Timberline Knives "Black Knife" -- The Kickstart

Feb 28, 2002
The "black knife" refers to an automatic knife manufactured by Charles F. Ochs from 1987. This little blade, which Ochs says is in service with the Army ARangers, Special Forces, SEAL teams, Marine Recon, FBU, US Border Patrol DEA, and others was "designed...for Special Operations applications and has been widely copied since its introduction."

Some time ago, Chuck Karwan wrote an article in Tactical Knives (reproduced on Ochs' website) on what he called "the mysterious 'black knife,'" explaining that the late custom knifemaker Ron Miller of Florida originally designed the push-button automatic black knife, which was later improved by Ochs (who apparently took over marketing the knife to the special operations community). Originally, the knives bore no identifying marks. Ochs' site describes the black knife, model BLK-S, as a 440C stainless 3-3/4 inch blade with a black oxide finish, fired by a coil spring, the blade and spring fitted into an anodized aluminum handle.

For mere mortals who cannot own automatic knives, Gatco (the Great American Tool Company) introduced the Timberline-badged version of the black knife, the Vallotton/Ochs "Kickstart." The blade, available in plain or partially serrated, is 3.62 inches long with a 4.38 inch Zytel handle. A button the handle, rather than being the automatic actuator, is the means of enabling or disabling the knife's assisted opening mechanism. The spearpoint blade is AUS-8 and the knife is imported from Taiwan.


The textured, ribbed handle is relatively thick (probably thanks to the selective assisted opening mechanism it houses). It provides decent traction, though the ribs are smooth and make it feel a little slippery. There are thumb grooves on the spine of the Zytel handle, repeated at the butt (which features a lanyard hole). Dual metal liners are visible in the spine as well.

The contours of the knife form a small integral guard. It is comfortable in my hand, but the Kickstart has one irritating quirk: Something inside the mechanism rattles when the knife is locked open with the assisted opening on. It doesn't do this when the assisted opening is not used, or when the knife is closed. Fit and finish of the knife overall are good, so I assume this has something to do with the selectable nature of the spring assist.

The blade features ambidextrous, graduated thumb studs. When the assisted opening mechanism is enabled, a light push on these studs rockets the blade forward into the locked position. Even with the assisted opening off, the blade opens very quickly, its action as smooth as glass.

There is slight lateral blade play when the blade is locked open. The liner lock engages the tang fully, but on the left side of the tang, leaving some room for wear. Lock up is positive with an authoritative "snap."


The metal pocket clip, which had good tension out of the box, is a little thinner than I might like on a knife of this heft (the Kickstart has some weight to it, again thanks to its mechanism or perhaps because of the large dual liners). It is removable (and held in place with Torx fasteners) but can be used for right-hand, tip-down carry only.

The black-coated spearpoitn blade was nicely sharp out of the box, cut and penetrated well, and resharpened easily. It is ground on both sides.

OVerall, this is a classy, if somewhat heavy pocket knife with an interesting "tactical" lineage that could be used for utility or for self-defense. It's not an automatic "black knife," no, but it's as close as most of us will get.
Oct 30, 2005
Nice to see a review of this knife.

I like the original knife's design and had wondered about the Timberline.