Whew, this is a dramatic looking thing, isn’t it? That might be the takeaway from the Fenrir, and all of Damned Design’s offerings. You can peruse through their entire catalog of folding and fixed blades, fidget toys and beads, and never cast your eyeballs over a single boring looking object. Damned Designs is the brainchild of Adrian D’Souza, founded in 2017 in Wyoming but operating currently out of Pennsylvania. The products offer dramatic design chops at reasonable prices, the knives themselves made by an OEM in China (reportedly Kubey Knife, founded 2014, who also has a reputation for making solid quality knives) and frequently sold as pre-orders – which tend to sell out quickly.
The knife we’re looking at today is the Fenrir, specifically one with a brushed titanium handle and a black-coated Sandvik 14c28n blade. Of note: if you look at the Fenrir on DD’s website currently it shows the steel options as 154CM or S35VN; the steel on the base models was changed to 154CM from Sandvik 14c28n during production. The Fenrir is available in both steels as well as a choice between stonewashed titanium or G10 scales, both using steel liners and a liner lock. It shares the same handle as the Hades, which has a clip point blade with an oblong thumb hole in addition to the flipper tab.
Key Specs: Damned Designs Fenrir
The blade on the Fenrir is a dramatic looking Wharncliffe blade, with the spine dropping down at a shallow angle to create a very fine, needle point tip. The sharpened edge is completely straight, no belly whatsoever, with the outline of the forward spine edge transitioning into the flat, then turning down to form the ricasso, reminding me of the shape of a standard utility blade. Blade stock measures at 0.15” thick at the spine, but a nearly full flat grind (there’s just the narrowest of flats at the top of the blade profile) brings the thickness of the blade way down, measuring only 0.34” behind the edge. There’s a small sharpening choil, executed perfectly here, with no beard and no unsharpened edge at all, giving a cutting edge length of 3.5” compared to the blade length of 3.6” – quite a tight ratio, a very efficient use of the steel.
Speaking of steel, the 14c28n from Sandvik in Sweden here has a black coating on it. Since 14c28n is highly corrosion resistant, this is mostly an aesthetic choice, and I have to admit the Fenrir looks bad-ass with a black blade. While newer Fenrirs use 154CM stainless steel, 14c28n is hardly a consolation prize, being quite a well-balanced choice for an EDC knife – it takes a crispy-clean edge very easily, has reasonable edge retention, and isn’t prone to chipping like some harder PM steels are (like the upgraded S35VN blade model).
It won’t hold an edge as long as S35VN – or the newer 154CM steel – but it will be much easier to maintain. Compared to S35VN and 154CM, 14C28N is a lower carbon steel (about half of 154CM and a third of S35VN) meaning lower edge retention, but it does have approximately equal chromium content to the other two (at 14%) making all 3 stainless. 154CM brings a large dose of molybdenum in for decreased brittleness and increased strength and machinability, while S35VN adds Vanadium into the mix for better wear resistance and a finer grain structure (so a cleaner edge.) 14C28N forgoes the exotic alloys for good balanced performance in all categories, even if it will need to be sharpened more frequently.
Deployment & Lockup
The Fenrir uses a flipper tab for deployment, along with caged ceramic ball bearings in the pivot for a smooth action. The flipper tab is squared off with jimping on the top and leading edge for increased traction, and operates best when using a push-button deployment style (pushing in and down on the tab rather than pulling back). Detent strength is a little soft, which is something a lot of knives get away with these days since they use ball bearings to reduce friction, but I was not particularly impressed with the action on this one. Even after disassembling and cleaning out the bearing races with parts cleaner and compressed air, reassembling and applying some Benchmade Blue Lube, the Fenrir is still a lazy flipper with a smushy detent. I would say this is forgivable at the price point, but it’s really not any more: every XR Lock SOG I’ve messed with around or under $100 has excellent deployment, as did the QSP Gannet, and the Asher Spiro. It’s not CRKT M16 from 2004 bad, but it’s not great. And considering the USP of this knife, which we’ll discuss later, that doesn’t make much sense.
Thankfully, lockup is good. The Fenrir (and the Hades) have a hidden liner – that is, they’re completely nested inside of the scales, and use a stainless-steel liner lock to engage the blade tang. Lock geometry is dialed in here, with complete but early (about 20%) lockup of the liner on the face of the tang. An external stop pin locates the blade in the open and closed positions, and there’s no blade play at all either vertically or horizontally. Nor is there any lock stick, even when flicking the blade open particularly hard. No complaints about the lock.
