good without it, as evidenced by the many people who have “de-assisted” the knife.

Let us know in the comments if you love or hate assisted openers.

25 Comments

  1. I have a Kershaw Leek and a Scallion, neither of which has ever opened all by itself. I also have three Chills that open right NOW with finger-waves. I LIKE flippers.

  2. I’ve carried a CRKT Ignitor clipped on my front pocket for several years. It’s never opened by itself. Drawing and engaging with it is superfast. It wasn’t cheap or cheaply made.
    Is a wonderful knife that I will continue to carry for a long, long time.
    Hail assisted openers!

  3. I have been carrying a Benchmade Barrage for about three years. Assisted opening, Axis lock. I LOVE it. I use the safety when not in use. I love the one handed opening because when I need a knife I always have something in my other hand. great knife.

  4. I LIKE THE ASSISTED OPENER NEVER HAD A PROBLEM WITH ONE OPENING .

  5. Nelson W. Lentz

    August 7, 2018 at 11:42 am

    I have over a half a dozen assisted openers and have never had one open accidentally.
    And they do open faster and more easily than a manual.
    I have to wonder what the purpose of this article was, if there really was a purpose.

  6. My CRKT M16-03Z opens with a flipper, very quick and smooth as butter. Auto assist is over kill in my opinion.

  7. My 2 Kershaw Ken Onion Blurs are my favorite pocket knives (one serrated, one not) . Serrated, in my pocket and used repeatedly all/every day smoothly cuts through anything. Never open unintentionally, fail to open, no issues period. I always seem to need to bind/position something, hold it with one hand then grab a knife to cut. Nothing works better in any way.

  8. I do like the flipper knives, I have a number of them for the simple reason that they are really cool and I like to be able to open it when I only have one hand free. I have tweaked some of my other knives that are not assisted to open easier and I still carry those too. I Have knives for everyday carry and knives for work.
    Just like the picture of the Kersaw knife above (Kersaw speedsafe USA 1660 Ken Onion Design) I have had it open once in my pocket. It cut through my pocket. I don’t know why it opened but it did. All in all I have a knife problem like some ladies have a problem with shoes. I like them all as long as they are good quality with good steel.

  9. I’m neither all for or totally against any design. My personal reason for only owning 2 or 3 assisted knives is that I purchased a few of those cheap ($8-$12) Chinese made folders. Some feel very solid and they’re okay, except that the mechanisms fail. They are not reliable enough for regular, daily use.

    I own a Kershaw Leek and while I like it’s compact size and smooth polished finish, it does open with quite a noticeable amount of force…. it really whips open and I do feel like it would leave my hand if I did not hold on tight. The lock is nice to have. If I wanted a knife for defense I would choose another model or just carry it without the lock engaged. It’s a simple decision and it’s nice to have the choice of using or not using the lock. I don’t know how long the assisted action will last in a good quality knife, but I don’t use them as EDC blades, but as long as the knives can be maintained or fixed I would buy and use them.

  10. I have a Bear and Sons Automatic and it opened in my pocket twice and both times I found out when I stuck my hand in there and cut my fingers. I stopped carrying it for a while. I thought about changing the pocket clip to the other side but in the process, realized that almost every fastener on the knife was loose including the one that put tension on the safety. After tightening everything up I haven’t had any more problems

  11. Timothy K. Toroian

    October 16, 2018 at 10:30 am

    I have a couple with a sort of double S spring that seems to work well. Had one with a torsion bar that broke but it still works well with the thumb stud. The double S should be must less prone to breakage. It also does a great job of keeping the blade closed

  12. I have used a Benchmark assisted opener for almost 5 years now while working on at a large equestrian center. It has never opened on its own while working in every and all conditions that I work in. As well, it has been very reliable. Working with over 70 horses daily, reliability and dependability are paramount in any knife that is used. I have never been disappointed or compromised by any type of knife failure or malfunction with my Benchmade assisted opener.

    • I’m sure Benchmade assisted is has more quality than any Kershaw assisted knife, but I’ve never had a Benchmade AO, so I don’t know. But, my kershaw scallion torsion bar has failed.

  13. Maybe it’s just a headspace and timing of the operator, some knives are just too difficult for some people to use.. So they just don’t like them.

  14. I refused and bad-mouthed AOs from the time they were introduced. If my Buck Folding Hunter couldn’t do the job, I had a machete, a hatchet or an axe. “Bushcraft” didn’t exist during most of my years in the outdoors.
    You might gather that I’m older and you’d be right. My blood thinners can make a knife cut a serious event. I went to AOs recently when ball bearing flippers with heavy blades (aka “guillotines”) became a two-handed closing operation. Cut myself 4 times, seriously, closing unassisted, ball bearing ZTs before I went to the “dark side”! (Knives are now “collection pieces”. The conscious effort (yes,one-handed) to close an AO means I will carry well into my 80s. My enemy has become my ally.

    • Tim

      October 17, 2018 at 9:37 am

      That’s an interesting turn. I never really considered that the need to be thoughtful about closing an AO would be a benefit. Thanks for sharing.

  15. Reason #7 – it’s fashionable on knife forums to whine about A/O’s.

  16. I feel they can be opened easily if the flipper is contacted with other objects or the pocket itself. My Kershaw Scallion torsion bar bent and I just took it out and didn’t take the time to send it back to kershaw. I know use a Spyderco Tenacious.

  17. 2 leeks 2 cryos 2 blurs no problems

  18. I just bought a Spyderco Delica 4 about a week ago, and the day I got it I was opening and closing it over and over to get a feel for it and at some point I went to close the knife and when I did so, I thought my finger was out of the way and the automatic mechanism caused the blade to slam shut on my finger. It gave me a pretty nasty little cut on my fingertip that still hurts and it traumatized me to where I was too scared to even open it again. I ultimately returned the knife and I am not sure if I want to buy another assisted opener or not. I loved the knife, I’m just kind of afraid to get another one. I’m probably just being paranoid and a little bit wimpy but I’m kind of looking at the Rat 2 in D2 steel. I’m torn between the two and can’t decide

    • Tim

      February 12, 2019 at 9:34 am

      Maybe you’re confused with another model because the Delica is not an assisted-opening knife. However, backlocks like the Delica do have a bias toward closure, so maybe that’s the force you felt.

  19. I just collect knives but do have 2 favorite EDCs, a Kershaw Leek Ken Onion Design and a Buck Vantage Pro. The Leek is smaller but both weigh close to the same. I usually never leave without one of these knives. The Buck is non assisted and requires just a little wrist flick. The Leek is AO and is very vast. I have been carying one or the other for years and have never had a problem or an undesireable oppening in the pocket. I’m very comfortable with either knife. I personally feel that if I am careful wilth either sharp and fast knife and keep them maintained, I should not have any significant problems. I think AO is great and even the non assisted flippers like my Buck.

  20. Andrew Santi

    May 7, 2019 at 7:51 pm

    There are Great “A/O” Knives, and then there’s Ton’s of Crap that aren’t worth .50 cent’s!,,,,I’ve faithfully used A/O knives ever since Tendinitis set in on my Hand’s,,,and I have ZERO Issues w/ mine!, which are A-l-l Smith & Wesson, They’re very well made, Good Steel, Good Mechanism, Never had one Open that I didn’t want open, and would recommend them to any Serious Knife Owner’s out there!

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