The Verboten Blades: Butterfly And Automatic Knives

Knives with their blades stored in the handle have many practical advantages, especially ones that open quickly with one hand. Basically, a folding knife is easier and more discretely carried than a fixed blade. Knives can be specialty models tailored made for CQB hand-to-hand applications to more utilitarian versions that can handle a variety of roles. There is a niche class of knives that I label “verboten blades”. These consist of balisong/butterfly and automatic knives, either fold open or out the front (OTF).

Being able to smoothly open a knife one-handed has many applications. Holding something steady while still being able to deploy a knife has many advantages. More serious is the pressing problem that most will find when coming under attack while having to access one’s weapon while fending off an attacker’s initial rush. Accessing will consist of managing the attack empty handed until escape or ability to introduce a weapon is offered without sustaining undue damage in the effort. The clear-cut winner…pun intended…is a fixed blade; however automatic knives are a superior option over many manual folders. One example of this advantage is if you might be in a very confined space where any extra movement is detrimental.

Hogue Hadron OTF is a double action spring loaded type with blade emerging out the front. When people think “verboten” blades this is what most often comes to mind.

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A common thread with “verboten blades” is the ability to open quickly with only one hand. Besides this, what makes these knives so insidious that numerous laws from Federal to local level have been created to stifle possession/use since the 1950s?  Maim without warning, grant user special powers?  Negative. In fact, many would make the case that the new breed of assisted openers and other quick deploy methods have made previous knife laws antiquated. It can be surmised that US serviceman returning from Europe and the Pacific with automatics and butterfly blades caught the attention of American law enforcement and lawmakers. A look at several popular movies and editorial pieces from the period lends credence to this. This is a good spot to present the disclaimer of making sure of your own specific situation in terms of possessing butterfly or automatic blades.


A balisong, also known as a butterfly knife, is basically a folding pocketknife. Its distinct features are two handles counter-rotating around the tang and when closed the blade is concealed within grooves in the handles. The butterfly knife is “flipped” open with various techniques depending on skill level and why it is getting deployed. Many attribute the balisong/butterfly originating in the early 1900’s from the Philippines. The balisong is a quick deploying folding knife that is simple to make from basic materials and requires no spring or other complicated parts. Once the butterfly knife is locked open it is stouter than many other folding knife designs. It’s not surprising that the Filipinos recognized the advantages of the balisong and quickly adopted it. Without a doubt, the Filipino martial arts quickly embraced the balisong into their methodology. Recent findings point to European origins for the balisong/butterfly, specifically France dating back to 1710. We will leave this to academics to hash out.

A great example of a balisong/butterfly knife is the Bear OPS Kimura.


Automatics are typically folding/swing out varieties or out the front sliding (OTF) blade contained in the handle, which is opened automatically by a spring when a button, lever, or switch on the handle is activated. Examples of combining sharp steel and springs have been around since the 18th Century. Automatic designs incorporate a blade locked against a closure. The blade is unlocked by manually operating a mechanism that unlocks the blade and allows it to be folded or slid open and locked in the closed position. This is the key difference from pure automatics versus the ever-increasing spring assisted knives available for legal purchase. Hopefully, the increasing popularity and pushing of boundaries with spring assists will force a reevaluation and loosening of government regulations.

Quality automatic blades and butterfly knives are generally more expensive than other folding counterparts. This can be attributed to limited market as well as more complex to construct. Multiple manufacturers were accessed for this article to explore the topic such as Hogue, Bear & Sons, and Microtech.

Hogue Knives

Hogue is often more associated with stocks and other firearm accessories. However, Hogue is coming on strong in the knife world with a myriad of options. One key aspect for Hogue is the commitment to construct their blades here in the US and not subcontracting the work than placing their label on the product. More importantly, Hogue brought on board the well-respected knife aficionado Allen Elishewitz as lead designer. Two different Hogue automatics were studied…OTF Hadron and EX-A01 fold open.

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Hogue EX-A01 automatic knife is a premier flip open blade in much favor with LE and military spec op units. Hogue offers a manual folding model as well.

