5 Common Types of Locking Knives Explained

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If you’ve ever shopped around for a pocket knife for everyday carry, you’d know there’s a staggering amount of options to choose from. Trying to make sense of the many types of knives and their subtle differences can get overwhelming. Of the many factors to consider when choosing something as personal as a knife, its locking mechanism is one of the most important. You should know what type of lock, if any, you should have depending on your needs and preferences before investing in a quality knife.

In this guide, we’ll show you some of the most common types of locking mechanisms you’d find in a desirable EDC knife. You’ll discover the advantages of having a knife that locks, which type is best suited for your EDC, how they work, and knives to consider if the locking type isn’t an option where you live.

Why EDC a locking blade?

Portability should be a major focus when looking for a tool to keep on your person in your pockets or bag. In the case of pocket knives for EDC, folding knives offer an ideal balance of pocketability and functionality.

When folded closed, they become more compact and easier to carry as there’s no exposed sharp edge to worry about. When fully opened, you get the balance, ergonomics, and utility of a non-folding (fixed) blade. Fixed blades are inherently stronger as there’s no moving parts to fail under stress in extreme cases or after repeated hard use.

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What about folding knives lets you enjoy the best of both worlds?

It’s all in the lock.

The locking mechanism adds extra safety to using your EDC blade. It lets you blow through tougher tasks over a longer lifetime on a knife you can actually carry everyday. It’s something you’d be using often, so it’s best to get acquainted with what your options are.

Let’s take a look at some of the top types of locking mechanisms for EDC, and a few options for those in areas where locking blades are restricted.

Lockback

A lock back mechanism is what you see on many classic American folding knives. It’s essentially made of a “spine” on a spring. When the knife is opened, the spine locks into a notch on the back of the blade. To close the knife, push down on the exposed part of the spine (usually found in the middle or rear of the handle) to pop up the part of the spine in contact with the blade. This disengages the lock, allowing you to swing the blade to a closed position.

The benefits of a lockback include reliable strength and safety. The unlock “button” is out of the way of your grip when using the knife, meaning you’re unlikely to accidentally disengage the lock and have it close on you. It also keeps your hands clear of the blade’s path when closing, minimizing the risk of cutting yourself.

One disadvantage is that while using both hands to close a lockback is safer, it can be inconvenient when you need to keep one hand on whatever you’re cutting. Although it’s possible to close a lockback with one hand, it isn’t easy. You’d likely need to switch grips and take extra care when closing the blade.

Lockback example: Spyderco Chaparral Ti ($173)


Liner Lock

Liner locks are one of the more common mechanisms seen on folding knives. This mechanism’s characteristic component is a side spring bar located on the same side as sharp edge of the blade, “lining” the inside of the handle. When the knife is closed, the spring bar is held under tension. When fully opened, that tension slips the bar inward to make contact with the butt of the blade, keeping it firmly in place and preventing it from closing. To disengage a liner lock, you have to use your thumb to push the spring bar "down" (towards the pocket clip in the example knife shown above) so that it clears contact from the butt of the blade. This lets you use your index finger to push the blade just enough so that it keeps the bar pushed down so you can remove your thumb from the blade path, then continue to safely close the knife.

Liner locks are beneficial in that they allow a knife to have two true handle sides, unlike a framelock (you’ll see what we mean later in the guide). You can close the knife with one hand without switching grip, ideal for when you need both hands on the job. You’ll find liner locks in both entry-level and high-end knives. It’s a lock type that appeals to both knife newbies and enthusiasts alike.

If you’ll be using your knife for heavy-duty tasks, you should know liner locks typically aren’t as robust as other locking systems. They’re still plenty strong, but because they’re typically made from a thinner piece of metal, they’re more prone to wearing out compared to a beefy frame lock, for example.

