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What Are OTF Knives? | Out The Front Knives Explained
Knives
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What Are OTF Knives? | Out The Front Knives Explained

by Adam Roach

What Are OTF Knives? | Out The Front Knives Explained

OTF knives are a popular type of pocket knife. Their size, construction, and unique opening systems help them stand out from other knives using more traditional mechanisms, such as manual folding knives or gravity knives. But what are OTF Knives?

OTF knives function differently from other carry knives, making it essential to understand how they work and what types are available before choosing one for everyday carry, self-defense, and survival or tactical purposes.

What Does OTF Mean in Knives?

In knife terminology, the "OTF" acronym stands for "Out-The-Front." The term refers to the blade mechanism's direction when opening an OTF knife. Unlike traditional pocket knives and switchblades, where the blade deploys and retracts into the handle from the side, OTF knife blades pop out of a single opening in the front.

Are OTF Knives Considered Switchblades?

Most OTF knives on the market are legally considered to be the same as switchblades and automatic knives in most jurisdictions. They feature a spring-actuated button that allows the knife operator to automatically extend the blade out of the handle without pulling it out manually.

Although there are a small number of knives with an OTF design but no release switch, using gravity and inertia to release the blade instead, these knives are typically categorized as gravity knives. Therefore, a specific knife product marketed as an OTF knife is usually a switchblade.

What are the Laws and Regulations Around OTF Knives?

Because they are legally considered a type of switchblade or automatic knife, OTF knives fall under the purview of specific local, state, and federal laws. Many states have laws banning or restricting the ownership, possession, and public carry of an OTF knife.

Federal laws on OTF knives

Only one piece of U.S. federal legislation regulating switchblades and out-the-front knives was introduced: the Federal Switchblade Act, which became law in 1958 (15 USC Chapter 29). The Federal Switchblade Act prohibits "the introduction, or manufacture for introduction, into interstate commerce of switchblade knives."

This law restricts the sale and import of switchblades and automatic knives across state lines, with specific exceptions for U.S. military personnel and businesses.

State laws on OTF knives

The following states have knife control laws that may limit your ability to own or carry an OTF knife:

  • California: You may own an out-the-front knife or switchblade if the blade length is less than 2 inches. California laws consider butterfly knives to be switchblades. (C.A. penal code 21510)

  • Connecticut: You may own any switchblade, automatic knife, or gravity knife (including OTF models). However, carrying one in public is illegal if the blade length is over 1.5 inches. Additionally, any other knife or cutting tool with a blade length over 4 inches, regardless of type or mechanism, is illegal to carry. 

    • State laws have an exception for hunters, trappers, and anglers. They may carry knives with any blade or overall length, but only when hunting, trapping, or fishing. (C.T. General Statutes 53-206)

  • Delaware: Switchblades and gravity knives (including gravity OTF knives) are illegal (Delaware Code, paragraphs 1442 and 1446)

  • Illinois: Owning and carrying a switchblade or automatic knife is illegal (720 ILCS 5/24-1) unless you also carry a valid Firearms Owners Identification (FOID) card (I.L. Public Act 100-0082)

  • Massachusetts: Switchblades and automatic knives, including OTF knives, are legal to own but illegal to carry openly or concealed (ALM GL 269-10)

  • Maryland: All switchblades and gravity knives, including OTF models, are legal to own. However, the law specifies that open carry is illegal when done to harm another, and concealed carry is always illegal. (M.D. Criminal Code Ann. 4-101)

  • Minnesota: Although numerous types of fixed and folding-blade knives are legal (including balisongs and daggers), switchblades are banned by name (MS 609.66)

  • New Jersey: Switchblades, gravity knives, and many other types of fixed and folding knife types are "illegal to own with any explainable lawful purpose" (N.J. Statutes 2C:39-3)

  • New Mexico: All switchblades (including OTF switchblades) are entirely illegal to possess (NMS 30-7-8)

  • New York: Although legislation regarding gravity knife ownership was relaxed on May 30, 2019, switchblades remain illegal to possess (N.Y. Penal Law 265.01) except for hunters, trappers, and anglers with valid licenses while exercising their respective activities.

  • Pennsylvania: All automatic knife types are illegal to own, whether released by a slider, switch, push-button, spring mechanism, "or otherwise," unless you can prove to a court of law that your purpose for owning the knife meets the legal concept of a "curio exception" (18 Pa. CSA 908)

  • Vermont: It is illegal to own a switchblade (including an OTF knife) with a blade length of 3 inches or longer. (VT Statutes 4013)

  • Virginia: Switchblades are legal to own but illegal to conceal carry (Virginia Code 18.2-308)

  • Washington: Switchblades and spring-blade knives are illegal to own (RCW 9.41.250)

Local laws on OTF knives

Unless your state has preemption statutes, city ordinances, municipal codes, county legislation, home rules, and other local laws may prohibit you from owning or carrying an OTF knife even if they are legal at the state level.

To obtain the latest information regarding local knife and switchblade laws, you can call your local law enforcement department and ask them directly.

Prominent examples of local and municipal laws restricting OTF knives include the following:

  • Baltimore, MD: The Baltimore Code (Art. 19, 59-22) prohibits the sale, carrying, or possession of any knife with an "automatic spring or other device for opening and closing the blade," which includes OTF knives.

  • Denver, CO: The Denver City Code of Ordinances (38-116) defines switchblades as a type of illegal knife and prohibits people from possessing (38-117), carrying (38-118), or selling (38-124) them within city limits.

  • Miami-Dade County, FL: Although Florida has a state preemption statute for most weapon laws (for example, firearms and ammunition), they do not apply in all cases. In this instance, the use, possession, carrying, and sale of switchblades remains illegal anywhere in Miami-Dade County (21-14(b)), including the city of Miami.

