Opinel #7: Beautiful Practicality

N_7VRN_COUTEAU_CARBONE45.00We use them everywhere: in the kitchen, wood shop, fishing, camping, arts and crafts, and so many other areas. Knives are one of the most versatile and ubiquitous ‘tools’ that man has probably ever made: everything from the flint sharp knives of yesteryear to the latest greatest super-steel blades of the present. As an ex-avid follower of the knife industry, I can say that it is just as prone to fads as any other industry. However, this fact makes the designs that endure year after year all the more intriguing, and today I want to introduce a specific brand that has been in production for over 120 years: Opinel.

Opinel, a French knife manufacturer, made its first folding knife in the year 1890. Characterized by a hardwood handle, carbon steel blade, and collar lock, the knife is numbered according to blade size. Today I will be talking about the #7 (one of the more ‘mid-sized’ folders), however, all the knives share the same materials and build, just coming in different blade and handle sizes.

The no. 7 Opinel is characterized by a 3 and 3/16″ blade, 7. 1/16″ overall length, and 1.3 oz total weight. The handle is constructed from a solid piece of beechwood machined in a circular shape. This keeps the handle incredibly lightweight, but also provides a hand-filling shape that many thin or flat handled folding knives cannot match. The blade is X90 carbon steel, with a clip point shape and full face flat grind (fffg).

So, what makes the knife so enduring? There are many facets that contribute to this knife’s continuing popularity -but the chief of them is ‘beautiful functionality’. What I mean by this is that the knife is so well suited to its intended functionality that there is a sense of beauty in the design (distinct from aesthetic beauty -although it has that too). The knife is incredibly lightweight which means that it is effortless to carry and ‘disappears’ into your pants pocket. Also, as was mentioned earlier, the roundness of the handle fills the hand nicely and makes for a very comfortable grip whenever using the knife. The only downside to the handle is that it is solid wood -if it gets wet it swells and can make the blade very difficult to open or close. The blade is full face flat ground, meaning that the grind creating the cutting edge of the knife extends from the spine of the blade all the way down to the edge in a straight line. This produces a low angle and an edge that gets incredibly sharp, as well as reducing drag when cutting into vegetables, sandwiches, and other things (see image below for pictorial representation).


Diagram of blade geometry: full face flat grind is on the left

The blade is carbon steel on my particular model. While there are stainless steel models, I would definitely have no problem recommending the carbon version. The blade dulls somewhat quickly, but I have not found another knife that is as easy to sharpen and will take such a razor-like edge. Also, if you are worried about corrosion resistance with the carbon steel, you can always force a patina on the blade to protect against red rust (essentially corroding the blade with a chemical -kind of like bluing a gun). Finally, the collar lock on the knife is highly functional and simple to use. It provides the necessary protection to keep the blade from cutting one’s fingers but requires virtually no maintenance and blends with the aesthetics of the knife. Also, out of all the knives out there, the Opinel offers incredible opportunities for customization of the handle. Opinel even sells versions of their knives with ‘raw’ wood handles to allow wood carvers to make unique pieces of art. While this knife has existed for over a century, and has a lot going for it, it will only set you back a mere $12.39 on Amazon.

Custom carved Opinel

When carrying a knife day to day I would like to say that the price paid is equivalent to the time a knife spends in my pocket. However, I have knives costing many times the Opinel’s price that get less wear time than this sub $15 knife. The incredible light weight, combined with razor sharp blade and easy use design, means the Opinel keeps finding its way into my pocket over many other fancier knives. Sometimes the old ways really are best. If you’re in the market for a simple pocket knife to have for general use give the Opinel a look: it offers great design and will most likely set you back less than more modern and expensive blades.