Monday, March 31, 2014

Cold Steel Mini AK-47 Review by Ben Schwartz

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is Ben's second review. The statements are his, such as the first one, which is a whopper.  All of the pictures that are taken with a wooden background are taken by Rhys Arithson and are used with permission.

Cold Steel makes some of the best production knives available today. They offer their customers knives that are well made, affordable, and extremely durable. It’s clear that whatever their reputation has been in the past, they are now recognized as serious, legitimate knifemakers.

And yet, at the same time, Cold Steel maintains a strong streak of ridiculousness. Pretty much everybody’s seen their Absolute Proof series of videos, in which their knives are put through odysseys of torture tests by burly men in polo shirts. Car hoods are punctured, cowboy boots are stabbed through, giant braids of rope and hanks of meat and whole pigs are hung up and cut through. In one video a horse’s skull is crushed with a great sword.

There’s nothing wrong with being proud of the products you put out, and really nothing wrong with making ridiculous videos to demonstrate the unprecedented badassery of your knives. But I bring it up because it illustrates the strange dichotomy that you find in Cold Steel: on the one hand, you have this company that’s really coming into its own: bringing in new designers, shaking up their status quo, making decisions that indicate a concern for and an understanding of the needs of a serious user of knives; on the other, you have this po-faced 80s-action-hero blowhardiness that is at least as endearing as it is absolutely ludicrous. Look at the boxes their knives come in: the font they use for their logo looks like it may’ve been optioned for some unreleased Jean-Claude Van Damme movie (Bloodsport V, anybody?), and underneath that is the ambiguous virility of the phrase “High Performance Knives.”

Carrying and using it, I am struck by how this philosophical schizophrenia manifests itself in the Mini AK-47. What we have here is an EDC knife that has been designed by a company who can’t help thinking that all knives are primarily weapons. I’ll show what I mean by that as I go through each category below, but I think it will also be clear that, despite this issue of a schism’d philosophy, the Mini AK is still, on a fundamental level, a really good knife.

Here's the product page. Here's Nutnfancy’s reviews of both the Mini and the full size AK-47. 
Here is a link to Blade HQ, where you can find the Cold Steel Mini Ak-47, and all proceeds benefit the site when you purchase things through this link:

Blade HQ

And here’s the knife itself:


Review Summary: Three-quarters tool, one-quarter tacticool, a mongrel of a knife that works despite its strange pedigree.

Design: 1

This is a point I vacillated on the entire time I carried the Mini AK. There’s nothing about the design that doesn’t work, in a fundamental sense. This knife gets things done. The drop-point blade is useful. The handle works. The clip works. The wave deployment works, for the most part. And that lock—well, what’s there even to say about it?

But here’s the thing: some of the decisions that Andrew Demko made when he designed the Mini AK, while not inherently bad, still aren’t right, given the size and the primary purpose of this knife. And maybe that’s something I should clarify as well: I never carry a knife for self-defense, and while I recognize how there are many people who do, there’s no doubt in my mind that the Mini AK, or any other knife of its size, is primarily a tool, an EDC knife, an object of utility—a boxcutter, letter opener, food slicer. No matter what the literature from Cold Steel tells you, nothing with a blade under three inches should ever be classed primarily as a tactical knife. It’s just as silly to classify a four-inch monstrosity as an EDC, using it to slice salami instead of tromping out into the woods with it and limbing some trees.

Look at the handle.


Cold Steel makes knives that tell you how to grip them, which, while not ideal, is usually okay, because the way they tell you to grip them is usually pretty good. Such is the case here. When I first got the knife, I held it wrong, gripping it too far forward. Once I situated my hand lower down, with my index finger in the recess before the hump and my other three fingers beneath it, the difference was immediately noticeable: this was how this knife was meant to be held, and it feels good. However, this puts your hand way back on the knife, way back, like Espada-pistol-grip back, and you sacrifice a lot of control of, or feel for, the blade. In a self-defense situation, you want that reach, and don’t need that fine level of control that EDC tasks usually call for, but again, with a 2.75” blade, this probably won’t be anyone's first choice for a tactical knife, and so those of us who buy it for utility suffer needlessly—especially when you consider that there’s a larger version of this knife  for people who want something with a bit more "tacticality."

It might seem finnicky, but using this knife as much as I did, I can say with certainty that it makes a huge difference in the way the Mini AK deals with EDC tasks compared to something like, say, the Spyderco Air.  The design is solid, for the most part, and the control thing isn’t a fatal flaw, but when something compromises knife’s performance, every time you use it in its intended role, that’s a problem.

The blade:handle is .64, another indicator that this was designed like it was supposed to be a tactical knife. The blade:weight is much better at .86.

