When it comes to locking mechanisms found on pocket knives, there are a bunch of choices with new options being developed often and to someone new in the industry, it can seem overwhelming and extremely confusing.
In this guide, we’ll be discussing what a pocket knife locking mechanism actually is, various questions that you may have when shopping around, and we’ll go over each and every one of the locking mechanisms available on the market today so we can try and make sure you get the perfect knife for your perfect little self!
It’s important to know that there really isn’t any single “best” locking mechanism, but more so a variety of options suited to people with different use cases and personal preferences. I wish I could just tell you to get a knife with such and such mechanism and all will be right in the world, but unfortunately, that’s just not how it works, so instead, we’ll do our best to arm you with the information you need to make the best decision on your own.
As a note here before we get started, if you’re new to the vast and complex world of pocket knives and you’re here because you want to ensure your hard-earned money is spent on a pocket knife that will serve you the best, you might want to check out our other guides on factors that are equally as important, such as the actual blade steel, the grind of the blade itself, or perhaps the shape of the blade as these are all crucial factors, along with the locking mechanism, that you’ll want to understand and take into consideration.
Marine Approved Pocket Knife Locking Mechanism Reviews
The following is a list of locking mechanisms you are most likely to run into plus a few that are rare or possibly exclusive to certain brands but are still notable and worth talking about. As you’ll notice, many locking designs are often referred to under several names or are grouped together due to being extremely similar, which we will talk about in the review section if need be.
The popularity rating is simply how available and how often you’ll come across knives utilizing this style of locking mechanism and is pretty much an arbitrary decision based on our personal experience and what the top sellers are currently at the time of writing.
Reliability is again a rating that we’ll be giving arbitrarily based on our personal experience and further research on the mechanism. Remember, most of these locks, so long as crafted by a reputable brand, will be reliable and strong enough for the average person to use on a daily basis.
The last two sections are simply there to quickly indicate whether the locking mechanism can be operated by both right or left hands seamlessly and intuitively and whether or not the locking mechanism is known to be easily operated with one hand. Of course, some of you have magic hands and can operate any mechanism one-handed but not everyone is so gifted, so this indication will specifically be for those mechanisms that stand out and are especially easy to use single-handedly.
1. Liner Locks
Popularity: Among the most popular locking mechanisms on the market today.
Reliability: Simple is good and it really doesn’t get much more simple than a good old-fashioned liner lock. You can find some that are pretty junk and won’t even withstand your body weight if it’s attached to a knife you found for five bucks at a thrift store but for the most part, liner locks are pretty hard to mess up and almost all knives that encompass a liner lock have exceptional locking reliability and strength.
Mechanism Review: It’s a piece of metal sitting on the inside of the handle that is bent and under tension and when the blade is completely opened, that piece of metal slides over and disallows the back of the blade to move. It’s exceptionally simple and among the most intuitive locking designs out there. To release the lock, you simply slide your thumb over and push that hunk of metal out of the way and the blade is now free to move.
Ambidextrous? Liner locks are either built for right-handed or left-handed use, with right-handed models being far more popular, so no, liner locks are not considered to be ambidextrous although, with some practice, most liner locks are somewhat usable with the hand it wasn’t designed for.
Single-Handed Use? For the most part, almost all liner locks are relatively easy to use single-handedly, although far from being the best single-handed mechanisms.
- Spyderco Tenacious
- Civivi Elementum
- Fox Knives Desert Fox
2. Spine Lock, Lock back, mid lock, Tail Lock
Popularity: Extremely Popular and widely known as one of the most classic locking configurations.
Reliability: Among the most tried and true locking mechanisms and are especially reliable due to having only one real moving part, which is a solid piece of steel.
Mechanism Review: This style of locking mechanism is one of the most popular and one that you’ve probably at least seen before if you have any experience at all with folding knives. For the most part, all of the names above are essentially the same with the tail lock just being a spine lock that is located near the end of the handle, but still on the spine.
