Pocket Knife History

Pocket Knife Beginnings

Pocketknives date back to the early Iron Ages. Historians were able to confirm the date of the tool's creation when they discovered a bone handle pocketknife. In fact, they were able to date it back to 600 to 500 BC. In Spain, pre-Roman era Iberian folding blade pocketknives have been found. Native artisans made the simple tools. Pocketknife manufacturers continue to produce the product today in an assortment of styles and designs.

Pocketknife Basics

A pocketknife is a cutting tool that folds down into a base unit. The device will feature one or more blades, and a person can store it in his or her pocket. Most pocketknife blades are 2 to 6 inches long, and today's manufacturers form the handle from various materials. Handle materials include wood, metal and leather along with plastic. Some people may refer to the tool as a jackknife. Pocketknife owners will find many uses for the product. For instance, a pocketknife can be used to cut twine, a piece of fruit or a box.

The Peasant Knife

One of the world's first and most simple folding pocketknife designs is the peasant knife. The knife type is also called a penny or farmer knife. The peasant knife folds in and out of the handle easily without a mechanism that locks the blade. In addition, the knife style does not feature a slip joint or back spring device. Some peasant knives have a bolster or tensioning screw. The mechanisms apply friction to the blade tang to ensure that the knife section remains open. Historians have come across early peasant knives that date back before the pre-Roman era. However, during the era, just a few people had them as they were expensive.

Due to the tool's convenience, cutlery centers began manufacturing them, and with the higher production level, more people were able to own them. In 1650, Sheffield, England, started producing pocketknives on a limited basis. During 1700, the company expanded its production line and began manufacturing peasant knife models like the Wharncliffe Knife and Fuller's Penny Knife. Opinel knives are the smallest known version of the peasant knife. Since the cutting tool featured a low price, European and American gardeners, small property farmers and herdsmen preferred it. The knife style was a popular tool choice for these early laborers during the later years of the 19th century and first few years of the 20th century.

The Slip Joint Knife

Light duty pocketknives are slip joint cutting tools. The knife style features a mechanism that holds the blade in place with tension. Knife manufacturers add leaf-type back springs or flat bars to the product to apply the tension. According to historical research, the first spring-back pocketknives were produced in England around 1660. However, the knife style was not available to most residents until the Industrial Revolution occurred. During the era, people developed large machinery that was able to mass produce products. In fact, the equipment featured technology that allowed it to stamp or drop forge the intricate knife parts.

Slip Joint Knife Details

In most cases, a locking knife will include a single blade that the manufacturer connects to the handle section. The locking mechanism of the blade depends on the spring to provide the locking action. Therefore, it is difficult for manufacturers to produce the tool with several levers because they would have to make one for each blade on the knife. Also, most slip joint knives are smaller than basic pocketknives.

Popular Slip Joint Knife Models

Popular slip joint knife models include the penknife. The knife's original purpose was to sharpen quill pens. However, people have continued to use the tool because its size makes it handy for delicate projects.

The traditional camper knife is a slip joint knife model, and it has a large drop point and a short drop point blade. The camper knife includes additional devices like a can opener, an awl and a combination cap.

The Barlow is another popular knife model, and it features style elements like a long bolster, two blades and an extended oval shaped handle. Most historians believe that the knife style was named after the device's creator, but no one knows who Barlow was.

American Made Pocketknives

Several American designed pocketknives made their appearance during the country's Industrial Revolution. For instance, the Buck 110 Folding Hunter was introduced during this time. According to most historians, the knife model is one of America's most iconic pocketknives. The Buck 110 Folding Hunter is a lock back folding knife that is safer to use since it prevents the blade from accidentally closing while the person is cutting an item with it. However, with this knife style, the user must release the lock to fold the blade. The locking mechanism is similar to the slip joint knife's locking feature as both models include a strong back spring on the rear section. When a knife has a lock back design, it will include a hook or back spring lug. The added mechanism snaps into a subsequent notch on the heel of the blade when the user fully opens it. The action locks the blade into place.

Tactical Folding Knives

The Buck Company originally advertised its lock back knife as a folding hunting knife. Therefore, it appealed to sportsmen. However, the knife style also became popular with military personnel due to its comprehensive use. When Bob Terzuola began producing knives, he manufactured custom cutting tools. In addition, the well-known knife producer developed the term "Tactical Folder." Tactical knives became popular in the United States during the early 1990s, and when custom designers produced the style, they generally made them linerlock models. The blade lengths varied from 3 to 12 inches, but most people preferred knives with blades that were 4 inches or less due to the country's weapon regulations.


Pocketknives are useful tools. Over the years, knife producers have developed more and better pocketknives. Today, the knife style can be utilitarian or a work of art.