Out-The-Front, or OTF knives are a relatively narrow slice of the market, but they serve a purpose and have gained in popularity with a little help from the mainstream media that continues to put them in the spotlight. Without doubt OTF knives are unique and there are a limited number of OTF brands producing them. Like everything else, there are average models and some truly outstanding OTF examples that I’m here to point out to you. So, if you’re looking for the best OTF knife your money can buy, read on.
For the uninformed, OTF knives are a type of switchblade – that is, an automatic knife which deploys the blade ‘automatically’ on pressing a button or switch. Specifically, the OTF knife is a switchblade where the blade simply comes ‘out the front’. Now, the distinction versus Spring Assisted Knives is that with a switchblade or automatic knife the blade’s natural position is open, and it’s being held closed by a locking spring mechanism that’s released with a button or switch. The button allows the stored energy of the spring to propel the blade out from the handle. In contrast, the natural position of the Spring Assisted Knife is closed and there is no pressure being exerted upon the blade which has to be deployed by some manual action (i.e flipping) by the user which is then assisted by a spring.
In general, there are two types of OTF knives: single action and dual action. Single action means that only the deployment is powered but the blade has to be forced back into the body manually. A dual action OTF means that both the deployment as well as the retraction are powered, usually by pushing and pulling the same control switch in different directions.
With that, here’s a list of some of the better OTF knives on the market today.
The Benchmade 3300 Infidel is one of the best-known OTF’s on the planet, and arguably one of the best regarded. It comes in two sizes: the full fat 3300 Infidel with its 3.95” blade and 8.95” overall length, and the newer Infidel Mini with a 3.10” blade and a 7.10” overall length. Weights are 5.00 ounces and 3.40 ounces, respectively.
The Infidel is a dual action OTF meaning the switch pushes it out as well as pulls it in, and unlike a lot of OTF’s the switch is mounted on the handle rather than the spine. This is a more natural action for your hand (similar to hand placement for deploying a folding knife via a thumb stud or hole) and gives you a more solid grip when the knife fires open. A series a milled “steps” in the aluminum handle aid grip. The blade itself is D2 tool steel, satin finished and flat ground on both sides for a double-sided dagger shape. The deep carry pocket clip (inscribed with The Infidel…) is configured for right had tip down carry only. Although it’s pricey at typically over $400 retail, the Infidel has been in production for ten years now (which Benchmade reminded us of by releasing the 10 Year Anniversary Model in S30V) and is a well-known favorite of those who serve in the military for its robust build quality and dependable, easy deployment.
There’s also a Gold Class Infidel that was produced in very limited numbers, with an acid-etched stainless Damasteel drop point blade, heat-anodized handle and hardware, and a suitably high price tag as well. If you like the Infidel you’ll probably also like the Pagan, which is another great OTF but is so similar to the Infidel it doesn’t warrant a separate entry on this list.
The Microtech Ultratech is, to many people, the out-the-front knife. In fact, Microtech is the OTF brand – arguably the most well-known name when it comes to high end automatics and OTF knives. Microtech makes a pretty big variety of OTF’s but the Ultratech is the flagship, a continuously updated model that’s available in a frankly staggering array of variations (there are twelve pages of Ultratech’s on BladeHQ’s website) as well as two smaller versions – the UTX-70 and UTX-85, which are 70% and 85% scale versions of the Ultratech. The full-fat Ultratech sports a 3.4” blade in high-end Elmax steel, which comes in drop point, tanto, and dagger blade grinds as well as a few spin offs – like the “Hellhound” which is a fascinating mix of a tanto tip and a clip point.
All Ultratechs share a few basic properties – an aluminum handle that’s chamfered around the edges, proprietary “tri-angle” hardware that requires a $22(!) tool to work on (although it’s better if you just don’t), and a right hand tip down deep carry clip that is secured to the knife on the butt of the handle by a carbide-tipped glass breaker. Beyond that there are endless variations of paint colors and printed patterns, some classy (carbon fiber, dark stonewash blade) and some almost shockingly gaudy (Zombie Tech? Electric green with blood spatter?) but a variation to fit nearly every taste. And none of them come cheap, with the least expensive Ultratech to be found on Blade HQ ringing in at over $250, going up into the stratosphere from there.
There are also Marfione Custom Knives versions of the Ultratech that are deep into the four digits – like the MKC Ultratech with tri-grip handles, a flame anodized clip, and a mirror finish dagger grind blade with Mokuti inlays for a staggering $1,600+. They all use a relatively long, gently ramped thump slide with directional texturing for firing and closing directions, and the Ultratech is known for its impressively strong spring and loud action – which can be good or bad depending on your attitude.
Like the rest of Hogue Knives’ lineup, the Hogue OTF is designed by the inimitable Allen Elishewitz, and his distinctive styling is evident in the organic shape of the handle, along with the unusual scale-like texturing that is machined into the anodized aluminum handles for grip. Unlike a lot of OTF’s, the Hogue’s blade has more of a focus on use than looks and features a 3.375” stonewashed clip point style blade in CPM-154, the powdered metallurgy version of 154CM. A very high flat grind helps the OTF cut well, too.
