When I was a kid, switchblade knives were perceived about the same as Tommy guns—they were something from a bygone era that just didn’t sit right with people who didn’t normally find themselves using weapons on a daily basis…or hanging out at sock hops or speakeasies. As I got older, however—and became more familiar with various knives and weapons—the idea of an automatic knife started to make a lot of sense. When it became possible to review the Kershaw Launch 1 automatic knife I volunteered quickly (I had just completed a review of the Kershaw Link 1776, in fact). I was ready, and my previous biases were all but eradicated.
While the quick vertical thrust of a switchblade still strikes me as a rather violent weapon, an automatic side-open knife makes a lot of sense. After all, having become accustomed to assisted open knives using SpeedSafe and other technologies, the automatic knife is just one more step forward. Bring on the automatic knives—let’s see if they’re as cool as I had hoped they were!
Knowing the Rules
Before going too far, it’s always good to point out that not everyone can legally carry an automatic knife (though morally and constitutionally I’d argue that they can). According to U.S. Code Title 15, Sect. 1241, the federal law defines switchblade knives as any knives which open “1) by hand pressure applied to a button or other device in the handle of the knife, or any knife having a blade which opens automatically; (2) by operation of inertia, gravity, or both”.
So the switchblade knife definition is now applied to automatic side-opening knives as well—apparently, anyway. If you have a concealed carry permit, then you may have some more “rights” with regard to carrying an automatic knife. Try to understand the laws in your own state and local jurisdiction before you grab one of these—some of the penalties are ridiculously stiff, and it’s not worth the risk.
Kershaw Launch 1 Knife Features & Use
The Kershaw Launch 1 knife has a beautiful black anodized aluminum handle and a sort of powder coated CPM154 stainless steel blade. This steel is harder, more corrosion-resistant, and has better edge retention than 440C. The blade was very sharp from the factory, and even after using it for a ton of cutting, whittling, and (my favorite) cardboard slicing—the edge stayed true considerably longer than I’ve experienced with softer steels.
Back to the design, the Kershaw Launch 1 knife is, of the three Kershaw Launch models, my favorite. The Launch 2 is almost bland—with a streamlined handle that seems to just continue the arc of the blade. There’s absolutely no kick on the handle, and the anodized aluminum is very plain, with just a center ground out hollow for design and grip.
The Launch 3 is nearly the same, but with an even plainer handle (though it has a slight kick) and a bit of jimping on the rear of the blade. Some may like the simplistic look of these knives, but I prefer the more traditional, curvaceous look of the Launch 1. I might have wished for some jimping on the back of the black anodized handle, but given the design, I can certainly understand its lack—the final look is very refined and undisturbed by erroneous edges.
Kershaw Launch Series Knives
- Kershaw Launch 1 (CPM154 BlackWash steel, anodized aluminum handle) – $149.99
- Launch 2 (CPM154 stonewashed steel; anodized aluminum handle) – $139.99
- Kershaw Launch 3 (CPM154 black-oxide coated steel, anodized aluminum handle) – $159.99
Opening the Kershaw Launch 1 for the first time is an adventure—particularly if you aren’t used to automatic knives. Basically, you want to hang on, or the knife is liable to go flying right out of your hand. That’s not a negative—you want a nice, solid snap to an automatic knife, and the Kershaw Lunch 1 gives it to you.
There’s also little danger of accidentally deploying the knife (that is to say, it’s unlikely you’ll have it open in your pocket). Though it comes out with a snap, the pushbutton activator is recessed to the level of the handle—making it nearly impossible to accidentally depress. I admit that the first time I carried an automatic knife this was a concern, but eventually, you realize that you have just as much chance of an assisted knife opening in your pocket as you do an automatic. This knife certainly feels safe.
Speaking of feel, the smooth black anodized aluminum handle at first made me think I wouldn’t appreciate the grip this folder proffered me, but the spine of the handle features five oval-shaped depressions which give it some “stick” in your palm. The finger groove at the top of the handle also aids in delivering a bit more stability and control over this automatic knife while you use it. Another convenience—which is becoming the defacto standard—is a reversible left/right belt clip that is easily swapped with an Allen wrench.
The clip is medium width and short, but the end of the knife comes up into a triangular shape, giving you about an inch that sticks out when you carry. One pleasant surprise: when you switch to left-carry your index finger activates the knife instead of your thumb. I found this to be very natural—surprisingly so—and so this knife works really well for either left or right-handed use.
The Kershaw Launch 1 is a made-in-the-USA knife that’s manufactured at Kershaw’s Tualatin, Oregon facility. I like that I’m carrying a USA-made knife, and the quality of workmanship makes me trust that it will be a functional tool that lasts me a good long time. If you have a concealed carry permit, but you’ve never carried an automatic knife, you should really pick this one up at a local dealer and handle it. You may want to add it to your collection (Yes, I tend to have knife and gun “collections” and change my knives depending on what I’m wearing and where I’m headed).