Bradford Knives and Massdrop have a new fixed-blade knife collaboration going on right now.
I reviewed the Bradford Guardian 3 knife about 2 years ago, and it has continued to see regular use. It might seem pricey for what it is, but it’s a quality and consistently reliable knife.
I actually bought 2 more Bradford knives recently, for review purposes. Another Guardian 3, with sheepsfoot blade (it was on sale at the time) and 3D-sculpted handle scales instead of the usual 2D textured slabs.
I also bought a Guardian 3.5, with purple 2D handles. Why purple? I wanted to review this new larger-handled knife size, and the purple version was on sale.
Compared to the Guardian 3, the 3.5 has a larger handle, sizing the knife as a hybrid cross between the Guardian 3 and larger Guardian 4.
This Bradford-Massdrop collaboration is for a special Guardian 3.5 with 3D handles and Nitro-V steel.
I don’t think I have ever read about Nitro-V before. My Guardians are made with M390 steel, a popular high performance powder metallurgy steel.
Here is what New Jersey Steel Baron says about the steel alloy, which they also describe as being a reasonably priced high performance option:
The Baron’s Nitro-V is NJSB’s latest effort to provide premium cutlery grade steels and materials in an ever expanding, evolving craft that is custom tailored to our customers’ wants and needs. As a martensitic stainless steel with a chromium based chemistry, we have optimized the best qualities of AEB-L by enriching the formula using Nitrogen and Vanadium to create a new ferroalloy that provides exceptional edge performance, high hardness and extreme corrosion resistance especially in marine and wet environments.
Created by New Jersey Steel Baron, Nitro-V is a nitrogen-enriched stainless steel with excellent edge retention, high hardness, and extreme corrosion resistance. Most often compared with AEB-L—a steel praised by custom knifemakers for its use in razor blades—Nitro-V enhances the formula with nitrogen and vanadium. This new recipe provides better wear resistance, especially in marine and wet environments. It can also be heat treated to a higher working hardness than AEB-L for a longer-lasting edge.
I can’t tell you much about AEB-L, either, at least not quickly. Details are hard to find online, but I did find some positive opinions about its ease of sharpening.
I could comment on the chemical composition, but a knife’s characteristics are perhaps as dependent on the heat treatment as on the alloy composition.
My opinion? This is a more economical blade steel, and I trust Bradford to do it justice.
As seen here, the knife is available in a bunch of color options.
- Green Camo Linen Micarta Handle with Nimbus Blade ($130)
- Chocolate Brown Maple Richlite Handle with Nimbus Blade ($130)
- Double Black Linen Micarta Handle with Nimbus Blade ($130)
- Cool Gray G-10 Handle with Stonewashed Blade ($120)
- Black Blue Gray G-Wood Handle with Stonewashed Blade ($120)
- Hunter Orange G-10 handle with Stonewashed Blade ($120)
- Double Black Linen Micarta Handle with Stonewashed Blade ($125)
- Green Camo Linen Micarta Handle with Stonewashed Blade ($125)
The base price is $120 for a Guardian 3.5 knife with G-10 handle and stonewashed blade.
Stepping up to linen micarta adds $5 to the price. Stepping up to linen micarta and a Nimbus (black finish) blade adds $10 to the price.
The standard Bradford Guardian 3.5 knife has a 3.5″ blade with 3″ cutting edge, sabre blade grind, jimped spine, full-tang construction, a finger guard, and 3D countoured handle scales.
Massdrop says their Guardian 3.5 has a flat grind, which looks like the standard Bradford sabre grind, and not their full flat grind which typically carries a $10 premium.
It comes with a leather sheath.
This version of the knife is designed by Brad Larkin, produced by Massdrop, and manufactured by Bradford USA.
The first-run production comes with a $10 credit towards future Massdrop drops (purchases).
This “drop,” or purchase window, ends in 21 days, so I suppose June 30th, 2018. They don’t mention the exact date or time explicitly.
Price: $120-130 depending on handle and blade choice
Estimated Ship Date: 11/30/2018
Note: As an FYI, although we received an invitation to join Massdrop’s affiliate program, the above link is instead a “personal” referral link, as part of their current “Give $10, Get $10” promo.
