This evaluation was made possible with an Engage 3.5 kindly provided to us by Cold Steel
If there is one thing that never ceases to fascinate the enthusiast knife community – and we include ourselves in the category – it’s a new lock mechanism. When Cold Steel first showed off its new Atlas Lock after being acquired by GSM Outdoors late last year, our ears perked up. Now the Engage, the first model with the Atlas Lock, has arrived with dealers – so we decided to check one out ourselves. Does the Atlas Lock lived up to the hype?
Before we get to the lock, it’s worth taking a look at the Engage model as a whole. Custom maker and longtime Cold Steel collaborator Andrew Demko had been responsible for many of the company’s recent models, and even though Demko left shortly after the GSM acquisition, his impact on Cold Steel’s path forward is immediately evident in the Engage. The 3.5-inch version bears a noticeable resemblance to some of Demko’s work with the company – most notably the AD-10. Like that award-winner, the Engage has a roomy handle, bracketed on either end with finger guards.
In a direct comparison with the AD-10, the Engage isn’t quite as comfortable, but it makes up for that by being thinner than the AD-10; its contoured G-10 scales and liners aren’t quite as beefed up. Looking at the numbers, the Engage weighs 6.5 oz. compared to the AD-10’s 6.83 oz.; now a big difference, but, combined with that thinner profile, and the reversible deep carry clip, it feels and carries like a smaller knife than it is.
We like the blade shape too, which is a narrower, harpoon-style drop point. It’s a powerful cutter, and fairly manueverable for its size thanks to a huge forward choil and a dip behind the swedge; when you choke up with the choil, your thumb falls right into that groove. We don’t need to dwell on the qualities of S35VN, but suffice it to say in our (limited) testing everything seems to be on point with the PM steel, and the edge on our sample was extremely sharp right out of the box.
The Atlas Lock in Daily Use
All well and good – but what about that Atlas Lock? Well first of all, we’ll say that despite the obvious comparison to the Tri-Ad Lock, Cold Steel’s new mechanism really puts us in mind of the Axis Lock. The cutout for disengagement may look like a lock back lock bar, but instead of pushing it in, you pull it down, similar to the cross bar on the Axis. That means you can do an Axis-style deployment, pulling the bar down and flicking the blade into an open position without using the thumb stud at all; doing the same in reverse can close the knife.
Cold Steel talked to us in February about the advantages of the Atlas Lock. Inspired by the Tri-Ad Lock, which uses a stop pin between the blade tang and lock bar, they designed the Atlas Lock with two pins, one beneath the tang and another further down, in a recess in the spring bar. Cold Steel says the lock is strong, performing better than the Tri-Ad in the spine whack, overhang, and overstrike tests. We’ll leave these extreme trials to the experts, but we will say that, in day-to-day use, the Atlas Lock feels deeply secure. Our sample had just a hint of side-to-side play when locked up, but not enough to cause worry or affect performance in any way. We can’t say it’s safer than the Tri-Ad Lock, but it is certainly snappier to deploy.
However, this snappiness does have a downside. Like some Axis Locks we’ve handled, the Atlas Lock comes with a very light detent; the knife can be pretty easily shaken out, if not completely opened. We’ve definitely seen worse, but this is about as light of a detent as we’d feel safe carrying around, and if it’s possible to dial this in without sacrificing the convenient speed that would be great. Another issue is that, if you open the Atlas Lock with the thumb stud, the bar can pinch the skin of your hand as it engages, depending on how you hold the knife. This is definitely a Your Mileage May Vary situation, and again, something that could probably be alleviated with some small design alterations.
The Tri-Ad Lock is a high bar to clear (pun intended). The Atlas Lock obviously invites the comparison, and while we can’t say we like it quite as much as the Tri-Ad Lock yet, it seems like Cold Steel mostly succeeded in what they were trying to do. The Atlas Lock feels different enough to emerge from the shadow of its famous stablemate, and given time and a few tweaks could carve out a space all of its own in the knife market.
Knife in Featured Image: Cold Steel Engage 3.5
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