California Knife Laws: A Comprehensive Guide
By Jim March 5/16/02
Note: later on 5/16, tweaked the "dealing with cops" chapter,
and added a better summary of "what's legal" in the
switchblade rules based on early feedback. I've also altered
the review of the CRKT Seven.
SECTION ONE: THE SWITCHBLADE/LEGAL FOLDING KNIFE RULES
SECTION TWO: THE STREET-CARRY RULES (and a few totally banned types)
SECTION THREE: THE SCHOOL-CARRY RULES
SECTION FOUR: LOCAL ORDINANCES AND ENFORCEMENT
SECTION FIVE: DEALING WITH LAW ENFORCEMENT WHEN PACKIN' STEEL
SECTION SIX: A SELECTION OF JIM'S FAVORITE COMBAT FOLDERS
First point: I'm not a lawyer. I'm going to step you through California knife laws, and discuss some cases I'm personally aware of, but this isn't legal advice.
Second: we're discussing the rules on lawful knife CARRY. The USE of deadly force is an entirely separate subject outside the bounds of this article. If you are carrying a deadly weapon be it knife, gun, whatever, you need to study the laws on deadly force for this state. If you don't know the implications of the phrase "fear of death or great bodily injury", you need to do more study in that area. Any CCW course, for a permit in-state or out, will give you a fair overview. Massad Ayoob's "In The Gravest Extreme" is also worth a look, or a similar resource. John Machtinger's "How To Own A Gun And Stay Out Of Jail" covers "use of force" more specific to California. In California, the knife and gun are both considered deadly force and the rules governing combat use are identical - it's the carry laws that make a huge distinction between knife and gun.
(One common bit of advice if you can: after deciding to carry a gun or knife, it is a good idea to have a lawyer who already has you on file as being a client, in case of a serious "social encounter with a two-legged rattlesnake". This (or so I've heard) will reduce the amount the lawyer charges, and you will be more prepared than say, getting a public defender, who is usually over worked, and under funded. When you're at the police station, your lawyer will already know who you are, and won't be brought in cold. You'll have the opportunity to pre-screen your attorney, as opposed to just getting one on the "fly".)
Under California state law, non-switchblade pocket knives that are concealed in the closed position can be legally carried, concealed or open-carry. Fixed-blades must be carried openly. Knives that are disguised as something else (belt buckle, shotgun shell, etc.) are completely banned. Switchblades may be owned privately in the home, but not street-carried; while not specified, most people assume that transport is legal on the same basis as a gun: locked in the trunk in a locked container. Cane swords are completely banned.
SECTION ONE: THE SWITCHBLADE/LEGAL FOLDING KNIFE RULES
Your lockblade folding knife should have a thumbstud, thumb"hole", thumb "disk" or similar push-thingy, so long as the "thingy" is attached directly to the blade (versus on the grip and linked up via a gearbox of sorts). It should not have a spring that does ALL the opening (yes, the Kershaw Ken Onion series seems to be OK). And finally, the blade needs to have at least some tendency to stay closed in the pocket or whatever bias a "bias towards closure" or "detent" (discussed in more detail later in this chapter).
As long as it's got all that, and the vast majority (including all eight knives discussed at the bottom of this document) do, it cannot be "declared a gravity knife or switchblade" even if you can snap it open with relish :). And you can carry it concealed so long as it's concealed in the FULLY closed position, or open-carry if that's your thing (not recommended for BIG stuff, in case you happen on a town with a funky local ordinance or a really cranky cop).
There's no length limit. Seriously :).
The rules on "what is a legal pocketknife versus a switchblade" are contained in Penal Code 653k. In it's entirety (current effective 1/1/2002):
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.The really weird part is that 1.9" switchblades are legal. Per Federal law, such a short switchblade is still a switchblade, and cannot be sold across state lines to somebody not a cop or military. So there's a small but thriving business in making 1.9" switch-blades in-state, so that they can be sold without Fed oversight (not involved in interstate commerce). Once you buy one, you can carry it like any other legal folder - in California. Take a shipment of 'em out of state and sell them to ordinary peons, and you're a Federal felon!
