Knives are an essential part of everyone’s lives – from Michelin starred chefs to amateur cooks. And everyone loves a nice sharp knife as well.
What a lot of people don’t realise however is that it is more dangerous to use a blunt knife than a sharp knife. This is because if you are cutting something, a dull knife is more likely to slip whereas a sharp knife will go where you want it to. This problem is made far worse when people purchase knives from supermarkets or homeware stores that might be relatively sharp out the packet, but will dull very quickly.
The solution is a high quality handmade knife that will be sharper out the box, and will stay sharp for longer. Plus, more care will be taken with nice knives; prolonging their lives.
There are a three options for knives if you commission from me: a complete custom knife suited to you; a predesigned knife that will be picked by you; or a combination of both. Plus if the knife becomes popular as a predesigned knife, you have the chance to either create a name for it, or it can be named after you!
The handle is just as important as the blade as it creates the connection between the hand and the blade, allowing the knife to become an extension of the hand rather than the two separately. Some people prefer western style handles, some people prefer Japanese style. It is really up to personal preference. Handles can be made from wood, plastic, have metal spacers, etc; there is no real set definition, and it is up to the user to choose what feels right.
There are knife styles for every sort of chopping that you can think of, from fileting knives to machetes. Each knife has its’ own purpose. However, there are fine lines between some styles, with arguments over what is what. When you commission a custom knife, you can completely take control on the style, to mix and match certain parts from one knife to add it to another. The blade profile is what makes the main look of the knife, and it should feel right in your hand to suit your cutting style.
There are generally two different kinds of steel for knives: stainless and carbon steel.
Stainless steel, like the name suggests, stains less. This is a common misconception as people think it never stains, but actually it just stains less than a carbon steel. Stainless steels are used in knives all over the world for many different uses. They are generally considered the best all round and you don’t have to worry so much about the rust. Some lovely knives are made from stainless, and you can’t really go wrong.
Carbon steel on the other hand is prone to staining, and with poor care can develop rust. However, with good care a carbon steel blade can be develop a beautiful patina and can be passed down the generations. It is one of the oldest materials for modern knife making, and is generally considered to have better sharpness capabilities and edge retention. However, more care must be exercised with these blades, hence why people prefer the ease of owning a stainless blade.
Knife making process
The knife is born!
The design is arguably the most important part of knife design as it determines what style of knife it is, and what the main role it will have.
At this stage, I will be working with you and listening to you to determine exactly what you are looking for, and come up with a design. At this stage you will have complete control, and I will be able to input experience, so that we are on the same page.
2. BLADE SHAPING
At this point, I will use a variety of tools to cut the desired blade from steel. This can be altered later down the line, but will determine the overall blade shape (as seen in the background picture)
3. HEAT TREATMENT
Most steel that I work with is out of my league for simple forge heat treatment and oil quench. For this reason I sent by blades off to a specialist who will heat treat the blades to exact desired hardness that I am after. He uses multiple techniques to ensure that the blade stay straight, and so that specialist steels such as San Mai don’t delaminate. He even provides me with a certificate stating the hardness of the blade. For more information on heat treatment feel free to ask!
4. BEVEL GRINDING
Once the knives are back from the heat treatment, The cutting edge can be formed using my trusty belt sander! Great care must be taken at this stage to ensure that the blade doesn’t lose its temper (I think it’s the origin of the phrase).
5. BLADE POLISHING
The most long and tedious process to ever exist. The blade must be hand sanded starting from around 240 grit, working the way up to 1200 grit to remove all scratches. Then, the blades can be polished to remove the small scratches that the 1200 grit sandpaper leaves.
6. HANDLE GLUE UP AND SHAPE
An extremely strong glue called epoxy resin is used to bind the handle to the blade. This must be watertight and super strong otherwise it will loosen over time. After a 24 hour cure, the handle can be shaped according to the design. This is done mostly by hand. This must also be meticulously sanded to remove any marks and scratches, and leave a lovely sheen to the handles
7. FINISHING OFF
The knife is nearly done! If needed, a final polish will be done, plus treating the handles to protect them from water.
As one sharpens a knife on a whetstone, the brain can be sharpened on dull objects of thought. Every form of assiduous thinking has its value.
Knife care is the most important thing for the longevity of a knife. It is often also the most overlooked part as people find it tedious/boring, and a lot of people are not even sure how to take care of a knife. It can be as simple as not putting it into the dishwasher, all the way to investing in a lovely set of whetstones to sharpen the blade.
The method of cutting can impact the rate at which a blade dull, as much as the food that the knife is used to cut. For instance, rocking back and forth with a flat belly blade can dull it and even cause chips. Use the knife for what it was designed for. In other words don’t use a petty knife to chop through bone. Furthermore, once the chopping is done, instead of using the blade of the knife to push the chopped items off the chopping board, use the spine! It works just as well, and saves that precious edge from damage.
Let’s admit it, we’ve all felt lazy and decided to chop that one tomato or spring onion on the kitchen work surface. This is terrible for the edge however, and can instantly blunt a very sharp knife. The same holds for marble and glass cutting boards – they may look nice and be expensive, but they will turn your lovely knife dull in a matter of seconds. Instead, I recommend to invest in a good quality wooden chopping board with a sturdy hardwood. Something thick always helps as well to give some weight so that the board doesn’t slip whilst using it.
The majority of knife handles are made from wood. By nature, wood absorbs water. For this reason, water should only minimally be used on the handle. The handle doesn’t always need to be washed like the blade, and if so, don’t scrub at it! The wood is generally treated with some sort of oil to prevent water damage, but over time this wears away. Every now and then when the handle dulls, a small amount of mineral oil/tung oil will bring back the vibrancy as well as the resistance to water.
If you want to have an always sharp knife, sharpening the knife is a must. Some steels dull faster than others, some have the ability to become super sharp. Whatever the steel, a good sharpening system is advised. If possible, stay away from the style that you run your blade through a couple of times, because these tend to create a horrible surface on the edge, as well as accentuating an imperfections. Instead, I advise to buy the best quality whetstones that you can afford. There are plenty of videos online on how to use these.
So many people just stick their knives into the washing machine, and panic when the blade dulls, or the handle comes off. This is because the washing machine is far too vigorous, and the water can seep through imperfections in the wood and glue and weaken it over time. Instead, I recommend only using water and the soft side of a sponge and wipe away from the edge of the blade. This way you avoid dulling the edge with the sponge, and get a clean knife. I only use detergent when contaminants such as meat have touched the blade. It is also important to not let moisture sit on the blade, especially if it is acidic. Moisture quickly can dull a sharp edge, and acid can literally dissolve it. For this reason, wash the knife as soon as possible after using it, and dry it immediately after washing. Store in a dry place.
Workshop 15, Knowle, Birmingham
M-F: 9am – 5pm