Pocket Knives or pocketknife are fold-able knives with one or more blades that fit inside the handle that can still fit in a pocket. It is also known as a jackknife or jack-knife. A typical blade length is 5 to 15 centimeters (2 to 6 in). Pocket knives are versatile tools, and may be used for anything from opening an envelope, to cutting twine, slicing a piece of fruit or even as a means of self-defense.
The earliest known pocketknives date to at least the early Iron Age. A pocketknife with a bone handle was found at the Hallstatt Culture type site in Austria, dating to around 600-500 BCE. Iberian folding-blade knives made by indigenous artisans and craftsmen and dating to the pre-Roman era have been found in Spain.
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The Peasant Knife
The peasant knife, farmer knife, or penny knife is the original and most basic design of folding pocket knife, using a simple pivoted blade that folds in and out of the handle freely, without a backspring, slipjoint, or blade locking mechanism. The first peasant knives date to the pre-Roman era, but were not widely distributed nor affordable by most people until the advent of limited production of such knives in cutlery centers such as Sheffield, England commencing around 1650, with large-scale production starting around the year 1700 with models such as Fuller's Penny Knife and the Wharncliffe Knife.
Some peasant knives used a bolster or tensioning screw at the blade to apply friction to the blade tang in order to keep the blade in the open position. The smallest (Nos. 2 -5) Opinel knives are an example of the peasant knife. The knife's low cost made it a favorite of small farmers, herdsmen, and gardeners in Europe and the Americas during the late 19th and early 20th century.
Slip Joint Pocket Knives
Most pocket knives for light duty are "slipjoints." This means that the blade does not lock but, once opened, is held in place by tension from a flat bar or leaf-type backspring that allows the blade to fold if a certain amount of pressure is applied.
The first spring-back knives were developed around 1660 in England, but were not widely available until the arrival of the Industrial Revolution and the development of machinery capable of mass production. Most locking knives have only one blade that is as large as can be fitted into the handle, because the locking mechanism relies on the spring along the back of the blade to lock it and it is difficult to build in multiple levers, one for each blade. Slipjoints tend to be smaller than other typical pocket knives.
Lock-Blade Pocket Knives
Lock-blade knives have been dated to the 15th century. In Spain, one early lock-blade design was the Andalusian clasp knife popularly referred to as the navaja. Opinel knives use a twist lock, consisting of a metal ferrule or barrel ring that is rotated to lock the blade either open or closed. In the late 20th century lock-blade pocket knives were popularized and marketed on a wider scale. Companies such as Buck Knives, Camillus, Case, and Gerber, created a wide range of products with locks of various types. The most popular form, the lockback knife, was popularized by Buck Knives in the 1960s, so much that the eponymous term "buck knife" was used to refer to lockback knives that were not manufactured by Buck.
Tactical Folding Knife
There has been criticism against the notion of a "Tactical Folding Knife" when employed as a weapon instead of a utility tool. Students of knife fighting point out that any locking mechanism can fail and that a folding knife regardless of lock strength can never be as reliable as a fixed-blade combat knife. Lynn Thompson, martial artist and CEO of Cold Steelpointed out in an article in Black Belt magazine that most tactical folding knives are too short to be of use in a knife fight and that even though he manufactures, sells, and carries a tactical folder, it is not ideal for fighting.
Buck's lockback knife was originally marketed as a "folding hunting knife" and while it became popular with sportsmen, it saw use with military personnel as it could perform a variety of tasks. Custom knife makers began making similar knives, in particular was knifemaker Bob Terzuola. Terzuola is credited with coining the phrase "Tactical Folder"
Existing US Laws Regarding Pocket Knives
Pocket knives are legal to own in most countries, but may face legal restrictions on their use. While pocket knives are almost always designed as tools, they do have the potential to be considered by legal authorities as weapons.
In the United States, knives are regulated by federal, state, and municipal laws. Some jurisdictions prohibit the possession or use of pocket knives that feature locking blades. Others prohibit certain blade styles perceived by law enforcement and legal authorities as optimal for offensive fighting, transforming the pocket knife from a utility tool into a deadly weapon. These might include knives with dirk, dagger (double-edge), bowie, or stiletto blades. In some jurisdictions it is illegal to conceal knives larger than a certain size or with blades over a certain length, particularly when combined with locking blade mechanisms.
The possession or carrying of a folding pocket knife with a quick-opening mechanism such as a gravity knife, butterfly knife/balisong, or switchblade may be prohibited. Under U.S. federal law, switchblades and ballistic knives are banned from interstate shipment, sale, or importation, or possession on federal or Indian lands or U.S. possessions and may be prohibited entirely in some states. (These laws do NOT include assisting opening knives) Knives of any size or configuration may be prohibited by federal or state laws in certain designated areas or places, such as schools, courthouses, jails, power plants, or airports.