By Dexter Ewing
Because the blade opens swiftly by the press of a button, the automatic has a special aura knife enthusiasts dig. There’s something satisfying about the crisp snap! sound the blade makes when it opens and locks. Add the fact that all five of our out-the-side (OTS) test autos are American made and their aura takes on a winsome red-white-and-blue tint.
What better way to start off a story on all-American-mades than with the Patriot Auto from Diamondblade Knives (DBK)? Among its notable safety features are an integrated forward hand guard and a handle butt that drops down to help discourage rearward sliding of your hand. Plus, the handle is contoured for comfort over prolonged use.
Another interesting Patriot feature is it is the only auto this writer is aware of that incorporates not one but two springs to fire the blade. There is a traditional coil spring plus a kicker leaf spring of 17-4 stainless steel integrated into the handle spine that, after the blade is released, “throws” the blade out. The coil spring takes over from there, propelling the blade to the open and locked position. In this writer’s experience, the Patriot has the most recoil of any OTS.
The blade is DBK’s patented Friction Forged D2 tool steel. You can clearly see the forged zone, which is demarcated similarly to a blade with a hamon. Due to the acute cutting edge angle, the blade has plenty of bite. Cutting meat, the Patriot is like a scalpel. Tougher materials such as cardboard and reinforced rubber hose are no match either.
Pros: The opening action is very responsive due to the twin spring setup. The lack of steel liners makes the knife thin, lightweight and easy to carry. The heavy-duty pocket clip totes the knife securely. Friction Forged technology enables the cutting edge to stay sharper for longer periods of time. There is a secondary sliding switch safety for additional carry security.
Cons: Because they are not steel, the Patriot’s liners widen the handle a bit, making it more comfortable for some users. This is not as stylish, appearance- wise, as other autos but the design works—and that’s what matters. There is a lack of gimping at the thumb rest on the handle spine. MSRP: $269.
UNOBTRUSIVE & STURDY
The Colonial Knife Model 556 automatic is tailored for law enforcement use. Though all black, it is an unassuming knife and doesn’t look aggressive.
The slender-profiled handle with a rounded contour rests in your hand comfortably. The main blade is a hollow- ground clip point of 440A stainless steel. A secondary blade operates via a slip joint from the handle butt—a specially designed, recessed rescue-cutter hook. Originally designed to sever flex-cuff restraints used in law enforcement, the hook also can be used to cut jammed seat belts or to remove accident victim clothing for emergency medical treatment.
The handle is a highly durable, impact- resistant thermoplastic called Isoplast. It has high-tensile strength to withstand rough service. There is a molded-in, earthy-type texture that provides a nonslip grip without being aggressive and rough on pants material.
The main blade fires automatically. It works off a button with a sliding switch safety to prevent both accidental activation and locking. The blade opens quickly with no recoil.
Due to the handle’s slender cross section, combined with its 1-ounce weight, the knife is a pleasure to carry. It lacks bulk and weight, and because it doesn’t take up much room, you can easily slide your hand into a pocket to fish out keys or change.
Pros: The 556 is easy to carry and comfortable to hold. The clip holds the knife securely in a pocket. It is lightweight and the main blade cuts like a scalpel.
Cons: The thin blade tip could be susceptible to breakage if used roughly, and the slender profile might be a disadvantage for those with bigger hands. MSRP: $120.
LOOKER that PERFORMS
The Heretic Medusa OTS pairs a wide blade with a curved, slender-ish, ergonomic handle. When the knife is open, it almost looks as if the blade will not fit into the handle when closed. It is an interesting visual effect this writer finds whimsically appealing in folding knives.
The blade finish is two-tone. The blade bevels have a KG Gunkote, and the flats are satin. The bit of bright silver popping through an otherwise all-black knife creates an interesting visual contrast.
The caged bearing system inside the coil spring assists with the ultra-smooth blade action. The handle is ergonomically shaped to fit the hand like a glove, with an integrated forward guard that tapers and curves to bring the rest of the handle into proper shape. Grip-tape inlays enhance hand traction. The tape is sufficiently recessed so it will not chafe pants fabric but not so deep that your fingers cannot touch it.
