Keen Insights: The Cold Steel SR1—A Hard Use Folder

The Cold Steel AR1 wasn’t a knife that I thought I’d like when I first saw it. The handle has some unusual geometric cuts, and the clip-point blade looked a bit stubby when the knife was open. But then I held it, and it is now part of my regular rotation.

Some knives, like the Kizer Sheep Dog XL, don’t try too hard to justify their size. They’re big, and that’s the point. The Cold Steel SR1 folder isn’t a huge knife by Cold Steel’s standards—but it is a robust design that has oversized dimensions for a very defined purpose.

The Cold Steel SR1. The design is--at least for me--visually underwhelming. Yet every aspect is crafted for a purpose. Even the distinct shapes cut in the G10 slabs.
The Cold Steel SR1. The design is—at least for me—visually underwhelming. Yet every aspect is crafted for a purpose. Even the distinct shapes cut in the G10 slabs.

This is a folder built to go to war. Or to work, or the park, or whatever.

Cold Steel SR1 Specs

Weight: 7oz
Blade Thickness: 4.8mm
Blade Length: 4in
Blade Steel: S35VN
Handle Length/Material: 5-3/8in G-10 (OD Green)
Overall Length: 9-3/8in

Note the concave cut on the back of the blade. This is where the blade indexes a pin in the handle--a key feature to its solid lock-up.
Note the concave cut on the back of the blade. This is where the blade indexes a pin in the handle–a key feature to its solid lock-up.

The Cold Steel SR1’s Lock

Cold Steel’s Tri-Ad locking mechanism is a beast. It is similar in design to a lock-back lock, but the lock acts more like a pressure lever that pushes the blade up toward a stop-pin in the handle. This means that the lock’s face doesn’t have to have incredibly tight tolerances—it simply has to exert pressure on the back of the blade.

Normal lock-back designs insert pressure from the lock bar directly against the back of the blade. These two points are secure, so long as no material wears from either surface. Yet every time you open or close the knife, there is some rubbing between the two points.

From the top, it doesn't look like the lock has engaged the blade, but it has--below that pin that indexes the blade in the open position.
From the top, it doesn’t look like the lock has engaged the blade, but it has—below that pin that indexes the blade in the open position.

Cheap knives often wear and loosen at this joint. Cold Steel’s design allows for wear, but the wear will never change the strength of the lock-up, as the blade is being held against the stop pin. As long as there is pressure from the lock, this joint holds firm.

The lock is wide and stubby and has some jimping at the front end for your thumb.
The lock is wide and stubby and has some jimping at the front end for your thumb.

The spring is stout—and the lever itself is shorter than it is on most classic lock-back designs, like the Buck 110, but it is easy to engage and easy to unlock. You might think it would be crazy stiff, but it isn’t.

The lock-bar is in the middle of the knife's handle, and not the end--as it is on most lock-back designs. This is an odd twist, but it is in a place that can't be accidentally unlocked if you were to hold the knife with your thumb on the back of the handle (blade pointing down).
The lock-bar is in the middle of the knife’s handle, and not the end—as it is on most lock-back designs. This is an odd twist, but it is in a place that can’t be accidentally unlocked if you were to hold the knife with your thumb on the back of the handle (blade pointing down).

The G10 handle on the Cold Steel SR1

G10 is a hard nylon. It cuts well and holds sharp lines. And the texture on this knife is great for a solid working grip.

I spilled some paint on the grip. I may have been opening the can with the edge of a scale. But the clip--that's the point here--is wide and robust enough for the knife's weight.
I spilled some paint on the grip. I may have been opening the can with the edge of a scale. But the clip—that’s the point here—is wide and robust enough for the knife’s weight.

There are two distinct shapes at the belly of the handle. One is slightly curved, one more angular. I think this has a benefit for ergonomics, but also allows you to feel which direction the blade is pointing when the knife is open without looking directly at the blade. That’s my guess, anyhow.

The Cold Steel SR1's blade is a solid 4 inch slab of 1/4" S35VN. This is a knife that is meant for hard use, but it isn't so big that it feels obtrusive in the pocket.
The Cold Steel SR1’s blade is a solid 4 inch slab of 1/4″ S35VN. This is a knife that is meant for hard use, but it isn’t so big that it feels obtrusive in the pocket.

The handle is long, too, allowing for a full grip, even for those of us with larger hands. And you can hold it in any direction without compromise.

