Going into a build, the first thing the bladesmith does is create a design. Sometimes it is pre-determined, sometimes you just want to find out where the hammer takes you. Either way, every single blade has a purpose. The smith finds the purpose for that blade and sketches/hammers into that profile. So now we have our design, next comes the rough profile.

There are two methods of creating the blade 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 (I use a bandsaw for this method) which creates the rough blade profile in a matter of minutes.

  • Forging – This is the incredible craft of taking a hammer and beating the hot, hot steel into shape! Anyone seen Forged in Fire? Basically this, except the smith can take their time…So we take the steel, place it in the forge, let it get up to forging temperature, then hammer it in to the profile of our desires!

*Of note* One process is not better than the other or makes harder steel. It’s the smith’s preference on method they use.

Following the rough profile, the smith then takes the blade over to their grinder. Most smiths who do this professionally or are serious into the hobby use something called a 2×72 grinder, the King of Kings in the knife world. This incredible machine is what the smith uses to grind the blade into the profile of a nice fit in the hand. Once the smith is satisfied with the profile it’s on to the heat treat, the most critical time in a blade’s life.

In very basic terms, steel is heated super-hot, 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 high hardness in combination with sufficient toughness. Here is the nerd stuff: Steel goes through transformation at high temperatures to a non-magnetic phase called austenite. The carbides dissolve and carbon diffuse into the austenite and then are RAPIDLY cooled, quenched, to “lock in” the carbon so that hardness is obtained. This forms martensite which is where the carbon is now between the iron atoms. Quenched blades are VERY hard, but very brittle. So, we have to temper the blades to relieve the stress and lessen the hardness but increase the toughness!

After the tempering, it’s time for finishing the blade, maybe a bit of hand sanding, maybe a grinder finished blade. 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. But the smith traces the design onto the material and cuts/grinds it out. There are 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

It differs between smiths, but the final part is sharpening the blade to its final edge. Giving it that razor-sharp edge! Now, remember, every knife has a purpose. Every edge does too. When I 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 type/slicing abilities.

And there you have it. A short read on how blades are made! Now there is a LOT more that goes into this process, and it can take YEARS to master this and make a good blade. Remember one thing, just because a blade LOOKS good, doesn’t mean it actually is. The attention to detail and professional knowledge of the smith is why it’s so important to buy a custom knife.