LionSteel (stylized as lionSTEEL) is a knifemaker and OEM from Maniago, Italy who makes knives under their own name, as well as a broad number of knives as the OEM for other makers and collaborators. They are renowned for their integral folders (single piece handles carved from a block of material) and their dramatic, artsy designs that are a nice mix of exotic construction and old-world materials – very Italian in ethos and execution. They make a broad array of knives from hyper-modern to traditional and fixed blades. LionSteel has won a plethora of awards in recent years, including Overall Knife of the Year at Blade Show in 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2014 (counting the CRKT Hi Jinx since it was made by LionSteel.) They have also won the Manufacturing Quality Award in 2018, 2017, 2014, as well as the 2010 Most Innovative Design award. So, the company has some design and manufacturing chops, to be sure. When and where did they come from?
Best LionSteel Knives: Summary
LionSteel was started in 1969 in Maniago, Italy by Gino Pauletta. Pauletta had been working at FARM (Fabrica Articoli Reclame di Maniago) since 1957, getting acquainted with working tools like corkscrews and tin punches, making his first knife out of scrap metal in the ensuing years. Starting out first in his family’s outhouse, converted to a metalworking shed, Pauletta made his first knives (along with other metal tools like corkscrews) under the name “P.G.” LionSteel came later, inspired by a stone statue of a lion in Venice – certainly a more exciting name than two letters. The early knives were much more traditional than the avant-garde products they sell today, olive wood and brass handled lockbacks with flowing lines.
Business picked up through the 70’s and 80’s, with the company adding their first employee in 1982 (it had just been Gino and his wife Cesarina for the previous 13 years!) and finally moving out of the outhouse-turned-workshop almost 20 years later, in 1988, to a shop previously owned by a butcher knife maker. the 80’s and 90’s saw steady growth, with the company entering a production contract for Pattada knives for the David company. Some of these orders went unpaid, which put the company into deep financial strain in the 90’s. They rebounded, and the modern era of LionSteel that we all know started in the early 2000’s with the futuristic Dart model, designed by Gino’s son Gianni.
The company invested more into newer production techniques and machining equipment, and brought in Michele Pensato, better known as “Molletta” as a design collaborator for their knives. Molletta is who penned the immediately recognizable silhouette of the SR-1, which used an integral handle – milled from a single piece of titanium – with a broad drop point blade. The company absolutely took off after the SR-1, releasing a string of critically acclaimed products – like the elegant TiSpine, T.R.E, ROK, and many others. They moved again, in 2017, to another larger manufacturing facility in Maniago, where they remain today.
Here’s a rundown of our favorite LionSteel knives.
The Jack is one of LionSteel’s models in their Traditional line, which blends a mixture of old-school design with modern materials and features for an attractive mix of usability and function. The Jack isn’t one single knife, it is a line of them with several options. First, you can choose how many functions you want: one, two, or three. The basic model comes with a 3.03” clip point blade, 0.10” wide, made from high-performance Bohler-Uddeholm M390, a top-end powdered metallurgy stainless steel. The two-function model also adds a straight screwdriver/caplifter (also in M390!) that opens in the same direction as the blade. The three-function model adds a corkscrew along the spine.
The Jack uses titanium bolsters and liners, and you have a selection of scale materials to choose from: black G10, green canvas Micarta, carbon fiber composite, a light tan olive wood, and a darker reddish Santos wood. Regardless of which configuration you choose, it is lightweight: the single blade is only 1.87 ounces, blade and screwdriver are 2.36, and adding the corkscrew is still just 2.79 ounces. In a world full of plastic handled SAK’s and indifferently assembled Case knives, the LionSteel Jack is a compelling alternative to other Traditionals. It’s also really good looking.
The Thrill is next-level design from so many different directions. A quick glance at it won’t even begin to tell the whole story. First, it’s an integral, so the handle is milled from a single piece of metal. It’s also a slipjoint, so the spring bar is part of the handle. If that wasn’t wild enough, the Thrill includes LionSteel’s wild HWAY.L system, which stands for “Hide What Annoys You” – they’re big on acronyms. This means that the Thrill has a deployable pocket clip, spring loaded, which pops out when you press on the tab on the opposite side (which has a LionSteel logo laser engraved onto it). That pocket clip is of course a 3D machined affair.
The blade on the Thrill is a 3.15” satin finish flat ground drop point in high-performance M390 powdered metallurgy steel, or there is the option for Chad Nichols Damascus as well – only on LionSteel’s website, though. Both ride on IKBS caged ball bearings for smooth deployment, which is unique for a slipjoint. You have your choice of either aluminum handles (at that $119 price point) weighing in at 2.35 ounces, or titanium at $199 and 3.2 ounces. Color choices for the titanium are more subdued with light blue, bronze and grey, while the aluminum Thrill comes in some brighter colors: black, green, bright red, and bright orange. This slipjoint is really next-level.
