I’m not a fan of stainless steel knives, having grown up with some of the most unruly stainless knife steels on the planet. And I thought I was buying high quality stuff. Sharpening was one problem. I always got that edge feature that would “roll over” from side to side as I tried to hone or steel it down.
Some of the knives were cheap products and I deserved those metallurgical temper tantrums (temper pun intended). But even some American and German made knives proved a problem. Which reminds me of another issue: The stainless steel knives also didn’t hold an edge very long, thus leading me back to the sharpening bench. Those two factors, difficulty in sharpening and not holding an edge, were the cycle of life for a while.
So I learned to value quality carbon steel blades. The good stuff. Most of it was 1095 as I look back on it with a keener understanding of cutlery recipes. I still prefer carbon steel but a few modern-made stainless steel knives have earned my respect. Not the least of these is AUS8A, especially that used by Cold Steel.
A good example of a knife using this steel, if not a down right great example, is Cold Steel’s Mackinac Hunter (actually, in my experience any of Cold Steel’s AUS8A knives are equally good examples). But alas, it and its companion, the Lone Star Hunter, have gone the way of other overlooked and underappreciated designs. This seems to be a problem across manufacturers’ lines – will someone please tell knife makers to stop messing with a good thing!
My Mackinac Hunter has been with me on numerous outdoor adventures. In one deer season not many years ago, it field dressed three deer and was used for countless other chores. While I prefer to field dress game with a fixed blade knife (only because of cleaning blood and fat out of a folder’s mechanism), the Mackinac Hunter sliced and diced with ease and still remained razor sharp. And I’m not kidding when I say razor sharp. After a thorough cleaning that season, it showed no signs of wear or corrosion, even after a few stubborn blood spots were scrubbed off.
To be sure, it is a rather large folder, and therefore heavy, weighing in at 6.6 oz., about a third the weight of my Charter Arms Bulldog .44 special revolver. Overall length is about 8.25″. The blade length is about 3.5″
The Tri-Ad Lock mechanism is fairly stiff to operate when closing, but is easy to deploy using the ambidextrous thumb studs. Created by Andrew Demko, Cold Steel claims that their lock backs so equipped are “the “safest, strongest folders on the planet.” After a fair amount of use, I found myself confident in that claim.
The handles are made of synthetic Delrin in a faux stag design. It provides for a decent grip when used wet or dry. A pocket clip came installed (and an extra provided free, thank you very much). The knife is noticeable when carried, even with heavy denim jeans, but not cumbersome. I usually carry big knives, including big folders, separately in a pack so this was no big deal for me. It did not come with a leather sheath, which would probably make it more convenient to carry on one’s self.
The knife is made in Taiwan using Japanese AUS8A stainless steel. Other than a few more Cold Steel products made in Taiwan, I don’t think I own any others from that country. It is quality-built throughout and represents a top of the line weapon that one of our ally nations is capable of producing.
Because it is now discontinued, I don’t carry it regularly but there is no reason not to. Because I know it will hold an edge, is safe to deploy, and will shrug off light abuse in the field, I return to it now and then. It’s a beautiful, robust knife that will not fail to get me back home.
The only other lock back this size that I would consider carrying afield is my Buck 110 with its S30V stainless steel blade (a superior knife steel, by the way), or perhaps a Schrade LB-7 with a carbon steel blade. I’ve used all three and can say with confidence that they exemplify some of the best lock backs made… if you can find them. You’ll do well if you inherit one of these.
UPDATE: I found a new Mackinac Hunter in an online store and bought it. It will be relegated to “collector” status as I gladly bring my first Mackinac out of semi-retirement for regular use. But wait! There’s more! I’ve since found a couple of more including a new one at an Army surplus store. And I’ve found the brother to the Mack, the Lone Star Hunter. All are in the collection box now, except for the one tested here.
What is AUS8A stainless steel?
ColdSteel.com says this about their AUS8A stainless steel:
We have been using the same expertly heat treated Japanese AUS 8A steel for nearly 3 decades (ed. note: Cold Steel states that AUS8A is vacuum heat treated and sub-zero quenched for added strength and performance). This steel has tested amazingly well over the years and has proven to be an excellent steel for working knives – tough, corrosion resistant, with good edge holding and easy to re-sharpen.
An older Cold Steel catalogue description of AUS8A states:
The words “stainless steel” are misleading, because, in fact, all steel will stain or show discoloration if left in adverse conditions for a sufficient time. Steel is made “stainless” by adding chromium and reducing its carbon content during the smelting process. There is a serious performance trade-off with stainless steel. As the chromium increases and the carbon decreases, the steel becomes more “stainless.” But, it also becomes more and more difficult to sharpen, and the edge-holding potential is seriously impaired. This is usually why most stainless knives are rarely razor-sharp and quickly lose what little edge they have. In contrast, at Cold Steel we use AUS8A Stainless, a high carbon, low chromium steel that has proven itself to be the ultimate compromise between toughness and strength, edge holding, and resistance to corrosion.
KnifeUp.com says this about AUS8A:
AUS8A is almost the same thing as AUS8. It is often called 8a steel as well. What differs AUS8A from AUS8 is that it has been heat-treated. They are the same steel with the same makeup of metals, however. Both AUS8 and AUS8A are very similar to the 440 line of steels. The 440 line is made by an American company whereas the AUS line is made by a Japanese company. AUS8A steel is very easy to sharpen to a razor edge but it will dull fast (ed. note: I have not found this to be true of Cold Steel AUS8A products). Some reviewers say that it’ll dull by just being out in oxygen. Others say that they have used it daily at work and only sharpen it once a week. The quality of the blade does depend a lot on use and tempering techniques from the manufacturer. AUS8A will withstand rust very well.
BladeOps.com says this about AUS8 (similar to AUS8A):
The Japanese-made AUS 8 steel is often considered an upper-range steel, comparable if not better than steels such as 440C, CM-154, and D2 steels. Given a proper heat treatment and hardened to the right level, which is usually around 58 to 59 HRC, it will perform satisfyingly and meet the standards of a true quality stainless steel. A well-rounded composition allows for this steel grade to reach high levels of hardness, toughness, wear (the sideways shifting of the metal from its original position) and corrosion (the gradual destruction of metals) resistance, as well as edge retention (the ability to retain its sharp edge).
TheBalance.com says this about the AUS series of stainless steel, including the A lines:
AUS-6 / AUS-8 / AUS-10 (also 6A / 8A / 10A): These grades of Japanese stainless are comparable to 440A (AUS-6), 440B (AUS-8) and 44C (AUS-10). AUS-6 is softer but tougher than ATS-34. It holds a good edge and is fairly easy to resharpen. AUS-8 is tougher but is still easy to sharpen and holds a good edge. AUS-10 has a similar carbon content to 440C, but less chromium, which results in less stain resistance. Unlike the 440 grades, however, all three AUS grades have vanadium alloyed to increase wear resistance and edge retention.