A switchblade (also known as automatic knife, switch, or in British English flick knife) is a type of knife with a folding or sliding blade contained in the handle which is opened by a spring when a button or lever on the grip is pressed.

Switchblades are legal weapons in Russia and parts of the U.S.A., often covered by very specific laws— enacted at times of moral panic by newspapers and films about knife use by criminals.Harvard reference | Surname=Dick | Given=Steven| Title=The Working Folding Knife | Year=1997| publisher= Stoeger Publishing Company |ISBN= 9780883172100 ] This was most prominent in the late 1950s, when films such as "The Wild One" in 1954, "Rebel Without a Cause" and "High School Confidential" in 1955, and the Broadway play "West Side Story" in 1957 about rebellious youth, The Outsiders 1967 novel and 1983 film all featured switchblades, and were closely followed by the US Switchblade Act of 1958 (a federal law; individual state laws differ widely). This US federal law was closely followed by the UK Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act 1959.Nappen, Evan(2003), "Are Switchblades Sporting Knives", Sporting Knives 2003: 60-65, ISBN 0-87349-430-X]

Overview of designs

There are two types of switchblades, side-opening/folding switchblades and OTF (out-the-front) switchblades.

A side-opening knife's blade pivots out of the side of the handle (in the same manner as an ordinary folding knife, except with the press of a button). An out-the-front knife's blade slides directly forward, out of the tip of the handle. There are two types of (out the front) OTF knife: double action and single action.

Double action OTFs allow the user to extend or retract the blade with the press of a sliding button. Spring tension in these knives is provided by the movement of the button. Single Action OTFs require the user to retract the blade manually and compress the spring. Because they often use a lever to compress the spring, stronger springs can be used. This makes them open more vigorously than the double-action type, and allows them to achieve tighter lock-up.

Another variation of the switchblade is a Dual-Action design which allows the user to manually open the knife as though it were a manual side-opening folding knife. Often, the trigger for such knives is hidden in a grip panel. The user is required to move the scale away from the body of the handle or squeeze or twist the handle in a certain fashion, or is hidden in some other manner.


Automatic knives started out as personal defense weapons. The earliest known examples of spring loaded blades are automatic folding spike bayonets on flintlock pistols and coach guns.Erickson, Mark (2004),*Antique American Switchblades", Krause publications, ISBN-10:0873497534] Museum examples dating from the 1700s are mostly English and French origin. These unique pieces were produced one at a time from wrought iron and not considered mass production knives. Hand made automatic knives of this era may not have makers' marks or tang stamps and are hard to date or catalog. By 1790, combination pistol/spring dirks became standard products offered by gun makers.

Examples of steel automatic folding knives from Sheffield England have crown markings that date to 1840. Tang stamps such as Tillotson, A.Davey, Beaver, Hobson, Ibbotson and others produced automatics that have either simple iron bolsters and stag handles or ornate embossed silver alloy bolsters. Some English knives have what is referred to as a "pen release" instead of a central handle button, whereby the main spring activated larger blade is released by pressing down on the closed smaller pen blade. Also in the 1800s, folding French personal defense knives marked Chatellerault were available in both automatic and manual in standardized sizes. Chatelleraults have recognizable features such as "S" shaped cross guards, picklock type mechanisms and engraved decorative pearl and ivory handles. About the same time in Spain, Admiral D'Estaing is attributed with a type of folding naval dirk that doubled as an eating utensil. When folded closed, the blade tip would extend beyond the handle to be used at the dining table. It could be spring activated to full length if needed as a side arm, by pressing a lever instead of a handle button.

After the American Civil War (1865), knife production became industrialized. The oldest American made production automatic knife is the Korn Patent knife, with a rocking bolster release. By 1890, advertising and customer response began to have a great effect on knife production. Automatic versions of utilitarian non-weapon models such as farmers jack-knives and pen knives became readily available. Advertising showed a small lady's hand, working a fly-lock automatic pen knife, with the caption urging women to buy one for their sewing kit, so as not to break their fingernails opening a normal pen knife. Although some automatic knives from this period were advertised for defense use, and were made with designs that appeared intimidating, these American made knives were still basically jack knives with blade lengths not exceeding 20cm open. Around the turn of the century, George Schrade retained the patents for several practical automatic pen knife designs.cite book | last = Langston | first = Richard | title = Collector's Guide to Switchblade Knives: An Illustrated Historical and Price Reference | publisher = Paladin Press | date = 2001 | location = Boulder, Colorado | pages = 224 | isbn = 1581602839 ] His company Shrade-Walden Knives, along with the New York Press Button Knife Co., manufactured many varieties. Other companies such as Imperial and Remington could pay royalties to Schrade, in order to produce similar knives also known as "contract knives".