These locks are very popular because they’re easy to manufacture, easy to use and can be found on a wide range of knives in pretty much any price category. Some prefer the spine lock style to a liner lock or frame lock due to the lock being located on the back of the spine as to avoid a firm encompassing grip accidentally activating the lock of a liner lock while your fingers are around the handle and in the path of the blade.
A spine lock is simply a piece of steel sitting along the spine under the tension of a spring that moves into place under the shoulder section at the tang of the blade. When the blade is opened, the shoulder rotates until a depression becomes available where the spine lock falls into place and will not allow the blade to move any further without being pulled up and away from the tang of the blade.
To unlock a spine lock, one must intentionally pull their fingers up and lessen their grip as to maneuver their fingers into the slot on the spine, push in, and then fold the blade down, which minimizes the risk of accidents over the popular liner lock configuration. When pushing in, you are raising the end of the lock and pulling it out of the depression found in the shoulder piece of the blade’s tang, releasing it and allowing it to move freely.
Ambidextrous? Spine locks are almost always going to be ambidextrous as they are located on the spine, which puts its primary location in a centralized portion of the knife despite which hand you’re holding it in.
Single-Handed Use? There is room for discussion here as spine locks can be a little tricky to use with one hand in specific circumstances. Sometimes, especially on tail lock styles, you’d have to lessen your grip so much that holding the knife while pressing in the lock can be a little unstable, especially if the knife is big and heavy compared to your hands. Spine locks that are located high on the handle near the blade are typically pretty easy to use with one hand, so at the end of the day, it kind of depends on where the lock is the size of the knife, and the size of your hands in comparison with the knife.
- KA-BAR Dozier
- Spyderco Endura 4
- Buck Knives Buck 110
3. Frame Lock, Integral Lock, Reeve Lock, Bolstered Frame Lock
Popularity: Frame locks are among the most popular locking mechanisms on folding knives.
Reliability: Frame locks are generally very reliable, however, they can be a bit frail on cheap knives that aren’t constructed out of strong materials.
Mechanism Review: The frame lock is pretty simple and somewhat similar to a liner lock. Instead of using a liner inside the handle, an actual piece of the handle itself is bent inwards and under tension while the blade isn’t locked. When the blade moves into the locking position, a part of the frame moves in behind the tang, locking it into place. Unlocking it is a similar operation as a liner lock-in that you simply push the moving part of the frame over and the blade is now free to move.
Some of you may know these by the term “Chris Reeve Integral (RIL)” lock which is just a term coined by Chris Reeve in accordance with their design of the frame lock. The bolstered frame lock is still a frame lock, utilizing the actual frame, but the moving part is hidden by a secondary panel, usually just there to make it look nice and kind of hides the part of the frame that acts as the lock.
Ambidextrous? No, frame locks are generally designed for right-handed use and require you to push the frame to the left, meaning it’s very awkward and difficult to operate in the left hand.
Single-Handed Use? Most frame locks are good for single-handed use but sometimes they’re really stiff or the design itself is odd and requires a second hand to operate, so it really depends on the specific knife.
- Kershaw Misdirect
- Zero Tolerance Hinderer
- Chris Reeve Sebenza
4. Slide Bar Lock, Slide Button Lock, Axis Lock (Benchmade Exclusive), Able Lock (Hogue Exclusive), XR Lock (SOG Exclusive)
Popularity: These are fairly popular and getting more popular as many more knives are being introduced with them.
Reliability: Reputable versions of this lock, such as the Axis version from Benchmade and Able version from Hogue are extremely reliable and very strong. For the most part, so long as the lock is made from a reputable brand, these locks are plenty reliable for normal pocket knife use.
Mechanism Review: Benchmade was essentially the first to design and utilize this lock officially, but since the patent has expired, it’s been free range for anyone to make their own iteration of these kinds of locks.
For the most part, these locks are extremely similar. A button or slider attached to a bar sits under spring tension behind the tang of the blade and when the blade is moved into position, the tang pushes the bar down and then at its apex, locks back into place, ensuring the blade can no longer move. To disengage the lock, simply grab the button or slider, move them down, causing the bar inside to move out of the way of the blade, and the blade is now free to move. The real difference between all of the “proprietary” versions of this lock is really just the shape of the thing you actually put your finger on, but the basic operation and ideology is all the same.
