The Hultafors OK4 Expedition Knife is a light-weight outdoors fixed blade in the classic Nordic style. As such it is very similar in design to several of its competitors (i.e Mora), but with ergonomic improvements, tougher construction, and several other additional features. However, the OK4 costs more than most of its competition. Is that extra money well spent?
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The Hultafors OK4 Expedition knife is a companion style fixed blade knife. It is a capable blade, that prioritizes light weight and portability. The OK4 is well suited for hiking or pairing with a larger cutting tool for the finer tasks that an ax or saw are too clumsy for. As such this moderately sized knife utilizes a 93mm Scandinavian ground blade made of Japanese high carbon steel with an 82mm partial tang. It features an exceptionally comfortable handle, a plastic sheath with nylon belt loop, and Ferrocerium rod holder. The OK4 is reviewed here with the Hultafors fire steel FS Ferrocerium rod (sold separately), that fits perfectly in the holder found on the OK4’s sheath.
- Blade Length: 3.6″
- Overall Length: 8.25″
- Handle Length: 4.52″
- Weight: 4.2 oz
- Blade Material: Carbon steel
- Handle Material: Polypropylene plastic
- Country of Origin: Taiwan
- Price Range: About $30
The 3.6 inch blade on the Hultafors OK4 is made of 3mm thick Japanese high carbon steel. The grind is Scandinavian, meaning that instead of using a primary and secondary bevel (grinds at two different angles) to form the cutting edge, it uses just one bevel on each side. This makes for a sharper edge than other grinds as it comes to the finest possible point. The drawback is that it is also the most fragile.
The actual type of steel is not listed on any information provided by the manufacturer – typically a red flag. Still, under normal outdoors use, it performed quite well. The blade held a sharp edge similarly to other budget carbon steels. The edge out of box was quite sharp, but the bevel was ground fairly coarsely with initial grind marks clearly visible even under the blade coating. Arguably they skipped the medium grit abrasives, but spent extra time refining the final edge. As such, the blade cut very well out of the box easily cutting paper and took off arm hairs without discomfort. Carving feather sticks, cutting bow drill divot holes, and notching wood were also smooth operations.
The OK4 is a partial tang knife meaning that the blade steel only goes about two thirds of the way through the handle. As we describe in our Survival Knife Guide, this is not as strong as a full tang design, but here it is substantially longer than most partial tang knives. The knife did not fail in our testing, even with aggressive batoning. The short blade only spans small two or three inch limbs, but the OK4 split kindling with ease. The only damage the OK4 took was to the coating on the 90 degree spine, where the impact of the baton chipped the finish off. Though to be fair with that coating removed the OK4 scraped sparks from the Hultafors Fire Steel FS much better than when fully coated, so I can’t complain.
After half an hour of wood processing, the blade lost its ‘out of the box’ edge. A good stropping brought the edge right back to sharp. A second round of wood processing gave similar results. Having taken typical use with little ill effect, I gave the blade a real work out batoning larger limbs against the grain. After this, the knife would still cut paper, though not as cleanly as before, however it would not shave arm hair even with aggressive pressure.
As a harder survival oriented test I opened a tin can with the OK4. Batoning the tip threw the top of the can with hand strikes and repeating around the edge until it was open. To be fair this was an abusive test, but as the steel was almost a complete unknown I needed to go beyond my normal testing regiment. This forced three small chips on the belly of the OK4, but impressively the tip survived intact. The knife still cut paper but hung up on the chips. This damage honed out with just a few moments of work on a 1000 grit wet stone. The heat treat appears to be appropriate, though possibly slightly over-hardened having chipped on the softer tin. Other reviewers have found similar results, the steel holds up perfectly well to normal use, but will chip when pressed beyond safe sane knife use.
I then fully resharpened the blade on my wet stones. The simple grind and broad bevel made for easy hand sharpening. The blade also has large flat sides perfect for consistent angle sharpening system clamps. The steel felt medium hard, working with it was less difficult than with an ultra hard tool steel, but it was tougher than cheep overly soft steels. In the end the OK4 took a wicked edge and polished without difficulty.
The blade is coated in a “rust protective electrophoretic deposition coating”. This coating holds up to wear quite well, and was quite resistant to abrasion, though heavy impact will remove chips. It is smooth to the touch and has much lower drag than the rough truck liner style coatings commonly found on some budget fixed blades. After significant portions were sharpened away, drag in slicing was noticeably reduced. Just remember after sharpening the large Scandi bevels have a lot of metal unprotected, so regular oiling will need be an important part of maintenance to prevent rust.
