25 July, 2013

Opinel Pocket Knives

The #8 Carbone, my favorite
We've decided to start stocking a few items that are not directly bike related, but that we've used and really like. Among them are classic French Opinel pocket knives. Inexpensive, lightweight, and made from superb steel, they are the standard knife of French farmers, hikers, foragers and cyclo-tourists. In fact almost everyone who spends time in the countryside seems to have one. They've been made since 1890 in the town of Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne in the Rhône-Alpes.

I've used Opinel knives since I was a boy. I love the simple rotating ring that locks the blade either open or closed. There is no need for a spring because of  the lock ring. The handle is beech, a light but tough wood. This makes Opinel knives quite light and great for cyclists and hikers.
The stainless steel model has a lighter color handle
They are available with either carbon steel or stainless steel blades and in a number of sizes. The #8 (8 cm blade) is considered the standard and most versatile size. Like most traditionalists, I prefer the #8 carbon blade version. The carbon blade can rust if not wiped after use, but it develops a beautiful patina. The carbon blade is also easier to sharpen and takes a better edge--experts compare it to blades costing 10-times more. The stainless steel blade is rust-proof and stays shiny, and the edge sharpness is very very close to that of the carbon version.
The #10 with a large corkscrew
We also stock the #10 knife (10cm blade) with corkscrew. The larger size is required to house the corkscrew. Now the French do know a thing or two about opening wine, and the corkscrew is the same large French model as used in many far more expensive wine openers. The blade is stainless and perfect for spreading cheese and pate, as well as for more workman-like tasks. It's size is best for a picnic basket or handlebar bag, rather than pocket.

Here is an interesting bit from Wikipedia:
Originally sold as a simple working man's knife, the Opinel has since become an iconic symbol of French culture and lifestyle. Pablo Picasso used an Opinel to carve his sculptures, while Roger Frison-Roche, the Savoyard alpine guide and mountaineer, never made an ascent without carrying an Opinel along. Éric Tabarly, the long-distance solo sailor and yachtsman, swore by the Opinel, which he always carried aboard his sailing yacht, the Pen Duick....
In 1985 the Victoria and Albert Museum in London selected the Opinel as part of an exhibit celebrating the “100 most beautiful products in the world”, featuring the Opinel alongside the Porsche 911 sports car and the Rolex watch. The Opinel was also selected as one of the 999 classic designs in Phaidon Design Classics, and has been exhibited by the New York's Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) as a design masterpiece.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Excellent addition to the store! I myself have carried a carbon #7 for a few years now and it is, by far, my favorite knife I've ever owned. Extremely sharp and the patina takes on a new and interesting character with every tomato or apple that I cut.

Gary said...

I have had a #8 carbon for many years. It has served me well in many outdoors pursuits. I love it, but I have one small warning to those working in wet environments. When the knife stays wet for a long time, the handle swells and the blade is impossible to open (if closed) or close (if open). The locking ring also binds when the handle swells. Of course it all goes back to normal once it dries out. I just look at it as part of the character.

mistercharlie said...

I add a few drops of olive oil to the hinge every once in a while to keep things moving smoothly.

Anonymous said...

the ring is known as a 'viro.'
You are welcome.
M Burdge

Unknown said...

not carrying the Opinel #8? Its the mushrooming knife with the boars hair brush, my favorite. I seem to lose it every porcini season and have to get a new one. Will have to mail you some more dried stuff this winter, Chris!

Jeremiah said...

Carbon is great and all, but let me know if you ever stock these in carbon fiber. Even for a light-weight piece, this version seems needlessly heavy. However, I agree that the lock ring is a nice touch--reminds me of my fixie.

Matt said...

Opinel makes some pretty cool knives. Very vintage classy, especially with the wine corker. The olive oil mentioned above is a great suggestion. Mineral oil will also work.

VeloOrange said...

Unknown, Maybe we should stock the mushroom knives--I'd trade them for porcinis ;<) Just made an omelet with your black chanterelles. Fantastic!. You might get one of the big pruning knives for your dad to use in the vineyard.

peddalhead said...

These really are great knives. I brought back five of them from France as giveaways a few years ago. Ended up keeping one carbon and one stainless for "comparative testing", both are excellent.

Anonymous said...

These are great knives. I collect knives and have carried one for over 40 years. The carbon steel knife will hold an edge better than the stainless version. These are just about the lightest folding knives you will find anywhere as well. I hope you sell zillions of 'em!

Anonymous said...

Oh Boy, do I feel like an idiot. I bought a #7 in France 20 years ago, but never used it much because I didn't know you could lock the blade with the twist ring. I didn't think it was safe. Once I read your blog, I immediately dug it out and voila! a safe, inexpensive cutting device. Thanks for enlightening me. Now, If I could only learn how to use those new-fangled brifters....:-).

Michael said...

And Alain Colas probably wished he had Eric Taberly's knife with him that day on the foredeck. Might note that sometimes you have to spread the Viro bloc a bit to loosen them up. I have a #7 that was virtually unusable until I took some snap ring pliers to it. Now it is slick as a whistle. I also found an old pre-1980s #7 in my Dad's drawer after his passing. It has a wonderful, almost case-hardened-look patina from eating pineapples. The acid stains the metal in a marvelous way. The old ones like his don't lock closed, only open.

John said...

These are really cool knives! I really like the #10 with the corkscrew. I'm not very familiar with Opinel, so thanks for the writeup ... it's definitely time I get more familiar!

Kevin said...

I'm a big fan of the Opinel knives, but I have never seen the one with the corkscrew on the handle. That's brilliant!

I've never owned one myself but my father had one. It's almost an icon because of it's simple design and function. It's not like the knives that are coming out today. Simplicity just make it more fun in some way.