Pat’s Product Reviews: Cold Steel Knives

I’ve carried a pocket knife of some type, ever since I was about six years old. Growing-up in Chicago, meant you were either going to take care of yourself, or become a meal for the next predator on the mean streets. There was a time, when I was a kid, that it seemed like everyone carried a pocket knife. I can remember going to elementary school, and most of the guys I went to school with carried pocket knives – in school! The police weren’t called, and you weren’t expelled from school, for carrying a “weapon.” It was just part of growing-up when I was a kid, unlike today, where a child is automatically expelled for a year from school, and the police are usually called, and a kid gets arrested for carrying a “weapon.” Knives are first and foremost, tools!   The world isn’t want it used to be – any more, kids get expelled from school for drawing a picture of a knife or a gun, or for that matter, pointing your finger in the shape of a gun. I don’t understand the logic, if there is any, behind this nonsense these days. My wife grew-up in rural southern Oregon on a farm. And, it was common to see high school kids with a rifle or shotgun in the back window of their pick-up truck – in case a kid wanted to get in some hunting before or after school. No one gave it a second thought, and the police weren’t called, and no one was expelled from school. We also didn’t have mass murders in our schools back then. I still remember, when I took a .22 rifle to school for show ‘n tell, the teacher didn’t get into a panic. And, everyone went home safe and sound at the end of the day.  

My friend, Lynn Thompson, who operates Cold Steel Knives,  isn’t just a knife designer, or simply runs a knife company. Nope, Lynn lives and breathes knives – it’s a part of his everyday life. Lynn doesn’t just make a living selling knives – he’s also heavily involved in the martial arts, and needless to say, knife fighting skills are a big part of his martial arts. I still remember when I first read about the original Cold Steel Tanto – and I couldn’t believe what I was reading. No knife could be “that” sharp or “that” tough. I had to get one for myself to prove all the hype. Sad to say, I was proven wrong! The original Cold Steel Tanto was exactly what it claimed to be, and then some.  

I’ve often said, in my of my magazine articles, that I believe Lynn Thompson put the “sharp” in factory knives. Oh sure, many years ago, you could find a halfway sharp knife, out-of-the-box. However, in most cases, you had to work on putting a hair-popping edge on most store-bought knives, and you still couldn’t get the knife as sharp as a Cold Steel knife is, right out of the box. I believe Lynn Thompson set the gold standard for sharpness, and everyone else had to follow suit or get out of the way.   There has been rumors going around for years, that Lynn Thompson, will refuse entire shipments of knives, if they aren’t up to his expectations. The rumors are true! Many of Cold Steel’s knives are made in Japan or China, and Thompson demands only the best when they reach his office in California. I’ve seen some of the “seconds” that Cold Steel sells once in a while. That’s not to say, that Thompson is lowering his standards, far from it. Usually, a Cold Steel “second” is a knife that will have a tiny cosmetic imperfection. And, you have to have a really good eye to spot these cosmetic blemishes.  

Under review here are two folding knife from Cold Steel, the Recon 1 and the Spartan. I can carry just about any kind of folding knife I want, and in the course of doing test and evaluation articles about knives, I actually do carry and use the knives I’m writing about. My main carry knife, if my right front pocket is the Cold Steel Recon 1 – and I do carry more than one folding knife. I usually have a small folder in the bottom of my right front pocket, and another folder clipped inside my left front pocket – that one gets used a lot. the Recon 1 is reserved for serious “social” occasions.   The Recon 1 comes in a Clip or Tanto pointed blade, I prefer and carry the Tanto version, with a plain edge – they are also offered in a partially serrated blade as well. The blade material is AUS 8A, one of my favorite blade steels for all around edge-holding and cutting. The handle scales are black G-10 laminate, which is super-tough stuff. The blade is 4″ in length and has dual thumb studs for ambidextrous opening. The pocket clip is reversible for left-hand (pocket) carry, too. The black coating on the blade is Teflon for a non-reflective finish and it helps protect the blade from rust, too. For a big folder, the Recon 1 only weighs 5.3 oz, and it feels lighter than that for some reason.   Like all Cold Steel knives, the Recon 1 is super-sharp. I don’t know how Cold Steel gets their knives so sharp, but I’m not complaining in the least. A sharp knife is easier to work with than a dull one, no doubt about it. The Recon 1 has the patented “Tri Ad” lock – it looks, from the outside, like a typical mid-frame rocker-lock, but don’t be fooled by looks. The Tri Ad locking system is extremely strong and I don’t worry about the blade getting unlocked and cutting my fingers when using the Recon 1.  As I said before, I can carry just about any kind of knife I want, and I often do carry some expensive factory or custom knives – some of those knives costing several hundred of dollars. My regular carry folder, in my right front pocket is the Cold Steel Recon 1, and it retails for only $104.99 – a real bargain in my book.  

