I've been collecting and researching knives for a while, as I've learned and experimented, my tastes and preferences have changed over the years, but basics are the same, I am interested in new designs and high performance alloys. Later being rather important part of the collecting. I don't necessarily require new exotic alloy for every new knife I get, and I certainly have my favorite alloys for different knives, but getting my hands on a new knife utilizing new, high performance steel always adds interest :) Custom knife maker Phil Wilson has been supremely helpful in that regard, as he constantly works with exotic, high performance alloys and keeps adding new ones to his assortment. The very first knife I got from Phil was CPM 10V steel Utility hunter knife, that was back in 2005, and it still is an exceptional performer, even though I have tested dozens of high performance steels since then. During one of the email exchanges with Phil, I've mentioned my interest in one of his designs, and we discussed possible blade materials, during the discussion, Bohler-Uddeholm Vanadis 10V steel came up, although Phil was a bit skeptical, since the piece he had was rather thin for a knife, but I was ok with thin knife, so the project went ahead. Few months later I've had my first Vanadis 10 Stele knife and while it is a really thin knife, I was not disappointed by its performance. Very high performance, versatile small knife, which comes handy for various, small utility works.
General- The knife is based by one of the Phil Wilson's designs - Bird and Trout. I suppose its purpose is to do prep work on the birds and trout you hunt and fish, but frankly, I have not hunted for ages, and same goes fishing. From my point of view, it's a nice looking, small utility knife that I could use for delicate works and possibly as a paring knife in the kitchen as well. Therefore, the review is written from that perspective, so you'll have to pardon my ignorance in the areas related to specific design of the knife, and draw your conclusions from the work areas described here. As usual, the knife arrived from Phil tightly packed in the box to prevent damage at the hands of the postal office. Kydex sheath was included, which was at my request. Initial inspection revealed no visible defects in the knife, usual high quality work from Phil, great attention to all details, very good fit and finish and so on. Nothing to complain about or consider as a defect. The knife fits in the sheath perfectly, fit is tight and snug, yet it's easy to draw. Phil Wilson's bird and trout is a small fixed blade, just 224.00mm(8.82") overall length, I have smaller fixed blades too, so may be some might consider it medium length. I figure that's rather subjective. Bird and trout is a quite light 68.30g(2.31oz) for its size, mainly thanks to its very thin blade, because ironwood used in the handle is a really dense wood and doesn't qualify as a light handle material at all, although it is one of my favorites as a handle material. Also, interestingly, the bird and trout features full tang construction. For small knives of that size, especially light use knives, there isn't really a reason to go full tang, but if it's there, certainly won't hurt things, a bit of added weight and strength, although, I'll never need to apply that much force to utilize full tang construction fully. Overall, purely form design perspective, I like the bird and trout knife. Elegant blade shape, nice looking handle and blade/handle proportions are pretty much ideal for its size, and at the same time, the handle is very comfortable in hand, for various types of use. Can't really ask much more than that from a fixed blade knife, it is quite simple tool after all. Not too many parts in it.
Blade- Bird and trout knife blade is a slim, drop point shaped, with nice satin finish. The exact length is 110.00mm(4.33"), and at its widest the blade measured exactly 22mm, being 1.48mm thick at its thickest section. The tip however is very thin, less than 0.5mm thick and that makes it quite flexible. I'd say it's more flexible than I'd like ideally. I was expecting the flexibility, because I knew the metal Phil had to work with, was very thin. What I do not know is whether or not bird and trout knives are supposed to have flexible tips. Either way, this one is a custom, experimental knife, so if you order your own, you can request thicker blade, stiffer tip and other customizations available from Phil, let alone different alloy altogether. After all, that's what custom knives are about. Starting from the ¼ (from the tip) the blade is plenty stiff, and I've had no problems using it for cutting requiring significant force. There is also a small choil on the blade, which nicely blends into the handle, making it easier for detailed work when I'd have to really choke on the blade. And to conclude the blade description, the blade has convex edge, which is ground at about 15° per side angle. For testing purposes, I've decided to go with medium edge, thus I've chosen 2000-3000 grit Synthetic Blue Aoto whetstone for final stone, followed by stropping on the diamond charged and plain leather strops.
Vanadis 10 steel - This is a third generation PM alloy from Bohler-Uddeholm. By official designation, it is a high wear resistance tool steel. Although, Bohler-Uddeholm brochure specifically emphasizes that high wear resistance of Vanadis 10 alloy doesn't mean it is compromising in toughness department, at least not as much as other alloys do. Recommended working hardness 60-65HRC. Phil hardened the knife all the way to 65HRC, which I think is naturally the best choice for light use knives. As far as its composition goes, Vanadis 10 is quite unique alloy. I've spent quite some time searching in the knife steel composition chart trying to find other alloys with similar compositions, and nothing comes up within even 1% accuracy of key elements. The only thing close to it is another alloy from the same maker - Bohler-Uddeholm Wartec SF steel, which is not a PM steel, but a Spray Form(SF) alloy. From other alloys I am familiar with, I'd say Vanadis 10V is somewhat like Crucible CPM 10V with more Carbon, more Chrome and more Vanadium - CPM 10V vs. Vanadis 10 steel composition comparison. Anyway, whatever it is, Vanadis 10 has very high wear resistance and based on the fact that I haven't experienced any chipping issues even when cutting wires and whittling seasoned wood, its toughness is also pretty good.
Handle- The handle on the Bird And Trout knife is similar to other handles on some of the Phil Wilson Custom Knives. Handle material - ironwood, at my request, because by default, standard version of the knife features jigged bone handle, of which I am not really fond of. Ironwood is a fairly large group of woods, which have the reputation for hardness, durability and they are quite dense as well. Personally, I like the feel and looks of various ironwoods I've got in different knives, including kitchen, utility and hunting knives. Also at my request, Phil made flat the handle slabs. Traditionally, he uses more tapered handle design, but somehow, I find flat handle slabs more comfortable for me and my use. Handle construction is rather simple, ironwood slabs are attached to the blade with four pins. There's a lanyard hole at the end, but I've never used it so far, although in my opinion it's best to have one, should the need arise ;) Geometry is also simplistic and yet perfectly functional in all grips I have used. There is a pretty well defined fingerguard, which blends with the choil. The handle is superbly made, and I can honestly say, it's one of my favorites in regards of comfort and usability.
Last updated - 07/23/12