The SR-22 is the baby brother of the SR-11, which is an updated version of the SR-1 with a flipper. So SR-1 begat the small sized SR-2, as well as the flipper SR-11 – it’s a family tree. We went with the SR-22 for its pocket friendly dimensions over the bigger SR-11: it has a manageable 3.125” long blade, measuring 7.09” overall when open, compared to the much larger SR-11’s 3.70” blade and 8.31” overall. For EDC use, something in the area around 3” usually is long enough to do what you need and not so long it gets in your way. The blade is made from Bohler-Uddeholm Sleipner steel, which is an evolution of D2 tool steel, with less carbon and chromium but more molybdenum, manganese, and silicon, making it a tougher and more balanced steel. Uddeholm themselves say that while it has lower wear resistance than D2, it has higher chipping and much higher cracking resistance. In practice it will perform similarly to D2 while being easier to sharpen and less prone to edge damage.
The handle of the SR-22 is a real work of art, whether you chose the aluminum version (available in a bunch of bright colors) or the Titanium variant (grey and bronze.) Machined texturing on the handles provides a positive grip, and the handle is an integral design like a lot of LionSteel’s other folders – a single piece, including the lock bar – although it does have a separate hardened steel lockbar interface. It also features the Rotoblock, a secondary safety system designed by Molletta that rotates into place when the blade is open to prevent the lockbar from closing accidentally. Deployment is via a flipper tab and caged IKBS bearings in all versions. Weight is 4.5 ounces for the titanium version, and 5.15 for the aluminum variant. If you like the original SR-1/SR-2 but wish it were a flipper with bearings, this is the knife for you.
The Barlow series has been somewhat of a big deal for LionSteel, especially with the strong resurgence of Traditionals and the introduction of the modern traditional concept into the market. These knives are only available through LionSteel’s website or CollectorKnives.net – as the Euro Barlow is a collaboration with CK, as seen laser etched on each blade. There is a staggering array of different combinations available in the Barlow pattern, giving them a real “collect them all” feeling like GEC’s or Pokémon. For the body, there is the regular Barlow as well as the Barlow Slim with low profile scales. You also have a lot of blade choice: Shuffler (2.95” clip point), Roundhead, Dom (a sheepsfoot) or Warhorse (a two-blade combo of the clip point and a Wharncliffe.) You can also get the Beerlow – great name – with the Roundhead blade and a screwdriver/bottle opener combo.
Of course, there are a ton of handle materials available – Ebony wood, natural canvas micarta, stag, ram horn, carbon fiber, white carbon fiber, shredded carbon fiber, and others. The regular Barlow has a two-piece handle with a bolster and a scale, while the Slim has a one piece with a false bolster, and comes in titanium, carbon fiber, copper and micarta. What sets the Barlow apart from a lot of regular traditional folding knives is materials and construction: While it’s still a slipjoint, it uses serviceable Torx screws for construction, it has a stop pin for security, the liners and bolsters are titanium (like the Jack), and the blades use Bohler M390 powdered metallurgy steel for much greater levels of edge retention and corrosion resistance than the high-carbon steels common on traditional knives. The Barlow weighs in at 3.1 ounces, so hardly a pocket-stretcher either.
The TiDust is sort of cheating, because it’s out of production and while it’s still on LionSteel’s website, there’s no sign that they’re going to make more of them. Which is a shame, because the TiDust seems more like science fiction than a knife.
It won the Manufacturing Quality Award at Blade Show in 2014, due to the unique way the handles are made: with a variation of 3D printing called DMLS (Direct Metal Laser Sintering) which uses a laser to sinter titanium dust one layer at a time together. Intensely cool and time consuming, thus the high price tag when new. The point is weight reduction, somewhat negated by using a 3.5” long, 0.18” wide slab of Sleipner steel which brings the total to 5.64 ounces. It pivots on a caged IKBS bearing via a thumb disc, and uses a lockback to secure the blade open. The pocket clip is a reversible tip-up carry incorporating a glass breaker stud as the screw (like the LionSpy did). They only made a hundred of them and they’re rare to find, but worth grabbing one when you do.
And now for a fixed blade, the LionSteel T5 is a 5” full-tang camping knife. Made with an integrated finger guard at the edge of the handle, the T5 is the smaller brother to the gargantuan M7. The handle scale is either green canvas micarta or black micarta, and you also have a choice between a plain satin finish or a black (PVD and stonewashed) finish on the blade. All of the handle scales are milled from a single piece, so the grip in your palm is uninterrupted on the bottom of the handle, leaving only the spine exposed. The end of the tang is left exposed as a strike surface as well. All T5’s come with a stitched leather sheath that’s MOLLE compatible for carry options.
