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The Knifemaking Process of Chef Knives

Many people have asked how I make my knives.  To that point, I wanted to put together a photo recreation outlining the entire knife making process from start to finish. This is for “stock removal” knives rather than forged.

The knives in this process were a custom order from my sister as a gift for a friend’s wedding in the United Kingdom. It is a 240mm Gytuo Chef’s Knife (for him) and a 7″ Santoku Chef’s Knife (for her) with solid brass dovetailed bolsters, fingered Tambotie handles with black G10 liners, 7mm hand-turned brass inter-screws.  

The start of the knifemaking process

In the stock removal process, I always start with transferring the designs onto the chosen steel, this is a piece of Bohler’s K110 (D2) 2.5mm thick steel.  I always try to order steel around 3mm – 2.5mm thick for chef knives and as close to the final dimensions for specific knives as possible.

Here you can see my knife templates (cut from sheets of Tufnol), that I used to scribe/mark the steel ahead of cutting. This ensures I can get the best use out of the steel and minimise wastage, by nesting the knives nice and close together.

I’m always tweaking my designs and this point well into version 30 plus, so have not made the move to CAD and laser cutting. Maybe one day.

Cutting and Profiling

Believe it or not, but I used to cut my knives out by hand with a bi-metal hacksaw. The process took me about 1 hour or so on a good day. Since then I invested in a metal cutting band saw that has probably been one of the biggest time-saving investments to the shop.

Cutting knife blanks out on the bandsaw

Once the blades have all been roughly cut out on the band saw, I’ll move over to the belt grinder and fine-tune the final profiles and geometries of the knives. It’s always a good time to feel how each knife feels in a cutting motion and make adjustments to the belly if needed.

Final Profiling of knife blanks

While the steel is still “soft”, it’s a good time to drill any holes that you need for pins and weight reduction. Waiting until after heat treatment is not recommended as the steel will be hard (>60HRC) and the drill bits will complain bitterly.

I use a center punch to mark where I want holes to be and drill them with a drill press. On the knives on the left of the image you’ll see 3 x 3mm holes for peening the bolsters on. 2 x 5mm for the interscrews and 4 x 10mm for bridge holes. Epoxy will flow into the bridging holes creating a better bond through the tang as well as providing some weight reduction and balance.

Holes drilled in tangs

For Hidden tang / Eastern handled knives, it’s improtant to “true up” or “square off” the shoulders at the transition to the tang. This is a vital step if you don’t want gaps between the knife and the handle. Here I have the blade clamped in a multi-angle vice and tungsten carbide file guide. The shoulders are then filed flat by hand with a file.

Squaring up the shoulders in this hidden tang knife with a file guide

Heat Treament

Now that all the knife blanks are profiled and drilled, they are ready for heat treatment. You could pre-grind before this step and I do pregrind some blades, but for thin chef knives, I tend to leave them as they are, so that I can plate quench them fully and ensure they stay straight.

After some metallurgy, heating up to 1020 degrees Celcius, plate quenching, freezing, and tempering, the blanks are ready for cleaning up and grinding. You can find my heat treatment recipe for K110 here.

Heat treating steel, blades clamped for cold treatment

Grinding

Now it’s time to start turning the hardened steel blanks into knives. To start with, it’s all about hogging off the steel. I use a #36 ceramic belt for this stage of grinding and typically, you can expect to lose half the weight from the knife. The goal is to get both sides looking the same, with the edge thickness down to 0.2mm. The blade should be uniformly tapered from the spine to edge and have an even distal taper from the handle to tip.

The grinds will be refined and cleaned up with successively finer ceramic belts #60, #120, and even the disk grinder just to ensure that the edge is still dead straight, before moving on to Gator belts.

Below you’ll see these knives have an s-grind, which is a subtle hollow along the blade which improves cutting performance and reduces food striction. It’s a more advanced grind. Read more about s-grinds here.

Hand Sanding

Oh, the joys of hand sanding. To achieve a good hand satin finish on the blade, I’ll clmap the knife to a rest slowly and surely remove all the scratch marks from the blade. This is done by alternating the direction of the strokes and takes a couple of hours. The finger choil and spine is also polished and rounded at the same time.

And the blade is done. Now, just don’t scratch it!

Handle Fitment and Shaping

The handle material is prepared, in this case, I epoxied black G10 liners to the flattened fingered Tambotie handle scales. Once cured, I ground the dovetail angles into the front face, before once again gluing in G10 to the bevel.

The brass bolsters were drilled, reamed, and shaped to their final dimensions. Before the final fitment, the front of the bolsters were polished as you will not be able to do this once it’s attached without scratching the blade.

The handle scales were carefully drilled and counter-sunk for the interscrews. Now for some epoxy, clamps, and a prayer that everything goes smoothly.

Once the epoxy is cured (usually over-night), I use files and my belt grinder to contour the handle. The goal here is no hard edges, nice smooth transitions, and comfortable feel in the hand. I will then take it to 400 grit with sandpaper. Depending on the handle material I go to #400 or #1500.

Each knife handle is then submerged and coated in various wood finishes to help bring out the colour and beauty of the wood and add protection.

Finishing Touches

Each kitchen knife is then ready for the final steps, where I etch my makers mark onto the blade and sharpen the edge.

A note on sharpening: I sharpen my blades on Japanese water stones and deburr on a leather strop to ensure an edge that will cleanly slice through paper without tearing and shave hair from your arm.

The angle is not as steep as the steel can support and this is to ensure the blade makes it to the customer without any scratches. Should you want an even finer edge, know that you can drop the angle down to 9 degrees or so.

I do my own photography as well and offer this service to other knifemakers.

Packaging and Shipment

Due to international interest in my knives, I’ve improved the boxing of the knives to ensure they travel and arrive in one piece. It is something that I’m constantly looking to improve upon, just as is the case with my designs and overall performance.

Currently all knives are packaged in laser-cut tabbed boxes along with various inserts (certificate of authenticity, business cards, care instructions).

Shipping is through tracked courier services. I’ll try my best to keep the costs of the shipping down as I’m aware that I does impact the final purchase price quite a lot. Still it’s worth the little bit extra to ensure it makes it to the final destination…

Finished knives in their walnut box