When you think of custom knives, especially big custom knives, a lot of things jump to mind. Quality, durability, and attention to detail are often found standard when custom makers turn out one of a kind, handmade blades. Silver Stag knives have been producing these types of quality blades, made in America, for years. Woods Monkey takes a look at one of their larger knives, the Pacific Bowie, and really tests it hard.
Silver Stag knives are built right here in the USA. A look through their catalog or on their website shows they’re proud of this, and I think they should be. That’s the first thing I look for when getting my hands on any new gear and that ‘Made in USA’ logo starts this review off on the right foot! Using natural antler sheds primarily from the Pacific Northwest region, the Silver Stag folks mate the handles up to blades they’ve designed, cut, and ground themselves. With top quality steels such as D2, 1095, and 15N20, and a variety of blade sizes to fit any need, there’s an offering from Silver Stag knives ready for any use.
The Silver Stag knife I have here for review is a big one. It’s their Pacific Bowie model, from the Crown series of knives utilizing the base of the antler for aesthetics and strength. When I say big, I mean it. With an 8 ¼” blade length of D2 steel, and an overall length of 14”, the size is impressive. While this was a little overwhelming at first, after using the knife for over a month I’ve been very happy with it. At a little over 3/16” thick, the blade is stout enough to support the long size of the knife without turning into one of those ‘sharpened pry bars.’ Between the handle and blade is a brass guard, made in house by Silver Stag and hand fitted to the blade. Included with the knife is a well made, hand stitched and tooled sheath. Looking at the sheath for the first time, I said out loud, “Well, someone finally got it right!” Meaning that the retention strap was put on the proper side of the sheath, away from the edge, preventing it from being cut or damaged with inserting or removing the knife into the sheath.
The first time I put the Pacific Bowie to us, it really surprised me. During a BBQ at the house, a fire needed to be built in the fire pit after several days of mixed rain and snow. The wood was wet, but the inside was still dry enough to get the fire going. While I would normally use a hatchet or cheap machete for the task, I grabbed the Pacific Bowie and set to work splitting the wood and exposing the dry inside. This simple job gave me a first impression on a couple aspects of the knife. First of all, the handle is very comfortable. Sometimes on antler handled knives, the natural texture of the stag is too abrasive on the hand during use. Silver Stag’s shaping process has removed or smoothed out all of the offensive ridges on the handle making the in-hand feeling very comfortable. Secondly, the big blade is useful!
Talking about any big bladed Bowie knife begs for a little digression. The origins of the ‘Bowie’ knife, the intended purpose of its blade shape, and the Bowie’s usefulness in the woods are hotly contested topics. Volumes of books have been written about Jim Bowie and that famous sandbar fight in Natchez, Mississippi. Historians are fairly certain that Jim’s knife was built by and given to him by his brother, Rezin Bowie. After that, specifics as to materials, shape, and length are hazy. One thing we know for certain about the knife Jim likely carried to his death at the Alamo is that it was big. Even if you never have to defend yourself on a sandbar, one truth remains, big is good. As I was chopping and batoning the Pacific Bowie through the damp firewood, the thick, long blade made the work easy. A small knife just won’t suffice for these types of tasks. While not designed as a dedicated chopper, the Pacific Bowie split 2”-3” thick pine easily as the big blade is plenty hefty enough to swing.
A few days later I put the Pacific Bowie on my belt and headed out to of my favorite hiking spots. I came on a very large, blown down juniper that seemed like it would be the start of a great camp-fire. I started stripping away the bark and piling it up for fire building. Stubborn chunks of bark were removed by pushing the Pacific Bowie into the bark, and twisting and prying until I got it to submit. About fifteen minutes of work was all that was needed to gather a basketball sized pile of bark. I could have easily stripped the tree bare in another half hour, but I figured I’d leave some for the next time I was in the area. All through the day the knife carried comfortably, especially for a big blade. I’m used to wearing a gun, so the weight didn’t bother me at all. The sheath keeps it hanging straight down, and prevents the knife from wanting to rock out away from the body. I also found that removing the knife from the sheath was easy to get good at, and with some practice I was able to draw and replace the knife without looking. It’s still a big blade, so you’ll know it’s there, but it’s not at all unwieldy to carry.
Looking at my fire bundle, then back at the tree, I thought some carving and shaping practice was in order. I broke off a few one inch diameter branches just to test the Pacific Bowie’s ability to cut fine curls. Even though the stock of the knife is fairly thick, I was able to keep the spine low enough to the wood that the edge was able to kick up curls. The D2 edge came shaving sharp which really helped the big blade bite into the wood. I found that carving was fairly easy even though this isn’t the type of knife you whittle with. Intricate traps and notches would be tough to do, but possible should it be necessary. If woodwork and carving is something you do a lot of, Silver Stag offers a variety of knives designed for that purpose. Looking through the catalog back at the house, the Field Slab and Sharp Forest models look like they would make particularly efficient wood carvers.
After using the Pacific Bowie for nearly a month, I was very pleased with how well it performed. Since I had already played nice with it, taken the appropriate photos and done plenty of testing to get an idea of how it handled, I decided it was time to really push its limits. My wife and I went for an afternoon hike up into some high country and I brought along the Pacific Bowie, and the camera. Oak brush was everywhere, and while we were taking a rest I started testing snap cuts on the thorny bush. The balance of the knife made snap cutting branches and limbs a breeze. The length let me cut with the last 2” or so, while keeping my hands out of the way while the branches jumped off.
The last thing we did was test the strength of the handle to blade attachment. I gathered the largest lodgepole pine logs and branches I could find and started batoning through the thickest of them. On several occasions I hit a knot in the wood and the knife got stuck. I didn’t try to remove and reposition the Pacific Bowie, I just kept batoning it through. Twenty minutes of work produced an arm load of finger thick splits that would have been the perfect cooking fire if we needed it. Checking over the Pacific Bowie, the only damage was a few pencil-tip sized spots that had flattened on the edge. The rest of the knife was solid as new, and with a Rockwell rating of 60 for the D2 blade, it should stay that way for a long while. Those flat spots were sharpened out with my ceramic rod and the edge was brought back to shaving without much trouble. While this testing may be a little extreme, I don’t see it as abusive or outside the scope of use for a knife of this size and build. A big knife should do big jobs, and the Pacific Bowie was up to the task.
I’m very impressed with the Silver Stag Pacific Bowie. The ‘Made in USA’ logo gives me confidence that should I ever need the lifetime warranty, they’ll be easy to get in touch with. After all the use I put it through, the big knife performs very well, and I’m looking forward to adding another Silver Stag knife to my collection of users.