Liner Locks Obsolete?


Gold Member
May 31, 2001
In another thread, I made the potentially controversial statement that "...liner lock have been surpassed..." by newer lock designs.

I can think of many locks that I would choose over a liner-lock design -

Integral Liner Lock (Reeve)
Integral Compression Lock (Glesser)
Button Lock (such as on the William Henry current collections)
Front Lock (Mar and McBurnette)
TOAD (Hawk)
DOG (Hawk)
AXIS (McHenry?)
ARC (Frazier?)
Rolox (Collins)

I know there are many other lock designs - I have probably forgotten a few that I would prefer. But these are the ones I have kept (after buying literally hundreds of knives of all kinds). I have found all of these locks to be more reliable, in their performance. I have had several liner locks from both "custom" and "production" makers fail on me, often with no abuse and no "spine whacking".

Some of these are available only on "custom" knives. Many are available only on "production knives". I doesn't matter to me how they are made, this is just an issue of performance and reliability.

There are makers of liner locks that produce truly amazing liner locking knives. Most of them are very hard to come by and tend to be very expensive and I end of not using them - so they have been relegated to the display case.

Your thoughts - has the liner lock been surpassed?
I have only had one liner lock "fail" on me. A Benchmade. However, after taking the filthy thing apart and cleaning it, full function was restored. Keeping it relatively clean has prevented that from happening again. Beyond that, I've never had any locking knife fail on me in the course of normal, prudent use. Of course, I don't "torture test" them to get them to fail either.
I don't think the liner lock is obsolete - the lock looks right and works right on certain kinds of folders. If the liner lock had remained in a certain niche (smaller, light-use folders, especially where the look of the mechanism complements the overall look of the knife - like on William Henrys), we wouldn't be having this discussion. But the reason this comes up from time to time is that liner-locks became too widely adopted. Knife companies and knifemakers were putting them on every kind of folder, sometimes replacing other types of mechanisms (like back locks) that worked perfectly well. Hopefully liner locks will simply move to the niche that they belong in.
I don't think they are obsolete. To me a frame lock is just a beefier liner lock without scales. Done well a linerlock is reliable, easy to use, and very convinient for one hand use. It is also a nice simple design so that it can be taken apart and serviced by most anyone. All locking mechanisms are subject to dirt, grime and dust getting in and messing up the operation. How many people would be able to take apart a more complex mechanism and get it back togther in working order?

Another thing is that the liner lock has been around for quit some time, and been tested and proven to work, when done right. All of these newer locks haven't been tested over that amount of time and nobody can tell if they will still be aorund and functioning as well in 20 years. The reason other locks get more hype is that they are the newest thing going.

Also the liner lock isn't propritary like many of the other locks mentioned. That is god for custom makers, and companies that don't have a specialized lock design. Innovation is great, but I just don't think that the liner lock is dead yet. In fact it might never be obsolete, we still use lockbacks don't we? And slipjoints too.
I don't think they're obsolete... I think it's a matter of preference. I don't like liner locks because the appear to have a greater potential to fail even though I have heard of very few that do. Another reason I don't like liner or frame locks is my thumbs don't work right and I have a hard time unlocking the blade. That and unlocking the blade requires one to place ones flesh in a very convienient place to be cut when the blade closes. For me bolt action, Axis, standard lock backs are better.

Just an opinion...
I like many other styles of locks, but the basic liner lock is simple and very efficient. I see no reason to get rid of that design. If lockbacks and slipjoints are still around, why not keep making liner locks?
my buck nxt has a liner lock and it works very well. Is a slip joint obsolete? the lock back, a fixed blade?
I too don't think liner locks are obsolete. I've worked with Benchmade and Spyderco liner locks for years and never experienced a failure. That said, I know I'm using a FOLDING knife and don't try to use them as prybars, picksaxes, hammers, etc.. If you want a fold-proof knife get a fixed blade.
Don't overlook simplicity. With the exception of the two "integral" locks you mentioned, the liner lock is arguably simpler and less suceptible to foreign matter than the more complex locks.

