Fixed blade knives, for me, are like lighters. I absolutely love having them, playing with them, and even using them — but I don’t really have a ton of need for them. Which is why when I saw Bradford Knives post a good deal in partnership with Drop on the Guardian 3.5 (I have the Guardian 3, 4, and 5) I thought I would give their ‘.5’ series a go. For science.
This is a Drop.com collaboration, which takes the standard Bradford Guardian 3.5, and does it up with a new steel — in this case Nitro-V. I’ve heard of Nitro-V here and there, but the price was the draw here at $120.
Twitter summary: great knife, not great steel. Could be the best all around fixed blade I own with better steel.
I am starting with the handle, because that’s what the real difference is with the ‘.5’ lineup of the Guardian knives. The general Guardian setup is that the number dictates the blade size. Guardian 3 = 3” blade (cutting edge), 4 = 4” blade and so on. That’s not the case with the 3.5, the cutting edge is still 3”, but the overall knife is 0.5” longer, because the handle is different.
Take a look:
At the top you have the 3.5, on the bottom the 3. The blade size is the same (the 3 I have is a full flat grind, whereas the 3.5 is a Sabre — these are options with Guardian knives). The big change is simply the handle and it is a big change.
For me, the Guardian series always handles much smaller than they are. Because the way the handle is designed, your pointer finger is right up next to the cutting edge — which gives you extreme control of the blade. They are precision tools.
Where that falls down is when you really need to get tough and work the edge — such as in bushcrafting. There you need to be able to keep your hand back more, and leverage the blade. Essentially, I look at the ‘.5’ series of knives from Bradford as woodsman/bushcraft knives. I wish they would have created a new line out of these, because they feel completely different.
And on that note, let me just say — this handle is fantastic. One of the best. You can still get some level of precision control, but the knife also works much better for a wider range of tasks. It fits very nicely in my hands, even for how small the knife is. This is an great all around handle and likely works well for almost anything while not be the best at any one thing.
I love the Guardian lineups blade shape, and the 3” shape in particular is stand out. So much so I wanted to call it out. It’s just good. Excellent even.
Plenty of belly, good tip, and a nice workable back edge of the blade for a great all around shape. Slices and chops well.
So, Nitro-V. I’ve seen it here and there and knew it was a lower end, very stainless steel. Those are my words, the marketing hype is that it is all that and a cold Coke on a hot day. Thing is, it feels soft. I have no doubt it will resist corrosion very well, but the edge retention is nothing to write home about.
When compared to M390 — the standard for most Bradford knives, it is simply not in the same league. By way of comparison, you’ll note here that my 3.5 has a mirror edge because I sharpened it 3 times since owning it this summer alone, where as the 3 does not — because I have not sharpened it, only touched it up in the years I have owned it. That’s Nitro-V compared to M390 in a nutshell.
It is not bad steel. The Nitro-V retails for $120, BladeHQ has a variant with N690 (a little better steel) for $135, and the M390 version sells for a cool $189. I wouldn’t pay for the M390 since I have others, but I would for the N690 over this Nitro-V. So that’s my advice on the steel options I am aware of (I think there is/was an AEB-L version, that’s very similar to Nitro-V skip it).
I am not a huge bushcraft person, but I did use the knife to trim a few branches from some trees, and then I absolutely slayed a load of boxes with it in my garage. It handles extremely well. Plenty of leverage and plenty of control.
The only downside is that the blade is thick, so slicing an apple is more a task of splitting it like a log than slicing it. But, if your primary tasks are harder use than not, this is a darn good knife. The steel holds fine, where the edge shows the softness is in razor level retention — but it does stay sharp enough to always be useful.
And the benefit of a softer steel is the ease with which you can sharpen. Even hitting the strop with the knife can bring it right back after laying wast to a dozen boxes on recycling day. Something which is much harder to do with M390. So the trade off is right there: quick retouching you need to do often, or tedious retouching you have to do rarely. You pick, I’m a less is more guy.
The sheath is the standard Bradford sheath which is good, but not great. The downside is that these ship with only the right-handed sheath and I am left handed. Bummer.
But, let’s talk about opening Amazon packages. Typically I make a joke that this is how most knives these days are used, because it’s true. But you should probably not use this knife to open Amazon boxes. Thing is, the handle and blade size leaves you with a bit of a lack of control. The knife really sinks into the box and will obliterate things on the inside of the box. I had a couple “oh fuck” moments opening Amazon packages with this knife. Whereas the standard Guardian 3 is the absolute Chris Kyle of sniping open Amazon boxes, the 3.5 is more like that guy you know who thinks they are an accurate shot.
If I had to pick one fixed blade knife to have, it would be this Guardian 3.5, but with better steel (of only one, M390 for sure, otherwise the N690 is probably good enough). I think that the size of the knife is a great all around size, and likely all you need for any outdoors adventure. It stays small enough to be used for almost any need, while being large enough to work bigger tasks. It’s more versatile than the standard 3 for sure, but not as precise or compact.
This is the knife I am going to keep near my emergency kit for sure. Good knife, just a little bit let down by Nitro-V in this variant. If you main use is in a boat, or around constant water, Nitro-V is certainly something to consider. Otherwise, something to only take a glance at, as you go spend $15 more for the N690.