The Demko brothers have been busy. They have designed many knives, and even new locking mechanisms. The Cold Steel AD10 is a “mid sized” knife, at least in the Demko-designed knife line, and it is very well done. It’s another production variant of the mid-tech Demko AD10, with a much lower price tag, while maintaining a very robust build, and carrying the overall design in a way that allows more people to get one in their hands.
Tri-Ad lock, extremely comfortable handle, and a blade that’s made for some serious work, this knife takes the cake in the overbuilt category. But it somehow maintains a profile that isn’t terrible to carry, and looks good while doing it.
Key Specs: Cold Steel AD10
The Cold Steel AD-10 utilizes the ever popular and very commonplace CPM-S35VN. On a knife with this type of use in mind, it’s a good choice of blended ingredients. S35VN has great toughness, great stainless properties, and holds an edge well for most heavier use tasks. The sharpness out of the box was great, and the edge was ground well throughout the entirety of the blade. The blade shape, a classic drop point, looks great and functions extremely well. The first iteration of this particular knife was made with a hollow ground blade, coming up to a high saber grind with a top swedge. The later models moved to a flat ground blade, with the remaining two aspects maintained. I would venture to say that this choice was made to keep the blade as absolutely stout as possible, but my particular hollow ground variant had no problem keeping up with some abuse, while keeping a grind that lends itself to EDC type cutting quite well.
At 3.6”, this blade can handle outdoors type tasks with ease. The blade length is complimented well with a very tall broad side (1.25”), giving the blade strength in all dimensions. Dual thumb studs allow for operation via lefties and righties alike, with no discrimination carried over to the lock as well. Boasting the loud and proud Cold Steel branding, the left side of the blade reads “AD-10” in laser etching, and the opposing side of the blade shows “Cold Steel, S35VN, Taiwan”, giving the user plenty of information about their pocket knife in plain sight. With a blade thickness of 0.15”, I really don’t see a way to argue that this blade isn’t meant for the hardest of use.
The blade also features a small finger choil, that works better than one might imagine in use. It could be that this cutout at the base of the blade is more for sharpening clearance than for an index finger, but I found it to work well for finer cutting tasks. The spine of the blade has 2 large notches cut into it, to be used as jimping for the thumb. It looks much more rough and uncomfortable in pictures than it really is, but it’s chamfered well and is positioned in a placement that is very natural in use.
Deployment and Lockup
If there’s one thing that a knife with a Tri-Ad lock does well, it’s lock up solidly. The AD-10 has the most rigid lockup I’ve ever felt. There is absolutely no blade play side to side, or up and down, in any discernable way, no matter how much force is exerted. The Tri-Ad lock is essentially a lockback with an added measure. That added measure is a stop pin that the blade comes in contact with, that’s also in contact with the lock bar. All 3 points of contact come together to make a complete lockup trinity that can’t be beat. I’m sure that with enough intentional, lateral force, the blade could break, or the pivot assembly could bend out of position. But that would have to be absolutely intentional, and almost impossible during normal use, or even some abuse. Most people agree that the Tri-Ad lock is about as tough a lock as a folder can get.
And luckily for the AD-10, the common issue of a very stiff action is not present on this knife. It’s very smooth, and has very little resistance from the friction of moving parts in deployment. The large thumb studs allow for easy operation, and with the slick feel of moving the blade open, this knife has more of a glassy feedback than any other lock back I’ve handled or used. I’m not entirely sure how they’ve managed this, but it’s much appreciated. The AD-10 uses phosphor bronze washers, sandwiched by very thin Teflon washers. I’m not quite sure why they use this build, but it’s something they’ve done on many Cold Steel folders for quite some time. I would attribute a lot of the smoothness of operation to this washer system, and possibly a polished blade tang.
Deploying the blade by either flicking it out, or by slow-rolling, puts the blade in it’s locked position solidly. Very solidly. And, of course, releasing the lock is done by the lock bar on the spine of the handle. With such a thick handle and blade stock, the lock bar has to be made equally thick, and it’ll show when you unlock this knife. It’s got a fairly heavy spring keeping that lock bar in place, and it needs to be depressed down quite far to completely disengage the blade. It’s not something that’s inherently bad, but worth noting, if you’re used to something like a Spydero Delica.