There are a variety of handle colors (OD Green, Black, Grey) as well as a choice of a black coated blade or a Tanto blade, also at the same 3.375” length. A deep carry pocket clip is tapped for right or left hand tip down carry, a benefit of the ambidextrous spine switch – which has a fairly small thumb ramp with jimping on both sides. While the Hogue OTF has only been on the market for a short time, if the quality of their regular blades is anything to go by – like the EX04 we reviewed a while back – the Hogue OTF will prove to be a killer option in this market.
The Asheville Steel Para-X is unusual in that it’s a single action OTF, meaning the deployment is powered but the retraction isn’t, like old-school OTF’s used to be. But then again, Asheville Steel is an old-school company. Even if it’s only been around since 2007, Asheville Steel produces small batches of extremely interesting knives –including the bizarre Warlock and the newer Phoenix, which are gravity knives with the most interesting opening mechanism I’ve ever seen – see this video for a good example of both in action. All Para-X and XD models have the single-action OTF, and a 6061-T6 aluminum handle with a CPM-S30V blade, along with a right hand tip down carry pocket clip.
The Para-X is offered in quite a wide variety of models and options, from almost utilitarian with a clip point blade with a plain edge on the bottom, and a sharpened clip and serrated spine for animal prep, to plain crazy stuff like this model with a “torch shaped” (kriss) dagger coated red with a dimpled pattern in the middle of the blade along the groove, and half a death’s head etched into the handle so people know you mean business. Regardless, all Para-X have a snappy deployment from a plunge lock button (like an automatic folder) that you then hold to release the blade and draw it back in to the handle with a slider on the belly of the knife. There is also a safety switch below the plunge lock which locks the blade closed or open. If you’re looking for an interesting OTF option that won’t break the bank like a Microtech or a Benchmade, the Para-X is worth considering!
Unlike Benchmade’s Infidel and Pagan series OTF’s, the Precipice uses a spine mounted slider switch to activate the dual action OTF mechanism. The Precipice’s blade is shorter than the Infidel and Pagan at 3.46”, a classic spearpoint shape with a single sharpened edge that’s made out of Crucible CPM-S30V powdered stainless steel. It’s available in two versions, one with a satin finished blade or for another $20 a DLC-coated black blade.
One advantage of the spine mounted switch is that the Precipice is configured for ambidextrous tip-down carry, making it a more feasible option for left-handed people. The handle shape is pretty conventional for a spine-switch OTF, with a stepped spine and a gentle swell on the bottom side to secure your finger during use, and the handle itself is made of anodized 6061-T6 aluminum that’s held together with torx screws if you’re inclined to take it apart. The steel is an upgrade over D2 in the Infidel and it’s also almost $100 cheaper, so you’ve got money left over for a dinner date. Or more knives, I’m not judging you.
Who doesn’t love Pro-Tech? Everything that they make is sleek, smooth, and impeccably finished. The Dark Angel is a different kind of OTF, using a plunge lock (button) to release the blade and what looks like a flipper tab on the belly side of the knife to manually retract the blade. There’s also a safety switch at the end of the handle which locks the blade closed. There are multiple variants of the Dark Angel, which can be split into two categories: production and custom. Production Dark Angels run between $200 and $250 depending on configuration and feature aluminum handles with a 3.7” 154CM blade, with a flat ground dual edge dagger grind and a fuller groove in the middle.
You have a choice between a black and a desert sand anodized aluminum handle, and satin, black, and smoky gray DLC (black handle only) blade finishes. These are remarkably light knives, weighing in at only 3.6 ounces – especially considering the whole automatic mechanism stuffed inside. The custom versions are much more expensive and feature a mix of exotic materials as well as an option of a stainless steel handle (which bumps the weight up from 3.6 up to 7.84 ounces). Damascus blades, abalone or pearl push button inserts, and other changes make the custom versions more expensive but not necessarily more appealing to a user.
This version with a black aluminum handle, gold titanium plated blade and an intricate mosaic deployment pin looks pretty neat, but as usual if you’re going to use it you’re better off saving your money and getting the regular version. The clip is right hand tip down only, and mounts to the butt of the handle for a super deep carry, and Pro-Tech also includes a nylon carry sheath if you prefer to keep the knife protected in your pocket.
Piranha isn’t a brand that comes up frequently in discussions with knife people, and that’s because all they make are automatic knives. While this certainly limits the number of people than can legally enjoy their products, Piranha’s focus on this corner of the market has earned them a reputation as top-notch builders of automatic and OTF products with a twist of style and panache. All of their products are made in the USA, about two hours east of Chris Reeve’s headquarters, in Twin Falls Idaho. The Rated-R is one of Piranha’s two OTF offerings, along with the well-regarded Excalibur. It’s a sexy thing: long, sleek, slim and organic looking.
