Choosing the right knife is important, whether you're experienced or just starting out. Choosing a blade that's too small can be frustrating, while buying one that's too big might not give you enough control. Take the opportunity to have a knife custom made for you and your needs!
So how do you know what size and shape of knife is best for your needs? You'll want to consider several things before making a decision:
- Purpose: What are you using it for?
- Type of blade: How long and what shape for the blade? Decorations or pattern welded?
- Type of tang: Full, hidden or through tang?
- Handle design and material: Comfort and handle length? Guard and/or pommel? Decoration and look? Any preferred material?
- Price point: Traditionally made? The best value for my money? Do I want to invest in my knife that I will have for a lifetime and even pass down to the next generation or do I want to go with less expensive models?
If you have any questions about or concerns with the design process, I am always happy to help!
This knife got a laminated blade with a through tang.
What kind of metal should a knife be made of?
I am mainly forging 3 different types of blades: Mono steel, laminated (san-mai) or pattern welded (damascus). You'll probably want to know the difference between mono steel, laminated blades and pattern welded.
- Mono steel means that the entire blade is made of one metal.
- Laminated means that there's more than one kind of metal in the blade, usually 3 layers: Mild steel with a high carbon steel core.
- Pattern welded blades are made out of 2 different types of steel or more. The different types of steels are forge welded into one piece which is then folded several times so it creates layers. After the blade is forged it will be etched in acid and each metal in the blade will react differently to the acid. This will create a pattern as the layers will have different colors. There is no limit to how many layers, it can be 2 or 2 million. But the "normal" range is 60-180 layers.
As mono steel knives and pattern welded knives are made out of high carbon steel, which is harder than mild steel it can be more difficult to sharpen than a laminated blade. Laminated blades have a core of high carbon steel and a layer of softer metal on the outside, making them tough, strong and easier to maintain sharpness than the other two options. The laminated blades are also more traditional as this was the way all tools were made until modern times.
What do the different “full tang”, “hidden tang” and “hidden through tang” mean?
A blade will also need a tang to mount the handle on. There are mainly three different types, full-, hidden- and hidden through tang. Full tang extends the full length of the grip portion of a handle. The handle or "scales" are attached with rivets. Hidden Tang has the steel embedded into the handle material and all you see is the handle itself. This construction often requires that the handle is glued on to ensure it does not come off during use. Hidden Through Tang is the same as hidden tang but runs through the handle and the pommel as well and can be riveted at the end so no glue is needed. The advantage with not using glue as attachment is that the handle can be replaced.
- Full tang: Strong but a bit heavier
- Hidden tang: Light and more affordable but glued
- Hidden through tang: Light, strong, traditional but for some handle material this tang can be time consuming.
This knife got a laminated blade with a full tang
Which blade shape should I choose for my knife?
The blade shape determines how the knife performs and what it’s best used for. Blade shapes can vary dramatically from one type of knife to another and so does the thickness—some blades are very thin, while others are thick and sturdy. The tip can be straight or drop down. The cutting edge and bevel also look different from knife to knife depending on use.
While there is no single perfect knife that suits every need perfectly (in fact I think this would be impossible), there are some general rules we can follow when choosing between multiple options:
- For lighter and precision work a thinned and narrower blade might be more useful
- For heavier (chopping and batoning) use a thicker blade might be preferred
- Wood carvers might prefer a straighter edge.
- The drop point blade is a popular choice for many hunting and EDC knives.
How important is edge geometry for knives?
"Edge geometry" refers to the shape of the knife's cutting edge. Depending on how it is finished, an edge can be straight or curved, thick or thin and have one or multiple bevels.
The first thing that may come to mind when you think about edge geometry is sharpness—and indeed this is important. But there are other factors that affect how well your knife works for you:
- Edge retention—how long the blade stays sharp before needing to be re-sharpened
- The amount of force required when using it.
Edge stability—the ability to keep the edge in contact with the cutting surface while cutting without deflecting or rolling away.
The more acute the angle, the easier it is for your knife to cut through. However, this also means that you need to be more careful about how much pressure you use when cutting because an acute edge is not as durable as a steeper. A steeper angle will stay sharp for longer and can take a heavier use but won't cut as well.
Even though modern steel is good we cannot have both. The answer to this question depends on what the knife will be used for.
There are mainly two different bevel grids that will affect the retention and stability: Convex grind or scandi (flat) grind. Convex is stronger but doesn't cut as well as a scandi grind. For a chopping axe I usually make a convex edge while on a whittling knife I make a scandi grind which giver more stability and cuts better.
Edge angle is also important. There is no rules that need to be strictly followed but a guide is:
- Food: 15-20 degrees
- Woodwork: 22-27 degrees
- Chopping: 30 + degrees
A knife can have one or more bevels. The most common today is two bevels. But sometimes just one is preferred, the draw knife is one example. In other cases, let's say a bushcraft knife, that shall be tough and have a thick spine but in order to save some weight we can make more four bevels for example.
This knife got a pattern welded blade (128 layers) an a hidden tang
Does HRC (Rockwell hardness) matter for knives? What about the tang, logo, ferrule and guard?
The HRC is a measure of how hard the steel will be, which means it can determine how long your edge will last. The common range for HRC is 58-62, but there are different opinions on this topic and some people prefer much higher or lower numbers. In general, if you want your knife to survive as long as possible, then you should keep it in the 58-62 range. A knife with high HRC is harder and stays sharper for longer but is more likely to chip and more difficult to sharpen. A softer blade is tougher but needs to be sharpened more often.
Remember to think about the use of your knife before you buy it.
If you want to be sure your knife does what you need it to, make sure you know exactly why you're buying one in the first place. It's easy to get caught up in the excitement of finding a new hobby or interest and start buying all kinds of gear without having any idea what it's for.
What is a good size of the blade for whatever task(s) you plan on using it for? How am I going to use the knife and are there other details I want to customize?
Since everything is made from scratch you got the opportunity to customize and get the knife just as you want it. And if you want advice in the designing process I am here to help you! Just contact me here.
Some examples on how I use to think when designing a knife:
- Wood carving knife: Wood carving knives needs to be sharp and will be sharpened often so a laminated blade is good. Hidden or hidden through tang as it is used for relatively light tasks. A narrow, quite thin and quite straight blade with a scandi grind for optimal control.
- Bushcraft knife: Will be used in heavy work so a laminated, drop point blade with a through or full tang. But, if it shall be used with a fire steel a mono steel is needed. A pattern welded blade might have an advantage as the multiple layers will create a "micro saw blade" at the edge which can be good for an outdoor knife. A convex grind and a bit thicker blade to make it stand out in heavy use. A guard on the handle can be a good idea for safety.
- Ritual knife: Besides being useful this knife also might be a decor so a pattern welded blade will add a bit extra. Light use so a low angle scandi grind with hidden tang will be fine
- Kitchen knife: This is also both practical and a decor so a pattern welded blade will fit the kitchen knife well. If it's only for practical use, a mono or laminated blade will perform as good. light use most of the time so a hidden tang. The blade can also be a bit harder on this one. Shape and geometry varies depending on use.
This knife got a mono steel blade and a hidden tang.
We hope this guide has given you a better idea of what to look for when buying a knife. Every choice usually comes with a pro or con, and there is no "one fits all" knife. But we have highlighted some of the things you might want to consider when designing and ordering the knife you need. And if you need help you can contact me and I will help you.