What Is A Hand Forged Kitchen Knife? | Jonas Blade

What Is A Hand Forged Kitchen Knife?

You might be hearing a lot these days about hand forged kitchen knives. But what is it really? This is a fairly simple question with a fairly simple answer, but like many such situations, there is more to be discussed.

Let’s start with the most basic level. What is a hand forged kitchen knife? Well, forging is the process of shaping heated metal by striking it with a hammer. The technical term would be “plastic deformation”. Hot steel responds to hammer blows a bit like the way you would imagine a sealed bag of clay would respond to you poking it with your finger; when you strike the steel with the hammer, the material deforms and flows away from the spot where the blow landed. To forge something into a planned, recognizable shape, you have to string together hundreds of these blows with very careful planning and control.

So once again, what is a handy tool that is hand forged? Simply put, it is a kitchen knife whose blade has been shaped through forging. But wait … there is more to know about this. 

The Basics

One common supposition, for those who know about this to begin with, is that its being hand forged will automatically mean that it is superior to one that has been commercially made. Is this true? Well, no. But also yes? When I subject a piece of steel to the forces of forging, it is actually deleterious—damaging—to the composition of the steel. Don’t fret though; this damage is more or less the point. Steel has a crystalline structure, and that structure wants to settle into a natural, default structure. When I smash it with a hammer, I disrupt that structure in order to manipulate the steel into the shape that I want. Once this is done, the damage must be repaired. More on that later.

Can a blade be shaped without incurring the damage and disruption to the steel? Can you make a good kitchen knife without hand forging it? YES! The alternative to this is called “stock removal,” and in this method a blade is cut and/or ground out of a bar of steel. Many knife enthusiasts will assert that a knife made by stock removal will be inferior to a hand forged knife. Is this true? No!

The Process

In the case of both hand forged and stock removal knives, the steel must go through a process called “heat treatment” in order to function properly as a cutting tool. During heat treatment, the steel is heated past a critical temperature, beyond which the crystalline structure transforms to a different state (which, incidentally, is non-magnetic). Once it has reached the appropriate temperature for the correct amount of time, the steel is then thrust into a quenching bath, typically oil or water, in order to cool it to below a certain temperature in a very limited window of time. For example, 1095 must go from 1475f down to <900f in about one second. This rapid cooling freezes the structure of the heated steel into a hardened condition—so hard, in fact, that it might crack or even shatter if dropped on the floor. After it is hardened, it must be tempered to draw out some of the excess hardness and make it tougher. 


The heat treatment process essentially “resets” the steel, negating any damage that was done to it during the hand forging process. In practical terms, this means that the blades of a hand forged and a stock removal kitchen knife, if heat treated exactly the same, would be metallurgically indistinguishable from one another. Thus it is not automatically the case that it being hand forged is superior, or that one made by other means is inferior. The real magic happens during heat treatment. 

When I display my work at shows, visitors sometimes approach and ask me “are these hand forged?” Though in most cases the answer is yes, what they are really asking is whether my steel is superior to what they might purchase in a store. Here the answer is unequivocally affirmative. I use superior steel on my hand forged knives (kitchen or otherwise), and I heat treat it to take advantage of its full performance potential.

Want to commission a hand-forged kitchen knife? Contact Jonas Blade now!

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.