Part of the experience of buying handmade knives is being part of the smithing process. And believe us, it is quite the process! Our Forge Team here at BladesWork Unlimited want you to be as involved as possible! Every handmade knife that leaves our forge is made to your exact specification, and that means we need you during the process. To help you familiarize yourself with the process your handmade knives will undergo, here is a quite, down and (very) dirty on the custom forge process we use here at BladesWork Unlimited! Below are the steps your custom knife will undergo before ending up in your hands!
Step 1 – The Profile
Going into a build, the first thing the custom knife maker does is create a design. Sometimes it is pre-determined, sometimes you just want to find out where the hammer takes you. Either way, all our handmade knives have a purpose. The smith finds the purpose for that handmade blade and sketches/hammers that into a design. This completes the design, so next comes the rough profile.
There are two methods of creating the handmade knife profile:
- Stock removal – This is where the design of the blade is either sketched/ and printed out to dimensions and glued/traced onto a bar of desired steel. The design is then cut out using a variety of tools which creates the rough custom knife profile in a matter of minutes.
- Forging – This is the incredible craft of taking a hammer and beating the hot, hot steel into shape! If you watch Forged in Fire, it is basically the exciting part of the show, except our custom knife makers take their time. So, this requires taking the steel, placing it in the forge, letting it get up to forging temperature, and then hammering it into the profile of your desire!
*Of note* One process is not better than the other or makes harder steel. It’s the smith’s preference on method they use.
Step 2 – Taking on the Grinder
Following the rough profile, the bladesmith then takes your custom knife over to the grinder. Most custom knife makers who do this professionally or are serious about handmade knives use something called a 2×72 grinder; the king of kings in the handmade knife world.
This incredible machine is what the custom knife maker uses to grind your handmade tools into the desired profile. Once the custom knife maker is satisfied with the profile, it’s on to the heat treat, the most critical time in a custom knife’s life.
Step 3 – Into the Fire (sort of..)
This is probably the step you have seen in every forging video, well, ever. In very basic terms the steel is super heated, quenched (rapidly cooled with air or oil), and tempered (baked at lower degrees to relieve stress). This provides the desired properties at the end which include edge hardness in combination with sufficient duration under hard use.
Now for the technical stuff: Your handmade knives go through transformation at high temperatures to a non-magnetic phase called austenite. The carbides dissolve and carbon diffuses into the austenite and then are RAPIDLY cooled and quenched. This “locks in” the carbon so that hardness is obtained. This creates martensite; the state at which the carbon resides between Iron atoms. Quenched handmade tools are VERY hard, but very brittle. So, we have to temper your custom knife in the oven to relieve the stress and lessen the hardness, while increasing the toughness!
Yeah, that’s a lot science. Here’s a quick video of this process that just looks way cooler than words do..
Step 4 – Handle for Hand Feel
After the tempering, it’s time for finish your handmade knife. This means a bit of hand or grinder sanding. The most common method is to finish the bevels of the blade to the grit you desire then move on to the handle material.
There are SO many different handle materials! Wood, resin, burl-wood, honeycomb resin, micarta, G10, G10/rubber… the list goes on! (We have them all available at Build-A-Blade). Your custom knife maker traces the design onto the material and cuts/grinds it out. There are many different ways to mount a handle, but here are the most common:
- (Old school) Peen the rod and create a “rivet” holding the material in place, usually with epoxy under.
- Corby bolts – A mechanical hold that looks like a pin on top, but has a large head and smaller body with a lip which secures to the handle material just like a screw but gives the sleek look of a pin (my favorite). Usually, epoxy is between the material and the tang. That thing is NOT coming off!
- Screws/bolts – same as above, but you see the screw head and usually these are removable handles
Step 5 – Handing You a Handmade Knife
It differs between makers, but the final part is sharpening the custom knife to its final edge. This gives it that razor-sharp edge! Now, remember, every knife has a purpose, and every edge does too. When we make a field knife, the edge is sharpened at a 22.5-degree angle, giving it a razor-sharp edge but a bit thicker for the environment it will be in. The fillet knives are sharpened at a 17-degree angle for more razor-fine slicing abilities.
And there you have it. A short read on how your handmade knives are born! Now there is a LOT more that goes into this process, and it can take YEARS to master this and make a good custom knife. Remember one thing, just because a handmade tool may look good, doesn’t mean it actually is.
The BladesWork Unlimited Forge Team is dedicated to bringing you only the best, whether is be a handmade kitchen knife, or handmade fork (yes, we have those). The attention to detail and professional knowledge of the maker is why we accept only the most qualified makers to sell their products here at BladesWork Unlimited!
As always, cheers,
Bo is the co-founder and Vice-President of Bladeswork.com. Most importantly, he is head of cutting things at BWU. Besides that, he does hunt, fish, watch Bruce lee movies, and a number of other activities that require large amounts of blade usage. Primarily, he handles numbers and tries to keep the Bladeswork.com staff from getting overexcited and attempt to cook lunch in the nearest company furnace.