Those familiar with the world of Internet forums have probably seen the question, “Which one knife … ?” on more than one occasion. It’s a fun enough exercise trying to come up with the do-all knife with the best blend of features.
However, in most circumstances, having just one knife doesn’t have to be the case— at least, not if we plan ahead and pack our gear appropriately.
In that vein, we decided to pair a couple of knives together that would hopefully complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. If you are setting up a survival pack or bug-out bag, a couple of quality knives can go a long way toward dealing with whatever you encounter on the trail, particularly if the range of uses for blades is covered with proper selection.
For our experiment with complementary blades, we chose the Brush Hog chopper from Hammer Down Forge and the Guardian G4 from Bradford Knives to work together as companions out in the woods to illustrate the point.
THE BRUSH HOG
Kieran Klein, the owner of Hammer Down Forge, originally started as a blacksmith in 2012 but quickly transitioned to making knives. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Klein offers a wide variety of types and styles of fixed-blade knives that can be seen on his website. However, he recently outdid himself with the creation of the Brush Hog chopper, which I affectionately refer to as “Beast.”
The Brush Hog is an impressive piece of steel and, at first blush, doesn’t look as if it’s intended for the faint-hearted. Made from 52100 steel hardened to HRC 58, the Brush Hog has a blade length of 13.75 inches, width of 2.44 inches and a thickness of .25 inch.
In short, it’s a massive knife ready to push the envelope of what can be achieved with a blade in the field. Because it’s high-carbon steel, the knife should be maintained with a light coat of oil to help prevent corrosion, both during use and while it is in storage.
Along the top of the blade near the spine is a fuller that helps lighten the overall package while maintaining strength. But make no mistake—this is a hefty piece of steel. The other prominent feature is the bocote wood handle with a bird’s beak finish at the bottom.
… a couple of quality knives can go a long way toward dealing with whatever you encounter on the trail, particularly if the range of uses for blades is covered with proper selection.
THE GUARDIAN G4
Brad Larkin is the owner of Bradford Knives, and he also started his business around 2012. A knowledgeable and enthusiastic user of knives for survival, backpacking and camping, Larkin wanted to share his passion with others and put his industrial background to use by obtaining high-quality materials for the knives he wanted to make.
The Guardian G4 is the company’s survival-knife offering. Straight out of the box, it impresses immediately with the design and comfort of the grip, the blade profile and its overall handling characteristics.
The G4 is 9.13 inches overall, with a blade length of 4.63 inches and an edge length of 4.13 inches. The sample we received is constructed of M390 steel—a latest-generation steel that’s a fan favorite in the knife industry because of its excellent wear resistance (edge retention) and corrosion resistance. The product we received had a stonewash finish.
The blade is .165 inch thick with a high saber grind, resulting in both increased strength and great edge geometry for finer tasks. The grip slabs that were installed on the review sample we received are made of natural Micarta. A second set of the company’s 3D camo slabs were included, along with a specialized bit used to remove the grip scales. The 3D camo slabs definitely change the look of the knife dramatically.
ALONE IN THE WOODS
The only way to get a true sense of how blades will hold up in the field is to actually use them in the field, which is most often where a good amount of time is spent while doing knife reviews. Both knives definitely got their workout during the excursion under the thick canopy of the forest, and I came away from the experience very impressed by both products.
At the beginning of setting up camp, a large chopper such as the Brush Hog gets the most use. It’s used to cut saplings to build a shelter, process firewood and even cut down the occasional small tree, if needed.
I personally like a weighty, long-bladed knife for the type of chopping I do around camp. The longer length of a knife edge has a greater chance of catching on what the user is chopping—versus the shorter edge of a hatchet (in my experience)—so I feel safer using a long knife for the task. Plus, a long blade makes batoning firewood an easier process.
The only way to get a true sense of how blades will hold up in the field is to actually use them in the field…
The Brush Hog was just about the perfect specimen for the type of stuff I do. It had enough weight for good momentum during the swing and bit deeply with each chop. I was able to cut down trees with a thickness of an arm in just four to five swings, and good-sized saplings for shelter poles were downed with a single chop.
