THIS COLD STEEL FOLDER WITH NEW ATLAS LOCK IS ONE ROCK-SOLID KNIFE
You won’t have to baby this knife.
I was anxious to get my hands on the Cold Steel 3.5” Engage for a couple of reasons. For one, I have been a longtime fan of the company’s fixed-blade knives, namely the SRK, AK-47 Field Knife, Recon Scout, and, of course, the legendary Trail Master.
But my experience with Cold Steel folders was rather limited. I’ve had the drop-point Ultimate Hunter with Tri-Ad lock for several years and it’s one of my favorite folders for time in the woods. There were a couple of others I liked, too, that unfortunately are no longer in the catalog.
Another reason I wanted a look at the Engage is that it would be the first Cold Steel knife I’ve really had a chance to test since GSM Outdoors purchased the company a couple of years back. I was curious to see how the quality stacked up against my previous experiences with Cold Steel products.
STRONG CLIP POINT
The 3.5” Engage is the largest model in the series. Other models include 2.5-inch models in 4116 stainless steel, 3-inch models in S35VN, AIS10A, or 4116 steel (some with clip points and some with tanto points in various handle color options).
True to its name, the 3.5” Engage features a 3.5-inch blade measured from tip to plunge line. The blade is made of S35VN steel, so I expected it would hold an edge very well and I wasn’t disappointed. Dual cone-shaped thumb studs allow for one-handed opening. Those thumb studs are beefy and they’re grooved, so you’re not apt to fumble around opening this knife.
The blade is a clip-point in configuration and it’s one of the things I like best about this knife. In general, I like clip-point blades even for field-dressing game, which I know goes against the conventional thinking which favors drop points for that task. But the problem with some clip-point blades is that companies tend to design them with tips that are either too upswept or too thin and fragile.
Years ago, I discussed survival knives with Cold Steel founder Lynn Thompson, who said he preferred clip-point blades because of their superior ability to penetrate. For Thompson, survival encompassed not only bushcraft tasks, but also self-defense considerations.
“…this Cold Steel Engage should handle everything you need it to do around the house, on the job site, or in the woods.”
Of course the clip point has to be designed correctly. Cold Steel is one of the companies that gets the clip point right and it shows on the 3.5” Engage. It’s pointy enough for intricate tasks, but still plenty robust. Unless you intentionally abuse the blade, you should never worry about snapping off the tip.
The handle scales on this Engage model are black G10. There are three angled cuts top to bottom about halfway along each scale for added texture. The designer could have stopped there. However, the handle features an integral guard, index finger groove, and a curved “bird’s beak” pommel. Together, your hand virtually locks into a rock-solid grip. That knife isn’t going anywhere.
The deep-carry steel pocket clip is reversible for tip-up carry. It’s very tight, which is not a concern for me as I probably won’t use it anyway. There’s also an ample lanyard hole that’s rectangular (OK, it’s actually a parallelogram) and provides enough of an opening to string some paracord through it. I often do that when canoeing or kayaking.
The Engage features Cold Steel’s patent-pending Atlas slide-action lock. The spring-loaded slide on the back of the handle behind the pivot locks the blade solidly upon opening. That slide is out of the way; you won’t be hitting it inadvertently. Pull the slide back against the spring tension to unlock the blade. The slide’s position makes it equally easy to operate with either hand.
“…the curves in the…handle not only provided an excellent grip, but they ALSO allowed the knife to be carried…comfortably in the bottom of a pocket.”
I was a bit puzzled as to why Cold Steel decided on using this new lock mechanism for the Engage when the company’s Tri-Ad lock has a reputation of being one of the strongest on the market. But I chalked it up to just being another good alternative.
In using the Engage, I found the lock to be very positive and secure, and it was easy to operate as well. The indentation with jimping on the locking slide was easy to find by feel in the dark or without looking and the lock could be disengaged smoothly with either a thumb or index finger. In addition, that indentation seemed to fit snugly into the web of my hand when I gripped the knife, further enhancing the secure grip.
