SHOT Show 2015: Cold Steel’s Bold New Lineup

   01.17.15

SHOT Show 2015: Cold Steel’s Bold New Lineup

The annual Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show starts this weekend, and we here at AllOutdoor have your back. The show is in Vegas, but if you can’t make it (like me) or you want some concise analysis, here is a good start. I did this last year and evaluated the lineups from knife, multitool, and flashlight companies. I’ll run through some of the new releases and then give a letter grade to the showing. It’s not particularly objective, but it gives you a sense of how the line up compares to the competition and to previous years’ showings. Up first, with a massive number of new things, is Cold Steel.

Cold Steel leaked a bunch of new stuff a week early, putting out pictures and specs over social media. It’s a wise idea as SHOT Show is not as well attended or public friendly as something like BLADE. The offerings were a mixed set of new stuff and upgrades to old stuff.

The upgrades came in the form of new steels–three actually, two from Carpenter and one that was developed by Latrobe.

The Rajah, one of their pocket sword sized knives, will run BD-1, a steel I like quite a bit. It’s better than Cold Steel’s traditional go to-steel AUS-8A. It’s not a huge leap, but it is better. I have tested two knives with BD-1 (here is the review one, the other is still pending) and I found the steel to be very corrosion resistant, tough, and relatively hard. It functions like a slightly better VG-10 (a steel I think is wildly overrated). BD-1’s sharpenability was quite impressive as it took a fine razor edge quickly. It’s a good choice for a big, or in this case preposterously big, knife.

The bigger upgrade came in the form of the improvements to the Recon 1 line (sorry non-Sasquatches, the upgraded steel is for the largest sized Recon 1s only), the Espada line, as well as a few other blades. Cold Steel has used CTS-XHP before. They had a limited run of these knives in 2014, likely testing the water for a permanent upgrade, and based on this announcement, it looks like the test run went well. This is another steel I like a lot. It has been described by Sal Glesser as a mix of D2 and 440C, with the hardness of the former and the corrosion resistance of the latter. It’s also the first powder steel Cold Steel has used. I have found it to be everything Sal describes.

In my Techno, a knife I carry and use frequently, XHP has performed very well. It is easily in the top tier of steels, as of 2015.

They also announced a single knife, which I will get to in a minute, that runs 20CV (which is very close to M390 in its chemistry and performance). It is a truly superior steel and one of my three favorites that are currently available.

All of this is an impressive change of pace for Cold Steel. It was only a few years ago that we were treated to mystery meat steel with Cold Steel marketing labels. Now we are getting legitimate high-end steels. I would be wonderful if these steels trickled down to knives that are easier to carry.

The totally new offerings include a new plastic bat (is there really demand for ANOTHER bat?), a pair of sunglasses (perfect for the Mall Ninjas out there), some odds and ends for their martial arts and SCA type stuff, and a slew of new blades. The first is the Finn Wolf, a puuko like folder with a Demko Tri-Ad lock.

Image courtesy of Cold Steel

I am not sure if I like the idea of a budget puuko, as its allure comes almost exclusively from its incredibly refined fit and finish, but the Finn Wolf does have a scandi grind (or it at least appears to have one from the pictures). There is also a drop forged 52100 fixed blade. This is an interesting idea, something akin to what Spyderco tried last year with its fixed blade the Serrata, but it strikes me as more of a novelty. Cold Steel also announced the Black Talon II.

Image courtesy of Cold Steel

This knife is not my cup of tea at all, but I can see its appeal. It has the same thumb plate arrangement that the AK-47 has, which allows it to be “waved” open. It also carries a distinct hawkbill blade (which comes in both serrated and non-serrated versions). Finally it too runs CTS-XHP. Again, not my thing, but it is a darn nice knife.

The “Talon” name is a reference to the abandoned “premium” line of Cold Steels. These blades were ruthlessly panned by knife enthusiasts–$400 knives with G10 and AUS-8A steel will always fair poorly regardless of how much polish they have. That said, this seems to actually be a premium model given the blade steel. The price reflects that as well, with an MSRP of around $180, which would put the street price around $125 or a little more.

There are a upgrades to their Ultimate Hunter and Ti Lite models, as well. There are new Warcraft Tanto blades, a ginormous one and a small one, also in 3V and a fixed blade version of the AK-47, also in 3V.

But the by far the biggest news comes in the form of the 4-MAX, a knife that could be a new chapter for Cold Steel.

Image courtesy of Cold Steel

The 4-MAX bears many similarities to the Andrew Demko’s AD-10 and it runs the 20CV steel I mentioned before. The big thing here is that the knife is designed to reposition Cold Steel, something like what the Hi Jinx did for CRKT in 2014.

The knife itself is runs an MSRP of $599.95, a huge amount of money. But it uses premium materials and unlike anything else in the Cold Steel line up, it is made in the USA and they claim it has custom-level fit and finishing. It is supposed to be a bridge between customs like Demko’s AD-10 and the rest of the Cold Steel line up.

This is a huge gamble. If it fails, it will mark the company’s second unsuccessful attempt to move into the high end of the market. If it succeeds it will be a readily available AD-10, something that simply doesn’t exist today. It’s a bold move, and while the knife isn’t my cup of tea, its probably worth getting one to see how it stands up. Assuming the street price is around $400, the competition is incredibly stiff–amazing stuff from Lion Steel, sweet blades from Hinderer and Strider, and, of course, the Sebenza.

Cold Steel confirmed on Twitter that the 4-MAX is just the first in a line of these kinds of knives, so this is a big bet on Cold Steel’s part.

In total, this is an impressive step forward for Cold Steel, clearly their best year since they Demko’d their entire line by adding the Tri-Ad lock, and vastly better than the SCA-only upgrades and offerings from last year. The use of real, legitmate steels is a good sign. They have two fixed blades with 3V and folders with BD-1 and CTS-XHP. This is a new Cold Steel for sure.

I am still holding out for a kukhri or one of their mainline fixed blades in 3V. Their fixed blades are truly great designs, but need a steel upgrade. Very little in the production world could compete with a $150 3V Recon Scout. But its the 4-MAX that turned heads and at a trade show like SHOT that is exactly what you want.

Bold choices, real and tangible upgrades, and one badass folder (that could be a world class blade depending on the quality and price). This is about as good a showing as you can get.

Grade: A

UPDATE: Cold Steel announced a ton of knives with upgraded steel and they also announced the release of their first assisted knife the Cold Steel Swift–another Demko design with CTS-XHP.  They gave the SCA folks another huge boost with EVEN MORE weird stuff and finally they announced collaborations with…Steven Seagal.  Fortunately I don’t have to write about them as they aren’t really EDC items.  But put it this way–in your forced marches through malls and other such stores, have you seen in high profile fashion collaborations with Erika Eleniak?  Exactly.  Still an A.  Really impressive job Cold Steel.

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