What is an OTF Knife?
OTF stands for "out the front" - meaning the blade of the knife comes out of the front of the handle, as opposed to the more common "out the side" folding knives.
With little exception, OTF knives are spring loaded automatic knives deploying with a slide or switch, which is why they are sometimes referred to as switch blades.
History and Use of OTF Knives
OTF knives have become popular in recent years, however they are not a modern creation. The first OTF knife was patented in 1860, with the first spring loaded OTF being patented in 1861.
These knives became controversial in the 1950s due to the film industry portraying street gangs using automatic knives as weapons. This caused panic and hysteria around the design, leading to many laws being passed (with many still in place), banning or limiting ownership and carry of these knives.
Despite these limitations many people, particularly law enforcement and military personnel, still carry and use OTF knives due to the ease of deploying and closing with one hand.
6 Popular OTF Knife Brands
There are currently a number of knife manufacturers that produce OTF knives, but here we will cover 6 of the top brands in the OTF market.
1. Benchmade Knife Co.
Benchmade is one of the largest and most iconic knife manufacturers out there. Benchmade also produces one of the most iconic OTF knives on the market: the Infidel.
The Infidel was introduced in 2006 and marketed toward law enforcement, military personnel, and first responders as an easy to deploy knife for use in high stress situations. The Infidel features an automatic opening and closing 3.91 inch double edged dagger style blade made from D2 tool steel, and a high grade aluminum handle.
This model has been wildly popular and is still in production today, even with a few variations including a miniature model. In addition the the Infidel, Benchmade currently produces 2 other families of automatic OTF knives called the Phaeton and the Autocrat.
If you are in the market for a well known and well tested tactical oriented OTF made in the USA, Benchmade is a great place to look.
Microtech is one of the biggest names in the automatic OTF community. They have been producing OTF knives since the launch of the H.A.L.O. in 1995.
Since then Microtech has won numerous awards for its designs and exacting manufacturing quality standards, as well as having their knives distributed to U.S. Special Forces personnel.
Today Microtech produces a number of OTF knives including their iconic Ultratech/UTX line, the beefy Troodon line, the refined Dirac line, as well as the compact Exocet money clip knife and the new Scarab II.
Microtech equips their OTF knives with glass breakers ensuring they are exceptionally functional in emergency situations and act as a piece of vital equipment for first responders.
Microtech also offers sizes ranging from compact to full-size, thus able to accommodate multiple tastes as well as comply with laws in certain jurisdictions with blade length limits (read more about knife legality here!).
If you are looking for a highly functional American made OTF with some of the highest manufacturing standards in the game, Microtech may be the company for you.
3. Heretic Knives
Heretic Knives is a newer name in the knife industry, founded in 2015. The founder of the company is not new to making knives, though, as he is the son of the founder of Microtech!
Heretic Knives are known for their more artistic approach to OTF knives offering sleek knives in a variety of materials including a number of exotic options, custom coating designs, and ultra high end custom options.
Just because these knives are artistically focused does not mean they aren't designed to be practical and functional.
The Manticore line comes in a variety of sizes to suit various tastes and accommodate various local laws and regulations. In addition to the Manticore line, Heretic also offers the single action Wraith Line.
If you are searching for a sleek artistic knife or a unique one-off collector's piece, Heretic Knives may be a good choice for you.
AKC, which stands for Automatic Knife Creations, is an Italian manufacturer of OTF knives. Many people feel these knives are a modern take on the classic Italian Stiletto, featuring modern materials and vibrant colors, at a very affordable price.
This company offers a number of models, but the F-16 is probably the most well known and popular model. This model offers both single and double edge blade options, features a 3.3 inch 440A steel blade, and double action.
The handles are aluminum and offer a number of different color and inlay options.
If you are looking for a modern take on the classic Italian Stiletto with a lot of personality that won't break the bank, the AKC may be a solid option.
5. Smith and Wesson
Let's be real for a moment, anyone familiar with the knife industry may be thinking I'm crazy for mentioning Smith and Wesson knives, as they are not known for producing a high quality product.
The Smith and Wesson OTF, however, is an exception to the rule. This is definitely a budget blade featuring dated AUS-8 stainless steel and some borderline cheesy tactical styling. Despite this, the opening action is fast and the lock up on these single action OTF's is rock solid.
This knife offers a variety of blade lengths, black or tan aluminum handles, as well as a glass breaker. While this may not be as sleek or sexy as some of the other brands listed here, you can get a good knife at a very low price.
So if you're looking for something on a budget or a knife you're not afraid to use and abuse, the Smith and Wesson OTF may be worth a look.
6. Boker Knives
Boker is large German company that now produces under a number of different sub-groups globally. As such, Boker produces knives that range from budget to mid-tier, all the way to higher end options.
They offer a few different OTF knives that fall into the higher end of budget pricing to the lower end of mid-tier pricing.
Where Boker shines is the ability to get a Lucas Burnley designed Kwaiken OTF at a price far below buying a Lucus Burnley custom knife. These are available in a black or blue coated aluminum handle, and have a 3.19 inch D2 steel blade.
While Boker may not be the first name you think of when it comes to OTF knives, they offer a good middle of the road option between budget and high-end knives, as well as offer design collaborations with well known knife makers for a fraction of the cost of one of their custom knives.
These 6 knife makers are not the end all be all of OTF knives, but they offer some great options for both the novice OTF customer or a seasoned enthusiast, as well as providing a number of price and size options to fit many different tastes.
If you're new to OTF knives I encourage you to do your own research, but hope this provides a good starting point to helping you understand what's out there!