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What Exactly Is an Integral Folding Knife?

Photo: LionSteel ROK

If you spend enough time perusing and following the everyday carry space, you’ll inevitably come across the category of integral folding knives. Representing the pinnacle of everyday carry blades, this rare and decidedly premium genre of folders affords a unique range of benefits over traditional multi-piece-handled items, making integral models a clear go-to choice for the most discerning everyday carry aficionados. Despite everything they have to offer, integral knives remain some of the least appreciated and most commonly-overlooked premium EDC knives on the market.

In an effort to help right this wrong, we’re taking a deep dive into the realm of integral knives to explore what defines these models, why they stand in a class of their own, and what advantages these blades offer — as well as why these traits and features come at a premium in terms of pricing. Additionally, we’ll also be counting down our picks for the best integral EDC blades that money can buy. So, without further adieu, let’s dive into what exactly is an integral knife?

Mono-Construction Carrying

What Exactly Is An Integral Folding Knife?

To understand integral knives, we must first take a look at ordinary folders in order to glean how the two differ. Most modern folding knives feature handles that are comprised of two scales (or handle slabs) that are mated together via a pivot, pins, and a backspacer. Integral knives, on the other hand, are created with a handle that’s machined from a single piece of billet (i.e. a solid cube of metal, typically aluminum or titanium, though composites such as G-10 are also used). Starting with a single block of metal, integral knife handles are milled down with a space being carved out between the two connected handles to accommodate the blade. From there, the blade is mated to the handles with a pivot, just like any other folding knife.

Billet Blades

The Benefits Of An Integral Knife

Comprising the most exclusive EDC knives on the market, integral knives feature a number of distinct advantages and upsides over regular multi-piece handle blades, though, in order to fully appreciate the intricacies of an integral folding knife, one also needs to possess a fundamental understanding of certain metal-working techniques used in the production of knives. Thanks to their unique construction, integral knives tend to be markedly stronger, more hardwearing, and more robust than traditional cutting tools. This is largely because items that are CNC-machined from billet afford much better structural integrity than backspacer-separated handle slabs that have been cast.

This is for numerous reasons, though one of the main factors is that cast metals are heated and cooled numerous times before reaching their finished state — a process that literally changes the structure of the metal itself. Typically reserved for automotive, motorsport, or aviation applications that demand extremely precise tolerances while boasting tremendous strength, parts that are machined can be manufactured with much greater levels of precision. And it’s for this same reason that integral folding knives are almost always made with world-class levels of craftsmanship, boasting an unparalleled degree of attention to detail and fit and finish.

Another main advantage of milling a handle from a single piece of billet is that the knife ultimately requires fewer parts and moving pieces — thereby mitigating the likelihood that a component will break or fail over time. The single-piece construction does admittedly make it more difficult and time-consuming to disassemble, maintain, or repair integral knives, though this downside is greatly outweighed by the plethora of strengths and benefits offered by integrals. It’s also worth mentioning that integral knives tend to be quite a bit heavier than regular knives — another minor downside that’s outweighed several times over by their slew of benefits. Lastly, integral knives possess a certain “bling factor” that’s rivaled only by multi-thousand-dollar custom blades. Owning an integral model legitimately means carrying one of the best knives that the EDC industry has to offer.

High Performance & High Prices

Why Integral Folding Knives Are So Expensive

Designing a single-piece knife handle is an expensive and laborious endeavor. Integral knives are typically machined from pricey, high-end materials like aerospace-grade aluminum and high-grade titanium, plus the actual five-axis CNC machines used to mill these items aren’t cheap to purchase (or operate). And while some of the discarded, milled-out material can be recycled, machining metal from billet tends to waste markedly more material than traditional casting techniques. Considering that these handles are crafted from some of the finest materials available, it’s frankly unsurprising that most companies that make integral folding knives typically opt for equally top-shelf blade constructions to pair with their high-end handles — with Böhler M390 and CPM 20CV (and S90V) being some of the most common blade steel choices. 

What’s more, unlike regular pocket knives, the mono-piece handles on integral knives leave little to no margin for error in their creation. If even the smallest element is off by just a fraction of a millimeter, the entire handle has to be thrown out and started over from scratch. This essentially gives those making integral knives just one shot at getting the whole thing right, whereas regular multi-piece-handle knives can easily have individual parts scrapped without having to worry about the exorbitant overhead costs. Because integral knives are characterized by their immense precision and craftsmanship, we also tend to only see these models coming from the more well-established high-end knifemakers — brands that already charge a premium for their regular knives.

Integral EDC

Our 5 Favorite Integral Folding Everyday Carry Knives

Now that you’re up to speed on what an integral knife is, the advantages they offer, and why they carry such exorbitant MSRPs, let’s move on to our choices for our favorite integral folding knife models on the market. Below, we’ve thoroughly scoured the space to highlight this handpicked selection of today’s finest EDC folders of the integral variety.

