What to do if you are a law-abiding citizen and want to make sure you are following the law on blade length? I can tell you one thing, measurements listed on websites are the last thing you should rely on. To wit:
The Ontario RAT-1 pictured above is listed as having a 3.5 inch blade on Amazon’s website, but based on my own measurements, whole length of exposed steel is 3.615 inches, while the sharpened edge is only 3.3625 inches. This may not sound like a big deal, but if you need your knife to be a certain length for legal reasons, this can be a headache waiting to happen.
The recent case where Amazon (UK) has “come under fire” for the specs listed on their site further highlights the issue.
From theguardian.com: “Amazon condemned for ‘cavalier’ knife advertising”
In the trial of a 16-year-old Aberdeen boy who stabbed and killed Bailey Gwynne, the court heard he had chosen the knife because “it said on Amazon ‘legal in the UK’ because the blade was under three inches”.
In fact the knife had a 3.25in (8.25cm) blade, making it illegal to carry in public…
In the UK, as I understand, it is illegal for someone under 18 to carry any knife, so this kid would have been in trouble regardless. What would have happened though, if one of the adult citizenry had purchased this particular knife, thinking it would be legal to carry?
This why blade lengths listed on websites can’t be trusted.
Part (all?) of the confusion certainly stems from how blade length is measured. You would think it would be pretty straightforward, but that is far from the case. Some states define this term (sometimes it is sharpened length, sometimes it is a tip-to-scale measurement), but most do not, and this is where you can find yourself in hot water. Sellers rely on the manufacturer to supply the specs and with no unifying definition, there is no way of knowing what that measurement means, or if two different knives from differing manufacturers are being measured by the same standard.
As an aside, Rhode Island law illustrates just how difficult it can be to properly define blade length. Their statute reads thusly (edited to the relevant text):
No person shall wear or carry concealed upon his person… any razor, or knife of any description having a blade of more than three (3) inches in length measuring from the end of the handle where the blade is attached to the end of the blade…
I would like to present to you a knife that breaks this definition, the ESEE Izula-II.
Sharpened length of this knife is roughly 2 1/2″, but full tip-to-scale length is 3 5/32″ making this knife illegal to carry in the Ocean State. According to the letter of the law, part of the handle that is meant for gripping is actually “blade” since the handle scales attach further back. Needless to say, this is ridiculous.
But what would happen if I remove the handle scales? Would the knife suddenly become legal? Furthermore, would one of Chris Reeve’s hollow-handled survival knives be ok since they are made from a single piece of steel, and the blade does not technically attach to the handle? How would you measure blade length on an ulu?
What is the responsible citizen to do?
First, you need to decide what definition to use. As a starting point, check your local laws to see if blade length is defined, and determine if you want to abide by that definition, or cast a wider net.
Of course, I am no lawyer, and the following should not be construed as legal advice, but I try to envision what could happen if a cop held a ruler up to my blade. Is there any conceivable way it could be measured that would make it “illegal?”
In lieu of taking measurements yourself, manufacturer’s forums are a great place to ask questions. Some of the better knife retailers out there may also be able to help if you ask nicely. I will continue to give a tip-to-scale and sharpened edge measurement in my reviews as well.
Is there a better way forward? I would love to see internet retailers step up to the plate and start taking their own measurements, and supply both tip-to-scale and sharpened edge specs. It isn’t a perfect solution, but it would be a heck of a lot better than what we have now.