Opinel no.9 Carbone
When talking outdoor, survival or bushcraft everyone will tell you your knife is the most important asset. Even more important than a tent or pre-made way to start a fire. This is because with just your knife you can make your shelter, tool, fire, etc. So if right now your laptop catches fire and you have to rush out of the house, quickly grab a knife on the way out!
Will any knife do? According to bushcrafters you’ll need a >6 inch full tang 4mm thick blade because you can chop wood with it. Survivalists have other requirements, portability for example. A knife that weighs you down will become a burden if you have to travel by foot, climb rocks and cross rivers. One requirement they all have, is that the knife shouldn’t be a folder, because those are generally weak at the hinge and can loose their lock in certain situations. Chopping your own fingers in a survival situation doesn’t make things easier…
The one exception to the no-folders rule is the Opinel. A knife originally made for farmers in rural France. Nowadays they are available around then world in many different sizes and variations in blade and handle material. What makes the Opinel special as a folder is it’s locking mechanism. Instead of the regular spring-metal block it uses a locking ring that prevents the blade from opening or closing unintended. At the same time this ring adds a lot of stability and strength to the hinge of the blade, making it’s strength more in line with fixed blades than with folders.
So in short, it’s like a fixed blade that folds so you can stuff it in your pocket!
The sizes, which refer to the blade length in cm range from no.1-2 all the way to no.27, which is almost like a folding machete. Most people find their favorite between no.7-8-9. I personally find the no.7 too small for my hand, no.8 a perfect balance as it’s useful, fits in my hand and pocket, and no.9 for more serious cutting work, like in the kitchen. I hope someone found my no.8 on the parking lot of that Greek bakery and is now using it!
When it comes to durability, for the Opinel it just matters how well you treat it. If you neglect a carbon blade it will rust. If you use it as a prying tool you might break the blade. But if you use it for its purpose, cutting, and treat it well, keeping it nice and sharp, the handle lightly oiled, it will outlast you.
The no.9 has a 2mm thick blade (1mm for no.8 and smaller) with a double sided full width flat grind on it, meaning it can be razor sharp when well maintained. It also means cutting into for example a can of soup can damage the edge, but this is easily fixed with some sandpaper or a sharpening stone. The handle is just a little larger than the blade, which gives it a perfect balance point and fully hides the blade when folded. They chose beech as the handle material, but nowadays there are versions made of other materials, from plastic for the ‘outdoor’ version, all the way to bone for specials. If you want the handle to be really special you could buy a carved one, not from Opinel, but from the many people that like to modify them. Or shape it to your own likes of course.
It’s not often that I have to include the ‘usage’ part in a review. Most of the times the product is self-explanatory. The Opinel, however, does have a ‘problem’ that needs some know-how for how to overcome it. When the knife is new, the indent for the thumbnail sticks out of the handle when folded, and the blade moves with just the right friction. Because the handle is made of wood, it might swell when the knife got wet and the blade gets stuck in the closed handle. The other is when the blade has been sharpened often enough that the nail-groove is inside the handle. Both will happen to you, but the trick is simple: you hold the folded knife by the metal ring and then tap the end of the knife to something rigid. Traditionally this would be the sole of your shoe, but with sneakers that won’t work. The edge of a table, a tree, stone, your friends head… Whatever isn’t squishy works. The blade will now stick out far enough from the handle for you to open it further.
Locking mechanism is simple, durable and safe. When locked open the knife handles more like a fixed blade than a folder. Double flat grind makes for a very sharp blade! It’s handle is really nice to decorate with carvings, burn spots, or whatever you want to make it yours. Available in many sizes and materials, there is one for everybody. Very cheap! €9-12 for a no.8 or 9.
Even though the locking mechanism is simple, people who aren’t familiar with Opinels might try to force the blade open without unlocking it first. This makes the locking ring shoot off. It’s easily placed back, provided that you can find it. Full width flat grind makes the blade susceptible for damage from hard objects like a soup can or an accidental nail in wood. It has no problem crushing through bones however.
These knifes are the symbol of rural France. Even today every farmer has one in his pocket, and if you happen to get searched by a French police officer and they find your Opinel, expect a very positive and friendly reaction instead of the usual warning about weapons.
I am a supporter of the idea that everyone should carry a knife. No it’s not a weapon, some knifes are, Opinels are not. It’s a tool! Evolution took the claws away from us and gave us the sharpend edge in return. So many time you need a knife, even if you’re not a French farmer. From cutting bread to opening a box, an Opinel would be your friend.
They are so cheap it simply takes away the need to shop for anything else. Folders normally go for prices up to €100, fixed blades are even more expensive. Your Opinel won’t break your bank, so if lose it, it wouldn’t be a financial drama. It will, however, feel like you just lost your best friend.