1. This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Learn More.
  2. CONTEST IS NOW CLOSED! Live stream of the winners being picked: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jJ6xurJWkhs

    Hey folks! We're having a Becker Giveaway over in the Giveaway forum, check it out and have a chance to win a free Becker 4 Machax, Becker 5 Magnum Camp, or Becker 15 Short Trailing Point!
  3. Hey folks! We were alerted to a bug where several hundred members somehow got permanent paid memberships. We're going through and correcting that now. Somehow some of you somehow got yeaaaaaaars of free memberships, and, well, it happens. If your membership accidentally is turned off please post in the Service & Support forum thread with your transaction ID and I'll fix it

“Guard?” or “Guardless?” - That is the question!

Discussion in 'Fiddleback Forge Knives' started by Comprehensivist, Aug 4, 2017.

  1. I prefer a guard on the knife.

    9 vote(s)
  2. I prefer a guardless knife.

    21 vote(s)
  3. I have no strong preference either way.

    15 vote(s)
  1. Comprehensivist

    Comprehensivist Platinum Member Platinum Member

    Aug 23, 2008
    This month marks my 4th anniversary on the Fiddleback forum. Over that span of time, I have cycled through dozens and dozens of knives trying to determine which ones work best for me. This experience has taught me a lot about knife design in general and Fiddlebacks in particular.

    Along the way I have done my best to share my objective data, observations, and opinions to help others here form their own opinions about what features they want in a knife. This post will be a little different in that it will focus primarily on one topic that is seldom discussed in any detail.

    Sometimes it’s the little things in life that make all the difference. One of those little things that has become a bigger thing to me over time is the subject of guards. Cutting right to the chase, I much prefer using the guardless knives over the ones with a small guard. When I say “guard”, I am talking about the typical 1/8” to 3/16” nub of metal that extends below the back end of the cutting edge at the plunge line. Just to clarify a little further, I appreciate the benefits of a downward curved “guard” transition from the front of the handle down to the back of the ricasso, as long as the “guard” doesn’t extend below the back end of the cutting edge. In the simplest language, I like guards on the handle side of the ricasso and no-guard on the blade side.

    I don’t want to imply that I am 100% hostile to guards as defined above. I am not. I see the benefits or detriments of guards as being task specific.

    Three tasks where I see guards as a benefit are:
    1) Offense/Self-defense applications involving thrusting, stabbing, parrying strikes, etc. where the presence of a guard protects your hand from sliding forward onto the edge and/or protects your hand from the strike of your opponents edge.
    2) Environments that are excessively wet, slimy, or slippery like professional hunters or fisherman deal with on a regular basis.
    3) Larger knives (i.e. choppers) that are used for hard swinging where a guard helps protect your hand from slipping forward on errant strikes or a fatigued hand that allows your hand to accidentally slip forward.

    Three tasks where I see guards as being a detriment are:
    4) Food prep where the guard prevents you from utilizing the full length of the cutting edge on a cutting board.
    5) EDC-type tasks at work, home, garage, or campground.
    6) Wood processing for; yard work, carving, notching, fire prep, etc.

    My real world Fiddleback uses are; a minute amount of #’s 1 & 2, a tiny amount of #3, a lot of #’s 4 & 5, and some #6. Based on this assessment, my actual uses lean heavily toward guardless models.

    My reasons (in no particular order) for disliking guards on my knives are:
    1) The guard prevents me from using the full length of the cutting edge on a cutting board in food prep applications.
    2) The guard prevents me from working as close as possible to the back edge of the blade where I have the most leverage for carving. This is because the guard bumps into the item being worked on.
    3) The guard prevents me from sharpening the edge all the way to the back with certain sharpening systems.
    4) Aesthetically, the guard interrupts the nice visual flow of the blade and handle curves.
    5) The 1/8” to 3/16” guard doesn’t make me feel any safer using the knife the way I do than the guardless models do.

    The good news for Fiddleback fans is that Andy makes a wide variety of models with guards and without to cater to a variety of buyer uses, needs, and preferences.

    The guard vs. guardless topic became more of a focus for me in early 2016 when I decided to slowly and methodically reduce the size of my Fiddleback collection. I felt that I had become too much of a collector and not enough of a user. Letting go of unused safe queens and duplicates was the easier part of that process. Getting brutally honest about why I always reached for certain knives over others helped me let go of some former favorites along the way. In the end , I went from thirty knives down to twelve. The only issue was that eight of the twelve had guards that detracted from their usefulness to me. I decided a couple of months ago to go ahead and remove the guards from six of these knives as well as an original pattern OK&T Raptor that is also a favorite user of mine.

