The Hawaii Reporter newspaper ran a 2-part Conversation with Ken Onion this week. They open things up by explaining to the casual reader just how influential Ken has been in the knife industry. In doing so, they explain in layman’s terms the difference between a switchblade and an assisted opener better than pretty much anywhere else I have seen:
“Ken Onion is arguably one the most influential contemporary knife makers in the nation. Credited with developing the assisted-opening knife back in 1998, he continues to innovate.
Although assisted-opening knives are often confused with switchblade knives, there is a huge distinction.
A switchblade is opened automatically with the push of a button, whereas the user of an assisted-opening knife must open it about one-quarter of the way (45°) before the mechanism releases the knife completely. When it comes to the law, the difference is significant. Because the blade of an assisted-opening knife does not open with the push of a button or by force of gravity, it’s not considered a switchblade.
In creating the assisted-opening knife, Mr. Onion was responsible for one of the most important advances in knife design in the last 100 years. It was a design that eventually required an act of the U.S. Congress and the signature of the President of the United States to make unmistakably legal.
That was in Part One, which goes on to discuss Ken’s career, his influences, and the process of invention that led to his patenting the first assisted opening knife in 1998 with the man himself.
Part 2 is titled “How to choose the right knife” and discusses the design and manufacturing aspects that Ken feels are essential in a quality knife and comfortable knife:
“There’s 20,000 knife designs out there. Everybody has their own particular application. Their own needs. Buy what makes you feel good. Buy what you like. Buy what suits your daily needs. If you’re not in the bushes all day hacking down lantana, you don’t need a big knife.
I notice as I’ve gotten older, I tend to carry a smaller knife. When I was a younger man in the field I’d carry a bigger, beefier knife. Nowadays when I’ve got just about every kind of knife, I’ll carry a knife based on the kind of environment I’m going to be in.”
They are both good reads and what strikes me is how well they manage to capture Ken’s character. I have spent a little time chatting with him at Blade Show each of the last two years. He is an extremely approachable person, and engaged in more than rushed and fleeting conversation with his fans. He is a Titan, yet has the gleam of the enthusiast in his eye.