Review: Is the Cold Steel Storm Cloud faster than lightning?
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Cold Steel has a reputation in the knife community for designing some of the strongest, sharpest, and 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 ludicrously strong Tri-Ad locking system, and the Americanized tanto. Their tanto-bladed offerings are extensive, and yet there was one thing that always bothered me about their common tanto models: the opening mechanism.
One of my favorite things that Cold Steel brought to the market, courtesy of the innovative Andrew Demko, is the patented Demko Thumb Plate. I’m currently on my fourth CS Spartan, and the thumbplate on that model is one of the reasons I keep coming back to it. It allows you to roll the blade open with your thumb as you would with generic thumb studs or a Spydie-hole, but it lends to that the speed of an Emerson Wave, allowing you to open the knife automatically by snagging the blade on the corner of your pocket while drawing, surpassing the speed of a switchblade or spring-assisted pocket knife. It’s an excellent concept, and one that’s almost necessary for Tri-Ad folders, due to the resistance the locking mechanism can generate while attempting to open certain models. For reasons I was never able to figure out, Cold Steel never offered a thumbplate-equipped tanto.
Or at least, that’s what I thought, up until 2018. I was watching the Cold Steel’s new press release for that year, when I saw an odd tanto appear on my screen. It was another Americanized tanto, so nothing new there — but then I saw the thumbplate. After a year of penny-pinching, the Cold Steel Storm Cloud arrived on my doorstep, in all of its carbon-fiber glory. A mid-tier knife coming in on the higher end of the $100 to $300 price range, the Storm Cloud is an Italian beauty designed by Mike Wallace. Here’s why it might be your next blade of choice.
Just like Cold Steel’s other premium folding knives made in Italy, the Storm Cloud receives upgraded packaging compared to their Taiwan-manufactured items. It comes in a black box with a cardboard sleeve, featuring a glossed picture of the knife, in addition to some relevant stats, including blade length, thickness, and steel type. Removing the sleeve, you’re down to the black box. After you lift the magnetically secured lid, you’ll find the Storm Cloud sealed inside a protective plastic sleeve, nestled neatly inside a cutout in the interior foam.
With an overall length of a little over eight inches, the Storm Cloud isn’t a big knife. The linerless, 4.625-inch-long handle is made from two chamfered G10 scales that feature a smooth carbon-fiber overlay, and the grip is around an inch in width and just under half an inch thick. While G10 is extremely durable and lightweight, the exterior carbon-fiber layers allow the knife to transition seamlessly from the field to the office. The black handle has decent ergos, courtesy of the two finger grooves, and features a polished stainless steel slotted pocket clip that is easily reversible for left-side, tip-up carry, though it comes set up for right-side carry from the factory. While it doesn’t have any option for tip-down carry, this isn’t really a bad thing, as tip-up carry orients the blade towards the rear of your pocket, minimizing any chance of the folder getting jarred open in your pocket and potentially cutting your fingers. The G10 backspacer helps keep dirt and pocket gunk out of the knife, while simultaneously protecting the edge of the blade from any keys or miscellaneous items you might have in your pocket.
Thanks to the linerless handle, the Storm Cloud is extremely lightweight (coming in at only 3.6 ounces), which is even lighter than the Cold Steel American Lawman I previously reviewed. Despite this, it features a blade length just over 3.5 inches, with a cutting edge length just under 3.5 inches. The modified Americanized tanto blade is 3.2mm thick at the spine of the knife, and is 0.88 inches in width, featuring a drop-point tanto design that centers the tip of the blade for increased accuracy and penetration. This striking, satin-finished blade design is manufactured from American-made CPM-20CV steel, and has a zero-grind on the forward edge, meaning that where the rearward edge has both a primary grind and a secondary grind that forms the actual edge, the forward edge has only the primary grind, which is sharpened all the way down to the edge. The rearward edge is a slightly rougher grit than the forward edge, but both are properly apexed and visually symmetrical.
