JB KNIFEWORKS LAYMAN KNIFE AND GAMBIT HATCHET COMBO: ONE PICKS UP WHERE THE OTHER LEAVES OFF
A true outdoorsman carries the correct tools for the job at hand. In terms of cutting tools, this may include a pocket knife, belt knife, and saw. Or, the outdoorsman could carry a chopping tool, a multitool, and a game-processing knife.
I believe in options, and when a maker offers up a combo set of tools my ears perk up. I like to see what the combo contains and why the maker pairs one tool with another.
Recently, Joey Berry, a graduate of the Fiddleback Forge apprentice program, released a knife and hatchet set I just had to take to the woods and put through an evaluation.
About the Maker
Understanding a maker’s background helps explain the “why” behind their designs. Joey Berry is a man with a unique background and set of skills that set him up for an excellent run as a knifemaker.
Berry spent part of his life as a butcher, and if you’ve ever seen a butcher use a blade, you know they know how to handle a knife. They also know what works in terms of a knife design for slicing and separating tasks and how one should feel and function.
“I believe in options, and when a maker offers up a combo set of tools my ears perk up.”
Berry also spent time in his previous life as a gunsmith, which taught him how to work with wood and steel. It seemed natural he would combine his past work experience along with his lifelong interest as an outdoorsman to follow a deeper path into knifemaking.
Eventually, Berry sought out a mentor and found one in Andy Roy of Fiddleback Forge.
“This knife lives in the world where terms such as ‘presentation grade’ and ‘fancy’ exist, but…where ‘tough’ and ‘rugged’ also are used.”
“After I made a few knives and started selling them pretty quickly, I decided to step my game up,” said Berry. “I went through the apprentice program with Andy Roy at Fiddleback Forge.
I wanted to learn the techniques to speed up and improve my knifemaking and work more efficiently. After graduation from the Fiddleback Forge apprentice program, I stayed on as the shop foreman to manage shop operations.”
Berry went on to create JB Knifeworks and make a name for himself in the industry.
THE “LAYMAN” KNIFE
The word “layman” can be taken a couple different ways. It can mean “non-expert” or “unspecialized,” which sounds somewhat derogatory. Or, when applied to a knife, it can be viewed as “general purpose” and complimentary in nature.
Some knives easily give away their purpose by their contours, shape, and construction. Other knives are easily placed in a metaphorical box for tasks like fileting fish, chopping wood, or cutting rope. Knives such as the Layman are more difficult to define.
“I wanted this knife to be for the everyday knife user, the layman, not the butcher or the fisherman or the chef,” said Berry. “It still has a full-height, very thin convex grind, and it’s in 8670. So, it’ll take anything you throw at it and keep asking for more.”
JB Knifeworks Layman
Blade Length: 3.75 inches
Overall Length: 8.5 inches
Blade Thickness: 0.125 inch
Material of Blade: 8670 Steel
Handle Material: Lager G10
Weight: 5.25 ounces
I fell in love with the non-descript design of this blade and the initial feel it has in hand. When I first picked up this knife, I didn’t conclude it was “unspecialized” but rather that it would work really well for so many different tasks in the great outdoors given the drop point blade and handle size.
Given the practical-sized blade, handle, and overall length, this knife could be carried as an everyday carry piece and accompany the user unobtrusively.
This knife lives in the world where terms such as “presentation grade” and “fancy” exist, but it can be found where “tough” and “rugged” also are used.
THE GAMBIT HATCHET
Just when I thought I had used up all of my love on the Layman knife, I handled the JB Knifeworks Gambit hatchet and mustered up some more.
First and foremost, the fact the handles and finishes match so perfectly addresses a mild case of undocumented OCD in my gear preferences. Second, this hatchet has a great heft for its size.
“I used the Gambit to limb some of the branches and found it cleanly cut through inch-thick branches without issue.”
The problem with many hatchets, if you want to view it as a problem, is their weight and bulk. An integral hatchet such as this one from Joey Berry, is made from stock removal, and the width of the head is the same as the tang of the throat connecting it to the handle.
It manages to be compact but also an efficient chopper with the right balance and weight distribution.
This hatchet packs easily inside your backpack or satchel. Yet another reason for my infatuation with this hatchet is the edge geometry. Think of this hatchet as a true cutting tool capable of much more than just chopping.
Keep in mind, this hatchet is made from stock removal, so it lacks the hammer of a true hammer poll. This will force the user to either make a baton out of hardwood or use the flat of the blade as a light hammer.
If the latter of the two methods is used, the edge will be exposed, and that could lead to accidental damage or injury.
Both the knife and hatchet are made from 8670 steel. This is an all-American low alloy nickel carbon steel and one of the toughest carbon steels available.
“It is so tough that we are tempering knives to 61-62 HRC with no worries,” Berry said. “I’m making my chef’s knives in 8670 at 62-63 HRC. At this hardness, it’s still plenty tough and edge retention is very good.”
If you’ve ever worried about chipping an edge, you probably have also sought out knives with lower hardness levels. This steel defies the conventional ideas about hardness and toughness.
Pop’s Knife Supply has popularized this steel and it’s becoming the number one selling steel in the store. The knifemaker and the user alike love it.
Lager G10 is the handle material used on the Layman knife and Gambit hatchet. This handle material has a unique look when exposed to varying levels of light. The underlying white liners on top of thin Micarta layers really stand out when sunlight hits the Lager G10.