From there, I set about chopping up a couple of downed logs into multiple pieces so I could get to the dry wood inside (and just to see how well the Brush Hog held up). The knife, itself, was a little heavy, but oddly enough, I was surprised by my lack of fatigue after continued use. The blade’s weight helped do a lot of work while chopping, so I didn’t end up wearing myself out.
What surprised me most about the Brush Hog was something I thought was going to be an issue: I’ve used choppers with a bird’s beak on the handle, but I’ve always felt the impact of the chop bang against my little finger to the point where it would become numb at times.
The Brush Hog didn’t have that effect. My guess is that the substantial mass of the blade did a good job absorbing the impact while still locking the bottom of my hand against the bird’s beak for a more secure grip.
THE FINER THINGS
Depending on the individual’s skill level, a short blade can be used for a variety of tasks, from cutting cord and slicing food to cleaning game and doing woodwork of all types. Although not necessarily as visually impressive as a large chopper, a fixedblade survival knife such as the Guardian G4 will be your constant companion while you undertake the smaller chores to help you stay alive.
The G4 carries easily and out of the way in the vertical leather sheath, and I definitely found myself reaching for it more often than not. With all the recent thunderstorms, there wasn’t much tinder laying around, so getting inside some deadwood and shaving off curls to help start the fire was a necessity.
The edge on the G4 was keen enough to shave air, so getting thin wood curls wasn’t an issue; and with the wear resistance of the M390 blade, the G4’s edge just kept going and going. Dry grass, moss or punk usually make good tinder, but if you get shavings thin enough, you can get them to catch a spark, as well. This was how I started the fire with the G4.
The interesting thing about the G4 is that once the knife is gripped, the index finger is already in the choil area. There’s no need to “choke up,” as they say. The resulting hand placement, due to the relatively short handle, resulted in a great grip that made it easy to control the blade, even with serious exertion.
In fact, the knife’s handling was excellent. The rounded and contoured handles fit well in my grip, and there were no stress points on the handle to create hot spots or fatigue, no matter how long I used the G4. In fact, it was also used to limb some of the poles, create several shelter stakes for use with guy ties, along with all the other normal cutting, slicing and food prep chores one does around camp.
There is jimping on the spine of the G4 that is rather well executed. However, I didn’t find much need for it, because I could bear down on the handle, which was more comfortable, and still have good control of the blade because of the grip design. At no time did I feel anything was lacking with what I need to accomplish with a fixed-blade knife.
• Overall length: 9.13 inches
• Blade length: 4.63 inches
• Cutting length: 4.13 inches
• Blade thickness: .165 inch
• Steel type: M390 (or Bohler N690/CPM S30V)
• Grind: Saber
• Grip material: Natural canvas Micarta (other options available)
• MSRP: $239
• Overall length: 19.5 inches
• Blade length: 13.75 inches
• Blade width: 2.44 inches
• Cutting edge: 13.5 inches
• Blade thickness: .25 inch
• Steel type: 52100
• Grind: Flat
• Grip material: Wood, bocote
• MSRP: $740
THE DOUBLE-TAKE TAKEAWAYS
Both the Brush Hog and Guardian G4 did extremely well in the field. In fact, they both did better than I expected. I thought the Brush Hog would prove to be too heavy and fatigue inducing, and I believed the shorter grip on the G4 would be too limiting for my range of needs. It turns out that my anxiety was unwarranted in both cases, and the two knives worked extremely well together to address any situations I encountered on the trail.
As with anything else in the preparedness world, redundancy is paramount. As the adage goes, “Two is one and one is none.” Having more than one knife in the field is a sound practice, and having at least two that work well together in complementary fashion makes even more sense. That way, the user is not stuck on one part of the blade spectrum and limited in what they can do because of too much overlap with the tools on hand.
I can easily recommend the knives used for this dual-blade review. In fact, I feel lucky that they worked so well together and did the jobs for which they were so flawlessly designed. If you’re looking to build your own blade combo or add another piece to your collection, Bradford Knives and Hammer Down Forge should be at the top of your list. Both companies offer great designs, excellent performance and lifetime warranties for their products. How can you go wrong with that?
Hammer Down Forge
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the October 2016 print issue of
American Survival Guide.