The knife has a drop-shut action out of the box, despite its lightweight blade. The pivot runs on two phosphor-bronze washers. While this is a departure from Cold Steel’s standard pivot setup with two phosphor-bronze and two teflon washers, the action on the Storm Cloud is actually one of the better examples I’ve seen from Cold Steel, due largely to how smooth the carbon fiber on the inside of the scales is. Opening the knife is easily done with your thumb and a small flick of the wrist, though I’ve come to prefer flicking it open with just my index finger. The Demko thumbplate works beautifully, deploying the blade swiftly, with enough force to consistently lock the blade securely in the open position. The Storm Cloud features vault-like lock-up, thanks to the excessive strength of the Tri-Ad lock. Some users with smaller or weaker hands may have some difficulty disengaging the lock one-handed, but I personally found it to be one of the easier Tri-Ad lock models to disengage.
How we tested the Cold Steel Storm Cloud
As previously stated, I’ve owned this knife for around two years. While I originally intended to only use the Storm Cloud as a gentleman’s folder, I ended up using it for quite a bit more than a mere compliment to my suit. In this case, that involved utilizing it on quite a few install jobs, cutting/stripping CAT6e, corrugated loom tubing, muletape, duct tape, and nylon pull-string. The thumbplate came in handy on more than one occasion where I was hanging haphazardly from the rafters of a warehouse, reliably and swiftly opening the blade on the corner of my pocket when I was too rushed or in too precarious of a position to use my finer motor skills to open the knife normally with my thumb. As expected of the Tri-Ad locking mechanism, I had absolutely zero malfunctions or issues with it locking up solidly and consistently, each and every time.
Despite the amount of use, the edge still seems to be in decent shape, which is impressive, seeing as the only edge maintenance I’ve done is to occasionally strop the edge. As such, I’m going to subject it to the same tests I would normally. The first thing to check is the quality of the factory edge. This is done through two separate tests, the shaving test, and the paper test. Any knife that isn’t dull will pass the shaving test, as this indicates that the edge is properly, thoroughly apexed. It can also accentuate how good the blade geometry is for slicing, as thicker blades tend to perform poorly. The Storm Cloud easily shaved hair off my arm with both the forward and rearward edges, which is what I’ve come to expect with the majority of Cold Steel’s models. The paper test went almost as smoothly, with the forward edge cleanly slicing paper. The only edge deformation was a single, almost imperceptible, nick on the rearward edge, around a half-inch in from the yokote. While not visible, I could barely feel it with the tip of my fingernail, and it was the only spot on the edge that failed the paper test.
From there, I moved onto the edge retention test, which quantifies how long the knife can hold an edge when cutting through various mediums. As usual, I went with 550 paracord for this test, due to its durability, wear resistance, and frequent use in both military and civilian worlds. Despite the two years of use, the Storm Cloud did extremely well, managing an exasperating 350 cuts before it finally started to tear the paper. I wasn’t able to detect any new microchips (small chips or nicks in the edge, usually due to abuse or a brittle heat treat) when I ran my fingernail down the edge, and the edge wasn’t rolled either (where the edge literally bends over, due to being too soft).
The final thing I did was testing the edge geometry of the blade. Cold Steel leans towards thicker, beefier blades in favor of durability and strength, compared to other companies like Spyderco that prefer thinner, full flat-ground blades for maximum slicing potential. To test this, I cut slices off of a Fuji apple. A thinner knife will be able to slice through without causing any cracks in the apple slices. Given the lack of a hollow or full flat-grind, and the 3.2mm thick spine, I didn’t expect the Storm Cloud to perform well. After cutting off four slices, I found cracks in two out of the four slices — not the best performance, but far better than I was expecting.
What we like about the Cold Steel Storm Cloud
Classy, but utilitarian, the Storm Cloud quickly became one of my go-to models from Cold Steel, and rightly so. Thanks to its reversible, stainless pocket clip and thumbplate, ambidextrous use was easy and intuitive, and I had no qualms lending it to people without knowing if they were left- or right-handed. Slim and lightweight, it easily slips in and out of any pocket without making it sag or weighing down your pants, and sits low enough to not attract undue attention. While the pocket clip isn’t nearly as stiff as most Cold Steel folders, it was still more than strong enough to securely hold it in every pair of slacks, jeans, or shorts that I had, without any indication of it starting to slip out. I found the modified American tanto to be extremely practical, not to mention aesthetically attractive, and the blade was perfectly centered. As always, the absurdly strong Tri-Ad lock consistently locked up like a vault, and the drop-shut action made closing the knife with one hand a breeze. Finally, the absence of any hotspots on the handle, and the two finger grooves and chamfering, made the Storm Cloud comfortable to hold during extended use, and Cold Steel’s stereotypical, razor-sharp edge combined with American CPM 20CV steel ensured that it would keep cutting as long as you did.
