The crossbar lock continues to dominate.
One of today’s most popular blade-locking mechanisms for folding knives is the crossbar lock. It’s the most advanced blade lock there is—for now.
The crossbar lock consists of a spring-loaded, hardened-steel bar in the handle that makes constant contact with the tang and springs forward into place once the blade is opened. It wedges itself between the tang and the liner, preventing the blade from rotating shut until it is released manually. The lockbar is ambidextrous. The lock is all smooth action, tight lockup and ease of release. It is safe because it does not require your fingers to be in the path of the closing blade the way a linerlock or framelock does, thereby almost eliminating accidental cuts.
Crossbar Lock Origins
The crossbar lock first appeared in 1999 with Benchmade’s 710 Axis Lock folder, which has since been discontinued. The knife and lock mechanism were designed by knifemakers Bill McHenry and Jason Williams. “Bill McHenry was the primary driver of the mechanism,” says Vance Colver, Benchmade director of product line management.
McHenry was a man of many interests. At one time he was a goldsmith, a watch enthusiast who rebuilt and repaired watches, and he loved restoring vintage Indian motorcycles. “The love for the mechanical gave him a unique perspective to knife lock solutions and led to the Axis Lock,” Colver added.
On June 10, 2003, the patent for the Axis Lock was issued to McHenry and Williams, patent no. US 6,574,689. In addition to the aforementioned features, Colver said the Axis Lock has smooth blade rotation; is reliable with minimal moving parts—just the lockbar moves, and it does so only slightly; and strength, with the Axis Lock outperforming the linerlock in closed failure force.
After the Axis Lock debuted, new Benchmade models with the lock appeared, including the Griptilian designed by BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall-Of-Fame® member Mel Pardue, the Warren Osborne 940 Axis Lock and the Presidio Axis Lock automatic. The Axis Lock patent expired in 2016, allowing other knife companies to introduce their version and thus broadly open the “new” crossbar lock category. Today you will see variants across several prominent brands, including the Axis Lock itself.
Top Picks Crossbar Lock Knives
- Benchmade Axis Lock
- Michrotech Ram Lok
- Hogue ABLE Lock
- Gerber Pivot Lock
- Kershaw Duralock
- Tactile Knife Co. Tight Lock
Benchmade Axis Lock
Benchmade’s Bugout is classic EDC because of its slender form factor, extremely lightweight, and use of premium blade steel. The full-size Model 535 Bugout has a drop point blade of flat ground CPM S30V stainless steel. The 3.2-inch blade is long enough for most cutting tasks but short enough to be compact and carry well. Handle material for the base model is molded Grivory for light weight and strength. Carbon fiber/CPM S90V stainless and machined aluminum/M390 stainless are respective handle/blade material combos available in the high-end models. The manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) for the Bugout starts at $180 and increases depending on handle and blade material options.
The Benchmade Mini Adamas 273-03 Axis Lock is a scaled-down version of the full-size Adamas tactical folder. Designed by knifemaker Shane Sibert, the Mini Adamas has a 3.25-inch drop point blade and closed length of about 4.35 inches. The blade features a milled-in fuller and CPM MagnaCut stainless steel. The regular production versions have CPM CRUWEAR tool steel blades.
The handle is angular and boxy in very good ways. A slight swelling in the middle helps fill your palm. The special edition has marble carbon fiber scales. The standard Mini Adamas offers a choice of black or OD (olive drab) green G-10 handles. The knife’s Axis Lock works beautifully, with a rock-solid lockup and ultra-smooth blade rotation. MSRP: $375. Country of origin for the featured Benchmades: USA.
Microtech Ram Lok
Microtech christened its crossbar lock Ram Lok, and it’s a variation on the theme. Most if not all other crossbar locks employ a round-profile locking bar. The Ram Lok has a rectangular shape, providing more surface space and bulk to the lock, thereby providing more inherent strength. The center post that passes through the rectangular lock has a coil spring that provides the lock’s resistance and is the key to the lockup’s integrity. The Ram Lok follows the contours of the tang and, once the blade rotates fully open, springs forward into place, wedging into the tang, thus preventing the blade from rotating closed. The release buttons are multi-faceted, stepped “X” designs on either side of the handle.
The MSI (Microtech Standard Issue) and Amphibian Ram Lok are but two Microtech manual folders with the Ram Lok. Winner of Best American Made Knife at BLADE Show West 2023 (January BLADE®, page 16), the MSI features a 3.8-inch sheepsfoot blade of Bohler M390MK high-performance stainless. M390MK is manufactured exclusively for Microtech and is similar to M390 though enhanced a bit for added edge holding.
The straight-line cutting edge permits easy sharpening as well as high utility, excelling at pull cuts especially. MSRP: $365. A black-polymer-molded-handle version lowers the price considerably to $177. It’s the most affordable U.S.-made Microtech folder available.
The Amphibian is the resurrection of an older Microtech tactical design. It sports a recurve clip-point blade in 4 inches of M390MK and a highly ergonomic handle. The signature stepped teardrop-shaped thumb stud is ambidextrous and allows for easy one-hand opening. The handle is available in G-10 or aluminum, with G-10 colors of black, FDE (flat dark earth) or OD green. The aluminum handle is available in black only, though that may change by the time you read this. MSRP: $300. Country of origin for the featured Microtechs; USA.