Liner lock example: Spyderco Tenacious ($37)


Frame Lock

Think of the frame lock as a beefed up version of the liner lock. They’re very similar to liner lock mechanisms, except instead of an internal spring bar moving into place, it’s part of the handle itself. Frame lock knives tend to be stronger than liner locks, as the piece of metal that slips into place is more substantial than that in a liner. Because of their similarity to liner locks, closing a frame lock knife is virtually the same — push down on the spring bar so it no longer blocks the butt of the blade, remove your thumb from the path, then fold the knife closed.

This type of locking system puts a large portion of metal against the blade, ensuring a strong lockup for piercing, cutting, slicing, and other heavy-duty tasks. Frame locks are seen in lots of mid to upper range knives, typically crafted from titanium. In the example shown here, a stainless steel insert interfaces with the blade as it both takes longer to wear out than titanium, and stabilizes the bar so you don't weaken it by pushing it too far. Not only do they add a unique look to the knife, but they’re also easily operated with one hand.

Frame lock example: Spyderco Dice ($162)


AXIS Lock

The AXIS lock is a proprietary mechanism you’d only find on Benchmade knives, but due to its ingenuity and popularity among EDCers, it’s definitely worth knowing about. It’s easy to use with one hand, but also important, it’s completely ambidextrous.

Here’s how it works: The lock is made up of a spring-tensioned bar that slides back and forth on a track cut into the handles of the knife. The butt of each blade featuring an AXIS lock (hidden by the handle) has a flat spot that allows a spring-tensioned bar to lock into place when the knife is opened. To close the knife, you pull the bar towards the back of the knife, using the thumb studs, and fold the blade shut.

Right handers and southpaws alike can appreciate how easy it is to use this lock, because the bar is accessible from both sides of the knife handle. Because this mechanism has plenty of moving parts involved it can be difficult to disassemble for cleaning and maintenance. On smaller models especially, the downsized studs can be difficult to operate as well. But as far as ambidextrous knives go, Benchmade knives featuring AXIS locks are among the best.

AXIS Lock example: Benchmade Mini-Griptilian ($102)


Slip Joint & Friction Folder

Just to be clear, these types of blades don’t have a true “lock” as far as laws are concerned, but they’re still viable options for EDC.

Slipjoints are most commonly seen in Swiss Army Knives. Typically these knives require two hands to open and close safely. They’re made up of a spring bar and a specially shaped blade. To open the knife, you pull on the blade to overcome the pressure from the spring, snapping the blade into place. To close it, make sure your fingers are out of the way of the sharp edge, and push back down.

Friction folders are similar, except they don’t have a spring bar. Instead, the knife’s blade is held in place simply by friction between the blade steel and the knife scales.

One of the main advantages of these types of knives is their legality. They’re also nice to carry because they’re simple and easy to use. But its worth repeating that these knives don’t have a true lockup, so they’re not the best for heavier duty tasks.

Slipjoint example: Victorinox Swiss Army EvoWood 17 ($55)


By now, you should be more familiar with your options to better choose the a knife worthy of your pocket.

Do you have a favorite type of lock to recommend? Leave a comment with your EDC knife of choice and tell us why you like its lockup to help your fellow EDCers and prospective knife buyers carry smarter.

Words and images by Ed Jelley and Bernard Capulong

#lockback #axis-lock #friction-folder #slipjoint #framelock #liner-lock #knife-locks #knife-locking-mechanisms #knives #locking-knives #carry-smarter #sak-tension-bar-lock #knife-d-lock #folding-knife-lock-types #folding-knife-locking-mechanisms #lock-bar-on-a-knife see all



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Discussion (32 total)

Interesting you left out the 'ring lock' from Opinel. While it is not a prevalent lock type, the cost-effective knives are so common around EDC blogs (including this one) that I would have expected to see it listed. In any case - another great post. Love the site!
Thanks for the feedback and suggestion, Ian. Thankfully these guides can always be updated to reflect what's current and popular, so there's definitely room for a circle lock explanation. Now I just gotta get my hands on an Opinel…
Worth noting, especially as this site (excellent though it is) skews heavily towards the US: it is illegal to carry a lock knife of any length in the United Kingdom, and any knife over 3 inches blade length. Literally every knife type shown in this piece is illegal for me to actually have as EDC!