Swordmakers in Toledo, Spain developed a market in the 1920s for gold plated automatic self defense leverlock knives with pearl handles and enamel inlaid blades. Italian knifemakers had their own style of knives, some with characteristics similar to the early French Chatellerault. Prior to World War II, hand crafted automatic self defense knives marked Campobasso or Frosolone were often called "Flat guards" because of the two piece top bolster design. These Italian designs became most favored, and evolved into the 1950s Italian switchblade and similar manual stilettos called "Picklocks".

After 1945, soldiers returning from Europe brought home these early types of Italian stilettos.Zinser, Fuller(2003)"Switchblades of Italy",Turner Publishing. ISBN 1-56311-933-1] Until this time, automatic knives in America were utilitarian, but in the 1950s great numbers of "novelty knives" based on these designs were manufactured. These Novelty knives included weapon-like stilettos which ranged in size from 3 inches to over 12 inches in length; some were flimsy souvenir knives made for tourists, and others were made with solid materials and workmanship.

Toward the end of the 1950s sensationalist tabloid press invented the image of the young delinquent with a switchblade or flick knife, and it became self perpetuating. Street gangs of kids used switchblades as badge of membership. Magazine articles affected the public perception of automatic knives in a negative manner, claiming outlawing switchblades would stop gang violence. When the US Congress took up the task of banning these knives, their efforts were opposed by the US Departments of Commerce and Justice.

By the 1960s, production of American made switchblades were limited to military contract paratrooper knives. In Italy, switchblades known among collectors as "Transitionals" were made with a mix of modern parts and leftover old style parts. Around this time, the "Picklock" became obsolete, replaced by the tilting bolster model ending the "Golden Age" of hand crafted Italian switchblades.

In the 1970s modern production methods stabilized, and samples found from this time are typical of automatics made up through the year 2000. In the 1980s, sales of automatic knives made a comeback with the concept of kit knives, allowing the user to insert a spring or build a knife from a parts kit. Since no law prohibited switchblade parts, this assembly was the purchaser's risk until this loophole was prohibited in most of the United States.

Today there are a fair number of knife companies and custom makers who build high-quality automatic knives for military, emergency personnel, and for knife collectors. Some famous automatic knife manufacturers include Microtech Knives, Benchmade, Severtech, Gerber Legendary Blades, Mikov, ProTech, Dalton, Boker/Magnum, Spyderco, Zero Tolerance, and Piranha. Few manufacturers still produce the classic Italian style stiletto switchblade. Manufacturing in Italy is predominantly a cottage industry of family oriented businesses such as the families of Frank Beltrame and AGA Campolin whom have been making automatics for more than half a century.

Automatic knives (known tang stamps) have been produced in the following countries; Argentina, China, Czech Republic, England, France, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Korea, Pakistan, Poland, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, Taiwan, U.S.A.


Regardless of specific legislation, in common law countries switchblades (like other knives) are likely to be considered as offensive weapons and carrying them in public "without lawful authority or reasonable excuse" to be illegal.Walker, Greg (1993). "Battle Blades: A Professional's Guide to Combat/Fighting Knives" (Hardcover), pages 210 ISBN 0-87364-732-7] Switchblades however, are often covered by specific law. Such laws generally restrict one or more of the following: manufacture, export, importation, sale, possession, or carrying in a public place.


In Australia, switchblades are banned by the Customs (Prohibited Imports) Regulations as a Prohibited Import.

At a state level, most jurisdictions declare them to be prohibited weapons in their respective acts, codes and regulations. Persons residing in states which do not have specific weapons legislation covering switchblades (e.g., Tasmania) are still covered by Federal Customs legislation, but in circumstances where the state has no legislation against such items, an exemption may be applied for, after approval by the Head of the Police service in that state.

Some states which have specific legislation against switchblades allow individuals to apply for an exemption from this legislation if they have a legitimate reason. For example, in the state of Victoria, a member of a bona fide knife-collectors' association, who is not a prohibited person (per the Firearms Act 1996), and meets other guidelines and conditions may apply to the Chief Commissioner of Police for a Prohibited Weapons Exemption, to possess, carry, or otherwise own such a knife.

This exemption may then, in turn, be used to apply to the Australian Customs Service for an import permit. [ [http://www.customs.gov.au/site/page.cfm?u=4369#e1066 Australian Customs Knives and daggers (restricted import)] ]

Australian Customs refer to all Switchblades as Flick Knives

Australian Legal Definition:A flick knife (or other similar device) that has a blade which opens automatically by gravity or centrifugal force or by any pressure applied to a button, spring or device in or attached to the handle of the knife.


Switchblades are not legal to sell, buy, trade, carry or otherwise possess. Part III of the criminal code first defines such knives as prohibited weapons (arme prohibee). "A knife that has a blade that opens automatically by gravity or centrifugal force or by hand pressure applied to a button, spring or other device in or attached to the handle of the knife." Different subsections of the code describe possession offenses and penalties. They are however, criminalized.

