I have been seeing Opinel knives appearing on my Tumblr dashboard for a while now. I recently wrote about my experiences with my wife’s Opinel when we first met. Needless to say I wasn’t impressed with Opinel at the time. But a lot of people seem to be using them so I decided to get one for myself to put it through its paces. Opinel knives — hipster accessory or serious tool with a history?
Opinel knives have been manufactured in France by a family owned company continuously since 1890. Long recognized for its simple utilitarian design, the classic Opinel knife is available in 12 sizes. The standard knife employs a carbon-steel blade and beechwood handle. The folding mechanism incorporates a rotating lock-collar which, when activated, prevents the blade from opening or closing accidentally. A stainless-steel version and alternative handle materials are also available.
I picked up a No. 7 Opinel yesterday from MEC for $15 dollars. (Lee Valley is another good source of Opinel knives for Canadian buyers.)
The No. 7 size, with a 3″ (7.5 cm), blade seems like a good compromise between utility and compactness. This would be a good everyday pocket knife or backpacking knife. The larger No. 8 size might be a better shop or camp knife. I usually prefer a slightly larger knife if for no reason other than having a larger handle which often fits my hand better. The No. 7 handle feels fine in my hand though.
I am not sure about other retailers, but MEC sells this Opinel knife in a sealed plastic clamshell package. I hate this form of package as it seems very wasteful and is extremely difficult to open.
[pullshow id=”pq1″]After I got the package open I had to remove a magnetic ant-theft sticker attached to the handle. Of course a sticky residue remained on the handle afterward and I had to resort to scrubbing the handle with mineral spirits to get it clean. Stickers on products is another pet peeve of mine. If a manufacturer sticks a hard-to-remove label, etc., on their product they are basically saying they don’t care about the customer or the products they sell.
Inspecting the knife for the first time, I was [pullthis id=”pq1″]impressed by its lightness, and by the quality of the wooden handle and simple locking mechanism[/pullthis]. The blade was okay, though the edge was basically blunt for the the entire length of the curved tip. I also did not like the subtle grinding marks left on the sides of the blade. But what should I expect from such an inexpensive tool? The back of the blade had extremely sharp 90° edges which were not pleasant to handle, either when opening/closing the blade or when holding the knife in my pocket.
A bit of extra attention to detail and Opinel knives could be very nice right out of the box. But [pullthis id=”pq2″]as they are sold, they need a bit of a tune-up[/pullthis].
[pullshow id=”pq2″]I spent the better part of an hour today, filing the tip to a sharp edge, sharpening the knife with an oil stone and leather strop, easing the profile of the back of the blade with a bench belt sander, and polishing the blade with some buffing wheels and abrasive compound. With a properly sharpened blade and a more comfortable blade back profile, the knife feels and performs better. I oiled the blade and lock mechanism and now it feels like I have a quality product to work with.
I will be carrying this knife around for the next few weeks and I will post an updated review after working with it for a while.
Update: I have posted my detailed review.