When you get into collecting knives it is easy to get caught up in the moment. There is so much cool stuff out there that if you aren’t careful you can easily get sucked away in a torrent of carbon fiber and titanium. And really there is nothing wrong with that (although your bank account/significant other/retirement plan is free to disagree).
But sometimes you just want a tool that will get the job done without having to spend a ton of money. This is how a lot of us got started with collecting knives, and for some level-headed individuals it remains their approach to this day. Personally, I try to strike a balance when building my collection. I like smart designs that provide great value, but also am known to indulge in the new and shiny. So this time around we are going to head back to earth and check out a cool, reasonably priced knife from Cold Steel – the Mini Tuff Lite (or “MTL”). It isn’t the sexiest blade in the collection, but for those who don’t wish to shell out $200, $100, or even $50 for a quality knife, the MTL brings you edged excellence at a sub $25 price point.
General Dimensions and Blade Details
The Cold Steel Mini Tuff Lite is 5″ long, sports a 2″ blade (1.25″ edge), and weighs a mere 1.7 ounces. What drew me to this knife are the striking similarities to one of my favorite little EDC blades, the Spyderco Dragonfly II. It’s right around the same size and weight, and also features thumb holes and a back lock. The biggest difference is the price – the Dragonfly goes for $45+ while the Mini Tuff Lite can be had for right around $25. Needless to say both knives make for great little EDCs. I like pairing the MTL with a larger knife although it easily accomplishes 95% of my EDC tasks. It is also a nice little option for a first aid kit, pocket survival kit, or any other place you would like to stow a small folder.
The blade is a wharncliffe shape. It’s a very functional shape, with a precise tip and razor edge. The steel is thick enough for serious use (2.5mm thick), and the hollow grind makes for a capable slicer. I will say that the sharpening choil and ricasso can get caught up on material that I am cutting (eg, cardboard), especially if I’m trying to really blast through it. That is to be expected from a 1.25″ edge. If you have a big job, I recommend a larger knife.
Steel on this knife is Cold Steel’s AUS8a. Stainless and relatively soft, AUS8 won’t hold an edge forever, but it gets very sharp very fast. I have no problems maintaining a hair shaving edge with this knife, and it doesn’t require any special skills. No issues with rust or corrosion either. Given the price, AUS8 is a great choice here.
Handle, Ergonomics, and Pocket Clip
The handle of the Mini Tuff Lite is some sort of plastic (Griv-Ex™ according to Cold Steel). It’s tough and lightweight – entirely adequate for my mostly suburban purposes. Construction is very good. Three bolts hold the small handle together, and everything is nicely finished. There is a large lanyard slot for those who like lanyards, and all the corners are nicely rounded.
From an ergonomics perspective the MTL is very impressive. Much like the Dragonfly II, the MTL makes use of a forward choil. This allows you to really choke up on the blade, but it also affords you a full four finger grip. I really like to have a full grip on my EDC knife so for me this is exceptional. The plastic handle is lightly textured, and the spine of the blade is sparsely jimped. I find that this is plenty of traction and makes the knife both comfortable and practical to use.
The pocket clip is where you start to feel the budget aspects of this knife. Satin finished, and positioned for right side tip down carry only, it’s not as feature rich as some of your higher end knives. That said, there is still a lot to like here – retention is excellent and the knife is very discrete. I tend to forget it is clipped to my pocket, often having to double check before heading out the door. I think the lack of multiple carry options is a really minor issue as the clip generally works well, and the knife carries like a dream.
Deployment and Lockup
The Mini Tuff Lite makes use of a oval thumb hole for deployment. It’s small, but the sharp edges of the thumb hole make it easy to get at, and with a little effort you can manipulate the blade open. This isn’t the fastest draw in the west, but once again given the intended use I find it adequate. There is a firm backspring holding the blade closed, so you don’t need to worry about accidental deployments, but care should be taken when closing the knife as the blade tends to snap down with speed.
For the locking mechanism Cold Steel went with their most excellent Tri-Ad lock. For the uninitiated, the Tri-Ad lock is an overbuilt lockback with an added stop pin. This makes for an extremely strong lock, and is far superior to your regular lockback. You can really feel this when aggressively carving. I tested both the Mini Tuff Lite and the Dragonfly out on some 2x4s, and you can feel the the lockback on the Spyderco flex under the pressure of a strong push cut while the Tri-ad lock remains rock solid under pressure – a testament to the exceptional design of this locking mechanism.
Lets face it, the Cold Steel Mini Tuff Lite wasn’t designed to win any beauty contests. Honestly I find the knife unattractive – definitely an instance where form follows function. But if you need a small, lightweight, and inexpensive tool to get the job done I think you will be hard pressed to find an more outstanding value. This little knife is rock solid and capable of providing years of service. Plastic and AUS8 are a far cry from cutting edge knife technology, but the MITL will still happily satisfy the vast majority of your EDC chores.
For those interested in a Spyderco Dragonfly or a Benchmade Mini Griptilian, but are unwilling to pay the $45 and $60 price tags I give the Mini Tuff Lite my full endorsement. In fact, this is a great small EDC knife regardless of what you compare it to.
I bought my Mini Tuff Lite at Amazon and recommend purchasing it there.