Having produced cutlery for over a decade, I have run the gambit of concerns from achieving just the right Rockwell hardness in my blades, to the "bells and whistles" that are suppose to make a customer go "OOOHHH."
I think back to the days when I joined the American Bladesmith Society, and all I could think about was someday producing a knife that might be good enough to be included in one of the major knife publications, and thoroughly believing that I could never make a blade that would pass the ABS Journeyman test. Then one day it hit me.....If others could do it, then so could I. I read, talked to other makers, and read some more. As I became more educated on metallurgy, and began to experiment on my own, a couple of things became very clear. One being, that each knifemaker seemed to dwell on a specific element of their product, and each used that same element of their work as the main selling point. Some would tout the rockwell hardness of their steel(s), others would boast of the stainless qualities, and yet others prided themselves on the fine hollow grinds they produced. Secondly, I noticed that while a certain knife might have the ability to hold a great edge, it was usually very difficult for the average person to sharpen when it did become dull. Or, as I wondered to myself, would that same knife chip or break if used under extreme circumstances? These thoughts and experiences lead me to create a high expectation for my knives, and after a couple of years, I came to refer to these expectations as........The Overall Package.
The Overall Package is not a myth, or even a dream. It is a very achievable combination of desirable characteristics that can provide the customer with a using knife that will:
1. Hold an edge
2. Be easy to resharpen
3. Be extremely durable and resilient
4. Be comfortable to use
5. Be pleasing to the eye
This combination does not come automatically, nor easily. One must consider all of the aspects of the knife, as well as it's intended purpose, and as with most things, there are some trade offs that must be realized by both the maker and the customer.
Lets begin with steel selection. Is the finished blade a using knife? An Art Knife? Will it see service in a corrosion prone environment? Each question should lead to another. The general parameters of use should be helpful in choosing the steel. Once the type of steel is chosen, the next set of questions arises. Taking into account the given steel, which grind is most suited to the knife's intended task(s)? And what type of heat treatment, in conjunction with that particular grind, on the chosen steel, will render the desired characteristics in the finished blade?
Now let's take a look at grinding. Through years of experimentation and testing, I have come to the very pointed conclusion, that the best cutting blades are those with very small, or no edge bevels. This means grinding the blade in such a manner, as to eliminate any unnecessary bulk or "meat" near the edge. Now we start to see how the other facets play into the blade. Will the type of steel, and the chosen heat treatment (hardness level), allow one to grind a blade in this manner without the finished edge chipping? Will it be necessary to lower the hardness to achieve this?
(Trade off # 1: A little less hardness, often will yield a more durable edge/blade.)
What about blade geometry? This is not simply how the blade is ground from the spine to the edge, but should also include the tapering of the tang on a "full tang" knife, as well as a distal taper (a blade that is thickest at the ricasso, and tapers all the way to the point) built into the blade itself. These tapers will impart balance to the finished product, and will also distribute stress evenly, should the need arise. Very often you will hear people speak of "balance", and how one knife feels so well balanced, while another feels "klunky." If you pay close attention when at a knife show, you will notice that the knives that "feel" good in your hand, will generally have either a distal tapered blade, or tapered tang, or both.
Finishing: The majority of this category speaks for itself. All scratches removed, all aspects balanced, and everything looking good. The most important part of this area is to NEVER say "Thats good enough." I have handled many a knife that was only a couple of finishing hours away from being a truly outstanding piece. The problem? Attention to detail! Are the plunge cuts as even as possible? Is the same level of finish evident in those hard to get at areas, as on the larger, more easily accessible areas of the knife? And finally, do the lines of the knife "flow?"
Hold a knife at arms length, and visually absorb the profile. Follow the outline with your eyes. Is there anything that makes you change focus, or abruptly move your eyes? Does it look like everything is one object, rather than a conglomeration of parts? If you can answer "NO", "NO", and "YES" then you can bet that the maker took his/her time, thought it out, and did it right!
There are many other technical aspects that also contribute to "The Overall Package", and as time allows, I will identify them in other articles. For now, suffice to say that there are many more things that go into a well made custom knife than a specific steel, it's Rc hardness, or the type of grind. Think about it.
Copyright 2017: "The Montana Bladesmith"