The T5’s blade measures 5.04” long and a thick 0.20” wide at the spine, made from Niolox steel. Niolox is an uncommon in cutlery that is likely unfamiliar to a lot of readers, so for reference it is a stainless steel made by Lohmann in Germany. It contains medium-high carbon (0.8%), high chromium for corrosion resistance (13%), and more Molybdenum than the German 1.4153 steel it is based on (1.1%) – and a combination of Vanadium and Niobium (0.9 and 0.7%, respectively) to refine grain size and structure for a clean edge. It doesn’t perform as well as M390 that’s found in other more high-end LionSteel knives, but it is a nice stainless steel at this price point.
The T.R.E., which won Blade Show’s Overall Knife of the Year in 2015, brings a unique idea to the table: you can pick how you want to open the knife and remove the mechanisms you don’t want. So, it can utilize a flipper tab, a thumb disc, both, or neither: whichever you prefer. Both the flipper tab and the thumb disc attach to the blade using a Torx screw. This means that if you are travelling to an area that prohibits (or frowns upon) one hand opening blades, you can convert the T.R.E. to a two-hand opening knife using the screwdrivers that come with it, and then when you come back you can reattach the flipper or disc.
To go with the variety of opening methods, the T.R.E. uses IKBS caged ball bearings for smooth deployment, and has a frame lock with a replaceable hardened steel lockbar interface for smooth lockup. You also have a lot of choices for materials: blade steel is either Bohler M390 or Chad Nichols Damascus, and handles can be either titanium, carbon fiber, or assorted colors of G10. The blade, a drop point with a full flat grind, measures 0.14” wide at the spine and 2.91” long – which makes a lot of sense, considering the Three Rapid Exchange system is designed to help with legality, and a lot of places restrict the carrying of a blade longer than 3”. Weight is between 2.37 ounces (G10) and 2.85 ounces (titanium) so none of them are going to weigh you down, either. Very innovative thinking from the guys in Maniago.
Another fixed blade here, the perfect all-rounder for outdoor or everyday use if you want to daily carry a fixed blade. The M2M is the replacement for the older M2, having the same blade profile but a longer handle that’s also 3D contoured for a better grip. It has also seen an upgrade in steel from AISI D2 to Bohler M390, a big step up in performance both in edge retention as well as corrosion resistance. That M390 blade measures 3.54” long and 0.16” wide at the spine, striking a good balance between slicing ability and resilience. The tang extends beyond the scales, allowing you to use it as a striker for a ferrocerium rod to start a fire without marring the blade finish. Full flat ground geometry and a tall blade profile mean the M2M will cut and slice, but can also be used to baton wood in lieu of an axe.
The 3D machined handles come in a variety of materials – I’m a fan of green canvas micarta, but there’s also Santos wood, tan canvas micarta, light tan Olive wood, and black G10 if you prefer synthetics. All of them come with a beautiful double stitched brown leather sheath, which is MOLLE compatible, so you have a lot of options for carrying position. There are a lot of nice details on the M2M, from the intricately machined handles to the smooth rounded spine, the neatly cut sharpening choil, and the flush fitting Torx screws that secure the handles to the tang. Almost too pretty to beat up in the woods.
Now we’re really getting to the cream of the crop. LionSteel comes up with new ideas and gradually applies them to their new models – and the Rok has most of them. For starters, it’s an integral frame like the SR-1 and its progeny – so the handle is milled from a single piece of aluminum or titanium. It has a flipper tab for deployment, which is removable if you want to two-hand it, a la the T.R.E. It has the HWAY.L deployable clip from the Thrill, IKBS caged ball bearings, the Rotoblock secondary safety mechanism, a replaceable hardened steel lockbar interface, and it seems like the only thing not included is a Bluetooth connection to your microwave. They also include an NFC (near field contact) chip in the packaging that allows you access the owner’s manual, register the warranty, and reach customer service, which is a unique bit of tech.
All Rok’s have a 3.27” drop point with a high flat grind, measuring a chunky 0.18” across at the spine, which has a false swedge that opens up towards the tip to give the blade better piercing geometry while still being stout. The standard blade steel is Bohler M390 powdered metal steel, so it’s a very high end stainless, and there’s also Chad Nichols Damascus steel optional on the titanium handled models. Those titanium scales come in either grey or bronze, although there’s a more options for the aluminum handles (black, red, and orange with either a satin finish or black PVD blade). Finally, there is the wild Rok 50th Anniversary knife, which uses a gold PVD coated Nichols Damascus blade with a twisted white Timascus integral handle. Priced at €2000 and limited to a 50-piece run, you’re not likely to see one, but it sure would be cool if you did.
