Axis Lock vs. Rolling Lock

Oct 16, 1998
I consider liner lock knives, as a class, to be unreliable. They work great one day when they are clean and lubed, and slip the next when they are gritty and dry. I have not found the expense of the knife to be any indicator of reliability. Still loving and needing folding knives has left me looking for alternatives, and luckily a couple of outstanding folders with new locks have recently become available, the Benchmade model 710 Axis Lock and the Round Eye Knife and Tool Pioneer.

I just recieved a practically new REKAT Pioneer, so I took it and my G-10 Axis lock folder out to the garage for some impromptu testing. The locks are the thing, so lets start with them. Folder locks only need to be so strong. The knives themselves have weaknesses that are inherent in their design. Under extreme stress, the handle sides can deform, the stop pin can become unseated, they are usually small to mid-sized knives and the blades themselves can break. So a locking folder doesn't need to hold 2,000 in the closing direction. So what does it need?

I think folding knives need to stay locked open under moderate impact, as might occur if you were holding your knife and turned quickly, bumping the blade spine against a door jam. If it is a folder with defensive aspirations, as I think both the 710 and Pioneer are, it should stay locked after a sharp blow on the spine by something like a baton. With this in mind, I tested the locks by holding the knives in my left hand and whacking them briskly on the spine with a rattan stick in my right (if you try this at home boys and girls, keep your fingers out of the blade slot!). To my utter surprise, based on Warren Thomas' account of the punishment he inflicted on the Pioneer, the Rolling Lock held the first half dozen whacks, and then let go. I opened the blade and tried again. This time the lock held for a dozen whacks and let go again. This patter repeated itself a couple more times.

When it was the 710's turn, I whacked, and whacked, and whacked, and the lock held. This result was just the opposite of what I had anticipated. I may have a lemon Rolling lock here, but if I can get one, so can anyone else. If a lock depends on careful fine tuning, it won't be reliable.

In defense of the Pioneer, I was whacking it pretty hard, with the idea in mind of finding out if the blade would fold if I was unable to get the knife out of the way of a full power swing, and it held a lot more than it failed. On the other side of the coin, the 710 Axis never folded no matter how hard I punished it. I couldn't get it to fold while held in my hand, so I set it, edge down on top of some crates and hit it. It still held even though some of the shock was no longer being absorbed by my arm.

There are a lot of things I really like about the Pioneer. The handle shape is very close to the Alan Elishewitz designed Benchmade Stryker. Suffice it to say that the knife is very comfortable and very efficiently couples force from the hand to the target (see The Stryker Gets the Treatment on for more details). The stainless steel liners are the same thickness as those on the 710, and the G-10 is about one third thicker, resulting in a thick, comfortable, and very solid handle. The handle of the Pioneer, the Benchmade Stryker, and the Mad Dog Lab Rat are the three best utility knife handles I have ever held. The impact on fatigue during hard cutting is significant.

The blade of the Pioneer looks very strong, and the cutting geometry is very good. The edge is efficiently thin, about the same as the 710 which cut a little bit better on hard wood thanks to its wider, flat grind and thinner blade. The Pioneer is tricky to close with one hand without pushing on the side of your leg. Also, when opening with the thumb stud, my thumb interfered with the motion of the lock release lever. This never resulted in a false lock-up. The pivot pin of the Pioneer is below the tip, resulting in a good double base with the stop pin to absorb thrusting force. This means the blade is as likely to be pushed open by a thrust into armor as it is to be forced closed.

There is a nifty ball detent built into one of the liners of the Pioneer. It didn't work very well on mine. About the same as on most liner locks.

So, the 710 and the REKAT Pioneer are two excellent alternatives to the current herd of liner lock folders. Both locks are a quantum step forward in reliability from the liner lock. The 710 is a much more sophisticated knife with features like ambidextrous thumb studs vs. a reversible thumb stud on the Pioneer, a reversible, butt-end mounted clip, vs. a removable right-side only, pivot mounted clip on the Pioneer. The Axis lock gets the nod for reliability. The Pioneer has the edge in over-all strength with the shorter, thicker blade and thicker handle. I love them both, and would not hesitate to recommend them over any custom or production liner lock out there.

Excellent post, very well written. I have 2 REKAT Pioneers. My tanto has the ball detent you mention and I obviously didn't test it like you did. My new REKAT doesn't have the ball dent in the liner. I recently discussed this with Bob Taylor and he said (I hope I remember this correctly) that they removed the ball detent to increase the strength of the locking system. I'm not sure if that would make a difference with your testing but I would be interested in seeing if a newer Pioneer models held up better with your testing methods.

