Nothing quite says auto like an Out-the-Front (OTF) automatic knife. I can recall stumbling into a cheap “NATO” model when I was a kid. It eventually was confiscated when I was at Boy Scout camp. It wasn’t a very good knife, honestly. Also, it was not very appropriate for a teenage Scout, but it was really slick. Ever since that time I’d always wanted a good OTF, and I had my first chance to really wring one out when I worked with the Benchmade Infidel back in the November 2009 issue of Tactical Knives. This time around I got a look at the Heckler & Koch (HK) Epidemic model 14850BK and think I may have found one of the ultimate duty autos out there.
A Look at the HK Epidemic
The HK Epidemic is built by Benchmade. It’s flat anodized black exterior with contrasting red anodized thumb button compliment the simple rectangular lines of the 6061-T6 aluminum handle. A stylized series of grooves and deeply engraved HK adorn each side of the handle. Despite its squarish grip the knife is very comfortable in the hand. All of the edges are rounded where they need to be, and the handle sweeps out slightly to provide an integral guard to keep the hand in place.
The grip size works well in my hands so that when I grasp the knife, my index finger nestles under the guard. Meanwhile, my thumb falls naturally on the firing button. A reversible, subdued pocket clip is attached; it places the knife low and securely in the pocket in the tip down position. There’s enough tension for a secure hold but not so much that the clip tears up your clothing or is impossible to remove without using two hands. Just enough handle protrudes to make the knife easy to draw. The slab sides allow the knife to carry flat and comfortably in the pocket.
At a closed length of just 4.78 inches and a weight of only 3.86 ounces, the Epidemic can be pocketed and soon forgotten. In fact I did forget it once when I dropped my pants in the hamper with the knife still attached. I thought I lost it — whoops. I’m getting good at that, I’ve done it at least once before.
Using the Knife
The double-action firing mechanism on the Epidemic is stiff enough to preclude the need for a manual safety. It requires a deliberate forward push to open the knife and solid rearward pull to close it. It isn’t hard to do by any means, but a number of people who tried it didn’t initially push hard enough to fire the mechanism and were looking for a safety to disengage. Once told to put some more oomph behind their push they quickly mastered the mechanism. When you do engage the thumb button you’re rapidly greeted by a sharp snick as the Epidemic’s 3.44-inch spear point blade snaps into place.
My test model was a 14850BK with the black coating. However, the same knife is available as the 14850 with a satin finish. The blade itself is plain edge and ground from D2 steel treated to a 60-62 HRC. There’s a slight bit of blade play present when the blade is open, which is common to OTF autos. Overall length of the Epidemic with the blade open is 8.22 inches; this gives you a fair sized defensive blade despite its easy to carry package. Overall, it’s a great blade.
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