If you don’t know the name Jason Brous, you will. His Brous Blades booth at the 2016 Blade Show was three deep most of the show, and that’s where we caught up with the twenty-something knife designer and entrepreneur. His modern tactical folders and fixed blades are sleek and sexy, and we notice that his display case is emptying knife by knife throughout the show.
He won’t tell us his age, just that he’s “almost thirty,” but it’s clear from the baby face, the black, flat-brimmed ball cap, and the tattoos that he’s young, but you wouldn’t know that from the knives on display. The lines of the Brous Blades knives are all sleek and purposeful, and the action in each of his modern folders is smooth, quick, and delightful to the soul. As we start the interview, the solid click of Brous Blade demo knives locking into place fills the air around the semi-circular display. Every person holding one is smiling – and so is Jason.
Brous tells us with a smile that he wishes he had some great story about how he got into knife-making. “Great grandpa on the farm, giving you your first Buck knife – I always hear stories like that, and I think, damn, I wish I had a story like that,” he laughs, but it wasn’t like that at all. The real story is far more straight-forward.
Brous went fishing with his kids, something he loves to do, and he picked up a cheap knife from a sporting goods store on the way. During that outing, he noticed that even on easy tasks, the lock was failing and the edge was rolling over. Brous’s dad owns a machine shop, so he had access from a very early age to machines and materials to try to make just about anything he wanted, and he thought to himself, “I bet that I could make something that I like, not to compete with this company, but something that is better and more of what I like.”
From that point, Brous worked all day in his dad’s shop, and when everyone left for the day, he began retrieving scrap from a shed and drawing on steel with a sharpie. “And I’d think, how can I get this shape out of this?” he tells us.
His first knives were cut with a giant metal chop saw, and it’s clear that he can’t believe he didn’t lose a finger or do some major damage to himself – but he didn’t. In fact, he got really into creating fantasy knives. “They were very bio-mechanical and sciencey [sic]. Things like that,” he says, “and that was the direction I wanted to go at that time.”
Among the first knives Brous shared with the public was a strange medieval fantasy ax with a knife handle, which he shared online for feedback, and boy, did he get it.
“They told me that it was the ugliest thing they’d ever seen and were begging me please, please quit making knives right now. I had guys harassing me saying don’t ever make a knife again. You don’t understand the geometry. You don’t understand what this industry is. And for somebody to say that to me, it lights a fire under my ass. At the time, I thought the guy was an asshole, but I always wonder if he was doing that on purpose to challenge me and make me learn how to do it right,” Brous says.
And he did. Brous started making knives that spoke to his fantasy roots, but were also useful. “I wanted to make a very useable, comfortable knife, but still had those futuristic, stylistic elements to it, and that’s kind of where I’m at now.”
It’s obvious to us from the Brous Blades that are laid out before us in the display that Jason Brous has found a way to meld these two things together in an incredibly artful way. The knives are light, feel good in the hand, and the action is superb. He tells us, “all of our titanium and G10 knives are all milled out on the inside, so if you have stainless steel liners, it’s all boxed out inside of there to keep them light.”
Like a bit of foreshadowing in a movie, Brous stops us and says, “One thing I always tell everybody who asks where do you find inspiration is that back in the day, Ken Onion used to tell me to think in themes. Try to think of a situation, so I took that to heart and my thought in my head was what do I want to see the military using in 50 years. That’s what I want to make.”
It’s clear Jason Brous is an artist. While he likes the knives he’s making, he’s never totally satisfied by them. He wants more – to show more, to do more, to be better at his craft than he is at any given moment in time.
The swarm continually moves past us at the end of the counter looking, touching, and opening the Brous knives. When we ask him what’s selling the most, he tells us that “people want they can afford,” and this, he says, has been a tricky balance for Brous Blades.
While he wants to produce extremely high-end knives that you can show off to your friends, he knows that they need to strike a balance in the market, which is why he’s now offering models with anodized aluminum handles in a spectrum of colors and people love them.
Jason shows us a G10 handled Brous Blades EDC knife that is extremely popular and falls into the middle of the price spectrum. “This is one of the best knives we make, and we have a ton of these sitting around at the shop. This is the third rendition of [this knife], so I know for a fact that this knife is never going to break on anybody and it’s going to hold an edge great. It’s just a good overall, solid knife.” He’s talking about the G10 VR71, which we’ll be testing and reviewing in coming days.
