You are probably one of the few people that are ever going to read this review. Let’s be real, this knife can’t be considered mainstream. It just isn’t. Why? It appeals to a certain crowd. A crowd that isn’t a part of the norm and because of that, it will never fit into any category that even remotely resembles mainstream. In addition, it was recently discontinued by Ka-Bar because, as the word on the web goes, lackluster sales which I can completely understand because of where it fits in with the grand scheme of things. This knife was designed for the hardcore woodsman and is a camp knife in the purest sense. Most of those that buy knives aren’t looking for something that fits into this category. They are looking for a feel good. A knife that looks cool, fills their need, and gives them that fuzzy feeling when they first open the box.
I ordered my Ka-Bar made Potbelly in May of 2014. It came well packaged and as sharp as I would expect a knife to come from Ka-Bar. Not shaving sharp but sharp enough to cleave a limb from most medium to large sized creatures. This seems to be the standard for knives I’ve received from them. Their fit and finish is pretty industry standard considering the cost of their knives. I pretty much instantly started putting the knife through its paces, alternating between the Potbelly and BK5 throughout the days that followed.
The Potbelly is a fairly unusual design in the world of woods knives. This hollow ground, 1/4″ thick slab that is all belly was made to do some serious work in the woods. Per Ka-Bar’s info on the knife, it weighs in at 1.1 pounds (without the sheath), has a blade of 7 1/4″, and an overall length of 12 3/4″. The first thing that becomes apparent when holding the Potbelly was the mass, most of which was in the front. Much like some of the other 1/4″ thick knives on the market, the Potbelly felt like a sharpened crowbar in hand with an odd design that in many ways felt very superior to many of the the other hard-use drop point designs that are common today. The handle of the potbelly is Ka-Bar’s new Adventuregrip which has received a lot of mixed reviews from other users and reviewers. The blade comes with an unsharpened swedge, which I believe was unecessary in this design and was probably added more for looks than for practical use although it may have trimmed 1/2 ounce off of the weight. The Potbelly wasn’t designed to be a stabbing weapon so I tend to believe that looks is about as far as the swedge goes in improving the knife. I really liked the design of the handle very much along with the half-choil before the edge. I like a knife I can choke up or down on to increase my leverage or control and the Potbelly was definitely designed with this in mind. It also comes with a hole in the bottom of the handle for a lanyard. Overall, the heavy forward balance of the knife mixed with the great ergonomics designed for both chopping and choking up for fine work were great to me. Even more, I loved the super long and consistent belly. When it comes to field knives, I love a knife with a lot of belly.
Right off, I really liked the sheath of the Potbelly. I don’t always prefer leather or Kydex over a nylon/cordura sheath. I’ve found the nylon/cordura sheaths to be comfortable to wear all day and this particular design was very forward thinking. In addition to MOLLE attachment point on the back and grommets on the bottom for a leg strap or whatever else you can think up, the sheath had a generously sized pocket with a drawstring on the front AND an additional small knife to boot! The small knife, called the “Piggyback”, although made in China and of stainless steel actually held it’s edge very well and worked perfectly for it’s intended use, which is fine, detailed work. I used it in conjunction with the Potbelly to skin and clean two deer this winter.
There was one thing I was concerned about the Potbelly even before I purchased it. The tang from the choil to the spine is fairly thin and was the thinnest part of the knife. It makes no sense to me when a designer makes the bridge between the blade and handle, a part that is sure to see a lot of stress, the thinnest part of the knife with the exception of the tip. I had my doubts as to whether or not the knife would be able to stand up to hard use without suffering a breakage. Overall, my initial impressions regarding the Potbelly would be that it would very much excel at performing the large majority of tasks one would need it to do in the woods and that being 1/4″ thick, my one concern would prove invalid.
From the first moment I used the Potbelly for real work which was literally right after I took it out of the box and got a few pictures of it, I really
started to like the knife. It was perfect in so many ways. It’s knife you can really control well and for it size, was very good at fine, detailed tasks. The damn thing could chop like a much larger knife and this is something worth talking about for a bit. I mean this when I say it….it almost chopped as well as my lighter Cold Steel Tomahawks and I keep them very sharp. I’m not joking. AMAZING chopping ability for a knife this size. With a lanyard and the right grip, it would just power through crosscuts amazingly for a knife of this size. It would cut like nobody’s business. I was very impressed with this aspect of the Potbelly. The thickness also helped it split wood with ease while batoning. Like many 1/4″ thick knives, the wide blade would baton easily and only use the edge for the first inch or two of penetration, not dulling the blade and leaving you a sharp edge for finer tasks later.
