History of a Pocket Knife

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History of a Pocket Knife

In this article, we describe all the major types of pocketknives in early history, as well as offer some background as to how they came to be. It's important that you note that we mention various types of blades throughout. If you don't know what a particular blade is, don't worry, we'll cover them in the next section.

Long History

Pocket knives have been around for a long time. In fact, these first versions weren't pocketknives because pockets didn't exist until the 17th century. A proto-pocket knife was small and folded, making it easy to carry. Iron or bronze blades and bone or wood handles were used. A bone handle folding knife dating from 600 BC was found in Austria while several pre-Roman folding knives were found in Spain.

The blades of these ancient predecessors did not lock in place, unlike modern pocketknives. Instead, they swiveled on a pivot. The handler had to hold the blade with the tang to keep it open. It was much like holding a modern straight razor.

Despite the fact that small folding knives existed thousands of years ago, the difficulty of producing iron made them expensive and hard to find, preventing them from becoming common EDC items for our ancient ancestors. Folding knives wouldn't become ubiquitous until the 1650s. Sheffield, England became the world's cutlery center at that time. As a result of improvements in smelting technology, knives could be mass-produced on a budget. Farmers, herdsmen, and gardeners used a simple folding knife with a wood handle. This knife design became known as the peasant knife due to the class of people who used it. Also called a penny knife because of its low price.

Locking Mechanism

The peasant knife, like ancient proto-pocket knives, lacked a locking mechanism. The tang of the blade would fold into the handle, and the user would hold the tang and handle together to keep the blade in place. To keep the blade in place, some peasant knives used friction between the handle and the blade. One example is the Opinel knife.

Although this set-up worked well for light knife work, the chances of the blade slipping and folding back into one's fingers increased as the work became heavier.

After cuttinglers in England realized the danger of using friction alone to keep the pocket knife's blade open, they began experimenting with modifications to lock the blade in place while in use and keep it closed when not in use. Beginning around 1660, folding knives with a slip joint became popular.

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What keeps it in place?

A slip joint knife appears to lock the blade in place when open, but it doesn't. Tension keeps the blade in place.

There is a joint around which the blade pivots on one side of the handle. The other side of the handle has a flat bar called a back spring. The tang of the blade rotates against the backspring when the blade is rotated open. Pressure from the spring against the metal holds the blade open.

The slip joint knife became a standard way to keep the blade of a folding knife open, and several popular pocketknife designs use it. When you were a child, the very first pocketknife you got was likely a slip joint, and you probably still own a slip joint knife, or three.

The barlow was invented in England by a guy with the last name Barlow. Typically, the design features an elongated oval handle and a clip point and pen blade. In spite of being invented in England, the barlow became a favorite pocketknife in the United States.

You probably owned a camper knife when you were a Boy Scout. Additionally, camper knives come with various tools that can be useful while out in the great outdoors: a can opener, scissors, screwdriver, etc. Also known as multi-tool knives. Swiss Army knives are the most iconic of this type of pocketknife.

Canoe knives get their name because they look like canoes. They usually have two blades. The most common combination is a drop point blade and a pen blade.

Congress knives typically have four blades - spear point, sheepsfoot, coping, and pen blades. In his rail-splitting days, Abraham Lincoln carried a congress with him.

When the knife is closed, all the blades form a congress, i.e., they come together in the middle.

When people wrote with quill pens, they made a point on the quill before writing. Cutlers created special blades for this delicate task. Original pen knives came with fixed blades, but to make things even more convenient for the gentleman scholar, a folding pen knife was developed, so he would always be ready to write when inspiration struck. 

Pen knives are multi-bladed knives or tools that are called pen knives in British English. The traditional pen knife is a small pocketknife with two blades pivoting on opposite ends, with one blade being the traditional small pen blade. Despite its low profile, it does not stick out when in your pocket, making it the perfect pocketknife to carry when wearing a suit.

The Sodbuster is a working man's pocketknife with a single blade. Because of its affordable price, it is an excellent "beater" knife. Consider it the peasant knife of today.

The Stockman knife, which was supposedly created for cowboys and other herdsmen, is an American classic and includes three blades: a clip point, a sheepsfoot, and a spear. A pocketknife gifted to you by your grandfather or father was probably a stockman's knife.

Trappers were developed for, well, trappers. Trappers would find the clip point and spey blades handy while skinning hides. Each blade hinges on one side.

As you can begin to understand there are numerous types of pockets all developed throughout history for a unique and individual purpose.  Come in and let us determine which will fit your needs by our experts.