The handle comes in carbon fiber or anodized titanium and color options of black, green, blue, purple and orange. On the reverse side is a milled steel pocket clip with a large imbedded ball bearing on the end for ease of secure attachment/ detachment. The clip is unusual looking and not simply stamped steel. Some thought has obviously been invested into its appearance and function—very cool!
The handle has a steel spacer and a lanyard hole. The firing button is large, offers a checkered surface for a sure grip and sits flush to the handle surface. Firing the blade involves a deliberate push of the button. While there is no secondary safety, there is little to no danger of the Medusa’s blade firing accidentally.
Pros: The carbon-fiber version is extremely lightweight and a pleasure to carry. Since it’s recessed, the grip tape won’t damage your pocket. The flat- ground blade cuts very well and the tanto tip has excellent piercing capabilities.
Cons: The price is on the high side. In addition, some users do not like grip tape because it is too harsh on the fingers.
MSRPs: $322 to $350 for the aluminum- handle version and $434 to $462 for the carbon-fiber-handle one.
The Gerber Empower features a utilitarian-friendly, spear-point blade mated to an aluminum handle. The OTS infuses a bit of “sporty” with “heavy duty” resulting in a huge amount of practicality. The Empower employs CPM S30V stainless blade steel and a machined aluminum handle with Type III hard- anodized coating for scratch protection. The 3.25-inch blade can tackle some of the biggest daily cutting tasks. The nearly full-length swedge gives it a sleek appearance, and a black-oxide coating boosts corrosion resistance and non- glare properties.
An expanded area around the pivot acts as an integral guard, and gimping in several handle locations enhances purchase. For style and further hand traction, Gerber includes an inlay called the “Armored Grip”—a plate of stainless steel with an electroformed, random- textured pattern.
Because the button isn’t recessed into the handle, the secondary safety is a necessity. Why doesn’t Gerber recess the firing button? Some argue it creates issues when the user is wearing gloves: It’s hard to deploy the blade quickly if you cannot feel the button. The ramped sliding switch safety is easy to operate, even with gloves. When you see the red dot, the knife is ready to go!
The handle comes in black, gray, urban blue and multicam arid camo. All have black, plain-edged blades except for the black handle version, which is also available in a stonewashed finish as well as black coated and partly serrated. The steel pocket clip carries tip up or down.
Pros: Due to its Armored Grip inlay, the Empower is an interesting fusion of tactical and style. The spear-point blade is adaptable to many cutting tasks. There is a pronounced firing button and sliding switch safety that are easily accessible, even with gloves.
Cons: The pocket clip is not ambidextrous and the handle gimping isn’t aggressive enough. The recessed lanyard holes are small, so standard 550 cord will not work as a lanyard.
MSRPs: $130 (black-bladed models); $125 (stonewash); and $150 (Multicam Arid).
The “little brother” to Kershaw’s bigger Launch 8 Italian-style, stiletto automatic, the Launch 12 offers the same design in a more compact and easier-to-carry/ use package. Custom knifemaker Matt Diskin configured the Launch 8 and 12 to be modern versions of the classic Italian stiletto switchblades with the iconic symmetrical blades and handle profiles, along with integral curved guards.
The blade releases via an inlaid firing button but lacks a secondary safety. Kershaw obviates this by designing the release to be an intentional action: You must depress the button deliberately in order to get the blade to fire.
The Launch 12 may seem to be merely a curio but is far from it. The smaller size allows it to ride in the pocket nicely. The handle width makes it comfortable to grip and provides a secure hold. The blade action is very crisp and ultra-quick (no doubt, the blade’s small size and light weight help in these regards).
Pros: The Launch 12 is a good pocket-carry size. The clip is ambidextrous and positions the knife as low as possible in a pocket. The knife offers great action. It’s small but there is enough handle width to make it comfortable in the hand, and it doesn’t feel as if it might slip from your grip. The carbon-fiber inlay adds a nice touch of class.
Cons: The size might be too small for some with larger hands, and the blade tip might be fragile for rough use. MSRP: $149.99.
Editor’s note: Be sure to check all laws that pertain to both you and the area in which you carry your automatic knives.
For the contact information for the pictured knives, see “Where To Get ’Em” on page 71.
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