Despite the advantages provided by a folding knife – multiple blades, carrying convenience and ready availability of a sharp edge – the one drawback of many folders is the difficulty often associated with bringing the blade(s) quickly into play. In recent years many cutlery manufacturers have engineered features to facilitate one-hand opening, however, opening and closing a folding knife can still present some challenges.
Physical limitation and environmental constraints impact the opening and closing of a folding knife. As we age, stiffness develops in our joints, especially the fingers. Furthermore, the onset of arthritis in those joints complicates the manipulation of a folding knife blade. And what about cold weather? When the ambient temperature drops below freezing, the use of our hands becomes seriously impacted. Likewise, if we’re wearing gloves it’s near impossible to open a folder.
The answer to all of that is the use of an automatic opening folder. To be sure, such knives have a checkered history. When used as a weapon of aggression, like the infamous pushbutton “switchblade,” or the equally threatening “gravity knife,” these edged implements placed the automatic opening folder in their own special restricted category. Despite negative connotations, though, automatic opening folders remain legal in some jurisdictions and with some occupations.
To serve that need, several cutlery manufacturers include automatic folders in their product lines. The newest entries in this category are the automatic folders produced by DiamondBlade. Two basic models are available – the Patriot and the Commander. Both knives feature 3-inch, D2 tool steel, drop-point pattern blades. D2 tool steel doesn’t possess quite enough chromium in its formulation to be considered “stainless” (it takes 13% chromium to be considered stainless and D2 only has 12% chromium), nevertheless, the steel is highly stain-resistant. To further protect the each blade, DiamondBlade impregnated the steel under low heat with an NP3 coating that offers an enhanced measure of resistance to the corrosive effect of ambient moisture and bodily fluids.
The best feature of both the Patriot and the Commander is the fact that the blade is Friction Forged. The technology behind Friction Forging has been covered in this column previously, but the basic principle is the utilization of rotational heat to reduce the size of the granular matrix in the edge zone of the blade. The end result of this process is a blade that features an extremely hard edge (Rc 65-68), but because of the fine grain structure the edge remains flexible enough to resist fracture. Furthermore, the remainder of the blade is differentially heat treated to a lower value on the Rockwell hardness scale (Re 42-45), thereby eliminating any resultant brittleness. And both models feature 16-18-degree edge grind.
While the Patriot and Commander knives share a similar overall configuration, subtle differences are still found. That Patriot has a plain edge, while the Commander is available with or without edge serration near the blade junction with the handle. Furthermore, the Commander has a short section of jimping (rounded serrations) on the blade spine for positive thumb contact. Both models have an ergonomically designed, fully radius, carbon fiber handle with milled cutouts for lightweight and ease of interior handle cleaning. A robust torsion bar spring contained within the handle propels the blade open and a liner-locking mechanism secures the blade in the open position once the release button is depressed.
It’s obvious that senior DiamondBlade partner Charles Allen had far more in mind for an automatic folder when he designed these knives. The blade design itself is at home dealing with big game field care, as it is handling everyday cutting chores. And while these knives have a strong appeal to emergency responders, law enforcement and special operators, their design places them in a far more multi-function cutting tool realm.
This past hunting season, I used one of the Commander automatics to assist with field dressing and skinning a couple of mule deer shot by my companions. Everything about the knife, from instant opening (no need to remove my gloves in cold weather), to the short section of edge serrations (great for cutting through ribcage cartilage), endeared the knife to onlookers and myself alike.
The folks at DiamondBlade continue to expand their edged products to include a wide variety of both fixed-blade and folding knives. The addition of automatic opening folders to their extensive product line appears to be a natural evolution of a revolutionary technology that combines unmatched blade edge retention with true utilitarian design.– Durwood Hollis