Bradford Knives‘ Guardian line of blades offers stellar performance and great peace of mind. Bradford Knives are one example of how man has refined both the art and science of knife-making. No one is exactly sure when mankind first began using knives or other tools, although the general consensus seems to point to a period around 2.1 million years ago with the appearance of Homo habilis. That’s where most of the evidence of early tool making seems to have its origins. What’s most amazing about the prehistoric use of knives more than 2 million years ago is that we still have a direct connection to that time through the use of our own tools in the outdoors. The tools that made life easier and allowed our ancestors to survive so very long ago are the same ones we use today for the very same reasons.
Materials have changed, as have designs and implementations, but in the outdoors, mankind’s ability to survive still relies on the simple ability to cut things. There’s something primal and very satisfying in the experience and the knowledge of that connection to our past. For some of us, searching for the tool that best suits our needs while keeping that connection alive is often as rewarding as actually using the tool—as was recently the case for me.
BRADFORD KNIVES’ TEST SUBJECTS
We recently had the opportunity to do a short review on the Guardian4 from Bradford Knives, and we were so impressed with its construction and how it performed that we felt the company and its products were worth a more thorough look. We asked if we could take a few of Bradford’s other products for a test run in the woods, and it wasn’t long before a box containing the company’s wares showed up at our door.
Brad Larkin, owner of Bradford Knives, sent three knives that had different characteristics, including types of steel, handle materials, finishes and sheath types. It was a nice sample of the variety of work and options he offers in his products. In the package were a Guardian6 in CPM-3V with a stonewash finish and black Micarta grip slabs and a Guardian5 in CPM-3V with a black DLC finish and tan Micarta scales. The third blade was the Guardian3, made from Böhler M390 steel and sporting tiger-stripe G-10 slabs and the company’s “Nimbus” finish.
The Guardian knives came with black, snug-fitting Kydex sheaths that can be attached to a number of clip options, including G-clips, small and large Tek-Loks and MOLLE attachments for the larger knives. All of the Kydex sheaths are made by David Brown and are listed on the Bradford Knives site for purchase as an option with a knife. The Guardian3 not only came with a taco-style Kydex sheath, Brad Larkin also included a very nicely crafted leather sheath that can be worn horizontally on the belt—which is how I prefer to carry knives of this size. The leather sheath is standard issue for the Guardian3, but two different styles of Kydex sheaths are available, as well.
Specifications are usually mentioned as an aside during a knife review, but in reviewing three knives, with two of them so close in size, it’s worth noting some of the details. This information will also be useful for reference later in the review.
The largest of the three is the Guardian6, with an overall length of 10.9 inches and a blade length of 6.5 inches. The Guardian5 has a blade length of 5.5 inches, with an overall length of 9.8 inches. The handle length of the Guardian6 is 4.4 inches, compared to the 4.3-inch handle length of the Guardian5.
Both of the larger knives are .200 inch thick and are made of CPM-3V steel—which is highly regarded for toughness (or resilience against impact). They both have a high saber grind, leaving plenty of room for regular slicing and cutting tasks but leaving some thickness at the spine for increased strength. (On occasion, Bradford Knives does offer runs with full flat grinds.)
The Guardian3 is .142 inch thick, with an overall length of 6.5 inches and a blade length of 3.5 inches. As mentioned earlier, it is made from Böhler M390 steel. Thanks to the addition of the right mix of molybdenum, chromium, tungsten and vanadium, M390 is currently one of the best steels available for edge retention and is highly corrosion resistant.
Having previously reviewed the Guardian4, I already had certain expectations about the quality of the products I’d receive. Bradford Knives certainly didn’t disappoint. Each knife is expertly crafted from tip to pommel. The finish on each was extremely clean, with no imperfections. This was most notable in the Guardian5, with its DLC coating. The handles were very comfortable, and the right material was chosen for each blade style.
“Each knife is expertly crafted from tip to pommel. The finish on each was extremely clean, with no imperfections.”
The larger knives had the contoured Micarta slabs for filling the hand when engaged in heavier work, while the Guardian3’s checkered G-10 scales kept it light and highly visible—which could prevent loss of the knife because of its small size. Most impressive, though, was the edge on each blade. They were absolutely shaving-sharp, and I do not use that description lightly. With a simple pass of the edge over my arm with the Guardians, the blades accumulated a thick pile of hair—a testament to their shaving prowess.
TRIAL BY FIRE
If caught in a scenario in which one’s life might depend on the quality of the tools they have, it’s important to have already tested those tools in advance to ensure they will hold up to abuse and perform as required. This was the thought process when all three knives were taken afield. We would use them in various applications to see how well they performed and to sort out any strength or weaknesses. In addition, we wanted to see if one stood out from the others.
