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How Do Switchblades Work?

If you have watched films like High School Confidential, Rebel Without a Cause and even Broadway musical like the 12 Angry Men and West Side Story then it is impossible for you not to notice the significance of switchblades. 

Switchblade or also known as switch, flick knife, automatic knife is a type of knife that can be folded or has a sliding blade which contains it in the handle. It can automatically be opened with the aid of in interior spring that is triggered when the button, switch or lever on its grip is pressed. 

History of Switchblades

The father of the switchblade must have been the automatic folding spike bayonets that were attached on coach guns and pistols used during the 18th century by French and English armies. 

In the year 1840, a steel automatic folding knife found in Sheffield England showed a crown marking and tang stamps like Beever, Tillotson, Hobson, A. Davey, Ibbotson and others which are ornately embossed on silver alloy bolsters or simply engraved in stag handles and iron bolsters.  In this era, switchblades were also called pen release because it has a central handle button that activates the release of a larger blade after pressing down on a closed smaller pen blade.

Switchblade knives became a very powerful self defense instrument during the 19th century marked by Chatellerault and is available in different standardized sizes and designs. The trademark can easily be recognized because of the significant “S” shaped cross guards engraved in its decorative ivory or pearl handles. 

In the same time, Admiral D’Estaing of Spain used a folding naval dirk which automatically transforms into an eating utensil when folded and closed. If needed, the spring can be activated into full length and can become a powerful self defense and attack instrument. Unfortunately, this type of switchblade is very hard to find nowadays.

At the end of the American Civil War, the knife production was industrialized. The oldest known American manufactured automatic knife is called the Korn Patent knife which contains a rocking bolster release.  With the aid of advertisement, soon everyone was clamoring for automatic blades even for utilitarian non-weapon purposes like farmer’s jack knives or pen knives. Soon even women were encouraged to buy these types of switchblades after the onset of fly-lock automatic pen knife advertisements where women are shown using these as part of their sewing activities without the worry of breaking their fingernails upon opening a typical knife.

Variations of Switchblades

At present, there are several designs originating from different countries. In Toledo, Spain they developed a gold plated automatic self defense lever lock knife that has enamel inlaid blades and pearl handles.  In Italy, they have their own distinct design which follows from the earlier design made by the French Chatellerault, which has received much favor and evolved into the 1950’s version of the Italian switchblade that is quite similar with the manual stilettos referred “Picklocks”. 

There are several automatic knife manufacturers which include the likes of Benchmade, Gerber Legendary Blades, Microtech Knives, Protech, Kershaw Knives, Boker/Magnum, Piranha, Dalton, Spyderco, while in Italy it remains a family oriented business of families like AGA Campolin and Frank Beltrame.

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