Concept: 3 out of 5
Execution: 4 out of 5
Yeah, but: It has a certain maturity.
The Long Version: It's hard to review a knife that predates the invention of the zipper. Its form is simultaneously refined and very basic, with a minimum of parts and an elegance that has endured for over a century. The Opinel knife is very simple, consisting of a blade and wooden handle joined with a pivot and locking collar. I bought the #8 size - 8.5cm blade, about 3.25" - to have something small and cheap enough that I can always have one in my bag for when I forget to bring a better one to work with me. I chose the carbon steel blade for better performance, but there's also a stainless version for lower maintenance.
While the knife wasn't razor-sharp right out of the package, especially toward the tip, it can easily take and hold a fine edge. But what makes the blade so useful is that it's very thin with a gentle convex grind. This isn't some über-strong knife that could split firewood, but instead its slender profile makes it perfect as a light utility knife. Picture a scalpel, x-acto, or box cutter: knives that really need to be sharp are thin. For slicing plastic and cardboard the reduced drag through the material makes for a much easier cut. I mostly use my working knives to split tape and break down cardboard boxes, and the Opinel easily slips in between the side flaps and box top, which a thick blade simply can't do.
Opinel's simple design has a rotating collar that can be used to lock the blade open, and in more recent knives, can also lock the blade closed. They can't be opened with one hand, don't have a pocket clip, and really aren't fancy in any way. They need a certain deliberation to use, and convey almost no "attitude", which can be far more useful than titanium liners and serrated blades. No, I wouldn't want to go into the woods for a week with just this knife to get me through, but for me carrying a different knife would be solving the wrong problem. There are bugs and stuff out in the wilderness - I'll stay in a motel instead.
When I bought the #8, I thought it would be the knife that gets tossed into my work bag and forgotten about, and I was only half-right. It weighs almost nothing and is cheap enough to be a spare, but it's also good enough that it's the one I reach for instead of my heavier knives. Not all the time, of course, and not for every task - but often enough that I'm planning on adding a couple of the smaller #6 size to my collection as well. There's a lot to be said for understated simplicity and the charm of an enduring design.
added: after writing this review, I've gone on to buy the #6 and #10 sizes as well. While I'm not sure that it makes sense to like something enough to want others that are similar but different, that's what happened here - and they're cheap enough that the set of three still cost less than what many 'basic' modern knives would run. Now that I've had a couple of months with them, I've written a new review that can be found by clicking here.
last updated 18 feb 2011