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.
Until this year, Penal Code 653k was easier to understand. The requirement that the knife has a "detent or bias towards closure" is the trickiest bit, added effective 1/1/2002.
First, what are those?
A "bias towards closure" means that as you close the knife, very slowly and gently, the blade will be "sucked into the grip" during the last bit of travel.
A "detent" means that when closed, the knife wants to stay that way because there's a ball bearing dimple pressing into a matching tiny socket in the blade, or there's some other mechanism that makes travel "stiffer" for the first short period of blade travel from closed to open.
Presence of either one of these, to ANY degree, means it's not a switchblade even if it's possible to "snap the knife open".
How do I know that?
Last year, a bill known as SB274 passed, which added the "detent or bias towards closure" language. At the Assembly Safety Committee hearing, several pro-self defense folks (myself, Nadja Adolf, Jason Davidoff) were there to complain about the idea that any knife that could be "flicked open" would be banned - as was originally in the statement of legislative intent prepared by the state DA's association.
To demonstrate the "point", I displayed a selection of high quality knives, and explained that simply by nature of their quality, they can be snapped open. Asking permission of the kindly old lady sitting next to me first, I demonstrated by snapping open a Chris Reeves Sebenza worth about $250, and laid it on table as I spoke. I managed to avoid freaking anybody out, and explained that the bill ran the risk of declaring hundreds of thousands of state residents felons.
It's a good thing I was polite to the lady - she turned out to be State Senator Karnette, author of the bill <GRIN>.
After that meeting, the bill continued on track, but Senator Karnette listened, and wrote a new statement of legislative intent! Because it was crafted after the DA association letter, and because it was written by the bill's author, it overrides all other memos on the bill's intent.
Without further ado, here's the memo:
Published in the July 18, 2001 edition of the Senate Daily Journal on page 2070.Nowhere in PC653k is there a length limit. My daily-carry folder has a blade 5.45" long.
DRAFT - LETTER TO THE SENATE DAILY JOURNAL
July 5, 2001
Mr. Gregory Schmidt
Secretary of the Senate
The purpose of this letter is to express the Legislature’s intent in enacting my SB 274, which makes amendments to Penal Code Section 653k.
Section 653k makes it a misdemeanor to make, sell or possess upon one’s person a switchblade in California. The statute was enacted in 1957 and provides a length definition of a switchblade knife. In 1996, AB 3314 (Ch. 1054) an exemption was created for one-handed folding knives. Recently, there has been concern that the language of the exemption is broadly read to apply to knives that are essentially switchblades, but are designed to fall under the language of the exemption.
In order to ensure that only legitimate one-handed opening knives are covered, SB 274 narrows the language to only allow knives to fall under the exemption from the switchblade law if that one-handed opening knife contains a detent or similar mechanism. Such mechanisms ensure there is a measure of resistance (no matter how slight) that prevents the knife from being easily opened with a flick of the wrist. Moreover, a detent or other mechanism is prudent and a matter of public safety as it will ensure that a blade will not inadvertently come open.
Although some one-handed opening knives can be opened with a strong flick of the wrist, so long as they contact a detent or similar mechanism that provides some resistance to opening the knife, then the exemption is triggered. These knives serve an important utility to many knife users, as well as firefighters, EMT personnel, hunters, fishermen, and others utilize one-handed opening knives.
The exemption created in 1996 was designed to decriminalize the legitimate use of these extremely functional tools by law-abiding citizens. SB 274 is not intended to interfere with those knife owners and users. The amendments to Section 653k accomplish this important purpose by establishing more objective criteria for determining whether a knife meets the intended exemption to the switchblade law.
Senator, 27th District
What if your knife has neither a detent or bias towards closure? If it has an adjustable pivot tension screw, tighten it until it cannot be "flicked" open, and seal it with Blue Locktite. Otherwise, it could unscrew in your pocket and turn itself into a felony possession bust. God, I wish I was kidding. If there's no variable tension screw, then it's a $5 to $10 piece of crap from Pakistan or Taiwan - junk it and get a real knife :).