Features, Fit & Finish
The Fenrir comes with either G10 or Titanium scales; in this case, our test sample had stonewashed titanium handles, which are arguably the main draw to this knife. There’s some very cool design going on here, with the oversized hexagonal pivot on the show side (the stylistic common thread throughout Damned Design’s lineup) drawing your eyes at first glance. The handles are contoured all the way around, with a wide bevel towards the outside transitioning into chamfered edges for a comfortable grip. The handles feature a broad palm swell and a pronounced forward finger guard for safety.
The pocket clip is a black painted deep carry spring steel setup, sat in a recessed channel for secure location and attached by two vertical screws. There’s a blanking plate on the opposite side, held in place by one of the clip screws, allowing you to remove the two screws and slide the plate out, flipping the clip around for left-handed carry. All of the body screws are standard Torx T8, and the decorative hex shaped pivot head also acts as a counter-hold for when you’re loosening or tightening the pivot – which is a male/female Chicago screw setup. That plastic backspacer also has a loop pass-through to attach a lanyard sideways, tucked into the spine so it’s not visible unless you’re looking down into it – again, with a focus on clean aesthetics.
As mentioned earlier, the locking liner is entirely nested in the handles on the lock side, and there is no show side liner (since the handles are titanium.) There technically are no body screws, as the clip screws engage with the plastic backspacer and the blanking plate to secure the end of the handle together, giving a clean unbroken appearance.
The metal stop pin is anchored to the scales and is removable when disassembling. Branding is ultra-minimal, with just the Damned Designs logo laser etched on the blade on the show side, and the steel type on the lock side at the top.
Fit and finish is excellent on the Fenrir. The pivot barrel and screw both sit flush with the scales, the titanium handles are very well machined (even the insides you can’t normally see, shown in the disassembly photos) with no burrs left anywhere. Same story with the blade, which has a perfectly symmetrical primary and edge bevel, as well as a very clean factory edge without any deviation – which would be super visible on this black coated blade with a totally straight cutting edge. You can tell the people who put this together care. All of the pieces fit very tight so there’s no wiggle, and with the pivot tightened down till it stops (remember, ball bearings) the blade is perfectly centered in the handles. Kudos to Kubey and Damned Designs on QC.
My big complaint with the Fenrir is carrying it. It’s pretty chunky in the pocket, weighing in at 6.1 ounces for this full titanium version (the G10 version is considerably lighter at 4.5 ounces) and the handle takes up a lot of real estate in the pocket, clocking in at 0.55” wide (G10 is the same.) No fault against the pocket clip, which is a pretty good deep carry setup with a nice curved entry portion making it easy to slide into the pocket without hanging up. There’s a reduced chance of catching a door frame or a steering wheel thanks to the rounded off end of the clip, a good bit of design that I’m always disappointed when manufacturers skip. Still, the weight and bulk dominates your pocket in a way that’s not ideal for EDC.
I may kvetch about the deployment action, but it still works, especially with a good amount of pressure built up in your fingertip or a slight wrist flick. But the ergonomics are great on this knife, with a comfortable four-finger grip in your hand, no hot spotting from the clip, and a row of jimping on the spine for your thumb to latch onto – or more importantly, your forefinger in a pinch grip (thumb and middle finger on the pivot, forefinger on the spine.) The blade shape of the Fenrir lends itself naturally to using it as a box cutter, and the angled-down tip of the blade in that pinch grip makes short work of opening packages or cutting up cardboard, which is this knife’s forte. With a coated blade to reduce friction, and a totally straight edge, this is virtually a cardboard zipper. As far as food prep goes, it’s a mixed bag: it’s really good at cutting slices off an apple (with a straight-down push), but roll cuts are entirely out of the question – get a Hades if you’re looking for that. But as a general utility tool, it works very well. It also gets bonus points for the delightful patina the stonewashed titanium handles develop after carrying and using it for a while.
Maintenance and disassembly are nice. The straight sharpened edge makes sharpening a lot simpler (especially on a Spyderco Sharpmaker or similar) since you don’t have to vary the angle of your wrist to get a clean pass on a stone. 14c28n is totally serviceable here, holding an edge decently in daily use and able to be touched up in a breeze. Same thing with disassembly, which is done by removing the pivot screw and two clip screws and wiggling the whole assembly apart – the blanking plate just slides out once the screws are out as well. As with most bearing knives, reassembly is just a matter of lining everything up and tightening down until it stops, and I like not having to change out my Torx bits while working on it. It’s very user serviceable.
