Liner Locks, Thumbs up or Thumbs Down?

Feb 22, 1999
To Forumites:

I have been seeing a number of posts by Forum members who no longer buy liner locks. Others members are unsure about the liner lock's reliability. A third group seems to trust liner locks yet agree the popularity of this lock is sinking like the Titanic.

As a manufacturer I am a little confused since a majority of the popular production as well as custom tactical/utility folders employ liner locks. If you look at what was offered at the recent Blade Show, there was not a lot of evidence that the liner lock is going out of style.

Recently two new locks have hit the market. Benchmade's Axis Lock and the REKAT Rolling Lock. Both locks have been marketed heavily and I have no doubt these mechanisms are both strong and reliable. Since these mechanisms are only available from two companies on a limited number of models, I can't believe the hype from these locks is enough to kill or even dethrone the liner lock. Note that Benchmade still makes plenty of good reliable liner locks.

Basically, if a liner lock as well as an Axis or Rolling lock is made correctly, it is both strong and reliable, if not the lock fails, bottom line.

Can we have a show of hands from liner lock users and haters on what good and bad experience you have had with liner locks as references to the brand and model?

The results should be interesting. Thank you for your attention.

Outdoor Edge Cutlery Corp.

David Bloch,
I have a number of knives liner locks and I have had no problems with them. All are high quality knives like Benchmade and the Spyderco Military. I do not abuse my knives and I don't see any reason to think that the liner locks would fail in normal use. That said, I own a couple Gerber Applegate combat folders and I've read enough about problems with these on this forum that I'm not sure I would trust this knife in the role it was designed for.


who dares, wins

David, its not the new locks that are pushing the liners out - its the fact that liner locks in general, by design are more unstable. Even lockbacks are usually better choice.

Spyderco's Military has one of the better reputations for a good liner lock and yet I could fold mine just by tightening my grip even after it returned from the warrenty dept. for servicing. I don't think its because they did something wrong or they don't know how to make a liner lock, its just that the design has problems.

There is far more to a lock that just how much pressure it takes to collapse it. Security and stability under heavy work is very important and this is where liner locks have problems.


[This message has been edited by Cliff Stamp (edited 24 June 1999).]
Linerlocks have been getting these concerns from the beginning - I think if the recent atmosphere seems more critical it is just the ebb and flow of opinion or the fact that some really good alternatives (Axis Lock and Rolling Lock) are finally available. Would I prefer one of these new types? Maybe. Do I worry about my linerlocks? Not at all.

I feel a well-made linerlock has little chance of failing a whack-test. My AFCK has never failed in over four years. Whether a linerlock could be disengaged in use is a matter of design, grip, and hand size/shape. With every new linerlock there seem to be a few folks that can pop it just by gripping hard, while most never have this problem (though I think the more recessed, the better). Lockbacks can be disengaged by a tight grip as well, and some have even reported disengaging an Axis this way. Try a variety of grips and choose a knife that suits you.

Linerlocks will continue to take up a large portion of the industry, both because criticisms are somewhat overstated and because most buyers are not tapped into sources like this one. Custom makers will stick with them for their simplicity, and because it's hard to beat a good linerlock for smooth operation and easy one-handed opening AND closing. Folks should never stop experimenting, but I don't think anyone should "abandon ship" on this design yet.


(Why else would a bear want a pocket?)
The only lockbacks to fail the white knuckle test I've ever heard of are the ones that have a tab sticking out. A flush lock, like that on Buck knives doesn't have this problem. I have been using Buck lockbacks(formerly the Ranger, presently the Titanium) for a decade and a half, and have never under any circumstances had one give out on me.

I can't say the same for linerlocks. The best are only passable, the worst are a danger. The way they lock up make them a liability. The only thing keeping them closed is a skinny flap of metal spring. In a lockback, there is no direct stresses on the spring. If the knife is trying to close, it is putting tensile stresses on the locking bar and pin that can easily handle it, whereas on a linerlock the pressure makes the spring flex, which in turn makes it prone to want to close under heavy loads.

I have no love for linerlocks. Lockbacks work just fine. I haven't messed with the new locks.

I think you hit the nail on the head with "linerlocks going out of style". Because that's exactly what it's about, style. The "tactical" in "tactical knife" means that it has as many esoteric gadgets and exotic materials in it's construction as possible, irregardless of wether or not they are beneficial. It's all about style. Some are good, some really suck, but I'm really suprised Tommy Hilifigger and Calvin Klien haven't come out with tactical knives.

