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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.