Our Long-Term Review of the Cold Steel Mini Tuff Lite – What We Found Out After Owning This Guy For Over 2 Years!
No financial advisor would ever recommend getting into knife collecting. It’s an endless cycle, and as soon as you get one or two, it’s only a matter of time before you own dozens of the things. Trust me, I’m very much speaking from experience here (of course, I’m not saying it isn’t worth it).
But also, when did knives get so expensive?
I’m revisiting an old favorite of mine today, the Cold Steel Mini Tuff Lite, because I recently decided to write a roundup of the best EDC knives under $50. As it turns out, most of my favorite knives that I bought for less than $50 a few years ago now cost significantly more.
The Tuff Lite is a noticeable exception. It’s a great, affordable little workhorse of a folding knife that has long established itself as one of the best budget EDC knives out there. It still makes all the lists, and it continues to impress while maintaining a price tag close to $30.
Measurements & Specs
The Cold Steel Mini Tuff Lite is almost an exactly scaled-down version of the full-sized Tuff Lite, offering a 2-inch blade compared to the original’s 2.5 inches. The Mini also has a 3-inch handle, bringing the overall length to a neat 5 inches.
The blade measures 2.5mm thick, and is made of 4116 steel, which we’ll talk more about in just a bit. The handle is made of Griv-Ex, which is a type of fiberglass-reinforced plastic. The Mini Tuff Lite weighs just 1.6oz, making it super light and very easy to carry.
Blade Shape & Size
The Mini Tuff Lite has a Wharncliffe blade shape (Cold Steel’s website calls it a sheepsfoot blade, but we’ll have to agree to disagree; the curved spine and straight edge is Wharncliffe all the way). Although the full length of the blade is 2 inches, the actual cutting edge is closer to 1.25”.
The cutting edge is perfectly straight and fiercely sharp. It’s a broad little blade with a hollow grind that simply melts its way through tough materials. Don’t let the size fool you. This thing is wicked.
The shape and sharpness of the blade almost remind me of a utility knife, though this is obviously much, much higher quality than your average box cutter. The Wharncliffe is a highly functional blade shape, with fine point and razor-like edge that make it great for fine-detailed slicing and scoring.
Steel Quality & Sharpening
The Amazon listing and Cold Steel’s website both say that the Mini Tuff Lite is made of 4034 stainless steel, which is pretty low-end stuff. But the actual knife I got has “4116 Stainless” printed on the blade, and I would call 4116 steel a pretty solid upgrade from 4034.
I know all the steel numbers can sound like gobbledegook, but 4116 is basically a low-to-mid grade stainless steel that has 15% chromium content (great for corrosion resistance) as well as 0.55% carbon, 1% each of manganese and silicon, and smaller amounts of several other elements.
It’s solid stainless steel for a budget knife, and has really good toughness and corrosion resistance, along with decent edge retention and wear resistance. It’s also very easy steel to sharpen, and the straight cutting edge of the Tuff Lite makes it easier still. It just takes a few strokes to a flat sharpening stone.
Deployment & Locking
The blade of the Cold Steel Mini Tuff Lite has an oval-shaped thumb hole which allows for one-handed deployment. The thumb hole’s edges are not rounded off, thus making them a bit sharp. One could nitpick about that if they were so inclined, but little details like these are probably part of the reason why this knife is so affordable, which is why I have no real issue with them.
It’s also not the smoothest deployment in the world. You can really feel the pieces moving as you open the blade (again, little details) but the lock is rock-solid. The Mini has Cold Steel’s trademark Tri-Ad Lock, just like the full-size Tuff Lite has, and it’s exceptionally secure.
The lock is one of the features that really makes this knife stand out among similar priced and sized models. The Tri-Ad is essentially a lockback with an added stop pin that makes it far superior to a run-of-the-mill lockback. You just don’t find many mini-sized knives in this price range with locks this good.
Handle & Grip
You’ve probably already realized this, but it’s still worth mentioning that the Mini Tuff Lite is a very small knife. It’s dwarfed even by the full-sized Tuff Lite, which is by no means a giant. With that in mind, it would be fair to expect it not to feel very secure in your palm.
Luckily, that’s not the case. The forward finger choil provides an amazing grip, and allows you to really choke up on the knife while using it for detailed tasks. The widely-spaced jimping along the spine of the blade also gives one’s thumb a little extra purchase.
Even though the handle doesn’t completely fill an average-sized palm, it still offers really excellent security and control. The edges of the handle are rounded off, making it comfortable to hold, and it has a bit of a concave ‘scoop’ that helps it rest snugly in hand. The lightly textured Griv-Ex is also good and grippy.
The handle is held together with three bolts, and it’s easy to take the knife apart using a hex driver if you want to take a look inside. The pocket clip is a perfectly adequate, non-reversible clip that holds the knife point-down in your pocket. It’s nothing fancy, but it does the job.
Final Thoughts on the Mini Tuff Lite
The Mini Tuff Lite is a great little EDC knife. It’s so light and small that you can carry it around in your pocket all day without even noticing it’s there until you need it. The blade obviously isn’t designed for serious, heavy duty work, but it’s a highly effective little slicer. It’s also tough enough that you can do a little bit of prying and scraping with it if you have to, within reason.
But even though the Mini Tuff Light is a perfectly good budget EDC knife, that’s not really how I’ve come to use it. For me, it’s more of a utility blade, one that I keep close to my workbench in case I need it. And I reach for it a lot.
I’ve found the Mini Tuff Lite to be a really great around-the-house knife. Needless to say, I’ve used it to open and break down an abundance of Amazon boxes. I’ve also found it ideal for scoring drywall and vinyl flooring, and I used it the other day to trim some window screening. It’s just an all-around great knife to have handy.
The shape of the blade, with its fine point and straight cutting edge, really lends itself to slicing, trimming, scoring and those sorts of detail-oriented jobs. It’s a workhorse, and it could be called a beater knife, but it’s definitely not a throwaway or a piece of junk. I call it $30 well spent.
Specifications from Blade HQ
- Overall Length:5.00″
- Blade Length:2.00″
- Cutting Edge:1.30″
- Blade Thickness:0.11″
- Blade Material:AUS-8A
- Blade Style:Wharncliffe
- Blade Grind:Hollow
- Edge Type:Plain
- Handle Length:3.00″
- Handle Thickness:0.47″
- Handle Material:Polymer
- Weight:1.70 oz.
- User:Right Hand
- Pocket Clip:Tip-Down
- Knife Type:Manual
- Opener:Thumb Hole
- Lock Type:Lockback
- Brand:Cold Steel
- Model:Mini Tuff Lite
Erin Channing is a budding writer, soon to be wife and all around fun seeker! No cats, no dogs, just a few fish and a pet parakeet named Jelly. You can find Erika’s reviews and stories on several websites sites including Hardwork Theory, Medium, Little Miss Spider and more. New to camping and backpacking, she brings a fresh perspective to everything outdoors.