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Last Updated: March 9, 2018
When I hear the words “hard use folder” it’s often accompanied by a mental image of dollar signs. For whatever reason, we have equated hard working blades with titanium, super steel, and triple digit price tags. Those knives are cool, and I am sure some are capable of getting work done, but not everyone has that kind of cash – and even if you do it can be hard to really buy a knife like that and drive it like you stole it.
Buy the Cold Steel American Lawman at BladeHQ
That’s why I like the Cold Steel American Lawman. For around $85 you get a rock solid knife that you aren’t afraid to beat on. After all, what’s the point of a hard use knife if you can’t actually bring yourself to hard use it? I have thrashed on my review sample for years. Lets take a closer look at one of my favorite every day working tools.
General Dimensions and Blade Details
The American Lawman has an overall length of 8-1/8″, a 3.5″ blade, weighs 4.5 ounces, and is made in Taiwan. This is a nicely proportioned medium sized folder designed by Andrew Demko. I found it reasonable enough for every day carry, but could definitely see this as a dedicated work knife or tactical blade. The “Lawman” designation seems to fit well.
The Lawman features a simple drop point blade with a high hollow grind. The knife is thinly ground, making it an aggressive slicer, and the tip is reinforced to hold up against hard use and thrusting. I like the blade shape. It’s not as aggressive as many of Cold Steel’s other offerings but is still very useful. There is plenty of belly, the tip gets nice and sharp, and the knife generally cuts really well.
Originally, Cold Steel used AUS8a for the blade steel, which is basically the same as AUS8. AUS8 is known as a softer steel and a lot of people don’t like it. I like AUS-8 because a couple swipes on a Spyderco Sharpmaker restores the knife back to hair shaving sharpness.
In 2015 Cold Steel updated their lineup of knives to include CTS-XHP steel, an American stainless steel forged by Carpenter. This is a superior steel to AUS-8, although it adds approximately $30 to the price tag of the knife. I have experience with CTS-XHP with other knives, and have had hands on experience with the Cold Steel Ultimate Hunter in CTS-XHP. CTS-XHP will hold an edge longer than AUS-8, and it is still easy to sharpen.
Cold Steel also upgraded to blade coating from a cheap black teflon coating, to a high end DLC coating. DLC is probably the best coating there is, so it’s a great upgrade.
Handle, Ergonomics and Pocket Clip
The handle of the American Lawman is made primarily of two thick pieces of black peel ply G10. There are no liners of any kind inside the handle and the G10 screws directly into a black aluminum backspacer and stainless steel lock bar. In practice the handle is quite strong. The G10 is thick and I was not able to flex the handle at all – so I would not worry that this handle will not be up to hard use. Fit and finish is nice too. All of the edges have been nicely rounded and everything lines up well. This is a strong and well put together handle.
I really like the ergonomics of the Lawman. The handle is plenty large and allows for a comfortable grip. There is some shallow jimping on the top of the handle. It’s not aggressive but provides some texture and feedback for your thumb. The G10 is extremely high traction and provides a good deal of grip. One of my favorite ergonomic features is the forward choil. Much like the Spyderco Sage or Paramilitary 2, this forward choil allows you to choke up and really get some detail work done. I am a huge fan of the forward choil. Cold Steel usually doesn’t include this feature so I think it’s worth mentioning. Finally I want to say that the knife also feels comfortable in a reverse grip.
The pocket clip is standard fare for Cold Steel. It’s small black coated stainless steel clip. It’s very tight. The tight clip combined with the aggressive G10 means it can tear up your pants if you aren’t careful. The clip is reversible (they actually include 2 clips since it’s a curved design) and it allows for tip up carry only. In pocket the American Lawman carries well. The small clip buries the knife deep, so it’s a discrete carry, and the slim profile and relatively light weight makes for an easy carry.
Deployment and Lock
The CS Lawman uses a thumbstud and a half to get the blade out of the handle. The thumbstud is not entirely ambidextrous out of the box, but it is swappable. This is not the fastest deploying knife and it will require some wrist action if you really want to snap the knife out. This is mainly due to the strong backspring of the triad lock. I don’t mind the slow and purposeful deployment of the American Lawman, but if you are one to habitually flick your knife open and closed the Lawman be advised that this isn’t really that kind of knife.
