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Unusual Suspects: Lockback Knives

Some folks focus so much on how cool a blade looks that they fail to consider the locking mechanism. After all, a sharp but faulty folder won’t seem so attractive after it’s accidentally lopped off one of your fingers … or three.

That’s why we’re examining the classic lockback knife. Barring any manufacturing defects, it’s unlikely to close accidentally. It has a spring-loaded metal rocker bar that hooks into a notch on the bottom of the blade’s spine, preventing it from pivoting. To unlock it, press down on the rocker bar at the back of the handle, which lifts the bar out of said notch.

This knife type is one of the strongest locking mechanisms available. And unlike a frame-lock or a liner-lock, a lockback keeps your fingers clear of the blade as it closes. The only con is that most lockbacks require two hands to close safely. This design reportedly originated in 1400s Spain. It become popular in the United States in 1964 when Buck Knives released the Model 110 Folding Hunter, which is still in production today.

Here we look at newer models available today. Maybe you’ll find a lockback folder that will make the cut for you (and not your fingers).


Make: Spyderco
Model: Native 5
OAL: 6.88 inches
Blade Length: 3 inches
Blade Material: S35VN stainless steel
Weight: 4.5 ounces
MSRP: $225

Spyderco is known for making high-quality lockback knives, and the Native 5 is no exception. It’s incredibly strong, durable, and sharp. And though it’s the shortest model in our buyer’s guide, what it lacks in length it makes up for in girth. (That’s what he said.) The leaf-shaped blade provides more cutting surface without extending the overall length. Made in the USA.

> Outstanding lockup
> Smooth action thanks to Spyderco’s Bushing Pivot System
> G-10 scales offer traction without being too rough on our paws.
> Blade’s premium S35VN is sharp, tough, and corrosion-resistant.

> When closed, the wider leaf-shaped blade takes up more pocket real estate than we expected.


Make: Coast Products
Model: BX300
OAL: 7.1 inches
Blade Length: 3 inches
Blade Material: 9Cr18MoV
Weight: 1.6 ounces
MSRP: $15

The BX300 is ideal for those looking for a low-budget lockback that can be a workhorse in the field, but won’t be missed if you lose it in snow-covered forest. Though made of synthetic rubber, the handle is ergonomic. The blade lacks a thumbstud for quick deployment, but its belly provides good slicing ability. It’s slim and lightweight — ideal for everyday carry, yet it doesn’t have a pocket clip.

> Costs about as little as a venti latte and breakfast wrap
> Despite being Chinese 9Cr18MoV steel, the blade offers decent cutting and piercing performance
> Compact and comfortable to use

> No pocket clip or thumbstud
> Budget model means budget parts (aka cheaper materials)


Make: Gerber Gear
Model: SharkBelly
OAL: 7.75 inches
Blade Length: 3.25 inches
Blade Material: 420HC stainless steel
Weight: 2.3 ounces
MSRP: $39

As the name implies, this folder’s aesthetics was inspired by one of Earth’s most feared predators. The glass-filled nylon handle features SharkSkin Grip that has unidirectional scales to provide additional grippyness and a scratch-resistant pocket clip. The SharkBelly is an example of Gerber’s recent wave of everyday-carry (EDC) knives priced at affordable prices. Made in the USA.

> Solid lockup once open and smooth action when closing
> An inexpensive EDC option
> Lightweight, slim, and attractive looking

> Tip-down-only clip makes for a slower blade deployment
> The low-end 420HC is a you-get-what-you-pay-for steel; the blade dulled after our brief testing cutting.


Make: Columbia River Knife & Tool
Model: Offbeat
OAL: 8 inches
Blade Length: 3.52 inches
Blade Material: 8Cr14MoV stainless steel
Weight: 2.9 ounces
MSRP: $40

This folder is aptly titled. Rather than a spring-loaded rocker bar, the handle has a long cutout along the spine with thumbstuds at its terminus. The notch on the butt-end of the blade hooks into the terminus and locks open. To close, push on the thumbstuds to lift the terminus out of the notch. Despite its futuristic appearance, it was actually first designed by knifemaker Pat Crawford in 1979. The Offbeat will be available come January 2018.

> Outside-the-box lockback design
> Handle, made of 2Cr13 with brush finish, looks slick enough for the boardroom
> Surprisingly decent cutting performance from the Chinese 8Cr14MoV steel

> Unique design? Yes! Easy to unlock? Not quite. While a traditional lockback works on a sort of seesaw that’s aided by a spring, the Offbeat’s lock bar is a single piece of metal that you must bend back by pushing on the thumbstuds.


Make: Cold Steel
Model: Steve Austin’s Working Man
OAL: 8 inches
Blade Length: 3.5 inches
Blade Material: 4116 stainless steel
Weight: 3.1 ounces
MSRP: $60

It’s apropos that Cold Steel has teamed up with Stone Cold Steve Austin. The former is a knife company with over-the-top marketing and tough-as-nails tools. The latter is a pro wrestler and actor with an in-your-face persona and the muscles to back it up. The bottom line: The Working Man is a tough SOB — and quite colorful, as it’s available in Blaze Orange, Neon Green, and OD Green (as shown).

> 4116 blade steel is razor sharp and strong
> Reversible pocket clip
> Living up to its name, the Working Man’s price tag is within reach for most blue-collar folks.

> Cold Steel’s Tri-Ad locking mechanism is strong, safe, and shock resistant … but also amazingly stiff. We’re not sure if it’s a super tight lock spring or a gritty pivot pin, but this knife was difficult to unlock and close. After adding a bit of lube, we were able to improve it a tad.


Make: Outdoor Edge
Model: Razor-Lite EDC
OAL: 8 inches
Blade Length: 3.5 inches
Blade Material: 420J2 stainless steel
Weight: 2.8 ounces
MSRP: $35

Don’t judge a book by its cover. This ho-hum-looking folder offers surprisingly good value for its $35 price tag. The blade — made of Japanese 420J2 stainless — is replaceable while the double-molded Grivory handle features rubberized TPR inserts for a non-slip grip. The handle is available in Blaze Orange, Blue, and Gray.

> Grivory handle is comfy
> Lockback mechanism is solid and smooth
> Affordable

> While it’s cool to be able to replace the blades, 420J2 is a poor excuse for a blade steel.
> The plastic pocket clip is just begging to be snapped off.

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