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Review: Opinel No. 6 in carbon steel

Discussion in 'Gear Reviews' started by sungame, Jun 19, 2012.

  1. sungame

    sungame Loaded Pockets

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    Warning: This is a long and meandering text. If you lose patience, please skip directly to the section titled “A long story short”.

    When my father was in his early twenties, he got his first car, a Citroën 2CV. The car was nowhere near brand new, and when he kept it running for as long as he did, it was only through a peculiar mix of determination, creativity, mechanical skills and an uncanny knack for understanding manuals, instructions and handbooks, even when written in a language he didn't know. The car finally died years before I was born, but even though my father was no stranger to its many shortcomings, he has told me many a fond story about the legendary Rocambole (named after a fictional French adventurer).

    One of the stories he never got tired of telling, is the legend of how the 2CV came to be. According to my father, Citroën wanted to make the cheapest, most lightweight car that could still handle everything an average French farmer could throw at it. Supposedly, the car should be able to drive across a freshly plowed field with a basket of eggs in the passenger seat, without breaking or spilling any of the eggs.

    Design
    Now, you might wonder why I write so much about a car in a knife review. The reason is, quite simply, that when I bought my first Opinel(s) in a little hardware store near les Halles in Paris, I was struck by how much the design reminded me of that of the 2CV.

    The knife, of course, looks nothing like a car. However, even though the original Opinel design predates the 2CV by about 50 years, the two seem to share a couple of design principles. Like the 2CV, the Opinel was meant to be the cheapest and lightest tool in its class that would still be of use to a French farmer. Like Citroën's engineers and designers, Joseph Opinel used a lot of creativity and sheet metal to achieve his goals. And just like the 2CV, the Opinel has become a design icon and an unmistakable symbol of everything French.

    [​IMG]

    opinelreview by thesungame, on Flickr

    The Opinels come in many sizes and models. The model I review here is no. 6. It has a blade somewhere between 6 and 7 cm long, a size I think is just about perfect for the Opinel design. The one piece beech wood handle, simple construction and Virobloc locking mechanism all make for a very lightweight – and light duty – EDC folder. I can comfortably carry it in the front pocket of my light linen summer pants without even noticing it's there. Every other knife I've owned would have to be moved to a jacket pocket – or have me changing into shorts.

    Handle
    The iconic “fishtail” handle shape works surprisingly well on such a small knife, and gives me a firm, secure grip. It also works well for smaller hands, such as those of a four year old. However, as the knife has no choil or ricasso, and the handle has nothing resembling a finger stop, I wouldn't really recommend this knife for young children.

    Blade
    One of the reasons why the knife is so light, is the very thin blade – it can't be more than a milimeter thick. While this should make for a very effective slicer, the factory edge of both my specimens was definitely sub par. However, a few strokes on an Arkansas stone and a quick stropping got the carbon blades absolutely screaming sharp. Never have I ever gotten anything else even close to that sharp – I even cut myself when I wiped the honing oil from the blade of the first one, right through a thick wad of paper. It doesn't hold an edge all that well, but that is easily solved with a quick stropping after each use.

    [​IMG]

    bladethickness by thesungame, on Flickr
    Top to bottom: Victorinox Rucksack, Opinel No. 6, Buck 110.

    Performance
    Once properly sharpened, the Opinel proved itself as an excellent cutter and slicer. Slicing apples and hot dogs, opening mail and boxes, cutting string, twine and tape and removing loose threads from clothing were all child's play for the little blade.

    However, the leaf thin blade was not very good for heavier tasks. Even light whittling was a bit too much for the thin, pliable blade. It felt almost like whittling with a very short filleting knife.

    Lock
    The aforementioned Virobloc is also most at home when you perform lighter cutting tasks. If you twist the locking ring hard enough, the blade locks up pretty solid, and there is no risk of accidently releasing the lock.

    However, the location of the pivot point, and the very short tang (if the term can be applied to a folder) means that the thin metal bands of the locking mechanism absorb absolutely all the force you put on the blade. Therefore, I would not trust the Viroblock for anything heavier than opening boxes or slicing food.