The lock on this knife is quite interesting. It uses the Cold Steel Triad locking system. The Triad is a modified lock back system that utilizes a “stop pin” to redistribute pressure placed on the knife and lock and in theory it provides for a stronger lock. My experience with the Triad lock suggests that it is in fact very strong. Lockback knives are very strong in general and the Cold Steel version is at least as strong as a regular lockback. I like how this lock is designed to break in with the knife so it won’t require maintenance. The lock feels very crisp and nice and secure.
American Lawman or the Recon1 or the AK-47?
Chances are, if you are interested in the American, you may also be interested in the Cold Steel Recon 1 or the AK-47. If that is the case, I recorded a video where I do a detailed comparison of these 3 models that you may find useful.
Cold Steel American Lawman Review – Final Thoughts
If you are in the market for a hard use folding knife and have around $50 to spend, the American Lawman should be on your short list. This is an extremely rugged knife that feels good in hand and is capable of some serious cutting. The relatively light weight design and non-threatening blade make this a good choice for EDC, although the knife could definitely flex into a more “tactical” role. No doubt this is why Cold Steel has marketed the knife toward law enforcement.
The biggest gripe with this knife was always the sub-par AUS-8 blade steel and cheap teflon coating. Cold Steel blew those complaints out of the water, when they upgraded this knife to CTS-XHP and a DLC coating. At this point, the only grievance I can raise is that the pocket clip can be a little small / tight for some. It’s not my absolute favorite clip, but it’s not that bad either.
All said this is one of my favorite folders from Cold Steel. They don’t make a ton of stuff in the 3.5″ blade length and the subdued looks really gels with me. I highly recommend the American Lawman if you need hard a wearing utility knife and don’t want to shell out a ton of cash.
- Blade thickness: 3.5 mm
- Blade length: 3 1/2 inch
- Handle: 4 5/8 inch long. G-10
I recommend purchasing the American Lawman at Amazon or BladeHQ. Please consider that purchasing anything through any of the links on this website helps support BladeReviews.com, and keeps the site going. As always, any and all support is greatly appreciated. Thank you very much.
Hey, I’m looking for a light, hard use folder for EDC and practical use on a farm. Would you suggest this knife or the Voyager Medium, or another blade altogether?
Great question! In this case I would recommend the American Lawman. It’s a little bigger than the Voyager Medium, I think you will like it more for hard use on a farm. Both are very sturdy knives, I think they are great choices. If you want another recommendation the Ontario RAT 1 is another great option for around $30. I’ve got a review on it here. However, if you can swing the extra $20 for the Lawman you will get better ergonomics and a slightly stronger lock. Thanks again for the great question. Hope this helps!
Of the two, which do you think is sturdiest?
Tough question man! Honestly, I think they are about equal. Sorry this isn’t making your choice any easier, but you have thick G10 handles on the AL and Grivory over aluminum liners on the Voyager. There is no blade play in either and they are both extremely sturdy knives. I guess if I had to choose it would be the American Lawman. They are very close however.
Thank you for your reviews, they allow me to see a little more about the knifes that I am interested in, right now I am thorn between the Hold Out II and the American Lawman. I want an every day knife that can double as a back up camping knife, I like the knifes and the rest of my tools to feel sturdy, even at the expense of some extra weight, (Actually I think that I like them a little on the heavy side), a friend recommended the Benchmade 520, which is about 1 oz heavier than the Lawman.
Finally the question, how does the Lawman compares to the Benchmade 520?
Thank you so much for the very nice comment man, I am so happy to hear you have been enjoying the reviews and you find them helpful. That means a lot to me.
To answer your first question, I would honestly recommend the American Lawman over the HO2 – at least for the uses you described. The AL is much more practical for EDC, and I think it will work better as a folding camp knife (although I tend to recommend a large and sturdy fixed blade as a camp knive – maybe something like an ESEE 4).
To answer your other question, I do not have much experience with the presidio unfortunately. But having handled so many Benchmades and looking at the specs for the 520, I have *some* idea of how it might perform. Compared to the AL, I think it has better steel, and will deploy faster. I also happen to prefer the axis lock over the Triad (for EDC at least, it’s a very convenient lock). I also tend to prefer the clip BM uses with the 520. That said, the AL has better ergonomics (well, the ability to choke up with that choil at least). Personally, I think the extra cost of the 520 is worth it, but I do like the American Lawman a lot.