Kick out the style, bring back the jam.
I like the liner locks, and I also have the rolling locks (which I like as well). I'm not a real hard user of a folding knife. If you you don't "ever" want the thing to fold on you use a fix blade. Every folder will fail at some point. Some liners are better then others even within the same model.
The easy one hand opening is a real plus. I've only had a problem with one liner lock (a Benchmade), the release tang did not stick out far enough. Others have needed a few hard openings to seat good, but then they worked good. The other thing I like about them is the fact you can visibly inspect the lock.
Corduroy :

With every new linerlock there seem to be a few folks that can pop it just by gripping hard, while most never have this problem

This is true, I passed around the Military to my friends and some could pop it with no problem and some could not.

Lockbacks can be disengaged by a tight grip as well, and some have even reported disengaging an Axis this way.

While there are probably people out there who can easily disengage any lock just with a specific grip, some locks are much more likely for this to happen than others.

It is worth nothing that you can make liner locks really secure. Joe Talmadge has described this before, its not that easy to do and few people do it right. It seems to be much easier to make a lock back or an integral.


I basically agree with your statement that liner locks, if made correctly, can be both strong and reliable. I would add, however, that the ergonomics of the design combined with the manner in which a user holds the knife also play a large role in determining how reliable a particular model will be for a given user.

For example, although I don't own one, I've played with a few Spyderco Militaries and wouldn't have a concern about them failing on me. Yet, I don't doubt for a second that Cliff's can fold up just by his tightening his grip.

I own both a Spyderco Centofante and a Cricket, a Gigand Spectrum, and a Gerber Applegate Combat Folder. All have passed the various liner lock tests with flying colors. In fact, because of the bad press it received, I was particularly tough on the Applegate -- really trying to make it fail --and it held up great. I can't imagine it failing and, yes, would bet my fingers on it.

FWIW, I also had an experience with a POS liner lock that failed very easily. A friend had given me a Jaguar liner lock for sharpening. I was able to make its lock fail one-handed with simple pressure from my index finger on the spine.



I haven't had problems with either the liner lock or lockback style. That may be partly because I don't trust any knife to be 100% safe. If I start putting too much force on a knife I start to ask myself if I'm using the right tool. I can't speak about self defense uses since that's not what I carry a knife for.

I personally prefer the liner lock becuse of its easy open / close feature.
I haven't had problems with either the liner lock or lockback style. That may be partly because I don't trust any knife to be 100% safe. If I start putting too much force on a knife I start to ask myself if I'm using the right tool. I can't speak about self defense uses since that's not what I carry a knife for.

I personally prefer the liner lock becuse of its easy open / close feature.
David --

I'm firmly in the no-more-liner-locks camp. But I do believe liner locks can be made to be very very safe and secure. Unfortunately, doing a liner lock really well is very difficult ... doing it well consistently seems nearly impossible. And with makers *still* not doing even basic torque and white knuckling tests, just TOO MANY liner locks from low-end production to high-$$$ customs can fail. I will never argue that a liner lock that's secure is impossible, but I will argue that way too many liner locks are unreliable and unsafe.

Of course, I do think there are some design problems with liner locks that aren't as much of a problem in other locks. White knuckling can get a lockback, if the lock bar is loose and right under your palm. With a liner lock, your fingers are always right there above the lock, so unless the lock is sunk down below the scales you can accidently disengage them. And guess what, most makers don't sink the liners down because then it makes the lock harder to unlock. The liner lock has torquing problems that no other lock I've ever seen has. And then we get to spine pressure, either slow steady pressure or impulse. A few lockbacks show this problem, but many many liner locks do.

I don't think the liner lock is going away any time soon. Many people are unaware that there even is a problem -- I know it took me two years to figure it out for myself, and I probably test more than the average person. And many people are aware of the problem, but have decided that for themselves, the tests don't duplicate their actual use. Still others have gotten lucky, and the liner locks they own are reasonably solid. Lastly, stories of who has gotten cut with which lock usually don't make it very far in the knife community.

The liner lock is too entrenched to disappear soon. In addition, it's one of the lock types that's easiest to manufacture by a single knife maker with limited tools (unfortunately, it may be the hardest to get right). I do my part to point out what I think the problems are, and encourage people to try other lock types also.


[This message has been edited by Joe Talmadge (edited 24 June 1999).]
I'm not a liner lock hater. I carried them for years before discovering the "new breeds." For me it's not the strength or the reliability factors in terms of fear of closure on the hand. For me, it's wear. I think the new integral titanium locking liners are the best in terms of liner locks yet. I just like the fact that with my axis locks, the wear just creates a more stable lockup. Also, it's less traumatic for me with the parts and abilities I have to replace a worn out locking bar, stop pin, or pivot pin than it is for me to replace a handle slab or liner. I don't believe in warranties. The only time I've ever used mine are when I notice something screwy fresh out of the box. Otherwise, my using knives are my responsibility thereafter. I picked up a lot of little crazy stainless parts over the years and it's not that hard to replace stuff on the axis knives. But that's my hobby and I don't speak for everyone. I can't speak for the REKAT's as I don't own one (yet), but my guess is they're at least vaguely similar in composition. Can't say anything terrible about the liner locks I've loved either; while it broke my heart to see them wear, I've yet to wear one completely out.

