Knife Lock Styles

Finding a new knife can be an overwhelming process. There are so many different features that you have to decide between. Some of the main features are steel types, blade shapes, and how the knife opens. One of the features that folding knives have is the locking mechanisms. When I was first looking into buying a new knife, I knew that I had to figure out all the previously mentioned characteristics, but I overlooked researching the locking mechanisms. This article is all about the different popular locking mechanisms and what the advantages and disadvantages of each of them are.

 

Liner Lock:

One of the most popular and commonly used locking systems is the liner lock. This style is also known as the Locking Liner system. This style was originally known as the Walker Lock because the inventor is Michael Walker. The system works because when the knife blade is opened, there is a metal lock bar angled from the center of the handle interior towards the center where it bumps against the tang of the knife blade. When the tension of the lock bar is pressed against the blade, it keeps the blade open and in place. To close the knife, you use your thumb to push the lock bar away from the blade, which releases the tension, and then you can close the blade manually. This type of locking system is commonly found on tactical folding knives.

Advantages of a liner lock:

  • This style of lock is easy to close one handed, so it makes it an ideal mechanism for when you are doing lots of hands on work.
  • The liner lock is great for tactical knives.
  • This style of lock is very reliable to use.

Disadvantages of a liner lock:

  • This style is normally made by thinner metal, so they can wear out.
  • When a liner lock is not built correctly, it can lead to failure over time.
  • When a liner lock is not built correctly, it can led to lots of blade play.
  • This is not an ambidextrous style of lock, because it can only be released from one side.

 

Lockback:

The lockback locking mechanisms is one of the older styles of locking mechanisms; you will see this style on a lot of classic folding knives. This style is often called a spin lock, because it has a notch on the back of the handle. This notch is where the spine of the blade locks into when it is opened. To then close the knife, you push on the exposed part of the spine, which is usually found in the middle of the handle, which moves the part of the mechanism holding the blade in place. Once this is moved, you can close the blade manually. Because the piece you push to disengage the lock is out of the way, it is hard to accidently unlock the knife. However, because this is out of the way, you often have to use two hands to close the knife, not making this an ideal option for tasks that requires your other hand.

Advantages of a lockback:

  • This style of locking system makes knives with this mechanism ambidextrous.
  • The release “button” is out of the way, so it is a safe way to keep your knife locked.
  • This style of lock holds the blade securely.

Disadvantages of a lockback:

  • The user usually has to use two hands to close it.

 

Frame lock:

The frame lock locking mechanism is also one of the most popular locking mechanisms. This style is really just a liner lock on steroids. Meaning, that instead of having the internal lock bar moving into the right place, it is incorporated directly into the handle. This makes it work similarly to the frame lock, because the frame (this would be the lock bar on a liner lock) positions itself right beneath the blade when it is opened, not allowing it to fold. On a liner lock, the liner and lock bar work as a spring, but in a frame lock, the frame works like a spring. This makes this style more secure than a liner lock. Just like on a liner lock, you push down on the frame, moving it out of the way and freeing the blade, then close the knife manually. Because the locking mechanism is in the frame, it uses a large amount of metal against the blade, which is why it is more secure and sturdy than a liner lock. This makes it ideal for heavy duty tasks. Advantages of a frame lock:

  • The frame lock system is very sturdy.
  • This locking mechanism keeps the blade very secure.
  • The frame lock is ideal for heavy duty tasks, including cutting, piercing, and slicing.

Disadvantages of a frame lock:

  • You normally have to use two hands to close the knife.
  • This style is costlier than a liner lock style of locking mechanism.

 

AXIS lock:

The AXIS lock is specifically made by Benchmade, meaning only Benchmade knives will have this lock, but it is a revolutionary lock, so I’m not going to skip talking about it. This locking mechanism is made of a spring-tension bar that goes the length of the handle. After the blade is opened, this spring-tension bar is pushed forward within the slot in the handle until it locks into place. It locks into place when the blade is fully extended. The spring-tension bar then rests on the blade, so that it can’t close. When closing the knife, you pull this spring-tension bar to the back of the blade, with the thumb studs, and then can close the blade. You can reach the bar from either side, making it very ambidextrous. This system uses less of the regular locking system parts that can create friction, so this style feels much smoother than others. But, because it has so many parts involved, it can be hard to clean and maintain.

Advantages of an AXIS lock:

  • This style is completely ambidextrous.
  • You can close the blade without ever putting your fingers in line of the blade, making it a safer option.
  • This style feels smoother than other styles of locking mechanisms.
  • Very sturdy—this style can stand up to some of the toughest work.

Disadvantages of an AXIS lock:

  • The AXIS lock can be hard to maintain and clean because of the smaller parts that are hard to take apart.
  • This locking mechanism is only on Benchmade knives.
  • The smaller thumb studs can be hard to operate, especially on the smaller knives that feature the AXIS lock.