Ambidextrous? Yes, most slide bar lock styles have access to the mechanism on both sides of the handle.
Single-Handed Use? Yes, these are, for the most part, very easy to use one-handedly.
- Benchmade Mini-Barrage Axis Lock
- Hogue Deka Able Lock
- SOG Terminus XR Lock
5. Tri-ad Lock (Cold Steel Exclusive)
Popularity: Since it’s only found on select Cold Steel models, this locking mechanism is very unpopular and not commonly found.
Reliability: The Tri-ad adds additional reliability and even self-adjustment over time through wear and tear over the traditional back/spine lockers, making this one of the most reliable and strongest locking mechanisms on the market today.
Mechanism Review: From the outside, someone uninitiated to the locking mechanism lingo may easily mistake this lock for a regular ol’ spine lock design, and they’d be partially correct as it does look and possess a similar operating experience, however, the magic is hidden away on the inside of the handle.
If you haven’t read the spine lock description yet, go ahead and give that one a look. Now that you have an idea of what’s going on there, picture the same exact lock but with an additional pin above the fulcrum point of the blade that is pressed into place against the top area of the tang for additional resistance and tension. You’ll notice when you deploy the blade out of the handle just partially that there is a rounded indentation at the back of the blade and that is where the pin is pushed into the blade and further beefs up the overall mechanism of what otherwise would be a traditional spine lock mechanism.
Releasing the locking mechanism is the same as the spine lock, simply press on the indentation tab on the spine which pulls the stopping piece up and releases the blade from its locked position.
If you’re interested in learning more, you can see the full write-up given by Cold Steel themselves here regarding the Tri-Ad locking mechanism.
Ambidextrous? Just like spine lockers, the Tri-ad locker is centrally located on the spine of the handle and can be operated equally with either left or right hands.
Single-Handed Use? Similar to spine and back lockers, the Tri-ad lock is located on the handle in a way that makes certain designs and configurations easy to operate with one hand while others may prove to be difficult to do consistently. The issue arises when the actual operating mechanism is low on the handle, away from the blade, which sometimes makes it difficult to balance a front-heavy knife in your hand while pushing in the tab on the spine. So, in most cases, yes, it’s single-hand friendly, but perhaps not always and not for everyone depending on hand size and the specific design of the knife and its handle.
- Cold Steel Spartan
- Cold Steel SR1
- Cold Steel Immortal
6. Compression Lock (Spyderco Exclusive)
Popularity: Not very popular as these are really only found on specific high-end Spyderco models.
Reliability: Some may say these are more reliable than a liner lock, which is already very reliable on its own, and to be honest, I am not sure there is anything really setting the compression lock above the liner lock since they are basically the same thing, just positioned differently. Of course, compression locks are currently exclusive to Spyderco and pretty much all Spyderco knives are very well built, so perhaps some of the compression locks found here are going to be naturally better than the average liner lock simply due to Spyderco being a reputable and high-quality knife manufacturer, but on the same token I am sure there are some liner locks out there that can give Spyderco and their compression lock a good run for their money.
There is one slight addition over the liner lock here and that’s a little stop pin they’ve added between the ramp of the tang and the locker which does help to increase strength a bit over your traditional liner locker. This kind of reminds me of the Tri-Ad lock versus spine lock situation.
Mechanism Review: The compression lock is genius by simplicity. Spyderco took a look at the locks already available, notably the liner lock, and thought to themselves, how can we take a lock that’s already simple and very effective and make it a bit more fun to use? Why not put the liner on the top of the spine instead of down where the blade enters the handle so that we can operate the lock and have the blade fall into place instead of falling into our fingers?
