These New Models Cover Your Bushcraft And EDC Needs.
It wasn’t that long ago when we had our first look at the Guardian line of blades from Bradford Knives of Kent, Washington. The grinds were clean, the lines looked great, and their performance was very impressive.
Even so, Brad Larkin, the owner of Bradford Knives, wasn’t satisfied with the status quo. He’s been busy the past couple of years, coming up with new products to meet users’ needs, and he’s been working hard to make the performance of his knives even better.
Larkin got his start in knife production by way of his family, which happened to be in manufacturing. He figured out that his family had all the equipment necessary for him to make his own knife. With his father’s permission, Larkin began the process of learning how to make knives after-hours and on the weekends.
Something must have clicked: In 2012, Larkin decided to combine his love for knives with his manufacturing experience and connections to pursue a full-time career making knives. The rest, as they say, is history.
“With the 3D Guardian 5.5 and the G-Necker, you’ll have a highly effective EDC/bushcraft combo that would cover just about any cutting need you might have throughout the day, whether at home or in the field.”
The newest member of the Bradford Knives family is the G-Necker, and it’s exactly what you think it is—a neck knife. As much as I’ve enjoyed using and reviewing Bradford Knives’ various models over the years, I was extra excited to see the G-Necker make its debut.
I’m an ardent fan of neck knives. Truth be told, whether I’m in the woods, at work or around home, the majority of cutting tasks I do can be handled by a fairly small knife. Whether I’m opening packages, cutting cordage, working on detailed woodwork or cleaning small game, all these jobs can typically be done with one of my favorite neck knives. The icing on the cake is the portability, accessibility and the benefit of having a backup blade in case my main knife gets lost or damaged.
With an overall length of 6 inches, the G-Necker features a 2.88-inch blade and a handle measuring 3.12 inches. It weighs in at a fairly light 2.7 ounces. Combined with the supplied Kydex sheath, its total weight is just 4.1 ounces. You’ll soon forget you’re even wearing it. However, for those who don’t want to wear the knife around their neck, the Kydex sheath is also designed to accept G-Clips or a Mini Tek-Lok for wear on a belt, bag or pack.
“As much as I’ve enjoyed using and reviewing Bradford Knives’ various models over the years, I was extra excited to see the G-Necker make its debut.”
The design of the G-Necker, itself, is fairly intriguing. Its one-piece construction is 0.26 inch thick at the handle. However, at the guard, there’s a step down to a thickness of 0.165 inch where the blade begins. Most neck knives sport a blade with the same thickness as the tang or handle—at least near the handle. That’s not the case with the G-Necker. While providing a beefier handle for better purchase, the thinner blade portion of the G-Necker yields a better geometry for a more acute edge.
From the beginning of the blade at the guard, the G-Necker sports a distal taper of the drop-point blade that concludes at the point with a thickness of about 0.05 inch (according to my micrometer). This distal taper helps reduce the weight of the knife and also contributes to an excellent edge geometry, making the G-Necker a superior cutting and slicing tool for its size. Additionally, the G-Necker sports a full-height flat grind, further contributing to its cutting capabilities.
Another factor in the G-Necker’s cutting prowess is the use of ELMAX steel for its construction (which I’ll also discuss). The G-Necker features a hardness of approximately 61 HRC and is available in three finishes, including Stonewash, Nimbus and (on my review knife) Black DLC (Diamond-Like Carbon).
- Overall length: 6 inches
- Blade length: 2.88 inches
- Handle length: 3.13 inches
- Blade thickness: 0.16 inch
- Weight: 2.7 ounces
- Steel: ELMAX
- Grind: Full-height flat
- Hardness: 61 HRC
- Finish: Black DLC (as tested), Nimbus, Stonewash
- Sheath: Kydex, with paracord necklace
Welcome to ELMAX
A fairly new steel to the American market, ELMAX is a third-generation powder-metallurgy steel made by Bohler-Uddenholm. It’s one of the most well-balanced steels on the market because it offers the best qualities of both high-carbon and stainless steels. As a result of its higher chromium content (18 percent), it provides the superior corrosion resistance of a stainless steel. ELMAX offers almost the same phenomenal edge retention of M390; however, it acts more like a high-carbon steel—while being much easier to sharpen and polish than M390.
