Pocket Knives

Knife Review: Cold Steel Mackinac Hunter

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When I opened the USPS Box containing my new Cold Steel Mackinac Hunter, I can’t say I was surprised at the weight of my new knife.  Cold Steel has built their reputation on making some seriously burly knives and other blades.  The Mackinac is no exception. Weighing in at 6.6 oz, the knife has the feel and heft of a fixed-blade rather than a folder.

Construction:

If I haven’t made myself clear, this is one solidly built knife.  The blade is held in place by one of the most robust Torx headed pivot pins I have ever seen.  While this will allow the blade to be tightened if it ever becomes necessary, the knife has not developed any wobble throughout the course of testing and use.

The scales are faux stag, made from Delrin, a thermoplastic polymer which is also used in M-16 stocks.  Some reviews I have read complain that the grip may become slippery when wet, but I have never had a problem with grip.  The scales are removable/replaceable for those so inclined.

The knife is available in either a thumb-stud (the one I tested) or nail-nick style.  One other minor detail is that the knife is made in Taiwan and not China.  It doesn’t mean much, but seeing “China” emblazoned on a blade always leaves me with an empty feeling, whereas my feelings are more neutral towards Taiwan.

The Cold Steel “Tri-Ad” locking mechanism is extremely solid.  If anything, it is such a positive lock that it errors on the side of tough to release and close.  Not dangerously so, it just takes a deliberate effort.

There is a pocket clip (and a backup – thanks Cold Steel) that like everything else on this knife, is quite robust and clamps ones pocket extremely well.  Strong enough in fact that if you have a thick seam on the top of your pocket, the clip may prove difficult to over come.

There is an available leather sheath that I tested.  IMHO this knife does better on a belt as a sheathed folder than it does with pocket carry.  Its weight is less noticeable on a belt, and does not get in the way when you sit down.

Blade:  

The blade is made from hollow ground AUS 8 Japanese stainless.  It is 3 1/2″ long and 3.5mm thick.  There is a substantial belly to the blade, which is well proportioned and aesthetically pleasing to look at.

Like all Cold Steel blades I have seen, the Mackinac comes arm-hair shaving sharp from the factory.  It holds this edge very well, and was easy to touch up to an even sharper edge with the ceramic rods from a Spyderco Sharpmaker after hard use.

Ergonomics:

I have touched on it above, but this knife feels great in the hand, almost as good as a fixed blade knife.  The knife balances nicely between the handle and the blade, and handles both camp chores and delicate kitchen tasks with ease.

The knife is stiff to open and close.  It can be opened with an inertia flip, but as often as not it requires two flips to fully open the blade and engage the lock.  Disengaging the lock and folding the knife is also difficult to do one handed.   I could unlock and close it against my leg, but it would take practice for your average knife noob.

It also is a bit large in my opinion for EDC.  Part of that is my bias towards smaller knives (my EDC is a Spyderco Native and I have not spent a considerable amount of time carrying a large folder).  I did like carrying the knife on my belt in the leather sheath. Much more comfortable.

Blade Testing:

In a previous series of culinary tests, the Cold Steel Mackinac Hunter handily defeated the Mora Bushcraft at making pickles, salsa, and slicing watermelon.  The blade’s sharpness and heft makes it an excellent tool for camp culinary use.

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The Mackinac Hunter takes a newsprint-shaving edge, and retained it through polyethylene rope, climbing rope, and 86 linear feet of cardboard.

Rope, Cardboard, Etc:
I put the knife through the standard battery of TTAK tests as well.  Cutting newsprint is an almost Zen-like experience.  And the knife handled rough cuts masterfully as well. I was able to cut multiple strands of polyethylene rope with almost negligible effort.  The 1/2″ static rappelling rope required cutting against a bench and applying a saw motion, but as you can see from the picture, the knife left an extremely clean edge.

The corrugated cardboard test demonstrated the Cold Steel’s edge retention ability. The balance and leverage of the full sized grip and large blade, coupled with a razor-sharp edge, made the Mackinac a joy to work with.  It sliced strip after strip of cardboard. Fatigue did not set in until after the 50′ mark, and it was over 80 feet before I began to roll some of the cuts.  I quit at 86′, though I imagine I would be well over 125′ before the blade becomes functionally unusable.

Batoning:
While most knife manufacturers frown on the practice, the Mackinac is auditioning for the role of “Go-to Camp Knife”, and thus needs to be able to handle this common form of abuse.

