The annual Badger Knife Show in Janesville, Wisconsin is filled with a great assortment of makers, vendors and collectors. There are a few stalwarts who are there for almost every show, such as Lee Beene from Lee’s Cutlery and Craig Schneider from Craig Schneider Custom Knives. Along one wall, you’ll find a table filled with handmade knives that are beautiful and functional, manned by an unassuming maker who is best described as a quiet professional. I first met Jess Hoffman of J. Hoffman Knives at this knife show in 2019. It was a crowded show and I was in a bit of a rush, so I didn’t spend as much time admiring his wares as I’d wanted. But, I made a mental note to revisit his table at the next show.
Then COVID happened and the 2020 knife show didn’t take place. For other various and sundry reasons, it wasn’t until the 2022 show that I finally reconnected with him. And man, am I glad I did.
The J Hoffman Knives Muc 85
We spoke at length about his knives, and I handled several of the ones that he still had on the table. I finally settled on the Muc 85, though I’d have to wait for him to make one for me, as the one he had with him had been sold. His books are usually filled several months in advance, but he’d had a couple of people ghost him, so he had an opening and was able to fit me in. It took a couple of months before he got to my spot in line, then another few weeks before the knife was ready.
At each stage of the build, Hoffman checked in with me to make sure we were on the same page. I went with vintage emerald paper Micarta for the handle scales. Getting a sheath was a bit of an upcharge and I went with leather, rather than Kydex. I’m glad I did, too, as it looks great.
Hoffman does everything in-house, from design and grinding to heat treat, handle finishing and sheath making. This gives him total control over the quality of the build, with nothing left to outside influences.
If you scroll through his website, you will see he has close to 30 current models, from kitchen blades to sporting knives.
What’s in the J Hoffman Knives Box?
Hoffman sent the knife within a day or two of its completion. It was shipped in the standard white box that’s common to most knifemakers. Other than the shipping label, the box was unmarked, making it less of a target for mail thieves and porch pirates. Inside the box, the knife was wrapped in thick shop-style paper towel, with the tip covered by a plastic protector, which is always a nice touch.
He’d sent me numerous photos of it prior to shipping, but pictures just didn’t do it justice. This was the first time I’d gone with green paper Micarta scales and they turned out to be beautiful.
At less than 5 ounces, the knife is very light for its size. Helping to cut the weight is a spine that’s just 1/8-inch thick. This knife is definitely designed to be a great slicer, as at home in the kitchen as out in the field.
The handle is slim, about 9/16-inch thick. It is contoured and rounded, making it very comfortable to hold, even for long periods of time.
The sheath is a simple but handsome pouch with green thread to match the knife scales. The leather is thick and just supple enough to hold the knife securely. There’s a sturdy belt loop attached to the back. While Hoffman does offer Kydex as another sheath option, personally I’ll always go with leather, given the choice.
Hoffman went with AEB-L for the steel for this knife. I know several makers who favor it, and they do so for good reason. It is a simple stainless steel that performs about as well as many of the so-called “super steels.” The bonus is that it does so without the high price tag. AEB-L is a great knife steel.
Hoffman also includes a very nice Owner Certificate with a serial number and other information. Again, this speaks to the level of professionalism he strives for, and achieves, with his knives. This might not be a full-time job for him right now, but he certainly treats it as such.
But, Does it Cut?
I’ve been using the Muc 85 off and on for a few months now. It handles wonderfully, especially in the kitchen. At first, I was concerned about the exceptionally smooth handle, fearing it would become too slick under wet conditions. However, that hasn’t been the case at all and the knife handle is quite secure in my grip.
The thin blade is, as I suspected, a slicer on par with a laser beam, and it makes short work of vegetables, fruit and meats. Outdoors, it works great with feather-sticking and other tasks that require a slim cut.
This is what I’d consider to be an excellent example of a true all-purpose knife. However, given the thin blade, this isn’t something I’d reach for to handle heavy-duty chores, such as batoning. While it could probably handle that sort of abuse for short periods of time, I would expect there to be some deformation or other problems after a bit. I don’t see that as a drawback, just a matter of using the right tool for a given job.
Honestly, about the only slight I’d have against the Muc 85 is the smoothness of the handle, and that’s more a matter of personal preference than anything else. I like to have a little traction on my knife handles. I have little doubt that Hoffman could accommodate that request on future knife builds.
All in all, I’d highly recommend J. Hoffman Knives if you’re in the market for a custom or semi-custom all-purpose blade – something that can go from field to kitchen and back again.
J. Hoffman Knives Muc 85
Overall Length: 9.0 inches
Blade Length: 4.75 inches
Weight: 4.8 ounces
Blade Thickness: 0.125 inch
What’s in a Name?
All of his knives are named in such a way to pay tribute to the Irish of his mother’s side of the family. I asked Hoffman where the name Muc 85 came from. He said that it is 85% of the size of the original Muc, a knife that he’d designed to be a pig sticker. Muc is Gaelic for pig. Many of his knives are named after Irish counties, but a few like the Muc have an actual meaning.
The stylized H Hoffman uses for his maker’s mark also comes from his family’s history. His great-grandfather was raised by the Hochgreve family in Green Bay, Wisconsin. They owned a popular brewery for close to 100 years, closing in 1949. The H is from the brewery logo.
For more information on J. Hoffman Knives, check out the website at J. Hoffman Knives – Home (jhoffmanknives.com), and follow along with us here at Knives Illustrated – All Things Knives for all things sharp.