Pocket knives are among the most popular everyday carry tools because of their utility and ease of carry over their larger fixed blade counterparts.

There has been a great deal of innovation in recent years in many areas of pocket knives, including the development of super steels, unique handle materials, and a variety of locking mechanisms.

One place that has seen a ton of innovation is how we open our pocket knives. While many things have been tried, only a few of these have really risen in popularity.

This article will discuss some of the many opening mechanisms out there and why they are popular.

The Classics

Before we dive into some of the newer and unique opening mechanisms, we must pay homage to the classics. Even though these have been around for a long time, they work great and are still in use today.

To learn more about some of the classics check out A Brief History of Pocket Knives.

Nail Nick

BUCK knives nail nick


The nail nick is one of the oldest opening mechanisms, and it remains popular in classic folding knives available from companies such as Buck and Victorinox.

This simple indentation on the face of the blade is designed to catch your nail and allow for the manual opening of your knife.

Though this is a slower process in comparison to many other types it remains very popular, being viewed as unintimidating and having very little chance of mechanical failure.



The thumbstud became popular in the 1980s and 1990s and remains one of the most common opening mechanisms today.

The small stud on the handle side of the blade can be found on either the show side of the blade, or less commonly on both sides, and allows the user to use their thumb to deploy the blade.

In the past, this was not a fast way to open a knife, but with the introduction of assisted opening, ball bearings, and detent balls, the thumbstud opening mechanism can be used for speedy deployment.

Flipper Tab

Kizer flipper


The flipper tab is one of the newer classics, being introduced into mass production in 1999 by CRKT in the Carson M16 model.

The flipper tab allows for quick deployment of the blade by pressing your index finger down on the tab, which will swing the blade open.

This is traditionally a fully manual process, however many assisted opening knives also use a flipper tab.

Blade Hole

Spyderco round hole


Blade holes have been around for a while, but have been made famous by the signature round hole found in Spyderco Knives.

This hole allows for manual opening by catching your thumb in the hole and pushing it open in a similar fashion to a thumbstud.

The Spyderco round hole also allows for the “Spydie Flick”, where the user can use their middle finger to quickly deploy the blade. This process takes some practice, but once it can be done properly it is fast and efficient. 


Some More Unique Opening Mechanisms

Now that we have covered some of the classics, let us look at some of the more unique and less common opening mechanisms out there.

Although these may not be as popular or widespread, they are still viable opening options for the end user.

Thumb Disk

Hinderer firetac thumb disk

The thumb disk is an excellent alternative to the thumb stud that has become commonplace on many Emerson designs, and has also been seen in other high-end knives such as the Hinderer Firetac.

The disk is located on the spine of the knife near the handle, and allows the user to be able to open the knife with either hand, making it a great option for lefties.

Wave Opener



The wave, designed by Emerson, is a small hook on the spine of the knife that is designed to deploy the knife by catching the material on your pants when pulling it out of your pocket.

This is a popular opening mechanism as it saves time and is great for first responders.

Though this is usually considered a manual opener, some jurisdictions may consider this opening mechanism illegal, so make sure to check the laws in your area before carrying a knife with this opening mechanism. 

Button Locks

Spartan pallas button lock


Though button locks are technically not an opening mechanism (and as the name indicates - it is a lock type), they do offer a unique way of opening your knife.

The button lock mechanism typically acts as the detent, and provided there is no secondary detent, simply pressing the button will allow the blade to freely fall out with just gravity, requiring the user to exert little mechanical force to open the knife.

Front Flippers

Civivi front flipper


Like the traditional flipper, the front flipper opening mechanism also uses a flipper tab.

The difference is that the front flipper moves the flipper tab to the spine of the knife, and is deployed with a sweeping motion.

Although front flippers have only been around since 2017, they have become more popular due to the ability to be used in a sleeker and slimmer knife compared to the traditional flipper.

Switch Out The Front

Microtech otf


Out the front knives, commonly called OTFs, use a switch to deploy and retract the blade. These have been made extremely popular by Microtech OTF automatic knives.

The major advantage with this opening mechanism is rapid one-handed deployment and closure.

These mechanisms rely on complicated internal mechanics, although recently more companies have begun releasing manual versions of the OTF, which function using a switch and slide mechanism.

No matter which opening mechanism you prefer, KPL's line of pivot lubricants are designed to make your knife deployment experience smoother and faster.

Pick up any of our great knife maintenance tools and accessories today, and use code BLACKFLAG for 10% off your purchase!

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Pocket knives are among the most popular everyday carry items, and there has been a great deal of innovation in recent years in how we open these tools. Though many things have been tried, on...
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Eugene Dunn said:

Oooo! Equal time in the future, for Gravity Knives & Balisong?
I’m a chronic user of KPL heavy in my balisong….and often use your strategy for quick cleaning of pivots without disassembly, in folders (with KPL regular)

Excellent product, man!!

Smitty said:

Use KPL Ultralight on OTF’s

Lance Landis said:

I have an OTF type knife that sticks sometimes. Which KPL product do you recommend?

Lance Landis said:

I have an OTF type knife that sticks sometimes. Which KPL product do you recommend?

carol jankin said:

such an informative article.

carol jankin said:

thanks for sharing such an informative article.

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