 

ARC Lock:

This style of lock is also known as the Cam lock. The ARC lock is another style of locking mechanism that is only found in one brand of knife, but the ARC lock is only found on SOG Specialty Knives. It is very similar to the AXIS lock. But the difference is that instead of having a bar moving in a vertical motion, this style has a device that moves in an arc. The bar and arc-moving device both work identically by blocking the tang of the knife from closing while locked. The ARC lock has high strength levels, and SOG has tested the strength in lab tests. The ARC can open very quickly and smoothly; it can also be opened with only one hand. SOG has added a safety feature that ensures the blade stays secure within the handle when it is closed.

Advantages of an ARC lock:

  • This locking mechanism is completely ambidextrous—one of the few.
  • The ARC lock can open quickly and smoothly.
  • The knife features a safety mechanism that keeps the blade securely closed while locked.
  • This style is very easy to use.

Disadvantages of an ARC lock:

  • This style of lock is only found on SOG knives.
  • While this style of lock is very strong, it is not as strong as some of the other options.

 

Tri-Ad Lock:

Cold Steel has also designed their own type of locking mechanism; they named it the Tri-Ad lock. Andrew Demko is the designer of this style of locking mechanism. This style works by having the blade shouldered around the stop pin, this helps at resistance to wear. The stop pin works to even out the pressure that the blade creates and redistribute it into the handle, because the handle can absorb the pressure better. Some unique aspects of the Tri-Ad lock that Cold Steel has worked to create is extra space allows the rocker to go further into the notch. This is great for normal wear that most locks go through over time. Another thing that Cold Steel has created is that in the Tri-Ad lock the full surface of the lock and the blade are level with each other. And the lock has a slight angle, which pushes the lock inwards instead of outward, making this helps keep the locking mechanism for a longer. Plus, the pin hole has extra space inside so that the knife can actually self-adjust over time as the different parts are slowly worn out. This makes knives with this style of lock extremely maintainable. The Tri-Ad lock is a very secure and safe style of locking mechanism that keeps the blade snug. The Tri-Ad lock is similar to the lockback style of mechanism, but it has the added stop pin to make it unique.

Advantages of a Tri-Ad lock:

  • The patented stop pin moves the pressure from the lock into the handle to ease every day wear and tear that locks endure.
  • Because the Tri-Ad has extra space in the pin hole, this style of lock is self-adjusting, making knives with this style of lock extremely easy to maintain.
  • Because the lock has a slight angle, the pressure pushes the lock inward instead of outward, making the lock sturdier.
  • This style of lock is a very secure style of lock.
  • Similar to the lockback style, but with the added stop pin making it unique.

Disadvantages of a Tri-Ad lock:

  • This style is exclusive to Cold Steel, so it is not as widely used.

 

Slip Joint lock:

This type of lock is unique because it doesn’t actually every lock. It has a slip joint that uses pressure from a spring to hold the blade up. To open this kind of knife, you pull on the blade, which snaps it into place. To close it, you just push it back down. Because this type of lock isn’t actually a lock, this style is not great for heavy duty knives. This type of “lock” is most commonly seen on Swiss Army Knives.

Advantages of a slip joint lock:

  • This style is very simple and easy to use.

Disadvantages of a slip joint lock:

  • Since it doesn’t ever actually lock into place, it is not great for heavy duty tasks.

 

Lever Lock:

A lever lock works because there is a pin that prevents the blade from closing. Once the blade is completely open, the pin fits in a hole that is on the tang of the blade. It gets its name because when you want to close the knife, there is a lever that you push down which then lifts the pin out of the blade. Then you can fold the blade back into the handle. This pin also is what keeps the blade closed, so you have to press the lever to open the blade as well. This style of lock is commonly found on Italian style switchblade knives.

Advantages of a lever lock:

  • The pin and lever system hold the knife securely in place while locked.
  • This locking mechanism is found on Italian style knives, so it looks aesthetically pleasing.

Disadvantages of a lever lock:

  • If the lever or pin breaks, the whole locking system is destroyed.

 

Now that we have discussed the different, common, and popular blade locking mechanisms, you can make a more informed decision when buying a knife and get the perfect knife for you. Check out BladeOps to find great knives with any of these locking mechanisms.

 

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.

 

Lockback-

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.

Boker Kalashnikov 73 Liner Lock Knife

Boker Kalashnikov 73 Liner Lock
Boker Kalashnikov 73 Liner Lock

You already know you can pick up the Boker Kalashnikov automatic knife in the new, smaller size. This 73 series has been extremely popular.  Well now you can get the 73 in a manual folder liner lock edition.  Built with a thumb stud to slide the blade open, this knife is the perfect pocket knife for someone who wants a well built knife that will stand up to heavy abuse.  With an AUS8 blade and an aluminum handle that is built for comfort, the Boker Kalashnikov folder knives are perfect.  And now they come in the smaller size.