If you haven’t looked lately, there’s a lot to see at Schrade. Far from just slipjoints and camp knives, Schrade’s now extensive line includes modern everyday-carry and tactical folders. I recently had the chance to check out three of the company’s latest models: the A3BS, an assisted-opening, 2.9-inch-bladed, black tanto; the A4BS, an assisted-opening, 3.3-inch-bladed, black clip point; and the 104LS, a 3.7-inch-bladed, tactical, manually opened framelock. (Okay, so Schrade isn’t big on fancy names for its folders.)
Both assisted openers use blades of 4034 stainless steel—a 2.9-inch tanto style for the A3BS and a 3.3-inch clip point on the A4BS. The “BS” stands for “black finish and serrated edge.” These knives are also available in plain-edge versions, and there’s a satin-finished model available in the A3 line. The knives fire via a flipper trigger on the rear, and they snap open forcefully and lock into place with steel liner locks. The handles on both are aluminum with a hard rubber inlay for grip. A variety of handle colors are available for both knives, which carry a nonreversible pocket clip—a tip-up for the A3BS and tip-down for the A4BS. The A3 weighs in at 4.9 ounces, and the A4, slightly more at 5.1 ounces. Both knives also feature a safety switch, mounted at about mid-handle that keeps the knife from being opened when closed. It also prevents the knife from closing when opened, although it appears to work independently of the liner lock. Suggested retail for each knife is $64.95.
The 104LS tactical framelock is an entirely different style of knife. It uses a 3.7-inch, partially serrated clip-point blade of 9Cr18MoV high-carbon stainless steel coated in a titanium finish. A plain-edge version is also available. The handle of the 104LS is also titanium-coated stainless steel with G10 handle scales situated opposite the lock. The overall length is just over 8.5 inches when opened and a hair under 5 inches when closed. Weight is 6.5 ounces. The 104LS is a manual opener that uses dual ambidextrous thumb studs. Once opened, a sturdy framelock complete with lock-bar stabilizer keeps the blade in place. Absolutely no play is evident with the 104LS when it’s opened and ready for use. The G10 scale has a diamond-plate pattern that provides good traction. A stainless steel pocket clip is mounted and set up for right-hand, tip-up carry. Suggested retail is $49.95.
Putting Them To Work
For my field test I chose the A4BS assisted opener and the 104LS framelock. Between the two assisted openers, the A4 knife fit a bit better in my hand as it has a longer handle than the A3BS’. Although both are listed as 4.4 inches closed, the handle configuration on the A4BS lets me get a fuller grip on the knife. (Folks with smaller hands might gravitate toward the A3BS.) The finger grooves on the A4BS were comfortable and well spaced for my hand. Between that and the rubber insets on the aluminum handles, I felt I had a good, controllable grip.
I liked the curved spine of the blade as my thumb settled into it perfectly when I was choking up on it to apply more pressure on the blade during power cuts. The clip-point blade has a half-height grind, and the portion of the blade flats above the grind has an interesting cross-checked pattern. I’m not sure that it really has any specific function, honestly, but it’s a neat detail. The flipper opening system on this (and the A3BS) is excellent. The A4BS opens with a tap of the index finger and forcefully snaps open the blade—it’s fast and very positive. Interestingly, the flipper is not part of the blade, as is common with many flipper knives. It’s a separate piece that kicks the blade open and then folds away into the knife’s spine as the blade opens. When you close the blade, the blade pushes the flipper back into position for the next opening. The liner lock on the A4BS isn’t especially thick, but it’s perfectly centered and seems to work quite well. When the blade is opened there is no play evident, and the knife seems as solidly locked-up as the 104LS framelock.
The A4BS makes for a good everyday-carry knife. It’s fairly lightweight and carries easily, and the blade is positioned tip-down, which is my personal preference especially on a flipper opener. The blade has a good factory edge and is fairly thin at around 3mm. That’s plenty strong for everyday carry and actually makes the blade a great slicer. It worked well on cutting cardboard, tape and all the typical things that I need to cut on a day-to-day basis. I used the A4BS on some hemp rope too and found that the slightly toothy plain edge did a very good job of dicing the rope ends. The serrated portion of the blade worked well for pull cuts through rope, plastic zip ties and webbing material.
I alternated carry of the A4BS with the 104LS, splitting my time almost equally between them. The 104LS is a little heavier but carries a little flatter in the pocket. The blade is oriented tip-up on my test model, but I didn’t have any issues with it opening up in my pocket or during the draw. The blade stays closed until you decide to open it, and you can’t shake it loose or snap it open without first partially opening the blade using the ambidextrous thumb studs. The 104LS is a bigger knife than either of the assisted openers, and I found the handle very comfortable. The finger groove, coupled with the textured G10 scales, provided a solid grip, and I found the 104LS to be the most comfortable of the three knives tested.
The 104LS’ blade has a non-serrated thumb ramp on the spine, and my thumb fell naturally into it when I held the knife in a saber grip. The knife uses an open-frame design that will keep crud from building up inside it and make cleaning any dirt or debris easier. The 104LS has a 1.25-inch section of serrated blade with a rather fine tooth serration. When I used it on nylon climbing rope and cotton canvas webbing, I was, frankly, unimpressed. I felt the more aggressive serrations on the A3BS and A4BS did a much better job. Oddly though, these same serrations seemed to work well on the hemp rope. All in all, I think I’d probably prefer the plain-edge version of the knife, the 104L.
Game For A Fight
Since the 104LS was the largest of the three knives and arguably had a stronger framelock, I decided to use it for the defensive portion of my testing. I don’t claim any sort of knife-fighting expertise, so I keep things pretty basic with some forward slashes, thrusts and reverse-grip stabs. With that said, the 104LS has a good feel in the hand, and I felt I could keep a good grip on the knife even when doing full-power slashes and stabs into my stacked cardboard test target. In a reverse grip, my pinky locks into the finger grove in the handle, and my thumb folds comfortably on top of the pommel making sure that my hand stays on the handle and doesn’t slide up onto the blade during icepick stabs.
The relatively straight handle worked decently well for edge-in pull cuts as well. I actually walked away very impressed with the 104LS and have to say that it performed as well as many knives I’ve used that have cost three or four times as much. It’s solidly built, has a positive lockup and was comfortable to use. The basic 9Cr18MoV steel will probably end up needing sharpening more than some of the higher-end super steels, but considering the overall features and handling of this knife, and the very reasonable price, I’m okay with that.
If you’re in the market for a tactical knife that isn’t going to break the bank, then Schrade certainly has a wide variety of offerings at a price for any budget. Whether it’s a fast assisted opener or a sturdy framelock, the Schrades tested here will fit the bill.