Story and Photos by Tim Stetzer
2020 has been a crazy year in so many ways, but one of the takeaways for me was that self-reliance is more important than ever before.
One of the many things we experienced with the COVID pandemic, was the shortage of meat in the grocery stores. I know a good many hunters who just sat back and smiled at the reports of shortages though, because they knew they had a freezer full of meat already and the means to get more when needed.
To some, the hunting skillset may be outdated, or just relegated to hobby status, but 2020 just proves that there’s still a definite place for those throwback skills and the tools you need to perform them.
One of those tools is a good hunting knife, and I happen to have in my possession one that fits the bill nicely – the PB&J Nessmuk. The PB&J Nessmuk is a tool with its roots in history but is a currently built piece, made by skilled craftsmen, right here in the USA.
I’ve had a chance to work with a number of other PB&J knives in the past and I liken them to modern day trade knives. They’re simple in their presentation, but extremely functional in their design. They’re much more refined than a lot of those old blades though – there’s a quality of craftsmanship in these handmade blades that you certainly didn’t get with a mass-produced trade knife.
The fit and finish on PB&J’s knives is excellent and shows the care and attention to detail that Phil, Barry and Jake put into their work. Handles are well contoured and comfortable, and the joint between handle scales and the tang is seamless. The grinds are clean, even and precise and they come with excellent edges, out of the box.
PB&J knives are all built from big, old sawmill blades – like the one Jake first came up with – and the boys often scour the countryside looking for more blades to use as raw materials for knives. The sawblades are L6 tool steel, which is a carbon steel with a high nickel content, known for its impact resistance.
L6 isn’t a fancy, modern boutique steel but it’s been around a long time and still makes for a fine everyday working tool. Especially when it’s shaped by the hands of master bladesmiths and given a good modern heat treat.
The handle scales on PB&J knives are generally made of Micarta and available in green, brown or black, with brass pins and a brass lined lanyard hole.
Most PB&J knives, like my Nessmuk, come with a heavy leather belt sheath. The Nessmuk sheath uses a basic pouch design, with a riveted belt loop on the rear. The sheath is constructed of heavy leather, that’s folded over and stitched, with a full welt, and is finished in an attractive deep brown color.
The knife sits deeply and securely, with about a third of its handle exposed. That’s enough to draw the knife efficiently, while still allowing it to sit deep enough in the pouch sheath to be secure. The belt loop is big enough for a heavy work/gun belt and allows the knife to ride comfortably on the hip.
With all of the background info out of the way, let’s take a look at the PB&J Nessmuk in particular.
The Nessmuk, of course, takes its cues from the classic knife design of early outdoors writer George Washington Sears, who wrote under the penname Nessmuk. Sear’s never gave exact specs on his knife, but he did talk about it, and provide drawings, in his book Woodcraft and Camping.
The PB&J Nessmuk is a little smaller than Sear’s version appeared to be, but it uses the same distinctive hump backed style, drop point blade.
While Sears describes a thin slicing blade, and shows a stick tang knife in his drawings, PB&J uses an 1/8-inch-thick piece of L6 tool steel, with a full tang, mated to Micarta scales. The PB&J model has a high, flat grind with a secondary bevel. The combination of thickness and grind make for a good compromise between strength and slicing ability.
The PB&J Nessmuk is what I consider a perfect size for a hunting knife. It has a 3.5-inch blade, with a 3-inch sharpened edge and a 3.75-inch long handle. 3.5 inches is plenty of blade for utility chores, and just right for skinning and processing game.
The blade length lets the user place their fingertip along the spine of the knife, so that the knife tip rests right below the tip of your index finger. That way when you have your knife inside the body cavity of an animal – like the whitetail deer so common in my native Pennsylvania – you can tell exactly where your knife blade is, just by guiding it with your fingertip.
The Nessmuk has enough belly to make it a good skinner, and a centerline point – which works well with the humpbacked spine – for making those initial incisions, without going too deep and piercing internal organs.