Handle and Ergonomics
Handle ergonomics are where the Hultafors OK4 really shines. Fans of budget Nordic style knives know they are great cutters, but many lack for creature comfort. The OK4 remedies this with a wonderful medium soft Santoprene handle overlay. This comfortable rubberized material has a grooved pattern for additional traction. Combine this with a long palm swell and forward and rear finger guards and you have a pleasantly secure grip. In hand, this knife just plain feels good, even when using it hard.
The ribbed Santoprene provides the perfect amount of give and grip, just enough friction to give you a confident secure hold. Under heavy pressure the ribs can become minor hot spots. However, unlike a harder more aggressively textured material, once pressure is released the hot spots quickly fade. If you become uncomfortable using the OK4, relax and adjust your grip and you’re good to go again. The abuse taken from G10 and the like tend to accumulate over the course of use, leading to chafed sore hands. The OK4 also works well with gloves, as the Santoprene grips leather and synthetic material just as securely as skin.
Hammer, saber, and reverse grips are all extremely comfortable with no hot spots. In a chest lever grip (holding the knife with the sharpened edge extending from thumb side of your hand facing back towards your arm) the rear finger guard can poke into the flesh of your hand. Choking up helps, but this is not how my hand naturally falls on the knife. When compared to similar knives, the Hultafors has an extra 7mm of handle length and more gentle slope on the rear finger guard. These mitigating features help make this the smallest offender of the group, but it is a design compromise common to all knives with this style handle.
The last remarkable handle feature is the angle of the front finger guard. There are 45 degree flats angling in towards the blade on both sides of the handle. When choking up, these are more comfortable than the round ones found on other such knives. More importantly it gives a stable platform to carve against. Making consistent flat cuts with the OK4 is much easier than with knives featuring rounded front finger guards.
Sheath and Carry Manners
The plastic sheath on the OK4 features a fabric belt loop and ferro rod holder. It is well thought out and carries the knife safely and quietly. There is a drainage hole at the bottom, which is a must for any knife and doubly so for a carbon steel blade with large exposed Scandi grind bevels. To aid in extraction there is an excellent external thumb nob to push off from. The angle and placement of the nob are a perfect foil to the tight grip the sheath keeps on the knife.
Retention on the knife is excellent and achieved with the combination of a friction seal and tabs to hold the front finger guard. The sheath is shaped so that the grippy rubberized handle comes into contact with 180 degrees of the inside of the sheath. The knife will not fall out or rattle even when turned upside down and shaken with force. The set up is not completely silent though, as the button on the belt loop does rattles lightly.
The sheath attaches to the belt by a 3 inch loop of high quality nylon webbing that is single stitched. The elastic band on the midsection is also the home of the ferro rod holder. The knife and FS Fire Steel carry well; the set up dangles and flexes comfortably as you move about. Both the plastic and fabric sections have both held up to my use with no noticeable wear.
The belt loop is held in by a button in a plastic extension of the sheath. The fabric portion is removable, but you are left with only a button hole as your sole method of attachment. This is intended to be used with buttons commonly found on European style work pants. If you go this route you must unhook a folded plastic section to remove or attach the sheath. This makes for a secure carry option, but is cumbersome in practice. Worth noting here, Morakniv sheaths nobs will mate with the OK4’s button hole, allowing you to piggy back them together. Both round and shield shaped Mora knobs are compatible, but the shields are much more tricky to seat properly.
There are, however a few flaws in the sheath. The largest being that you are forced into vertical carry. There is no option carry this knife horizontally. Also, the sheath is not as heavy duty as others in this style, as there is some flex in the plastic. Finally, the folded plastic used in the button holder will likely be prone to wear as there is no rotating hinge of any kind. If you make extensive use of the button holder, the lifespan of the sheath might not match that of the knife.
Fit and Finish
Fit and finish is the clear weakness of the Hultafors OK4. There is a 1.5 inch gouge on the spine of this particular example reviewed here. This is not a flaw unique to this knife as it is seen on other OK4’s found online. After considerable testing, I feel confident that this is not a structural defect. However, it is a major and unsightly flaw that I am surprised made it past quality control. A second smaller issue is noticeable injection mold seams on the hard green plastic sections of the handle.