    Conclusion
    At 6 Euros, the Opinel no. 6 is not only one of the lightest EDC folders money can buy, but also one of the cheapest. And while you do get a lot for your Euros, it still feels, and, to a certain degree performs like a cheap knife.

    With slightly thicker steel and lower tolerances, the Opinel no. 6 could be just about the perfect EDC folder. And at twice the price, it would still be reasonably cheap.

    As it is, it is perhaps the perfect backup knife. If you only use it for opening letters and boxes, cutting strings and threads and occasionally slicing food, it is also a pretty decent EDC knife.

    However, if you do anything heavier, you would be better off forking over the $20 for a Buck Vantage Select Small.

    A long story short

    Pros:
    • Incredibly cheap
    • Very lightweight
    • Good, comfortable handle shape
    • Relatively long blade for such a compact handle
    • The carbon blade is very easy to sharpen
    • Thin blade makes an efficient slicer
    • No choil means you get an effective cutting edge as long as the entire blade
    • The blade can be locked in both open and closed position
    • Since the lock is applied manually, you can open and close it without fiddling with the lock for quick, light tasks.
    Cons:
    • The round handle makes the knife rather thick for its size
    • The factory edge is not very good, especially not for such a thin blade
    • The blade is a bit too thin and pliable for woodwork, carving, whittling and heavier cutting tasks
    • No choil makes it easier to cut yourself
    • The lock doesn't feel all that solid
    • The lock doesn't engage automatically as with a liner lock or lockback. This makes it possible to forget to engage the lock, think that the blade is locked and then cut yourself.
    Conclusion: The cheapest, most lightweight folder still suited to light EDC duty.
     
    Last edited by sungame, Dec 11, 2014
    Tony Sal, Stammoss, powerring and 5 others like this.
  2. Fukurai
    • In Omnia Paratus

    Fukurai EDC Junkie!!!!!

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    Very nice review!
     
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  3. sungame

    sungame Loaded Pockets

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    Thank you!

    I sure enjoyed writing it. I hope that shows...
     
  4. Fukurai
    • In Omnia Paratus

    Fukurai EDC Junkie!!!!!

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    Totally.
     
  5. gstojinovic

    gstojinovic Loaded Pockets

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    Nice review!

    Opinels deserves nice reviews and more pocket carry... I had #8 in carbon, though I gave it away... Think it's time to get another one!
     
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  6. sungame

    sungame Loaded Pockets

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    In that case, I have a question for you: Are the blades of the larger Opinels as thin and pliable as that of the No. 6?
     
    gstojinovic likes this.
  7. T.H.Cone

    T.H.Cone I am senor Fluffy, hear me roar

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    Very nice review, Sungame. Thanks for taking the time. Most everybody in my family owns an Opinel; Usually the No. 7 or 8. I don't carry mine to often, but when I do it's never let me down. Sometimes simple is all you need. Actually, simple is almost always what you need.
     
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  8. Blackheart

    Blackheart Loaded Pockets

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    Very nice review, thanks sungame.

    FWIW, the thing that I disliked the most about the Opinel #6 was that the blade angles slightly downward from the handle. I picked up one as a portable food slicer, but that angle made it somewhat awkward to use on a cutting board.
     
  9. Fukurai
    • In Omnia Paratus

    Fukurai EDC Junkie!!!!!

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    That's true, but I've never noticed it until now, when you mentioned it and I compared it to my Vic.
     
  10. sungame

    sungame Loaded Pockets

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    I've noticed that myself, and expected it to be a bit awkward. However, I found that in practice, it wasn't really a problem. When it comes to use on a cutting board, the blade of the No. 6 (or any Opinel, I expect) is far to narrow for real chopping anyway, so I find that the angle doesn't really matter.
     
  11. nuphoria

    nuphoria Loaded Pockets

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    Good stuff, thanks for that :)

    The thing I like about them is how easily they are customised too - the handle lends itself to reshaping so well, or carving/dyeing/staining etc. Seen some lovely examples in the past.

    A friend on MTO recently posted a great mod for using it to strip wires too - notches of the appropriate dimension cut in the handle so you place the wire in them and push the blade down to cut. He said the CV blade was holding up really well to this as the wires are copper too :)
     
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  12. kertap75

    kertap75 EDC Junkie!!!!!

