Which Opinel pocket knife to buy as a gift?
June 17, 2020 11:08 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to give an adult relative an Opinel pocket knife as a gift, but there are a lot of options! I'm looking for advice on size and blade material.

I once gave this person a Gerber Dime Micro multitool and it was a big hit, so I thought a beautiful folding knife would be a nice gift for them. The recipient doesn't currently do many outdoor activities, but they're planning to move to an area that's conducive to hiking, camping, and boating within the next year or so. They're pretty handy when it comes to home maintenance and gardening. They love to cook and they're picky about keeping their kitchen knives sharp. They can be a bit rough on tools, so durability is a priority.

For legal reasons, the unfolded length must be 28 cm or less, so the Opinel No. 12 model (which has a 12 cm blade) is the largest I could buy. But I'm wondering if something like an 8.5 cm, 8 cm, or 6 cm blade is more practical.

The options for blade material are stainless steel or carbon steel. Some of the stainless steel models have a matte black coating, but I think that's just a style thing.

I'm also open to the idea of buying more than one knife if there are better options for different use cases.
posted by neushoorn to Shopping (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
FWIW, I have an Opinel and never use it because their hinge collar thing that holds the kinfe open has always felt unsafe and flimsy in use.
posted by Sockdown at 11:15 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]

My husband got a Spyderco Dragonfly 2 as a Christmas gift from his brother a few years ago and loved it so much that when he lost his a few months ago, he bought a replacement within a few days. He uses it for all kinds of things, carries it with him every day (the clip part is great) and sharpens it every once in a while.
posted by jabes at 11:18 AM on June 17

I've used an Opinel 12 as a garden and camping knife for 7-ish years. I have the carbon steel version because it's easier for me to home. If your recipient doesn't want to fuss with it much, stainless might be a better idea (but carbon steel does take on a lovely patina with use). It's a very nice knife for outdoor use—its very lightweight, but the bulky handle makes it easy to grip and apply force.

As Sockdown mentions, some people really don't like the rotating collar safety mechanism. I like it just fine, and I wax the wood regularly (including dripping some under the collar) which makes this a non-issue for me.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 11:30 AM on June 17 [2 favorites]

I find 12cm a bit much, 8 is nicer I think. They do a mushroom picking knife - curved, has a brush on the end of it - which has been a hit as a gift. It's actually also a great mushroom prep knife.

Opinel is a classic but If you wanted to go a bit more specialist these knives are hand made in Chamonix and they are quite beautiful.
posted by tardigrade at 11:31 AM on June 17 [2 favorites]

I got the Opinel Mushroom Hunter knife as a present, it came in a little holster and is just delightful. I think even someone not super into mushrooms would love it. It feels decadently well made, has an interesting curved blade, and the little brushy end is really handy. I obviously never go mushrooming without it, but it's also useful for all my gardening stuff at home.
Edited to jinx tardigrade.
posted by Freyja at 11:31 AM on June 17

I do like the materials and finish and etc of the Opinel. It's very pleasing. It's just that mechanism that bothers me.

As far as size goes, I have the No. 8 and it seems just right for most pocket knife tasks.
posted by Sockdown at 11:36 AM on June 17

There are legal restrictions on blade length in some places. It's worth a check of the regs for his home area.

I think 4 in/10cm is really bigger than most people carry for a pocket knife. The knife I used most had a skinny, 2.5 inch blade. I used while eating apples and oranges at my desk.
posted by SemiSalt at 12:15 PM on June 17

Every Opinel larger than a #5 has a locking blade. The #8 (roughly 80 mm blade) is the original. If they like keeping knives sharp, then they might appreciate the carbon steel blade. It's a bit more work but takes an edge like few others. The locking mechanism is good once you get the hang of it. As a teen, it was a sign of a European summer properly wasted to be able to unlock, flick open and lock your Opinel in one deft flourish.

They aren't prestige knives. They're a very serviceable simple blade in the plainest possible wooden handle: one step in refinement above a douk-douk. Laguiole knives are very nice, but kinda up there in prices these days.
posted by scruss at 12:38 PM on June 17

Adding yet another recommendation for the Opinel 8. I love mine, and I've received a surprising number of compliments on it.
posted by golden at 12:46 PM on June 17

The Kershaw 1660 is my holy grail of pocket knife - I keep losing them, buying another and then finding the lost one, so at this point I have maybe 5 of them? The blade is ~7.8cm and I've never wanted something longer.
posted by Dmenet at 1:35 PM on June 17

I've owned a couple of Opinels and they've both gone rusty, so whichever material will be least likely to rust, in case - like me - he's someone who likes nice objects like Opinels, but is not a big enough knife user to know how to look after them properly!
posted by penguin pie at 1:44 PM on June 17

I can recommend the No. 8 Garden version. It has a spear tip, which can be useful. The grip is elegant and curved. I use it as a general household knife. It's held up well. Definitely get stainless steel if you don't want for example tomatoes to taste absolutely revolting!
posted by starfishprime at 3:01 PM on June 17 [1 favorite]

First, I'd say go stainless. Just way easier to take care of, I'm always wary of giving someone a gift that entails upkeep. 8 cm is probably fine - this will mainly be used for paring and random small camping tasks, so they'll have other knives for specific or large-scale cooking tasks or hardcore utility.

Second, if you're open to it, you might try looking at vintage Opinels on Etsy. I got an absolutely beautiful one on there, at least 40 years old with a built in corkscrew. There are tons of cool finishes and rare woods and designs out there, and they're not too much more expensive than a new one.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 3:28 PM on June 17

The no 8 is what I keep around for tasks that are more than just folding knife tasks. Feathering wood for fire starter, cutting food in a non kitchen setting, etc.