    Here are a few group photos of the before condition with the guards.

    (L to R: OK&T Raptor, Sneaky Pete, Leuku, Bush Hermit, Bushcrafter, Arete, & Hiking Buddy)



    Last edited: Aug 4, 2017
  2. Comprehensivist

    Comprehensivist Platinum Member Platinum Member

    Aug 23, 2008
    **Disclaimer: Modifying your knife as shown below will void your Fiddleback warranty and probably lower the resale value. You also risk personal injury or death working on sharp tools. Even worse is the pain of regret that would come from FUBAR-ing your expensive knife and realizing that you can’t put the metal back on. For these reasons, I discourage others from following in my footsteps. Don’t do it.**

    With that disclaimer out of the way, here is what I did to remove the guards. The equipment I used was:
    1) A bench vise with rubber padded jaws to protect the flats of the knife while holding it securely.
    2) Blue painters tape.
    3) A single cut metal file.
    4) Wet & Dry sandpaper in grits from 220 to 600.
    5) Respirator or dust mask & goggles.


    I wrapped the blade and handle in three layers of blue tape to protect the surrounding areas on either side of the guard.


    I started by filing a flat area across the top of the guard to remove approximately two-thirds of the material I want to take off.



    I switch to arching strokes with the file for the last one-third to duplicate the look of the finished guard you typically see on the handmade Fiddlebacks. When I get down to the last 1/32” or so of material to remove, I have switched to wrapping wet & dry sandpaper around the file for the final strokes to yield the desired finish. I know that I am done when the back edge of the blue masking tape layers just starts to split.


    Here is a view of my Leuku at the flat filed stage...


    ...and the arched finished stage.


    Here are a few post-mortem groups shots.



    Last edited: Aug 4, 2017
    The Zieg, NoFair, hasco and 2 others like this.
  3. Comprehensivist

    Comprehensivist Platinum Member Platinum Member

    Aug 23, 2008
    Here are some before and after photos of individual knives.

    Bush Hermit before:



    Bush Hermit after:



    Bushcrafter before:


    Bushcrafter after:


    OK&T Raptor before:



    OK&T Raptor after:



    Overall I am quite happy with the way everything turned out. More importantly, I am using these knives a lot more now for a wider variety of tasks. For example, I seldom used my Bushcrafter or Sneaky Pete for food prep before because of the guards. Now I use them all the time and it shows in the patina forming on these old blades.




    That’s the end of my story for now. Thanks for reading this far. Please feel free to post your comments or opinions about this subject.

    Last edited: Aug 4, 2017
    Tekton, hasco, Fiddleback and 4 others like this.
  4. Panthera tigris

    Panthera tigris Sharpclaw / Apex Predator

    Apr 21, 2012
    I am 100% not in favor of guards for kitchen knives.

    I am 100% in favor of guards for survival knives and bushcraft knives.

    Although a guard may decrease efficiency, it also substantially decreases the chances and consequences of hands slipping onto the blades. If I am tired or it is dark and I am working on something, it is easy to get cut IMHO.

    Even the Fiddleback models with guards are really minimal for my purposes.

    I have dedicated kitchen knives which are thinner and more acute than the knives I would be using in the field.
    JustinFournier likes this.
  5. schmittie

    schmittie Basic Member Basic Member

    Nov 28, 2009
    Cool topic Phil.

    I'm in the guardless category. Anymore, I shy away from anything with a pronounced guard or even a choil. I like the edge to come within 3/16", at most, of the handle.

    Removing the guard like you did......why didn't I think of that?!? When I grow up, I wanna be like you. @Comprehensivist
    hasco likes this.
  6. Panthera tigris

    Panthera tigris Sharpclaw / Apex Predator

    Apr 21, 2012
    I agree. Always fun to see works in progress. Make them work for you!
    JustinFournier and Ak Stig like this.
  7. Odaon

    Odaon Gold Member Gold Member

    Apr 13, 2009
    I much prefer the look and bit of extra usefulness of guardless knives. Even for game processing. I don't typically get very wet or bloody while processing big game because I use the gutless method. I'm never opening up the body cavity where all the blood is. Though I will say even in the instances when I have had bloody hands, I didn't feel that I was in danger of slipping and cutting myself. That might be because I will often also use a replaceable scalpel bladed knife for game processing which requires a little extra attention.