The Guardian6 was, seemingly, the natural choice for the bigger chores, such as chopping and batoning, because of its longer, 6.5-inch blade. I set about chopping a couple of small trees to make a few items, including a baton. One thing I noticed when I first handled the knives reared its head during this exercise. While the blade is .220 inch thick, it didn’t have enough mass to get good bites while chopping. I then had to choke back on the handle about halfway to get more snap into the chops. However, this also resulted in less control, because I was only holding onto the lower half of the handle.
It’s worth mentioning that the handles of the Guardian4 (previously reviewed), Guardian5 and Guardian6 are almost the exact same length—give or take .1 inch—despite the difference in blade lengths. For a 6.5-inch blade, the handle of the Guardian6 was a bit too small for me to facilitate good control and leverage. But that’s a subjective observation that might not hold true for other users. This issue is really only related to chopping tasks, because the knife performed extremely well in other regards, and a lot of folks don’t use their knives for that purpose. That said, chopping small trees is still doable, but it will take a little more time than with beefier blades.
“… the Guardian line from Bradford knives has it all.”
For processing firewood with a baton, the Guardian6 performed quite nicely. I beat on the spine as if it were my job—even through large knots—and it turned out no worse for wear. The extra length of the blade certainly provided more real estate for the baton, and the keen edge worked its way down the wood efficiently. The advantage definitely went to the Guardian6 in this regard. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Guardian3 probably saw more use than the other two knives combined. The first reason is that the majority of knife work in the outdoors is simple cutting or carving, and that doesn’t usually require a long blade.
The second reason is that the Guardian3 was quickly accessible via the horizontal sheath or worn as a neck knife. The hair-splitting edge on the Guardian3, along with its smaller size, made it an ideal choice for tasks requiring precise control and maneuverability. For finer work while making shelter stakes or carving triggers for improvised snares, the Guardian3 was fantastic to use. Even with extended use, I experienced no cramps or hand fatigue, and the edge remained razor sharp.
THE SWEET SPOT
Aesthetics and personal appeal aside, if I had to pick just one of the three knives as my only survival knife, it would definitely be the Guardian5. With the same .200-inch thickness of CPM-3V as the Guardian6, it can take the same abuse but has a slightly smaller form factor. For pieces of thicker wood on which I wanted clean, square cuts, I’d baton the Guardian5 through them, because the edge sheared its way through with no problems or signs of wear.
The Guardian5 also seemed to have a better blade-to-handle ratio that provided more control and leverage for work that takes a little more exertion (prying, drilling and so forth). Its blade length, balance and control also made it a great knife for eating and food preparation without being too unwieldy. The edge on the Guardian5 was outstanding, giving me a baby-smooth shave on my forearm. The edge also made effortless work while creating feather sticks, limbing shelter poles and cutting through materials such as canvas for an impromptu shelter.
“… I already had certain expectations about the quality of the products I’d receive. Bradford Knives certainly didn’t disappoint.”
THE BOTTOM LINE
Knife selection is a very subjective process, and personal preferences play a vital role in the decision-making. Where I might not have been as comfortable with the shorter handle on the Guardian6, someone else could pick it up and find that it is their perfect knife.
After having spent a good amount of time with the Bradford Knives trio, I was very impressed by these knives’ craftsmanship and performance. The selection and use of more advanced materials elevate this line of bladeware above the standard fare of knife offerings for the outdoors.
The CPM-3V steel in the Guardian5 and 6 is an excellent choice for a knife that will see abuse and have to do it all. The higher toughness of the steel and its somewhat corrosion-resistant quality make it an ideal, practical choice for a stand-alone survival knife. Practicality aside, the Guardian3 found favor because of its style, portability and superior edge retention. I already have a special place in my heart for high-end neck knives—or, as I sometimes call them, “finger knives”—and the Guardian3 is one of the best I’ve seen in this form factor.
From the clean lines, sleek finishes, advanced materials and comfortable handling, the Guardian line from Bradford Knives has it all. Given that this maker has been in the industry just a few years, the quality offerings already available are impressive, indeed. I can’t wait to see what’s next.
• Overall length: 10.9 inches
• Blade length: 6.5 inches
• Cutting length: 6.0 inches
• Thickness: .200 inch
• Steel type: CPM-3V
• Grind: saber
• Grips: G-10 or Micarta
• Overall length: 9.8 inches
• Blade length: 5.5 inches
• Cutting length: 5.0 inches
• Thickness: .200 inch
• Steel type: CPM-3V
• Grind: saber
• Grips: G-10 or Micarta
• Overall length: 6.5 inches
• Blade length: 3.5 inches
• Cutting length: 3.0 inches
• Thickness: 0.142 inch
• Steel type: M390
• Grind: saber or false edge
• Grips: G-10 or Micarta
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the March 2017 print issue of American Survival Guide.