And thus, the compression lock was born. You see, the liner lock is amazing, but when you put your finger on the liner and move it over, disengaging the lock, your finger is now in the way of the blade. Of course, any normal person would simply disengage the lock and then move their finger once the blade is free, but we want more! We want to be able to press the liner over and have the blade fall into place seamlessly, because, well, why the heck not? That’s what you get with a compression lock. Easy to use, simple to manufacture, only one part, super strong and super reliable, such is the Spyderco Compression locking mechanism.
Ambidextrous? Maybe a tad bit easier to use over a traditional liner lock in terms of left-handed use but for the most part, almost all compression locks are going to favor right-handed use and so I can’t really say its ambidextrous but I also wouldn’t necessarily count out a knife using a compression lock just because you’re left-handed. Give it a try and you might still like it enough to warrant buying one.
Single-Handed Use? Although not necessarily the easiest lock ever to use with one hand, it’s definitely not difficult, so long as you’re right-handed. Lefties can pull it off, but of course, it’s a tad bit more difficult since all of the compression locks I’ve ever seen require the liner to be pressed to the left, which makes operation awkward in the left hand as it becomes more of an awkward pulling or dragging with your thumb kind of motion instead of just pushing the liner over.
- Spyderco Paramilitary 2
- Spyderco Canis
- Spyderco Sage 5
7. PowerLock (Spyderco Exclusive)
Popularity: The PowerLock, at the time of writing this, is only available on two Spyderco models that are premium priced, so they are certainly not popular, however, many believe Spyderco will release more as many people seem to like the lock and request it on their more popular models.
Reliability: The PowerLock is very reliable as its utilizing the tried and true lockback design and further beefing it up with enhanced thickness and a deeper connection between the lock itself and the tang of the blade.
Mechanism Review: The PowerLock is very similar to a spine lock or lockback and to the user on the outside, the experience and operation are exactly the same. On the inside, the PowerLock is a very thick locking mechanism on premium XL knives from Spyderco that achieves a bit more strength than a traditional lockback design by having a deep groove the lock sits into, aside from just a shallow notch. So far, these are not very widespread but the design is fairly well reviewed by those willing to pay top price for the premium Spyderco XL knives, so I would expect to see this lock-in future Spyderco models and perhaps even upgrades to existing knives in their lineup.
Ambidextrous? Just like a lockback design, these are, for the most part, ambidextrous since the operating mechanism is found centrally on the back of the handle.
Single-Handed Use? The two models this lock is currently being used on aren’t exactly designed for single-handed use and are quite large, but at the end of the day, with a bit of practice and familiarity, you can operate them one-handed, in either hand.
- Spyderco Chinook 4
- Spyderco Tatanka
8. Deadbolt Lock
Popularity: Right now, these locks are exclusive to select premium CRKT knives and as such, are not commonly found.
Reliability: There are only a few tests conducted that I would consider unbiased thus far and for the most part, it does seem to be quite robust and reliable and certainly plenty for the average person and day-to-day use.
Mechanism Review: CRKT does some pretty neat stuff and it’s safe to say, the deadbolt lock is definitely interesting, although very simple. Really, this lock comes down to the fact that a solid chunk of metal sits perpendicular to the blade with a “bolt” that slides into a cutout section of the blades tang when it opens, and with the push of a button on the other side, that bolt is pushed back which unlocks the blade.
These are pretty similar to button locks, except the deadbolt shape is different from most button locks being just a single pin riding on a spring.
Ambidextrous? From what I’ve seen, all of the button releases on knives utilizing the deadbolt lock are on the left side, for use with your right thumb, so it’s certainly not designed to be ambidextrous but the button is usually pretty large and easy to push, so I wouldn’t say it’s impossible to use with your left hand either by using your pinky or ring finger to push the button in and unlock the blade.
Single-Handed Use? Yes, these are generally very easy to use with one hand.
- CRKT M40 DeadBolt
- CRKT Seismic DeadBolt
- CRKT 5400 XOC
9. Ball Bearing Lock (Spyderco Exclusive)
Popularity: Yet another go at trying to reinvent a knife lock by Spyderco and this time, the lock wasn’t as well-received as something like the PowerLock and so it’s only available on a few knives with what I would guess is very low potential for future implementations.
