“It’s hard work (forging), and a poor way to change the shape of metal. Forging is a cheap way of getting in shape, but not the best way for knives” R.W. Loveless from the book “Living on the Edge” by Al Williams.
A Look At The Process
I am often asked or it is assumed that I make knives using the forging process which has been made so popular by the TV show “Forged in Fire”. This is not the case, I use a method called the “Stock Removal” method. The stock removal method starts with a bar of known steel. By that I mean a stick of steel that has a known recipe for not only it’s production, but all the resulting properties, and a known recipe for it’s heat treatment. This allows me to chose from some very high quality blade steels that have great durability and edge retention. Yes, even the stainless that I use! The steel comes to me in it’s annealed state (soft and ready to be worked). It’s then ground free hand with no gloves, jigs, or cnc machines. Just my hands and eyes guide it to it’s final shape.
Compared to forging, the stock removal method has less that can go wrong in the process, which makes the odds much better the knife will make it to completion. Don’t get me wrong, I love and respect history and forging is a form of living history. There are some great knowledgeable makers that I consider friends that make their knives using the forging method. Forging does make excellent steel, especially if you use a known cast ingot. At the same time, from the ingot the steel requires lots of steps to remove the bad and improve the good.
With all that in mind, stock removal uses known steels that are put through heavy rolling and other mill operations during their manufacture from crucible to the final bar. The same happens during forging. There you have it, the steel used in stock removal is forged at the foundry after it’s poured from the crucible.
The goal is to have the grain structure run parallel to the blades edge in both methods of knife making. I go one step further, only using bars that have been precision ground so that from the start both sides of the bars are parallel to each other.
I have heard it said that forging can add more carbon to low carbon steels. Or adds more carbon to already high carbon steels. The amount of carbon is really not enough to be noticeable. Since iron doesn’t really accept carbon until it’s in it’s liquid form, which requires temperatures much higher than that found in the forging processes. The best way to achieve a high carbon content is to add the carbon and all other ingredients in the crucible during manufacture. Which explains my pet peave of not making knives from rail road spikes and such. Even the so called high carbon spikes. Do you really think those penny pinching rail road companies ever sprung the money to buy true high carbon steel spikes?
And finally heat treat. By using a known steel with an exact recipe for heat treatment results in a consistent RC hardness every time. Which to me is very important. It ensures me that I am producing the highest quality knives that I am capable of producing. Using an electronically controlled oven also cuts down fire hazard and I don’t have to guess at when to quench. It also cuts down the fire hazard from quenching in oil, because I use only “Air Quench” steels in my stock removal process, which requires the temp to be lowered using no form of liquid, especially a flammable one. The results for me are a consistent RC 59-61 depending on steel type through out all my knives for excellent edge retention. Yes, even the stainless ones.
So there it is “No Forge No Fire” explained.