Guide for Customizing A Chef’s Knife | Jonas Blade

Chef’s Knife Customization Guide

If you are thinking about ordering your first custom chef’s knife, you may not know where to begin. New customers sometimes ask how the process starts, and my answer is always the same: with a conversation. Tell me in plain English as much or as little as you would like about the knife you are looking for, and I will take it from there. 

In most cases, new clients already have a sense of what they are looking for in a custom chef’s knife. They have looked through my portfolio to get an idea of the possibilities, and they’ll know what type and size of knife they are most drawn to. In cases like this, it is reasonably simple for me to envision the knife they are after and put together an estimate. Once the size and style are chosen, it is a matter of selecting materials for the blade, handle, and accents.

In some cases, a new client may not provide much information at the outset. Perhaps the knife is a gift for a friend or loved one, in which case I would ask what sort of cooking the recipient is into, how tall they are—which may help me suggest a blade size and will inform how large I should make the handle—and other things, like whether they are drawn to big, bold design, or more subdued aesthetics. In other cases, a new client may be looking for a knife for themselves but may wish to leave the particulars up to me. 

Selecting the blade material is one of the most important decisions one can make when buying a custom chef’s knife. Almost all of my knives are made of high carbon steel, and there are many possibilities within this category. To begin with, there are single alloy blades, and there are damascus blades. Damascus is made of multiple alloys that have been folded together to produce a pattern, where a single alloy blade is just steel. The performance is essentially identical, but the appearance is dramatically different.

At least 9 out of every 10 blades I make are damascus, but there are a huge number of possibilities to consider when selecting a pattern for a custom chef’s knife. The first thing to think about is pattern density. Picture a handful of rocks, maybe a dozen or so. Now picture pebbles; you can probably hold a hundred or more. Now sand; thousands of little grains. Damascus patterns can be made with varying layer counts, and thus varying densities. I can do a 120 ladder pattern, or a 600 layer ladder pattern, or a 2000 layer ladder pattern. Applied to the same 7” chef’s knife, these three densities—of the same pattern—will look very different, much in the same way the rocks look different from the sand. 

Next there is the pattern itself. Once I have achieved the desired layer count (density), I forge the material through a series of choreographed steps in order to produce the different patterns. There are standard patterns, like ladder, twist, and random, but then there are endless permutations and combinations of techniques I can apply in order to produce new and exciting patterns—and combinations thereof; a single blade can be made using more than one pattern! As you are beginning to understand, when you are buying a custom chef’s knife, there is a lot to think about! This is why a simple conversation is the way to begin.

The good news is that selecting the handle material for a custom chef’s knife is typically much simpler. There are still many different woods to choose from, as well as other materials like antler or synthetics, but it is easier to guide this part of the conversation. For example, a new client might tell me they are buying a custom chef’s knife to match their kitchen cabinets, which are cherry. Or perhaps their kitchen is sleek and ultra-modern, and they want something to match—or contrast—that. Perhaps they know they are drawn to burls, or to curly grained wood, or maybe they want something very simple and understated. Perhaps they’ve selected the exact damascus pattern they want, but they would like me to suggest a handle to compliment it.

The most important thing to remember during the process of buying a custom chef’s knife is that everything is open for discussion. Because I make everything by hand, I can tailor each feature of your knife to match your tastes. Over the years, I have been asked to make a knife with an extra quarter inch of width at the heel, or a three-tone handle to reflect family colors, or a straighter edge, and so on. Within reason, most of these requests can be met, and many of them can be done without any change to the price of the piece. Where I can’t meet a request, or where there will be an impact to the cost, I am always able to explain why and then work toward a suitable solution. 

I look forward to having a conversation with you about your first custom chef’s knife. Or your next one. 

About The Author

Zack Jonas was born and raised in Massachusetts in the 1980’s and is still a New Englander today. With his growing love for art over the years, he took an introductory bladesmithing class at MASSart. It was there that he learned one of his most valuable lessons, which is that everyone has some insight worth learning. Today, he is a full-time bladesmith and feels incredibly fortunate to have found his calling.