Hogue ABLE Lock
Hogue Knives calls its crossbar lock the ABLE (Ambidextrous Bar Lock Enhanced) Lock. The Deka is one of the company’s folders that sports the ABLE. Designed by knifemaker Allen Elishewitz, the Deka is stylish, well-configured and slender, great for EDC and makes an awesome work knife. The 3.9-inch blade comes in standard clip point or modified wharncliffe patterns. At press time, Hogue was switching the blade steel to CPM MagnaCut from CPM 20CV.
The handle is offered in standard black and multicolored Gmascus in red, camo, green and blue. The Gmascus replicates a damascus look but in a lightweight phenolic-based resin. As each color alternates with black, the resulting visual is eye catching. The ambidextrous pocket clip carries the knife tip up. MSRP: $194.95. A version with a lightweight, lower-cost polymer handle in a choice of black, blue and FDE and a MagnaCut blade has an MSRP of $159.95. Country of origin: USA.
Gerber Pivot Lock
In recent years Gerber has shifted production to the USA, a good lead-in to its new folders with crossbar locks. Among them are the Sedulo and Assert, each of which uses Gerber’s Pivot Lock. The Sedulo’s 3.4-inch drop point blade is fully flat ground CPM S30V stainless. Dual thumb studs provide ambidextrous opening. A stonewashed finish helps seal micro pores in the steel as well as hides most scratches easily.
The handle is gray FRN (fiberglass-reinforced nylon)—black is also available—with chamfering throughout for a secure, comfortable grip. The Pivot Lock locks up very tight and the blade action is ultra-smooth. Dual steel liners reinforce lock strength. Closed length: 4.7 inches. MSRP: $124.99.
Though not as brawny as the Sedulo, the Assert carries easier and more comfortably. The modified clip point blade is 2.9 inches of CPM S30V. Closed length: 4 inches. The oblong blade slot provides attachment points for the adjustable thumb stud, which you can move/position anywhere along the slot. The stud can be removed altogether and the slot used to open the blade instead.
I love how the two standoffs at the handle butt, the lock release buttons and the thumb studs are orange, contrasting nicely with the gray and adding an exciting pop of color. An ambidextrous fold-over clip carries the knife deep in the pocket. The Pivot Lock ensures smooth blade action and rock-solid lockup.
The flat-ground blade slices evenly and cleanly. Out of the box the edge was very sharp and ready to work. It carries well, cuts well and is great looking. MSRP: $174.99. It’s available in three colors: all black with black blade and hardware, gray handle with orange hardware, and green handle with blue hardware. Country of origin for the featured Gerbers: USA.
Kershaw’s crossbar lock is the Duralock and is offered on a few new models in the company lineup. One is the Iridium, a slender folder designed to carry easily. Packing a 3.4-inch spear point blade of D2 tool steel, the Iridium is made for hard use. The handle is gray-anodized aluminum for light weight and high tensile strength. Mounted on the handle’s reverse side, the clip carries the Iridium deep and tip up. A copper-colored handle spacer adds just the right amount of contrast. The Duralock engages crispy with zero blade play. The Iridium is also available in an all-black-coated handle and blade. MSRP for the standard Iridium is $99.99 and the Iridium Black is $104.99.
The Heist is another new Kershaw design with the Duralock. Featuring a 3.2-inch clip point blade of D2 tool steel, the Heist has an ergonomic handle with a slim profile for effortless carry. The 3-D grip texturing helps keep your hand in place during extended use. Molded FRN scales conserve on weight. The clip is a fold-over deep-carry style affixed to the handle butt. The Heist is a straightforward working knife for military and law enforcement. The pivot works on a bronze washer. The Duralock locks up strong and solid. The MSRP of $84.99 is very reasonable for a working folder with above average blade steel. Country of origin for both knives: China.
Tactile Knife Co. Tight Lock
Tactile Knife Co. is a relatively new U.S. knife manufacturer and the Maverick, a collaboration with custom knifemaker Richard Rogers and winner of Best EDC at BLADE Show Texas 2023, features the company’s version of the crossbar lock. The Maverick is a slender folder on the larger side, with a 3.5-inch blade and 4.7-inch closed length. It may be on the longer side but it has a slim profile that carries very well in jeans or a suit. The MagnaCut blade has a flat front with a bit of a swedge. Dual thumb studs promote easy opening with either hand.
The titanium handle’s 3D texture has many ridges to enhance traction. The crossbar lock provides a smooth opening and is very secure. The handle shape is simple but works very well, with an integral single guard to keep your hand in place.
The clip is an interesting design. Two standoffs attach to the butt end to carry the knife tip up, with the clip affixed atop the standoffs. It’s more involved than a standard or even a milled titanium clip. It looks upscale and different in a very good way. It shows the attention to detail throughout the Maverick, which includes an anodized, triangular-shaped titanium pivot bolt. The folder is also available in black Richlite Micarta®, providing a slightly lower price point ($249 MSRP) and lighter weight. MSRP for the titanium version: $349.