It's... Too big for a pocket knife. The ring lock thing is okay. I've never had a problem, because the only time it could fail is of you're putting pressure on the back of the blade and I can't see why I'd choose to do that.

Carbon steel is super easy to sharpen and maintenance is easy. I haven't noticed off flavours, but I don't cut tomatoes often with it. Sharpening the opinel is more fun than sharpening any other folding knife I own.

A shorter knife would see a lot more use from me. I wasn't aware of the options, and the mushroom one sounds great!

Almost all of my pocket knife use cases would be covered by a 2cm blade, so I really end up using a Leatherman Micra more often.
posted by Acari at 6:11 PM on June 17

I would not get anything larger than the #8, and even that is larger than absolutely necessary in most situations.

I've used Opinel knives and like them, but it feels like knife design and engineering has moved forward somewhat over the years, and they haven't kept up. (As was mentioned, the locking mechanism isn't great, for example, and having a clip (to keep the knife available in your pocket) is something I wouldn't want to give up.) Personally I like the Spyderco knife I have, because it is thin, light, and easy to sharpen, but there are no shortage of choices out there.

If you are committed to Opinel, and they are actually going to be using the knife for camping, maybe you should consider one of the "outdoor series" versions? Or at least the regular version with stainless? The carbon steel is really nice to use, but takes more care and upkeep.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:37 PM on June 17

Nthing that the #12 is quite large. The carbon version is my fave camp knife, because it's a good knife and replaceable, but it would be impractical as an EDC for me (in my bike bag I have a little no-brand half-serrated folder). I don't understand the comment about tomatoes, I use it to cut tomatoes and have never noticed anything odd. You do have to put a little mineral oil on carbon knives once in a while, but they take and hold a better edge. The locking mechanism is fine AFAICT; I've had this one for 7-8 years and never had an issue.
posted by aspersioncast at 6:43 PM on June 17

If you don't have any particular purpose in mind, the Opinel No. 8 is a safe bet. I primarily use mine as a food knife while camping or picnic-ing, and it feels so lovely and fancy to use while still being entirely practical. I've also used it for tougher things like hacking up small branches, bike repair, and opening packages.

Stainless unless you know they're comfortable maintaining their own knives (do they hone their own kitchen knives, for example?).
posted by rhiannonstone at 6:47 PM on June 17

I have an Opinel 6, 8, and 10. I am a male with hands that usually fit a medium or sometimes a large glove.

The 6 is too small that I'd want to use it for anything significant. I usually can only get three fingers on it, or all four but my index finger is uncomfortably close to the blade.

I can hold an 8 just fine with all four fingers, but given the choice I'd want to use the 10 for anything involving actual work. (There's a 10 "slim" which is not really for outdoor work)

However, the 8 is usually the knife that comes in fancier woods and designs. If you want this to lean more on the "gift" side rather than tool, an 8 in a slightly better wood is better than a 10 in the rather drab standard wood. I've got one in walnut and it just looks so much better than the standard ones, for a very small amount more.

You should go with the stainless unless you know the person has a specific desire for carbon steel that requires additional maintenance. Most people would consider that a negative.
posted by meowzilla at 6:59 PM on June 17

When Opinel says "carbon steel", they're not referring to the colloquial carbon steel that kitchen knives are made from. They're using it more along the lines of "non-stainless steel". If you cut an apple with a carbon Opinel, and put it aside without washing or oiling it, the blade will start changing color (corrosion). For some people (like me) that's a fun thing, for others it's something to be avoided.
posted by meowzilla at 7:15 PM on June 17 [1 favorite]

I give Opinel knives as gifts all the time. Its a classic, and usually under $15. I have a No. 12 Opinel which I have used as kitchen knife for cooking or eating while traveling. It beat out my old Swiss army knife for cutting big loaves of east European bread when on trains and it makes short work of watermelons bought by the roadside. And it can chop onions. But these are peasant knives designed for farm and vinyard use - they hold an edge very well, but don't try to use them as a screwdriver or a crowbar.

While traveling in France I noticed how a lot of rural guys carried a small Opinel no. 6 in their shirt pocket for use whenever they sat down to a meal. Most folks agree the all around size is the no. 8, but I carry the slightly smaller Opinel No. 7 with a spiffy purple handle in my belt pouch for everyday use. I live in Hungary where real manly men are expected to cut their daily bacon fat snack with their own pocket knives. The no. 7 was developed to meet legal standards for blade length in places like the UK and USA with knife restrictions. In New York, however, it still raises hackles among police due to a law which criminalizes any knife that can be "flicked" open (classified as a switch blade), and the boys of the NYPD have it down to an art whereby they can "flick open" a Swiss Army knife. The locked collar of the Opinel No. 7 stymied the guards at one NY Museum security gate... instead of confiscating it they allowed me to leave it outside the Museum beneath a tree next to the door of the museum... where there was a small pile of Opinels.
posted by zaelic at 4:35 AM on June 18 [1 favorite]

Thanks, everyone! This is all super helpful information.
posted by neushoorn at 12:15 AM on June 19 [1 favorite]

Nthing a stainless #8 (or maybe a 6 or 7) as a fine option. I personally like the collar mechanism.

Bonus, the wood-handled aesthetics of Opinels seem to make it appear less threatening to authority types in my experience (which is admittedly as a white woman with some substantial privilege in such matters.)
posted by desuetude at 11:41 PM on June 20

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