Fred Haakonsen Vanadis 4E Utility
Custom Knife Review

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Fred Haakonsen Vanadis 4E Utility knife

Usage - Original Edge

- I can't say what was the final grit Fred used when sharpening the knife before shipping to me, seemed around 800-1000 grit range. Pretty hard to tell, and I might be off by few couple hundred or couple thousands :) Either way, original edge was plenty sharp and I was interested in comparing the coarse edge with the high polished one. The usual test was on abrasive materials. Bohler-Uddeholm specifically promotes the steel as designed for tools requiring high adhesive resistance, ductility etc. In short, it's wear resistance and quite tough, later does help to prevent chipping, especially at high hardness. Primary abrasive medium to test the knife with, your usual cardboard. Lots of it. Except it was not enough anyway :) I've accurately measured about 1200" being cut with about 50mm blade section next to the handle, and the blade could still shave, can't say it was a clean shave, but still. Another test material I had at my disposal, manila rope, about 1" thick. Funny, I've never used that rope for anything but cutting tests. Well, not too surprising, what would I really do with 1" thick rope living in a house in SF bay. Anyhow, for making a few cuts with a small fixed blade was alright, but after 50 or so cuts, I've felt that another, larger knife would be a better fit, especially one with a bigger handle :) At the end of the rope cutting, I've discovered that the edge stopped shaving, however it still had quite some bite to it. I've stopped cutting and went with 0.50µm diamond crystal loaded leather strop. I wasn't certain it would be enough to restore the edge, but why not, after all I was testing the knife and its abilities, and I was not in a hurry with anything. In short, about 30 strokes per side restored the shaving ability of the edge. It was not enough to fully restore the original edge, but it did restore absolutely serviceable edge, which could be used for a long time, which I did. The rest of the cutting tests included leftovers of the rubber sheaths I've had form lining the custom knife cabinet drawers. Sticky stuff, but not really a challenge. Rubber and plastic tubing, plus the usual steel and copper wire cutting tests, which I do, with all the high hardness knives. The tests were all successful. No chipping or edge rolling was detected afterwards, and I did use 10x magnifying glass to examine the edge. Overall, I've used the knife for the next 6 months with the original edge, restoring it as needed. Obviously, given my occupation as a software engineer, fixed blade knives are not my primary tools for work, so the use was limited. Besides, I've had bunch of other knives to work with.

Usage - 12°-14° High Polish Edge

- No matter how good the steel is, maintenance with leather strops and fine abrasives, including 10000 grit Naniwa Chosera Super Finish synthetic stone, can extend the useful lifespan of the edge only so much, and there will be a point when the edge will need more serious restoration, because during the maintenance period the edge angle gradually increases. When that time came for the Haakonsen utility knife, I've figured it would be perfect opportunity to thin down the edge a bit, even out the edge bevels and gind the tip edge to the same level as the rest of the blade. I don't use that knife for really harsh cutting and I don't really need a thick tip, since my woodworking is next to none, except for the edge tests I do with various knives. I don't think maintaining variable angle edge is any more difficult than equal one. To grind even bevel you need to raise the blade properly when the curved tip becomes in contact with the stone, thus to have a thicker edge at the tip, all you really need it to raise the knife even higher. I already knew I was in a treat when I've decided to thin down the edge, so I've come well prepared. Mainly I am referring to DMT D8XX 120 grit diamond plate. Still, it took quite some time, overall I was working with it for about 40-50 minutes. Although, I was being really careful and accurate with sharpening, I wanted to grind very even bevels and I've learned it a hard way that rushing and using heavy pressure, especially with aggressive cutters like DMT D8XX can be a costly mistake :) I've achieved the first goal completely, which was to thin down the edge, although not by much, and the second goal, evening the edge bevels was achieved I'd say about 90%. I've even out the tip alright, but I couldn't remove the uneven section at the heel completely. I could, if I've continued a while longer, but that would remove too much metal and that was something I wanted to avoid.