The Canadian Criminal Code states exactly this:

In sec. (84)(1)(b) "any knife that has a blade that opens automatically by gravity or centrifugal force, or by hand pressure applied to a button, spring or other device attached to the handle of the knife".

There are no other knife banning laws in Canada. [ [http://laws.justice.gc.ca/en/showdoc/cs/C-46/bo-ga:l_III-gb:s_88//en#anchorbo-ga:l_III-gb:s_88 Weblink Canada's Criminal Code] ]


Most switchblades are illegal to own, import or export. However, if the blade is side-opening, a maximum of 8.5 cm long, the breadth is a minimum of 20% of length, and is not double-edged, they are legal. After the first of April,in 2008 it is not legal to carry switchblades. To own or to trade switchblades which meet the mentioned specifications is legal.

New Zealand

The Customs Import Prohibition Order 2002 prohibits the importation of "any knife having a blade that opens automatically by hand pressure applied to a button, spring, or other device in or attached to the handle of the knife (sometimes known as a “flick-knife” or “flick gun”)". The Summary Offenses Act 1981 and the Crimes Act 1961 section 202A(4)(a) make it an offense to possess any weapon in a public place without reasonable excuse.

United Kingdom

The "manufacture, import, sale or hire, or offer of sale or hire, or lending or giving to any other person" of switchblades in the UK is illegal under the Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act 1959. Technically it is not illegal to possess such a knife as long as it is held within the home, although the knife would have to be pre-1959 vintage or its sale would have been illegal.

The prohibition upon Switchblades (or full-autos to give them their correct term) was passed 50 years ago in response to some quite horrific attacks by the so-called Teddy Boys of the era.

Later legislation (under the authority of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 adds similar restrictions for a wider range of other knives and weapons. [ [http://www.opsi.gov.uk/ACTS/acts1988/ukpga_19880033_en_1 Criminal Justice Act 1988] ] In Scotland the details differ, but the overall effect is similar. [ [http://www.oqps.gov.uk/legislation/ssi/ssi2005/ssi_20050483_en_1 The Criminal Justice Act 1988 (Offensive Weapons) (Scotland) Order 2005] ]

Offensive Weapons Act 1959 states: [ [http://www.statutelaw.gov.uk/content.aspx?LegType=All+Primary&PageNumber=70&NavFrom=2&activeTextDocId=1127412&parentActiveTextDocId=1127412&showAllAttributes=0&showProsp=0&suppressWarning=0&hideCommentary=0 Restriction of Offensive Weapons Act 1959] ]

(1) Any person who manufactures, sells or hires or offers for sale or hire, [F1 or exposes or has in his possession for the purpose of sale or hire] or lends or gives to any other person—(a) any knife which has a blade which opens automatically by hand pressure applied to a button, spring or other device in or attached to the handle of the knife, sometimes known as a “flick knife” or “flick gun”; or(b) any knife which has a blade which is released from the handle or sheath thereof by the force of gravity or the application of centrifugal force and which, when released, is locked in place by means of a button, spring, lever, or other device, sometimes known as a “gravity knife”,shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction in the case of a first offence to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months or to a fine not exceeding [F2 fifty pounds] [F2 level 4 on the standard scale] or to both such imprisonment and fine, and in the case of a second or subsequent offence to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or to a fine not exceeding [F2 two hundred pounds] [F2 level 4 on the standard scale] or to both such imprisonment and fine.(2) The importation of any such knife as is described in the foregoing subsection is hereby prohibited.

United States

Federal law

The Switchblade Act, (public law 85-623, enacted on August 12, 1958, and codified in 15 USC 1241-1245), prohibits possession on Federal lands, Indian reservations, military bases, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and other protectorates. It prohibits manufacture and sale of switchblades in interstate commerce. The act was amended in 1986 to also restrict ballistic knives. Federal law controls Federal aspects only, and does not mandate prohibition within an individual state. It does say specified knives can not be mailed through the U.S.Postal Service, and provides penalty exceptions for other common carriers/shipping companies doing normal business.

Title 18 USC 1716 (G) (2) (1-4) provides this summary.Federal law prohibits shipment of automatic knives across state lines, with the following exceptions:Switchblade knives can be shipped:(1) to civilian or Armed Forces supply or procurement officers and employees of the Federal Government ordering, procuring, or purchasing such knives in connection with the activities of the Federal Government;(2) to supply or procurement officers of the National Guard, the Air National guard, or militia of a state, territory or the District of Columbia ordering, procuring, or purchasing such knives in the connection with the activities of such organization;(3) to supply or procurement officers or employees of the municipal government of the District of Columbia or the government of any State or Territory, or any county, city or other political subdivision of a State or Territory; procuring or purchasing such knives in connection with the activities of such government.(4) to manufacturers of such knives or bona fide dealers therein in connection with any shipment made pursuant of an order from any person designated in paragraphs (1), (2), and (3).

