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June 30, 2012 10:24 AM   Subscribe

Making a Kitchen Knife - A simple video showing the art of crafting a chef's knife from scratch. [slyt]

knifemaking previously.

[via]
posted by quin (44 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Now that we've done forged knives and handmade knives from stamped metal, we should post a clip from How It's Made on factory-made knives to ensure we're thoroughly versed in all facets of knifery.
posted by sixohsix at 10:38 AM on June 30, 2012


That involved more cooking than I expected.
posted by humboldt32 at 10:44 AM on June 30, 2012


Found the How it's Made clip.
posted by sixohsix at 10:46 AM on June 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


So these cost what, $500? It looks like you could automate nearly the entire process, too, which I guess is why we all have knives that cost 1/10th that price or less.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:47 AM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


You can find a bunch of similarish videos here.

I love watching talented people make things.
posted by Quack at 10:51 AM on June 30, 2012


So I spoke too soon, sixohsix's video is basically the exact same process but done on an industrial scale, 100x faster, with robots.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 10:53 AM on June 30, 2012


I like the look of the knife, a bit stubby and crude, quite a bit. Also, I imagine there is something really pleasant about doing that kind of work -- something I like about cooking, sweeping, and ironing -- the process is involved enough that you have to pay attention, but mindless enough that you can just do the work and be in the moment of doing the work. The "when you cut the carrots, cut the carrots" moment.

I am not sure why you would want to automate work that is actually pleasant.

However, as someone who has to get a yearly MRI, I was mildly horrified by his using the grinder without eye protection. I keep imagining tiny pieces of metal being ripped out of my eyeballs....
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:06 AM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's a really neat video, and I understand wanting to do it yourself, but basically this is doing by hand processes that were optimized for industry. In the end you'll get a product that is as good as cheap, mass produced knives.

Wouldn't it be more rewarding to learn the old ways? I mean, even if you didn't have like 6 years to apprentice under a japanese bladesmith, wouldn't your product be at least better than the stuff that comes in a $49.99 12 piece set?

This is when I having doubts about the guy teaching the knife sharpening class I was in. He was making his own knife out of a piece of flat steel. That, and he totally reshaped the tip of my friend's chef's knife.
posted by danny the boy at 11:07 AM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ceramic blades get the best of both worlds: mass produced templates that are sharpened by master bladesmith hands.
posted by carsonb at 11:11 AM on June 30, 2012


I am not sure why you would want to automate work that is actually pleasant.

Just to be clear -- I realize that handmade knives are expensive, but you don't actually need that many knives, and they will, if taken care of, last your lifetime and then some. Knives are one of those things that I am willing to a) try out a bunch until I find what I like, b) buy the best I can afford, c) learn to take care of them, and d) take care of them.

This guy's knives are not necessarily the best I can afford, and there are some really good fairly cheap knives out there, but I am not really getting the "automation is best" approach.

My guess is that he does it the way he does because he doesn't have access to a forge (and/or the training to use it), but he does have access to a machine shop.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:14 AM on June 30, 2012


To my engineer brain the quality of a knife comes down to a few things

material
grain structure (forging/cold rolled/ folded etc...)
heat treatment
shape
edge shape
handle

Every one of these steps can be done better and more consistent with a machine. Obviously the automation shown by sixohsix's video can't be applied to one off and low run shapes and handles. But I'd still argue that a general tool (i.e. CNC mill) would make a nicer knife than a true hand made knife.

The only reason to buy one of these hand made knives is to display status. That or everyone who makes 'custom' knives refuses to use modern technology.
posted by TheJoven at 11:23 AM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


For the majority of people out there I think ceramic knives are the best solution. The average person will never, ever sharpen their knives. They'll buy cheap (or worse, not cheap) knives, and bang them around until they're dull.

So yeah if you're just going to buy knives and replace them when they get dull, get the ones that stay sharper longer.
posted by danny the boy at 11:25 AM on June 30, 2012


TheJoven: "The only reason to buy one of these hand made knives is to display status. That or everyone who makes 'custom' knives refuses to use modern technology."

Yeah but that presumes that automated industrial processes are optimized for quality, and not cost. Which is exactly the opposite of my experience with every mass-produced product.
posted by danny the boy at 11:26 AM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


I just noticed in the video that the rivets on the handle are purely decorative. They're not even tight in holes in the tang. So not only is it expensive but it's got a shitty handle.
posted by TheJoven at 11:26 AM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Every one of these steps can be done better and more consistent with a machine.

Consistently, yes. But at least for shape, there's a, for lack of a better term, fluidity to good handmade knives that I don't see in the mass market ones I own.

From what I can see in the video, this knife doesn't have that kind of fluidity or grace, but really nice ones absolutely do. And while I guess there's no reason a machine-made knife couldn't have that (and some undoubtedly do), the ones I own and have used absolutely don't.