“In fact, when it comes to sharpening and corrosion resistance, ELMAX and CPM-3V are almost interchangeable.”
Although it doesn’t have the same level of toughness as CPM-3V, it’s a very tough steel in its own right and outperforms many of the stainless steels on the market. In fact, when it comes to sharpening and corrosion resistance, ELMAX and CPM-3V are almost interchangeable. The main difference is that CPM-3V is a little tougher and can take more abuse; ELMAX can hold an edge a little longer (when comparing apples to apples with blade specs).
For a knife such as Bradford’s G-Necker, ELMAX is an ideal steel. Because this little knife really isn’t going to see a lot of abuse, per se, superior edge retention is probably going to be favored over toughness. Also, it’ll most likely be worn close to the body during strenuous outdoors activities (including maritime or high-humidity environments), so the corrosion resistance will be greatly appreciated. As for the use of ELMAX in Bradford’s 3D Guardian 5.5, well, that depends on the individual. But don’t worry. Bradford Knives has you covered.
3D Guardian 5.5
When I did my original review for American Survival Guide in 2017, the Guardian 5 was part of the mix. There was a lot to like about that knife. Even so, the new 3D Guardian 5.5 is even better than the original, at least in my opinion. Despite the “5.5” in the name, the Guardian 5.5 still features a 5-inch blade, although the new model sports a blade thickness of 0.17 inch rather than the original 0.20-inch thickness.
Larkin said Bradford wanted to thin out the blade for this model to make it more viable for bushcraft use. This alteration makes for a lighter tool overall (7.1 ounces), and it shifts the balance back into the grip a little more, making the blade a bit more responsive. In keeping with the bushcraft theme, the 3D Guardian 5.5 ships with a classic-style sheath made from bridle leather, although the buyer can opt for a Kydex sheath instead.
The 5.5 also features a guard around the choil—unlike the original 5—to prevent the user’s hand from slipping up on the blade edge. However, the real news with the 3D Guardian 5.5 is the much-improved grip slabs. The new grips are rounded and contoured with palm swells to fit more ergonomically in the hand. The original Guardian 5 I’d tried had relatively flat grip slabs. While functional, they were nowhere nearly as comfortable as the new 3D grips.
When I pulled the 3D Guardian 5.5 out of the box and held it the first time, I think I fell in love!
The fit was perfect for my hand (although “your mileage may vary”), and the machining was flawless. The palm swells are subtle—but just enough to provide a secure and comfortable grip without being obnoxious. The rounded butt of the grip hooks out just a bit to comfortably tuck in the fingers for a secure purchase. The knife I received for review had natural Micarta scales on it, but Bradford Knives offers a few different colors and patterns to suit your tastes. And, it also offers G10 slabs.
The 3D Guardian 5.5 I received for this review was also constructed from ELMAX steel; that was a great fit for my particular style. For a knife of this size, I prefer one that holds an edge a little longer as opposed to having the ultimate toughness of CPM-3V. For me, the 3D Guardian 5.5 will be a cutting tool 97 percent of the time, because I typically have a much larger tool (an ax or kukri) for chopping, prying and other hard work.
Even so, I liked the fact that the 3D Guardian 5.5 had a high saber grind for the drop-point blade. With the thinner blade steel, the saber grind leaves more material near the spine for additional strength. This allows the knife to be pushed into harder service for tasks such as prying and batoning wood for a campfire. For those folks who go hard-core with their bushcraft knives and want the benefits of a premium super steel, Bradford also offers the 3D Guardian 5.5 in CPM-3V. This’ll provide all the toughness someone could possibly want in a knife this size.
Like the previous Bradford knives I reviewed, both the G-Necker and the 3D Guardian 5.5 came with a very nice edge right out of the box. I was able to shave a little bit of arm hair with both knives, although the G-Necker had the definite advantage with that particular test. The 5.5 needed to be touched up just a bit on a stone to bring it to a popping-sharp state. Once that was done, it was quickly and cleanly shaving newsprint like a paper-eating fiend.