    And as I mentioned I just prefer the look of guardless. I think the continuous lines are more attractive.
  8. swonut

    swonut KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Jan 1, 2007
    Awesome post and job. I'm definitely in your camp and have long been a proponent of making the knife "yours"
  9. pertinux

    pertinux Platinum Member Platinum Member

    Feb 1, 2012
    Excellent work once again, @Comprehensivist! I have some small understanding of the time and effort required to compose such thoughtful and (dare I say) comprehensive posts, including how much it slows down the work at hand to take in-progress pictures-- and I remain grateful for your contributions.

    My own dawning of preference occurred when stropping my Sylvrfalcen and Sgian Dubh, respectively, the two midddle knives at the left:
    In column order: Stubby Muk, Sylvrfalcen, Sgian Dubh, Esquire; Bear Cub, Patch Esquire


    In which, without immediately knowing what was informing my enjoyment, I immediately noted-- and loved-- the ability to sweep the entire length of the blade down the strop. This fits into your #3, above.

    I also appreciate the more open feel in-hand of the guardless knives where handle meets blade, although with a caveat.

    The Sgian Dubh, one of my favorite knives to carry and use, has almost no ergonomic cues regarding where the handle ends and the blade begins.



    While I have not yet run into difficulties, I do need to remain more mindful of the tool in hand than I do with other knives...

    ... especially in the backwards grip of special need/use by @Odaon:

    A fantastic knife, and one on which I welcome having full access to its punches-above-weight blade ...

    ... but my hand would welcome just a little more information before the edge begins.

    The Sylvrfalcen likewise does not have a forefinger depression of any type, but the subtle swoop of its handle gives my hand more to go on:

    It also just plain has a larger handle, and more non-sharp steel between handle and edge with a slight swell downwards.



    Looking again at my own knives and @Comprehensivist's Before and After, it's clear that some patterns provide a sense of 'guard' even without the extra steel, and others do/will not.


    I have no desire to modify my knives, each of which stands alone on its own merits, but this current contemplation does have me looking again at the Handyman, two examples of which @Warrior108 sent me to compare during The Big Borry:

    Jerry's Handyman knives:



    Ruby Handyman with my ironwood Bear Cub:


    Hmmmm. o_O (<-- Need a "thinking about it" emoticon here.)

    ~ P.
    PolRoger, Odaon and Fiddleback like this.
  10. Fiddleback

    Fiddleback Knifemaker Moderator Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Oct 19, 2005
    Great thread. Two of the most detailed posters on the forum. Thanks for doing this both of you.

    Removing the guard with a file would not void the warranty, per se. Using a motorized tool to do the work would.
    hasco and schmittie like this.
  11. swonut

    swonut KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Jan 1, 2007
    So I guess that rules out my 1x30 harbor freight sander and the Bench Grinder.... Seriously, you all be careful working that close to the edge that late in the process. The tape helps, but it's not perfect. I've taken an aluminum can and cut out a strip and hammered it in half and slid that over the edge before I taped it up. Just a thought. (Helps with the occasional grinder oopsie...)
  12. NoFair


    Jun 30, 2006
    Good thing you did it for me on my S35VN Ladyfinger then ;)
    Odaon likes this.
  13. hasco

    hasco Gold Member Gold Member

    Jan 30, 2014
    Thanks for another well written and informative post Phil! The photos are excellent and really show how well the modifications turned out.

    In general I prefer a guard less knife, but I do like a finger indentation. I am always leery of knives where the blade and handle are a continuous line without a guard like in most traditional puukkos for example. All of the knives you modified have a nice finger indent making the necessity for a guard irrelevant for my uses. Your modified bush hermit is an especially great example of what I like. It is also one of my all time favorite Fiddlebacks!
    Fiddleback, schmittie and Wurrwulf like this.
  14. crex


    Oct 4, 2002
    Some like guards some don't - great thing about this world and this business. Some folks just need a guard for the obvious reasons some don't. My Gran Muddy used to say "Don't be stupid, keep your fingers off the sharp end!" ....... Native American wisdom.

    My take on this is: If the knife is properly designed in it's entirety, one should be able to tell in the dark which end is pointy and which edge is sharp just by the way the handle is shaped and the instrument is balanced.
    Andy does an excellent job with this, try one with the lights out and see what I mean.

    All that said - customer is usually right (sorry, not always), but you gotta pay the bills and buy shoes for the baby.
    Fiddleback likes this.
  15. Tekton

    Tekton Platinum Member Platinum Member

    Mar 8, 2015
    Thanks once again for your time in making such a detailed and well written post. Great job! Your knives look perfect now.