This is the moment in our interview where we have probably the best interruption we’ve ever experienced in an interview. Hall-of-fame knife-maker, Ken Onion crashes our interview with a hearty, “Hey, brother. You’re rockin’ and rollin’ and killin’ it, man.”
Jason introduces us and hands Ken one of his Brous Blades Hardwire-SA, knives saying, “This might be a little weird for you.” Ken flips it open to look it over.
“Jason, I dig you, but I can’t stand comby grinds,” Ken sighs as Jason laughs, “Oh, man. You just make me hurt. Just what I need. Something to interrupt my cut when I’m trying to cut through things – kinda drag through. Nothing like increasing drag coefficient…but it’s cool – and I love the facets. I love that you put facets on an organic line. Ya got the angle and facets goin’.”
You can see the respect in Jason’s eyes and how laser focused he is on the opinion of the legendary knife-maker. He clearly admires and respects Ken and his work, and it doesn’t take long for Ken Onion to step into the role of mentor and friend.
“Sometime within the next three years, because you’re so young,” Onion starts, “you’re going to find your groove spot and it’s something that’s so cool that you are the only person in that space – and you are going to skyrocket.”
Jason tells Ken that he feels like he hasn’t found that yet, and Onion continues, “I know you’re huntin’ for it, because I see a lot of me in you when I was hungry and young and full of energy and testosterone. I just feel like ya gotta go through your knocks. You gotta learn, and you’re way ahead of where I was at the same time, but then you find you somewheres along the way – and your look, feel, and flavor. Nobody can find that but you, but you’re going to skyrocket in your space.”
Jason humbly says, “I hope so, because I don’t do anything but make knives. That’s all I do.”
Onion spends the next few minutes with more advice. He tells Brous to not forget to live life. How he spent 25 years in the shop and doesn’t know what to do with a day off, because he has no idea what’s going on in the world around him when he does. Jason lets the advice soak in, and you can almost see him making notes about balancing life and work, but he seems to have a pretty good handle on it so far. He, his wife, Keena and their three children (with a fourth on the way) have a vacation home in Alaska where they take the summer off to recuperate.
“Tell me this,” Ken says, bringing the conversation back to industry. “Which one of these is your favorite? Which one of these best represents you? The one that you are deepest in love with and most satisfied with?”
Brous hesitates for a second and begins digging under the counters. He returns quickly with one of his knives. It’s a knife he’s collaborated on with Mike Snody called the “Ante up,” a knife name of which he’s proud.
“I like it,” Ken says, “I like the organic lines. The only thing that’s getting me here, is this grind. This grind needs to follow this curve, but other than that, I like it.” Jason agrees.
“This is closest to where you heart is? Is that what you’re telling me? Like if you had only one to carry.” Onion prods again, and Brous goes back under the counters looking for another of his knives for the hall-of-fame maker to review.
Jason returns with the Mini-division, a 5” folder with a flipper and a D2 blade. It’s sleek and sexy. Ken Onion flips it open with ease and the click of the lock is crisp. “This is the one we’ve done tons of renditions of – G10, Carbon Fiber, aluminum… that one’s been a hot seller for us,” Jason says.
“I’m just trying to see where your head is. Not so much here,” Ken says pointing to his head, “but what’s here,” he says, pointing to Jason’s chest. It becomes clear that the exercise was a method for Ken to find out what space Jason Brous occupies at the moment – where his thoughts are – and what he’s into at the moment.
“I think if I had to pick one knife, I don’t think it would be here right now,” Jason says, and Ken interrupts with “You haven’t done it yet, because there are things that you love about each one but you haven’t pulled it all together in a complete package yet. And when that day happens, you’re going to find that sweet spot. That’s where you’re going to find your groove spot, man, and you’re just going to have your own thing.”
Jason says that’d be nice and Ken continues, “I understand because I’ve been there, ya know? And it’s going to come together for you, and it’s going to be heaven. It’s going to be like a spiritual spot for you. It will be.”
“I hope that when that happens, people want to buy it, because this isn’t just fun knife-making for me this is my business,” Jason says.