WE Knife Co Eidolon

Penned by Justin Lundquist, the WE Knife Co. Eidolon is a minimalistic take on an integral flipper knife that sports a single-piece handle that’s been machined from solid G-10 before being fitted with a stainless steel liner lock. The Eidolon’s high-pressure fiberglass laminate handle has been mated to a stonewashed 2.86″ drop point CPM 20CV blade via a WE-logoed pivot. The knife also boasts a matching stonewashed tip-up pocket clip and, despite its somewhat diminutive size, manages to afford stellar grip thanks to texturing on the handle. Deploying the blade is also made easier thanks to jimping on its flipper tab. And, in addition to offering this integral flipper in several color options, WE also produces a version of the Eidolon with a dagger-style blade profile.

Blade: CPM 20CV
Handle: G-10
Blade Length: 2.86″
Total Length: 6.58″
Lock Type: Liner Lock

Purchase: $196

LionSteel ROK

Easily one of the most innovative and envelope-pushing knife designs of the last decade, LionSteel’s ROK is an Italian-made integral flipper with a milled and heavily-textured single-piece titanium handle and a 3.25” Böhler M390 drop point blade— an ultra-beefy workhorse of a cutting tool that’s nearly 0.20” thick. Alongside sporting a removable flipper tab, and the ability to secure the blade via a secondary, backup lock for the knife’s already robust frame lock, the ROK also comes outfitted with LionSteel’s proprietary “HWAYS” — or “Hide What Annoys You System.” This system is comprised of a spring-loaded pocket clip that sits flush in the integral handle when not being used, thereby eliminating the hot spots typically stemming from pocket clips. LionSteel also offers ultra-top-shelf versions of the ROK with Damascus steel blades, as well as more affordable aluminum-handled models that retain the Ti-spec’s Böhler M390 blade.

Blade: Böhler M390
Handle: Titanium (or Aluminum)
Blade Length: 3.25″
Total Length: 7.75”
Lock Type: Integral Frame-Lock

Purchase: $360

Benchmade 781 Anthem

Benchmade’s regular models already constitute some of the finest knives that money can buy, so it probably won’t come as a surprise to learn the Oregon City outfit absolutely knocked it out of the park when designing its first integral folder. Dubbed the Anthem, the knife is constructed around a single-piece handle with a unique grip-bolstering chevron-patterned texturing that’s machined from a block of titanium and fitted with a titanium construction version of Benchmade’s signature AXIS locking mechanism. Rated at between 59 and 61 for hardness on the Rockwell scale, the Anthem’s stonewash-finished 3.50” drop point blade is made from ultra-premium CPM-20CV steel — one of, if not the most high-end blade steels offered by Crucible Industries. And, while the Anthem has unfortunately been discontinued, with a little digging — and some luck – units can still be tracked down online.

Blade: CPM 20CV
Handle: Titanium
Blade Length: 3.50”
Total Length: 8.06″
Lock Type: AXIS Lock

Purchase: $435

The James Brand The Barnes

The James Brand’s most premium and technically advanced knife to date, the Barnes sports a minimalistic design that was crafted with some of the finest materials available. The Barnes’ single-piece handle starts as a block of 6AL4V titanium billet before being milled down on a five-axis CNC machine. From there, the model’s top-shelf handle is complemented via an equally premium blade made from Böhler M390 stainless steel — a 3.50” drop point item that’s secured via a frame locking mechanism backed by a hardened steel lock-face insert. What’s more, the Barnes’ “super steel” blade is deployed via a dual-sided titanium thumb-stud and effortlessly guided by a set of ceramic bearings. The Barnes also features a pocket clip with a paint-filled Clovis detail that’s also been machined from 6AL-4V titanium before being mated to the handle with no visible hardware. Sold in a special presentation/gift box, the Barnes also comes with an included paracord lanyard and The James Brand’s first-ever custom coin design.

Blade: Böhler M390
Handle: Titanium
Blade Length: 3.50”
Total Length: 7.80”
Lock Type: Integral Frame-Lock

Purchase: $599

Spyderco Rassenti Paysan

French for “peasant,” the Paysan is an ultra-top-shelf interpretation of one of Spyderco’s signature round thumb-hole-deployed folding knives. Penned by renowned knife designer Peter Rassenti, the Spyderco Paysan is crafted around a single-piece titanium handle that boasts a high-strength Reeve Integral Lock mechanism. Set on a ball bearing and washer-equipped pivot, the Paysan sports a 3.88” Wharncliffe blade composed of CPM-S90V steel. The Paysan’s locking mechanism is also equipped with a stainless steel interface that hugely extends the knife’s shelf-life while simultaneously acting as an over-travel stop. All in all, with its mono-construction titanium handle and ultra-top-shelf sheepsfoot blade, the Paysan manages to take the ample utility and performance already offered by Spyderco’s regular knives and crank them up to 11.

Blade: CPM-S90V
Handle: Titanium
Blade Length: 3.88″
Total Length: 8.74″
Lock Type: Integral Frame-Lock

Purchase: $644

The Complete Guide to Knife Handle Materials

Interested in learning more about EDC blades and handle constructions? Then be sure to head over to our comprehensive guide on knife handle materials for an in-depth look at frames, scales, and locking mechanisms.