I am one of those guys that just got lucky I guess. I seem to have trouble disengaging a liner by white knuckle (and belive me I do have a good grip). The torquing isnt a big problem so far, I just cant see it being a problem in regular use, if I twist hard enough to disengage the lock, I should be using a fixed blade or a prybar. And ive just put some nice sized dents in the computer desk from the spine whack test and it didnt fail, so I guess im a fan. I dont doubt however that some people could disengage the lock by their grip, I just havent been able to yet.
Liner locks are tricky. There seems to be a delicate balance in the lockup, and also in the blade retention in the handle in the closed position. I've sent a few dozen liner locks back to some very respectable companies for warranty service (good service in all cases), and I've rejected very few of any other kind of knife. And there seems to be no relationship between rejection rate and price.

That said, some of my favorite folders are liner locks, because very few folders are nicer than a liner lock that works right. The knife in my shirt pocket at the moment is a William Henry Lancet liner lock in carbon fiber with the new pivot end clip. Very nice knife. And yes, I've sent a couple of liner locks back to William Henry too.

Many thanks for all the responces. All of your opinions have offered a well rounded overview of this topic and pointed out several issues I had not payed close attention to.

I own quite a number of knives however most of them I purchase and carry for a week or so to reference the construction, materials action and overall design. I also own a number of quality liner locks and have never had a bad experience. As well I rarely put any folder to really hard use. As one of you pointed out, when really forcing hard with a folder it is probably best to take a step back as say, "Maybe I shouldn't be using the knife for this".

No matter how strong anything is designed, everything can and does break as a result of defective materials or abuse. Last week for example we received a warranty knife back from a customer. It was the first time we received a Kodi-Skinner that the blade snapped right in half, 1/2 inch in front of the guard. For reference the Kodi-Skinner is a solid, full tang 4 1/4" fixed blade AUS-8A skinner that comes with the Kodi-Pak. We have distributed the Kodi-Pak for over two years and sold over 30,000 units. One out of 30,000 is a great track record, but my point is everything breaks. Although the Kodi-Skinner is designed plenty strong, the failure was cause by a defect in the steel. As a result a crack formed when the blade was blanked out.

As well I agree, if you want to use a knife hard, use a fixed blade.

Since Outdoor Edge is new in producing liner locks, I will be paying very close attention to lock placement and various grips that can possibly disengage the lock. As far as the Magna and Impulse, Darrel Ralph and Kit Carson are good teachers so I believe we have this issue covered on these models.

Again thanks for all the feedback and wishing the best as always.

Outdoor Edge Cutlery Corp.

David Bloch,
Well made liner locks are no problem. They hold up very well under heavy use. I have a lot of liner locks that are well made and I've no problem with. But, poorly made liner locks are just downright dangerous - and I've seen some poorly made ones in the past.

I'm glad to see these new locks emerging (e.g. Axis Lock, Rolling Lock) as they represent an evolution in tactical folder design. Stronger locks and safer too (flesh does not get in the path of a closing blade)

Dexter Ewing
Knife Reviews Moderator
AKTI Member # A000005

"The keystroke is mightier than the sword"

To Dexter:

I also am a fan of the Rolling Lock and the Axis lock. Both are well designed mechanisms and offering a fresh, new and strong lock for tactical/utility knives.

Unfortunately for Outdoor Edge the Axis Lock is a Benchmade exclusive and REKAT's lisence requirement for the Rolling Lock is too high for us to feasibly produce this mechanism.

New strong locks are a hot topic so our plan is to put our engineering noses to the grindstone and develop our own lock.

No breaking news for now but stay tuned.

Outdoor Edge Cutlery Corp.

David Bloch,
From: Ivan6-24-99 1143PM EDT Guys I like liner lock and lockback knives. But I have had one linerlock failure doing the spline test. It was a year old Cuda,believe it or not. It was carried for sometime ,got lost for a week at Sheetz convience store,and I replaced the pocket screws with offbrand screws. It was a very dull knife out of the box but I sharpened it up good. I dont have it anymore but may try another Cuda someday since problem may not have been the knife. It was flicked a lot over time. Interesting case. Ivan
David -- the previous posters covered the "thumbs down" bases very well. It's nice to know that the OE Apogee will have a Ti integral frame lock. A sincere good luck on your production Magnas and Impulses!

If linerlocks go out of style that will be the second time by my count. I have some old Gerbers from the 70's - early 80's and they were controversial then in podunk Juneau, AK for the same reason today; reliability.