Introduce a friend to Massdrop. They’ll get $10 when they sign up, and you’ll get $10 credit once they complete their first drop. Only for new Massdrop members.
I was really happy with my Guardian 3. My recently purchased 3D-handled Guardian 3 sheepsfoot? It has less polish to it – literally, the spine still has raw grind marks – but the handle is comfortable and the blade expertly ground and reasonably well sharpened.
The Guardian 3 is smaller, and I find easier to control, but that could also be because of the different edge grind, and the Guardian 3.5 has a larger and even more comfortable handle.
The regular M390 Guardian 3.5 starts at $169 with 2D G-10 handle and stonewashed blade, and it starts at $189 with 3D-machined micarta, G-10, or G-wood handle and stonewashed blade.
As mentioned, I bought a 2D purple G-10 Guardian 3.5 recently, on sale for $139 from the regular price of $169. Would I have purchased one of these Massdrop Guardian 3.5 knives? Maybe. I still might.
Apples to apples, the Guardian 3.5 with black micarta handle is $189, compared to $130 for the Massdrop knife. I don’t know what double black micarta is, but I’m guessing it’s just a stylistic choice, and not a functional one.
On my new Bradford knives, there are signs of greater consistency, but less of a handmade feel to them. My Guardian 3, here’s my review again for reference, has what looks and feels like a hand-finished blade. My new Guardian 3 and 3.5 are less polished on non-working edges, but are perfectly fit to the handles. I should mention that I had never noticed or cared about the not-quite perfect alignment on my Guardian 3.
The new sheaths don’t sport Bradford branding, at least mine didn’t, but look the same. I’m guessing that the branding step is skipped to save time or effort. My Sheepsfoot 3 was supposed to come with a brown sheath, but it came with the black sheath that’s bundled with the black-finish Nimbus knives.
Parts of the handle that are sharper on my Guardian 3, which tend to tear bits out of the leather sheath, are smooth and rounded on my 3.5. And the 3D handles on my Guardian 3 sheepsfoot? That handle and the sheepsfoot blade profile, with greater spacing for finger placement, has made my Guardian 3 more of a “shelf queen.”
I sometimes regret cheaping out and getting the 2D purple checkered G-10 handle on my Guardian 3.5. I did not want to spend $189 to get one with 3D machined handles, and so I am finding this Massdrop offering to be highly tempting.
But… I also love M390 blade steel. I haven’t heard enough about Nitro-V to comment on the differences, but it might be good enough to justify spending $59 less. Well, you save $59 and get $10 towards your next Massdrop “drop”/purchase.
I treat the Guardian 3 as a folding knife substitute. The 3.5 is a bit larger, and might be more of an outdoors knife. I’ve been using more as a workshop knife. The Guardian 3 is in my office/electronics workspace, the 3.5 in the garage.
I’d say the 3D machined handles are vastly more comfortable than the 2D checkered handles. I still went with the 2D checkered on my purple 3.5, partly for the cost savings, partly because of the idea that it’ll be grippier if I need to use it with slimy, wet, or gloved hands.
Long story short, I’m not quite sure what to recommend. If you’re interested in a $100+ fixed blade knife, this is a great deal, but you might want to do some research on the blade alloy, to see if it’ll fit your needs or preferences.
I’m partly feeling buyer’s remorse about my 2D purple Guardian 3.5, but not a lot. M390 is a superb blade steel, and my knife will get an additional 6 months of use until the Massdrop versions even ship out.
I hadn’t expected to provide this much commentary, but hopefully it’ll help anyone who is seriously considering buying the Massdrop Guardian 3.5 knife.
I personally haven’t made my mind up yet, but will probably pass, unless there might be strong interest in a review of the Nitro-V Guardian knife in the future. I have enough Guardian knives to fill my editorial needs, and any one of them would be enough for my personal usage needs.
Update: Looking at BladeHQ, there are a couple of economical versions of the Guardian 3.5, with 2D handles and N690 blade steel, priced at $130 and $140, depending on handle. That’s a tough one. $130 for a 2D-handled Guardian 3.5 with N690 steel, which is a little better known from what I’ve seen, or $120-130 for a 3D-handled Guardian 3.5 with Nitro-V? Maybe there’s a reason, aside from cost, that the Massdrop Guardian 3.5 features Nitro-V and not N690?