What we don’t like about the Cold Steel Storm Cloud
As much as I like the Storm Cloud, it’s not perfect. It doesn’t have a lanyard hole, which isn’t an issue for me, but might be problematic for some users. CPM 20CV steel has very good edge retention but can be challenging for novice sharpeners who don’t have the proper sharpening stones, and the zero-ground forward edge can make sharpening even more confusing. There was one quality control issue I found upon disassembly — the phosphor-bronze washers both had burrs. It didn’t noticeably impede the action of the pivot, but I ran both washers over a ceramic stone until the burr was removed just in case. My biggest complaint, however, is more a design issue than anything else: The pocket clip screws loosen far too easily, which causes frequent, noticeable side-to-side play in the pocket clip. I think that it’s largely due to the screw holes being in carbon fiber, without thread inserts or loctite. This is easily fixable, but it shouldn’t have come with this issue from the factory, in my opinion.
The Cold Steel Storm Cloud isn’t a well-known model. This seems partially due to the more premium nature of Cold Steel’s Italian-manufactured offerings, but also largely due to a general lack of marketing for that specific model. It’s unfortunate, as the Storm Cloud frankly should’ve garnered quite a bit more press than it received. I’ve used the Storm Cloud for everything from weddings to job sites, even to the Marine Corps Ball, and it’s taken everything I’ve thrown at it in stride, while looking sharp doing it. The thumbplate has come in handy more times than I can remember, though it can potentially wear out the corner of your pocket if you use it every single time. The fact that I haven’t had to resharpen it in two years of use is a testament to the edge retention of 20CV steel, as well as Cold Steel’s quality heat treat. There’s no sign of any flex in the sturdy G10 handles, or play in the Tri-Ad lock, and I expect that this striking blade will fit into my tux longer than I will.
The Cold Steel discontinued the Storm Cloud as of 2020. Thankfully, due to the general lack of awareness of this model, the Storm Cloud remains in stock at many knife retailers. However, what’s currently on the market is all there is, and with Cold Steel moving away from production in Italy and discontinuing all of its CPM 20CV models, we’re unlikely to see this model ever again once it’s finally sold out.
FAQs about the Cold Steel Storm Cloud
More questions? Here’s Task & Purpose’s additional brief.
Q. How much does the Cold Steel Storm Cloud cost?
A. Cold Steel’s MSRP is $299.99, but it can frequently be found for less than $180 through most knife retailers.
Q. What is CPM 20CV steel?
A. Commonly referred to simply as 20CV, 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. Made through this process, 20CV is a tool steel and has a very similar composition to Bohler M390 and Carpenter 204P steel. It is a martensitic stainless steel with a high vanadium carbide count for exceptional wear resistance, and has a very high chromium content for fantastic corrosion resistance.
Q. What is carbon-fiber?
A. Carbon-fiber is composed of fibers around 5 to 10 micrometers in diameter and primarily made out of carbon atoms. It’s known for having high stiffness and tensile strength, a low weight-to-strength ratio, and high chemical and temperature resistance. As a result, it’s commonly used in aerospace, motorsports, and other competition sports. The carbon-fibers are typically woven together into a cloth, which is then impregnated with some sort of resin, dependent on the desired application.
Q. What is G10?
A. G-10 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 choice for handle material for both knives and firearms, and can have many different textured finishes applied to enhance your grip.
Q. What is a yokote?
A. The yokote, sometimes alternatively spelled as yakote, is the name for the transition from the main body of the blade to the tip of a tanto or katana. It takes the form of a pronounced line and secondary tip on Americanized tantos, but is almost unnoticeable on most traditional tantos and katanas.
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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.