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The Mackinac handled both the pine and oak firewood hunks I tested with ease.   The 3.5″ blade wedged its way through easily with each strike.  (And I could still cut newsprint afterwards).

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly:

The Good:

  • Burly as Hell
  • Really nice looking
  • Takes and holds a tremendously good edge
  • The “Tri-Ad” lock mechanism is as solid as I have ever seen on a locking folder. I have absolute confidence that it will never accidentally close on my fingers.

The Bad:

  • A little too heavy for comfortable EDC.
  • The stiffness of the spring has a bit too much closure bias, making it difficult to open with one-handed inertia techniques.  It can be done, but often takes me more than one attempt.

The Ugly:

I won’t beat around the bush: I ran into a corrosion issue that simply shouldn’t occur with AUS 8 stainless.

After conducting my culinary shootout, I rinsed the knife and wiped it until I thought it was dry, and then put it away in its full-grain leather sheath. I left it out in my shop for a couple of days, before I grabbed it to conduct the cutting tests in 100 degree heat and pretty wicked humidity. When I opened it, the blade was spotted with rust.

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I should have taken a picture of the corrosion before I rubbed it down with WD40 and aluminum foil. This is after a bit of elbow grease.

I wasn’t trying to abuse the knife, I just inadvertently “put it up wet”. My Combat Ready L-1 is also AUS 8 and has never had an issue with corrosion, despite its being carried next to my skin on a daily basis, dunked in the river, sweated on, rained on, and put up with the paracord wrap frequently still wet and still in its Kydex sheath.  So I didn’t give it a second thought when I obviously should have.

The good news is that cutting 86 feet of cardboard polished the knife back to its original shine, and I have not run into the problem again.  I am guessing that there was still water that was trapped in handle after I washed it.

When I put it away folded under extremely hot and humid conditions, with no air circulation, it proved to be too much for the blade to handle.  So when I use the knife now, I leave it open on the bench for a day before folding and putting it away.  I am beginning to think of the incident as a one-off.

Conclusion:

The Mackinac was my first foray into the world of larger folders.  Most knives I have used that were 3.5″ in blade length or larger were fixed blades.  But the Mackinac bridges this divide nicely.  It is designed as a folder that is meant to go head to head with woodcraft fixed blades, and acquits itself nicely in the process.

In the end I am left with needing to find a role for this knife in my personal rotation.  It is looking like this knife is going to be my go-to “truck knife”.  It is under the 4″ legal limit for an everyday knife, which is nice. I can carry my 4.5″ Mora as part of my fishing gear, but I need to be somewhere in the general vicinity of ‘headed to the river’ to fit in that loophole.  The Cold Steel Mackinac Hunter is a knife that I can do pretty much anything with, and it will be a valuable addition to my vehicle’s EDC kit.

Price: $79.99 MSRP (as low as $40, street)
Origin: Taiwan

Ratings (out of five stars):

Styling: * * * * *
The Mackinac Hunter conjured up images of flannel shirts, the smell of campfire bacon, and time spent camping with my Great-Uncle. He would have loved the look of this knife. I certainly do.

Blade: * * * *
I love the strength and sharpness of the blade.  I am a bit perturbed about the rust issue I ran into.  As I said, I positively abuse my AUS-8 neck knife and have never had a problem.

Ergonomics: * * * *
The hand feel of this knife is extraordinary.  It was a pleasure to use through a whole range of tasks. My only criticism of the knife is that the opening mechanism and lock are too stiff for easy one-handed use. This can be explained as a design choice by Cold Steel: this knife is over-engineered on purpose.

Ruggedness/Durability * * * * *
If you are looking for a folder that is as burly as many fixed blade knives, you will not be disappointed with the Mackinac Hunter.  It withstood batoning both pine and oak, and remained sharp enough to slice newsprint.

Overall Rating: * * * * 1/2
The Cold Steel Mackinac Hunter is a great woodcraft folder that is equally adept at rugged camp chores and delicate culinary tasks.

Discussion

23 responses to ‘Knife Review: Cold Steel Mackinac Hunter

  1. I understand taking care of your tools, but I think leaving it open on the bench for a day to dry out prior to putting it away is going above and beyond the call. I don’t mean you shouldn’t do it, I mean I don’t think it should be necessary. I want something that’s going to stand up to getting a quick wipe against my jeans and then tossed back in the bag, especially if the exposure was only to fresh water.