SECTION TWO: THE STREET-CARRY RULES (and a few totally banned types)
Parts of Penal Code 12020 cover street carry of knives. It also flat bans some types.
12020. (a) Any person in this state who does any of the following is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year or in the state prison:Most of it is pretty clear. I've added the bold to section 24; note how, in the case of folding knives, legality is "cross-tied" to PC653k.
(1) Manufactures or causes to be manufactured, imports into the state, keeps for sale, or offers or exposes for sale, or who gives, lends, or possesses...any ballistic knife...any nunchaku...any metal knuckles, any belt buckle knife, any leaded cane, any zip gun, any shuriken [ed: "throwing star"]...any lipstick case knife, any cane sword, any shobi-zue, any air gauge knife, any writing pen knife, any metal military practice handgrenade or metal replica handgrenade, or any instrument or weapon of the kind commonly known as a blackjack, slungshot, billy, sandclub, sap, or sandbag. [Ed. Note: this is the paragraph covering "what you cannot own at all" - some of it is downright weird. Plastic/ceramic knives that can go through a metal detector are also banned somewhere in PC12020.]
(4) Carries concealed upon his or her person any dirk or dagger.
(24) As used in this section, a "dirk" or "dagger" means a knife or other instrument with or without a handguard that is capable of ready use as a stabbing weapon that may inflict great bodily injury or death. A nonlocking folding knife, a folding knife that is not prohibited by Section 653k, or a pocketknife is capable of ready use as a stabbing weapon that may inflict great bodily injury or death only if the blade of the knife is exposed and locked into position. [Ed. note: so if it's a PC653k-legal knife, and it's carried concealed while folded, it's not "readily available" and therefore doesn't meet the "dirk or dagger definition". ONLY "dirks or daggers" need to be open-carry.]
25(d) Knives carried in sheaths which are worn openly suspended from the waist of the wearer are not concealed within the meaning of this section.
Part 25(d) applies to "dirks or daggers" that must be open carried. It is VERY confusing in that it is an example of legal open carry, but not the only possible "recipe".
I know of one case in which a guy was at a public event in costume, and was legally open carrying a bunch of cutlery as part of the costume. Without going into details, let me say that the circumstances were appropriate and nobody was threatened in any way. He had a legally-open-carry sword, another belt knife, a belt pouch, and due to the type of jacket worn he ran out of open-carry belt "real estate". So he specially mounted his last double-edge dagger on his ankle, completely visible (not shoved down the boot or up under the pants cuff). For this, he was charged with felony concealed carry of a dirk or dagger.
The DA tried to paint 25(d) as a "waist area requirement" - but as I pointed out to his public defender, it's an example of what's legal but not a strict requirement. As a result, this guy was fully acquitted at a jury trial and has no criminal record to this day.
Nowhere in any of this is there a length limit, or a ban on double-edge. Note the way "dirk or dagger" is completely re-defined ("readily available stabbing implement").
SECTION THREE: THE SCHOOL-CARRY RULES
Section 626.10 is here reproduced in it's entirety, and briefly explained in the editor's notes and text below.
Short form: K-12 schools, no knife over 2.5" is legal except for certain work-related types (kitchen stuff for the chef, etc.). At Universities and Colleges, there's a ban on FIXED BLADES bigger than 2.5" but there's no problems with large folding knives that are otherwise not switchblades under PC653k.