It’s a tough call, they are both good knives – I think ultimately you have to decide which one you like more (and whether you are willing to pay more for the Presidio). I hope this helps a little.
Thank you Dan,
I am with you on the AL over the HO, I do have a fixed blade for camping (Cold Steel’s SRK in San Mai III). So far we have narrowed it down to AL and the Benchmade, but at twice the $, I think that I will try the AL, but will probably not be able to keep my mind from the 520…LOL
Once again, thank you for looking into it for me, you have made my decision making process easier.
Thanks Marco. I am glad I helped make the process a little easier. Often the best answer is “buy both” – but that isn’t always possible. If I can ever provide assistance on something else, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
I always enjoy your reviews. Thanks for hours of useful intertainment.
I am, right now, backpacking in Africa. I had about a hundred modern folders in my collection to select from. And over a year to think about it and test my knives at work and when hiking. And out of very good company, I chose the American Lawman.It is so dependable, rugged, light, comfortable in the hand and of a great medium size. But one of the little pluses I discovered was that it rides in the bottom of my jeans pocket almost unnoticed, unlike some lighter knives (that’s importent cause when yo don’t know local knife laws cllipping it to the pocket might cause African lawmen to confiscate your American Lawman)
Thank you, Alex. Your kind comment is greatly appreciated. The American Lawman remains in my collection and is one of my favorites, so I am not surprised to learn this is what you chose for Africa. That is just a testament to how good the knife is. Thank you again for reading, safe travels, and carry the Lawman in good health.
Thank you Dan.
I’d just like to clear up that last bit in my comment.
I think it’s not wise, especially in a foreign country, to advertise that you have a knife by clipping in your pocket. So, when I trave, the knife bounces in the bottom of the pants pocket. And the Lawman, as large as it is, doesn’t bother me at all. I don’t feel it there.
I just wanted to add that it’s not my favorit knife but the one I trust the most.
Thanks for the clarification, Alex. It’s a good tool. May not be the sexiest piece, but it gets the job done. Since there are no liners and it’s a relatively flat knife I could see how it would carry well floating in the pocket like that.
Dan, help me out. I have a ~$100 to spend on a new folder. The new Lawman with CTS-XHP steel, Griptilian, or the Paramilitary 2?
All three are excellent knives and I still have all three in my collection (although my American Lawman is in AUS-8). You can’t go wrong either way so I’d pick out whatever resonates the most with you. Sorry I can’t be of more help. I guess if I had to pick only one I’d go with the Para 2. But years later I still regularly carry and use all three of these.
Do you any intent on purchasing the new American Lawman with the CTS steel? Or would you say this review applies to both the old and new variants since your review is so glowing to begin with?
I still own and enjoy my original American Lawman, so I doubt I will buy one in CTS-XHP any time soon. I do own a CS Ultimate Hunter in CTS-XHP, and plan on buying a Code-4 in CTS-XHP at some point.
I think this review will apply to both knives, as they appear to be virtually identical, except that the CTS-XHP version will obviously have the better steel.
Oh okay, the Amazon link doesn’t work anymore so I was wondering if it was any different – do you mind updating the Amazon link? I was thinking of buying one, and I would love to support the site!
Thanks for the heads up, Andrew. I fixed it. Let me know what you think if you do decide to go with the American Lawman.
Thomas Landers says
Another great review. I’ve had my eye on the AL for a while. I’m glad I held off because of the updated version. It has great steel., DLC coating and thinner handles. I would prefer a stonewashed blade even over the new DLC. My tastes have changed and I’m thinking about selling 8-10 knives with DLC coating or similiar. I’ll live with it on a couple knives. I can’t wait to get my hands on the new AL. However the new prices I’ve seen are almost double-$89-$95. There is a limited edition OD green I’ve seen at a couple of online dealers that is really nice.