Ken interrupts again, “It’s all part of a progress [sic], and you’re going to get tired of that too. You’re going to stay in that groove spot, and you’re going to get bored with that too. Like right now you’re a little restless. I can see that. You’re going to be restless, and you’ve got a lot of stuff out, but I think that part of you is influenced by what you think people want to buy, and not as much by where your gut is and where your heart is. And if you design from where your gut and heart is, I think you’re going to find that sweet spot faster.”
“Okay. I’ve listened to you before, I’m going to listen again,” Jason says in the most serious tone I’ve heard so far, and Ken follows up again, “Don’t think about what other people are going to like. You’ve already got a following. People dig you because they dig you. Right? They like your stuff because they like your stuff. And you’re not trying to appease them, you’re trying to appease you. And you’re going to have a lot of people who are going to love that spot you’re in. They’re going to love what you love. They’re going to dig what you dig. When you find that spot. When you find that space, you stop trying to impress everybody ,and you just impress you. You go, there,” Ken says motioning as if he’s placing product in front of the masses.
“It’s weird how you know me so well,” Jason says. “Well, because I’m the same person,” Ken replies clearly and lets that sit on Jason Brous for a moment in silence.
Ken ends the silence and brings a little levity to the conversation, by pulling the brand new CRKT HomeFront field strip knife from his pocket and asking, “Have you seen my little toy over there?”
Ken tells us that he’s been working on what eventually became the HomeFront for ten years. The now award-winning knife breaks down into three pieces for cleaning and reassembles just as quickly. And the action of the flipper and the lock doesn’t suffer for it.
Onion laughs and spends a few minutes talking about how another up-and-coming knife-maker beat him to the punch last year while they were waiting on the patent for the HomeFront. He tells Jason that he should collaborate on a project with the 19-year-old, “because he’s a gadget guy and you’re an artist. Together you guys would be wicked.”
Jason assures Ken that they are working on some projects together, and Ken steps back into his role of mentor quickly saying, “Push him. If there’s something you don’t like, tell him you don’t like it. That kid has got so much he doesn’t even know he has. You do too. I mean, honestly, if I could be in your head for a month I would drive you absolutely – you would hate me, but you’d be five years ahead.”
“Because I’ve been there and I know what it takes. You gotta get backed into a corner. You gotta get hungry. And when you get to that point, it will bring out the best of who you are,” Ken adds.
“And how do I get to that point? Do I have to be pushed down to get backed into a corner?” Jason asks.
“No, you just gotta be encouraged and you gotta be pushed. And the biggest thing is that you can’t have people tell you what to do. They can direct you, but you still gotta pull it outta here… and you need somebody that knows where that right spot is, to push you to find it, not tell you where it is, but push you until you find it. And that’s probably the way I would do it… I like to build you up.”
“Listen, you got all the tools to conquer this whole game, but you gotta believe in you. You gotta appeal to you. You gotta design for you. You’ve gotta stop following what you think everyone wants from you and what you think everyone wants you to do. You gotta make you. You gotta pull it outta you, because it’s in you. It’s wanting to come out. And it’s not going to come out as long as you’re trying to make everybody else happy. Gotta make you happy, and by doing that, you’ll make everybody else happy,” Ken tells Jason.
He continues, “And then you gotta push. You gotta push it. When there’s something about that thing that just doesn’t make you feel right, and you know you’re like 80% there, but you really wanna get it going and you’re just frustrated because it ain’t comin’, you gotta stay in the grind spot. You gotta stay in the groove. You gotta keep pushing it. I don’t care if you have to draw it a hundred times. I don’t care if you gotta close the shop doors and work on it for a month. If it ain’t right, it ain’t right. I didn’t have anybody to push me like that. I was hungry, but you’ve got 40 more years in this game. You kinda need somebody to push you to that spot.”
Jason says absolutely, “And there’s not that many people I would take that kind of advice from honestly.”
“I would never say anything to try to hurt you personally,” Ken adds. “Cause that’s not it. I just want to see you be the best that you can be.”
