Wrote this in 2003, just found it so thought I'd share some thoughts on folders for our members and guests.
I have been asked for a description of what a fighting or tactical folder is. Lets start with definitions given for these words found in the American Heritage Dictionary.
Fight: To participate in combat; To contend with physically or in battle; To make ones way by or as if by combat; To quarrel or conflict and, A physical conflict between two or more individuals.
Tactical: Of or pertaining to tactic
Tactic: An expedient for achieving a goal; maneuver
Folder: One that folds
We can determine that a Fighting/Tactical folder would be a knife that folds as opposed to a straight blade; a knife that one may use physically in combat or battle; a folding knife used to achieve a goal [in this case, self defense].
From the common jackknife your grandfather carried [which did not have a locking mechanism to lock the blade in the open position] to the current genre of folders being manufactured by various companies and individual custom knife makers could all be considered under the right conditions to be a "Fighting/Tactical Folder".
Your grandfather's pocketknife could be considered a fighting/tactical folder if he used it to defend himself against an attack on his person. Would that old Uncle Henry folder with the nail nick in the blade he carried be the best tool for the task in this scenario? I would not think so, as that knife was not designed with these tasks in mind. It could be used in defense of ones person thereby making it, in this scenario, a fighting/tactical folder.
Various manufacturers and knife makers are constantly designing and redesigning their knives to enhance the ability to defend oneself from an aggressor. They are tasked with creating a folding knife that lends itself, through design and execution, to more effective means of defending ones person. Some form of criteria must be established which acts as a guideline for their fighting/tactical folders.
The criteria could be the designer's idea of what this type of tool should look like and what materials should be used. It could also be input from martial artists who have some background in defensive knife techniques. Each maker uses a different set of criteria that he or she feels is more important to the task of defense.
My own criteria for a Tactical/Fighting folder will probably differ from yours. What I want in a folder for its intended purpose may not fit what you feel is critical for you. Hence, we have numerous models to choose from making the selection process more difficult.
The following is the order of importance [for myself] when it comes to selecting a folding knife that I may use to defend myself from an attack. These may not be in the order you would choose and that's why we have the array of products on the market today which we can choose from.
My criteria from most important to least important:
1. The locking mechanism and the materials it is made from
2. The steel used for the blade and the Rockwell hardness of that steel
3. The ability to access the knife with either hand in an emergency
4. Handle material and grip shape
5. Blade design
The reasons behind my choices of most important attributes in a fighting folder:
1. The locking mechanism on a folder has to be strong so that under extreme use the lock does not fail. If I am to carry the folder with personal defense in mind I want the blade locking mechanism to be the strongest I can find. All other concerns are useless unless the knife can be depended on to stay locked open and not collapse onto my tender fingers. [If they weren't tender at the start they sure would be once they were stumps from the blade collapsing under stress].
2. Once we are confident that the lock won't fail, we are set to the task of which steel to have the blade made from. I want steel that can be hand sharpened easily. A steel that won't be brittle but has been heat treated properly for that particular alloy. I am not concerned with whether the steel is stainless or not as this is a personal defense weapon and will be carried always and probably never used for it's intended purpose. I have the luxury of time to care properly for the steel and will have the necessary tools to keep it at razor blade sharp.
3. If the first two criteria are met we next want to be able to access the tool of choice with no delays. If the knife is there for possible defense and you can not access it immediately it is useless. I want my defensive folder to have a pocket clip so that I can attach it to my pocket or waistline for immediate access in an emergency.
4. Handle material is a matter of personal choice. I make decisions on handle material based on how slippery the handle becomes when my hands are wet. Handle shape? I prefer the grips to have a flat profile instead of rounded grip design. You will certainly have your own preference and I do not profess one over the other to anyone. Personal choice based on your own experiences will serve you well without my interjecting here. What works for me may not work as well for you.
5. Blade designs are too numerous to list here or explain the benefits or detractions of each. As I have stated earlier in this article knives and their design are a personal preference. What you like I may not consider and what I like you may not. I tend to stay with the clip point blades in non-serrated guise for my defensive needs.
The best defense knife I could own would be one that meets my defensive criteria above and that feels comfortable in my hand to start. Some have the best materials and locks yet do not "feel" right for some reason. Others may be minimally acceptable as to materials but just feel "right" for my hand.
Just carrying a folding knife for defense does not mean you will be able to access it in time to defend yourself or be able to escape injury. You will need to practice your defensive skills sets in "the draw drills" until you can access and open the knife one handed in less than 1 second from your preferred carry position. This is not as difficult as it seems. What most people find difficult is allocating the time necessary to become proficient with their chosen tool for self-defense.
You can have the most expensive fighting folder made on your person when troubles arise and without the knowledge base and skills sets from practicing and training for such possible encounters you may as well be carrying nothing.