There's also something aesthetically pleasing about seeing the imperfections and differences that come from an artisanal process, though there's nothing functional or dysfunctional about that -- it's the difference between having a photograph of a painting and having a painting, I suppose. Something totally irrational that we as people sometimes care about.
posted by Forktine at 11:33 AM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


You can start small, and work your way up.
posted by StickyCarpet at 11:37 AM on June 30, 2012


I mean, if that's really how you want to make your knives, then by all means go ahead. I, on the other hand, forge all my kitchen knives from the horns of unicorns I've slain with my bare hands. The exception is my steak knives, of course. For those it's nothing but the finest in Sasquatch teeth.
posted by item at 11:47 AM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


My kitchen knives are made of diamond but then I had to buy a sharpener made of ultradiamond and it doesn't exist yet.
posted by sixohsix at 11:50 AM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


item - thanks for the laugh. And your toothpicks are made from the tooth of a narwhal, no doubt?
posted by nostrada at 11:50 AM on June 30, 2012


If you wish to make a knife from scratch, you must first invent the universe.
posted by modernserf at 12:43 PM on June 30, 2012


did we already get the post on making shanks from toilet paper?
posted by mwhybark at 12:52 PM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


I, on the other hand, forge all my kitchen knives from the horns of unicorns I've slain with my bare hands

I just glare hatefully at my food products and they fall apart into neatly diced cubes rather than face my wrath.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:05 PM on June 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


Ceramic blades get the best of both worlds: mass produced templates that are sharpened by master bladesmith hands.
posted by carsonb


I stupidly ran my ceramic knife through a hand-held sharpener, now it has an irregularly serrated and fractured blade. I hope a master bladesmith can fix it.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:15 PM on June 30, 2012


Item: Sasquatch teeth are fine for everyday, but I prefer beholder chitin inlaid with mithril wire work for my formal dining set.
posted by Grimgrin at 1:16 PM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


For the majority of people out there I think ceramic knives are the best solution.

Is it still (or was it ever) true that ceramic knives, when dropped, have a way of instantly becoming useless?
posted by kenko at 1:26 PM on June 30, 2012


They say he carved it himself...from a bigger knife.
posted by DJ 3000 at 1:30 PM on June 30, 2012 [2 favorites]


This guy's knives are not necessarily the best I can afford, and there are some really good fairly cheap knives out there, but I am not really getting the "automation is best" approach.

My guess is that he does it the way he does because he doesn't have access to a forge (and/or the training to use it), but he does have access to a machine shop.


In this case, the "automation is best" approach is very likely to apply, because the hand made approach really doesn't add any value to the process other than the status of claiming it's hand made. What's shown in the video is almost exactly what is done in the factory, even if it's done in mass numbers, rather than one at a time by one person. The reason the factory strives to eliminate the hand work is because it is wasteful and results in a worse product.

Keep in mind that knives are extremely mature technology. The metallurgy, ergonomics and aesthetics involved are very well known, and they are devices very easily made in large numbers very inexpensively. High quality knives that will last for generations can be found starting at under $10. Still, there's a demand for expensive, hand made knives, even if the superiority is subjective.
posted by 2N2222 at 1:31 PM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


Craftsmanship is wonderful. How It's Made is wonderful. Watching How's It's Made to Groove Salad is Nerdvana.
posted by nickrussell at 1:37 PM on June 30, 2012


I would say some of the lack of quality in the mass-produced knife is due to demand for durable stainless steel, which doesn't take (or keep) a very good edge, but can be absentmindedly run through the dishwasher or left dirty on the cutting board for hours or days. I have some cheap food-service knives like that, and they work, but there is no joy in them. I have several handmade Japanese knives (not especially fancy ones, not $100 back when I bought them) which are cruder looking, but far superior in use. But they require more care and feeding.
posted by blacksmithtb at 1:40 PM on June 30, 2012


This was oddly relaxing to watch.
posted by desjardins at 2:02 PM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


At first I found it weird that one could speak of a knife having "no joy" in it. But then I remembered there are people who think a Kindle is a substitute for an actual book and I understood.
posted by Justinian at 2:29 PM on June 30, 2012 [3 favorites]


When you hold the same knife in your hand, 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, the little things start to matter.
posted by Evstar at 2:32 PM on June 30, 2012


Frankly, I don't know that there's any pragmatic reason for any knives other than Victorinox. I own more expensive, forged knives—kept sharp—and yet my hand goes to the Victorinox chef's knife and paring knives more often than not.
posted by sonic meat machine at 2:41 PM on June 30, 2012


Well, I own a few Victorinox knives and they don't take an edge as easily as others I own made from different steels. I won't say it has to to with how expensive the knife is, because because I have some $5 carbon steel knives that take and keep an edge better than a Henkels or Wusthof will, but more expensive knives to tend to be made from better steel.
posted by Evstar at 2:56 PM on June 30, 2012


Is it still (or was it ever) true that ceramic knives, when dropped, have a way of instantly becoming useless?
posted by kenko


Not exactly useless, but my ceramic paring knife lost the tip when I dropped it.
posted by StickyCarpet at 3:06 PM on June 30, 2012


There are two kinds of kitchen knife, the cheap bendy stamped ones (cut from a flat sheet of steel) and the much nicer forged knives which have a 3d shape with a noticeably thicker bit near the handle called the bolster. This guy's knife is basically a handmade "stamped" knife, i.e. it's a really expensive cheap knife.

