The Balisong Collector Reviews

The Cold Steel Arc Angel

Lynn Thompson's Cold Steel Corporation (website requires Flash plug-in) of Ventura, California is a well-known and respected supplier of middle- to better-quality knives. They're probably best known for their fixed-blade "Trailmaster" line.

Like many knife companies today, Cold Steel doesn't actually make their own knives. Years ago, in fact, their product line included some butterfly knives made by a little California company named Bali-Song Cutlery.

Today, Cold Steel contracts the actual construction and assembly of their knives to other companies. Many of Cold-Steel's products are are made specifically to Cold Steel's specifications by overseas, mostly Asian, suppliers and imported.

That creates a problem for balisong knives. US Customs regulations do not allow the importation of balisong or "butterfly-style" knives. So, to add a butterfly knife to its product line, Cold Steel had to find a domestic supplier. To further complicate things, butterfly knives with blades longer than two inches are now illegal in California where Cold Steel is headquartered. So, all of Cold Steel's balisong business has to be handled by this Florida-based supplier directly.

 If balisongs are illegal to import, you might very well as, "Where do all the 'Charming China Cheapies' that flood flea markets and online auction sites come from then?"

The answer is: China!

You see, the US Customs Service is not very aggressive in its enforcement of the balisong ban. Quite frankly, they've got more important issues to focus on. Dealers I've spoken to tell me that Customs confiscates about 20-25% of the cheapie balisongs they try to import.

Those Charming China Cheapies, typically sell retail for around $15. But, the wholesale cost the dealer is actually less than $2 each. So, even if they do loose 25% of their inventory to Customs, they're still making a very healthy profit. These dealers consider confiscation by Customs be just a "cost of doing business." They build it into the retail price of the product.

Cold Steel imports most of their products. So, they certainly don't want to "rock the boat" with the Customs Service. Furthermore, it's one thing to loose 25% of a shipment of knives worth less than $2 each. It's quite another thing to loose 25% of a shipment of knives worth $150 each. It's hard to build that into the retail price of your product and still be competitive.

But, Cold Steel has overcome those hurdles and recently introduced a very nice new balisong product to the market, their Arc Angel.

(Unless noted, you may click on any of the pictures in this article to see a larger, higher- resolution version. Larger files average about 450K and each opens in a new window.)

Arc Angel is supposed to come in two blade styles. The style shown in this review is their "Clip Point," Cold Steel part number #96BSC. I have twice tried to order the so-called "Spear Point," part number #96BSS. In both cases, I've received more clip points instead. One of my clip points at least came in a box marked "Spear Point." And I haven't seen the Spear Point at several recent shows either. Here's a picture shamelessly stolen off of Cold Steel's website that shows both.

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As you can see, the spear point is not dramatic. It's not really much of a spear point at all. The picture looks almost like a Weehawk.

At first glance, you might say, "Gee, that Arc Angel looks familiar."

Yes, it certainly does resemble this balisong:

(for more information, click HERE)

That's the first prototype of Darrel Ralph's Gemini Project.

Did Cold Steel cold steal Darrel's design?

No. Darrel Ralph designed Arc Angel for Cold Steel based on his Gemini design. As many top knife makers do, Mr. Ralph frequently works with production companies to adapt his wonderful custom knife designs into production products. This gives the knife-buying public a chance to own a wonderful Darrel Ralph design for a fraction of the cost of a fully-custom Darrel Ralph knife.

Personally, as one who helped get Gemini started, I'm delighted to see that Gemini, which began as a project to make just twenty-five custom balisong knives, has now grown into a production product with a major, name-brand knife company.

I have personally seen several Geminis and I can tell you that the quality of Darrel Ralph's hand-made Gemini's is absolutely top-notch. So, how much of that has translated to Cold Steel's Arc Angel factory product?

A lot, actually.

Oh, and yes, that is a pocket-clip there. That's a new addition that Gemini doesn't have.

The clip is made of spring steel and it's plenty rugged. I doubt that there's gonna be any problem with this clip getting bent. The clip will securely hold Arc Angel inside your pocket for easy carry and quick access. The clip is held to the knife very securely by three screws. But, there is a problem: as it comes from the factory, the clip is on the "safe" handle, the handle we usually hold onto when manipulating the knife. The clip gets in the way of a lot of manipulation techniques. Fortunately, the clip can be easily removed. Unfortunately, the handle surface under the clip is not finished. So, removing the clip leaves a pretty ugly scar on your pretty knife.