Fit and Finish: 2

Every product I’ve had from Cold Steel has had comparable levels of rock-solid fit and finish. Here on the Mini AK, the blade is centered, the edge was sharp, everything is tight and trim. While Cold Steel’s knives aren’t as breathtakingly luxe-feeling as the craftmanship on Spyderco’s Taichung knives, they are without a doubt comparable in the all the ways that really count, and so we can just nod our heads and move on.

I’m not going to say much about the useless Tuff-Ex coating on the blade, which everybody already knows about. It doesn’t affect performance and its so obviously paint that you could probably scrub it off with some soap and water if you really didn’t want to deal with it.

Grip: 2

While I don’t agree with the philosophy behind the handle design of the Mini AK, there’s no denying that it provides a secure grip.


In addition to working well, it also feels great, which is something that Cold Steel sometimes has trouble with; the new Medium Voyager, for example, offers a secure grip, but one that is also cramped-feeling and uncomfortable. 

Cold Steel’s G-10, which is famously aggressive, didn’t seem to be too toothy here, although it’s certainly rougher than that of, say, the Paramilitary 2. It’s also rounded over on the areas to either side of the blade channel, which adds to the comfort level while holding it, making it secure without biting into your fingers.

Carry: 2

The Mini AK is a much slimmer knife than the Medium Voyager, and carries much better than that knife.


It’s just on the edge of being a little wide, but as it is, it’s a totally manageable and basically hassle-free passenger in your pocket.

Steel: 2

I confess to having been a little biased against AUS-8A. It’s never stood out in any way to me, being generally more costly than 8Cr13MoV (with the exception of the Mini Dozier, I guess), and in the past I’ve had rust issues with it on my Medium Voyager. And when I first got the Mini AK, it continued to come across as lackluster, becoming noticeably duller after only a few days of what I would consider medium duty: cutting some cardboard, some paper and tape, some cord, and doing a little bit of whittling. It was still useable, but a little less refined than it had been out of the box. But then things got interesting, because it maintained this level of functional sharpness for the remainder of the time I carried it. I continued to do these everyday things with it, and additionally, while I didn’t slice open a horse skull with it, I did use it to cut through a book (long story, don’t ask), and it chewed, albeit slowly, through the paper, glue, and nylon cover with no noticeable dulling. I finally got outside with it and hacked away at some branches just for fun, and it worked, again slowly but without any appreciable dulling of the edge.

I’m still not in love with AUS-8A, and while I still think at this price point we deserve something a little bit better (say 154CM, probably the most underrated steel on the market in my opinion), the truth is that the steel is more than adequate, and while I can’t wholeheartedly embrace it, in this iteration, on this knife, there’s no way I can give it anything less than a two.

Blade Shape: 2

A drop-point [EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a clip point blade], and all the good that comes with that: good tip, good belly.


Cold Steel does get a little bit exotic sometimes with their blade shapes (hi, Vaquero Voyager), but in this case they kept it simple, and it works.

Grind: 2

With a drop-point blade of this size or larger, I think that a hollow grind is really the way to go. At 2.75” and up you really notice the increased slicing performance, and this knife would really fly through material if the thumb disk/wave opener didn’t occasionally get caught up in material. But that of course has nothing to do with the grind, and so I’m giving it a two.

Deployment Method: 1

Another contested point here. I didn’t think I’d like the wave opening feature as much as I did. It really is convenient to pull the knife out of your pocket and have it ready to go. Today was the first day since I got the Mini AK that I carried something else, and the first time I pulled it out of my pocket and still had to open it, I missed the wave. I don’t think it’s necessary, and I do think it’s a little off-putting to people around you, but it is pretty cool and really useful.


The problem is that it doesn’t work all the time. I don’t know if it’s the size of the knife, or the distance between the disk and blade or what, but I do know that about 30% of the time, when I would pull the knife out of my pocket, it would either not deploy at all or be half-deployed, which is kind of dangerous. That alone’s probably enough to dock a point, but additionally the thumb disk, if you use that to deploy the Mini AK, is pretty terrible, being neither very comfortable or fast. In the role of an EDC knife, the wave probably isn’t necessary, and if we got rid of that we could probably get rid of the thumb disk too, and have one of the big bolt thumbstuds Cold Steel uses on some of their other knives instead.

Retention Method: 2

I think Cold Steel’s due for a redesign of their clip—or rather, I think they should use the clip from the Mini Tuff Lite on every knife in their lineup; but in the meantime, this version of their “classic” curved Cold Steel clip is perfectly fine. It’s a little bit shorter and stouter than the clip on the Medium Voyager, which is one of my least favorite clips ever. And while many people complain about the clip, in combination with the G-10, shredding up their pants, I didn’t have that problem.

Yeah, the clip’s not a total winner, and I think it’s silly to have to include a totally separate clip for left-hand carry, but these are issues that don’t affect performance in any meaningful way, so I think that a two is what it has to be.