How Do OTF Knives Work?

OTF knives comprise the following essential parts:

  • Blade

  • Handle

  • Plate or slider

  • Spring

  • Button or switch

  • Locking mechanism

Extending the blade

An OTF knife is operated similarly to other types of switchblades and automatic knives in that the operator must use a release mechanism to extend the blade. That mechanism can be a spring-actuated button, switch, thumb slide, or any other system that aids the release of the blade.

When the operator presses the knife's switch to extend the blade, a plate inside the handle moves forward. That plate is connected to the spring via the rear hook. As the plate moves forwards, the spring extends until a locking mechanism activates.

In doing so, the spring returns to its resting position while the mechanism propels the blade forward until the blade's base (sometimes called the locking pin) reaches the frontal opening, at which point the blade locks in place (the "open" position). This motion causes the blade to come "out the front," giving this type of knife its name.

Retracting the blade

When the OTF knife is in the open position, the spring inside the handle is no longer extended, and both the blade and the plate are in their forward-most positions.

When the operator pushes the switch to retract the blade back, the plate will slide backward, causing the spring to extend again. The spring's rear hook now connects to the inside of the handle, pulling the blade in the opposite direction until the base snaps back into its lowermost position (the "closed" position).

Out-the-front knives are classified into two sub-categories, depending on the number of actions the knife's switch can perform: single-action (S.A.) OTF knives and double-action (DA) OTF knives.

Single-Action OTF Knives

A single-action OTF knife is an OTF knife where the button has only one purpose: releasing the blade and transitioning the knife from closed to open. When the operator wishes to reset the blade and spring mechanism back into the closed position, they must manually push the blade back inside the handle until it clicks into place.

Double-Action OTF Knives

A double-action (or dual-action) OTF knife is an OTF knife where the button can both open and close the knife. In DA OTF knives, the button is more accurately described as a two-position switch, with one position releasing the blade and the other retracting it back inside.

What are the Best OTF Knives?

The best out-the-front knives on the market depend primarily on your budget. Most OTF knives fall into three categories: budget, mid-range, and high-end.

  • Cheap OTF knives: We don't recommend spending less than $50 on an out-the-front knife, as they may not have the build quality needed for safe everyday use.

  • Mid-range OTF knives: The best single-action and double-action OTF knives for the $50-$150 range include Templar Knives, Smith & Wesson branded OTF knives and the AKC F-16.

  • High-end OTF knives: If you're ready to spend over $200 on a new knife, the best OTF knife models on the market include Benchmade Infidel, Microtech Ultratech, Asheville Steel Para-X, and Microtech Combat Troodon. Luxury OTF knives such as the Marfione Custom Knives Ultratech can cost over $1,600.

Are OTF Knives Good for EDC (Everyday Carry)?

An out-the-front knife is an excellent investment for people looking for a lightweight and practical everyday carry (EDC) knife.

The primary advantage is compactness. Unlike side-folding knives, which must have a rotating pivot that increases this knife design's minimum practical length and weight, an OTF knife keeps all of its mechanisms contained within the handle. This design allows for more compact knives that are much easier to carry and conceal.

Another advantage of the OTF knife is its ergonomics. If you have used side-folding knives before, you may have noticed they require adapting and changing your grip, especially when opening and folding the knife. An OTF knife can be held and operated more like a fixed-blade knife because the only opening is in the front of the handle. This also means an OTF knife handle is fully dedicated to supporting your hand, making it more comfortable.

The best OTF knives are fully ambidextrous, allowing left-handed people to carry and actuate the knife's release mechanism with as much ease as right-handed people.

The EDC practicality of an OTF knife is nearly identical to any other pocket knife on the market. If you regularly need a blade to slice fruits and vegetables, open letters and packages, cut wrappings, carve wood, cut rope, or any other typical EDC knife application, the OTF knife can do it all.

Are OTF Knives Good for Self-Defense?

Although out-the-front knives are practical in many applications, using a knife for personal protection should be a last resort only, especially folding or retracting-blade knives. As a general rule, non-fixed blade knives are not recommended for combat or self-defense application because applying extreme force risks damaging or breaking the knife's internal components like the springs, release mechanism and thumb stud.

However, many of the same traits that make OTF knives useful for everyday carry also apply in self-defense scenarios. For instance, they are lightweight, highly compact, and much easier to conceal than a fixed-blade knife. Additionally, the OTF release mechanism can be operated with a single hand, making them more intuitive and quicker to deploy than side-folding models.

Can You Buy OTF Knives Online?

Yes! It's perfectly legal to order an OTF knife online, such as on the Uppercut Tactical store, and have it shipped to your door. The only requirement is to follow all applicable local, state, and federal laws.

The Federal Switchblade Act prohibits interstate importation and commerce of knives but does not prohibit ownership, possession, or carrying. Provisions of the Act also forbid the U.S. Postal Service from shipping such knives. As long as no local or state legislation prevents you from legally owning such a knife, you may order them online and have them shipped to you via a private carrier such as UPS or FedEx.

Find The Perfect OTF Knife at Uppercut Tactical

Uppercut Tactical offers a comprehensive selection of top-quality everyday carry knives at the best possible prices. Whether you're looking to purchase your first OTF knife or add a reasonably-priced knife to your collection, browse our selection and find the best OTF knife for your needs today.

Legal Disclaimer

This information is presented as a brief synopsis of the law and not as legal advice. Uppercut Tactical is not a legal service provider. Use of the site does not create a lawyer/client relationship. Laws are interpreted differently by enforcement officers, prosecuting attorneys, and judges. We suggest that you consult legal counsel for guidance.

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