The 4 Max Scout May Be The Ultimate Hard Use Pocket Knife
The original Cold Steel 4MAX was released a few years back to much fanfare, and a lot of drooling from people like me who love big, heavy hard use folding knives. However, the $300 plus price tag was a little too steep for peasants like myself, so I read reviews and gazed longingly at forum photos uploaded by the upper class knife collectors with gainful employment.
I felt like a destitute character in a Dickens novel staring longingly through the window of a rich man’s house at dinner time. I was on the verge of writing an article calling for a revolution against the knife bourgeoisie when Andrew Demko came to my rescue by showing the beauty of capitalism and modern manufacturing with the release of the 4MAX Scout (Editor’s Note: Just like Dickens did). This is the hard use knife for the rest of us.
The 4MAX Scout is identical to the original 4MAX in just about every way except for the raw materials used. The blade is made of AUS-10 rather than CPM-20CV, the handle scales are made of Griv-Ex instead G10, and the handle itself is made of stainless steel rather than titanium.
As far as I can tell, the only other differences are the original 4MAX handle has a larger chamfer or bevel and a slightly larger stop pin. However, The 4MAX Scout’s stop pin is still huge compared to just about any folding knife besides the original 4MAX. The two knives are also manufactured in different locations. The 4MAX is manufactured in Italy, and the 4MAX Scout is manufactured in Taiwan. I am not gonna pretend that I don’t still want the much more expensive 4MAX, but if I had it, I would put it in a case together with the TRC Mille Cuori that had a note taped to the top stating, ” Open only in case of the apocalypse”.
|Blade Shape:||Drop point|
|Tough as hell|
|Holds its edge well|
|Ambidextrous pocket clip|
|Ergonomic handle is great for hard work|
|Not easy to close with one hand|
Prior to buying this knife I did not have much experience with AUS-10 steel. It is not a common steel in pocket knife manufacturing, but after using this knife for over a month I hope AUS-10 becomes a more popular steel for knife makers. This blade held its edge surprisingly well, and it managed to handle the large amount of abuse I threw at it during the process of our review without chipping or rolling.
AUS-10 is similar in makeup to VG10 which is a great steel often found in high end kitchen knives. Both AUS-10 and VG-10 contain small grained carbides which makes it easier to sharpen blades to a very fine edge.
The high flat grind of the 4MAX Scout was a good choice for this blade as it makes it easier to chop or slice through thick materials without damaging the blade. I also appreciated the combination of a subtle drop point with a big belly which is a combo you often find in bushcraft knives, because it allows for a thicker, more durable spine, and the tip is less likely to break if you need to pry something free.
The blade feature of the 4MAX Scout that differs from a bushcraft style knife is the decorative swedge on the top of the spine. I personally would have preferred the spine to be flat from one end to the other as I find that helpful for bracing with the thumb or forefinger when doing detail work, but I am not gonna pretend that it doesn’t look cool. I know aesthetics are a big part of knife sales.
The blade of the 4MAX Scout sliced and chopped well, but it was designed for durability over performance. If you are looking for an effortless slicer I would recommend a Spyderco Ronin 2 which we happened to be reviewing at the same time. The Ronin 2 is a truly epic slicer, but there is no way its thinner hollow grind blade would have stood up to the abuse we put the 4MAX Scout through (Editor’s Note: It was sort of like the difference between Hawkeye and an Incredible Hulk that can fold up into your pocket). The 4MAX Scout is a great compromise between durability and performance.
I should also mention that the blade grind was even and sharp, which I would expect from a $100 plus knife made by Cold Steel. (2022 update – This knife has dropped well below $100, which makes it’s overall great fit and finish even more impressive.) The blade also had excellent edge retention, and passed many paper tests after several fairly tough tasks. This is due to the higher quality steel used and the heat treatment of the blade itself. It did not hold its edge quite as well as blades made of CPM-20CV steel which is what the original 4MAX blade is made of, but it was closer than I expected it to be.
Blade Deployment and Tri-ad Lock
I won’t spend a lot of time talking about Cold Steel’s Tri-Ad lock. I personally think it is the most bomb-proof locking mechanism for folding knives, and I am by no means alone in that belief. The Tri-Ad lock on the 4MAX Scout is beefier and more springy than any other Cold Steel folding knife I have used.
Throughout the review process I treated this knife the way I would a fixed-blade bushcraft knife. I chopped, hammered and sliced hard objects without hesitation. I never once worried about the blade locking mechanism giving out. Not only did the Tri-Ad lock hold steady, but the blade itself still didn’t wiggle at all after weeks of abuse.
One-handed deployment is fairly easy for such a big folding knife. The large ambidextrous thumb studs help with this. It is much easier and faster to open than the longer Cold Steel Voyager XL, but not as fast or easy to open as the smaller Cold Steel AD-10. In short, one-handed opening is great for such a large heavy knife, but if your main need is fast deployment I would recommend something from the Emerson Kershaw CQC series.
You definitely want to be careful when closing this knife. The powerful retention spring makes it close really fast. I was able to close it with one hand by pushing the spine against my thigh, but I usually use two hands to close this knife so my fingers are never between the handle and the blade once the lock has been released.
The 4MAX Scout may have my all time favorite handle of any folding knife. There is plenty of real estate which allows it to work well for a large variety of tasks.