Basically, just start your cut with the knife spine down against the skin of the deer, or what have you, and rock the knife back against the hump. Once the incision is made, glide the blade along, on the hump, to open up the animal. In theory at least.
While I did take the Nessmuk with me on a couple of whitetail hunts, I was unsuccessful and didn’t get to actually use it on game. I saw a lot of doe, but no buck, and it was only antlered rifle season at the time.
The Nessmuk weighs in at four ounces, which is reasonably light on your belt, but still gives the knife a solid heft in hand. The Micarta handle is 3.75-inches long, which is plenty for my medium sized hands. It allows me to get a full, comfortable grip on the knife. The well contoured handles, and seamless fit of the scales to the tang, eliminated any potential hotspots, so I didn’t have any issues using the knife for long periods of time around camp.
Barring game to process, I did use the Nessmuk for a myriad of other chores that you might find yourself encountering in the woods – or even with EDC use. I found that it made an excellent leather slicer, which shouldn’t be a surprise, since this is largely a game knife. I cut open a bunch of boxes during my time using the knife, as well as plastic and foil pouches. I did some basic carving, doing my usual fuzz stick and tent stake tests.
I also cut up a bunch of sisal rope, for various projects around camp, and diced some of it up finely, to use as tinder. The spine of the Nessmuk is squared off enough that it worked just fine with a ferro rod as well, for fire starting.
While the Nessmuk was perfectly functional, I will say that I did a little better in the past, on the woodcraft tasks, with PB&J’s Scandi ground knives – like the Companion or Main Course. The Nessmuk has a different role though, and thus a different grind.
I think that one of the things I like best about the PB&J Nessmuk, is that it’s a simple and robust design, that’s executed superbly. It blends traditional design with precision craftsmanship, to create a tool that you can rely on and pass down to your kids and grandkids.
The Nessmuk makes for a fine hunter that will ride securely and unnoticed on your belt, until you need it, and would work equally well as a practical EDC knife, or a light camp knife. Whether you’re a long term hunter or outdoorsman – or you’re becoming interested because you now realize that self-sustainability in this day and age might be a good idea – the PB&J Nessmuk is a knife that can certainly have you covered. K&G
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Blade Material: L6 Tool SteelBlade Length: 3.5 inchesOverall Length: 7.25 inchesHandle Length: 3.75 inchesBlade Thickness: .125 inchBlade Finish: Natural PatinaWeight: 4 ounces, 6 ounces with sheathHandle Material: Brown Canvas MicartaBlade Style: Nessmuk, Drop PointGrind: High Flat Grind with Secondary BevelSheath: LeatherMSRP: $175.00
PB&J KnivesFacebook: @PBJ-Handmade-Knives-369679889881835(434) 857-6358Instagram: pbj_handmade_knives
Reach out to PB&J Knives on Facebook and Instagram or call them to orderFacebook: @PBJ-Handmade-Knives-369679889881835(434) 857-6358Instagram: pbj_handmade_knives
PB&J Knives is a joint project between twin knife makers Phil and Barry Jones, and Jake Kirks.
It first came about when Jake decided he wanted to do something with an old circular sawblade that he had from his grandfather’s sawmill. Before long the trio had a whole line of knives drawn up using that blade, and they were ready to go into production. In this case though, “production” means the three of them, making knives by hand.
The PB&J name comes from the first initials of each of their first names. While the peanut butter and jelly connotation wasn’t initially intended, it’s pretty catchy and easy to remember, so they rolled with it.
Tim Stetzer lives in Western Pennsylvania with his wife, 2 kids, and too many cats. He has over two decades of law enforcement and criminal justice experience, and is a police academy instructor. He is also a veteran of both the Army and Air Force Reserves and has been an avid outdoorsman since his youth in Boy Scouts where he first became interested in knives. Tim has written for various gun, knife and outdoors publications since 2006 and has designed or helped design a number of custom and production knives during that time.
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