Review: the Cold Steel American Lawman is built for law and order
Let's see how Cold Steel's cold steel stands up.
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Cold Steel is well known in the knife community for designing some of the strongest, sharpest, most reliable blades on the market, while simultaneously offering quality at an affordable price point. They’ve innovated things such as checkered Kraton® handles, the Americanized tanto, and vault-like locking mechanisms. There’s no surprise that their products are commonly carried by military, law enforcement, emergency services, and self-defense professionals: the company’s old motto proclaimed their products were the “world’s strongest, sharpest knives,” and they certainly did their best to meet that standard.
Designed as an ideal pocket knife for civilian law enforcement, and with a name to match, Cold Steel’s American Lawman is big enough for most tasks while remaining unassuming enough to not attract undue attention in the workplace. It’s a mid-tier knife, coming in on the lower end of the $100-300 price range. I purchased this knife more out of curiosity than anything else, as I kept getting recommendations to try it out. Initially, I had intended to either give it away or resell it, but I threw that idea out almost immediately upon opening it.
True to the no-nonsense nature of Cold Steel, the blade comes in a no-frills cardboard box, with a glossy picture of the American Lawman on the front as well as some relevant information, such as the blade length, thickness, and steel type. Inside, the knife is cradled in a bubble-wrap sleeve and comes set up for right-side, tip-up carry. It also includes a left-side pocket clip, if you prefer to carry it southpaw. It doesn’t have any options for tip-down carry; however, this isn’t exactly a negative, as tip-up carry orients the blade towards the rear of your pocket, minimizing the chances of the folder getting jarred open in your pocket and potentially cutting your fingers.
A medium-sized folder with a saber-ground drop-point blade, plain edge, G10 handles, and ambidextrous thumb studs (more on that later), the American Lawman is a visually simple design. The main selling point is the resilient Triad lock, designed by Andrew Demko. The impressive strength of this locking mechanism has been repeatedly demonstrated through Cold Steel’s litany of Iron Proof videos, as well as countless tests by other reviewers and users.
The folder opens easily with one hand, utilizing the thumb studs and a slight flick of the wrist. It has a drop-shut action (largely due to the dual washer pivot, which has both phosphorus-bronze and Teflon washers), though some users with smaller or weaker hands may have some difficulty disengaging the lock one-handed. The thumb studs, while technically ambidextrous, are longer on the left side of the blade; this prevents the thumb studs from accidentally snagging on your pocket while preserving easier access for right-handed owners by default. The studs are also easily reversible for left-handed users by removing the thumb studs with a flat-headed screwdriver and reinstalling them backward.
The handle is 4 ⅝” long, and is composed of two linerless, mildly textured G10 scales and a backspacer. I was personally surprised by how lightweight it was, coming in at a mere 4 ounces. All surfaces are chamfered, and the ergonomics are excellent, featuring a decently sized finger choil to allow you to choke up on the blade, in case you need to do detail work (like whittling, or peeling an apple). The backspacer helps keep dirt and pocket gunk out of the knife while protecting the edge from any keys or miscellaneous items you might have in your pocket. There’s also a simple lanyard hole on the butt of the handle, which can come in handy when climbing or boating. The pocket clip is simple bent steel and is about as stiff as the rest of Cold Steel’s folders. Personally, I prefer my clips to err on the side of being too tight rather than for them to be too loose, as it’s a lot easier to loosen a tight clip in my experience. The tight clip is a plus for people who tend to lose their pocket knives, or have the clips bend/snap off from catching on things.
The 3½” long drop-point blade is just as simple as the rest of the knife, with a subtle hollow-grind that allows for a thinner edge than some of Cold Steel’s other models. This is complemented by Cold Steel’s characteristically razor-sharp edge, which (being sharpened at a finer grit) is a notably more refined edge than that typically found on other competing brands like Benchmade and Spyderco. The edge on this particular model was visually symmetrical as well, which was nice to see. The blade is made from premium S35VN steel, which is known for being good all-around steel for edge retention, corrosion resistance, and overall toughness, and is coated in DLC (Diamond-Like Coating) for added corrosion and wear resistance. At the time of this review, I’ve already used this knife for a few months, breaking down cardboard boxes and similar tasks, and I can’t find any wear on the DLC at all. Suffice it to say that it’s a very durable coating that lives up to its name.
How we tested the Cold Steel American Lawman
The first thing I always check on a new knife is the quality of the factory edge. This is done through two separate tests, the shaving test and the paper test. If it can shave the hair off my arm, I’ll know that the edge is properly apexed. Any knife that isn’t dull will pass this test, but a surprising amount of knives still fail this right out of the box. After that, seeing how well it slices through paper will make any imperfections in the edge painfully obvious. It’ll also accentuate just how good the blade geometry is for slicing, as thicker blades tend to perform poorly.
The Lawman easily passed the first test, shaving the hair off cleanly. Pretty impressive, given the amount of corrugated cardboard and packing tape it’s sliced through over the past two months of use. It blazed through the second test just as effortlessly, with no apparent imperfections such as microchipping (small chips or nicks in the edge, usually due to abuse or a brittle heat treat) or rolling (where the edge literally bends over, due to being too soft). I was pretty thorough with the second test, going as slowly as possible to accentuate any possible discrepancies in the edge, testing the entirety of blade from tip to choil, and I used about half a sheet of notebook paper to do it. Suffice to say that I feel fairly confident that it will have a good fighting chance in the following test, despite having been used to cut down quite a bit of corrugated cardboard.