Lynn Thompson also sent me the Cold Steel “Spartan” folding knife. And, this is one mean-looking son-of-a-gun, too. The blade is shaped like the classic “Kopis” and many mistake it for a Kukri-style blade. Like the Recon 1, the Spartan has a blade made out of AUS 8A stainless steel, and the handle scales are made out of black “Grivory” a super-tough synthetic material. Blade length on the Spartan is 4-1/2″ and it looks a lot longer than that, perhaps because of the curve of the blade. The Tri Ad lock is also used on the Spartan. Weighing in at 7.5 oz, the Kopis is a bit heavier than the Recon 1 is. Two pocket clips come with the Kopis – one for left pocket carry, and one for right pocket carry. The clips are shaped to follow the curve on the handle and you can’t simply move the pocket clip from one side of the handle scales to the other – you have to use a different clip.   Lynn Thompson told me that, as big as the Kopis is, that it was designed for pocket carry. I didn’t believe him, and put it to the test. The Spartan comes with a thumb disk on the top of the blade, and this disk can be used to open the Spartan with either your thumb, or by hooking it on the top of your pocket as your “draw” the knife – and when you complete the draw, the blade will be open in your hand. It is very fast, and very easy to learn inside of a couple minutes of practice.  

In short order, I was carrying the Spartan in my right front pocket, and I had completely forgotten I had it there. Thompson was right – the knife, as big as it is, does easily carry clipped inside the pocket of most pants. I don’t think the Spartan would fit in my suit pants, then again, I haven’t worn my suit for more than 10 years so I’m not too worried about that.  When you hold the Spartan in your hand, it is awe-inspiring, and it will get the attention of any bad guys who might think about doing you harm, too. Best of all, the Spartan retails for only $94.99. How they can sell ’em so cheap is beyond me – you get more than your money’s worth with a Cold Steel product.  

For everyday or backwoods survival, or even TEOTWAWKI , it would be hard to pass up either a Cold Steel Spartan or Recon 1 folder. They can do the job many lesser folding knives can’t do. Lynn Thompson backs-up what he says about his knives. Check out the videos on his web site and be sure watch the tests the Spartan and Recon 1 are put through – as well as all the knives Cold Steel sells. Be prepared to spend several hours watching all the videos – it’s easy to get hooked watching the amazing tests that are done with the Cold Steel knives.   Be sure and stop by the Cold Steel web site, check out their entire line-up of folders, fixed blade knives and other tools they have to offer, and request their catalog. Tell them I told you to stop by their web site. I’m betting good money, you’ll find something that will serve your survival needs from Cold Steel.

JWR Adds: I second the motion for Cold Steel Knives. They are some of the best production knives on the market, for the money. I am particularly fond of their large folding knives with a tanto point, such as the Voyager series. If I lived somewhere where it was legal to carry a folding pocket knife but firearms were restricted from concealed carry, then I would carry a large (4″ blade) Voyager or perhaps a Voyager XL (with a 5″ blade.) These knives are sturdy and versatile, but surprisingly light for their size.