When people think of pocket knives, the first thing that comes to mind is a jack knife, the classic tool with one blade opening from each end. These types of knives dominated the cutlery world for a very long time, and with good reasons. They worked.They were (and still are) super-handy. They’ve been around for over 400 years, and still are going strong. This article is about the slip joint knives.
What is a slip joint folding knife? There a 2 basic kinds of knives:
- Fixed Knives, where the blade does not fold, and is always exposed, unless carried in a sheath.
- Folder Knives, where the blade folds back into the handle when not in use.
Folders are usually just carried in the pocket because a sheath is not required. Folders are divided into 3 types:
- A friction-lock has no mechanism to keep it open other than manual back pressure on the blade.
- A lock blade has a mechanism that ‘locks’ the blade in the open position, and requires pressing a button to release the blade so it can fold back into the handle.
- A slip joint folder uses back-springs to apply pressure to the blade to keep it open. It just takes a light pull or push to open or close the blade.
My Best Slip Joint
Of course, in the modern world, the bias seems to gravitate towards lock blade folding knives, but most knife enthusiasts still have several slip joint folders, and carry them often. Almost everyone can remember a grandfather that carried one, a father that carried one, and for many of us, it was the first knife we owned as a child.
It is hard to beat the functionality and handy-carrying of the slip joint folding knife, and it is far from a relic, even in the 21st century. They have been, and still are, carried by military, law enforcement, sailors, pilots, emergency first-responders, and civilians all over the world. There have even been models carried into space, made by Camillus, and Victorinox. It is possible that the lowly slip joint knife may be the most carried blade in the world.
Choosing The Best Slip Joint Knife
Slip joint knives were invented in England sometime around the mid 17th century. The first models were very similar to the Barlow style. They have been carried in every war and major event since their inception. Soldiers, sailors, tradesmen, explorers, campers, hikers, airmen, even Boy Scouts and astronauts have had slip joint knives with them. What ever was done, chances are, there was, and is, a special model of slip joint knife just tailor-made for that activity. Here are, in my opinion, the best slip joins you can own.
Trapper Slip Joints – Good For Field Dressing Small Game
A medium-sized knife with two blades, usually a clip point and a spey blade, which open from the same end. These blades are handy for field-dressing small game. Trappers are also made in large and very small sizes.
Muskrat knife – Useful Little Knives with 2 equal blades
Medium sized, with two clip point blades of equal length, opening from opposite ends. When one blade gets dull, just switch sides and keep cutting. Great when you have a lot of cutting to do, and little time for sharpening.
Stockman knife – 3 handy blades
Average size knife with mild serpentine scales and three blades, a clip point, a spey, and a sheepsfoot, opening from both ends. These are handy for working around livestock.
Congress Knife – My Favorite for Whittling (and much more)
Average sized with a concave shaped set of scales and 4 blades, two opening at each end. They are made with many blade combinations, but the most common is with a spear point, a coping blade, a sheepsfoot, and a pen blade. These are outstanding for whittling, and many, many other tasks.
Canoe – My choice for Fishing and Boating
As the name implies, it has a canoe-shaped set of scales which lay in the hand very nicely, and make cutting chores a pleasure. Usually has a spear point and pen blade, opening at opposite ends. Very handy for chores associated with fishing, boating, and my personal favorite.
Barlow Knife – A Classic That Never Grows Old
A true classic, mentioned in books by Mark Twain and others. One of those designs that never grows old or obsolete. A medium to large sized knife with a long bolster and two blades, a clip point, and pen, opening from the same end. Very popular with farmers and outdoorsmen back in the days. It still has a loyal following.
Sodbuster – Heavy duty Slip Joint
Another classic pattern, and very simple and basic. A medium to large knife, with somewhat straight scales, no bolsters, and a single spear point blade. A no-nonsense, heavy duty knife, and as the name suggests, popular with farmers and others who need a rugged folding knife.
Elephant’s Toenail – Slip Joint with Great Cutting Power
One of the larger sized slip joints available. A wide oval scaled knife with elegant bolsters and two very wide spear point blades, opening at each end. The wide blades allow for incredible cutting power for this size knife. Also made in a medium size, called a “Sunfish”, and a tiny model called a “Peanut”.
Laguiole – A Classic From France
A large folder with ornate bolsters and a slim, slightly serpentine set of scales. It sports a single slim clip point. In the US, a similar styled knife is known as a “Toothpick”. Occasionally, they are made in smaller sizes with an attached corkscrew, and known as a “Lady’s Leg”.
