THE RADFORD AND SHEPHERD FROM JAKE HOBACK KNIVES ARE BOTH EDC WORTHY
Jake Hoback’s knives have intrigued me for a few years now. After meeting him at the Blade Show and handling his Kwaiken folding knife, I knew I was speaking to a master in his craft.
His folding knives locked up like a bank vault, his tomahawk designs were innovative, and his machining background was apparent in his execution of his designs.
The term “precision” best applies to his work. Fast forward to the present day and I had an opportunity to review a couple of his blades, namely the Shepherd and the Radford. I capitalized on the chance to take supremely refined blades into the muck and mire of my outdoor pursuits.
“Jake Hoback’s knives … are uncompromising tools built for performance, and they will perform flawlessly day in and day out.”
When the Shepherd is held in hand, the intent of the handle design becomes apparent. The small index finger radius and the spine notches help lock the knife into the saber grip.
The taper of the handle from narrow to wide from the lanyard hole to the ricasso prevents the user from riding the blade if the blade is pushed tip first.
The blade has a continuous curvature, making it an exceptional slicer, while the tip orientation and short blade give it exceptional cutting force. For a compact blade, this knife packs a lot of performance into a true EDC-sized blade.
Jake Hoback designed the Shepherd sheath to be practical and versatile. With a stout clip, it can be worn to the inside of a waistband, tucked close to the body, or it can be carried unobtrusively inside the front handwarmer pocket of most pants.
All it takes is a little bit of thumb pressure, a byproduct of an almost instinctive grip on the knife’s handle, and the knife comes free.
The sheath can also be worn comfortably clipped to fabric, making the Shepherd an excellent knife choice for women who may not wear a belt with their pants. The clip is large enough to accommodate just about any 1.75-inch belt, and the knife can be carried inside the waistband (IWB) for more traditional carry.
The grommet placement and retention let the user neck carry the Shepherd with a length of paracord and a small cord lock for safety.
THE SHEPHERD AFIELD
I received the Shepherd knife during the packing and prep for a cross-country move. This gave me an excellent opportunity to keep it clipped to the body and called on for countless cutting tasks.
These included breaking down boxes, cutting cordage to tie down the contents in a shipping container, and slicing old rags, bubble wrap, and blankets. While the Shepherd is a beautifully finished knife, it screams to do ugly work.
That is, it is a utility blade you can put to work with no fear of it failing. What I did in a few days of packing probably simulated a year’s worth of around the house box breakdown. My test wasn’t over after cutting tape and cardboard.
“While the Shepherd is a beautifully finished knife, it screams to do ugly work.”
The real test of this knife came after all those basic packing chores were done. I wanted to see how this knife would handle in the wild. Chances are, you won’t have time to run to your knife safe and throw on that 7-inch belt knife.
You’ll have to work with what you have. I used the Shepherd to make fire, to cut bittersweet vines for cordage and, in conjunction with a baton, to cleanly shear 1-inch diameter sticks for wet-weather fire starting.
I split these sticks by driving the knife, tip first, into the wood and then shaving kindling with the edge. The edge held up great and showed no noticeable wear when used to scrape fatwood.
From repeated wood splitting around many fires, the blade’s DLC black stonewall finish showed some scrapes, but overall, it held up well. The spine is rounded, so anyone looking to use it as a ferro rod scraper should carry a rod with a dedicated scraping tool, such as an Exotac nanoSTRIKER.
I purposely did not clean the blade but let it sit after slicing venison steaks for the grill. The edge showed no signs of rusting. I attribute this to the stainless properties of the steel used.
What impressed me most during the course of the test was the tip of the blade. It was strong enough for heavy use such as splitting but worked like a keen edge to trim and make fine slices.
Type: Fixed blade
Blade Steel: CPM-20CV
Length of Blade: 3.25 inches
Blade Thickness: 0.156 inch
Handle: 4 inches
Handle Material: 0.125-inch OD Green G10
Length (overall): 7.25 inches
Overall Weight: 6.7 ounces
The Radford folding knife blends form and function perfectly. The knife has clean lines without any extra features added to make it look aggressive and tacticool. There is a certain aesthetic to the Radford a minimalist would appreciate.
The knife has a single continuous curvature to it on the edge side as well as the spine. The flipper forms the slightest guard protecting the user, and the knife is without a lanyard hole, which would mean adding something extra like a lanyard to a knife designed to do more with less.
Less is the story behind the Radford as it is a smaller version of the popular Kwaiken but redesigned from the ground up.
IN HAND AND POCKET
The Jake Hoback Radford in one word is “smooth.” All the edges of the folder, with the exception of the one you intend to cut with, are dehorned and rounded. Running your hand over the closed knife leaves no desire to break out the sandpaper for a more comfortable custom fit.
“I found the Radford extremely easy to use with gloved hands.”
