The Art of Forged Knives – Carbon Steel

| 4 November 2010 | 2 Comments

In a modern world of stainless steel custom knives, much of the heritage of knifemaking has been lost. Only as recent as 70 years ago was stainless steel used for knives and other tools. Before that the norm was forged carbon steel blades. Some of these examples can be seen in museums still in pristine condition with little to no rust. This proves that when cared for a Carbon steel blade will last a long time.

Now today, the art of forged knives is being revived. With the refinement of modern carbon steels some of the toughest and sharpest knives are being made today. One of the key diferences between stainless and carbon steels (apart from the obvious) is the fact that carbon steels can be selectively hardened and tempered. A process that can be clearly seen in these blades.

As with a above knife there are techniques that bladesmiths can use to manipulated the pattern achieved from the quenching process.

Selective hardening offers the opportunity for the Smith to give the steel varying hardnesses. The edge quench makes the edge as hard as it can be. Too hard. It then needs to be tempered to reduce stress and increase toughness. Now the blade has a hard edge and a softer back. However we don’t want the tip to be as hard as the edge. So the tip is over tempered to make it softer than the edge but still harder than the back. This is to avoid chipping should the blade fall tip down into something hard. Then the tang has to be a spring temper softer that the rest. So we now have a blade with four different hardnesses. The feat cannot be achieved with stainless steels due to their high alloy (mainly chrome) content.

The blade should then be tough enough to perform several cutting tasks and test without blunting or deforming from stress. Her I can be seen cutting a 2×4 with a knife I made. I performed this task twice and the blade was still razor sharp.

Now the knife should be able to perform a bend test. The blade is inserted into a vice and the maker has to bend the blade at 90deg without it snapping (as seen below)

These are qualities that all forged blades have no matter the size. A select few make forged knives in SA though we are trying to spread the word. Please visit the SABA (Southern African Bladesmiths Association) website for details on bladesmithing and meetings being held.

By Stuart Smith

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Category: Guns & Gear

Comments (2)

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  1. Scott Carmody says:

    The art of making knives is amazing. Glad to hear that the SA knife world is expanding. I bought some knives from Arno Bernard at the SHOT show a couple of years ago. Beautifully made with warthog ivory handle scales.

    I’m hooked!

    The knife in your post is amazing.


  2. Its amazing the skill and shear time that it takes to make a high quality blade. In many respects the easy-to-mass-produce knives of the last few decades had killed off centauries of craftsmanship.

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