The two talk about the industry for a moment. It’s clear that both are incredibly fond of the industry. Ken is clear that some are in it for the money and others are in it because they love it. He sees the industry as a family. “To me this is a big house, and I helped build this house,” Ken says, “And I’m very picky about who I want in this house. And, I wanna see this thing in good hands when I can’t do it anymore. That’s why I kinda seek guys like you out, and I beat ya up a little bit, and try to build you up, and I try to encourage you, because I’m not going to be doing it much longer. I’ll be in as long as I can, but when I can’t do it anymore, I wanna make sure it’s in good hands.”
“I want to hand this off to the right guys. I wanna know that you’re going to see somebody with a gleam in his eye and talent one day and you’re going to pick him up and say hey, you’re good, but you ain’t good as you think you are. You need to get back in there and straighten that design up. You know what’s wrong with it. Make it right. You need to push ’em. You need to make them better than they think they can be – in an encouraging way.”
Ken turns again to the HomeFront that’s been laying on the counter for a while now untouched. He walks Jason through the process of breaking down the CRKT HomeFront, pointing out how there are no loose parts – just three pieces. It’s simple, easy and works like a charm. Jason is inquisitive about the inner parts of the knife and how they stay in place. He also can’t help but ask how long Ken has been working on this particular knife. Ken tells us that he’s been working on this project for ten years with 20 different iterations. It’s clearly been a labor of love and a painstaking process of getting each piece of the finished knife perfect and extraordinarily user-friendly.
Ken teases us that there will be new iterations of this type of knife in the future with new names and new styles, and Jason goes back into the details of the HomeFront asking questions about each part and piece. Ken pulls one of his own earlier iterations of the HomeFront from his pocket to show the difference between his prototype and the finished product.
“This is my EDC,” ken says, “I’ve been carrying this for three years. It’s just mine, so it doesn’t have any frills,” he adds. We both stare in awe at the original laying beside the finished version. The two knives are almost identical. Ken’s has a little more detail in the handle than the finished product.
We ask for a picture, and Ken laughs, “Here. Put ’em like this, and then you’ll have all these Brous Knives beneath ’em. No one will have that. It’s perfect for Instagram.”
“Nobody is in the space,” Ken says. “Nobody is in vintage. Taking an old look, old flavor, old style and modernizing it.” Jason agrees with a hearty ‘yup’. Ken turns back into mentor as he watches Jason’s eyes light up with ideas. “Then why don’t you try it?”
“I would love you to try, because I think you’re more than this. I don’t wanna influence you,” Ken says.
“No, no. I like it. I like hearing what you have to say,” Jason says, urging Ken to continue. You can tell he’s genuinely excited by the idea.
“When I started making knives, I made curvy. I made things that really felt great in the hand and they felt good, but I find that when I’m using a knife I’m all on the knife, so while it feels good here, it doesn’t always feel good here, and I find that I’m simplifying a lot of my designs. I may change back, but I’m going to simple and vintage notes and subtleties, and I’m just having fun playing in that space, and I’d love to see what your generation would look at and think of with a vintage piece and the things that you could bring to that equation by just going simple. Coming out with something that has a tactical or military flavor to it, but from 80 years ago.”
“Now you’ve got my wheels spinning,” Jason interjects, and it’s so clear that this is why Ken is here.
“It’d be wicked, right?” Ken asks, and Jason replies, “Yes. It would.”
Ken begins to step away from the counter and leave the two of us to our interview, but he leaves Jason with this final thought, “I think you been doin’ this for a while, and you kinda got yourself in a little box by yourself over here in the corner, and I just kinda want you to go in a place that is a little uncomfortable and ya feel a little weird about it and you just play in that space and it’s totally removed from what your normal is. Maybe that vintage place is that place. I wanna see you just kinda pull that out. Now you’re broadening, right? You’re broadening your scope. Just pull that out of you a little bit. And when you finally get to that point when you’re comfortable in that really uncomfortable spot, that’s where you’re supposed to be, man. Cause you’re kinda comfortable where you are, but you’re restless at the same time, because you’ve got a lot more skill than you’re lettin’ yourself have – because you’re worrying that this [the knife public] might not accept it. But you just trust in that, and I’m tellin’ you what, man. You’ll kick this thing’s ass.”
We’re not sure who was more stunned (Jason or us), that our interview was crashed by Ken Onion. We know we were just appreciative to be made a part of it.
We’re going to review and demo some Brous Blades knives in the coming weeks. If you’d like to see them and learn more about them, you can visit his site here: brousblades.com