When buying knives check there is a bolster, and if it's a Henkel check the logo has two stick figures on it, not just one.
posted by w0mbat at 4:25 PM on June 30, 2012


The thing about putting an edge on steels is, well, O1, which is your basic oil hardening steel (you use oil - often old motor oil as your quench medium) will take a much finer edge much more easily than A2 air hardening steel. But, A2 will hold it's edge far longer than O1 will, so while you may never get your A2 knife or tool quite as sharp as an O1 blade and it will take more work to get it there, unless you are religious about sharpening your tools as soon as they start to dull, the A2 blade is likely to spend more time being sharper than the O1 blade will under use.

The thing is, while yeah, every one of these steps can be done better and more consistent by a machine, that's almost inevitably not what happens. Instead, quality keeps getting ratcheted down by people who can't grasp that there is some connection between the quality of their product and their bottom line. (That said, Wal-Mart is making money hand over fist so maybe I'm too idealistic for my own good.)
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 4:33 PM on June 30, 2012


I won't claim to know a lot about bladesmithing, but I know for sure that my Japanese chef's and petty knives were hand-forged and do not have a bolster. I also know that my MAC knives are pressed and not forged, but they perform exceptionally. The thinner profile is a feature.
posted by Evstar at 4:43 PM on June 30, 2012


Oh I meant Henckels not Henkel. Well unless you're buying a German WW2 bomber.
posted by w0mbat at 4:50 PM on June 30, 2012


Forged knives are not better than knives made by stock removal (ground from typically flat steel). They are just made differently.

Bolsters can be used on either a forged knife or knives ground from flat stock.

Bendy knives are bendy because they are ground thin, not because they are stamped.

The thing is, while yeah, every one of these steps can be done better and more consistent by a machine, that's almost inevitably not what happens. Instead, quality keeps getting ratcheted down by people who can't grasp that there is some connection between the quality of their product and their bottom line.

The thing about knives is that quality and costs can be ratcheted down quite a lot, and you'll still have a good knife, because knives are not complicated things. Price goes up with the amount of hand work that goes in. Theoretically, quality should go up correspondingly. But that does not translate into an objectively better knife, even when the steel and handle materials are exotic. Once a knife is made from good enough steel, ground and assembled into a good product, a process that is very inexpensive to do in mass numbers, the real returns gained from hand crafting, and even using premium materials, diminish astoundingly rapidly.

Unless a steel knife edge has suffered damage, kitchen knife sharpening is trivially easy. Sometimes even moreso for inexpensive kitchen knives tempered for durability over edge holding, which are less prone to suffering chips than fancier steels kept in harder states.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:25 PM on June 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


"I just glare hatefully at my food products and they fall apart into neatly diced cubes rather than face my wrath."

Fortunate for you, considering your demilitarized status. But those food products don't know that, then, do they?
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:50 PM on June 30, 2012


I recently made my first knife this way. I used an old circular saw blade, since I didn't have any high-carbon steel sitting around. Of course, annealing the saw blade wasand trying, since I had just a torch. Will use a forge next time. I also haven't got a belt sander, so my shaping was much rougher. Next time I'll have to find a sander...

The friend I made it for is quite fond of it in spite of its many imperfections

For me, the reasons to make my own knives (and other things) are threefold:

I can use reclaimed materials. Both the blade and the beautiful hardwood for the handle were dumpstered.

I enjoy making things. As others have noted, it allows a nice combination of thoughtful designing and zen-like work-trance.

Finally, I'm just not keen on mass production: When things are produced with greater efficiency, they tend to be used (and wasted, as noted above) more.

TheJoven: My handle is actually secured by the rivets, though adding epoxy is a good idea. The rivets in the video probably do absorb forces on the handle in some directions, though. In fact, almost all the force will be in the plane of the blade, which is where the rivets will do their work.
posted by sibilatorix at 12:30 AM on July 1, 2012


Man, if I made a knife from scratch I would be cutting everything with it, from food to paper. I don't think I would have it too sharp, I should not be trusted with sharp knifes tbh.
posted by craig222 at 5:04 AM on July 2, 2012


Or in prision, this would be known as a shiv.
posted by stormpooper at 6:29 AM on July 2, 2012


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