Features, Fit and Finish
When handling a true Demko knife, meaning one that’s not a Cold Steel production variant, the hand made level of fit and finish is high. But the Cold Steel production units aren’t done poorly, either. I’ve owned a Demko knife, and it has some additional chamfering, and feel of quality than the Cold Steel equivalent. The Cold Steel productions are done well enough for most of us daily users, though.
The jimping on the spine of the blade could be just a little smoother on it’s edges. The lock bar could be a little softer on the edges, to ease the feel when unlocking the knife. The fit of the liners to the scales could be just a little more perfect. And the blade steel (S35VN vs 20CV) could be used on the lower end models for some added value to the purchase. But really, these are the main differences between the customs and production models. I’m perfectly happy with Cold Steel’s S35VN, as I’ve handled, carried, used hard, and sharpened it on a few occasions now. I see nothing wrong with this steel choice, and almost prefer it to the M390/20CV that’s more commonly used on the higher end knives.
But, using aluminum liners on the Cold Steel AD-10 is one point of material choice I wish they’d skipped. With the Demko models, most of the liners used are titanium. Yes, titanium is a little heavier than aluminum, and costs more, but this material choice is also coupled with another pet peeve – tiny body screws. The AD-10 is using T6 Torx bit screws. With a knife that’s quite literally made to chop, baton, and slam into anything you desire, why use such tiny screws, that go into straight aluminum? It just feels like a recipe for disaster in the future, when going ahead and disassembling this knife, and using it hard. Maybe it won’t matter in the long run, but it seems juxtaposed to the entire idea behind this knife.
But, forgiving the tiny screw debacle, the handle scales and design of the handle is incredibly well done. The G10 used on this knife feels very good in hand, comparable to the Spyderco Shaman black G10 standard production model. The texturing and finish on the handle scales is done incredibly well. The upcoming field test section will give more info on this, but it’s very comfortable in use. And, all screws and parts of the knife went back together just like they came apart when disassembling and reassembling.
Let’s also not forget to mention the pommel on the end of the handle. Because, in the words of Lynn Thompson, “you may want to show your enemy mercy.” Or, maybe you just want to be able to break out a car window in an emergency. Or smash a brick with the butt of your folder. If you’re afraid to break the tip of your knife in abusing it while bashing it into anything, just remember that you’ve got the pommel on the handle for some unnecessary abuse.
I’ve never honestly needed to chop wood with my daily carry folder. Or baton with it. But with this knife, I had to try it out, and test it’s ability. The 3.5” blade seems just long enough to be able to carry the weight needed to lightly chop a 2×4 in half. It didn’t take much time, and stayed securely in my hand. Using a 3” diameter log from a tree I recently removed (no, not with my AD-10), I went ahead a split the 2×4 in half. I was admittedly mostly hitting only the tip of the blade, once the knife started through the material. But the massive chunk of S35VN took a beating with no problem. I stabbed and twisted the tip through the wood, making a nice hole in it, without any issues. I had no change in lockup, deployment, or really much to note on edge deformation either. Even with this hollow ground variant, the steel really didn’t mind being beat on for a while. I gave the edge a quick strop, and it was back to shaving sharp just like new.
Food prep with folders is, to some people, blasphemy. I always like to give it a go, just to test out the blade’s overall geometry. Cutting up small diameter vegetables like carrots and cucumber was no problem. Slicing up some chicken and beef was fine, with this much blade it’s hard to complain about. Cutting an apple into 4 main slices cracked them considerably, but with a blade stock thickness like this, there are going to be limitations. And with the stainless properties of S35VN, there’s not much worry of corrosion, once the blade is rinsed in the sink. This knife would suffice for most food prep out on a camping trip, but of course it’s not the optimal choice.
