The Cold Steel Pocket Bushman—Weirdest Knife I Own

The Cold Steel Pocket Bushman is, without a doubt, one of the strongest pocketknife designs on the market. It is also one of the hardest locking mechanisms to explain. What makes this oddball pocket-chopper so compelling?

That’s not an easy question to answer, and some may find very little compelling about the design. Yet it serves a purpose and does what it is built to do exceptionally well. And I think there’s at least one detail that makes the design exceptionally compelling.

Cold Steel Pocket Bushman knife, opened
Once opened, there’s virtually no way to break this knife. At least not during normal usage.

A bit of Cold Steel context

Cold Steel is an odd brand. Lynn Thompson, the founder of the company, recently sold the brand to an outdoor-industry-behemoth: GSM Outdoors. While the state of the new Cold Steel is still somewhat unknown, the old Cold Steel was all about over-the-top cutting tools.

If you want a knife with a really big blade, you can pick up something gratuitous at the flea market, or you can buy a Cold Steel. They are notorious for robust knives, oversized blades, thick blade-stock, and even swords and axes–all priced competitively.

Their videos show oversized men chopping pigs in half or hanging barbell plates off pocketknife handles to test the strength of their locks. The carcass cut-ups and spectacular lock failures have become legendary YouTube staples. And the knives live up to the hype.

So when I saw the Pocket Bushman, I knew I needed it. This is, after all, an ideal toolbox knife.

The Cold Steel Pocket Bushman knife has a thumbstud that will allow for one-handed opening, but it is a stiff and slow open.
There is a thumb stud that will allow for one-handed opening, but it is a stiff and slow open.

The Cold Steel Pocket Bushman

Specifications

  • Overall Length: 10.25″
  • Blade Length: 4.50″
  • Blade Thickness: 0.14″
  • Blade Material: 4116
  • Blade Style: Clip Point
  • Blade Grind: Flat
  • Finish: Stonewash
  • Edge Type: Plain
  • Handle Length: 5.75″

I’m a sucker for a 4″ blade on a pocket knife. And I’d never heard of a “Ram Safe” lock, but I have had a few Cold Steel knives over the years and I’d never had one fail.

The Cold Steel Pocket Bushman lock
The Cold Steel Pocket Bushman’s lock is incredibly simple. It is a simple machine—a wedge (pictured poorly) that slides into place between the handle and blade.

What is Ram Safe?

Let’s start with the Ram Safe lock. This beast was designed by Andrew Demko, who has done a lot of design work in collaboration with Cold Steel. And watch me butcher this description….

The blade looks just like a normal pocket knife blade, except the lock notch is very long. The handle is what’s really odd, as it is made from one piece of 420 stainless steel sheet that has been stamped to take the contours of the hand and then folded over itself so that it is all one piece. The blade and spring are housed inside of this fold.

At the back end of the knife, there is a toggle pull of sorts—a knotted piece of cord—that you pull on to disengage the lock. Inside that handle, a spring drives the lock bar into place between the lock-notch on the blade and the back of the U-shaped stainless handle.

Cold Steel Pocket Bushman toggle cord. Pull on this cord and the back end of the handle shifts out.
Pull on this cord and the back end of the handle shifts out. That defeats the lock.

Picture it this way—as you open the blade, there’s a spring-loaded bar trying to shoot out the front of the knife. As the blade extends into position, that bar finally can jut forward into a gap between the top of the blade and the underside of the bent-over handle. But it can only go so far, which happens to be far enough to lock everything up tight.

The Cold Steel Pocket Bushman seems too thin to be this strong, yet it is.
The Cold Steel Pocket Bushman seems too thin to be this strong, yet it is.

Now this bar acts as a wedge. The design is exceptionally strong and there’s no way to get it to fail without pulling that wedge back out of the gap and allowing the blade to again move freely. It is also advertised as “self-adjusting,” which means it won’t lose locking strength as the materials wear away.

You could, potentially, get the knife to fail by applying pressure to its sides (as you might during a deep prying motion), but my guess is that it would withstand exponentially more force due to its stainless sides. Just a guess.

But back to the lock. In order to get the lock to come undone, the bar has to be pulled out, which is why the the small cord is attached to the back of the handle. This motion requires two hands to do and may make you a bit nervous at first as it is not in any way intuitive.

The lock knotch on the Cold Steel Pocket Bushman is long. Very long. And that's what makes it strong.
The lock notch on the Pocket Bushman is long. Very long. And that’s what makes it strong.

But it is effective.

One strong word of caution. The blade, as it travels out to its locked position, forces that lock bar to the rear (the same way it travels to unlock the knife). And this opens a small gap between that spring-loaded lock and the handle that you can get a bit of your finger caught in.

Cold Steel Pocket Bushman crab-claw shape at back of the handle
See that crab-claw shape opening up there to pinch skin? Avoid it.

When the blade snaps open, that gap closes up—even if you still have skin in the gap. It hurts. You won’t make the same mistake twice.

How does it perform?

The knife is crazy solid. The grip is long, and has a slight contour, but it isn’t comfortable in the hand the way some knives are. I think this is due to the edges of the steel handle, mostly.

Cold Steel Pocket Bushman pivot bolt
The pivot is a bolt that needs a star-bit to be tightened or loosened.

But they’re not sharp. The knife is. The 4116 stainless has held its edge for me through a lot of abuse. This is one of the few pocketknives I’ll baton with, and I’ve split a lot of kindling with it.

The 4.5″ blade is useful and long, even if I’m not in love with the look of the clip-point. It isn’t as thick as some of Cold Steel’s blades, but it does have a nice flat grind and a clean secondary edge that is functional and should be easy enough to sharpen when the time comes.

The thin blade slices well—especially with the long flat grind. You can even get back on the long handle and have a knife that is 10 inches long.

Cold Steel Pocket Bushman knife, flip-side of the pivot pin.
The flip-side of the pivot pin.

Both the blade and the handle are bead-blasted for that dull matte look. It isn’t much to look at, but this isn’t a looking-at knife. This is a beast that’s designed to drop in the pack (and, surprisingly, it isn’t as heavy as it looks–just half a pound.

Carrying the Cold Steel Pocket Bushman

This is one of those knives that may face some legal challenges. If knife laws specify short blades, this one may be out. So check on that.

It does have options for tip-up pocket carry, though it won’t disappear in your pocket like many of Cold Steel’s bigger knives. It is thin enough, though, that it is comfortable.

The entire knife design is thin. It has to be as the handle is made from sheet steel.
The entire design is thin. It has to be as the handle is made from sheet steel. But note that gap (where the image is in focus). It collects debris.

The best part

Here it is. Here’s where it gets really good. And if you are a Cold Steel devotee, or a fan of designer collaborations, it is going to seem impossible.

The Cold Steel Pocket Bushman usually sells for just over half of its $44.99 MSRP.

That’s a steal. I think that’s the point. You can buy six of these for the price of one of most of Cold Steel’s big pocket knives.

That’s one for the truck, the tackle box, the bug-out bag, the workbench…

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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