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Knife construction discussions, part 1: Forged vs. stock removal
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Thread: Knife construction discussions, part 1: Forged vs. stock removal

  1. #1

    Knife construction discussions, part 1: Forged vs. stock removal

    Hey guys,

    Since there has been a lot of participation on this board from knifemakers (Thanks guys!), and there are a lot of very knowledgeable people on the boards, I thought it would be cool to have a series of threads on the benefits/drawbacks of some of the different techniques used to manufacture knives, from the perspective of both the ease of the manufacturing process, the scientific/metallurgical properties of the finished knife, and the significance to the end user, as well as to the idea of what it means to be "functional art". Topics that I think would be really cool to cover include laminated vs. solid steel knives (always love a good san-mai vs. solid steel debate), the benefits/drawbacks to honyaki knives, damascus knives (where the edge is actually damascus and composed of two separate steels), the heat treatment process, and anything else you guys want to talk about.

    AS A NOTE: I don't want to turn this into a bashing of one way of doing things or otherwise want to offend a maker if they make things one way or the other. This is intended for friendly, intellectual debate.

    First up, I'd like to discuss the "starting point" of making knives. I know, I know, the first real thing is to decide what steel you are using and what kind of knife you are making, but IMO the first real decision when it comes to the manufacture of any knife is if the blade will be forged from stock to it's basic final dimensions or if a piece of relatively thin knife stock will "simply" be ground/cut out to the final profile the knife will have. This debate arises from the large amount of stock-removal knives that have come to the market recently. i've been interested by the fact that many makers have introduced relatively expensive knives that use the stock removal technique.

    The traditional opinion is that blades generated by stock removal or stamping are inferior to forged knives. I don't know how this opinion came to be, but my guess is that stock steel was at one time simply inferior, with uneven carbon content, high impurity, etc. The forging process allows (as far as I understand) the maker to work out impurities as well as gain a more even distribution/manipulate the amount of the carbon content, etc., as well as to simply realize early on in the process if they have a bad bar of stock and abandon work earlier in the process. I don't know how much this holds true anymore, and would like to here opinions on available stock steel nowadays, etc.

    So, what are the opinions out there from our members? Is the forged/stock removal dichotomy something you think about when purchasing a knife? For the makers out there, do you consider the forging process to be paramount to the final quality of the blade, or is it secondary to a good heat treat with the correct stock steel for what you want? For those of you that have used a lot of knives with high frequency (calling Chef Niloc!), have you found knives of one kind or the other to perform better from a steel standpoint (not geometry/profile) based on if they were forged or not? For those of you that have sharpened a lot of knives, do you find any difference between the two? Any metallurgists out there have any insight onto what effect forging the blade from stock has on the final structure and properties of the steel?

    I have a lot of opinions on these subjects, but would like your opinions first. I've blabbed enough in this post as it is.

  2. #2
    Senior Member
    Chef Niloc's Avatar
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    I have great knives made both ways, that sad my two best (IMO) are forged to shape.

  3. #3
    What about the two best do you like more, and can that be in part attributed to the forging process?

  4. #4
    Most knife makers are kidding themselves if they think they can improve the steel by forging it. You have to remember that the stock removal makers are using steel that was forged too, forged by the steel company instead of the bladesmith. The forger just forges it down from slightly larger stock. There are more things that can be messed up in the steel than fixed. The chances that the grain and carbide structure have been improved are pretty slim in most cases, especially with forges at approximate at best temperatures and then using a simple anneal. This leaves forging to shape as the only way left to improve the knife. However with the way knives are shaped and used there isn't really any improvement to be had.

  5. #5
    I am glad to here this Larrin,now i can buy some 52100.I was under the impression that the grain and carbide structure was improved by forging.

  6. #6
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    Hey, Larrin, welcome to KKF! Glad you're here.

  7. #7
    From what little I know about forging I would agree with Larrin on this.


    BTW, welcome Larrin.


    Good thread idea Joe.

  8. #8
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    I don't forge, but Larrin's comments are spot on as far as I can see. Modern steel manufacturing is pretty well controlled, industry would be in trouble if that were not the case. If you are starting with iron sands, forging is the way to go, but when I buy a chunk of O1 I'm pretty sure that it is as good as it is going to get. If the metal is heated way up and whacked into shape, what is happening to the carbon and other alloy constituents? And how will that affect the way the stuff heat treats?
    Spike C
    "The Buddha resides as comfortably in the circuits of a digital computer or the gears of a cycle transmission as he does at the top of a mountain."
    Pirsig

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Larrin View Post
    Most knife makers are kidding themselves if they think they can improve the steel by forging it. You have to remember that the stock removal makers are using steel that was forged too, forged by the steel company instead of the bladesmith. The forger just forges it down from slightly larger stock. There are more things that can be messed up in the steel than fixed. The chances that the grain and carbide structure have been improved are pretty slim in most cases, especially with forges at approximate at best temperatures and then using a simple anneal. This leaves forging to shape as the only way left to improve the knife. However with the way knives are shaped and used there isn't really any improvement to be had.
    Very interesting. So in your opinion, it's the heat treat where the knifemaker really shines as far as quality of his steel? I find this particularly interesting with respect to the ABS Mastersmith testing. I've heard of some very good knifemakers failing these tests - particularly the one bending the knife to 90 degrees without it breaking - and have always assumed that it was the quality of the forging process, as well as the heat treat, that set those blades that passed the test vs. those that didn't apart. Of course, I'm going on complete ignorance on this, as I don't know what the rules are regarding what kind of steel and forging methods are allowed for ABS submission. Does anyone know this?

    I've always thought that it was the forging that really mattered here because heat treating is (as far as I know) a more exact science, with most of the common steels having very specific instructions from the manufacturer on how to best heat treat the steel. I assumed that if heat treating was the main factor in the steel quality, there would be a lot more ABS mastersmiths, although I'm completely ignorant of any politics/expense that goes into getting ABS certification, and wither or not many makers simply skip it because of them.

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Martell View Post
    From what little I know about forging I would agree with Larrin on this.


    BTW, welcome Larrin.


    Good thread idea Joe.
    This one will probably be pretty short... it's the clad vs. solid thread that I think will be a little more entertaining....

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