By the way, I have not noticed any signs of any thread locking adhesive on the clip screws on any of my Arc Angels. If you're going to leave the clip in your Arc Angel, I'd strongly recommend a dab of thread locking adhesive on each screw.

Arc Angel's handles are machined from solid Titanium bars. Machining, as opposed to casting, allows for the more intricate skeleton pattern. Unfortunately, machining can also make sharp edges on the handles. The outside edges are a bit sharp, but the edges around those skeleton slots are prefect right-angles. As you manipulate the knife, those sharp edges are way to "grippy."

At the recent Bladeshow, Darrel Ralph assured me that he's aware of that problem and that Cold Steel will soon correct it by round over those edges just a bit. This will make the skeleton holes visually just a little less dramatic, but should make the knife easier to manipulate.

If it's done well, which Arc Angel is, CNC machining makes for just a prefect fitting product. One word to describe Arc Angel is definitely "precision." Everything fits and works perfectly.

Arc Angel uses a single tang pin to tension the handles when the knife is open and a subtile kick on the blade to keep the edge from hitting the inside of the handles when it's closed.

Both are very well executed. The tang pin is .15" in diameter. Benchmade's are .12" and Microtech uses .128". A bigger tang pin spreads the force out over a bigger surface area reducing stress at any one point. Beefier tang pins are also more durable. (Monarch is the reigning king of tang pins at .18".)

Opening Arc Angel's latch is easy. It's only slightly tight. Finger pressure will open it without compressing the handles. But, it's not so loose that it falls open or is likely to come open accidentally in routine handling. To latch it closed or open, you do have to slightly compress the handles.

The tang pin fits the pockets perfectly. The latch fits and functions perfectly. The kick is just enough to keep the edge from hitting inside the handle channel. The blade fits inside the handles. In short, the geometry of this balisong is just about perfect. And what else would you expect from a Darrel Ralph design?

Notice the slightly pointed punyo. It's not sharp, but that somewhat rounded point would make a good impact weapon.

The Titanium handles sport a satin finish very similar to Benchmade's. Once Cold Steel get's the skeleton holes relieved just a bit, the feeling will be very similar to a Benchmade 42 or 43.

Arc Angel measures 5.8" long closed. A Benchmade 42/3/6/7 measures 5.47". .33" doesn't seem like much, but it is 1/3 of an inch. The handles on a Benchmade 42/3/5/7 are 5.2" long. Arc Angel's handles are 5.42" long. That's about a 1/4 of an inch more handle. If you have slightly larger hands, that 1/4" could be just what you're looking for. Until Arc Angel, the next step up from a Benchmade 42/3/6/7 was to one of Swat's massive balisongs. For many people who find BM's 4x Bali-Songs just a bit to short but Swat's balisongs just a bit to long, Arc Angel may be "just right."

Arc Angel tips my scale at 4 1/4 oz. A Benchmade's 42 and 43, all also weigh in at 4 1/4 oz.

The Blade on a BM43 measures approximately 4.27" long (this is measure from the top of the handles straight to the tip of the blade.) Arc Angel is just a little bit longer at 4.5" The sharpened length of a BM43 (from the very base of the edge straight to the tip) is about 3.7". Arc Angel is just over 4" on the same measurement. So, Arc Angel give you just a bit more blade length. Just like Benchmade's 4x Bali-Songs, Arc Angel's blade is 1/8" thick.

Arc Angel's blade lacks a choil for sharpening. I personally like to have a choil at the base of the blade to make sharpening easier.

All three of my Arc Angels came out of their boxes only minimally sharp. But, it took a few strokes on my Gatco Edgemate to get a "shaving sharp" edge on all three of them.

Arc Angel's blade is made of Cold Steel's exclusive "Carbon V" steel.

I'm not a Alloy Expert myself. The general buzz I hear is that Carbon V is pretty good stuff. It will take a very sharp edge and had good edge retention too.

It is a carbon steel, not a "stainless steel." Cold Steel makes no bones about that. Carbon steel alloys are known for two things: 1) easily taking and retaining excellent edges, and 2) rusting.

Cold Steel comes right out on a bright red package insert and says, "WARNING! WARNING! This knife is made of high carbon steel. It is tremendously strong, but IT CAN RUST. Your warranty does not cover rust or staining of the blade."

