Esee Candiru review

R0010492I hesitate to discuss knives, as they’ve become one of the major talismans of the talk-more, do-lessitude which is such a feature of outdoor culture on the internet. That is not a condemnation of individuals so much as it is a reminder, to everyone, that it is disconcertingly easy to pave the rhetorical road to hell with statements just a little beyond your personal sphere of experience. The amount of information online is such that it has never been easier to become an armchair expert. The problem with this is two-fold, first that being one promulgates technically correct but untested knowledge and thus reifies an echo chamber which both breeds and enlarges sycophants. Second, practicing theory over practice is a particular problem in outdoor pursuits as it cultivates the worst of the unhappy unconsciousness, allowing us to forget why the discipline in question came into existence in the first place.

At the same time knives are utilitarian and beautiful, sheath knives especially.  In no other tool without moving parts can you find so much versatility and utility potentially married to beauty.  I’ve carried one knife or another every day since fourth grade, and appreciate one which can do many jobs well.
R0010497The Candiru is a very small fixed blade.  It’s a hair over 5 inches long, with a 2 inch long, .125 inch (or 3.2mm) thick blade, and is made from powder coated carbon steel.  Handles (“scales”) are available, which attach with bolts.  The steel is powder coated for rust resistance, in a variety of colors (had purple been available last year I would have bought that).  You can buy the Candiru as pictured here for about 65 dollars.  A year ago this included a nylon and velcro belt sheath; today it includes a kydex (molded plastic) sheath.

The conventional wisdom concerning the carbon steel used in the Candiru is that is relatively soft, but very tough.  It dulls fast, is easy to sharpen, and because it is so un-brittle stands up to hard use extremely well.  I haven’t put much energy into researching steels, but I have found this characterization to be quite accurate over the previous year of use.  These attributes combined with the knives unique shape give the Candiru distinct strengths and weaknesses.

R0010501The Candiru is the smallest knife I can imagine being truly good for tough tasks like splitting wood.  Last week I used it, without reservations about durability or safety, to open a can of beans when we forgot a can opener.  I’ve used it, at least in part, to butcher six big game animals, and while a sharper knife like a Havalon is preferred for parting things out and fleshing a cape, the Candiru works well for basic skinning and the heavy lifting of removing quarters and heads.  The subtle curve of the knife and big, but not too big, handles make it feel larger in the hand than it looks.  In both delicate and heavy use it is remarkably comfortable and agile.

For me it’s a survival knife in the real sense of being small and light enough to carry even when you don’t think you’ll need it, but thick, large, and burly enough to do anything a knife should be expected to do.  It’s quite rare to genuinely need to split wood for a fire or cut off tree limbs to build a shelter, but over the past four years I’ve needed to do both, in situations serious enough to make me consider always bringing a small, tough knife on certain sorts of trips.  The Candiru fits this application almost ideally.

There are two major ways it could be better, and I’m not sure either could be simply achieved.  First, while it is easy to sharpen (though due to edge geometry it is hard to get a truly sharp edge), it does need to sharpened very often indeed.  While with most knives heavy use on a trip necessitates bringing along a sharpener, with the Candiru a sharpener needs to come along for any trip where you’ll be doing much of anything with it.  A day of cutting slings for canyoneering anchors, fairly light work, dulls it enough that sharpening is required for continued acceptable use.  I find this to be a pain in the ass.  Second, the carbon steel rusts, quickly.  I’ve never owned a non-stainless woods knife before, and was impressed with how quickly the edge and exposed metal (due to the logo and to chips in the powder coating) rust.  A half day in a wet pants pocket will leave stains which resist anything short of a serious buff job with oil and steel wool.  Cosmetic, but annoying.

Smaller objections include the bolts on the handles, which are inset just a bit too much.  This allows them to collect flesh and gore when butchering game or cutting up fish, and their little edges make this harder to clean than is strictly necessary.  Another minor niggle is, as mentioned, the edge geometry.  I’ve tried both a convex and a standard flat secondary edge (in several different angles), and neither really made much different in the difficulty of getting a seriously sharp edge on the Candiru.  Folks who are better at sharpening than me will surely be able to do better, and I’m not sure there is any way to avoid the steep secondary angle which seems to be responsible for this while still preserving the great splitting characteristics and all-around burliness.

R0010506The Candiru is similar in many ways to my “normal” knife, the Spyderco Dragonfly 2 pictured above.  Both have similarly dimensioned blades, and handles which work bigger than they measure.  Both are very handy.  The Spyderco comes sharper from the factory, and slices better due to this and being much thinner.  Would I want to beat on in way back in the woods during a tricky situation?  Not really.

While I wouldn’t mind it if the Candiru came in a stainless steel and a perhaps subtly thinner blade, overall the design is impressively elegant and functional, and the knife a very good value.  Not a perfect purchase, but one with which I’ve been very pleased, and anticipate continuing to use hard.


7 responses to “Esee Candiru review”

  1. I owned a Candiru and a Izula, and agree both pretty damn solid, small knives that don’t break the bank. I ended up selling both though and buying a Bark River UL Bushcrafter in 3V- feels much more like a full size knife (7.4″ overall w/ a 3.2″ blade), while heavier- still pretty svelte at 2.7 oz. A little thinner at 3/32″, but plenty tough to baton with (even twisty/knotted fir and pine). The 3V while not stainless, does a pretty good job w/ rust resistance- it also stays sharp (the “scandi-vex” grind might help a little too), even after heavy use, a few swipes on a strop and it’s good to go. The down side is you can buy three Candirus (or Izulas) for the price of the Bark River :)

    1. That Bark River is way pretty.

  2. Finally a review which isn’t comparing thousands of different types of puukko. Knife reviews are like gun reviews: derives its authority from controversies, but most will do the job for the every-day man.

    I have to admit, I chuckled at the fact the knife was named after the Candiru. Had a friend who kept those in aquariums.

  3. […] During a routine sharpening, I realized that my Mora Classic No. 2 is over 8 years old now; I happened to come across the digital receipt in my account from the store it was ordered from.  I’ve gut many fish, built many fires, prepped who knows how many meals with it.  And tonight, after 10 minutes of work with some 500 and 1000 grit wet/dry sandpaper, a hardwood block (to back the sandpaper), and an old leather belt as a strop, it’s sharper than when I bought it.  8 years is certainly enough time to get to know a tool (I cannot stand the plethora of “unboxings” on the internet, knives reviewed by collectors that have played with them for 10 minutes.  Dave Chenault speaks well to that here). […]

  4. I don’t own a Candiru, but I do have an Izula, which I’m assuming is the same steel as the Candiru. I also have a Bark River Ultra-lite Bushcrafter, and I agree that it will out perform the Izula in any task that I’ve used it in. I didn’t really care for the scandi-vex grind, so I sent it into Bark River and had it changed to a full height convex. It may just be me, just I feel that I get better performance out of it with the full height convex. As has already been stated the steel offers more rust resistance and the edge holds up better to heavy use than the 1095 steel that I think Esse uses. But, I’ve found it a little more difficult to sharpen than the 1095 steel when it gets dull. Of course that can be remedied by touching it up while in use. Bark River knives can be a little expensive, but in this case, I feel the expense can be justified as it’s a high performing knife in a somewhat compact and lightweight package.

    1. The Mini-Canadian certainly tempts me to break my 70 dollar ceiling for knives.

  5. […] time last year I discussed the Candiru, a knife which does a remarkable job presenting a durable hard-use package […]

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