Ethics Statement: I have not received any products or compensation from ESEE Knives. I purchased this knife and its accessories. I do occasionally receive free products from manufacturers for review, with the understanding that anything I say about them will be my real, unvarnished opinion on the matter. My honesty and integrity are my stock in trade. This website is supported in part by advertising and referral fees when you click affiliate links to merchants such as Amazon.
There’s an idea out there that a knife should be big and very tough, so you can use it to chop, slice, hack, pry, pound, fell, and fight. This is a totally valid view. There’s another idea that a knife should be small, light, and thin, primarily designed to cut. This too is valid. Other ideas are that it should be made of stainless steel so it doesn’t rust, or that it should be made of carbon steel so it’s easier to sharpen. While the underlying premises of these views are not necessarily exclusive (what with new, finer-grained stainless steels and new, more rust-resistant carbon steels), they both fill needs out there in the market.
That’s why there is such a variety of knives, nearly biological in its scope and range.
I enjoy many kinds of food. I have eaten some of the finest foods in some of the best restaurants on the planet, but some others of the best meals were out of a cast-iron skillet in a 30-foot trailer an hour from the nearest interstate highway. I slept just as well in that trailer as I did at the Waldorf-Astoria in NYC.
I’m not saying they were equal in accommodation or sophistication — on the contrary, they were very different. The Waldorf was luxurious; the trailer was “merely” warm and dry. The Steak Tartare at Les Armures in Geneva (better known for its cheese dishes than its meats; an unfortunate case of pigeonholing) was silky, succulent, and perfectly blended at the table with just the right amount of parsley, cayenne, mustard, onions, and capers (and more). The bread was toasted and buttered perfectly — a little crunch, then chewy on the inside. But I bet the guy at Les Armures wouldn’t know the first thing about corn bread and turnip greens with salt pork. The chef at Les Armures had one skill set, and my uncle in the trailer had another. Each of which was appropriately developed and executed, and fully valid in its context.
About the ESEE 3
So about this knife. The one I have is the ESEE 3, which has a 3.38-inch cutting edge and a 3.88-inch overall blade length, so it’s legal to carry in my state. It is 1/8-inch thick and wide for its length, which gives it quite an acute angle at the cutting edge even though it is flat ground and not hollow ground. The flat grind gives it the benefit of a little extra toughness, which is important since it is hardened to about 57 Rc. Even so, I find it easy to get a good sharp edge on it. 57 Rc is at the low end of “very hard” tool steel. By comparison, axes are typically hardened up to 55. I think it’s just right. Yes, it doesn’t hold an edge as it would if it were harder, but again, this is something I can sharpen. Plus, it’s not so brittle.
Some will argue that it is too small to qualify as a “survival knife.” I would probably agree, but this is not my survival knife; I’m not consistently in a survival situation. I think of this as a pocket knife, in terms of how often I use it, and the purposes for which I use it. Except it’s more easily accessible, and it’s not a folder. If I were surviving in the wilderness, carrying everything I owned, and had to consolidate cutter, axe, machete, and pry bar, I would go for a bigger, thicker, tougher knife. Quite likely I’d go for an ESEE, though. They make larger models. In fact, their first marketed model, the RTAK, was sized as the survival knife it was designed to be. After all, ESEE knives are designed by people who train others in survival skills — they really know what they’re doing.
ESEE knives are made of powder coated 1095 carbon steel. It rusts. Mostly I can prevent it by wiping it clean, oiling it, or using a rust-inhibiting cloth on it, but at some point, in some circumstance, it’s going to rust. I live with it. I have had 1095 knives for decades. I know how to sharpen them and I know their properties. I need a knife I can easily sharpen, because I use this knife almost daily, and above all I need it to cut.
Can you get a good edge on a stainless blade and avoid the whole rust issue? I don’t know. Maybe. If you can, and that’s what you want, go for it. It’s just that I’m certain I can do it with this knife, and I don’t have anything to relearn, or any new compromises to assess.
This knife comes with an ABS plastic sheath and a belt clip, but I use a Tek Lok clip that allows me to carry the knife horizontally at the belt. This makes it more convenient than a pocket knife, and it doesn’t poke into the seat or seat back when I sit. Seat belts are no longer a problem, as they were when I wore the sheath vertically on the hip.
Using the ESEE 3
I have been sensible with this knife, but not by any means gentle. I haven’t used it to dig, I’ve been careful when prying with the tip, and I haven’t hammered the pommel to drive the tip, but I have cut a lot of stuff including an aluminum can and thin copper wire. Not much, but when I really needed to it did the job. I’ve batoned my way through a lot of oak. I’ve scraped for hours (murder on the blade) and still retained a usable edge.
The wide blade allows a deep “belly,” and this has a very practical, functional consequence. It allows you to work the blade near the tip while applying longitudinal force instead of lateral force, which would tire the wrist. You can push the blade instead of prying it. A deep index finger groove in the handle gives purchase for a firm grip to prevent your hand sliding over the blade. I demonstrate this in the video, in case you have a hard time visualizing what I’m saying.
A choil is provided so you can choke down your grip for closer work.
As you can see, I’ve worn the powder coating off the spine with lots of batoning. This falls under normal wear, though, so it’s not covered by ESEE’s excellent, transferable lifetime warranty. Naturally, a longer blade makes batoning better, but I like this size for so many other reasons.
Sharpening is a snap. I’ve had to profile the edge on a grinder twice in about 8 months, but aside from that, it’s easy to hone a burr onto the edge and work it off on a whet stone for an edge sharp enough to shave. I’ve had the “knife mange” on my arm to prove it. I don’t keep it constantly that sharp, but an occasional few maintenance swipes on the whet stone keeps it cutting rope, string, tape, twigs, envelopes — you know… utility stuff.
This is the knife I’ve carried more consistently, kept sharper, used more, and enjoyed more than any other I’ve ever had. Admittedly, if it was my survival tool, I’d want a bigger one.
But I’d just get a bigger ESEE.