Past these two issues, the rest of the fit and finish is quite good. The blade coating was even and well applied. The printing and logos are all crisp and well laid out. The two types of handle plastic are mated well and have not frayed or come loose. Plus, the ribbed texturing on the handle is perfect. As the handle is the stand out feature on the OK4, I am pleased that it was not subject to the major flaw found on the blade.
Hultafors Fire Steel FS
This 10mm x 100mm Ferrocerium rod fits snugly in the nylon webbing of the OK4 sheath. The FS includes a two inch loop of shock cord with a plastic fob at the end. The loop provides for a more secure grip than naked ferro rods, but a proper handle would have been ideal. The shock cord does, however, loop around the front of the rod and secures it to the sheath quite nicely.
The Ferrocerium itself is of good quality and when used with a properly sharp steel surface will throw many sparks. Out of the box the 90 degree spine of the OK4 works well with the FS. However, after the coating was “removed” from the spine, spark production was notably increased. I was easily able to ignite combustion with this matching pare.
Morakniv Craftline Robust (~$17) – The Craftline Robust is the most direct competitor to the OK4, and at half the price is a fine tool. The steel is a little less prone to chips and the sheath is a little thicker. That said it feels just like a tool in your hand. The rear handle guard has an even more problematic hot spot and the front guard is rounded. The blade spine is not ground at 90 degrees for use with a ferro rod nor is there a holder for one. The sheath has far less retention, and the handle materials are much less comfortable. If every penny counts, the Craftline Robust is a solid choice, but in most ways it is simply out shined by the OK4.
Morakniv Bushcraft Black (~$43) – The Bushcraft Black is one of Mora’s most popular heavy duty outdoors knives, it offers an additional inch of blade length and a longer more “natural” feeling handle with out the pronounced finger guards. This gives a much better chest leaver grip, but the random nob on the butt end is not ideal for reversed grips. Pick your poison, which grip do you use least? This Mora’s sheath has improved retention compared to other models but still uses a hard plastic loop for belt attachment. Plus the Bushcraft Black is usually about $13 more than the OK4.
Cold Steel Finn Hawk (~$23) – Cold Steel’s version of a traditional Nordic knife is more hand filling than the OK4 with its wide grippy handle. In general I like the ergonomics of the OK4 a little more, but the Finn Hawk features a thumb groove in the back of the handle making it the hammer fist king. It includes a lanyard hole and a 90 degree spine but is only a half length tang. The sheath uses an open plastic belt clasp much like many Moras, but it retains the knife as well as the OK4 sheath.
Marttiini Condor Timberjack – (~$20) The Timberjack has more aggressive texturing and finger guards than any of the other knives in the round up, further exacerbating the hot spot found with chest leaver grip. Your only carry option is a crude belt slot. It does however have a 90 degree spine and, by most accounts, comes out of the box with the sharpest initial cutting edge.
Condor Bushlore (~$45) – The Condor is the most expensive knife in this round up as it has a full tang, 90 degree spine, lanyard hole, uses natural materials, and is semi-handmade. The Condor handle has a great shape, but no texturing. Fans of organic handles will love the construction, but in wet conditions the knife will become slick. The leather sheath has great retention, but no drainage hole and with the 1075 high carbon steel might be a source of rust. Combining the full tang and Condors respected heat treatment, this will physically be the strongest knife in the round up, not to mention the most beautiful by a long shot.
The Hultafors OK4 Expedition knife is a solid light weight outdoors knife with a fantastic handle and a few flaws. If you want a capable and comfortable tool that will not weigh you down on a long hike this stands among the best budget Nordic style knives on the market.
The blade is on the short side and is not full tang, but it still proved more than tough enough to hold up to the tasks we threw at it. The steel is prone to minor chipping if you push the knife past common sense, and there are some obvious fit and finish issues issues that should not have happened. However, in terms of charm and features, this knife stands head and shoulders above its competition. The Hultafors OK4 Expedition Knife, is the sort of product that will surely spark diverse opinions, though all such opinions will come along with a pair of very happy hands.
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The Good: Light weight, great handle, value for money
The Bad: Fit n finish lacking, blade little too short, partial tang
Bottom Line: A decent budget fixed blade option
Review by Seth Gunn