Reliability: As far as locks go, these are a bit concerning as many tests show the lock disengaging from even a medium level of shock being applied to the spine. Now, under constant pressure, it doesn’t seem to happen and the lock does seem sturdy in other cases, but it doesn’t seem like there is any real benefit over most of the other reliable locks and since it does have a flaw, it’s not something I’d entirely recommend, especially if you’ll be heavily abusing the knife. For basic everyday usage, it’s fine.
Mechanism Review: The ball bearing lock is really simple as it’s just a ball bearing being forced between a fixed hunk of metal that acts as a stopper and the tang of the blade itself. To disengage the lock, simply pull down on the button that compresses the spring behind the ball bearing and the blade is free to move.
Ambidextrous? Yes, the button slider for the spring is located on both sides of any knife I’ve seen utilizing this locking mechanism.
Single-Handed Use? Yes, these are relatively easy to operate with one hand.
- Spyderco Manix 2
- Spyderco P’Kal
- Spyderco Poliwog
10. Arc-Lock (SOG Exclusive)
Popularity: Since it’s exclusive to a few premium SOG knives, it’s not very popular.
Reliability: These are essentially about the same reliability and strength you can expect from something like the Axis lock or any of its similar cousins, which is very good and very strong.
Mechanism Review: Really, the only difference between this and a sliding lock bar design such as the Benchmade Axis lock is that the actual locking piece is moving on its own pivot pin instead of the liners, which inherently makes it a slightly smoother action, but that’s it.
Ambidextrous? Yes, the slider is available on both sides of the handles.
Single-Handed Use? Yes, these locks are extremely smooth and very easy to operate with one hand.
- SOG Vulcan
- SOG SE-14
- SOG Vision
11. Button Lock, Toggle Lock
Popularity: Button locks are already decently popular, especially among the high-end expensive market, but are becoming more and more available in knives that are more affordable as well.
Reliability: Button locks aren’t known as the strongest and craziest locks ever made but for the average person not intentionally abusing the knife, they’re perfectly serviceable and reliable.
Mechanism Review: Button locks are pretty simple, they’re a pin riding on a spring that locks into place when the blade is open and is disengaged when pressing the button and pushing the pin out of the way of the blade.
Some button locks actually lock the blade into place when the blade is closed in the handle, which is pretty neat if you like that kind of thing. The fancy ones allow the blade to be flipped out with centrifugal force, which makes for a nice and satisfying operation.
Ambidextrous? Whether it’s ambidextrous depends on what button lock specifically you get. Many of them are only going to be right handed friendly, however, there are button locks out there where the button works both ways, making it easy to operate on either side.
Single-Handed Use? Button locks are excellent single handed locking mechanisms.
- Hogue Ex-04
- Gerber Propel
- Pro-Tech Malibu
12. Lever Lock
Popularity: Fairly popular if you’re into the switchblade and stiletto scene but otherwise not very common.
Reliability: These are really made more for the fast deployment of a switchblade style knife and are certainly not known for enduring abuse or holding a multitude of weight.
Mechanism Review: Of course, lever locks are primarily designed for the beloved switchblade and stiletto platforms! These are fun and addicting to operate and work basically by utilizing a button under spring tension that is then released, allowing the blade to eject out of the handle and once the blade is out, the button falls into a notch that holds it into place. To unlock, one must simply push the lever back down against the handle again and fold down the blade.
Ambidextrous? For the most part, most lever lock knives are going to be ambidextrous.
Single-Handed Use? Yes, these are extremely easy to operate with one hand.
- AGA Campolin Zero
- SKM Stiletto
- Milano Bayonet Satin
13. Twist Lock, Collar Lock, Spin Lock, Rotating Lock, Ring Lock, Virobloc Safety Ring (Opinel)
Popularity: Not very popular and not very sought after.