Title 15 USC 1244 provides in summary: Knives can be shipped by common carrier, that sale, transportation or distribution, possession or introduction into interstate commerce of switchblade knives is authorized if it is pursuant to a contract with the armed forces or any member or employee thereof acting in the performance of his or her duty may possess switchblade knives and may have them shipped to him and sold to him or her. The possession and transportation upon his or her person of a switchblade knife or a blade 3 inches or less is authorized to any handicap individual who has the use of only one arm.

tate laws

Each individual state (and sometimes individual counties, cities, and towns) may, and often do, have laws restricting weapons including knives, often specifically mentioning switchblades. Laws often refer to blade lengths and styles to define tools with useful purposes. The definition of a legal knife is often taken in context with the situation. Some states allow police officers to declare any object, screwdriver or broken bottle as an offensive weapon.


:"653k. Every person who possesses in the passenger's or driver's area of any motor vehicle in any public place or place open to the public, carries upon his or her person, and every person who sells, offers for sale, exposes for sale, loans, transfers, or gives to any other person a switchblade knife having a blade two or more inches in length is guilty of a misdemeanor. For the purposes of this section, "switchblade knife" means a knife having the appearance of a pocketknife, and includes a spring-blade knife, snap-blade knife, gravity knife or any other similar type knife, the blade or blades of which are two or more inches in length and which can be released automatically by a flick of a button, pressure on the handle, flip of the wrist or other mechanical device, or is released by the weight of the blade or by any type of mechanism whatsoever. "Switchblade knife" does not include a knife that opens with one hand utilizing thumb pressure applied solely to the blade of the knife or a thumb stud attached to the blade, provided that the knife has a detent or other mechanism that provides resistance that must be overcome in opening the blade, or that biases the blade back toward its closed position. For purposes of this section, "passenger's or driver's area" means that part of a motor vehicle which is designed to carry the driver and passengers, including any interior compartment or space therein."

Connecticut law states that:

: § 53-206. Carrying of dangerous weapons prohibited.: "(a) Any person who carries upon one's person any BB. gun, blackjack, metal or brass knuckles, or any dirk knife, or any switch knife, or any knife having an automatic spring release device by which a blade is released from the handle, having a blade of over one and one-half inches in length, or stiletto, or any knife the edged portion of the blade of which is four inches or over in length, any police baton or nightstick, or any martial arts weapon or electronic defense weapon, as defined in section 53a-3, or any other dangerous or deadly weapon or instrument, shall be fined not more than five hundred dollars or imprisoned not more than three years or both. Whenever any person is found guilty of a violation of this section, any weapon or other instrument within the provisions of this section, found upon the body of such person, shall be forfeited to the municipality wherein such person was apprehended, notwithstanding any failure of the judgment of conviction to expressly impose such forfeiture"

In 2003, Florida Governor Jeb Bush overturned a questionable law stating "No one shall carry a self propelled knife". The law was cleared up to allow Florida residents to use switchblade knives. (Portion of 790.225, F.S)

The American Knife and Tool Institute (AKTI ), is addressing the inequities of regional law, by refining a glossary of knife terms including switchblades, stilettos, Bowies and gravity knives. The definitions are cultured from court rulings and first hand knowledge by collectors. The AKTI hopes the use of this glossary will achieve standardized common terms for knife types or measuring points among legal officers and collectors, leading to sensible knife legislation and law enforcement, with considerations to the knife makers and collectors in America today.

See also

* Gravity knife
* Ballistic knife
* Switchblade Collectors Terminology


Further reading

* Foreign Spring Steel, by Vincent Federico, 2003 ASIN B000B414M8
* Collector's Guide to Switchblade Knives, by Langston 2001 Paladin Press ISBN-10:1581602839
* An Introduction to Switchblade Knives, by Meyers 1982 American Eagle publishing, Library of Congress 81-90686

External links

* [http://pweb.netcom.com/~brlevine/sta-law.htm BERNARD LEVINE - STATE KNIFE LAWS]
* [http://www.police-information.co.uk/legislation/legislationindexeng.html#K Police-information.co.uk: Knives]
* [http://www.bkcg.co.uk/guide/prohibited/ British Knife Collectors Guild: "Prohibited Knives"]
* [http://police.govt.nz/service/firearms/swords-knives.html NZ Police: "Swords, Knives and Bayonets"]
* http://www.leg.state.fl.us/data/session/2003/Senate/bills/analysis/pdf/2003s2256.cj.pdf
* http://election.dos.state.fl.us/laws/03laws/ch_2003-082.pdf
* http://www.dps.state.ia.us/asd/weapons/wbrochure.pdf
* [http://www.akti.org/ American Knife and Tool Institute]

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