State laws against automatic or "push button" knives are falling like dominos across the nation and cutlery manufacturers are jumping on the bandwagon. Automatic knives never went away, but until recently they were limited to law enforcement or military personnel and paperwork was required to obtain one legally. A handful of stalwart companies manufactured them throughout decades of a public ban, but many stayed away.
A big breakthrough was achieved in "fast opening" knives in 1996 when Kershaw Knives introduced custom knifemaker Ken Onion's Speed Safe Assisted Opening system. Within years most of the major manufacturers offered them. These folders, however, required either a thumb stud or flipper to open while laws against button, slide and lever-operated automatics remained in effect. Laws restricting those latter "switchblade" opening systems are now being rescinded. There are two major styles of automatic knives--side opening and out-the-front (OTF). So let's give you a tour of many newer offerings here.
The majority of automatics being produced today open from the side like a typical folder. The two major means of propulsion are a coil spring located around the blade pivot or a leaf spring on the back spine of the handle. Designed effectively, both offer plenty of juice. The blade can be activated in any number of ways --push button, sliding tab, or rocking lever.
If you're new to automatics, the sidewinder may offer you more. For starters, they behave like the folding knives you've been using all your life. They have most of the characteristics of a standard folder from blade stops to frame construction--and if you've been carrying a spring-assisted folder you'll simply find the method of opening a bit easier. Consequently, these knives can be used for a myriad of purposes such as everyday utility, self-defense, even outdoor survival.
The SIG SAUER EX-A01 Automatic is one such versatile folder. Designed by custom knifemaker Allen Elishewitz and sold under license by Hogue Knives, the SIG EX-A01 is based on the manufacturer's EX-A04 model, so you can go either route. At 8" overall, this is a full-size push-button auto-folder with a 3-5" 154CM stainless steel upswept semi-skinner blade that will do the job in both field and urban environments. You can also get Hogue grips in myriad G-Mascus G10 patterns, as well as basic black, for $289.
Fans of the Buck 110 Folding Hunter and smaller 112 Ranger can now have their pick...