The lines of the Radford folder work perfectly with the flipper mechanism with the sloping angle of the clip-end fitting into the palm of the hand comfortably. With just a swipe of the index finger, the blade opens quickly and locks into place positively.
In the pocket, the Radford is both comfortable and comforting riding tip up. There is enough of the handle exposed to help retrieve the blade with a decent pinch grip. Because the Micarta side rides against the body (in standard right-hand configuration), there is a slight buffer from the cold in winter weather.
Overall, you don’t forget you have it clipped to your pants, but it isn’t necessarily a burden to carry. Jake Hoback wanted to make a smaller folder for those not looking to carry one of his full-size options and he succeeded. It’s an extremely capable blade that occupies a small footprint.
RADFORD IN USE
The Hoback Radford replaced my usual EDC folder during the course of the field test. An old-school knife test is a leather puncture test. I sliced some 7–8-ounce vegetable tan leather into small squares, proceeded to stack them on top of a hard foam backer, and drove the tip of the blade with a gloved hand into them. The test results were surprising.
The Radford’s design lends itself to slicing but I noticed early on the fine profile of the tip. This let me puncture a single layer of leather with ease and double layers with more force. At no point was my thrusting effort excessive because it didn’t have to be.
I found the Radford extremely easy to use with gloved hands. Instead of a small blade-opening stud or hole cut into the blade, I could access and swipe the flipper more easily. In cold weather, the knife opened and closed just as easily outdoors as indoors in the comfort of home.
At the end of the day, I even used the Radford to open beer bottles by prying the caps off with the flat of the blade leveraged on top of my thumb knuckle.
Knives shouldn’t really be used for prying, but this is really not heavy prying. Still, I didn’t notice any lateral play in the blade working against the pivot point.
The only criticism I anticipate users to bring up is the lack of a lanyard hole. I understand the argument, but I don’t agree with it. A knife this sleek doesn’t need to be adorned (read cheapened) with jingly punisher skull beads or 3 cents worth of 550 cord.
This knife is equipped with quality components, such as the proprietary Hoback Roller Detent and a hardened stainless-steel lock insert to prevent overtravel. It has what it needs, and I can look past what some may want.
Hoback wants people to use his knives, and with use comes wear and tear. Hoback uses standard screw sizes for people to easily replace worn or missing screws if they have to service their blades while on the road. The screws in my sample held tight and I didn’t experience any issue with them.
Blade Steel: CPM-20CV
Length of Blade: 3.25 inches
Blade Thickness: 0.15625 inch
Length (Overall): 8 inches
Overall Length (Closed): 4.675 inches
Weight (Overall): 3.9 ounces
Lock Mechanism: Frame lock
Handle: Titanium and natural Micarta
Whether your interest falls in the folder realm or the fixed-blade world, Jake Hoback’s knives are certainly worth considering. They are uncompromising tools built for performance, and they will perform flawlessly day in and day out. Jake Hoback is an outdoorsman, a machinist, and a knife enthusiast.
A blended background like that is the reason why Hoback Knives has found success and why his knives will not fail in the hands of their users. He considers himself a fixer and his knives, in my opinion, are the solution to many problems you can encounter on a daily basis.
GETTING TO KNOW HOBACK KNIVES
I had a chance to interview Jack Hoback during the course of this review. He had to step away from the droning of the machines running in his shop, where he produces knife parts and other OEM projects.
We talked for the better part of an hour about winter trekking and marksmanship, the knife industry, and the direction his company is headed. During the discussion, Hoback let me know how he enjoys having a smaller company.
“Being a smaller company, we have the ability to turn around designs quickly,” he said. “We look at what is hot and what is not, and we can address our customer’s demands.”
Typically, his knife runs are only 100-200 pieces. Even though he has a smaller operation, his social media fanbase is impressive with 42,000 plus following what his company pumps out.
I asked him what accounts for his popularity and he humbly stated, “I don’t have a clue.” He added that people have told him their interest in his knives varies from one person to the next.
“Some like the rugged industrial design,” he said. “Some like the Japanese style. You get the guys who are like, ‘It’s overbuilt but it’s not superheavy.’ Often, we get people who say they like the scriptures included on the blades.”
A very common compliment is paid to the customer service his company offers.
“We have always been of the mindset of ‘you should get what you pay for,’” he said.
Not only does Hoback insist he tries to make the most perfect tool he can possibly make, but he likes to provide ongoing support for anyone with a question or “spa treatment.” His company stands for honor and integrity first.
Hoback has been full time in the knifemaking business since 2009 with a long history prior to that working in a blacksmith shop and with a farrier. His company has survived the “great knife recession” and continues to grow.
When asked what’s next, he alluded to some older styles coming back with a fighter/old-school style blades and some new folders. He couldn’t quite disclose all the details.
One thing is for certain: Hoback is setting the bar very high in the custom knife world with designs that are as functional as they are visually appealing.
Jake Hoback Knives