Practical use

The Cold Steel SR1 is certainly tough. I’ve used the blade to pry in ways that I wouldn’t even begin to try with other pocket knives. There’s actual integrity to the build thanks to the stainless liners, the width of the blade (just under 1/5 of an inch) and the strong pivot pin.

I've had this in the wild for more than a year now, and the wear is beginning to show. I've managed to put a couple of dings in the cutting edge. While it isn't so hot for removing splinters, it still cuts well.
I’ve had this in the wild for more than a year now, and the wear is beginning to show. I’ve managed to put a couple of dings in the cutting edge. While it isn’t so hot for removing splinters, it still cuts well.

The deep hollow grind of the blade means this isn’t a delicate slicer. The cutting edge is ground for all around utility and not finesse. And the point isn’t as sharp as some other knives Cold Steel makes.

The spine of the blade is flat and the edges are crisp, all the way down the false edge of the clip point.
The spine of the blade is flat and the edges are crisp, all the way down the false edge of the clip point.

But that doesn’t mean this isn’t a capable knife. I’ve used it on numerous camping and hunting trips. It is holding up like a champ. And it has just enough heft to carry it through really aggressive cuts.

As this is a pocket knife, I wouldn’t recommend batoning with it. But I have. I’ve yet to get the lock to fail, even when wrapping on the back of the blade with a solid log. I’ve split up lots of kindling with this knife and it excels both at splitting and at taking the torque needed to finish off a split by hand.

The SR1's initial bevel is steep and hollowground. The secondary bevel is also somewhat steep. This is a good angle for chopping. It isn't delicate, at all.
The SR1’s initial bevel is steep and hollowground. The secondary bevel is also somewhat steep. This is a good angle for chopping. It isn’t delicate, at all.

What the Cold Steel SR1 isn’t

If I’m carrying a sheath knife, I will also have a pocket knife on me. The SR1 functions like a sheath knife for me. And that seems to be the type of work I use it for.

The G10 grips have a bump-out that functions like a bolster. This seems like a bad idea at first glance, but the design is actually really strong owing to the thickness of the G10. There's nothing about the SR1 that is frail.
The G10 grips have a bump-out that functions like a bolster. This seems like a bad idea at first glance, but the design is actually really strong owing to the thickness of the G10. There’s nothing about the SR1 that is frail.

As such, I’ve taken to carrying an old pen knife that has three small, thin, crazy sharp blades for things like peeling apples (I love apples, but hate the peel), and doing anything like whittling.

The SR1 is an incredible tool alone, but an even better addition to a complete kit.

The Sig P365 is a decent comparison gun. Both the 365 and the SR1 punch above their weight.
The Sig P365 is a decent comparison gun. Both the 365 and the SR1 punch above their weight.

The SR1 for EDC

That said, the Cold Steel SR1 is a great defensive knife. While it isn’t the fastest knife to draw from a pocket, it will make a statement. The thumb stud allows it to be opened fast, and that’s rare for a knife this size with a blade this thick.

And once out, the SR1 is as comfortable with the blade up as it is reversed, with the thumb on the back of the handle and the blade down. Because the handle is long, you can choke up on it or hold way back, which gives a bit more reach with the blade.

The Cold Steel SR1 doesn't have a huge, long blade, but it is still a big knife. Folded, it is similar in size to the slide on a P365.
The Cold Steel SR1 doesn’t have a huge, long blade, but it is still a big knife. Folded, it is similar in size to the slide on a P365.

The Cold Steel SR1’s MSRP is steep—$269. Retail, though, is more than $100 less, typically. There’s a version with a tanto blade, and an SR1 Lite that trims weight with a thinner blade stock and a FRN handle.

It is easy to see here how the fit and finish is more like a true 1911A1 than something coming out of Nighthawk. But the lock-up remains incredibly solid. There's absolutely no play.
It is easy to see here how the fit and finish is more like a true 1911A1 than something coming out of Nighthawk. But the lock-up remains incredibly solid. There’s absolutely no play.

And that’s where I’ll drop the gun analogy. The SR1 fills the same niche as a Sig P365. Small enough to be practical and concealable (i.e., this isn’t a fixed blade), but tough enough to do just about anything else a bigger knife could do.

The Cold Steel SR1 has liners that extend just past the lock. The G10 is milled to allow for the liners, which don't extend all the way to the end of the knife.
The Cold Steel SR1 has liners that extend just past the lock. The G10 is milled to allow for the liners, which don’t extend all the way to the end of the knife.
Arthur Fuerte is a professional tobacconist with a penchant for mid-century militaria. He knows his way around the cigar parings, single-malts, and classic American firearms.

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