Late last year Rick Snyder, CEO of FirstEdge USA contacted me about testing and reviewing a couple of fixed blades that they were bringing to the market. The first is the 5050 Survival knife, the second – the 5150 Field Knife which David reviewed yesterday. I did do some testing on the latter before sending it onto him, and I will mix in a bit of comparison throughout this review.
I received the 5050 at the beginning of the fishing-guide season and it was my primary blade for most of the Spring and Early Summer. It is the largest knife I have ever spent considerable time carrying, and it was an interesting experience. The knife impressed me in many ways, in others not so much, but it is undeniably an extremely rugged, well-made blade. It is my first experience with Elmax steel, which is about as tough as any I have ever used.
Manufacturer: First Edge
Blade: Elmax steel (slight) drop point, flat saber grind
Rockwell Hardness: 59-61 HRC
Scales: textured G10, removable
Tang construction: full tang
Sheath: Triple-laminate kydex
Country of Origin: USA
Dimensions (measured on this test sample)
Overall Length: 11 3/8″ (to glass-breaker)
Handle Length: 5 1/2″ (4 5/8″ effective)
Handle Thickness: 9/32″
Blade Length: 5 3/8” measured from the tip to the leading edge of the handle scale
Sharpened Length: 5”
Blade Thickness: 15/64”
Weight: Knife: 17.5 oz
David mentioned in his review of the 5150 Field knife the role that US Special Forces played in the development of both knives. Unlike the 5150, which has styling more reminiscent of the classic Ka-Bar, if the 5050 reminds me of anything it is the ESEE 5. Though similar, the 5050 feels more robust in the hand. The 5050 has a larger choil, thicker handle, and various grind details that are different as well as being made from the stainless “super-steel” Elmax as opposed to 1095 Carbon.
The full, non-skeletonized tang extends past the removable G-10 scales and terminates in a glass breaker and lanyard hole. The scales are removable and held in place with 3 pins. The black oxide coating covers the entirety of the blade and tang, and is the most durable one I have yet encountered. Coatings typically wear down under heavy use, especially at the transition to the grind, but my best efforts have not worn this even slightly.
David covered the sheath pretty thoroughly in his review, but in a nutshell it uses a patent-pending 3-layer design which serves to reinforce the kydex under extreme temperature conditions. The sheath can be disassembled for cleaning, and there is a drain hole molded into the kydex at the bottom of the sheath.
The kydex is molded to provide positive retention for the knife, with an additional snap-closure on the hanging portion of the belt loop. David reported the there was insufficient retention to keep the 5150 in the sheath, so I went back and tested this specifically this morning.
As you can see the retention is more than adequate on the 5050 I tested. It requires a healthy tug to draw it from the sheath and gives an audible and satisfying click as it snaps home. It does rattle a bit if the retention snap is unfastened, but through many guide trips I never worried if I left it in said state for a while. I never felt like I was going to lose the knife.
The fit and finish are appropriate for the price point of the knife. This is a well made tool.
The 5050 has a big handle. It is both thicker and taller than the handle of the 5150. I don’t have a particularly large hand, but I find that the larger handle works well for me. David reported that his fingers wrapped around the handle in a strange way, leading to an uncomfortable grip.
I did not have trouble with the 5050’s larger handle because the height matched up with the length of my fingers’ first phalanx allowing a natural wrap at the knuckles. I didn’t have a problem with “hot spots” despite the aggressive checkering of the G10 or the large, slab-like handles. The weight of the knife would tire my hand during extended chopping, but it was not particularly uncomfortable. Your mileage may vary.
The pommel and integrated lanyard loop provide a fairly good grip when using the 5050 for chopping. I had not yet added a paracord lanyard when I used it to chop through the fallen limb I described in my first field-test post. More on that in the “Testing” section.
David alluded to the possibility of skeletonizing the tang to reduce weight. While many makers do this to improve the balance of their knives, in the case of the 5050 this would actually cause the knife to become imbalanced. As is, the 5050 balances nicely just behind the finger-guard/hilt.
I never managed to dull this knife completely. No matter what I threw at the Elmax steel, it took it in stride. It lost the newsprint shaving edge, but never reached the point under which I would break out the sharpeners for it specifically. I ended up touching it back up when I was working on some other knives anyway.
I tried both the Sharpmaker and the Work Sharp Guided Sharpening System. In a nutshell, I found the knife’s size a touch awkward on the Sharpmaker, and achieved better results with the Work Sharp. I attribute this mostly to the diamond plates of the Work Sharp which are not intimidated by the steel.
Regardless, you shouldn’t have to sharpen this knife much. That isn’t something I say often, it is a claim that is disproved time and again. I really am impressed by the Elmax.
I subjected the 5050 to our standard newsprint, 1″ rope, and cardboard tests. The factory edge was superb, no “trade-show sharp” here. This thing was scary-sharp out of the box.
I shared the picture below in my First Impression review, but the factory edge cascaded the corner of a paperback.
It had no problem with 1″ sisal rope. I clamped a piece my vise and slashed the rope and then used a slow draw until I cut through. The slash cleanly cut through a single braided strand, and it took 3 draws to cut clear through.
I never seem to be able to match David’s cardboard cutting performance. Either I lack the dedication or my technique is off.
