The Rise of the Front Flipper

2017’s Kizer Feist introduced the front flipper to thousands and ever since the opening mechanism has been gathering serious steam among knife users and collectors. Böker was an early adopter of the opener with their Exskelibur line and continues to embrace it with new products like the Wasabi. Real Steel got in on the action with their G3 and Metamorph models. Will Boos is also capitalizing on the growing front flipper phenomenon with his slim, streamlined Smoke model.

Many attribute the invention of the front flipper to Fanie Le Grange, a knife maker from South Africa, where the mechanism is often called a ‘lip opener.’ Custom maker Gareth Bull first encountered the front flipper at a Knifemaker’s Guild of Southern Africa about 15 years ago. “For me it was love at first sight,” he says.

Bull breaks down the advantages. “Everyone loves simplicity, specifically simplicity done well,” he says. Like any flipper, a front flipper’s tab is an integral part of the blade itself. “Fewer parts equals less to go wrong. There are no screws that might loosen up over time.” Furthermore in an open position front flippers disappear, facilitating a streamlined profile. “In the open position it gives the knife a very clean profile, almost akin to a fixed blade,” Bull says.

“Bolt-on opening mechanisms such as thumbstuds or discs take up a bit of real estate on your blade,” he continues. “They can potentially interfere with cutting.” Front flippers also give the user options in terms of deployment speed. “A well-designed one can be opened fast, or with a slow roll much like a thumbstud or disc. With a classic flipper, if you fire it wrong, the blade might not complete the opening arc.”

But Bull will be the first to admit that even the front flipper is not a ‘perfect’ deployment method. “Knifemaking is a lesson in compromise. The same applies to opening mechanisms.” Front flippers are gaining momentum, but they remain an acquired taste and come with a learning curve. “[They] are, to my experience, a love it or hate deal,” Bull explains. “Some folks just don’t like the way it deploys.” But with a little practice, he notes that most overcome the shock of the new and find something worthwhile on the other side. “Once you get the muscle memory, it’s just as fast as any other mechanism.”

Thanks to the internationality of social media and knife forums, the front flipper has been able to spread far beyond its South African origins. “The internet and social media has connected people with a love for knives like nothing before it,” Bull tells us. The novelty factor of a flipper tab being on the ‘wrong’ side may draw people in, but Bull believes they’ll see that it’s not just a gimmick. “What seems normal to a local can be a revelation to someone overseas.”

Knife featured in image: Gareth Bull Shamwari