As ominous as that sounds, you don't have to worry to much about rust. If you keep the blade clean and dry, the risk of even minor rust is very low. You can also use a product like Sentry Solutions Tuff Cloth to help prevent rust.

Unfortunately, it is on the blade that I found what I think is a pretty major defect. The blades on all three of my Arc Angels are peppered with tiny pits and voids. I've circled a few of them in red in the picture below. This is not dirt on the blade nor is it just some surface marks or abrasions. These are pits and voids, albeit small ones, in the metal surface.

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You can see more on the side of this blade:

I don't really think that these tiny surface imperfections really compromise the strength of the blade or anything, but they're just ugly. This is not the sort of thing I expect to see on a $250 MSRP knife.

By the way, Arc Angel's tang stamps are laser-etched.

Like most high-quality balisongs these days, Arc Angel features a mechanism to keep the latch from hitting and damaging the blade. Benchmade's new Bali-Songs and Microtech's Tachyon use a bar of metal across the handle channel which has come to be called a "latch gate." Arc Angel uses a slightly different design:

It works perfectly:

The latch comes from the factory in the popular Batangas configuration. The latch is attached to the handle with a Chicago screw.

As you can see, the other handle also has a whole in it for a latch screw. Using a T7 Torx screw driver (Torx is a registered trademark of the Camcar division of Textron Corporation) you can move the latch to the other handle or remove it entirely.

However, on all three of the Arc Angels I have, I found that while getting the screw out was no problem (no evidence of any thread locking adhesives), getting the other half of the Chicago Screw out of the handle was not. All three required a pin punch and some pretty violent pounding.

It's good that the pins don't come out easily. Even if the screw does work it's way out and gets lost, the pin isn't going to simply fall out unexpectedly. But, I think that the pins on mine are a little bit tight. I'd suggest opening up those holes just a tad bit, Cold Steel.

Notice, also, how long the screw is. If that screw does start to work its way out, you'll probably notice it well before it's lost. So, thread locking adhesive really isn't necessary here.

Here's a tip for you: when machinist have to put some sort of round pin or peg into a round hole and the fit is very tight, they often chill both parts. When you chill metal, it contracts, gets smaller. This means that holes actually become larger in diameter and pins become smaller in diameter. You can put the whole thing into your freezer, but a faster and better way to accomplish this goal is with an aerosol "freeze spray" product. You can buy these from machine tool supply stores or from electronics supply stores including Radio Shack. (Electronics technicians uses these same products to spot thermally intermittent components in electronic products.)

Of course, whenever you start removing screws, the issue of warranty comes up. Some knife manufacturers frown on customers disassembling their products.

The official warranty statement says nothing about disassembly. Notice, however, that Cold Steel's warranty is only one year long. Benchmade and Microtech both offer lifetime warranties. Also notice that, unlike Benchmade and Microtech, Cold Steel's warranty does not include sharpening.

By the way, the warranty printed on the box, as you see it above, says that warranty returns should be sent to 3036-A Seaborg Avenue, Ventura, California. As previously noted, this knife is illegal in California. So, if your Arc Angel needs warranty service, call Cold Steel's 1-800-255-4716 telephone number and they will arrange for you to return your knife to the actual manufacturer in Florida for service (note that it is NOT illegal to mail a balisong knife within the U.S.).

Cold Steel's warranty doesn't prohibit disassembly! Wow. Let's get some tools and go to it!

We've already disassembled the latch and noted that it can be installed on either handle or left off.

We've already removed the pocket clip too.

What remains is the pivot pins. Arc Angel's pivot pins use Chicago Screws which have become very common these days.

A T9 Torx (tm) screw driver will easily remove the screws. There's no sign of any thread locking adhesive. The pins, however, do not come out easily. You'll need a pin punch to force them out. On each of my three Arc Angel samples, one of the pins came out with just hand pressure. But, the other required some minor pounding with a hammer, though not anywhere near the pounding that the latch pins required. It's actually good that the pins require some slight force to remove. If the pins come out to easily, as they do on many Tachyons, there's a great risk of the knife falling apart, or even flying apart, in your hand if one of the screws works its way out. Furthermore, I've seen Tachyons where it's impossible to adequately tighten the screws because the pins turn freely in the holes. Arc Angel's got the right balance.