The Engage isn’t one of those knives that you’ll slip into a pocket and then comment, “It’s so light, I hardly know it’s there.”
The Engage weighs 6.6 ounces. For comparison purposes, the Spyderco Endura 4 weighs exactly half that. But you can’t judge an EDC knife’s merits on the basis of weight alone. It’s the same when you’re choosing a personal defense handgun or any critical piece of EDC gear. You’d be making a mistake selecting one solely on how light it is and how convenient it is to carry.
You must take into account what tasks you’ll demand of a knife most often according to your lifestyle and work requirements. I’ve found a very sharp edge with some weight behind it requires less effort than when I’m making the same cuts with a lighter blade.
If I’m primarily opening packages and sharpening a pencil (yes, I’m a dinosaur who still uses pencils), I don’t need a stout blade for those things. If I’m cutting through rubber hose, or need to trim significant amounts of wood for a camp project, a heavier blade can be very helpful.
You should also consider what else you need to carry on a particular day, along with what you’ll be wearing. These days, I’m typically wearing pants made of heavier denim material. The 6.6 ounces of the Engage isn’t an issue. If I worked in an office and had to wear thin dress pants, I might consider a lighter knife for that duty.
“Cold Steel … gets the clip point right and it shows on the 3.5″ Engage. It’s pointy enough for intricate tasks, but still plenty robust.”
What I found was that the curves in the Engage handle not only provided an excellent grip, but they also allowed the knife to be carried quite comfortably in the bottom of a pocket. That seemed to offset the size and weight of the knife considerably and I never felt the knife to be a burden.
The knife arrived very sharp from the factory. I don’t think I’ve ever handled a Cold Steel knife that wasn’t shipped with an excellent edge. I tested the knife on a variety of materials—basically any piece of scrap that I had around the house from cordage to cardboard, from rubber hose to nylon straps, from hardwood to apples to carrots and corncobs. I shredded plastic containers in the recycle bin as well.
The edge held up well, no surprise there, and I didn’t sharpen it during my test. Of course the need to touch up a blade should be no daunting task as long as you don’t wait until a blade is extremely dull to apply a couple of quick strokes over a stone or rod or even the bottom of a ceramic coffee cup.
Supremely important to me are the ergonomics of a knife. I must feel that I have complete control when making intricate cuts. There can be no generating of hot spots or abrading of the skin during prolonged use, and I must feel my grip is secure when putting some muscle behind the steel when that’s necessary. The Engage passed all of my personal requirements.
For times when I might want to extend my thumb onto the spine to get out over the blade for certain cuts, there is a divot for that purpose. What I found is that it was comfortable to use in that grip, despite the fact that the edges of the divot were quite sharp.
I found I could use those edges to my advantage in using the spine (with the blade closed) as a ferro-rod striker. While Cold Steel is positioning the Engage as an EDC folder more than a dedicated outdoorsman’s knife, I liked this ability as I spend lots of time off pavement and routinely carry a ferro rod.
IT’S A KEEPER
“Workhorse” is a term thrown around quite often about stout, heavy-duty blades, but this Cold Steel Engage seems to fit the definition. It should handle everything you need it to do around the house, on the job site, or in the woods. I like knives with versatility; I rarely carry a knife that is obviously limited to personal-defense use. Yet with the Engage’s blade geometry and secure grip shape, I feel this knife could fill the role of a defensive blade as well. It’s definitely earned some pocket time. KI
Cold Steel 3.5” Engage
Blade Length: 3.5 inches
Blade Thickness: 0.149 inch
Overall Length: 8.19 inches
Handle: Black G10
Handle Length: 4.69 inches
Lock Mechanism: Atlas lock
Weight: 6.6 ounces
Other: Deep-carry steel pocket clip, reversible for tip-up carry
A version of this article first appeared in the January 2023 print issue of Knives Illustrated.