In fact, the handle almost appears to change colors similar to the way exotic hardwoods such as Hawaiian Koa do in the varying light conditions.
IN THE FIELD
One thing I noticed about using the hatchet is the comfort in hand. It is the perfect size for rough forming carving projects and shaping objects such as stakes, “Ys” and “Vs” for bushcraft projects, and so on. Turns out, the comfort in hand was deliberate.
“Steel tang hatchets are known for transferring a lot of shock into the user’s hand,” said Berry. “I fixed this problem by tapering the tangs of the hatchets.
The 8-inch handle and tapered tangs make my hatchet have no more shock than a traditional wooden-handled hatchet.”
JB Knifeworks GAMBIT
Blade Length: 3.75 inches
Overall Length: 12 inches
Head Thickness: 3/16 inch
Blade Material: 8670 Steel
Handle Material: Lager G10
Weight: 17.6 ounces
THE POP’S KNIFE SUPPLY CONNECTION
If you’ve ever heard a knifemaker or manufacturer inform a buyer, “We’re just waiting on a supply of (insert whatever knife component you want here),” you know frustration can be a real factor when it comes to knife delivery. It seems like everyone is waiting on someone or something.
What happens when a knifemaker is tied to a company that supplies knifemakers? The answer is a speedy turnaround. Joey Berry is one of the guys behind the scenes at Pop’s Knife Supply.
For full disclosure, he is actually one of four owners, including knifemakers Andy Roy, Allen Surls, and Dirk Loots. While our knife and hatchet combo came with Lager G10, rest assured you can get handle scales made from any exotic wood or synthetic you can imagine.
Pop’s Knife Supply has been around for almost 40 years and was started by James Poplin. The company earned a reputation for growing the knife industry by helping makers purchase supplies sold at low margins and with actual shipping costs.
Pop’s Knife Supply is a staple in the knife community, and everything from steel to fittings along with sharpening and handle materials can be found on its website. The best part?
Pop’s is a company you can still actually get someone on the phone to speak to if there is ever an issue. Rest assured, if you need it, you can likely get it from Pop’s.
During the course of my testing, I experienced a windstorm and had a few trees come down in the woods nearby. I used the Gambit to limb some of the branches and found it cleanly cut through inch-thick branches without issue.
I swung for the fences and managed to cut through even thicker branches with a single cut.
Choked up just under the head on the Gambit, I was able to create shavings for fire starting easily. I also found the shape of the head to be similar to that of an ulu.
While I messed around with using it in the kitchen like an ulu, it worked OK, but the length of the handle got in the way and made it clumsy. Good to know it could cut like this if necessary albeit impractical.
I used the Layman for tip-splitting pieces of mixed hard and softwood kindling. I used it for batoning too. Even at 0.125 inch thick, this knife easily held up to the rigors of hard use, and I started to believe what I heard about 8670 with no visible rolls, chips, or dings to the edge.
I know what you’re thinking at this point—the hatchet was used like a knife and the knife was used like a hatchet. They sure were.
Eventually, I used the knife for more civilized uses, such as processing a venison roast for the slow cooker and slicing up backstrap while entertaining hunting and fishing buddies around the fire.
I used the Layman for making classic bushcraft try sticks with seasoned wood, stressing the edge laterally on purpose along the way.
Using some of the limbed branches from the downed tree previously mentioned, I fuzzed up some sticks and used the belly of the blade to create curls down the length of the wood.
I noticed the blade performed well, but the real standout was the generous 4.5-inch handle comfort in hand. The knife seemed to melt into my hands and it really felt comfortable in anything I did.
By the end of the test, the knife was starting to develop a deep patina, and this added to the character of the blade.
A WORTHY PAIR
Overall, this combination worked perfectly well on trips to the great outdoors, hunts, and in the kitchen. The only thing I would like to add to this combo is a strong folding saw and I believe you would have all you need to tackle the great outdoors.
The 8670 steel was impressive and needed very little touchup other than some passes on a ceramic rod and some oiling to prevent rust. Eventually, the heavier the patina, the less I had to worry about minor rust spots.
While this combo set worked great together, either of the tools on their own would be a great addition to your collection or load out.
Pop’s Knife Supply
Warlander Leather Enterprises
WARLANDER ENTERPRISES FOR FINE LEATHER
Amy Valerious is the craftswoman behind Warlander Enterprises. She is a knifemaker and a leatherworker who teams up with Joey Berry to supply sheaths for his knives. We’re very particular about knife sheaths and especially leather ones.
Amy’s work is simply amazing, and the proof is in the little details. The leather used is from American tanneries, including Hermann Oak and Wickett & Craig, that provide premium leather.
Amy burnishes the edges of the entire sheath so even the opening of the sheath and the belt loop are finished smooth like the side where the top and bottom meet the welt.
Her basket weave tooling pattern is very clean, and her stitching lines are as sharp as the JB knives they hold. Basketweave in general is a very strong way to make a sheath—not just decorative but durable.
Since basketweave patterns are hammered into the leather, the leather is made harder to scratch. Amy’s background in knifemaking helps her design sheaths that work well for the intended purpose of the knives they carry.
The Outdoorsman Combo I was sent was given the Warlander treatment with a handsome matching leather sheath and edge guard.