The blade is a 3.50” clip point with a high flat grind made out of 154CM steel that comes either mirror finished or black coated, along with a half-serrated black coated model. The switch is mounted high up on the side of the handle towards the pivot, and has a stepped surface in both directions for grip. The clip is oriented for right hand tip down carry and is anchored to the handle with a single screw and an inset base, and features a double bend for increased tension. Like most Piranha products the Rated-R comes in a refreshing variety of wild colors and patterns, from traditional combinations like this black handle/polished blade to this black blade/marbled blue handle model. The handles are cool too, with a gentle swell grip and an intricately machined pattern along the edges in a radial pattern for traction. Intricately detailed, light and sleek, the Piranha might be a good choice if you’re not interested in the chunky/black coated/tactical/high-speed-low-drag feel of the Benchmade and Microtech models.
The Combat Troodon is the mack daddy of Microtech’s OTF lineup, the biggest, baddest, beefiest offering with a price ranging from “ouch” to “are you serious?” and a staggering array of options and finishes to suit any taste. The name comes from a bird-like dinosaur that lived during the Cretaceous period and was one of the first discovered in North America, similar in shape to various raptors. It’s the larger version of the “regular” Troodon, with a 3.8” blade versus the original’s 3”. Like the Ultratech featured earlier in this list, the Combat Troodon series shares a handle design but has a variety of blade shapes suited to different uses. The handles are made of 6061 T6 anodized aluminum in a variety of colors with a carbide glass breaker on the butt that anchors the pocket clip in the right hand tip down position. You can get a combat Troodon with a dual edge dagger grind in plain or partially serrated edge, or there are also single-edged Bowie and Clip Point variants.
Like the Ultratech, stepping up to the Marfione Custom versions of the Combat Troodon brings exotic materials (bronze razorwire Damascus, hand made hardware, etc) as well as more blade shapes – a recurved drop point, a Tanto, a wharncliffe – as well as an upgrade from the standard Bohler Elmax steel to more exotics like M390. It’s big, brash, expensive and aggressive, and if you want a top of the line Microtech the Combat Troodon is the one to get.
What’s the weakness of (almost) all OTF knives? Blade play. It’s the nature of the beast. OTF’s require a lot of open space inside the body for the spring mechanism as well as the blade to move in and out, so even with the tightest of tolerances when they’re open the blade is a pendulum with the pivot being the end of the handle. You can make the tolerances as tight as possible but wear from the hard-firing nature makes even $400 Microtechs and Benchmades wiggly after use. Grant and Gavin Hawk spent years engineering a solution to this problem, and the result is the Deadlock. It uses a secondary lock mechanism built into the frame that in the open position puts tension upward and to the side, and the primary lock holds it in place forward, eliminating play in all three axis – whereas a traditional OTF only holds the blade in place from the back preventing it from closing. For a demonstration of the difference between a Deadlock and a regular OTF, check out this video comparison with a Benchmade Infidel and a Deadlock both in a vise.
Beyond the innovative lock, the Deadlock resembles a regular OTF externally. The blade is 3.75” and made of CTS-204p, similar in performance and makeup to M390 as a top-end stainless steel. It comes in either a hollow dagger grind (dual edge) or a single edged spearpoint, but future versions may differ. Since they’re custom and made-to-order, materials vary, but handle choices include titanium or carbon fiber, and some models are dressed up with Mokuti hardware or Devin Thomas Damascus blades.
Unlike most the Hawks previous design inventions, the father and son team have decided to keep manufacturing of the Deadlock in-house rather than licensing the design to an OEM (like with the Buck Marksman, Kershaw E.T., Chris Reeves Ti-Lock, and others) and they’re building it by hand out of top-shelf materials, so expect a long wait time and to pay at least 4 figures for the privilege. Hopefully the design is licensed out further down the road once the Hawks get bored with the banality of manufacturing instead of inventing – one can only hope. In the meantime, this is as good as it gets for OTF knives.
The Triton was a collaboration between custom knifemaker J.A. Harkins and Masters of Defense, which is now known as Blackhawk! Knives, and is a subsidiary of outdoor and shooting sports conglomerate Vista Outdoor. The Triton had an on-screen cameo in the James Bond film Quantum of Solace, of course in the hands of a bad guy. While it’s no longer in production, it’s considered by many OTF aficionados to be one of the best production OTF’s out there. There are some similarities to the well-regarded MoD/Blackhawk! CQD automatic folder, including the anodized black aluminum handles with inset trac-tec grip inserts and the blacked out design.
The blade is a dual-edge dagger grind, and came either plain or half-serrated with a black coating. 3.6” long and made of 154CM, the Triton was mid-range for size but was surprisingly light at only 4.10 ounces. The pocket clip is tip up right hand carry, which seems odd for an OTF. Chamfered edges and jimping in the thumb and forefinger swells make for a comfortable grip, and a steep ramp on the thumb switch makes slipping off when deploying or retracting less likely. These usually go for $350-$500 used, which is pricey but not nearly as much as the custom version from J.A. Harkins which can easily go over a thousand dollars, like this funky camo model. If you can find one you should grab it.
That’s it folks. Feedback? Be sure to get in touch.