Reliability: The lock is as reliable as the material the collar is made out of, so it really depends. I’ve seen a lot of cheap knives try and pull off this locking mechanism and I definitely wouldn’t trust putting a lot of weight behind it, but on the flip side, if the collar is made of something high quality then it should be relatively decent.
These locks are really just there to keep the blade in place and that’s it, there is no “strength” to really speak of because the knives these locks are found on aren’t really designed to be used in situations where a strong lock would be necessary.
Mechanism Review: Spin locks or however else you might find them referred to have one main purpose – to put some kind of material around the collar in front of the base of the blade when it’s open to ensure it doesn’t fall back into place prematurely and that’s pretty much it. This can be done with a collar that spins around taking away the slot the blade can move through or by pushing a piece of recessed material hidden in the collar into place once the blade is open.
Ambidextrous? For the most part, yes, these are rather easy to use with either hand.
Single-Handed Use? These are easy to use single-handedly.
- Opinel No. 6
- Opinel No. 8
- Antonini Old Bear
More Information on Knife Locks
What is a Knife Lock?
A knife lock is simply a mechanism integrally designed into a folding knife’s handle that locks the blade in place and does not allow the blade to move until the mechanism is operated by the user. Having a pocket knife or any kind of folding knife with a knife locking mechanism is generally seen as something interesting and helpful for most knife owners as it makes operating the knife in odd conditions and situations a lot safer.
A good example of when you might want your blade to be in a locked position is when you’re using the blade to stab or wedge. Sometimes, during these motions, there may be pressure put on the spine or simply in the direction of the spine that would, without a locking mechanism, cause the blade to collapse back into its handle. Obviously, this is less than ideal, especially if you didn’t intend for the blade to close or if your little meat stick fingers are in the path of the blade.
Generally speaking, knives with locking mechanisms are also going to be much safer knives to train little Timmy when he’s old enough to learn how to use a knife and possibly own or carry one himself. Training a youngster or a new knife owner on how to properly use and care for a pocket knife can be a bit nerve-racking but with a knife that locks in place, the blade collapsing accidentally and causing damage to their fingers via improper use is one less thing to worry about.
Not all folding knives come with a locking mechanism, such as friction folders or slip joints, and not all locking mechanisms are created equally, so it’s important to understand the differences and think very carefully on whether or not your next knife purchase should utilize a lock at all, and if so, which locking mechanism to focus on obtaining.
Do I Need a Pocket Knife With a Locking Mechanism?
I don’t know what you need! The truth is, buying a knife is very similar to buying a vehicle. Perhaps you need something light and efficient to save money on gas or maybe you need something to haul around sheetrock all day. The experience of shopping for a vehicle is a lot like shopping for a new knife and it requires some serious planning and forethought before you drop your hard-earned cash on something that may not fit your needs.
Whether you need a folding knife in the first place is probably a good start, and we talk about this in the section where we compare fixed blades to folders.
If a folding knife is what you need, the next step is to consider how you’ll be using it and whether or not having a lock is going to impede your ability to use your knife effectively. At the end of the day, in almost all cases, I can’t imagine having a locking mechanism as a bad thing. It’s kind of like wearing a seat belt, whereas almost every time you drive your car, you end up not necessarily needing it, but on the off chance something unfortunate happens, you’ll most likely benefit from having and using it. Of course, some people think they’re too cool for seat belts or can’t be bothered to put them on and so they don’t use them, and sometimes those people get away with never needing it but sometimes they pay a horrible price for not utilizing it.
What I’m trying to say is, having a folding knife without a locking mechanism, so long as you are safe, careful, and know how to properly use a knife, will most likely suffice, however, sometimes accidents happen and sometimes things occur that are out of your control, and having a locking mechanism on your knife may be the difference between having a laugh at what could have been or leaving your beautiful camping spot for a room in the hospital instead. For just about everyone, a reputable folding knife designed with a quality locking mechanism is advisable.
What is the Strongest Knife Lock?
Oh my goodness bro, such and such brand has on their packaging that their knife lock can support the weight of an entire car (exaggeration), that must be the best lock for a pocket knife ever, right?!?!
