Knife laws may also be less restrictive in a given area than those for concealed carry, making the defensive knife a potential alternative to thwarting off a violent attack.

There are so many knives on the market and it can be confusing to those exploring this unfamiliar world. The selection is vast. There are knives that fold and those with fixed blades, those that are custom-made or those that are mass-produced, just to list a few. Knives come in every shape, size and price range. For those who are serious about carrying a knife for self-defense, a basic understanding on knife selection is an important place to start.

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Covert Carry
The most important criteria to consider before investing in a knife for self-defense is to make sure your purchase is legal. It’s important to research the applicable federal, state and local laws in regards to carrying a knife for self-defense. These laws vary from one jurisdiction to another, and they tend to prohibit the possession of knives with characteristics that are perceived as having a sole purpose of inflicting death or great bodily harm. Such knives that are frequently enumerated in these statutes include daggers, dirks, switchblades, butterfly and Bowie knives.

Laws may also restrict blade length (most states allow for blades that are less than 3, 4 or 5 inches long). Certain blade shapes/styles are also restricted. Some laws may also prohibit locations where knives can be carried, such as into courthouses or other public or government buildings. Once the legal parameters are identified, some basic knowledge about knives coupled with some instinctual decision-making can help consumers make an informed decision.

Get A Grip
The first consideration is an intuitive one—finding a knife that feels good and fits well in hand. Before purchasing a knife, ask to hold it. While grasping the knife, consider how it feels. Does it feel good? If the knife is a folding knife, how easy is it to open the blade one-handed and unassisted? If the knife doesn’t feel comfortable or is difficult to open, chances are it is not the right knife.

One reason a knife may not feel good when held has to do with the size of the knife’s handle. Make sure that a proper grip can be achieved. While grasping the knife in a hammer grip (fingers and thumb wrapped around the handle) there should be minimal gaps between the fingertips and the meaty portion of the palm, to ensure a secure grip. If gaps exist, retention of that knife may be difficult during a defensive situation. Likewise, a knife with a handle that is too small can present problems if the amount of surface area the hand has in contact with the knife handle is insufficient to maintain a secure grip. Inadvertent injury to the user can also occur if the hand envelops the knife’s handle along with a portion of the blade.

Handle shape can also cause discomfort and impact retention. Weapon retention is impacted by the dynamic nature of a knife fight, not to mention a threat’s active attempt to disarm you. For that reason it is important to avoid knives with exotic handle shapes. In a life-or-death situation, how the knife is initially grasped is likely to be the way it remains throughout the encounter. Handle features like finger grooves or sloped handles may cause physical discomfort and a weakened grip if grasped incorrectly.

The materials used in the construction of the knife handle may also negatively impact a knife’s first impression. The handle of a folding knife may be made of metal, thermoplastic, fiberglass or another material. For the purposes of self-defense it’s best to find knives that have handles with scales. During a knife fight, possible sources of moisture from perspiration and blood may create conditions that make retention a challenge. Unlike the smooth surface of metal knife handles, the scaled handles will allow for better retention.

Fixed Blades Vs. Folders
When it comes to choosing a knife for self-defense, it is important to remember that the law will dictate many of its characteristics. The law aside, many experts opine that a fixed blade is the best option. Folding knives have blade-locking mechanisms that can fail, causing the knife to fold up. Even though any mechanical device can fail, it is important to recognize that there are many knives created by reputable companies that have very reliable locking mechanisms. When choosing a knife, beware of those with locks positioned in such a way that they could inadvertently be released while squeezing or twisting the handle. A locking mechanism on a knife made by a reputable manufacturer is more likely to fail due to operator error than from a manufacturing flaw.

A second concern with using folding knives for self-defense has to do with the loss of dexterity that occurs during a high-stress event. The physiological changes that many people experience during a life-and-death situation can make opening a folding knife difficult for some, and impossible for others. This loss of dexterity also means that if a folding knife is selected for carry, it should be one that can be easily opened one-handed and unassisted. It requires practice drawing and opening the knife from the location of concealment with the goal of achieving muscle memory.

Folding knives may have one of several different types of opening mechanisms, such as:

1.Thumb Stud: These knives have a stud on the blade of the knife. The thumb pushes the stud to open the blade.
2.Disc/Thumbhole: These knives have cutouts on the face of the blade. The thumb pad falls into this recess slightly, allowing for the thumb to assist the blade open.
3.Flipper: These knives have a stud on their spine. By pushing on the stud with the index finger, the blade is deployed and the stud becomes a finger guard.
4.Wave: These knives have a hook or “wave” on the spine of the blade. When pulled from the pocket, the hook will catch the lip of the pocket and open the blade.
5.Out The Front Knives: These knives have a blade that slides out of the front of the knife by a stud in the sheath.

Some of these opening mechanisms require more skill and practice to operate than others. Choosing one will boil down to an ability to operate the opening mechanism and personal preference.

If opening knives one-handed and unassisted proves too difficult, it may be an indication that the knife is too big or too small. The blade on an unassisted folding knife swivels open into a locked position. Most importantly, be patient and don’t settle for a knife that doesn’t feel right.

This article was originally published in the SURVIVOR’S EDGE™ Summer 2015 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.

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