Lock: 2

The Tri-Ad lock is a lock of obscene strength. When I think about this lock I almost get why Cold Steel has their employees stab through car doors with their knives, or do brutal spine-whack tests, or attach dumbbells to the handles and let them hang there for days and days: because it’s thrilling to see something do what it’s supposed to do so phenomenally well.

I didn’t abuse the Mini AK, but I was definitely rude to it, and even after all my testing the Tri-Ad lock was no less rock-solid than when I took it out of the box. I don’t need to go on and on here about this thing. If you haven’t tried a knife with the Tri-Ad lock yet, do. It’s not just ridiculous hype. It really is a phenomenal piece of design.

Overall Score: 18 out of 20

There’s no question that there’re a few things about this knife that don’t line up with its intended purpose. The handle comes closest to being a deal breaker. Ergonomics isn’t simply whether or not something is comfortable in the hand, but also if something makes sense in the hand in relation to what we’re using it to do, and while I’m not saying that the Mini AK needs a giant half-and-half finger choil, I do think that the handle impedes it from EDC greatness. But it’s equally true that it doesn’t stop the Mini AK from being a total workhorse. The Mini AK may be an EDC knife that was designed like it was meant to be a weapon, but the good news is that there is so much utility here that despite some considerable drawbacks, when you pick up the Mini AK, you know first and foremost that what you have in your hand is a phenomenally capable tool. And after you use it, no matter how many times you see Lynn Thompson swing a great sword through two suckling pigs at once, every time you look at the box it came in and read the seemingly-hyperbolic “High Performance Knives,” you’ll know that beyond all the bluster, it’s basically true.


I'd score the Mini AK47 slightly differently.  I agree with the overall design being a confused one and I think the score is right.  I would, however, take off a point for grip and a point for steel.  The AUS-8 is good here, but not as good as it was on the Al Mar Hawk.  In that application it was damn near perfect.  Here, I'd rather have something else.  Additionally, as Ben mentioned, the grip is just weird.  I found that it was somewhat artificial feeling, as if it was supposed ot be a good grip as opposed to actually being a good grip.  The little plateau in the middle of the handle was just awkward in so many cutting positions.  I'd give this knife a 16 out of 20. 

The Competition

Comparing this knife to the SOG Mini Aegis makes it clear just how good a knife the Mini Aegis is.  It is both bigger and lighter.  The blade on the Mini Aegis is much thinner, but it is plenty thick for EDC tasks.  I also like the much more neutral grip of the Mini Aegis.  Only two points separate the Mini Aegis on the scoring scale, but those two points are the difference between good and great.  


  1. I used my Mini Recon 1 for some serious cardboard cutting this weekend, breaking down a garage full of boxes.

    I learned that Cold Steel's AUS-8 definitely has its limits. It performed well for a while, but conked out a good deal faster than Sandvik 14C28N in a Kershaw Knockout.

    14C28N is the king of the medium-carbon stainlesses for pocket knives.

    One thing about Cold Steel's G-10 handled knives is you can always take some sandpaper to them and ease the various superfluous, pointy choils and protrusions to a fair degree. My Mini Recon 1 is nice in the hand after a bit of sanding. I bet you could do that to the Mini AK too.

    1. I totally agree with you re: 14C28N. I am always impressed with this steel.

    2. I intended to do half the boxes with the Knockout and half with the Mini Recon 1, but it ended up being more like 60/40 because the Recon really struggled toward the end, and not even stropping would revive the edge.

      The Kershaw, too, needed a sharpening by the time the work was done, but it performed noticeably better.

  2. I enjoyed the review and the editors take at the bottom (good way of doing it!). I get that the knife has its own role and purpose, but for a workhorse in the same vein as it, I think the Spyderco Tenacious would be a much better offering in terms of fit/finish and overall apperance.

  3. I only own one Cold Steel knife (Tuff Lite) but the AUS-8 on it is awesome. Probably the sharpest out-of-the-box knife I've ever had (of about 40, ranging from Sanrenmus to ZTs) and easy to get back to scary sharpness with just a charged strop. I've never taken a stone to it. Between that knife, my mini Dozier, and my Twitch II, I've had real good experience with AUS-8, and it is a 2 point steel to me.

    1. Forgot the RAT II, also great AUS-8

  4. OJ came to mind for some reason...

  5. I would disagree that 154CM is under rated.I have been underwhelmed by the performance of my 154CM Benchmade (425BK Gravitator). Yes, it takes a good edge at 20 degrees on both sides, but it sure dents easily. Perhaps this is the heat treat on this particular one, my Nimravus at the same angle seems to hold up better.

    I also have a Camillus with AUS-8 that is quite good for the $30 I spent on it. Sharpens easily, doesn't need resharpened often. It seems a bit on the brittle side, more chipping than denting or rolling.

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