Well, maybe, but it’s pretty likely that we won’t actually care about that fact, even if it isn’t just a marketing ploy and it is true.
Think about the world of watches for a second, most specifically the expensive ones that claim you can wear it while diving down 10,000 meters. Yeah, it’s pretty cool and it makes it very clear that the watch is waterproof and can withstand being under lots of water, but will you actually ever find yourself 10,000 meters under the surface?
Probably not, and you probably won’t have a car sitting on the handle of your knife while it’s wedged into a tree, either. The simple truth here is that, while some pocket knife locking mechanisms are indeed stronger than others, locks across the market found on reputable brands are all, for the most part, “good enough”, to not really need to be compared against each other in an all-out strength competition.
If you met Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson but you also met Arnold Schwarzenegger (in his prime) at the same time, and they both offered to crush your face in, would you really need to debate which one of them actually has the better bench press? Probably not, as they’d both smash your precious little dome piece like a melon regardless.
Okay, so you didn’t like my answer and you went straight to YouTube for a better representation, to find out which lock is truly the best and you find all of these videos of hooligans attaching massive amounts of weights to the handles of random knives and them stating the failure point of its locking mechanism.
Well, herein lies yet another issue, the simple fact that there are many locks being used by many different brands. In the knife world, a brand’s reputation mostly coincides with its ability to maintain a high level of craftsmanship and quality, and there are certain brands out there that care more about certain aspects of a knife than others.
In other words, not all knives, and their locking mechanisms, are created equally. The exact same locking mechanism on one knife, from one brand, could perform drastically different from the same locking mechanism on another knife from a different brand in an all-out brutal strength examination.
So, if a lock from such and such brand fails at a certain point, that isn’t a good indication at all of what that lock will be capable of across all brands on all knives that encompass it. There really isn’t a great way to showcase the overall strength of a particular locking mechanism because the handle quality and materials, the steel quality and its thickness, the tolerances and manufacturing processes, and many other factors will impact the locking mechanisms ability to resist failure.
Many of the pocket knife locking mechanisms found on this page are more than likely going to be suitable for normal everyday use so long as they come from a reputable brand and are properly maintained. Some locking mechanisms are very simple, yet very effective and robust such as the frame or liner locks, and others are more complex with more moving parts, such as the Axis lock or the Deadbolt locks.
At the end of the day, there is no real way to accurately answer the question “which liner lock is the strongest” as there are just too many factors to consider, so spend the extra money, get yourself something known to be reputable from a company with a history of making reliable knives, and choose the locking mechanism that best fits your personal preferences and needs. It’s far more important to find a knife that works best for you, such as being on the correct side of the handle, good positioning for your hand size, or being a lock you’re comfortable using without looking or using with one hand than it is to see which lock can support a larger vehicle on its handle.
Pocket Knife Locking Mechanisms Versus Full Tang Fixed Blade Knives
If you know that you will primarily be applying mass amounts of pressure to a knife’s spine constantly, there is no locking mechanism that will provide a sense of peace of mind and overall strength and durability compared to a proper full-tang fixed blade knife. If that’s what you’re looking for, check out our Marine Approved guide on fixed blades here.
Locking mechanism strength among reputable brands and well-built pocket knives have come a seriously long way, so much so that for most average Joe’s looking for something to simply open boxes with, set up camp, or just have around for the occasional loose string on your old T-Shirts, a pocket knife with even a somewhat cheap locking mechanism will do just fine. In my experience, even when intentionally abusing the living hell out of some of my favorite folding knives, the locking mechanisms are far from the first things to fail or need replacement.
With all of that said, though, if you know ahead of time that you need a knife for extremely inhospitable environments where you know you’ll often be putting that knife to the test, and your life depends on it, then I would suggest leaving the locking mechanism discussion altogether and grabbing yourself a high-quality full-tang fixed blade knife.
Yes, locking mechanisms on good pocket knives are insanely strong nowadays, but at the end of the day, the peace of mind you’ll have knowing that there are no moving parts, no potential springs or tension bars to get lost or bent out of shape, and no point of failure except the solid piece of steel that the knife is made out of is worth it.
