A common source of confusion for new knife enthusiasts is the difference between a spring assisted knife and a switchblade knife. Even those who are familiar with pocket knives or fixed blade knives often don’t know the difference between a switchblade and an assisted knife. The confusion is easy to understand as in both cases the knife may seem to release from the handle on its own. But when you look more closely at the mechanisms which open each blade, you can quickly see the difference.
The switchblade, or automatic knife, has a button or a lever which releases the blade. The button or lever releases the tension held by a spring inside the knife handle. When the lever or button is pushed, the tension from the spring releases and launches the blade from the handle and into a locked position. Some switchblades release the blade from the side of the handle like a spring assisted or a folding knife, while others release out the front of handle (Out-the-Front or OTF). There are very strict laws concerning the ownership and carry of automatic knives, and you should always check local regulations before purchasing to avoid problems.
The spring assisted knife, or assisted opening knife, doesn’t rely on a button or lever for opening. Instead, it uses a spring or torsion bar which doesn’t engage until the knife blade has opening momentum from another source. The best source is obviously human power engaging a thumb stud, thumb hole, thumb disc, or flipper, moving the blade forward until the spring or torsion bar engages and moves the blade open the rest of the way.
The simplest way to tell the difference is whether or not there is a button or lever. An assisted opening knife does not have a button or lever. It has some form of initializing action that requires human effort. Your thumb has to push on a flipper, a thumb stud, a thumb disc, or a thumb hole to start moving the blade. If there is a push button or a slide that releases the blade, that makes it an automatic.
Always remember to check your local laws before purchasing or carrying a knife. If you have questions, consult your local law enforcement for clarification.