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  • the Opinel knife has been manufactured since the 1890s in the town of Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne in the Savoie region of France?

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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Opinel knife, or simply Opinel, is a simple, inexpensive wooden handled pocket-knife, manufactured since the 1890s in the town of Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne in the Savoie region of France.

No. 10 Opinel knife with carbon steel blade and beechwood handle



The Opinel knife was invented by Joseph Opinel in about 1895. By the start of World War II as many as 20 million had been sold. The company is still run by the Opinel family. There is an Opinel Museum (Le Musée de l'Opinel) at Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne.



The traditional model has a beechwood handle and a high carbon steel blade, which will take a very good edge but needs sharpening every so often, and must be kept clean to avoid tarnish and rust. However, in recent years a wide range of variations on the basic theme have been introduced, using luxurious or exotic woods such as oak, walnut, olive, rosewood and stained hornbeam, as well as other materials such as cattle horn. Stainless steel blades are available and make the knife nearly maintenance-free.


The locking ring is twisted to secure the blade in position
The same knife with locking ring released in order to close the blade

The construction of the knife is very simple, consisting of only four components: the blade, the wooden handle, a metal band with a rivet on which the blade pivots, and (except in the case of the smaller models) a locking collar that holds the blade in place when the knife is open, to stop the blade accidentally closing on the hand of the user. This feature is necessary because there is no spring to hold the knife open. In recent years it has been modified slightly to lock the blade in the closed position as well, to prevent it opening accidentally. The locking collar was introduced in 1955, and is not present on the smaller models. Before that the Opinel was what is known as a "penny knife"; the locking mechanism makes it into a clasp-knife. The bevelled corner at the base of the handle on the side the blade sits can be hit against a hard surface to dislodge the blade if difficult to open.


The elegant curve of the blade is a traditional Turkish design known by the term yatağan (cf. yatagan sword), while the flare at the base of the handle accommodating the tip of the blade is referred to as a fishtail.

An Opinel billhook

There is now a huge variety of models available. Some are presumably more for novelty value than practical purposes, including a giant version with a 22cm blade, some 50cm long when open. Non-traditional shapes of blade and handle have been added to the range, as well as models that are hardly Opinels at all, such as cook's knives or table cutlery, but still bear the prestigious brand-name.

Opinel logo

The main couronnée ("crowned hand") device was already present on the blade of very early models. Later the words OPINEL and FRANCE were added, as well as INOX ("stainless") in the case of stainless steel blades.

The image of the hand comes from the arms of Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, and represents the relics of John the Baptist, three of whose finger-bones were supposedly brought back from Alexandria by Saint Tecla in the 5th century. The crown comes from the arms of Savoie.


Opinels come in eleven sizes numbered from 2 to 13, numbers 1 and 11 having been discontinued in 1939. Number 8 (an 8.5cm blade) is perhaps the most popular and convenient size for general purpose use, though the larger models are excellent as camping or kitchen knives. There is a considerable difference in size between Number 12 (12 cm blade) and the recently-added novelty Number 13, "Le Géant" ("the Giant") with its 22 cm blade.

Limited edition knives

Opinel has also produced knives, often in limited numbers, for special events, such as the 1998 FIFA World Cup knife in France, or for the Tour de France, and even a special knife, the "Opinel History 2000" to celebrate the year 2000. There is also a commemorative knife for the fiftieth anniversary of opinel from 1993. Limited edition knives are often different woods.

Iconic status

No. 8 Opinel knife with beechwood handle

The Opinel knife has long been a feature of everyday French culture. In fact the word opinel can even be considered to have entered the language, as its inclusion in the Collins–Robert French–English Dictionary implies:

opinel NM (wooden-handled) penknife

In 1985 the Victoria and Albert Museum in London published its “Good Design Guide”, a collection of the “100 most beautiful products in the world”. One of those products is the Opinel knife. It is also exhibited by the New York's Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) as a masterpiece of design, alongside other industrial objects which have defied time. The simple but ingenious design, which has remained virtually unchanged for a century or more, is widely felt to have made the Opinel into something of a design classic.

Opinels are light to carry and not expensive to replace if lost.The models with carbon steel blades do require a certain amount of maintenance (regular sharpening and oiling of the blade to prevent corrosion), but if looked after well they will last a long time, and the steel blade and wooden handle acquire a pleasing patina with age. One of the foremost advantages of this simplicity of design and manufacture is the low price – other "classic" knives such as the Laguiole and Nontron knife are very expensive – which makes it possible to own several knives, perhaps in different sizes, colours or materials. The Opinel is cheap enough to be marketed in boxed presentation sets or as a corporate gift. Some owners even use their knives as raw materials for their own creative efforts, decorating the wooden handle with pokerwork or carving it into fantastical designs of their own invention. [1] The traditional beech handle takes stains well, and is easily worked to a person's liking with common sandpaper.

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