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    Very good review! I think eventually I'm going to pick up a few in different sizes. I don't know how much pocket time they will get since I have knives better suited to my daily tasks already, but they seem fun to play around with, and you can't beat the prices.
     
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  13. gstojinovic

    gstojinovic Loaded Pockets

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    Hm never had No6... Though blades are thinner...
     
  14. sungame

    sungame Loaded Pockets

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    @Nuphoria: Yep, they seem pretty easy to mod - at least for someone with more time and fewer thumbs on their hands than yours truly;).

    @Kertap75: Agreed, you cannot beat them when it comes to value for money. 6 Euros is so cheap that you could actually buy one just to try it (or two as I did). If, like me, you find that it is not ideal for EDC, it makes a great backup blade for a bag or to keep in the car, truck, boat cabin or wherever you might need one. Or you can give it away. I ended up gifting both the two knives I bought, and they were very popular with the recipients.
     
  15. xbanker
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    xbanker Geriatric Admin
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    Yep, I'm resurrecting a month-old thread, but missed it in June, and just had to compliment sungame on an informative, well-written review. I don't mind "long and meandering text" (as you called it :)) when it holds my interest ... which this did. An enjoyable read. And nice photos too (I need to get a camera that produces better macros!). Well done!

    I've intended for at least the last five years to pick up an Opinel or two. You've motivated me to finally do it. [​IMG]
     
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  16. sungame

    sungame Loaded Pockets

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    Thank you! I'm glad that I held your interest, and I hope you will be happy with your Opinel(s). They are not for everyone, but if you find that they don't suit you and your lifestyle, you won't be out much, and as I wrote above, they make excellent gifts.
     
  17. Westerdutch

    Westerdutch Loaded Pockets

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    Another Opinel-lover chiming in here!

    Quick and dirty shot what i use most atm;
    [​IMG]
    -Opinel No.9 Carbone with heavy patina (my gardening knife)
    - Opinel No.8 SS with Bubinga wood handle (my food knife)
    - Opinel No.6 SS with Bubunga wood handle (wifes food knife)

    As far as gifts go id say the stainless-steel blades would be better as the regular carbon steel ones do rust up pretty quick especially when cutting all the well known rust inducing foods. Granted the stainless ones are harder to sharpen and also will not take the incredible silly keen edge like described above but for every advantage theres also a disadvantage, just pick whatever you think is important for a blade like this.

    Apart from fancy wood Opinel also offers different types of knives (slim blades, mushroom blades, blunt-tipped blades, cutlery sets, sloping handles and even ones with unfinished handles aka 'blanks' to turn into whatever you wish) so be sure to keep your eyes open for those as well.
     
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  18. sungame

    sungame Loaded Pockets

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    @Westerdutch: Are the SS blades stiffer than the carbon ones? I ask because one of my major complaints about the #6 in carbon is the thin blade, that felt flimsy and somehow pliable.

    Also, are the blades of the #8 and 9 noticeably thicker than that of the #6? The thin blade might be OK for a small knife like the #6, but for bigger knives like Opinels from #8 and up, I really feel that a thicker, stiffer blade is a requirement.
     
  19. enki_ck

    enki_ck Loaded Pockets

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    That was a great read, I love Opinels and agree on the thin edge getting wicked sharp. The #6 is my favourite size too. As for the difference in thickness of the #6 vrs #8 here's a pic. It gets thicker as the blade length increases.

    [​IMG]

    There are actually BIG Opinels out there, the biggest being the #13. It's a chopper.


    Here's the wire stripping mod Nuphoria was talking about.

    http://forum.multitool.org/index.php/topic,37614.msg604468.html#msg604468
     
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  20. sungame

    sungame Loaded Pockets

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    @enki_ck: Thanks! That picture answers my question. It is somewhat reassuring to see the blade thickness increasing with length, but I would still like a sturdier blade in the bigger models.

    I also think the blade of the ridiculously big #13 looks disproportionately thin, but it seems to be tougher than it looks....