Knives and offensive weapons - The law

This advice is designed to provide basic guidance to traders. It is not a complete or authoritative statement of the law. Please note that some of the advice we provide to businesses is chargeable.

The Offensive Weapons Act 1996 amended and previous legislation makes it illegal to sell to children under 18 years old: 

  • any knife, knife blade or razor blade
  • any axe
  • any article that has a blade or which is sharply pointed and which is made or adapted for causing injury to the person

This does not apply to

  • a folding pocket knife with a blade of less than 3 inches or 7.62 cm
  • a razor blade permanently held in a cartridge or similar housing where less than 2mm of the blade is exposed
  • articles such as scissors or compasses

Whether a particular article is a knife is a question of fact, but using a wider definition this legislation prohibits sales of eg sheath knives, kitchen knives, craft knives and carpet knives to persons under the age of 18.

Combat knives

Further restrictions are included in the Knives Act 1997. This legislation prohibits the marketing of a knife or the publication of marketing relating to a knife, in a way which: 

  • indicates or suggests that it is suitable for combat or
  • is likely to stimulate or encourage violent behaviour involving the use of the knife as a weapon

The term ‘suitable for combat’ means that the knife is suitable for use as a weapon for inflicting injury or causing fear of injury to the person.

There are exemptions to allow sales of such items for legitimate purposes, such as use by armed forces or as collectors’ pieces.