The Difference Between a Pocket Knife and a Switchblade

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A little while ago I was asked whether one of my knives was a switchblade or a pocket knife. I wasn’t quite sure what the difference was between the two types of knives, so I decided to do some research.

What is the difference between a pocket knife and a switchblade? The main difference between a pocket knife and a switchblade is the opening system that deploys the knife blade. Switchblades are opened by pressing a button that releases a spring-loaded blade, while pocket knives are generally manual or assisted open.

While that is kind of a general definition and answer, below I will go into some more detail regarding more specific differences between a switchblade and a pocket knife, as well as the definition for both types of knives.

Table of Contents

Similarities and Differences Between a Pocket Knife and a Switchblade

Knife FeaturesPocket KnivesSwitchblades
Spring Loaded Open SystemNo*Yes
Manual Open SystemYesNo
Blade LockYes**Yes
Blade Fits into the HandleYesYes
Portable in SizeYesYes

*An exception to this would be assisted-opening knives which are opened manually but with assistance from a spring or other mechanism in the knife.

** Traditional pocket knives usually do not have a blade lock, but most new pocket knives have one.

Pocket knives and switchblades are very similar in so many ways, yet they are so different because of one thing: the opening system that deploys the knife blade from the handle and out into a position where it can be used.

Pocket knives are normally some type of manual open, however, assisted-opening knives are becoming increasingly popular. Assisted-opening knives are manual open pocket knives that usually use a manual thumb stud to begin opening the blade, but a spring or other mechanism takes over and opens the blade after that initial push. Assisted-open knives are generally not considered switchblades because it takes an initial manual push to open the knife.

Switchblades, on the other hand, are completely spring-loaded and do not take any manual action to be opened. The blade of a switchblade is constantly under pressure from a spring, so when the button is pressed, the blade instantaneously is deployed.

Both a switchblade and a pocket knife usually have a blade lock, but some don’t. Small multi-tools, some pocket knives, and even some switchblades sometimes do not have a blade lock. There are so many designs and styles of both pocket knives and switchblades, and some just don’t have a blade lock.

Other than the opening system, pocket knives and switchblades are basically no different from each other. While the design and look of a switchblade and a pocket knife might vary, they have the same basic traits and design features.

Both a switchblade and a pocket knife are small enough to fit into a standard pocket and are light and portable. They both are also typically designed so that the blade of the knife fits into the handle when closed.

What Exactly is a Pocket Knife?

Maybe you have no idea what a pocket knife is (highly unlikely) or you just want a refresher, but below I will go into a little bit of detail regarding what exactly a pocket knife is and some of the common uses for one. 


The term “pocket knife” encompasses and can mean a variety of different knife styles and types of knives, however, there is a sort of general definition that can shed some light on what exactly qualifies as a pocket knife.

“a knife that has one or more blades that fold into the handle and that can be carried in the pocket”

Source: Merriam Webster Dictionary

While the definition of a pocket knife might seem broad, it has to encompass such a wide variety of designs and styles. Aso, that is the definition from a dictionary, pocket knives are sometimes looked at and defined differently in laws regarding them.


Pocket knives are very versatile and useful in so many different situations. They are kind of like the tool that you didn’t think you would need, but couldn’t go without for even a second. The full scope of what a pocket knife could be used for is almost unimaginable. 

Many people carry a pocket knife around with them wherever they go because they never know when they will need one. Pocket knives can complete many tasks such as cutting open mail and packages, cutting food, self-defense, woodworking, and basically any other odd job that you can think of.

There are so many different types and designs of pocket knives that there is one out there for almost any task imaginable.there are small multi-tools and pen knives for delicate tasks and for ease of portability, and there are larger and heavier-duty pocket knives for every day carry and for more difficult tasks.

What Exactly is a Switchblade?

Below I will take a look at the specific definition of a switchblade (sometimes called an automatic knife) and also go over some of the ways that switchblades can be used.


While the definition of a switchblade is often debated, here is how it is the definition from a dictionary.

“a pocketknife having the blade spring-operated so that pressure on a release catch causes it to fly open”

Source: Merriam Webster Dictionary

The exact definition of a switchblade is often debated in courtrooms and even varies by state. Remember, this is the definition of a switchblade from a dictionary, and it is often different in laws regarding knives and weapons.

Out-the-front (OTF) and side-opening are the two main types of switchblades. The type names are pretty self-explanatory, but just to be clear, OTF switchblades have the blade come out of a hole at the top of the knife using some sort of track with a push bar and side-opening switchblades fold out like a standard pocket knife.


Switchblades are used for many of the same tasks that a pocket knife would be used in. The thing that sets switchblades apart from pocket knives in terms of usage, is the ability to open the blade quickly and using only one hand.

This can be especially useful when you are holding something with one hand and need to cut it with your other hand. With a switchblade, you can easily and quickly open up the blade with one hand and cut whatever you are holding with relative ease.

The same thing can be accomplished with pocket knives that have a way to manually open the knife with one hand. Thumb studs and other types of opening systems on pocket knives can be used to easily open a pocket knife with one hand, and pretty much do the same thing that a switchblade would be able to do.

Is a Switchblade Technically a Pocket Knife?

The short answer would be yes, a switchblade is a type of pocket knife.

Pocket knives have many different styles and designs, and a switchblade fits the general definition of a pocket knife. The definition of a switchblade, from Merriam Webster at least, even has the word “pocketknife” in it.

While they are technically the same thing, the laws regarding the ownership and carry of knives make a clear distinction between the two. There are laws in many places that relate specifically to switchblades but exclude other pocket knives.

The reason for this distinction is because of the added safety issues that switchblades have. Being able to, at a moment’s notice, open a switchblade in seconds with one hand is seen as dangerous.

The intent of switchblades, and pocket knives in general, is not for violence. While they may be good weapons for self-defense in certain instances, the main purpose of a pocket knife or switchblade is for utilitarian purposes and for everyday jobs that arise.

So while a switchblade is technically a pocket knife, it is important to remember that the law sees them as very different things. Because of this, it is important that we look at switchblades, not as more violent or bad, but as a different type of knife than your average pocket knife.

Townsen Bell

I'm the founder and primary author at Knife Manual. Over many years, I have become proficient at survival and bushcraft skills through lots of practice and many great teachers. I enjoy spending time outdoors, collecting knives, and learning new skills.

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