EDC use usually involves cardboard cutting for us city dwellers. The AD-10 did better than it’s cousin, the AD-15 in cardboard cutting. The hollow grind on the AD-10 gives it some extra points in this particular use, allowing the material to part easily once the cut is initiated. S35VN is not known for exceptional edge retention, but more “middle of the road” in this regard. After breaking down a few boxes, my hand was perfectly comfortable using this knife, but the blade was getting warm, and the edge had lost most of it’s initial bite. That’s not to say it was going dull, but it had worked down to it’s “working edge” as most of us refer to. This generally is when the apex of the edge loses it’s ability to shave hair, but will still slice paper and cut up most daily task materials without much hesitation. Some of us true knife nerds and steel geeks might go for a sharpening at this point, just because we can’t live without an edge that isn’t as sharp, or sharper than a factory edge. But for day to day use, on a big bad folder, it’ll hold a solid working edge under normal/heavy use for quite some time.
Carrying the AD-10 is not for the feint of heart. It’s heavy, and very wide in the pocket. At 6.8 ounces, there’s no way of excusing it as a pen in your pocket, or even a screwdriver. You and everyone who pays attention will know you’re carrying a knife in your pocket. It does slide in and out of the pocket quite well for it’s gargantuan size, and the pocket clip has great retention. I didn’t try running a mile with this thing sitting in my Levi’s pocket, but it stayed in place during a day of work, while bending, stooping, and kneeling.
All these knives available at BladeHQ.The Demko brothers have made some great knives. The Cold Steel AD-10 stacks up against a few others admirably, notably those designed by the same maker and made by the same company. The Demko AD-10 is the closest relative to the Cold Steel variant. It’s currently not being produced, but will come in batches as the makers find the time for them. The Demko variant is priced around $600, comes with 20CV steel, and has all the hand finishing you’d expect for a custom or mid-tech folder.
But the first true alternative to the AD-10 would be the Cold Steel AD-15. The AD-15 is priced at $215 on most online retailers, and features the Demko Scorpion lock. It’s strong, innovative, and fun to play with. The AD-15 uses many of the same materials, from the S35VN blade steel, to the G10 handle scales, and even the same washer and pivot system. With more time gone into the R&D of the Scorpion lock, you’ll pay a little more up front. But it’s a slightly more narrow overall footprint, while maintaining about the same weight.
Another contender to the AD-10 is the Cold Steel SR1. The SR1 is also known for being a folding prybar, with a sharpened edge. It’s using a 4” blade (1/2” longer than the AD series knives), has an even thicker blade (0.17” vs the AD series 0.15”), and is about half an ounce heavier. The SR1 is a more blocky, straight design , but also uses the Tri-Ad lock found on the AD-10. It’s considerably cheaper, too. The SR1 is ~$160, while the AD-10 is about $190. And, the SR1 has a “Lite” variant, that’s just $5, but uses 8CR13MOV steel and “Giv-Ex” (tough plastic) handle scales.
The Spydero Shaman feels close enough in many regards to add it to the list of alternatives, too. In it’s base form, it’s ~$200 (very close in price to the AD-10), uses S30V steel, but has a weight of 5.2 ounces (about an ounce and a half less than the AD-10). It’s using a very similar G10 textured handle scale material, and also has a 3.5” blade. Using a compression lock, it’s much easier to operate one-handed than the AD-10, which can be a bit difficult in some cases. The Shaman also has the option of tip up or tip down, left or right hand carry, while the AD-10 is tip up only, left or right hand. I do give props to Cold Steel for going with at least left OR right hand carry, since it requires a different pocket clip for either orientation, both of which are included with the knife.
Cold Steel has done a great job taking a knife from one of their main designers, and turning it into a production model for the mainstream users. It can take a beating, and can be used for long cutting sessions comfortably. It’s smooth to open and close, and locks up like a fixed blade. But, it’s very heavy, carries like a brick in the pocket, and isn’t exactly discreet. Of course, when you’re looking to buy a knife in this size range, you probably know what you’re getting. But don’t fool yourself into thinking it’ll carry like a Bugout, or flip open and closed without attracting some attention. It’s a great outdoors folder, that’s comfortable and durable, and doesn’t break the bank. If carrying a fixed blade is out of the question, but you want a heavy duty knife in your pocket, this is a great option for you.
- Cuts well for it’s size, durable, very comfortable handle, locks up like a fixed blade.
- Very heavy, hard to unlock one-handed, large overall footprint.