626.10. (a) Any person, except a duly appointed peace officer as defined in Chapter 4.5 (commencing with Section 830) of Title 3 of Part 2, a full-time paid peace officer of another state or the federal government who is carrying out official duties while in this state, a person summoned by any officer to assist in making arrests or preserving the peace while the person is actually engaged in assisting any officer, or a member of the military forces of this state or the United States who is engaged in the performance of his or her duties, who brings or possesses any dirk, dagger, ice pick, knife having a blade longer than 21/2 inches, folding knife with a blade that locks into place, a razor with an unguarded blade, a taser, or a stun gun, as defined in subdivision (a) of Section 244.5, any instrument that expels a metallic projectile such as a BB or a pellet, through the force of air pressure, CO2 pressure, or spring action, or any spot marker gun, upon the grounds of, or within, any public or private school providing instruction in kindergarten or any of grades 1 to 12, inclusive, is guilty of a public offense, punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or by imprisonment in the state prison. [Ed. Note: This is the paragraph dealing with legal carry on K-12 school grounds. Note that folding lockblades bigger than 2.5" are banned. This applies to any adult on campus; there are exceptions for work-related stuff in part "C" through "G" below.]This is actually simpler than it looks :). Once you realize that there's ONE change between the K-12 rules in paragraph "A" and the college/university rules in "B", it all makes "sense". About as much as any weapons law does.
(b) Any person, except a duly appointed peace officer as defined in Chapter 4.5 (commencing with Section 830) of Title 3 of Part 2, a full-time paid peace officer of another state or the federal government who is carrying out official duties while in this state, a person summoned by any officer to assist in making arrests or preserving the peace while the person is actually engaged in assisting any officer, or a member of the military forces of this state or the United States who is engaged in the performance of his or her duties, who brings or possesses any dirk, dagger, ice pick, or knife having a fixed blade longer than 21/2 inches upon the grounds of, or within, any private university, the University of California, the California State University, or the California Community Colleges is guilty of a public offense, punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or by imprisonment in the state prison. [Ed. Note: This paragraph covers colleges and universities. There is still a ban on large fixed-blades, but large locking folders legal under Penal Code 653k are completely legal. This applies to any adult age 18 or over on campus, student or otherwise; there are exceptions for work-related stuff in part "C" through "G" below.]
(c) Subdivisions (a) and (b) do not apply to any person who brings or possesses a knife having a blade longer than 21/2 inches or a razor with an unguarded blade upon the grounds of, or within, a public or private school providing instruction in kindergarten or any of grades 1 to 12, inclusive, or any private university, state university, or community college at the direction of a faculty member of the private university, state university, or community college, or a certificated or classified employee of the school for use in a private university, state university, community college, or school-sponsored activity or class.
(d) Subdivisions (a) and (b) do not apply to any person who brings or possesses an ice pick, a knife having a blade longer than 21/2 inches, or a razor with an unguarded blade upon the grounds of, or within, a public or private school providing instruction in kindergarten or any of grades 1 to 12, inclusive, or any private university, state university, or community college for a lawful purpose within the scope of the person's employment.
(e) Subdivision (b) does not apply to any person who brings or possesses an ice pick or a knife having a fixed blade longer than 21/2 inches upon the grounds of, or within, any private university, state university, or community college for lawful use in or around a residence or residential facility located upon those grounds or for lawful use in food preparation or consumption.
(f) Subdivision (a) does not apply to any person who brings an instrument that expels a metallic projectile such as a BB or a pellet, through the force of air pressure, CO2 pressure, or spring action, or any spot marker gun upon the grounds of, or within, a public or private school providing instruction in kindergarten or any of grades 1 to 12, inclusive, if the person has the written permission of the school principal or his or her designee.
(g) Any certificated or classified employee or school peace officer of a public or private school providing instruction in kindergarten or any of grades 1 to 12, inclusive, may seize any of the weapons described in subdivision (a), and any certificated or classified employee or school peace officer of any private university, state university, or community college may seize any of the weapons described in subdivision (b), from the possession of any person upon the grounds of, or within, the school if he or she knows, or has reasonable cause to know, the person is prohibited from bringing or possessing the weapon upon the grounds of, or within, the school.
(h) As used in this section, "dirk" or "dagger" means a knife or other instrument with or without a handguard that is capable of ready use as a stabbing weapon that may inflict great bodily injury or death.
SECTION FOUR: LOCAL ORDINANCES AND ENFORCEMENT
This is the trickiest part.