The Elmax kept a terrific edge throughout the cardboard test, but make no mistake, this thing has some friction issues when it comes to cutting cardboard. The cardboard tended to accordion a bit, but through 100 linear feet of cardboard, the cut itself was clean. By that point I had had enough. It was no longer arm-shaving sharp, but still did fine on newsprint. There was no sign of wear to the black oxide finish.
For a big knife, this thing held its own in the kitchen. I could easily skin a pineapple, removing the rind in 3 wraparound sections.
The heavy, chopping blade easily cubed the pieces.
Before I sent the 5150 off to David I compared the two on some stir-fry.
The onion was first. Both performed well, but I give the edge to the 5050. Its weight and “slab-like” profile made even and effortless cuts. The 5150 required more of a slashing motion.
The 5050 was adequate when it came to clearing out the guts of the pepper, though it cubed it quite easily. The 5150 was a touch more nimble, but again required more of a slicing motion.
Where the 5150 significantly outperformed the 5050 was in the raw chicken. There was more friction on the 5050 and it pulled at the meat more. It did an acceptable job, just not as clean.
In summary, the flatter shape and greater weight of the 5050 lends itself better to produce, but the 5150 had the edge in protien.
I really put both FirstEdge knives through the wringer when it came to chopping wood. I have written about both previously, and the 5150 does a very good job hacking though tree limbs, but the 5050 really excels. Even before I added a lanyard to the handle, I had great grip on the knife and the weight bit into the wood better than any knife I have ever used.
You can read more about the 5050 in action clearing a limb from a pool. I will definitely be bringing this knife along when I guide in the future – especially early season when I am not sure what deadfall I will encounter in the streams.
David also had the chance to chop-test the 5050 during his stopover at my house on the way to BLADE Show.
I couldn’t find the pictures I took of batoning some nice, dry, straight-grained oak, so I grabbed a piece of hickory limb-wood which turned out to be much more challenging. It did not want to split, so I had to brute-force it. It took a good 5 minutest to make it through. I hit both the tip and the handle of the knife, and the 5050 is none the worse for wear.
I assure you that the straight-grained oak split easily. This hickory, not so much.
I didn’t feel like just doing a fuzz stick or a tent peg. Many a lesser knife can do just fine on those. I figured that I should try something outside the knife’s comfort zone. I decided to carve a spoon out of a piece of green beech (i think that is what it was). Using the 5050 as a draw knife was the most effective stroke, and while it is not my best ever result I think that it was more than passable given the 5050 is about as far away from a whittler as you can get. I could still slice newsprint when I was finished.
I am a bit more bullish on the 5050 than David is on the 5150. I understand his criticisms, especially having spent a bit of time with it. Where I think the 5150 tries to straddle the line between big and small, the 5050 embraces its role as the burliest thing shy of a machete one is likely to carry into the woods. It is a passable if not ideal camp-cooking knife, and can handle any common task.
Where the 5050 shines is in its role as a “survival” knife. I think the most important attribute for a tool in a survival situation is trust. The FirstEdge 5050 is not going to let you down at an inopportune moment. It is the burliest knife I have ever used. It would stand up to much more than I put it through, and I feel like I put it through a lot.
There is no manner of stave-cutting or knife-appropriate firewood preparation that this knife cannot handle (and then some). Given enough time you could create quite the base camp in the woods with this knife.
The FirstEdge 5050 is not going to be my everyday guide-knife. It is simply too heavy and more knife than I need on the average trip. My Mora Bushcraft will still be my go-to guide knife, with the Gerber Strongarm getting the nod sometime as well.
I will be bringing the 5050 along from time to time, especially deep into the bush in the early season. As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said, “You can never step in the same river twice”. You never know what you will find after a long winter away.
I might not need the FirstEdge 5050 all the time, but when I do – it is a knife unlike any other for the task.
Ratings (out of five stars)
Kind of an ugly duckling. It looks more brutal than elegant. It wants to chop something.
Blade **** .5
Elmax really is “super-steel”. It is incredibly tough and never corroded despite being left in a wet sheath on the way home from the river. I am still searching for the elusive “5 star blade” that chops, cooks, and slices equally well, never needs to be sharpened, and is indestructible to boot. The Elmax 5050 comes awfully close.
I didn’t have the handle issues with the 5050 that David did with the 5150, but it isn’t exactly a custom-molded fit. That said, it is well balanced for such a large knife. If I were ever to mod this knife, I would replace the G10 with more ergonomically contoured micarta scales.
Tough as nails. If you break this thing you either got a bad piece of steel or were plain abusing the knife beyond any reasonable measure.
Overall Rating: ****
This knife is both more expensive and frankly more knife than your average weekend camper might need. It won’t be an unobtrusive lightweight belt-knife for your day-hike. However, if you think you “need” the sort of heavy-duty performance that this knife can give you above others, I can heartily recommend it. You won’t be disappointed.
One last thing…
I was never able to test this knife on a fish despite carrying it for the first 1/3 of my guiding season every trip. I never had a client who was willing to kill a fish catch one of legal size. Most fly-fishermen practice catch-and-release, and many clients balked at my dispatching their prize fish of the day in the name of research (and dinner of course). There is a karma thing in play when you go to the river intending to keep a fish. I even logged a few trips of personal fishing and just never connected with an appropriate fish myself.
Maybe it has bad fishing ju-ju. I might need to get my Sicilian wife to remove the maloik from the knife. 🙂