Blade profiles for the Hogue Hadron OTF include Tanto or Clip Point (tested) made from .125″ thick 3.375″ CPM154 steel. The blade offers superior corrosion resistance while providing excellent edge retention. The Hogue OTF blade is cryogenically heat treated to 57-59 RC and hand sharpened. Many people have the mistaken impression that these OTF knives eject with deadly force. The spring in these knives is designed to open the blade and lock it into place, no more. If you were to accidentally open the knife into your hand you would get cut, but serious injury is unlikely. In fact, double action OTF automatic knives open with less force than their single action counterparts. The Hogue Hadron is not meant for camp chores, opening boxes, etc. One of the benefits that OTF knives bring over their folding auto brethren is no need to shift or alter grip after opened.

The EX-A01 is centered on Hogue’s own proprietary oversized coil spring that provides force along the entire range of motion as the blade opens. This translates into a blade that snaps open with authority. The manual safety locks the knife both open and closed to prevent misfiring secure blade no matter position. Hogue offers a non-automatic version of the EX-A01 as well. CPM 154 steel is used with the EX-A01’s 3.5″ drop point blade. The blade is Cyro treated with 57-59 RC. Matte black aluminum handles provide a secure grip. Reversible pocket clip completes the package.

Bear & Sons

Bear & Sons Cutlery’s OPS division was the next pleasant surprise in the verboten knife world with multiple blade options with fold open and butterfly directly tested for this article. Kimura butterfly and Bold Action AC1100 auto folder proved great representatives. Bear OPS is based in Alabama. Their manufacturing operation is self-contained. While some companies only assemble parts brought from various suppliers and put their names on the product, Bear OPS does everything in-house from building their own blanking dies to heat treating, grinding and assembly, and hand finishing products. Their ongoing commitment is to make knives in America and make them affordable.

Bear & Sons Bear OPS Division’s AC1100 is a reasonably priced automatic knife, especially when quality and performance gained is factored in.

Bear & Son Cutlery worked with Bradley Cutlery Co. to design the new Kimura and bring the legendary name back to the market. The Kimura Butterfly features a tough, 3 ¾” 154CM steel blade with a 58-60 Rockwell hardness, exquisite bead-blast finish, and a sturdy taper-ground edge. The handles are stainless steel 3d milled and contoured G10 handles for a positive ergonomic grip. Premium pivot bearings ensure smooth, “no slop” deployment from a 5 3/8″ closed to 9″ open length. A matching stainless-steel T-latch keeps the Kimura secure in its closed or open positions. Total weight is 6.2 ounces.

The Bear & Son’s Bold Action AC1100 features a 3.25″ Sandvik 14C28N Stainless blade. The handle is from G10 with a weight of 4.1 ounces. Safety lock and reversible pocket clip finish the package. The Bear & Sons AC1100 will naturally find a way to your pocket the way all good folders do. The AC1100 is a classic folder configuration and proof that automatic knives serve a utilitarian function; not pure evil “switchblade” intent as 1950’s laws would have you believe.

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Many in the industry credit Microtech with rejuvenating the entire automatic knife market, especially the Out-The-Front genre. One key aspect for Microtech is the commitment to construct their knives here in the US with US materials. Microtech is renowned for maintaining custom like tolerances, finishes, and sharpness even on their production blades. Tony Marfione is a co-owner of Microtech along with Susan Marfione. Tony was and still is regarded as one of the most talented custom knife makers. Even after creating Microtech in 1994 in Vero Beach, FL and relocating company couple times before current location in Fletcher, NC, Tony has maintained his custom knife operation.

The Combat Troodon’s serrated top edge made short work of slicing through rope, seatbelts etc. This allows the blade’s straight edge to retain its sharpness for a longer amount of time when afield.

The Combat Troodon OTF version evaluated for this article was the tan version with 6061 T6 aluminum G10 handles. The Microtech Combat Troodon is the battleship of the Microtech’s OTF lineup in that it is the largest with its 3.75″ blade and 9.5″ length. Weight is 5.12 ounces. The blade was a double-edged dagger with the top being fully serrated. Several blade styles are available. The Combat Troodon’s serrated edge makes short work in terms of cutting any rope or sawing through other mediums. Not trying to be shallow or dramatic, but the double action Microtech Combat Troodon OTF is flat out intimidating. Cold double edge steel appearing in the blink of an eye is hard to deny. The blade design of the Combat Troodon makes it clear it is as a tactical knife albeit offense or defense.