Los Angeles and a few other SoCal cities have a town ordinance banning the carry of knives over 3". In SOME cases, it's phrased as a ban on big stuff of any sort carried openly, so that excludes fixed-blades and the open-carry of big folders, but you can still conceal (and LEAVE concealed until needed to save a life) a large folding knife.
San Francisco has an ordinance on knife carry, but it's only linked to simultaneous "illegal loitering". Clearly, this was meant as a "homeless control measure" of sorts, God only knows how old. Berkeley has a knife ordinance too.
But the reality is, local knife ordinances cannot be applied to people passing through on a major road, enforcement of all local ordinances is spotty unless you fit a "juvenile offender profile", and most cops don't even know their local knife ordinances.
If you're scrupulous about not violating state law, which I'd highly recommend, and you don't come across as a slimeball, the odds are vastly against your having problems. I've had a lot of cops see my street-carry pieces, and I've not had a confiscation or harassment yet.
SECTION FIVE: DEALING WITH LAW ENFORCEMENT WHEN PACKIN' STEEL
First thing: don't get nervous. If you've read this, you're not going to be breaking any knife laws. California's knife laws are actually pretty decent, better than most states (even the shall-issue gun permit ones). If you're nervous, the cop will read that, and he won't know what to think - but the conversation WILL go downhill.
If you're walking past a cop with a legally concealed knife, DO NOT "pat the knife" to make sure the concealment is still effective. That's the number one way cops spot people packing guns illegally. They'll think that's what you're doing. The resulting conversation won't be pleasant.
If there's any chance at all that the guy is gonna search you, politely declare that you're carrying a "pocketknife legal under state law". Got that? Tell him where it is on you, let him take control of it. DO NOT SCARE THE DUDE WITH THE BADGE AND GUN. Don't reach for nuthin' unless he tells you to do so. At all times, act like this is just a normal business transaction.
So what if he/she thinks your piece(s) is/are illegal?
You explain that California knife law has changed a bunch of times starting in 1997 and twice more that you know of, so you're not terribly surprised there's confusion. Calmly explain as much of the relevant Penal Codes as you can recall...if you're into big folders, PC653k and the bit in 12020 about "not readily available if concealed in the closed position" is a start. If he ain't buying, calmly ask for a supervisor.
If he wants to confiscate your cutlery, ASK FOR A RECEIPT. If he says anything about "that'll mean you'll get a ticket too, and/or an arrest", stand your ground and calmly ask for a receipt. He's bluffing because he wants your knife. Sorry if any cops reading this are offended, but it happens - I've met enough people it's happened to to be a believer, although it hasn't happened to me. If he just plain takes it without a receipt, get his badge number and/or car number (if the latter is all you can get, record the TIME). If it was a city or county cop, make a THEFT complaint in detail with your nearest California Highway Patrol station (they investigate local wrongdoing). If it was CHP, hmmm...complain to the CHP supervisors maybe, or the Sheriff, but for God's sake don't let 'em off clean.
IF YOU HAD TO THREATEN AN ASSAILANT WITH A DRAWN BLADE:
You have two choices: get the hell out of there ASAP and travel far and fast, because odds are, crooks that get chased off by an armed citizen love to file a "he threatened me" complaint and bust YOU. Bug out. NOTE: we're talking about a situation in which you haven't committed a crime, and since no actual violence occurred neither did anybody else. So "fleeing the scene" rules don't really apply. And you also don't want the SOB coming back with reinforcements and/or heavy artillery. Time to go!
If that's not possible, because the crook knows where you are or who you are (or have your car's license plate number), jump on 911 and report an attempted crime, pronto. There are too many lazy cops that just believe the first complaint. Make yours first. You'll probably have one major advantage: the crook will have a violent record and you won't.
IF YOU HAD TO ACTUALLY DRAW BLOOD IN DEFENSE:
When the cops show up, there are only three things you should say: I was in fear of my life, I'm too shaken up to talk, I want a lawyer. (If there are witnesses you know of, point them out to the cops and tell the cops to talk to them.)
Bernie Goetz didn't do that. He was furious at the four attempted muggers, he made that anger plain in a long discussion down at the station, and he ended up getting charged with murder and attempted murder when it was absolutely clear-cut self defense.
