Interview: GSM Talks Cold Steel, Atlas Lock, and Tri-Ad Lock

GSM Outdoors is a company that has quickly risen to the top of knife community discourse. The outdoors company acquired two major knife companies, Cold Steel and SOG, in 2020 and 2021 respectively. In both cases, the news was met by the community with no small degree of skepticism: in many ways Cold Steel and SOG were both hitting a stride, with some of their most highly regarded designs ever hitting the market in recent years. How would the acquisitions, which brought with the major personnel and logistical changes, affect these advances?

It’s probably still too early to say for SOG, but Cold Steel has been in GSM’s portfolio a year longer. 2022 started off quietly for company, which may have caused a few eyebrows to raise. However, in January Cold Steel released a teaser video detailing their new Atlas Lock mechanism, and the knife it would debuted on – originally called the Drifter, since renamed to the Engage.

How does this lock differ from its famous predecessor in the Cold Steel lineup, the Andrew Demko-designed Tri-Ad Lock? What does it mean for the rest of 2022 and beyond? And what else can we expect from Cold Steel this year? We recently spoke to GSM’s VP of Engineering, Tom Rucci, about these topics and more.

The Engage (formerly called the Drifter) will be the debut platform for the Atlas Lock

First of all, the big question: how does the Atlas Lock compare to the Tri-Ad Lock? Similarities, differences, etc.?

To answer this question, let’s take a look at the intent of designing a new lock.  Cold Steel is known for the Tri-Ad lock and it is arguably the safest, strongest, and most durable lock on the market.  Our intent of designing a new lock was to continue this Cold Steel tradition and have it last far into the future. The challenge was given to my team of designers and one of my lead designers, Dillion, produced the core design that met the criteria.  The Atlas Lock takes elements from the Tri-Ad Lock and improves upon them to make a lock that performs better at the same spine whack, overstrike, and weight hanging tests that Cold Steel has showcased for decades. Most people know the Tri-Ad Lock for having the stop pin, but technically the lock is an intricate interlocking mechanism that holds together with strength and precision.  We took the stop pin concept and simplified it with a sliding lock bar.  We also added a 2nd pin which is what gives the Atlas Lock its increased strength.  Simply sated, the lock force is distributed over two pins which divides the force and theoretically doubles the load the lock can hold.  

What are the major advantages of the Atlas Lock compared to the other locks on the market?

The strength of the Atlas Lock is the core advantage.  Besides strength, the Atlas Lock is simple to operate, it is naturally ambidextrous, and has a high fidget factor.  Unlike a traditional back lock, the Atlas Lock can be opened and closed with one hand.  The Atlas Lock does not take a lot of finger force to open and close, yet it is securely held when in the fully open and closed position.  There are multiple opening options such as: thumb stud, thumb plate, or slide bar, making this a versatile lock.

What were some of the difficulties in designing this lock?

The most difficult part of creating the Atlas Lock was refining it from a concept to a user-friendly production product.  It took some time to get the spring forces, angles, and interlocking parts just right.  To speed up the process we used our in-house machine shop to create prototypes with refinements until we got the design in the sweet spot.  Today the production parts have the same perfect feeling as our original prototypes.

How many 2022 models will be equipped with the Atlas Lock?

Our initial plan in 2022 for the Atlas Lock was to create a complete series of knives that used this lock.  The ENGAGE Series (formerly the Drifter) will be launched in 2022 in 3.5”, 3.0” and 2.5” sizes.  We started with the 3.5” blade design first.  This is a classic size for Cold Steel folders, and we wanted to make this model the premier knife of the series. The 3.5” Engage has S35VN steel with G10 handles, and in the future we plan to have additional models with other premium handles, colors, and blade steels available.  The initial release of the 2.5” and 3.0” Engage will come with various color options and blade designs.  

What about the Tri-Ad Lock? Is that something we will still see on future CS releases?

Absolutely!  The Tri-Ad Lock is a tried-and-true, battle-tested lock that will always be in the heart of Cold Steel.  Our new 2022 Verdict series (inspired by the CODE4) uses the Tri-Ad Lock, and we have plans for 2023 and 2024 knives that will also use the Tri-Ad lock.  We are also working with Andrew Demko on a collaboration for 2023 which will of course use the Tri-Ad Lock.  I am very excited about what we have in store for Cold Steel for the coming years.  There are some really great items we are working on with a few surprises in store.

Other than the lock, what are some of Cold Steel’s priorities for 2022 in terms of new products? What do you want to emphasize?

Our goal for Cold Steel is to keep the same quality and durability that Cold Steel has been known for and we want to carry this into our new product developments.  We want to create new Cold Steel offerings that reach a wide audience and introduce new users to the Cold Steel brand so they can experience all the brand has to offer.

Two of the items that I am proud of for 2022 are the new Lynn Thompson Signature Spartan and Leatherneck Bowie.  Working with Lynn on these projects over the past year has been a privilege.  Every detail of these knives has been scrutinized and approved by Lynn.  Unique to the LT Spartan is a full flat grind which renders a refined elegance, but the S35VN serrated edge is meant for business.  The smooth custom G10 handle mirrors the flat grind blade making this knife a show piece.  The LT Leatherneck Bowie is an all new blade design measuring 10.5” long making it the largest blade in the Leatherneck series.  Even with the long blade it is well balanced, slightly weight forward, and the German D2 steel can take a massive amount of abuse.

Knife in Featured Image: Cold Steel Engage