Before the knife even arrived I did discuss edge finish choices with Fred. He felt that Vanadis 4E steel was fine grained enough to take highly polished edge. After evening the edge bevels, I've ended up with ~12°-14° angle per side. Following sharpening steps were the usual sequence I follow with any other hard steel, 500 grit Beston(Bester) synthetic whetstone, Bester 700 grit synthetic whetstone, King 1200 grit synthetic whetstone, Blue Aoto 2000-3000 grit synthetic whetstone. Edge refinement was done with 5000 grit Naniwa Chosera synthetic whetstone, and 10000 grit Naniwa chosera finishing super stone. Then with the usual combo of microabrasives, 0.50µm diamonds, 0.30µm Aluminum Oxide film and finally 0.25µm diamond charged strop. Stropping on the leather and I was done. All that took closer to 2 hours. The result was exceptionally sharp, very aggressive edge. Even though I've sharpened numerous steels using the same sequence, in the end, quite often the difference between two different steels sharpened exactly the same way with the same abrasives ends up with slightly different edge. Visually things are the same, and even under the microscope I can't tell what's the difference, but when I test the edge with finger tips(and I'm strongly cautioning against doing so with 100K edges unless you really know what you are doing), I can feel the difference, purely tactile feedback. Not a very safe thing to do, although I haven't cut myself doing that for more than a decade. Anyhow, the Vanadis 4E produces very aggressive edge. Theoretically it is the type and size of the carbides embedded in the steel matrix, but it's hard to tell what exactly. Some steels produce aggressive edges with 100K edges, others do not, although cutting ability in terms of push cutting is not distinguishable, but in terms of slicing performance, especially using very little force, the difference is there. The performance of the high polished edge was tested in the similar manner, although I didn't have another 1200" of cardboard to cut. However, the increase in push cutting was considerable. Slicing performance was about the same, because the edge was thinner and sharper than the original. As far as the edge holding is concerned, I didn't notice any problems with the new edge and overall, I'd rate Vanadis 4E steel, at least in Fred Haakonsen's utility knife as exceptionally high. Maintaining the super sharp edge is just as easy as before, mainly done with 0.25µm diamond loaded leather strop. So far so good :)

The last or one very different test was the attempt or evaluation of this knife in the kitchen, I've tried to use it as a paring knife. As usual I use either Tojiro Flash paring knife or more frequently, Watanabe Kamagata paring knife. Considering that utility knife showed really stellar performance during cardboard cutting tests and other utility cuttings, I've figured it was worth trying it in the kitchen. The task was very specific and as far as kitchen chores go, it is quite taxing for a knife edge. Specifically, cutting the ends of the Brussels sprouts. Compared to the cardboard or plastic tubing, let alone steel wiring, Brussels sprouts don't seem to be much of a challenge, but the amount is mucho bigger, and I do that regularly. And because I do cutting off the board, lateral loads on the edge are higher compared cutting on the board, because your hands have more support. I was counting on very hard steel to resist deformation better, and high wear resistance was another factor I was counting on. Even though it's a vegetable, Brussels sprouts are quite harsh on any edge, I can tell that from continued use of various knives on those sprouts. But unfortunately, the test was not a success. I've dropped the testing in the middle, as the result was clear. The edge held up just fine, there was zero edge degradation from what I could tell, but the thickness of the blade made it more difficult to do cutting compared to two other knives I've mentioned above. So, there you have it, one more argument for the thinner knives, especially in the kitchen. Excellent edge holding alone may not be enough. Well, the thin knives are not solution for everything either.


- Small knife with a lot of cutting power and extremely high edge durability. I've seen my fare share of very high performance steels and Haakonsen's utility knife does stand out. I don't really have dire need for a knife with such performance, in that I don't do cutting all day long, but on the other hand, I collect knives, and I am interested in high performance alloys, so from that point of view, it was a perfect candidate. On top of that, Fred Haakonsen is highly knowledgeable in both areas, knifemaking and metallurgy. While nobody hands out PhDs in knifemaking, Fred does have PhD in later. And, while this is not directly related to the knife itself, exchange with Fred was very helpful for me, in terms of gaining better insight into metallurgy from knifemaking perspective. Obviously that doesn't substitute real education, but still, it was cool to learn new things and discuss few aspects with an expert. In the end, would I recommend the knife to anyone looking for high performance fixed blades? Definitely yes. From the perspective of the pure cutting performance and especially its edge holding ability, the knife is a stellar performer. Sharpening is easy considering its 66HRC blade, and maintenance of the edge is very easy, like I said, maintaining laser sharp edge on this knife is easier than on mainstream, softer knives, needs less of it, a lot less. In short, it is a top notch steel, with top notch heat treatment from a maker with PhD in metallurgy, so it is very difficult to get better than that :) Of course, there are other factors to consider, mainly the price. if that works out, Fred will take care of the rest.


  • Blade - 87.00mm(3.43")
  • Thickness - 3.87mm
  • Width - 25.20mm
  • OAL - 200.00mm(7.87")
  • Steel - Vanadis 4E steel at 66HRC
  • Handle - Linen Micarta
  • Weight - 94.00g(3.18oz)
  • Acquired - 06/2010 Price - 750.00$

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Last updated - 05/19/19