What is the Best Value Knife Lock?
So hopefully you’ve already read my little tangent on what the strongest knife locking mechanism is, and by now you know that these questions are definitely not easily answered. Honestly, this question isn’t that much different than the strength question and at the end of the day, it really comes down to what you like and what you need.
Overall, you’re paying for the whole knife and so it’s really difficult to determine how much of that price tag is attributed to the knife lock itself and as we’ve already mentioned, the same exact locking mechanism can be found on two different knives and yet perform drastically different due to the quality of the components, manufacturing, etc.
Although I get asked this question a lot, I never really have a good answer for it because there isn’t a good answer. Instead, I’d rather talk about what a good value is in terms of a knife as a whole, which you can learn more about on our EDC knives guide here, but since this page is only about the locks themselves, I’ll go ahead and say that locking mechanisms with less moving parts are generally going to be found on lower cost knives. Lower cost knives, however, are not always lower quality knives as sometimes premium-priced knives are simply expensive because they have extra goodies that aren’t really necessary, but more so simply cool to have.
It’s kind of like buying a fancy car, whereas that little Toyota will get you from point A to point B the same as the Ferrari, but the Ferrari has a factor of class and elegance that you’ll be paying a premium for, despite the fact that both cars essentially do the same job.
In some cases, you may find locks that are on expensive knives that are very complex and specifically designed to be complex simply because it’s cool and unique. At the end of the day, the old school tried and true designs that are also simple and much cheaper to manufacture, such as liner locks, spine locks, and frame locks, are generally going to be the go-to mechanisms on knives that aren’t generally designed to be flashy and don’t demand a premium price tag for being over the top.
What are the Best Locks for One-Handed Use?
Honestly, the list of locking mechanisms that aren’t good for one-handed operation is shorter, but for the most part, almost all locking mechanisms on modern and popular folding knives can, technically, be used one-handed, except for maybe the collar/twist style, which tends to be rare mechanisms anyways.
Sometimes there are designs that encompass a locking mechanism that, normally, would be rather easy to use one-handed, but are designed in a specific way to be more complicated and more difficult, sometimes impossible to be unlocked with one hand. A good example of this might be on the CRKT M16 where there is a rather easy-to-operate liner locker, but it’s also accompanied by a secondary locking mechanism that requires the liner to be pushed over but also a lever closer up near the blade to be pulled down simultaneously. This design can be closed with one hand but it’s kind of a pain in the butt and I typically find myself using both hands to close the knife, so I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a great design if a quick and seamless single-handed operation is crucial to your choice of knife.
Some of the easiest locking mechanisms to use one-handed are the Axis and other button-slider style locks, compression locks, frame locks, button locks, and so long as you are right-handed, liner locks. Sometimes spine lockers or back lockers are easy to use one-handed too but it depends on the size of your hand and the positioning of the mechanism on the handle.
Speaking of being right-handed, if you aren’t, then some of these may not be easy to operate at all. A vast majority of knives utilizing liner locks, unless otherwise stated, are going to be designed for right-handed use, so if you’re going to use the knife in your left hand, the actual liner will need to be pressed towards your palm from an outward angle, which is a very uncomfortable and sometimes impossible thing to do.
In other cases, locks like the Benchmade Axis lock are, in my experience, always ambidextrous as they have a sliding button on both sides of the knife, so it wouldn’t matter which hand you operate the knife in as the locking mechanism is accessible from both sides anyways.
Corporal Wabo is a former Infantry Squad Leader with 3rd Bn 4th Marines that specialized in Mortars. In his free time, he enjoys hunting, hiking, running, shooting guns, and reviewing gear. He started this website while transitioning out of the Marines, and since has recruited several other Marines to help him work on the Marine Approved website. We are currently looking for former Marines to join the team who are interested in writing about tactical gear, survival gear, hiking supplies, etc. For more information about us or joining the team, check out the “About Us” tab.