When a cop gets involved in a shooting, they understand that immediately afterwards, he's too shaken to explain clearly what happened. So most departments give him 24 hours to settle down before talking to him. But if you're involved in lethal force, some will take advantage of your rattled state to pry garbled statements out of you. You HAVE the right to remain silent. Use it.
I'm assuming here that if you drew or used steel, you had a damned good reason. That's a subject for a much more detailed (not to mention PROFESSIONAL) treatment - see Introduction for some reference works.
SECTION SIX: A SELECTION OF JIM'S FAVORITE COMBAT FOLDERS
Now for the fun part :).
We're going to start with the lowest-cost knives I'd be willing to trust my life to, and go up from there.
1) CRKT Ryan Seven1) CRKT Ryan Seven - http://www.1sks.com/store/crkt-ryan-model-seven.html
2) Spyderco Goddard Light
3) Cold Steel Scimitar
4) Benchmade AFCK D2/Axis
5) Spyderco Civilian
6) Cold Steel Vaquero Grande
7) Camillus Maxx
8) Round Eye Knife And Tool (REKAT) Sifu
About $40, blade length 3.5".
CRKT sells a line of well-designed folders made in Taiwan. Several are liner-locks with blades just under 4" that have a secondary "safety switch" that you manually engage after the blade is open. Once "on safe", lock reliability is very high.
The Ryan Seven is the best of these, because of the grip design. One common failing of any liner-lock is that your finger might accidentally trip the release (leading to accidental closure) - designer Steve Ryan is a master at avoiding that by placing the fingers well away from the lock release. Thus, of the entire CRKT liner-lock series, the Ryan is least likely to accidentally close even if you fail to trip the safety (safety switch is visible on the lower picture, above the pivot and clip screws).
The blade steel (AUS6) is mediocre; adequate for a fighter, but if you frequently use it as a "utility tool" you'll need to sharpen it quite often.
Neat tip: if you unscew that giant ugly honkin' thumbstud (what the hell were they thinking?!) you end up with a nice hole still big enough to act as an opening device in it's own right(!) and still preserving legality under PC653k. Which is TOTALLY unique to any folder I'm aware of! (Normally, ditching the thumbstud is the last thing I'd recommend.)
In case it's not clear yet: linerlocks make me nervous. They can fail. Ryan is one of the few designers that really know the system. Also note that due to the grip shape, your hand cannot "slip down onto the blade" on a hard-target stab. That's another thing you'll see a lot of in this list. Picture courtesy of OneStopKnifeShop - http://www.1stopknifeshop.com
After the first release of this site, somebody asked me:
Is there a reason you prefer the CRKT Ryan Seven over their Crawford Kasper folder? They seem pretty similar mechanically, so I was wondering. (I really like my CK's, but I don't have a Ryan Seven).My answer:
Grip a Ryan, then grip the KFF (aka Crawford Kaspar). The Ryan's grip design places your forefinger AWAY FROM the linerlock release. So you're less likely to accidentally disengage it - this is one of the top two ways in which a linerlock can fail.----------------------
"But Jim, what about the safety? Does this matter, once that's tripped?"
I'm assuming you're reacting to attack and aren't yet able to trip the safety switch...not at all unlikely in a defensive knife use. In that case, the Ryan's lock is stronger due to the more intelligent grip shape, and because the Ryan's tip is way up higher so that somewhat like the Scimitar, blade forces on a stab are up (away from the lock) versus down onto the lock.
Upshot: the KFF is NOT a bad design, but it was originally designed around a better lock than CRKT uses and is not, in my opinion, as compatible with a low-end linerlock. Steve Ryan is a "linerlock guru" and designed the Seven around the linerlock's inherent weaknesses. The same basic KFF design is also available as a full custom from Pat Krawford, and a wonderful knife if you've got the bucks. The REKAT Carnivore is a related design, also with a really good lock.