    • Ayup, stainless shouldn’t be that touchy and sensitive. My gold panning knives are in the water with me and then tossed in the trunk of my beater toyota with wet clothes. A quick wipe down is all they need.

  2. We’re all a bit puzzled what made this knife rust, while the Lone Star Hunter with the same steel and construction had no problems at all. Putting a wet knife into a wet sheath is a pretty tough test for corrosion resistance; apparently too much of a test for this blade.

  3. Good review. Cold Steel knives generate some controversy, but I’ve always found them to be sharp, tough, and decent value. However I confess that I prefer the ones made in Seki, Japan.

    I’m not surprised the knife showed some corrosion. I believe that leather sheaths enhance the rusting process.

    I use my knives for kitchen duty quite a bit, and afterwards I rinse them in very hot water, then flick them a couple of times, and leave them half open and upright on the counter to air dry. If I’m in a hurry, I dry it inside and out with a paper towel. Probably a little OCD, but I’ve never had a problem with AUS-8, D2, 154CM etc.

    • Yeah, leather does tend to hold in moisture, whereas the Kydex sheath of his other knife wouldn’t. I’m a big believer in keeping my knife blades well oiled to avoid any rust problems (few steels are truly rust-proof). The only exceptions I make to this are a rather small Leatherman multi-tool which has done well in spite of my negligence to cleaning it and my SOG Seal Pup which has a titanium-nitrate blade coating. The Mackinac sounds like an amazing knife, though.

  4. For what it’s worth, the second belt clip included in the box is for us Southpaws 🙂 The clips have mirror-image curvature, and are made to fit the knife on one side or the other, depending on which side you carry the knife on. The thumb stud is also reversible for us left-minded folks. The delrin faux-stag scales do seem a little slick to me, but to each their own. My biggest “issue” is that the scales are much more orange-ish than what they look like in the Cold Steel catalog. Otherwise, LOVE the knife.

  5. I have a SOG seal pup that I purchased as a young Marine back in ’99. It is stamped SEKI, JAPAN. I have worn it on numorous dives and it showed some rust spotting as well. Could be attributed to the salt water. I don’t think it’s uncommon for AUS-8 to show some corrosion. Specifically if put away wet.

  6. A dozen other knives on the market easily match or surpass this folder. My pet peeve is “batoning.” This idiotic practice was invented by people who, in fact, have no real use for a knife, so had to make up a “use” that they think tests quality. It does no such thing, and not one woodsman, back to and before, the days of Daniel Boone would, or did, perpetrate such an abuse on their single most important tool. A 21st-century kid did not just suddenly discover some new task for a knife that had gone unknown for a thousand years hence. AXES carry a warning that they are not intended to be used as splitting wedges – how stupid do you have to be to think that a knife could stand up to pummeling without breaking? And they ALL break, kids. NEVER use your knife as a splitting wedge – unless you’re using your laptop as the hammer. http://www.tactical-life.com/author/lenmcdougall/

    • Thanks for checking us out. You have an impressive CV and a nice website.

      I don’t disagree that there are better options at the price point than the Mackinac Hunter. The review is 3 years old, and as I have gotten more familiar with Cold Steel knives, I think that the Mackinac stands out as one of the few fairly good knives from CS amid a sea of mediocrity.

      I do have to respectfully disagree with you when it comes to the utility of batoning. No one is arguing that it is more efficient than a hatchet or a machete. For extended use, either of those tools is vastly preferable. If you are car camping or around an extended base camp they are great. My CRKT Halfachance lives in my Jeep when it is not tagging along on a boat-fishing trip. However, most of my outdoor activity revolves around being a wade flyfishing guide.

      I am already schlepping tackle, lunch, water, and a spare rod up the mountain with me. I don’t have space or weight available to be carrying an axe or machete up unless I know for sure that there is a tree I want to clear.

      That said, I need a knife that can handle some wood processing in an emergency or survival situation. I might need to build a fire or cut poles to make a shelter or fasten a travois (pole drag stretcher) to move an injured client. I bush knife ought to be able to handle cutting a couple of <3" staves or prepping kindling from larger stock.

      I don't disagree that this is miles from the Mackinac's stated purpose. I used it for batoning to demonstrate the robustness of the tri-ad lock and the overall strength of the knife. The fact that the knife was undamaged was a testament to its strength, rather than recommendation for use.

      Thanks for reading, I would love to interview you sometime.

      Clay Aalders
      Managing Editor

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