The Kur made a stir at Blade Show in 2016 when LionSteel displayed the Metamorphosis, which had temperature-sensitive aluminum handles that changed colors (from black to a camouflage pattern) while you held them. Which is pretty wild, unfortunately they don’t make the color-shifting variant any more – but there are still a lot of versions of the Kur depending on your needs. All versions use a 3.43” drop point blade with a full flat grind, from the same Sleipner steel used in the SR-22, with a tough, reliable edge. The spine measures out at a beefy 0.18”, and is rounded so it’s smooth to the touch. The Kur uses stainless liners and a bent steel pocket clip – more of a working tool and less of an art exhibit, but still quite a thing to look at: especially the way those machined scales wrap around the body screws, all the intricate milling details, the rounded backspacer/lanyard hole, the raised thumb ramp.
You can pick between G10 scales – in black, green, orange, and brown – or wood, with Olive and Santos wood paired with a black PVD or satin finished blade. A stainless liner lock secures the blade, and there’s a deep carry steel wire clip configured for tip-up right-hand carry. For a knife that stretches out 8.27” long when open with that beefy blade, the 5.6 ounce weight seems reasonable. The Kur could be a good EDC option for someone who likes a reasonable mid-sized folder. Hopefully, the Metamorphosis model makes a comeback in the future.
Not all of LionSteel’s offerings are knives – they’ve recently come out with a really attractive pen, as well. The Nyala uses a lot of the same space-age materials and fine machining that LionSteel’s knives are known for, it just writes instead of slices. The body is machined from 6AL4V titanium, while an outer sleeve insert is either carbon fiber or twisted damascus, and you can choose from shiny or matte blue, bronze, and grey. All of the Nyala pens are twist-to-open and use a Fisher Space Pen pressurized insert that will write in any direction.
LionSteel has been around for 50 years now, and Maniago itself provides plenty of both competition and collaboration for the storied cutlery brand. Competition in the form of Fox Knives, Viper, and Mercury – and collaboration in the form of Mikita. Mikita is a consortium of LionSteel and the other three brands, lead by Gianni Pauletta from LionSteel. Together they produce knives under the MKM (Maniago Knife Makers) label, leveraging the resources, capability, and expertise of all 4 companies to make great knives. Witness the fiendishly clever MKM Isonzo line penned by Voxnaes, a modern take on the folding utility knife, or the Terzuola-penned MKM Clap folder. Mikita and MKM allow all 4 brands to benefit from each other’s abilities. Imagine if Kershaw, Spyderco, Benchmade and Gerber all pitched in on a collaborative brand!
Of course, even though they collaborate, it’s fair to say that Fox Knives is still a big competitor to LionSteel, having interrupted LionSteel’s three-year hat trick on Blade Show Knife of the Year awards when they took the top spot in 2018 with the Suru compact folder. Fox makes a lot of creative, original knives with some big-name designers (Bastinelli, Tomaso Rummici, Jesper Voxnaes, Jens Anso, Tashi Barucha, Doug Marcaida, Darrel Ralph… the list goes on.) Not only does Fox make knives in the same area, a lot of them are in the same market in terms of price and function.
Another brand that competes against LionSteel is the titan of high-end Chinese cutlery, WE Knives along with their subsidiary brands Civivi and Sencut. Sencut to WE covers an extremely broad price spectrum, but the high-end products from WE are on the same level of manufacturing quality and machining skill that LionSteel operates in. They do have a wider variety of products but not as much mechanical innovation as LionSteel prides themselves in, and their lineup can be dizzying to keep up with, but WE makes piles of great knives – and some of your favorite production knives from other makers are also likely made by WE.
Finally, with their broad blades and beefy spines, a lot of LionSteel knives have an air of being an Italian Zero Tolerance knife – the same overbuilt, tough-as-nail construction but with some continental flair. Both brands use a lot of premium materials (titanium, powdered metallurgy alloy steels, carbon fiber) and they operate in similar high-end production scales, but admittedly a lot of LionSteel knives are more artsy than ZT’s offerings.
Taking a deeper look into LionSteel’s history and their catalog gives you a better understand of just how forward-thinking these guys are. They have so many innovative, outside of the box solutions to problems (sometimes ones we didn’t even know we had) that it’s hard to believe they all came from one company. If you’re wondering what the next big thing is going to be or where the knife industry might be heading in the coming years, you would do well to keep your eyes on the products coming out of LionSteel in Maniago.