2) Spyderco Goddard Light - http://store.knifecenter.com/pgi-ProductSpec?SP16PS
About $40, blade 3.5".
The link will take you to the more expensive Micarta-fiberglas-grip version; the "light" uses a high-impact nylon (Zytel) grip and costs less. The Micarta version is nice, but not critical. The "light" cheaper variant has a nice extra: the pocket clip can be relocated to either side of the grip, allowing it to be set up for right or left hand use by the user.
Both variants are lockbacks, an older type of lock that is very reliable, the sort of thing Buck has been using since the '60's or prior. Spyderco's version is smoother on the opening stroke, but still not as smooth-opening as a linerlock generally is.
The Goddard design is a good fighter that doesn't scream "combat monster". It's looks aren't at all "gonzo" but like the Ryan, the grip shape facilitates stabs safely. The steel (ATS55) is a strong step up from the CRKT's, making the Goddards fit for daily utility but still capable fighters in their size class. Picture courtesy of Knifecenter of the Internet, http://www.knifecenter.com/
3) Cold Steel Scimitar - http://www.1sks.com/store/cold-steel-scimitar.html
About $80, 4" blade.
The Scimitar is pretty much the only linerlock with no secondary safety latch that I'd trust. There are two reasons: the lock is both well executed and of "long travel", and the blade shape means that on a stab, pressure from the blade back to the grip is sharply "upwards", against the "top" of the grip versus downwards towards the lockwork as on virtually all other locking folders It's a nasty-lookin' critter :) which is good or bad depending on you.
The AUS8 steel is quite good. If you want a "pure combat knife" with little utility purposes, I recommend the serrated because Cold Steel's serration pattern is highly effective but difficult to re-sharpen; if you're interested in a work knife, go with plainedge as shown in the pics. Picture courtesy of OneStopKnifeShop - http://www.1stopknifeshop.com
4) Benchmade AFCK D2/Axis - http://store.knifecenter.com/pgi-ProductSpec?BM806PD2
About $130, 3.95" blade.
Simply the finest 4" class folding combat knife made, period, end of discussion. Took Benchmade a LONG time to get all the best of their features into one piece.
The AFCK has been around a while, but as a linerlock of iffy reliability. Benchmade has now put the William&Henry Axis lock on it, which is among the strongest and most modern locks available. The Axis is stronger than the CRKT linerlock even with the CRKT safety mechanism engaged, but the Axis engages automatically on opening. The lock release is ambidextrous and the pocket clip can be relocated to either side (making it 100% effective for southpaws). And to top it off, they've used one of the best knife steel in common use today, D2 tool steel, which is a "borderline stainless" with almost as much corrosion resistance as a true stainless but stronger and with edgeholding from hell.
If you want to stay under the 4" range for broad legality in states other than California, look no further. Picture courtesy of Knifecenter of the Internet, http://www.knifecenter.com/
5) Spyderco Civilian - Linked here, long URL to multiple variants.
About $150+, depending on options. Blade is 5" long - and EVIL
The Civilian is a "pure fighter" designed for a "rip and run" gameplan. NOTHING slashes like the Civilian, period. It's a lockback, so the opening stroke will be a bit rough until broken in, but very strong and reliable.
It's an extremely good "handgun retention tool" for those of you able to carry.
It's stabbing abilities are for obvious reasons somewhat limited. It was designed for situations where somebody needed a sudden ugly surprise, but isn't a "knife fighter" and not terribly interested in really mastering the art.
I recommend the G10 grip material variant because it's not very slippery. The grip design isn't quite as good as some others here. Picture courtesy of Knifecenter of the Internet, http://www.knifecenter.com/
6) Cold Steel Vaquero Grande - http://www.1sks.com/store/cold-steel-vaquero-grande-el-vaquero.html
About $80 - blade length: SIX INCHES.
That's right. The Big Bad. If you got a need for serious steel, this is the ultimate bang for the buck.
Go for the full 6" version, fully serrated, and know that lack of a CCW permit due to the discriminatory practices around here hasn't disarmed you all that much :).
