This simple knife has been in use since it was created in 1890 by the son of a French blacksmith. The blade is XC90 carbon steel, a little brittle in torsion applications but strong and able to hold sharpness in straight on cutting. The wooden handle has a lovely little organic curve to it that works wonderfully with a thumb to apply counter pressure, ideal for carving a hunk of cheese off a wedge or to snip an errant vine. Probably why they’ve been historically popular with French farmers. Its deceptive simplicity hides a simple pocket knife safety mechanism — a locking ring that will keep it open or closed. this modernization was added in the 1950’s and elevated the Opinel to a viable mass market option.
They’re light, inexpensive and handsome. but also display human centric design. A great combination for something meant to be kept on your person until it wears into a nice patina.
The biggest Achilles heel of an Opinel knife is water. The handles aren’t sealed by default and can swell if they get soaked with water, ruining the knife. Carbon steel is also not very rust resistant. if you’re planning on using it in very wet environments, take another knife. Otherwise, it’s great.
Opinel knives come in several sizes, with the model number corresponding directly to a length. You can even get custom engraved versions for gifts. My personal preference is the original Opinel #8 - an 8cm variant that continues to be a joy.