All these knives available at BladeHQ.At a retail price of $110, there are plenty of things to compare against the Fenrir in 14c28n. The Kansept Knives (a newer brand formed from former Kizer employees) Bulldozer is similar, offering a 3.75” reverse tanto blade in various steels and handle materials. If you’re confused by the reverse tanto vs wharncliffe, just remember: a reverse tanto is just a wharncliffe with some belly on the edge rather than a straight blade. Kansept will sell you one with a titanium handle, or sell you one with a cheaper price tag, but not both. There’s the G10 or Micarta handled Bulldozer with D2 steel for ~$75, or a titanium handled version with CPM 20CV for ~$205. If you really like heavy knives, BladeHQ also has a copper handled/S35VN version at 6.3 ounces for ~$135. All of them feature the same blade shape, a full flat grind on a reverse tanto with a 3.5” cutting edge, and either a liner lock or a framelock (on titanium, which also features Timascus clip and details.) Titanium Bulldozer is only 4.5 ounces, and G10 is 4.1. The big difference is opening method: the Bulldozer utilizes a front flipper instead of a finger flipper for a slimmer profile in pocket. We haven’t reviewed any Kansept knives so can’t speak on quality, but have heard good things.
Another interesting alternative is the Ferrum Forge Prolix, manufactured for FF by frequent KnifeInformer spotlight WE Knives, also in China. The Prolix features G10 handle scales (in either green, black or tan) on top of stainless liners with a liner lock. Being an FF/WE, it’s a safe bet it’ll be a great flipper, riding on ceramic ball bearings in the pivot – there’s also an oblong thumb hole for blade access. The blade is a 2.875” wharncliffe with a medium height flat grind, cut from a 0.12” thin stock of Nitro-V steel, which we talked about more in our Civivi Crit Review – think of it as AEB-L with more nitrogen and vanadium. The Prolix is much lighter (2.74 ounces) and thinner (0.40” across) than the Fenrir, although it does have a smaller profile – 6.5” long to the Fenrir’s 7.95” when open. It’s priced at $90 in all three colors.
Finally, the Kizer Critical, a design collaboration with CK Knife Works is worth a look. Based on the Matthew Christensen design, the Critical is available in two sizes – a Mini with a 3” blade, or a full sized with a 3.6” blade. The Mini can be optioned with Micarta, carbon fiber or G10 scales – all for $99, and features a 3” straight-edged Wharncliffe in high-performance 3V tool steel. All three weight in at the same 3.33 ounces, measuring 7.25” long when opened, and ride on ball bearings with a flipper tab for deployment. The deep carry steel pocket clip is right hand tip-up only, but this pocket-sized box destroyer seems like quite a bargain with that steel. While the Mini Critical is part of Kizer’s Vanguard mid-range line, the full sized Critical is part of the high-end Bladesmith line, featuring titanium handles with holes cut out, CPM S35VN steel, a framelock with a lockbar stabilizer/overtravel stop, and a milled titanium pocket clip. They measure 8.64” when open, so the 6.27-ounce weight is less surprising.
I think I wanted to like the Fenrir because the internet loves Damned Designs. A quick browse through Reddit’s r/knifeclub will regularly show examples of Adrian’s design work among carefully curated pocket dumps, filtered through Instagram’s finest filters, featuring immaculately clean tools and the oddly ever-present handkerchiefs. They are certainly cool looking tools, especially the smaller models like the Djinn, with its exaggerated harpoon-shaped 2” blade, or the Oni, another miniature with a blade that sort of looks like the ethereal Tesla CyberTruck. But I never really gelled with the knife, and I think it’s the combination of the soft detent, heavy presence in the pocket, and the manicured aesthetic that surrounds the brand. It cuts well, and it’s very well assembled, but in the end, it seemed more like it was created to get likes on Instagram than it was to function as a pocket knife. That’s more personality than it is function, but it never ended up getting as much pocket time as it would’ve otherwise had it been slimmer, lighter, or flipped better.
Then there’s the question of dealing with Damned Designs as a customer, which I’m loathe to bring up as a person who reviews things on a functional basis, but part of the function of a knife is who you buy it from. All I will say here is that our communications with Adrian were brief and pleasant, but other people’s experiences have apparently been less than stellar. So, without going into details, if this sort of thing is important to you then please do your research – caveat emptor.
- Excellent fit and finish, murdered-out Instagram aesthetic, nice titanium handles.
- Heavy, bulky in the pocket, mediocre flipping action.