The long belly made it one hell of a slicer. Feather sticks were a piece of cake. Also, the knife would hold an edge forever and I had to question if this was a by product of the hollow grind, K-Bar’s heat treat, or both. The edge was slightly harder to sharpen to me than many of my other Ka-Bar knives so this really got me thinking. Ka-Bar lists the blade hardness at HRC 56-58. I have a BK2 that won’t hold an edge for crap but will take a very sharp edge quickly. BK2’s are listed at HRC 56-58 just like the Potbelly so I have to assume the Potbelly was hardened to HRC 58 and my BK2 at 56. This is of course dependent on Ka-Bar’s quality control being up to par.
There was one task that I perform quite a bit on my property in Oregon that the Potbelly just completely sucked at. Clearing brush. When using the Potbelly, it was akin to clearing brush with a hammer. Basically the same experience I’ve had with other 1/4″ blades. They push more than cut. There is just simply too much friction on the blade in most cases to make decent progress through any brush and honestly, if I said that the Potbelly could clear brush even decently would be a complete lie. If I had to clear brush with this knife and for some reason my life depended on it, I would die. I hope that drives it in. The Potbelly was completely worthless in clearing brush and after a couple of weeks of trying in an attempt to perfect the technique, I went back to my BK5 when brush clearing was on my daily list of chores.
In regards to the Adventuregrip handle, I have zero complaints. Many people talked of hotspots and slipperiness but I experienced neither while using the Potbelly for 4 to 5 hours straight in over 100 degree weather and on many other occasions. I am thinking that for many that had complaints, this may be more of a side effect of not having man hands, working in an office all day so you can do a supposed hard core knife review on Saturday to post it to your Youtube channel. Maybe it’s a side effect of a bad/weak grip. At any rate, I had no hot spots or slippage. Literally zero complaints about the grip.
Despite it’s one downfall (brush clearing), the Potbelly was just kicking ass on everything else I threw it at and for me at least, I was very pleased
with it. I used it and the Piggyback to cape out two whitetail last fall, made dinners and lunches, harvested my crops, split wood, dug up camas, felled a few 8″ to 9″ pine, pounded nails, picked my nails, and TRIED to clear brush with it. In May of this year (2015), I admitted to myself that I loved it more than any of my other knives. I’ve been off my property for about 8 months now and since I no longer needed it for brush clearing, it had finally eclipsed my Becker BK5.
And then I broke it.
I like to cook on a wood fire frequently and was cross cutting some 4″ and 5″ pine so I could split it when it broke right at the spot I was worried about it breaking. Broke right in half where the choil is. My wife looked at me and said, “Wow. That sucks.” Pretty much. Literally a week after my admitting that it was my favorite knife it completely failed. This obviously left me with many questions that I felt needed to be answered in pretty much this order:
What the hell just happened?
Did I do something wrong?
Was I too hard on this damn thing?
Was the heat treat off?
Was this a design flaw?
After thinking about it a lot, I have to conclude that this was either a design flaw or the heat treat was off or BOTH. The knife broke exactly at it’s weakest point but I did have concerns that the HRC may have been a little higher than I would want in a hard use knife. I had batoned with the knife quite a bit, which isn’t recommended by Ka-Bar but what in the hell are they making 1/4″ thick knives for if they don’t expect people to baton with them? C’mon Ka-Bar. Your 1/4″ thick knives should be covered from batoning in the warranty. I’ve beaten the complete crap out of our BK2 by prying, batoning the piss out of it, and just treating it like a dirty little bitch and it keeps rocking it (a testament to Ethan Becker’s design of the BK2) but this is why you guys make these 1/4″ knives so don’t tell me batoning isn’t covered. I’m a little pissed. This WAS my favorite knife in the whole world for a week.
It’s taken me so long to write this review because I am just too damned
busy with my awesome life and it took me months to send the knife back to Ka-Bar. Surprisingly, they promptly replaced the knife without question. I have to say that I was honestly surprised. Ka-Bar didn’t offer any explanation to why the knife may have failed. They may have tested the HRC, they may not have. It may very well failed due to the design issue. We’ll never know but they did handle this return in a quick manner and simply replaced the knife, no questions asked. In a day and age where many companies no longer understand customer service, I have to give Ka-Bar some points for their handling of this.
I absolutely loved the design but I have to say that a 3/16″ thick Potbelly would probably be a better knife. Making a 1/4″ thick knife tells people you can beat on it and in my opinion, you just can’t beat on the Potbelly. The thickness gave me a false sense of security. All knives are built for a purpose. Giving people the impression that a knife can take a serious beating when it can’t just isn’t wise. I honestly don’t treat my 3/16″ thick knives like I do the 1/4″ thick ones. It wouldn’t make sense to do so for some very obvious reasons. I think that a 3/16″ thick Potbelly would completely rock it. If the area under the choil where thickened up just a bit, the blank thinned out to 3/16″, and the swedge removed, this knife would probably be complete as the most awesome knife ever designed. Until that happens, I’ll keep looking.