I own about 40 knives. Most are very good such as Paramitary 2s. Military, Manix 2 LWs, Benchmade 950 Rifts and Griptillians. ZT 0562. However, this CS AL may be better then all of them. Not as pretty but a stronger and better user. I’ll update you when I have it and it gets some use. Just wanted to leave my experience with Cold Steel customer service. I bought a new CS Code 4 spear point (excellent knife). The lock was very stiff and hard to close the blade. I have very large hands and strong fingers. My wrists are thick, I’ve had watch bands that wouldn’t fit around them. So, this lock was really stiff. I contacted CS via email. They replied the next day. Two days later I received a UPS pouch with postage on them. Several days later I received an apology note and a new knife. Excellent Customer Service. I hear so many horror stories about people dealing with knife problems and companies. I was pleasantly surprised.
Thanks Again for all your excellent info.
Thanks for the kind comment. I have not owned a DLC coated blade in a while for whatever reason. It’s probably my favorite coating for a folder, but then again, I’m not a huge fan of blade coatings in the first place.
I will be curious to see what you think of the new American Lawman. I have a new Code 4 sitting on my desk that I have been carrying and using. It’s a nice piece – very thin, which is great in the pocket, but not so great in the hand.
Thomas Landers says
I’ll have to make sure I have knife in hand and being used before I post any options. I haven’t touched my CS Code 4 in a year and a half or more. So, I took it out and cut up some cardboard. Your 100% correct. The handles are very thin and almost slippery,
A couple years ago, I was reading too much on internet. I was purchasing knives that were thin and easy to carry (Code 4, Endura). Lesson learned. My big hands don’t get a good grip on the handles. Although they are still useable. I apologize for my glowing comment on Code 4. It’s still a beautiful knife. A full sized BM Griptilian fits me much better. My pinky just hangs onto the back of handle.
I did pick up the new American Lawman. It’s a nice knife and much different then the original. The G10 is toned way down (almost like Spyderco G10.), it’s much lighter. I haven’t had a chance to use it but will comment when I do. Ironically, the handle is a little on the thin side. Not as bad as the Code 4. I’m surprised I have not seen more reviews on it and wonder how it’s selling.
About 2 years ago, I sent an email to CS about a problem with the lock on one of my Code 4s. I raved about the knife. And told them, they should make some lighter , thinner, more main stream knives, I can picture Lynn Thompson, Demko and staff in a conference room with my e-mail enlarged on a screen. And Thompson asking who’s idea was it to listen to this idiot from Boston ?
Thomas, No problem man. I appreciate your updating us on your thoughts with regards to the knife. I agree that the Code 4 is not a comfortable knife to use hard with a bare hand. While I love the slim nature of the handle, it digs into your palm and is uncomfortable if you are going to use it for more than a minute or so. It might make it better for defensive uses than if you are say, a worker at a warehouse who breaks down boxes routinely as part of your job.
Your comments on the new American Lawman make me interested in picking up the new version myself. I figured they would just slap CTS-XHP in there and call it a day. It sounds like they have made some tweaks to the handle as well. Thanks for your thoughts, Thomas. Much appreciated.
Thomas Landers says
I just wanted to add, the fit and finish on the new AL is very good. For a Triad lock, it is very smooth. I’ve also handled a couple new Recon 1s with the upgraded steel, DLC etc. Good fit and finish. They also had smooth locks. Sometimes the Triad locks are very clunky and hard to depress. These were pretty smooth. All 3 knives lock up tight and are centered. The new G10 is hard to describe. It’s toned down. Still a little coarse but not really rough. A little like a Spyderco Tenacious but coarser. The new Recon 1 feels lighter but it’s size etc . seem close to the original. They are all still very sturdy, hard use knives. I don’t know if anything I said helped anyone. Again, I’ll briefly describe my experience once I use the new AL.
Antonio Alberghini says
My Lawman have steel liners. Is an older version?
Maybe? Or maybe it is not an American Lawman. Do you have any pictures of it?
I got one too. It’s real, alright. An older version, with drilled-out liners, and even jimping on the spine of the blade. It’s about 5 1/2 ounces. Otherwise, almost identical. The same old, rough G10, Triad lock, Aus8 with the flakey black “Teflon” coating… There’s an old review of it on YouTube, by Fred Perrin, no less.
Interesting! Thanks for letting us know.