    While I have knives with guards, like you I also prefer a "guardless" knife. Most of what I do with a knife is in the kitchen or the woods. So long as there is a finger indention I am happy.

    I have been tempted to do this with a few of my favorites as well but haven't worked up the nerve. Your post may have pushed me over the edge.
  16. Sonnydaze

    Sonnydaze Gold Member Gold Member

    Jul 6, 2009
    Excellent thread and pics...thank you.
  17. Drakul Mihawk

    Drakul Mihawk

    Jan 4, 2014
    Great tread!!! Nice photo!! I prefer to have guards on my survival knives and bushcraft knives, always. For cutting task a finger choil is the way, but always with the guard.
  18. Comprehensivist

    Comprehensivist Platinum Member Platinum Member

    Aug 23, 2008
    I want to thank everyone who replied to this thread and/or voted in the survey. It turned out essentially an even split between those who prefer guardless knives vs. those who like guards or don’t care either way. I am not surprised by the diversity of opinions expressed. This is not a subject with a right or wrong answer either way. I appreciate the open dialogue that helps further our understanding of these fine knives and why we like certain ones more than others.

    Thanks for your comments PT. I am in complete agreement with you on preferring no guard on dedicated kitchen knives. I also understand your preference for wanting guards on your survival and bushcraft knives. I think your quote, “Even the Fiddleback models with guards are really minimal for my purposes,” along with our unique respective primary uses explains how we arrived at different conclusions about guards on field knives. Since you are primarily concerned with safety in use when tired, working in the dark, or other similar stressful situations, it makes sense that even a minimal guard is better than none at all in those circumstances. Since my intended uses for the subject knives is slanted more toward food prep and close whittling under good conditions, any downside to removing the minimal guards is more than offset by improved performance in the tasks I do most often. Using my Fiddlebacks for food prep gives me more practice and familiarity with each knife that I wouldn’t have if I only used them for dedicated outdoor trips.

    I did not remove the guards on all my field knives. My Custom Shop Duke is one I intend to leave as is for the reasons you described regarding use and safety in adverse conditions.



    Panthera tigris and Nbrackett like this.
  19. Comprehensivist

    Comprehensivist Platinum Member Platinum Member

    Aug 23, 2008
    I am glad you enjoyed the topic schmittie. I totally get what you are saying about the advantage of “working close” to the handle. That is the area with the best leverage and control to what you are cutting.

    I have never understood the value of long ricasso areas (i.e. ½” or more) on some knives that create useless distance between the front of the handle and the back end the cutting edge. I have always called this area “dead space” because it serves no value to me. I guess it is supposed to act like a choil in front of a guard that allows you to choke up and get close to the back edge of the blade. The irony there is that it requires putting your index finger in a guardless position.

    Thanks for chiming in Odaon. We seem to be of like mind on this subject. Besides the cleaner look, my main reason for modifying this group of knives was to achieve what you accurately described as that “extra bit of usefulness” that makes me want to use them more often.

    Thanks swonut! You are right that personalizing a knife creates a bond with the owner that safe queens will never have.
  20. Comprehensivist

    Comprehensivist Platinum Member Platinum Member

    Aug 23, 2008
    Thanks for the kind comments ~P~. I very much appreciate that you have taken the time to expand on this topic with some great photos, observations, and comments of your own. I have always admired your writing style and the way you blend observations and feelings into a seamless story that is fun and informative to read.

    Your observations on the SgianDubh and Sylvrfalcn bring up some great points for consideration. While I get the positives you mention for the guardless designs, the smaller nature of these particular models presents some awareness concerns for the user. I love the way you describe the caveats in the following quotes:

    “The Sgian Dubh…has almost no ergonomic cues regarding where the handle ends and the blade begins.”

    “While I have not yet run into difficulties, I do need to remain mindful of the tool in hand than I do of other knives…”

    “…but my hand would welcome just a little more information before the edge begins.”

    “Looking again at my own knives and Comprehensivist’s…it’s clear that some patterns provide a sense of “guard” even without the extra steel, and others do/will not.”

    That is some amazingly descriptive prose right there. Since your collection is mostly 3-1/2” and under models vs. mine at 3-1/2” and over, you have balanced out the discussion nicely.

    The Hiking Buddy is my smallest Fiddleback. The small index finger depression on the bottom of the handle provides all the “information” I need to tell me where the blade begins in relation to my hand.


    Nbrackett likes this.

Share This Page