I've had one for years. There's only two badder pieces ever made, we'll get to those next. At a "cutlery connoisseur party" years ago, my Vaquero Grande was the only folder able to cut a free-swinging inch-thick piece of professional climbing rope.
Note: Cold Steel serrations are aggressive and effective, but are difficult to re-sharpen. Not recommended for heavy daily utility. Blade steel is AUS8, not bad, grip is that same Zytel super-tough plastic seen elsewhere...sort of a "Glock knife" :). Seriously, Zytel isn't bad stuff. It's another lockback which normally means stiff opening but let's get real: with this much blade mass, snapopens are a dream. Main flaw: grip shape isn't ideal, a "slip up accident" on a hard-target stab is barely possible unless you're careful and/or have a strong grip.
Yes, you can get a two-handed grip on that bad boy :). Picture courtesy of OneStopKnifeShop - http://www.1stopknifeshop.com
7) Camillus Maxx - http://www.1sks.com/store/camillus-maxx.html
About $150, with a 5.5" blade.
This is a higher quality megafolder. Combat effectiveness is actually better than the Vaquero Grande, for those who know what they're doing and use a "precise move and stab" gameplan. Given the double guards integral to the blade, a "slip-up" accident is impossible. Blade steel is that super D2 stuff - grip material is TITANIUM.
There's just one flaw: get rid of the pocket clip.
Here's why: the lock is what's known as an "integral lock" - it's related to the liner lock, just as smooth but considerably stronger as long as your hand is on it. Your own grip strength reinforces the lock, naturally, as a product of the design.
Except they screwed up the clip location - it gets in the way of this "reinforcement process".
Now for the good news. Buy one, ditch the clip, then take it to a gun show or gun shop. A number of standard leather magazine belt pouches make perfect sheaths for these - supposedly 1911 single-column .45ACP mags are best, but do a bit of test-fitting.
With that proviso, this is the best current-production fighting folder made. Picture courtesy of OneStopKnifeShop - http://www.1stopknifeshop.com
8) Round Eye Knife And Tool (REKAT) Sifu - OUT OF PRODUCTION. Some may turn up at gun shows, or check the private for-sale forum at http://www.bladeforums.com. Maybe Ebay?
Value: around $120 - $180(?) depending on variant. D2s will be at the higher end.
The Sifu is a 5.5" blade "megafolder" with a strong, unusual lock. The grip ergonomics were among the best ever.
The lockwork was complex, and they had trouble with warrantee issues. Production is now halted, and I'm not sure REKAT is still in biz.
Variants: the first 70 were marked "Sifu First Edition" and a serial number of 1 through 70. These were hand-ground out of ATS-34 steel, which is pretty good stuff (better than AUS8). The first runs of machine-ground were ATS-34 steel, later production was D2. A number of special runs came out, red grips, black blades, carbon fiber grips were a standard option for a while. The first six made had no pocket clip and no provision for one, all subsequent had a steel pocket clip.
I was the one that convinced REKAT to build this beast, looking for a higher-quality alternative to the Vaquero Grande. As a result, I was allowed to purchase serial number one of those 70 handground. It's still my daily-carry defense knife, and as tight as the day it shipped.
It may not be as strong as a de-clipped Camillus Maxx, but it feels a lot better in the hand. Still, given the possible warrantee issues, I'm not certain I'd recommend these for just anyone, unless you're willing to learn to wrench on it. Which isn't hard, mind you, if you're mechanically inclined.
We haven't yet seen the last word in large combat folders. The Axis lock could support a megafolder (5" or bigger), but Benchmade is staying with the 4" and under market. Pictures courtesy of OneStopKnifeShop - http://www.1stopknifeshop.com - they used to sell REKAT products.
Conclusion: these aren't the only pieces worth owning, just a good selection. Above all, go for lock strength and a grip shape that doesn't allow your hand to "slide down the blade" on a stab. You never know if the tip will "hang up on something solid", and losing your inside finger tendons in a fight is way sub optimal.
This page replaces my previous "knife page" at http://www.ninehundred.net/~equalccw/blades.html