Nowadays rendering of three iconic 90’s lock: Liner Lock, Back Lock and Integral Lock.
They are plethora of locks since the 90’s when the Tactical Folders trend started.
“Tactical” , a term which has been mainly used in a marketing way, means you can get access to your knife easily — A clip or a well thought pouch — and more important: to be able to open it and close it with one hand.
The blade needs to be locked in open position and also to stay closed while in the pocket.
Let’s have a look on the locks I prefer and use.
The Compression Lock.
“A lock mechanism that uses a leaf-like spring from a split liner in the handle to wedge laterally between a ramp on the blade tang and the stop pin (or anvil pin).”
What I like about that Spyderco in-house engineered system is how smooth the action is.
Spyderco is now developing and proposing flippers with the CL because the breaking action on the pivot is minimal. On my different CL folders I can open the blade in different ways: using the index, pushing the paddle to unlock the blade…
It’s fun. It depends on a detent ball to keep the blade closed.
It’s a lock easy to clean and check as the handle are all open framed. It also asked for some nested liners which, when they are skeletonized, need more attention for cleaning, especially when you use you knife in the kitchen like I do. I rinse them under hot tap water , wipe the blade and make them dry inside the pocket with body heat.
Also the compression lock can be hurting the palm of your hand when cutting hard matters.
Native 5 Back Lock.
The Back Lock.
Described on the Spyderco” Edge-U-Cation pages as: “A locking system positioned on the back of the handle that uses a rocker arm that pivots in the center. A lug on one end of the arm engages a notch in the blade’s tang to lock the blade open.”
The Manly Peak and the Native 5.
This lock has been infamous since the Buck110 and all its copycats. Spyderco has developed mainly mid-locking system which can be unlock without changing your grip lick on a Buck110. It was demonstrated with the first Native how safe it was it unlock their knife and let the choil of the blade get in touch with your finger before to close it.
This is still the way I do it, even on my Delica and Endura which got no proper choil: unlocking the blade by pushing the lock free and let the blade falling half way on your finger. The Back Lock got a spring which is strong enough to avoid a detent ball. Old timers used to pu a match inside their closed Buck110 to pass the stronger spring tension and get it open faster. On Spyderco’s, it’s also easy to avoid any locking noise just by pression the paddle before it get completely opened. Unless the blade is very heavy like on XL Cold Steel Voyager, it’s not a lock for gravity opening. But it’s one of the most solid lock. In fact because of the way it’s engaged, it can be much more solid than all the other locks. Spyderco were testing their strong back found on the Chinooks and Manix with amazing results.
It’s not the easiest lock to clean as there is no open framed handle. It’s hard to see if debris can be jammed in. Also it’s not the funniest lock to use as the spring tension is felt during all the opening and closing motion. The Spydies with relatively heavy handles can be spyderdropped for quick opening. I do that on my Knifecenter stainless steel spacered Delica for example. It’s also easy on your palm during hard cuts because of their closed handle spine. Some Compression Lock haters are Back Lock lovers because of that confortable handles.
Also I have noticed on many of my Back Locks knives some vertical play when cutting on board which brings us to…
The TriAd Lock
Featured on Cold Steel’s folders it is essentially a Back Lock with a stop pin. There is no more vertical play when cutting. It doesn’t change anything toward the negative force used to close the lock blade.
You can also find inside the Chaparral an hidden stop pin invisible as it’s hidden near the pivot.
The Liner Lock.
“A locking system developed by custom knifemaker Michael Walker that uses a leaf-like spring split from the liner to wedge laterally against a ramped surface on the tang of the blade.”
This lock was the king of Tactical frenzyness back in the 90’s. The Benchmade CQC7 and AFCK promoted them in titanium and Spyderco developped their Military with a stainless steel liner lock. If I remember well Sal Glesser and Les de Asis were together private students of Bob Terzuola which is a master in liner locks making before to start their own production. Depending on a detent ball, the liner lock was bringing that smoothness the Back Lock could not provide but it was not the strongest lock available.
Ed Schempp Euroedge strong liner lock.
To test it many people tried the infamous and stupid spine whack and many time with shock the liner was unlocked and damaged by that treatment.
It’s a very easy to lock to get open and close fast just be careful to put your finger out of the way when closing.
Titanium liner locks are wearing more than stainless steel liners.
It should not be difficult to clean depending of the handle conception. On that matter the last version of the C36 Military got rid of they spacer and got now a full open handle for easy check.
Then Chris Reeve came with his Sebenza and used a lock bar that is integral to one of the handle scales. It was giving you the sentiment, you hand’s grasp was also enhancing the locking mechanism. It’s also a very easy mechanism to clean and check hence the Spydiechef, or the K2 which are easy to use in the kitchen even after being defiled by grease and meat…
RIL of the Advocate and the ZT550.
The PPT is a mix of both RIL and liner designs with the possibility to grasp it and hold it in opening position.
BALL BEARING LOCK
“A patented compressive lock that wedges a ball bearing between a fixed anvil and the blade tang. The mechanism also serves as a detent to hold the blade in the closed position.” I was developed by Eric Glesser for his Dodo and can be found on the Manix 2 folders with a caged ball version. Some people found a lot of similitude with the Axis Lock from Benchmade but here, instead of two omega springs, it is a coil spring pushing a ball bearing made of ceramic of stainless steel. It’s smooth but not as easy to clean as other locks. Actually I prefer it on the Lightweight version of the Manix which is my main travelling knife with its CPM110V blade. It’s engineering makes it one of the strongest as you can not squeeze a ball bearing easily and it is also self adjusting.
The cage ball can be exchange with a custom titanium cage in case of breaking after years of using. It happen to my cousin who has modeled his own resin ball.
The Balisong Lock.
This could be the most fun system to use and also the strongest. Easy maintenance, no spring… It’s a very old design. The first trace was found in 1780 in France with a knife called “Le Pied Du Roy” (The King’s Foot) and circa 1800, butterfly knives were uncommon. They were made in Paris and Thier. There is a beautiful collection of the old Butterfly Knives in the Thiers Museum. French Army troops were provided with Butterfly Knives, but after WW2 there is no more trace of Butterflies made by this brand.
(More to come in the re-edition of the Fred Perrin’s balisong review soon.)
Locking a folding blade has been a puzzle for engineers for centuries. The roman folders were not locking and 2000 years ago a folding knife’s handle was considered as an attached sheath which means it was hold like a razor: by the blade.
So how to choose a lock ? Recently I have been surprised on how well the Bulgarian Manly Peak was operating: no vertical or lateral play on its very strong Back Lock. I have been playing with the Sliverax Compression Lock flipping options. My old Sebenza RIL lock is still in great shape and my Ed Schempp Bowie flies in opening position…
Lock is just a matter of taste and use, selling a design just by its lock won’t work. Some designs are made for compression lock like the Sliverax wasp shape flipper design could not go easily with another lock.
But always remember a folder cannot be as strong as a fixed blade. Marketing can be your enemy but the main enemy of locks are shocks because its weakest element will give in, bend or broke. Now when you choose a knife made by reknown makers and manufacturers you can trust their locks but it’s not the case with all the copycats and cheap knives which often got very bad quality elements ready to break or bend at the first use. I’m not saying the best locks are the most expensive but looking for quality in the making should be mandatory in your choice.