Pro-Tech Chad Nichols Rain Drop Damascus Knife

For those looking for the ultimate in an eye-catching auto, there are Pro-Tech Chad Nichols “rain drop” Damascus bladed, engraved stainless steel handle models. These are produced in relatively small numbers that sell out quickly, so it never pays to hesitate if you want one.

A few years ago I would have told you that it could never happen, but we really do seem to be living in a golden age of auto-opening folders. One of the primary reasons given back in 1958 for putting the Federal restrictions on these knives was that they had no useful purpose besides crime. While there actually were push-button utility knives around in those days, it was the long, mean Italian switchblade “stilettos” the politicians focused on. Even I would have a difficult time saying those folders had an everyday use that couldn’t be done better by some other type of knife. The main point here is that how a knife opens doesn’t determine its practicality and there is no reason that autos can’t be functional everyday tools. Modern makers like Pro-Tech Knives are constantly proving that to any reasonable person’s satisfaction.

The full line up of standard model TR-4 folders shown in both aluminum and stainless steel handle variations. Note the non-auto knife in the center lacks the safety found the spring activated folders. All versions are available with partially serrated blades like the second to right.

Tactical Response Folders
Recently, I was allowed an opportunity to give Pro-Tech’s TR-4 (Tactical Response) family of autos an extended evaluation. The basic specs for this model include a 4-inch leaf shaped drop-point blade of 154CM stainless, 1.35 inches wide and 1/8-inch thick. Both “stone wash” and DLC black finishes with either a plain or partially serrated edge are available on all variations. The 5.25-inch handle is either T6 6061 anodized black aluminum or 416 stainless steel. An extension of the frame forms both a lanyard loop and a window breaker/striking point on the butt of the handle. On the auto version (Pro-Tech also offers a street legal non-auto for those in parts of the country where this is a legal necessity) a securely recessed push button on the left side of the handle releases the blade. A precision-machined sliding safety is also provided behind the release button.


To make things more interesting, the handles are all available with custom laser engraving of your favorite motto and/or unit insignia. If supplied with a clean, black and white computer image, Pro-Tech can customize the knives with no setup fee. All knives come in a MOLLE compatible ballistic nylon sheath as an alternative to using the standard pocket clip. Prices start around $300 and go up depending on the variation and options requested.

The top blade is the TR-4 at the end of the evaluation and the bottom is an unused one. As you can see, there was very little wear to the finish.

The stainless version of the TR-4 is a real pocket brick to carry but that could add a lot of impact to any blow using the handle point of the knife.

It has come as kind of a pleasant surprise to me how willing the current military establishment has been to accepting spring-activated folders in the last decade of warfare. While everyone probably knows about the Presto MK-2’s issued to WW-II paratroopers, there was almost a complete opposite policy in place during Vietnam. U.S Customs officers actively searched everyone in my group for switchblades when we entered the battle zone. A few days later, the army opened a crate of hand grenades and told me to take all I thought I could carry. Which would you worry about most, a nervous 18-year-old with fragmentation grenades strung all over him or one with an auto-opening folder in his pocket? It was pretty much the same story stateside with the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, even the possession of an old WW-II Mk-2 would get you in big trouble. In fact, I once watched my company CO confiscate a non-locking folding hunter off a guy in my platoon while we sat on a runway fully rigged for a parachute jump.

Pro-Tech can also engrave all of these knives’ handles with the motto or unit insignia of your choice for a small extra fee.

Modern Military Autos
Some have said, given all the manual one-hand opening knives available today, there is no longer a need for full-autos. It is my understanding that the military theory on this is that you may be injured and not able to work any of the manual systems. Obviously, in this kind of an emergency, there are more ways to push that button than simply using your finger. And of course, there is simply the “cool” factor that all troops like as much as anyone.


Most of my field-testing was with a black coated, aluminum handle, straight edge TR-4. While I had no special need for a subdued blade, I always like to see how well any finish holds up to normal everyday use. In this case, it was very well indeed. Early on, the knife was put to use harvesting produce in the garden and cutting down old plants and large weeds. Several times it saw employment slicing and dicing overage vegetables for the compost pile. As the summer turned into fall, the knife found a fair amount of service cutting limbs and vines out of hunting trails as I tried to slip silently through the woods. Ultimately, I dropped a small deer on our tree farm and used the knife to skin it out. Unlike the old Italian springers of the 50’s, Pro-Tech really does have a first-class general purpose blade shape in this one.

With any auto opener there is always the question of how long will it hold up compared to a manually operated knife. The modern coil spring systems have been a major improvement over the traditional leaf springs. I think practically everyone that has carried the older autos has one or two stuck away someplace with a broken spring. I know I do, and the spring broke about the second week I owned the high-end German-made folder.

While I only had the Pro-Techs for around 3 months, like everyone with a push-button knife, I opened it a little oftener than I really needed to just to hear the “click!” I would like to think I added several more months to the testing in this manner. The knife was still working fine at the end of my evaluation and has never failed even when coated and clogged with various plant residues. It should probably also be pointed out, should there be a problem that a coil spring is normally much easier to replace than a leaf spring.

The black coated, straight edge TR-4 the author carried for a couple of months proved to be an outstanding everyday work knife for a wide range of chores. This included skinning out one deer during hunting season.

Pocket Brick
A word about the all steel version though—at 10.5 ounces, this one really is a brick to carry. I know from long experience in the industry, there are those that prefer that “solid” feeling in their folders. It probably goes without saying that that weight would add a lot of impact to a blow with the window breaker end on glass or a bad guy’s skull. Preferring the pocket-clip from long habit, I admit I never used the nylon pouch on any of the TR-4 variations. While the steel frame was just too much for my front pocket, it might not seem so heavy if it were carried in the pouch. One thing for sure, you aren’t going to damage this one with anything short of a direct hit from a tank gun.

For those looking for something a little more exclusive, there are the Chad Nichols “rain drop” Damascus bladed versions of the model. As the Bruce Shaw skull-engraved handle knife in this article demonstrates, this can be one very impressive looking knife that will turn heads anywhere it is displayed! The numbers on this variation are fairly limited, so act fast if you are interested.

All knives come with a ballistic nylon belt and MOLLE compatible pouch. While the author prefers slip carry for his own EDC knives, the pouch might be more reliable under military combat conditions.

The TR-4 is just one of a large group of modern, high-quality auto-openers offered by Pro-Tech. When you consider all the customizing option also offered by the company, the possibilities are practically limitless.

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