Knife Locking Mechanisms

Almost every knife has a type of locking mechanism. Many are good, but there are a few that excel in what they are designed to do. Below are some of the top locks used. They all have their own strengths and weaknesses. A knife is more than a blade. It is the handle, the integrate pieces, and the locking mechanism. The list will help you to choose the best knife for your needs.


Axis Lock-

Different than most locking systems seen before, the AXIS is user-friendly, with its ambidextrous design, to people who are either left handed or right handed. The lock is able to be used on both sides of the knife without having to switch the knife to a different hand. The lock has a natural feel to it and is easily operated, even for those who struggle with fine motor skills. As far as ambidextrous knives go, Benchmade knives featuring AXIS locks are among the best.

It functions by having a small steel bar that moves back and forth in a slot that is milled into both sides of the knife. Long enough to go from one side of the knife handle to the other, the AXIS is positioned near the rear of the blade. There are two different grooved portions on the tang of the blade that keeps the knife locked open or closed while the AXIS is engaged. The metal bar stretching forth from the one side to the other prevents the knife from slipping closed. There is little chance of it slipping. This lock makes for a perfect everyday carry locking system with its security and reliability. Because this mechanism has plenty of moving parts involved it can, however, be difficult to disassemble for cleaning and maintenance.

Knife Examples: Benchmade Griptilian, Benchmade Stryker.


Compression Lock-

Although the compression lock shares similarities, it is different than a frame or liner lock in a number of ways. It does use part of the liner, but it is located in the back of the handle, rather than the front. The liner gets trapped in-between the blade and the stop pin. The pressure that is built up that location makes it virtually impossible to close on your hand. This is a stronger locking mechanism than a liner or frame lock. The lock is also is unique in that it isn’t utilized as often as it probably should, thus making it a rare novelty item.

Knife Examples: Spyderco Paramilitary 2, Spyderco Szabo.


Frame Lock/Reeve Integral Lock (RIL)-

A type of frame locking system that was introduced with the Sebenza Folder. The Frame or Integral Lock was created by Chris Reeve of Chris Reeve Knives and first appeared on the Sebenza. Chris Reeve calls it an Integral Lock, but the common name used in the industry now is simply “Frame Lock”. The original Integral Lock was developed in 1987. Of the locking system Reeve said,

“My first impressions of the liner lock style locking mechanism were very favorable but when I examined it more closely, I decided that I didn’t much like the flimsiness of the thin liner.  After some thought, I redesigned the concept and have created the Sebenza Integral Lock© which I believe to be the most rugged folding knife on the market,”

It is used when a handle slab (usually located on the back of the knife) is slotted in a groove on the knife to lock the knife into place. This groove is in place behind the blade to refrain it from closing. Critics suggest that this is one of the best locking mechanisms for its life-long durability and its reliability. The locking system makes any knife more reliable during use because of its ability to resist slipping while retaining its strength.

The Frame Lock is a modification of the Liner Lock created by Michael Walker to simplify and strengthen the design. This is done by removing the handle scales and thin liners from the knife and using thicker liners to serve as both the handles, and the integrated locking bar. Frame locks are stronger than normal liner locks and are simpler in design. While holding the knife, the lock is being reinforced since it is integrated into the handle.

Knife Examples: Chris Reeve Large Sebenza 21, Kershaw Thermite.


Liner Lock-

The liner lock is one of the most prevalent locking systems used in the knife industry. It was invented and patented in 1980 by Michael Walker. A liner lock works by having a section of the liner spring inwards and wedge itself beneath the tang of the blade when it is opened all the way. This locks the blade open between the stop pin and the liner locking mechanism. The liner lock is easy to manufacture and reliable to use. The biggest advantage of the liner lock is the easy one-handed opening and closing. Most other locking methods are not as easy to close one-handed.

Knife Examples: Spyderco Firefly, Kershaw Kurai.



The lockback is one of the older forms of blade locking systems. It popular with knifemakers because of the low cost of manufacture. This allows money to be spent elsewhere on the knife while still providing a reliable locking system. Some improvements in lockback design have happened over the years by making it less susceptible to an accidental disengagement.

A lockback is usually located on the back of the handle, where the spring-loaded, rocker bar can be pushed to disengage the blade from its locked position. The lock works by wedging itself into a notch in the blade to prevent it from rotating. While this lock is sturdy, it isn’t the most practical as far as one-handed closing goes.

Knife Examples: Steel Will Mini Gekko, Spyderco Endura 4.


Plunge/Button Lock-

The plunge/button lock was originally created to be used in automatic knives as a way to lock the blade closed and open (since coil spring automatics have constant spring pressure being applied to the blade). Recently, many companies have used this as an alternative locking mechanism for folding and spring assisted knives. The buttons on automatic and manual knives are essentially the same, with the difference being only the design of the blade tang to facilitate opening the knife without pushing the button.

The plunge lock works by using a spring-loaded button that is located next to the tang of the knife. It rests inside a groove when the knife is open, thereby locking it in the open position. Basically, it wedges itself between the tang of the blade and the handles when the knife is opened. Having this type of lock makes it easy and quick to fire off the knife. One downside is that the button sticks out of the handle far enough that an accidental opening is a real possibility.

Knife Examples: Gerber Propel, Boker Kalashnikov


Again, these are some of the most popular locking mechanisms out on the market today. There have been many new locking mechanisms created over the years. It will be interesting to see the next big locking mechanism to come out. The locks above have served well in keeping knives locked up tight. With so many differences between them, be certain of what you want. After this choice, choosing a blade steel, and a handle material will be simple.