If it ain't broke, don't fix it - a look at the development of the French "Peasant knife".

in #design4 years ago (edited)

In 1890, Frenchman Joseph Opinel produced a knife which was destined to be become the best selling knife brand. It was so simple in design with a wooden handle into which the steel blade folded. These knifes were produced in different sizes from the No.1 (now discontinued) up to No.12 (skipping no.11). Production of this simple knife continued for a 65 years with no change in the design until 1955, when a rotating stainless steel ferrule was added to the No.6 to No.12 knifes, which when twisted either way, would lock the knife open. The knife size ws stamped onto the ferrule. Known as the "Virobloc", this simple design stayed the same until the year 2000. Then a change was made to the ferrule that allowed the knife to be locked in the closed position. No great step forward, one supposes it was a safety feature, though Opinel knifes don't usually become opened by accident.

in 2016 however, Opinel made a change to the Virobloc which has brought great criticism amongst users. A punched nub was made in the rear of the ferrule, which corresponded with a small slot in the inner steel sleeve. The knife no longer could be locked in either direction, but only in one, and that not so securely. The knife has shown that it can be folded down with this lock on, though it takes a litte pressure to make the lock slip. Previously, if the blade or ferrule slopes became worn, it wasn't a noticable problem as the ferrule would turn until any play in the lock was eliminated. This cannot happen now due to the limiter now inherent in the new design.

Despite complaints, the makers stand by the change, giving a long-winded technical excuse for it's adoption. In my humble opinion, it's an unneccesary step too far, and I will not be replacing any lost knifes (I use them in my cider apple orchard and have a bad habit of losing them) with the New, Improved version, but will seek out originals from shops with old stock.

Spotting an earlier version

Any larger knife (No.6 - No.12) without a Virobloc is pre-1955. Those made between 1955 and 2000 usually have the company named printed in red on the handle, whereas later versions are in black, though this wears off quite easily.
Comparison of the ferrules should also allow you to date your knife. Also, the company name ond logo stamped on the blade is much larger on the 1955 - 2000 issues.

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Emma Stephanie


Thank you for the article!

I had seen these knives on and off over the years and knew nothing about them. I gather it's popular with orchard work and such.