The IRBI knife shop opened in July 1971 under the name “Kenai Lake Tourist Trap,” after founder Irvin Campbell taught himself how to make knives while working on the Discovery oil well in Prudhoe Bay. He crafted his first knives from worn-out hand tools and copper tubing.
Not long after opening the shop, Irvin’s knives started selling better than the knick-knacks he stocked, and he began making knives on a full-time basis. It wasn’t long before Irvin and his wife, Clara Campbell, ran out of reliable craftsmen to make their knife sheaths. So Clara had to learn the craft herself, making thousands of sheaths in the following years.
In November 1990, Virgil and Dawn bought the business from Irvin and Clara after learning the knife and sheath making trades during the previous three years. Hunter, the third generation of IRBI Knife makers, started learning the trade in 2005.
Sadly, Clara passed away in 1990, and Irvin passed away in 2006. However, their legacy lives on through their works and the works of Virgil, Dawn, and Hunter.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Three generations of knife makers
First generation IRBI Knife
Irvin Campbell, 1919-2006
Clara Campbell circa 1987
Irvin and Clara Campbell 1980
Sheathes by Clara Campbell, Engraving by Clara Elge
Photo by Schultz 1981 13 - show room
Photo by Schultz 1981 12 bowie knives
Photo by Schultz 1981 12 - novelty knife
Photo by Schultz 1981 11 - three beauties
Photo by Schultz 1981 10 - finished knives
Photo by Schultz 1981 9 - sharpening
Photo by Schultz 1981 8 - buffing and polishing
Photo by Schultz 1981 7 grinding the blade
Photo by Schultz 1981 6 tempering in seal oil
Photo by Schultz 1981 5 braising
Photo by Schultz 1981 4 making the butt cap
Photo by Schultz 1981 3
Photo by Schultz 1981 2
Photo by Schultz 1981
Photo by Beam - grinding 1989
Irvin Campbell & his youngest son, Virgil. Photo by L. Beam 1989
In March 2015, we were featured in a video called "I Run a Custom Knife Shop" in Alaska Public Media's INDIE ALASKA web series.
We've been the focus of several articles in the Seward Phoenix Log: over the years too:
November 30, 2006: Making knives a cutting-edge family business
April 3, 1997: The independent guy: Knife-maker has always done it his way
May 31, 1990: Knife maker, Campbell, carries on family tradition
February 9, 1989: Irvin Campbell names Who’s Who 1989 Artist of the Year
IRBI Knives have also made it to the national spotlight - CBS’ “Northern Exposure” featured an IRBI Knife on several episodes, with the first one airing November 28, 1994.