The testing that REKAT does certainly seems impressive and the lock is purported to be one of the strongest in a production folder.

One thing I have noticed with the 2 different Pioneer knives is that the opening mechanism sure sounds a lot different if there is the ball detent in the liner. It actually sounds like a revolver cocking. The newer models don't make a sound until the lock engages.

Other changes I have noticed with the 2 different Pioneer models is a grippier thumb stud in the newer model and the releasing lever doesn't completely rest on the back side of the liner when locked like my older model does.



The ball detent uses a leaf spring cut into the left side liner, and its only function is to hold the blade closed. I suppose that not cutting the spring into the liner would make the left liner marginally stiffer, but it is not obvious to me that it should strengthen the lock in any way. At any rate, it is just as well to leave it out, as it doesn't hold the blade much on mine. A very few liner lock ball detents are any better.

The lock is strong. I can't get it to release with slowly applied force. It is vulnerable to shock though. At least mine is.

I really like this knife though. It is comfortable, extremely strong, compact, and it cuts very well. It seems to be ready for anything from coring and apple to shearing open an airplane fuselage. $85 is the going previously owned price, and they are tougher than any Emerson I ever saw.

I have a Pioneer and I must say that I love it. It is a drop point and the older model I think. It definitely has that "revolver" noise going on when it closes.

I agree with you on the ergonomics. One of the best out there. And since I have a Lab Rat on order, it makes me all the more happy that the two are comparable on handle comfort.

What blade type do you have, Steve?

I like the blade geometry but would love to see it flat ground.

Anyways, can you tell any difference as to whether the lock is strenghened or weakened by the spine whacks? Does this make sense? If not let me know and I will clarify.

Clay Fleischer

"10,000 Lemmings Can't Be Wrong!"

I have the drop point. The blade geometry could only be improved by putting a full width flat grind on it, but it cuts pretty good as is, the benefit of a thin edge.

The lock does not seem to be any worse for wear after my "testing". After about the third time it let go, I quit, not wanting to cause any major damage. Under gradual pressure, it seems no more likely to release than it did before, which is not at all.

You are going to love the Lab Rat. It is one of those knives, like the Pioneer, that make you forget about all your other knives for a good long while after you get it. If didn't practically have to carry folders to stay legal in CA., I would probably carry the Lab Rat and nothing else.

I read your post and have we have tested the knives for shock numberious times. Both Mike Turber and Spark watched as I chipped concrete with the tip of a Pioneer at this years-Shot Show. That is far more shock than you applied. Before Pat Crawford decided to start making Rolling Locks I gave him one at the New York Knife Show, I understand he had to get after Wes for beating a anvil to death with the back of the blade with no failure. I wonder if you could have hit the lever with the stick which would have caused the lock to disengage as you mentioned in your test. The newest generations of Rolling Locks now have the slide bar, which will eliminate that possibility. Our latest changes we have also eliminated the ball detent, using the lock to hold the knife closed which is a more positive system. I would like you to send me your Pioneer for testing and evaluation, we will reimburse you for shipping and return it or replace it. You have me curious what happened during your test shouldn’t have happened. Feel free to contact me.

Bob Taylor

Bob beat me too it.

Guys, when Bob showed me how he beat on his knife by whacking it on concrete, I didn't expect the lock to hold up at all. Needless to say, I was very suprised to see chips coming out of the concrete floor. Plus, it was evident that this trick had been tried many times before, judging from the damage that had been done to the floor before I got there.

It's a tough lock. Nuff said.


Kevin Jon Schlossberg
SysOp and Administrator for

Insert witty quip here


Thank you very much for you post. I am pretty puzzled about what happened with my Pioneer based on the punishment they are famous for taking.

The first couple of times, I was holding the knife in my hand, and I was taking care not to clobber my hand with the stick. I am absolutely sure that I did not strike the knife in the pivot area. I couldn't get it to release unless I hit the blade near the tip with considerable force.

I have a brand new clip point Pioneer on the way to me, so I will repeat the abuse on that knife.

I love the Pioneer. I have been carrying it daily since I got it. I have much more faith in its lock than in any liner lock. It is a small, tough, Bull Terrier of a knife, with a versatile blade, and superb ergonomics. To me it fulfills the promise of the "tactical", extreme use folder better than any of the custom liner-locks I have tried, and it cost one third as much. Great knife.

I have a Crawford Roller on order already.


[This message has been edited by Steve Harvey (edited 10 February 1999).]