The Enduring Popularity of Flipper Knives

The Enduring Popularity of Flipper Knives

Posted by Clayton on Jun 30th 2016

Though not the first innovation in fast-acting knives, the flipper has certainly been one of the most influential. Knife design was forever changed by the flipper, and many modern knife innovations that are loved by enthusiasts the world over owe their existence to the development of the flipper. So, let’s look at the history, the function, and the popularity of flipper knives.

The History of the Flipper

During the 1950s in America, politicians became overly concerned with the prevalence of knife violence and gang-related knife use. Therefore, they passed the Switchblade Knife Act in 1958, which essentially banned the use of fast-opening knives that could be opened with one hand. While this may have been an attempt to control knife violence, it also limited the use of these knives for less nefarious means, such as on worksites and for every day carry.

There were many innovations that followed the outlawing of switchblades for public use, such as thumb studs and the thumbhole, both of which are still in use, but none were considered fast enough, nor were they an attractive addition to knife design. This is how the flipper came to be created.

Although the flipper knives may have been designed as early as the 19th century, most enthusiasts agree that the modern flipper was created by master knife maker, Kit Carson, whose user-focused designs emphasized form and function. What Carson wanted to create was a knife that had the easy carry of a folding knife, but incorporated a mechanism for fast opening action that could be completed single handily.

Sadly, Carson passed away, back in 2014, but the legacy of his amazing innovation lives on in some of the most popular modern knife designs.

The Mechanics of the Flipper

The mechanics of the flipper are simple and elegant. A small shark’s-fin-shaped flipper extends out of the spine of the knife connecting to the blade on the interior. To open the knife, the flipper is pushed to create pressure on a notch and bearing mechanism called the detent, which releases the blade and fixes it into position. This allows the user to open the knife with one hand without needing to use any wrist or arm action. A well-designed flipper knife will open and stay locked into place, quickly and smoothly.

The fast-opening action of the flipper was made possible by other innovations that came before it: the liner lock, developed by Michael Walker, and the frame lock, by Chris Reeves. Both locks allow the flipper mechanism to open and close without trapping the user's hand under the blade.

The flipper has also been responsible for other innovations in knife design looking to improve on the already speedy blade deployment, such as the inclusion of ball bearings in the opening mechanism, for lightning-fast opening speeds.

Popular Flipper Knife Models

Due to the popularity of the flipper knife since its market debut during the 1990s, many knife makers began to incorporate the flipper design into their knife manufacturing. Some of the most popular models are:

Spyderco Southard Flipper G-10

Spyderco is a company famous for their pioneering innovation, including two patented locking systems and finely crafted folding knives. The Spyderco Southard Flipper G-10 is a beautifully designed knife that not only utilizes the Carson flipper for opening but also Spyderco’s beloved thumbhole, to give the user multiple opening options.

Zero Tolerance Hinderer

Zero Tolerance is renowned for its folding tactical knives, which means its knives need to be designed to rugged specifications. Often, tactical and hunting knives can be slow to deploy, robbing the user of precious seconds necessary during emergency situations. The Zero Tolerance Hinderer has been designed with the flipper mechanism combined with the KVT ball bearing system for smooth, lightning-fast blade deployment every time.

Kershaw Leek Flipper

For a low-budget flipper that is still made from high-quality materials in the USA, you can’t beat Kershaw. The Kershaw Leek flipper is a minimally designed masterpiece by Ken Onion that is perfect for everyday carry. It opens quickly and smoothly, thanks to using the flipper in addition to Ken Onion’s patented Speedsafe technology.

CRKT Ken Onion Outrage

CRKT has long been a collaborator with not only Ken Onion, who designed this knife, but also with Kit Carson, who pioneered the flipper. In addition to the flipper, the Outrage makes use of an IKBS ball-bearing pivot system, which allows the user to deploy the razor-sharp blade quickly, and then locks it into place with the secure liner lock, making this knife highly user-friendly.

Final Thoughts

Kit Carson was a knife design pioneer, and his amazing flipper innovation has led the way for some truly inspired craftsman to create some incredible knives. Before the invention of the flipper, ungainly and unattractive openers made opening folding knives quickly and smoothly an impossibility. The flipper’s popularity will continue to inspire knife enthusiasts the world over and ensure folding knives never go out of style.