The generous finger choil is a big help when doing detail work like carving. The pommel is beefy and tough. I used it as a hammer to break up ice and a few other activities that called for a relatively heavy blunt object. The slight downturn of the handle made it really comfortable and practical when chopping. There is enough room in the middle of the handle for those with really large hands to not feel cramped when carrying out typical hard-use tasks.
Cold steel nailed it with the texture on this knife. It is textured enough to be easy to grip, but not so aggressively textured that it causes discomfort in hard-use situations. I would love to see Cold Steel update the Voyager with these scales.
While the handle is longer than most other folding knife handles, it is still short enough to easily change to reverse grip without using two hands. The beauty of the 4MAX Sout’s handle really is its versatility.
Demko definitely had many tasks in mind from carving to chopping to food prep and even skinning when he designed this handle. This makes sense, because Demko recently stated that the 4MAX was a larger version of the AD-10, which he designed specifically for Lynn Thompson (the owner of Cold Steel) to take on a safari.
The edges of the handle are chamfered, but not to the degree of the original 4MAX. Still, neither myself or the others here at NBK who have tested this knife experienced hot spots (Editor’s Note: I said the knife is so cool it has cool spots, and can’t help but notice he didn’t bother to include that brilliant insight in his review). This is no surprise considering the amount of testing done on Cold Steel’s higher-end pocket knives.
Right out of the box, the 4MAX pocket clip is insanely tight. Tight enough to wreck the pocket on your jeans and make it difficult to remove it from your pocket quickly. I put a nickel in the clip for 24 hours, and the retention after that was just about perfect.
The 4MAX Scout is not a deep carry knife by any stretch. It doesn’t sit high enough to be uncomfortable, but it certainly is noticeable due to it’s large pommel and semi shiny clip. However, nothing about this knife is subtle. This knife is no gentleman’s folder. In fact, it looks like it eats gentleman’s folders for breakfast.
The 4MAX is a tip-up folder, which means it sits in your pocket with the tip of the knife blade pointing up. I personally think this is how all folding knives should be designed. It drives me crazy when an otherwise great folding knife requires the extra step of flipping the knife around before deploying the blade.
Outdoor Food Prep
Outdoor food prep may not be an area most people consider when shopping for a hard use knife, but it seems to me the type of person who needs a hard use knife is also probably the type of person who likes to camp.
The are a few features that make the 4MAX Scout less than ideal for camping food prep. The aggressive finger choil gets in the way of a good rock-chop for consistent chopping and the thickness of the blade does hurt it’s slicing ability a bit from a food prep stand point. However the fat belly and high flat grind of the blade mitigate some of the knife’s shortcomings. Overall the 4MAX Scout performed fairly well at helping us prepare a camp fire meal considering it is not a food prep specialized knife.
As I mentioned before, I never felt nervous about treating this knife in the same way I would treat a fixed blade bushcraft knife when testing it. That is to say I didn’t treat it nice at all. But really the main reason to buy this knife is for hard work.
Several of us here at Nothing But Knives spent a fair amount of time chopping with the 4MAX Scout. We pretended like it was a fixed blade, and the 4MAX Scout was happy to oblige our illusion. While it was up to the challenge of chopping from a toughness standpoint, it did not bite into the wood as aggressively as an actual fixed blade bushcraft such as the Mora Garburg or Off Grid Tracker X.
I mentioned earlier that my biggest complaint with the 4MAX Scout is the decorative swedge that covers most of the blade’s spine. It makes it difficult to brace a thumb or forefinger on the spine when carving or doing other more detailed type work. Fortunately the swedge ends about three quarters of the way up the spine which made it easier to run some batoning tests on the knife.
We found several small logs just wide enough for just the tip to stick out, and we hammered away to see how the knife held up. While the 4MAX Scout didn’t slide through the wood as easily as most well-designed bushcraft knives would, it was certainly tough enough to handle the abuse. It is worth noting that neither Cold Steel or Andrew Demko call this a Bushcraft knife in any marketing material. We just ran some bushcraft type tests to see how tough the knife was.
The Cold Steel 4 MAX Scout is tough. It may not be made of the same expensive, bomb-proof materials as its predecessor, the 4 MAX, but it is an excellent compromise between durability and value. If it were up to me to crown a “hard use” knife king I would choose the 4 MAX Scout over the 4MAX based solely on the fact that I don’t want to risk damaging or losing a $300 plus knife. Also it is starting to look like the 4MAX may be discontinued.
In short, I had high expectations for the 4 MAX Scout, and it surpassed them. The fit and finish of this knife is excellent, the handle is comfortable and versatile and the blade performed well at just about every test. Obviously the toughness and durability of this knife result in it being relatively heavy, but I didn’t find the weight to be that noticeable or troublesome in the situations where a super tough folder is needed. For all the other situations the Kizer Slicer Lockback is a smaller, lighter alternative. For more extreme situations the Gerber Doubledown is a unique beast of a folder that was designed for chopping and batoning, but it won’t fit in your pocket.
My main complain about the 4MAX Scout is the useless decorative swedge. I would love for it to go away. Other than that one complaint I am personally ready to crown the Cold Steel 4MAX Scout the ultimate hard-use pocket knife. Let me know in the comments below if you disagree. Better yet, send me the knife you think is a better “hard-use” knife, so I can test it out and tell you why you are wrong without having to buy it.