Comment(s)

In 2009 Jake Kirks saw very few options in simple yet high-quality handmade knives that ordinary hard-working folks could afford—ones made of more traditional high-carbon steels, away from the realm of high-priced super steels. In 2010, drawing on his memories of growing up on a farm outside Danville, Virginia, and hunting the nearby hills, Kirks set out to fill the niche by making scrapyard knives. Soon he formed a partnership with Barry and Philip Jones of Jones Brothers Knives. Collectively they had over a half century of knife making experience between them, and PB&J Knives was born.

Scrapyard Knives

To achieve quality at reasonable prices, the partners selected cost-effective materials. This was Kirks’ favorite knife metal—L6 steel repurposed from old saw blades. And not the small ones used for handheld circular saws, but the huge ones used in saw mills.

Water jetting can efficiently cut several knife blanks of various models from one saw blade. This also helps keep prices low. The toughness, edge-taking, and edge-holding capabilities of well processed L6—the chosen Rockwell hardness is RC 59-61—are very well suited for a hard-working knife.

The partners also cut costs by choosing basic colors of phenolic handle materials, like canvas Micartas in natural, black, and olive drab. These are the least expensive of the handle materials that also ensure high durability. Micarta handles are, however, not the only options available from PB&J. As an upgrade, they also offer Masur birch.

Everyday Life

In the vein of knives made for everyday carry in urban settings, Kirks’ inspirations were drawn mostly from his life of as an outdoorsman. He intended to create a line of well-made ergonomic tools, made of high-quality materials, but without unneeded bells and whistles. In so doing, he’d create affordable knives that customers would not fear to use in various roles.

It was from this line of thinking that the first PB&J knife model, the Bread & Butter, came to be. It is a small three-finger knife with an overall length of 5.75 inches, a 3-inch handle, and 2 inches of cutting edge (MSRP, $30.00). The knife is intended to be an unobtrusive companion for everyday utility tasks: cutting twine, opening packages, cleaning fingernails, or eating lunch.

It may be small and light, weighing in at just 3 ounces, but being made of .125-inch L6 steel, it is no lightweight. The sample I received for testing arrived with the blade sharp enough to wipe hair off my arm. In my experiences with them so far, this excellent sharpness is typical of PB&J Knives.

A Friend Indeed

PB&J introduced the Companion for 2016. With an overall length of 7.75 inches, it isn’t a large knife, but it is certainly a full-sized belt knife. This model has a 4-inch handle, which offers the user a fuller grasp. This grip helps reduce hand fatigue while cutting with a good bit of force, or during extended periods. With a total blade length of 3.5 inches—and 2.75 inches of cutting edge—the blade is not too long for everyday carry. This shorter blade length also eases fatigue to the hand and wrist. MSRP, $125.

Kirks’ experiences as a professional butcher, avid hunter, and angler, shine brilliantly in the design of the Companion. I found it to be quite intuitive in detailed cutting tasks. The curvature of the handle and the wide ricasso help the knife fit very naturally in a hand’s pinch grip, often used for precision cutting.

Beast Of Burden

The Main Course was the second release from PB&J Knives. Its inspiration came from Kirks’ youth on a working farm, and all the chores requiring a strong blade. This knife measures 8 inches tip to pommel; 4.25 inches of that is handle. The thickness of this model’s clipped-point blade is a step up in strength, being right at 0.15625 of an inch.

A true working knife, its handle is contoured for a more secure purchase. The pommel is handy for drawing and using the knife, even with wet or gloved hands. The flat surface on the bottom of the sowbelly handle improves blade control under those same conditions. Yet the outside corners on both sides of the surface are rounded and softened to add comfort in bare hands. This model, as well as the other two already discussed in this article, has a natural canvas Micarta handle. MSRP starts at around $175 for this model.

Main Course

There were Main Course knives available when I first approached Kirks about field-testing the PB&J knives. It arrived in late spring when I was breaking ground to make a new garden plot. I was doing a lot of cleanup work in the yard, so it got a head start on the others. Cutting tangled roots from the tiller tines and forcing the blade through the sandy topsoil presented an excellent opportunity to see how well the knife would hold its edge. Dulling the keen edge beyond the ability to shave hair off my arm gave an equally great chance to see how the L6 steel re-sharpened. A few minutes with a ceramic stone had the edge sharp enough to shave again, though not as cleanly as when it arrived.

A Big Brother

The Destination is a larger knife made for woods wandering and hunting. It has an overall length of 9 inches, and a blade length of 4.75 inches. It too has a blade thickness of 0.15625 of an inch, and similar handle contours as the Main Course. However, this model has a canted drop-point blade that is wider than the others. It also has a higher grind on the primary bevel. It is less pointy, and has a deeper belly more suited to dressing out large game. The sample I received came sporting very nice Masur birch handle scales and red liners, and as with the Micarta handles, the wood has a very smooth finish.

The smooth texture feels great in hand during extended use, while the contours of the sowbelly handle offer a secure purchase in push-and-pull cuts, as well as overhand, underhand, pinch, and reverse grips. The pommel swell of the handle aids in a rearward three-finger grip, which is what I used in snap cuts through thick briars and small saplings. In this endeavor, the knife lived up to its name by helping me reach my off-trail destination.

The Blade

The wide blade and high grind of this knife make it an excellent slicing tool, and this one also came with a very sharp edge. It sliced through the tougher meat of a leg of lamb with scant resistance and, though the tip isn’t designed for such work, it quickly parted the meat from the bone to make shank steaks.

However, I wasn’t going for steaks, so I tested the edge further, slicing the meat into small cubes for lamb stew. Due to the angle of the canted blade, this meant working with just the forward end of the edge and sliding it a lot across the grain of a hardwood cutting board. There was no significant degradation of the edge from the abrasion of the leg bone or the cutting board, which is good considering the amount of pressure applied in the process.

Meet Big Jake

With an overall length of 20 inches—a 7-inch handle, 11 inches of cutting edge, and a blade thickness of 0.1875 of an inch—the Big Jake is a beast of a cutting tool. It is patterned similar to a parang and made for the heavy-duty aspects of trail clearing and camp cutting (MSRP, $500).

The heavy blade is quite sharp and bites deeply, even in seasoned hardwood. In the woods, I found that neither 1.5-inch-diameter bamboo nor 2-inch seasoned hickory limbs could challenge it.

In camp it is not only handy for processing firewood, or cutting saplings for shelters or tables, but also food prep service. It made quick work of cutting frozen sausage and quartered whole heads of cabbage with nearly the ease of a paring knife quartering a tomato. With the size, weight, and convex primary bevel, it could easily work in some of the heavier chores of processing large game—a valued tool on an extended backcountry trip.

At Day’s End

Looking at all five models on my workbench, PB&J seems to have a knife suited for every task facing the avid outdoorsman. All the knives I used had excellent fit and finish and quality heat treatment. All of these knives come with top-quality leather sheaths and are more affordable than many similar knives.

It seems clear to me that Jake Kirks has indeed accomplished his goal.

This article is from a previous issue of Survivor’s Edge Magazine. Grab your copy at OutdoorGroupStore.com.

Up Next

Fly Tying: Master the Angler’s Art of Crafting Lures for Trout

The most critical elements for any fly tying beginner are learning the knots and keeping...