During a couple of trips to the woods, I put it to work with all manner of bushcraft tasks, including carving tent stakes, triggers and even an improvised handle I was working on. I also used it to make a few feather sticks, which it quickly and easily did.
The Guardian was very comfortable to use, even during extended sessions. The palm swells helped fill my hand a bit more than the original Guardian 5, and this translated to less strain during longer use. The serrations on the spine were also nicely radiused, preventing them from cutting into my thumb when bearing down for harder work.
Despite the pleas of a couple of my bushcraft-purist friends, I had no qualms also using the 3D Guardian 5.5 to process wood for a campfire. The 5-inch blade worked nicely with smaller pieces, and because I didn’t go crazy with the batoning, I wasn’t concerned about breaking the blade. ELMAX is still quite tough, and the extra material at the spine left by the grind certainly helped in that regard.
Speaking of fire-making: The edges on the spine were also lightly radiused, and while that looks nice, it doesn’t provide the best bite against a ferro rod. I was still able to get sparks from a couple of ferro rods with the review knife, but I did have to put a little extra work into the process. Keep in mind that this might also be affected by whatever finish you choose for the blade.
To be honest, it’s hard to find demanding and “sexy” uses for a knife such as the G-Necker, with its ultra-compact profile. It was used mostly for more pedestrian purposes during the course of the review. However, I actually ended up using it more, simply because I had it with me all the time and not just in the woods. It’s a very capable slicer, and I liked the extra thickness of the handle, which seemed to provide a bit more control over the little blade.
As an experiment, I put the G-Necker to work on a 1.25-inch hard, dry limb just to test its limits. With its excellent edge geometry, I was able to quickly process a large pile of dry tinder for a fire (some of which I stored in an empty tin for later use). Within about 30 minutes, I was also able to fashion a fairly decent improvised spear. Given its performance on the hard, dry wood—which is difficult to work on with a knife of any size—I’m sure the user won’t have any issues using the G-Necker with freshly cut or downed wood for a variety of purposes.
During this session, the edge of the guard did bring up a good-sized blister on my second knuckle. But that was to be expected, because I was using it well beyond its intended purpose of light cutting. While the G-Necker wasn’t the ideal tool for the job, it did get the job done and highlighted the benefit of having a backup blade, just in case.
There was no hunting season while I used the G-Necker, but I could tell it would be a great tool for cleaning small game such as rabbits and squirrels. I mostly used it for everything from cutting paracord and nylon webbing to opening boxes, cutting poster board and even more-intricate carving work on wood triggers I’d made.
The edge has held up extremely well, and I haven’t felt the need to sharpen it yet. That’s more a function of the ELMAX steel, though, and not specific to any particular knife. Provided the heat treatment is done correctly and there’s a good edge, almost any ELMAX knife will provide long service without a touch-up.
3D Guardian 5.5
- Overall length: 10.0 inches
- Blade length: 5.05 inches
- Handle length: 5 inches
- Blade thickness: 0.17 inch
- Weight: 7.6 ounces
- Steel: ELMAX (or CPM-3V)
- Grind: High saber
- Hardness: 61-62 HRC
- Finish: Black DLC, Nimbus (as tested), Stonewash
- Sheath: Leather pouch (optional Kydex)
A Satisfying Evolution
With the new features and products that have been introduced, there’s no question that Larkin and the Bradford Knives crew have hit their stride in building top-quality EDC and outdoors knives. The offerings are not only attractive because of their ultra-clean finishes, multiple grip options and excellent grinds, they’re also very efficient and comfortable to use.
With the 3D Guardian 5.5 and the G-Necker, you’ll have a highly effective bushcraft/EDC combo that would cover just about any cutting need you might have throughout the day, whether at home or in the field. If you’re looking for top-shelf quality in your next carry blade, you won’t go wrong with Bradford Knives.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the November, 2020 print issue of American Survival Guide.