> TEOTWAWKI Blog: Review: ESEE-4 Knife



Review: ESEE-4 Knife

ESEE 4 in an AZWelke Kydex sheath.

I've had am ESEE-4 for a little over two months now--haven't put it through hell-n-back yet, but have gotten used to the ergonomics and features of this knife. The ESEE-4 is well regarded in bushcraft circles--most of the ESEE line does pretty well. I have an Izula II and a sheath from AZWelke Kydex that has done me well, and I was looking for a mid-sized fixed blade, so the 4.5 inch ESEE-4 was a natural choice.

The 4 fits well in-hand in all positions save reverse grip, edge in. The knife has a generously sized choil, which allows for choking up close to the blade for finer work. The micarta slab grips are about average in hand comfort--the dimensions are a bit odd for my hand, but not too bad. The grip is a bit on the wide side, and then doesn't have the thickness to match. The 4 is grips well lower on the handle, helpful when batoning wood.

At 7.3 ounces, the ESEE 4 is heavier than thinner stock knives--Moras, for example-but that's the tradeoff you'll make for the thicker steel and rugged construction. It's not overly heavy by any means, and the weight carries comfortably on a belt.

The Blade
The 4's blade is made of high carbon 1095, which is good because it takes an edge well and sharpens fairly easily, but also bad because it is much more susceptible to rust than stainless steels. To help slow the spread of rust, ESEE coats their blades in a thick blade coating, though the steel of the edge and logo areas are still exposed, and of course the coating will wear off with hard use.

I'm personally not a fan of blade coatings--they wear off and interfere with striking a firesteel on the spine of the knife. Some complain that they also make the knife "stickier" when going through wood. I understand why ESEE and other companies coat their blades, but even with the coating, the knife can and will still rust if it's not properly cared for. Ensuring that the knife is dried off after use and performing a regular oiling of the blade should do prevent major rust problems from happening. ESEE should at least offer a version of the knife without a blade coating, especially for the 4, which is intended to be the "wilderness" model in their lineup.

As is, I've removed much of the coating from the spine in an attempt to get the 4 to throw decent sparks from a ferro rod. High carbon steel is usually ideal for this purpose, but I've only had moderate success with the 4's stripped spine. If the ability to throw sparks  is essential to you out-of-the-box, ESEE's knife are going to be a let down.

The 4 comes shaving sharp out of the box, and I've found the 1095 to be easy to hone up with a strop. The 4 is made of 3/16ths thick blade stock, which is my preferred thickness--I'm not a fan of the pry bar like 1/4 inch thick blades, which are generally overkill. 3/16ths is plenty sturdy. I've done a little batoning with the 4 and it does well.

The 4.5 inch blade is a good size for general work - not too small, and not too big to get in the way. 4 to 5 inches in the general blade length recommendation from most survival experts, and I tend to agree. Big blades have their purposes, but for use and carrying, the sweet spot lies around here.

I'm picky about sheaths, but I will admit that I will actually found a use for the 4's stock sheath. I've rigged it in behind a pouch on my plate carrier, where it works fine.

The AZWelk Kydex sheath, set up for horizontal carry.
For belt carry, I again went with a taco-style AZWelk Kydex. His sheaths are well made, well priced and use the proven and versatile tek-lok system for attachment. His sheath for the ESEE-4 works well, and is a valuable upgrade if you're planning on actually carrying and using the knife on your belt. Like a holster for a handgun, a good sheath is essential for actual use. AZWelk's sheaths are also designed not to dull up the edge of your blade - bad kydex sheaths can rub the edge and dull things up. His stuff gets a thumbs up from me, and he makes sheaths for a variety of popular knives, including the ESEE and Becker product lines.

Overall Rating
Overall, the ESEE-4 is a knife is a solid knife for general use, bushcrafting and survival purposes. However, it is not perfect, with the blade coating and stock sheath coming up as dings against it. The so-so grip doesn't help, either. You'll need to consider whether those are deal breakers for you, though they can be overcome if you're willing to put in the additional time/money to resolve them.

My next project for the 4 is to strip the blade coating and refinish the knife. Haven't decided on the exact style of refinishing yet, but will show and tell when I finish it up!

The ESEE-4 is available from most online knife retailers, and you can also get it via Amazon, too.


  1. Remove the slabs and soak the blade blank in acetone overnight. The finish takes a while to soften up but after 12 hours it should come off -relatively- easy. My RAT-7 (very similar all around, albeit too large) throws awesome sparks. Make sure that you have a sharp 90* angle on the spine. Mine took a few attempts with a file and a stone to get just right.

  2. I went through the same thing with my BK2. To get good sparks I had to do more than just take the coating off--I ending up "sharpening" the spine with a sharpening stone. Now I get a sea of sparks every time.

  3. AnonymousMay 15, 2012

    I have the ESEE 4 with the MOLLE sheath and the tan coating. It's a quality little knife. The weight is a plus in my opinion.

  4. Don't forget about Esee's no questions asked transferable warranty!

  5. AnonymousMay 15, 2012

    You must have never owned a really good knife.

  6. A The W
    Knife is nice BUT I really like the pictures with the new logo.....

    1. Thanks Randy! I'm playing around with photos and trying to up the quality a bit.

  7. AnonymousMay 17, 2012

    I thought I found the perfect sturdy outdoor utility knife in the ESEE 4, but for me I was completly wrong. The majority of the problem was the handle. I read nothing but good about it so I was confused when I found the handle to be too thin and too narrow resulting in immediate pressure to the web of my hand while doing just a basic whittleing test. To create the choil they simply remove material from the handle which causes the circumferance to be too small in the upper part of the handle relative to the rest of the handle making it an awkward fit in the hand. When I purchase gloves i am a med or a large so I have average size hands. I also agree that the blade coating is abrasive while cutting. Cosmetically I felt with the addition of the choil, the length of the blade to the size of the handle made the knife proportionally strange also. I have found the greater circumferance and round shape of most scandinavian style knives to be far more comfortable. I like the size and shape and steel of the ESEE 4's blade but its a tragedy the handle is not thicker all around and especially wider in the choil area. ( ps i did make thicker slabs and try to fill in the choil and the knife still felt awkward ? ? ? just not the knife for me) At the moment I prefer the mora 911 and for sturdier use the ka bar mark I. I think the ka bar mark I is highly under rated. Solid sheath and comfortable handle!!!!

    1. The grip is indeed a bit of a compromise. I have similar size hands and haven't found the level of discomfort you're mentioning, but I would also agree that a Mora would be better for fine work/whittling.

    2. I went out and did some more work with the 4--batoned through a bunch of wood, did some slicing, etc. For my hands, I think the dimensions of the grip are just a bit off - a bit too wide and then not thick enough to match. It's not terrible, but not great. I've updated my original review to clarify.

  8. AnonymousMay 20, 2012

    I have the 3" esse and find that the grip is not long enough for all fingers. The longer handle on the 4 would be preferable.

  9. Nice overview and general use discussion.