For most things the liner lock is just fine. A fancier lock adds to the cost and sometimes consists of small parts that can wear out or break.

Hey, we still buy lockbacks don't we? :confused:

I prefer the button locks on Auto knives for most things, but if I don't want to worry about maintenance, dirt, etc. I go with a framelock or linerlock.
fulloflead said:
Don't overlook simplicity. With the exception of the two "integral" locks you mentioned, the liner lock is arguably simpler and less suceptible to foreign matter than the more complex locks.

You are confusing mechanical simplicity with simplicity of function - not that same at all! Liner locks are subject to much more complex transverse forces, and depends on very close tolerances to engage tightly. I think that they are more sensitive than other sort of locks, and are best used on smaller and lighter folders.

Although it is more complex in terms of parts, the Axis lock is much simpler in terms of function.
Will P. said:
You are confusing mechanical simplicity with simplicity of function - not that same at all! Liner locks are subject to much more complex transverse forces, and depends on very close tolerances to engage tightly. I think that they are more sensitive than other sort of locks, and are best used on smaller and lighter folders.

Although it is more complex in terms of parts, the Axis lock is much simpler in terms of function.

Don't they all need close tolerances? A liner lock has some fudge room because the tang is a ramp that it can ride up as it wears.

What can be more mechanically simple than two parts? :confused:

You may be confusing simplicity with reliability. ;) :p
It's the tang/liner interface angle and the radius that gets about 90 percent of liners. This is an extremely critical point, prone to slippage, sticking, excessive wear over time, etc if not made "just so". It's really very very easy to screw up, as opposed to a lockback, which may have more moving parts, but unless it's a real POS hard for a production factory to screw up in such a way that the blade will actually slip off the locking bar. Every microtech linerlock I've had has failed when new (takes 3-5 spinewhacks to "set" the lock for some reason) and folds up with even a light tap to the spine with the palm of my hand. Even then, when it would fold with a light tap, the lock was also very sticky, requiring sometimes two hands to get it to unlock (and my hands aren't weak) My mini-socom liner is also starting to get dangerously close to the other side of the handle. My 800HS AFCK has noticable play when pressure is applied to the spine, you can see the locking bar slip right to the edge of the tang, it's relegated to light duty now. I don't see it actually slipping all the way off, but I certainly don't trust my fingers to a lock that moves that far. After all these years my old FRN endura seems to lock up even tighter than I remember it when new, and is smooth as can be opening and closing. My 710 Axis lock despite having been horribly abused on accident is now functioning just fine. The liners were bent so far that the blade wouldn't open without using pliers nor would the lock itself engage as it would bind on the liners. I've since fully dissasembled the 710 and gotten the liners pretty straight and flat, and it now functions perfectly as one of my edc's.
I'm currently carrying a frame-lock (Strider SMF), but two of my favorite alternate carry knives are liner-locks (Military and Buck Strider Tarani).

Some designs have a 'bad rep' simply due to cheap knock-off designs or just poor execution in either/or design and materials.

One reason that the Benchmade Axis Lock has such a 'good rep' is that Benchmade makes sure that there are no knock-off versions available.

Sebenistas and Strider-holics will will strongly endorse frame-locking folders, but the reputation for those locks also suffer due to cheap Smith & Wesson and other cheap knock-offs of the frame lock with poor materials and design.

There's nothing wrong with a well-designed liner-locking folder. If you're convinced that liner-locking folders are either unsafe or weak, take a close look at a Strider AR.
A well designed liner lock is far from obsolete. As mentioned previously, a lot of companies produce cheap liner lock folders that give the design a bad name. The only liner locks that I have had fail were on cheap knives. My quality liner locks have all been fine.
Two of my all time folder favorites, the Spyderco Wegner and Military, have liner locks. I've used the heck out of them without problems because the liner locks in rock solid.
People said the same thing about slip joints when the first lock backs came out but it didn't stop them from being made.

