How to Make a Handmade Knife: The Forging Process
By Chucky Peters • June 03, 2021 • 6 min read
Handmade knives have been in trend since the inception of knives and cutting edges. Man has been making knives and swords alike through the process of forging. Currently, the handmade knife is trendy because of the numerous benefits it affords top chefs.
Authentic handmade knives are trendy, but they are expensive to acquire due to the effort put into producing them. Unlike machine-made knives, where a machine oversees the process from start to finish, handmade knives involve a lot of heating, hitting, and cooling.
Most of us would have wondered how our best kitchen utensil came to be. Many others know so little about making some of the most durable and robust knives on the counter. In this informative piece, we explain the forging process that births the impeccable handmade knives. So without much ado, let's dig into it.
How to Forge a Handmade Knife
Selecting suitable metal
This is probably the most important decision you would have to make before forging your blade. The truth is, there are different types of metals available but are they all suitable for creating a knife? Steel is the ideal metal for knife production because it combines hardness, strength and holds an edge longer than other metals.
If you live close to a junkyard, then getting steel scraps for this process might be easier for you. Scraps ideal for this process includes; railroad spikes, coil springs or leaf spring. Made from quality steel, they help create a high-quality knife.
Not staying close to a junkyard? The excellent news is steel bars are available in stores. There are three main types of steel that you could use for forging knives.
- Carbon steel
- Tool steel
- Stainless steel
These steel types have their pros and cons, and we would be discussing them shortly. Carbon steel is steel infused with carbon. This combination improves steel strength and hardness. The downside here is, during this combination, the steel loses some of its corrosion resistance. This means it would rust easily.
Tool steel has similar properties found in carbon steel. The difference between them rests in the fact that tool steel contains added alloys for improved resistance to corrosion.
Basically, tool steel is an upgrade to carbon steel because it is strong, corrosion-resistant, and holds an edge longer. The catch here is, adding alloys to steel makes it lose its toughness. So the knife is less tough.
Stainless steel is steel infused with chromium and other alloys. This makes it shiny and corrosion-resistant. Hence, you find this piece of metal on most kitchen utensils. it is one of the most used material for kitchen equipment due to its durability.
Choosing Suitable Fuel
Having successfully examined the different forms of steel suitable for making handmade knives, how do you heat the steel? The kind of fuel used is dependent on its availability, forge setup, and location. But in all, there are three significant fuels used for forging;
Charcoal is a cheap source of fuel made by burning wood. Using this form of energy source might not give you the best forging experience. Why? When used with charcoal, forges find it difficult to reach and maintain temperatures ideal for the forging process. Forging requires running and maintaining a high temperature.
Propane is a clean source of fuel; it is readily available and produces enormous heat. A propane torch could heat steel until it becomes malleable. Buying a forge with an integrated propane heat source makes forging easier and faster as propane heats steel fast.
Coal is ideal for a workshop with proper ventilation, thanks to the enormous amount of smoke produced when using it. It is an efficient source of fuel, but it produces too much smoke. Before using coal as a fuel source, check local laws to find out if there are laws against it.
Gather forging tools
The tools required for forging includes;
- Forging hammer
- Forging table or anvil
- Oven or brick box
Having chosen the type of steel and fuel type considered ideal for your needs, choose a suitable forge that works with the fuel type selected. If you decided propane is excellent fuel, there are forges prebuilt and fitted with a propane tank.
You could also build your forge from scratch. All you need is a system that ensures sustained airflow to ensure heat is constant.
We use the forging hammer and anvil to pound on the steel. Ensure these materials are heatproof as exposure to heat is sure. They also need to be strong to be able to shape the steel properly.
An Oven or brick box helps toughen the steel by reducing brittleness and eliminating internal stress, giving you a tough knife.Forging
This is the part we have all been waiting for, right? Let us get to it. The first thing to do is heat up the steel. Forge should have a thermostat or other ways to tell steel temperature, like a color guide. Heat steel to around 2,2000F.
At the above temperature, steel becomes malleable. Transfer it to your pounding area with the hammer and anvil. While hitting one side to facilitate the development of an edge, leave a few inches for the tang. The tang makes the steel easier to handle and flip. You flip the blade over to ensure it does not wrap towards a particular side.
Achieved the basic knife shape? Annealing the steel is the next item on the list. Annealing helps make the steel softer, ensuring you get a better knife appearance.
How do you anneal a blade? By heating the edge until it becomes red, letting it air cool, and repeating the process two or three times.Quenching
This process involves heating the steel to high temperatures and reducing the temperature quickly by dipping in cool water or oil. Quenching aims to harden the steel by locking its molecules.Tempering
Tempering helps reduce the hardness of the steel, bring it to the consistency required for its purposes as a knife. It involves heating the knife in an oven at 3000F for about two hours. Then use water to cool down the blade after two hours.Apply Finishing Touches
Now you have a knife without a handle. You could attach a handle by drilling holes and mounting wooden or rubber handle grips to the tang area. If you do not have access to a drill, tying wood or rubber on the tang serves just fine. The aim here is to give you a solid grip when you use the knife.Sharpening the Blade
To improve your handmade knife's ability to cut through things, you must sharpen it. You could do this using a whetstone or other methods of sharpening. you can see other easier and faster methods of sharpening handmade knives here.
The processes involved in forging a handmade knife may be challenging, but the outcome is often worth it. The strength, resilience, and durability of a handmade knife bore down to the forging process. Thus, when next you wield the blade of your Kiri cleaver, you’ll appreciate the process that birthed the product.