After this came the edge retention test: seeing how long the edge lasted when cutting through various mediums. In this case, I opted to use 550 paracord, as it’s very durable, frequently used in both the military and civilian worlds, and I happen to have a metric butt-load of it lying around. I’m fairly certain it spontaneously generated, as I don’t remember ever actually purchasing it. Regardless, the Lawman did fairly well on this test (considering how much use it received prior), managing 190 cuts before it started to just barely tear paper. Interestingly, it was still able to shave hair easily at this point; after running the tip of my fingernail down the edge, I couldn’t detect any microchipping either.
The last test I did was to see how thick the blade actually is. Cold Steel tends towards thicker, beefier blades in favor of durability and strength over slicing potential, but the hollow grind on this particular model had me curious. To test this, I cut slices off of a Fuji apple. Thinner blades like Spyderco’s full flat-ground Para Military 2 will typically be able to slice through easily, without causing any cracks in the apple slice. The American Lawman came so close to passing, but unfortunately, I was able to find cracks in a few of the slices. This was largely due to the fact that, despite the hollow grind being thin enough, the blade still has a 3.5mm thick spine.
While I didn’t test the locking mechanism on this particular folder, I’ve personally experienced zero failures with any of my Triad lock-equipped folders, despite using them for everything from regular EDC tasks to cutting down small trees.
What we like about the Cold Steel American Lawman
With an 8⅛ inches overall length, the Lawman isn’t a big knife, but it’s more than capable for the majority of tasks you’ll come across day to day. It’s fully ambidextrous, ergonomic, lightweight, and slim. It came razor sharp out of the box, true to Cold Steel’s reputation, and had even grinds that were honed to a finer grit than most of their competitors. Cold Steel’s Triad lock folders tend to have near-perfect centering, and it was nice to see that this model was no exception. While having a drop-shut action isn’t necessary for everyday use, it’s certainly indicative of a higher quality knife, and definitely makes closing the knife with one hand simpler. The asymmetrical, ambidextrous thumb studs make one-handed opening even easier, and the DLC coating on the blade is fantastically durable. With arguably the strongest locking mechanism on the market, what more could you possibly want?
What we don’t like about the Cold Steel American Lawman
Honestly, there isn’t much to complain about. The pocket clip might be too strong for some users, but can be tailored to your taste pretty easily. Some users with weaker or smaller hands may struggle to disengage the lock with one hand, but it won’t be an issue for most. While it might not have passed the slice test, it was designed for everyday use–not food prep. I personally wish that the handles had partial or skeletonized liners, which can slightly improve the action, and add some reinforcement: however, this would increase the overall weight quite a bit, and the action is already fantastic on this model. It’s worth noting that some of the previous generations of the American Lawman model actually had full liners, and while they might not have been necessary due to the strength of g10, they definitely would have noticeably improved the feel of the knife overall.
The only real complaint I have about this model, and Cold Steel folders in general: the pocket clips are painted. Which, in Cold Steel’s defense, is no different from most other knife companies. However, it’s pretty far from the durable DLC coating used on the rest of the knife, and, as a result of that, it’s pretty much guaranteed to look disproportionately weathered when compared to the rest of the knife. And that’s just unfortunate (even if it’s the same as their competitors’ coated clips) because clearly they have better coatings that they could have used for the pocket clip.
The Cold Steel American Lawman is one of the only knives that I thought I’d hate, and instead instantly liked. While the MSRP is $169.99, it can be found under $100 on most websites. Factoring in that it has one of, if not the strongest locking mechanisms on the market, and premium steel and handle materials, this is a fantastic bang for your buck and will be a solid performer for years to come.
In December 2020, Cold Steel announced that it had been purchased by Good Sportsman Marketing (GSM) Outdoors. While it’s too soon yet to know for sure whether or not Cold Steel’s overall quality will go up or down, it is worth noting that many current models are being shipped without the left side pocket clip that they would normally come with. I contacted GSM, and their representative stated that it wasn’t a change of policy, but merely a shortage of that specific part due to the changeover from the acquisition and that they
are currently having more lefty clips produced.
FAQs about Cold Steel American Lawman
More questions? Here’s Task & Purpose’s additional brief.
Q. How much does the Cold Steel American Lawman cost?
A. Cold Steel’s MSRP is $169.99, but it can frequently be found for less than $95 on some retailers.
Q. What is CPM-S35VN steel?
A. Commonly referred to as simply S35VN, CPM stands for Crucible Particle Metallurgy, and is used by Crucible Industries to produce steel with a much finer, uniform grain structure that can allow for higher quality alloys with drastically improved toughness and wear resistance. S35VN is a stainless steel alloy made through this process and was designed as an upgraded version of S30V with improved toughness, as S30V has been known to occasionally have microchipping issues.
Q. What is a finger choil?
A. A finger choil is usually a small half-circle right between the handle and where the edge starts. It has two main purposes: to allow the user to grip higher up on the knife for more detailed work and to allow for easier resharpening.
Q. What is G10?
A. G10 is a composite material made from fiberglass soaked in epoxy resin and cured under both pressure and heat. It’s known for being wear, temperature, and moisture resistant, and has a tensile strength of over 35,000 PSI. As such, it’s an extremely popular material for handle material.
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Josiah Johnston is an active duty Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton, originally from the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. He’s dabbled in blacksmithing, martial arts, competitive shooting, and is a self-described knife nerd.