Swiss Army Knife – The Swiss King of the Slip Joint Knives
Possibly the King of All Slip Joint Knives, designed and marketed by Victorinox and Wenger in Switzerland.
These knives can have an unbelievable number of blades and tools opening from either end, and both sides. They have basic oval plastic scales and no bolsters. Originating in 1891, the first model made for the Swiss Army had 1 drop point blade, a reamer, a can opener, and a flathead screwdriver. Now, they make everything from tiny “Gentlemen’s Knives” with a small pen blade, a nail file, and minuscule pair of functional scissors, to the behemoth Swiss Champion with over 33 tools. It is like having a complete tool kit in your pocket.
Some of the most recent models even have flash drives and small flashlights. If you can only have one knife, this should be it. There are many cheap copies of Swiss Army Knives flooding the market, but avoid them. They are low-quality junk. Stick with the name brand, which now is only Victorinox, since they purchased Wenger in 2005. Real Swiss Army Knives are a top-quality product.
Why Carry a Slip Joint Folding Knife?
Lock blade folders may appear safer to use at first impression, but when used properly, slip joints are actually safer in my opinion. Lock blade knives offer many people a false sense of security. They depend on the lock keeping the blade locked open. However, locks fail, frequently, causing injuries when the knives are abused, and used incorrectly. Most injuries stem from cutting in the wrong direction, improper grip, etc… With a slip joint, you are always aware that the knife can fold back up, so most people exercise special care when using them, resulting in better handling and technique.
Perfect Sizes For Everyday Carry
The vast majority of slip joint folders are made in reasonable sizes for 99% of the things you need a knife for. A lot of lock blades seem to be aimed at the ‘Rambo-‘Wannebees’, and are made in ridiculous sizes, with blade styles more suited to hand-to-hand combat with a Smilodon, or skinning a mastodon, rather than cutting string, opening boxes, shaving wood or plastic, etc…, everyday tasks that make up the vast majority of folding knife usage. Anything bigger than 4″ is not very comfortable in a pocket, and usually requires a pocket clip to keep the knife from sliding deep in your pocket, causing some very uncomfortable situations, especially when traveling in a vehicle. Slip joints fit nicely in a pocket, and are there when you need them.
Multiple Blades in 1 Knife
Lock blades have 1 blade, as a rule. If you need more than one blade style or size, you’ll have to carry several different knives, and remember which pocket each one is in. Some manufacturers have tried to make multi-edged locking blades that are 1/3rd to 1/2 serrated, but it’s not really a good solution. Slip joints, on the other hand, can have 2, 3, 4 or even a mind-boggling array of blades and tools (like my Victorinox Swiss Champion…with over 33 functions…), all on one knife that still fits in the pocket with reasonable comfort. And the blade combinations are very well thought out, such as a Trapper-style having a clip point blade for slicing, and a spey blade for skinning, or a Congress, which has two larger blades, a clip point and spey blade, and two smaller blades for detail work, such a s pen blade, and chisel point…excellent for whittling.
Slip Joints Don’t Look Threatening
Slip joint knives are very non-threatening. I have had people in places like a Walmart totally freak-out when I pulled out my Cold Steel Voyager and opened it one-handed, with a very satisfying, “snick” as the blade locked open, usually to trim a loose thread on clothing, or other harmless task. I have had places call Security because I was wearing a 3″ neck knife, just because someone thought that my tiny and perfectly legal blade looked threatening to them. But in almost 60 years of carrying knives, I have never once had anyone complain about me carrying or using a slip joint knife, except for airports, and government buildings. In fact, a lot of people like to take a better look at them, like my turquoise-scaled Case Trapper. It really is a work of art. Most people think slip joints are cute and handy (they are right…).
They’re a Piece of History
And lastly, slip joint knives are like carrying a piece of history. As I said earlier, most of us can remember fondly someone from our past who always had a slip joint pocket knife with them. We may not remember many details about them, but we do remember that knife. One of my most prized possessions is my Case jigged bone-handled Sodbuster slip joint that is probably over 100 years old. It belonged to my grandfather. Slip joints are a keepsake, and more collectable than other types of knives. Special edition series slip joints are highly sought after.
Choose A Quality Slipjoint and It Will Last Forever
If you don’t already have a slip joint folder, you should consider adding a few to your collection. But beware, acquiring them can become addictive. I’ve been lucky. I have obtained a dozen or more, and have not gotten the habit, yet….