The Socom Elite sets the standard for tactical/utility auto knives since its introduction in 1996. The Socom Elite was an early Microtech knife model. Both manual and auto variants are available. A plunge lock method is used to secure the 4″ Tanto style (other blade types offered) blade open or closed. The push button is intuitively placed to release the blade. Unlike some other auto fold open blades a safety is not present. Microtech has designed the button in a way to make this superfluous. Blade presentation is vigorous and positive.

Microtech utilizes M-390 steel with both the Combat Troodon and Socom Elite. M-390 is a premium high-end stainless steel ideal for a tactical knife. It is blessed with the ability to hold an edge for a long time while still being easy to sharpen. You usually do not get both traits in a blade.

The Socom Elite’s release button is intuitively placed. Unlike some other auto fold open blades a safety is not present. Microtech has designed the button in a way to make this superfluous.

In general terms, here in the US automatics are confined to use by military, law enforcement, and EMT personnel. Unfortunately, this is based on a multitude of misguided legal statutes preventing more widespread distribution. Refer back to the opening disclaimer and verify your own situation based on where you live. Over the years state/local laws have toned down restrictions; Federal restrictions remain largely in place. Excluding the cool factor, which should never be underestimated in the marketplace, why a butterfly or automatic knife over more mundane blade choices?  All of the knives discussed herein are not just flashy automatic designs getting by with glitz without real substance. Each is well balanced with potent blade light enough to carry but still heavy enough to slash efficiently if needed, while maintaining size for fight stopping thrusting ability. Frankly, a knife is more destined to do far more mundane tasks during it carry life than defending one from attack by drawing an aggressor’s blood. It is comforting to know you are carrying one that can do both.

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TOP “Verboten” Knife Choices:

Bear & Son Cutlery/Bear OPS Kimura Butterfly

  • Blade Material: 154CM steel
  • Blade Finish: Bead finish
  • Blade Length: 3-3/4″
  • Edge Profile: taper-ground
  • Handle Material: stainless-steel
  • Handle Overlays: G10
  • Open Length: 9 inches
  • Closed Length: 5-3/8″
  • Weight: 6.2 ounces
  • MSRP: $159.99

Bear & Sons Cutlery/Bear OPS AC-1100-B4-B

  • Blade Material: Sandvik 14C28N Stainless Steel
  • Handle Material: Black G10
  • Open Length : 7-1/2″
  • Closed Length: 4-1/4″
  • Blade Length: 3-1/4″
  • Weight: 4.1 oz.
  • Extras: Automatic Opening & Safety Lock & Reversible Pocket Clip
  • MSRP: $156.99

Hogue EX-A01EX-A01

  • Blade Material: 154CM Stainless Steel
  • Blade Length: 3.5″
  • Overall Length: 8.0″
  • Closed Length: 4.5″
  • Weight: 4.3oz
  • Mechanism: Automatic Button Deployment with Manual Safety
  • Handle Material (Frame): Matte Black Aluminum
  • Pocket Clip: Stainless Steel Spoon, Reversible
  • MSRP: $229.95

Hogue Hadron OTF

  • Blade Material: 154CM Stainless Steel
  • Blade Length: 3.375″
  • Overall Length: 8″
  • Closed Length: 4.625″
  • Weight: 3.2oz
  • Mechanism: Double Action Out-The-Front Automatic with Slide Push-Pull Release
  • Handle Material: Matte Flat Dark Earth Aluminum
  • Pocket Clip: Steel Ambidextrous Tip Up or Down Carry
  • Blade Style: Clip Point
  • MSRP: $289.95

Microtech Combat Troodon OTF

  • Blade Material: M390 Stainless Steel
  • Blade Length: 3.75″
  • Overall Length: 9.5″
  • Weight: 5.5oz
  • Mechanism: Double Action Out-The-Front Automatic with Slide Push-Pull Release
  • Handle Material: 6061-T6
  • Blade Style: Double Edge Full Serration Top
  • MSRP: $535

Microtech SOCOM Elite

  • Blade Material: M390 Stainless Steel
  • Blade Length: 4″
  • Overall Length: 9.18″
  • Weight: 5.25oz
  • Mechanism: Plunger Lock
  • Handle Material:7075-T611
  • Blade Style: Tanto
  • MSRP: $275

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