Liners locks will always be made. They are one hand operation and with proper use they won't fail any more so than any other knife. The lock is just a safety mechanism anyway so unless someone is just outright abusive with their liner lock it will hold up just fine. Besides with some of the new locks for the lock type of designs there will always be a way to make them even better.

Personally I see little difference in the liner locks vs the frame locks. The frame locks are said to be stronger but I have yet to see any real diffinitive tests done to substantiate this claim. From my point of view the frame locks have a weak link in the thin spot put in them to make them easy to open and close. It doesn't much matter how thick the steel is along the length of the lock if it is ground as thin as any liner lock in that one spot to make it easier to move with your thumb. If and when it gives that thin spot is where it will bend. So it is six of one and half a dozen of the other in comparison to me.

On the frame locks where they are not ground thin the lock itself is so long that it negates the strength factor there too. As anyone that works with metal knows the longer the piece is the easier it is to bend. So if a frame lock is nearly the length of the folder body it seems kind of redundant. A short liner lock harder to push closed would be preferable to a longer frame lock. Again six of one half dozen of another.
I stay away from linerlocks on principle.

I've had enough of them fail on me from the get-go, and a fair number fail after a few months of perfect operation.

I use folders with framelocks, AXIS locks, compression locks -- and for my linerlocks, the LAWKS (which I actually do like. I find myself engaging it automatically, and I much prefer a knife that stays open and I have difficulty closing, than one that closes when I don't want it to.)

Don't forget the plunge lock -- like MOD uses (and is used often in SA autos.) Those things are pretty darn sturdy too. And incredibly reliable.

Integral Liner Lock (Reeve)-Variation of a liner lock, it is!!

Integral Compression Lock (Glesser)-Also variation of liner lock

Button Lock (such as on the William Henry current collections)as far as I can tell, variation of the "back lock"

Front Lock (Mar and McBurnette) also variation of backlock, and get MAR out of your mind, he was a very great man, but he borrowed the mid-lock, which is what Harvey called it, with permission.

TOAD (Hawk) Totally unique action that is VERY finicky and each must be tuned by hand. Will go out of time with time. Beautiful action, way ahead of it's time, but could be called delicate in relation to the others

DOG (Hawk) A variation of the bolt lock by Blackie Collins, discovered after the fact.

AXIS (McHenry?) Totally unique action, due to the omega springs. THAT was never done before.

ARC (Frazier?) A back biting ripoff of the Axis lock

Rolox (Collins) As far as the locking mechanism goes, another variation of the back lock

With the advent of the liner lock, many learned scribes pronounced the back lock dead. It is not. With the new lock mechanisms, many learned scribes pronounced the liner lock dead, it isn't.

Mechanically, the liner lock is the easiest lock to make. It is simple as that. Conversely, as previously mentioned, it is also one of the easiest to mess up. The geometry is crucial. The very, very bad thing about liner locks is that it does put your hand right in the axis of the closing blade, increasing possibility of cut fingers.

You also forgot to mention the Sawby Self lock, and Button Lock, the Opinel Twist lock (which Chris Reeve used to make as a custom), the Navaja Ratchet lock, Grant Hawk's new ET lock, The Bladelock by Michael Walker, The screwy lock that is on the CRKT by Ed van Hoy, The scale release lock, the bolster release lock, the picklock........

There is a place for all locking mechanisms. Some are more functional than others. The traditional American back lock in a custom requires a lock of tight tolerances not to wobble, and works very well, but enough dirt or pocket lint will defeat it, and because it is very hard to make, custom makers looked for something else. Right now the liner lock is as ubiquitous as the back lock was in the '80's because it is easier to make in the "appearance" of functioning properly.

Now personally, I carry the Large Axis lock in M2, which is a mistake for me because I carry inside the waistband, and the blade rusts weekly, but it is easy to sharpen out. The lock is excellent, and I have never had it fail, but no one else can make a custom one except Billy Mac, and Jay Williams, and they are not making a whole lot right now.

Just my .02000

Best Regards,

STeven Garsson
oops, I forgot to mention S2K and this is not a knife you can argue against? ;)