There's nothing especially exciting inside of Arc Angel's pivot joints. No roller bearings, not even any bushings. The washers appear to be just standard steel.

I like the fact that you can disassemble the joints because it allows you to clean out and lubricate the joints thoroughly.

When you reassemble your Arc Angel, you can set the joint tension to allow the joints to move freely with very little blade play. With joints moving freely, the blade still does not slap the sides of the channels. Add a little Militec-1, and Arc Angel starts to live up to its name.

Oh, and while you're reassembling your Arc Angel, you can, if you want to, swap the handles and also swap the latch. The result is that the pocket clip will be on the opposite handle where it won't interfere with most manipulation and the latch will still be in the Batangas configuration that most people prefer. Prefect!

Perfect? Really?

Well, maybe not perfect, but darn good. Once you get used to the edges on the skeleton holes, Arc Angel really handles well. The balance is just excellent. And I like the slightly longer size. It fits my hand well.

Cold Steel's suggested retail price for Arc Angel is $274.99!!! But, they're actually selling for about $170. At $170, this is a great knife, a great balisong, and your chance to own a Darrel Ralph design on the cheap.

Blade Magazine from Krause Publications promotes itself as, "The World's #1 Knife Publication."

Benchmade reintroduced the Bali-Song line. Did Blade Magazine say anything? No.

Microtech introduced Tachyon, a totally new product, a totally new line for a major knife company. Did Blade Magazine say anything? No.

Roton introduced Monarch, a whole new knife company. Did Blade Magazine say anything? No. Benchmade introduced the American Kris, a technological triumph. The BM49-SPL was selected as the most collectible factory knife of 2001. Did Blade Magazine say anything? No.

Have you ever seen any editorial content about balisongs in Blade Magazine? No.


Because Blade Magazine has long had an editorial policy of not running editorial content about balisong knives.

They'll grudgingly accept ads for balisong knives, but no articles or editorials.

And now you know why America's #1 Balisong Collector does not subscribe to America's #1 Knife Publication.

But, at the Recent Bladeshow (Bladeshow is run by Krause Publications) we were given copies of the August Blade magazine (curious that the August issue is the "Bladeshow Special Edition" when the Bladeshow is in June). As I was grudgingly thumbing through it waiting for the doors to open to VIP Pass holders, I was just about blown over by an article in Blade entitled, "Let's Overturn the Switchblade Laws."

Blade talking about switchblades much less Blade talking about them in a positive light? Amazing! Oh, and that article... it's "Part 1!" There's more to come! "Next thing you know," I thought to myself, "They'll finally run an article on a balisong."

Moment's later, I almost fainted right there in the lobby. And not from thirst because I'm to cheap to pay $2 for a cup of Bladeshow water, but because there it was: Arc Angel... a balisong in an article in Blade Magazine!!!

First, I looked back at the magazine's cover to make sure it was Blade. I couldn't believe it. Now I know why it was so unseasonably cool in Atlanta for Bladeshow this year. Hell has frozen over.

But, don't look for it in the table of contents. It's not a headline article. It's just an entry in their "Spec Sheet" series. But, it's a start.

The article is interesting. At first I lambasted it as totally missing the point. The author, Msg Kim Breed, 5th Special Forces, ret., never talks even once about manipulation of the knife. Not a word.

The author barely notices the pocket clip and doesn't notice what is, in my opinion, Arc Angel's fatal flaw: the clip is on the wrong handle.

Instead, Msg. Breed proceeds to put Arc Angel through a series of cutting tests which, I might add, Arc Angel does quite well at.

But, then I had an amazing realization: Msg. Breed has reviewed the Arc Angel just like he'd review any other knife.

Some of you have heard me give my balisong sales pitch. I always stress what a good, practical design the balisong is.

Now, Msg. Breed has done gone reviewed it from that perspective, as just another practical knife.

With that in mind, I'm really pleased with the review. First, that Blade even ran editorial content about a balisong, and second that they focused on it as a practical, working knife and not as a play toy.

By the way, the August issue of Blade is the Official Bladeshow issue. At 162 pages it is the biggest issue of Blade ever published. The articles are well above the dribble that usually fills Blade's pages. And there are some wonderful pictures of some great knives.

So, I strongly suggest that if you don't get Blade by subscription that you seek it out on a newsstand and buy the August issue.


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