Some manufacturers, notably Spyderco, have a range of UK-legal pocket knives, employing a deep choil in the grip to stop the knife closing on your fingers... that's as close as we get.
We haven't forgotten about our UK friends — we know laws there are stricter than most. We can continually expand upon or update this guide with some recommendations for UKers after we do some research. Off the top of my head I know you're talking about models like the UKPK, Squeak, Pingo, Roadie, etc.. and I know some of the smaller Victorinox SAK blades are good candidates too. I'll keep an eye out for more!
No lock knife or folding knife is legal to be carried as EDC in Malaysia. Not any length or size will be allowed. Similar system as England
A GREAT POINT. Check your local laws before knife shopping. I learned that what I wanted (a "West Side Story" style switchblade) was going to be a serious problem. I went with a assisted open liner lock.
Good point (especially re: EDC) but worth expanding on the law as it's not illegal to carry any of these as long as you have reasonable cause to do so - (e.g. Your profession, travelling to an activity where the knife would be used, etc)
Would have preferred to see gifs or short videos of how the locks operate. After reading this article I was still confused, so I went on youtube. Everything crystal clear now after watching a couple of videos on the subject. I can easily follow the article now that I know how the locks work, but the article didn't really feel helpful when I didn't know anything about those locks.
Thanks for the suggestion! We are actually working on adding more visual aid to the post, be sure to check back!
Sog also has a locking mechanism similar to the axis lock called the arc lock.
True. I also think it's worth mentioning.
I have carried a number of locking knives, including assisted knives. I have grown to really love the axis lock, it's super quick to open and close with one hand-just about as fast as my assisted knives to open, but without that "pop" and the movement is very fluid on both the open and close...kinda like a butterfly knife.
Awesome article, thanks for taking the time to research and write .
It will be helpful if you can explain how one closes a knive with a liner lock or the frame lock.
That's a great idea, I'll append that now. Thanks!

update: added quick blurbs on how to close these knives
My personal favourite type of lock is frame lock. It just feels so robust, and is super easy to use.
I was hoping to see a latch on a balisong as a folding knife with lock example. Strongest lock there is.

Also the most fun knife to open that isn't an automatic. :-D
Definitely super strong. I have a small collection (helps that my dad grew up where the OG balisongs were made) but they're definitely not commonly seen since they're restricted in so many places and have a steep learning curve. Good one to keep in mind for growing the guide later on
Could have mentioned how titanium is a bad metal for a frame lock to be made from since they bend and deform easier than harder steel and high end frame locks have a replaceable steel insert.
good call — we used the spyderco dice to illustrate the SS insert/stabilizer, but i added some brief text to convey that more clearly. thanks Garret!
Very nice guide. I prefer lock back, specifically the Tri-Ad lock from Cold Steel. Basically a lock back, but with an added stop pin. Makes for a -very- secure lockup with no play at all. However, it is difficult to close one handed, but that's a trade off I am willing to make.

Maybe a carry smarter guide on different blade types? (Tanto, spear, wharncliffe, etc?)
Thanks for the feedback and suggestions. I prefer lockback too — the Chaparral up there is my EDC. I find it tricky to disengage the lock and try to use my index finger to close the blade but I'm pretty careful with my blades in general. Blade shapes is definitely on the list. Great suggestion!
Cold steel Tri ad lock is the best. Closing with one hand is just a matter of time and practice. I carry CS Spartan on me and use it with one hand only. Looking forward on blade shapes.
I would add compression lock to the list, like the lock found on a Spyderco PM2.
I usually stick to carrying liner and axis lock knives, and whatever CRKT calls the locking system on the m-16.
The AXIS on the benchmade is excellent. Very smooth and confidence one handed open and closing. Feels sturdy too although I haven't tested my griptilian on anything heavy...
I love it! I've had the Mini Grip for years now, it's super reliable and so easy to use.
I like the locking mechanism of the leather man wave
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