Is a hand forged knife a better knife?
We are often asked if our knives are hand forged. To answer simply, no, they are not. We utilize a process called stock removal. In short we purchase large sheets of machined steel from either a mill or steel supplier and then we cut the steel down to the shape of the blades we have designed. Once cut down we heat treat the knife and then utilize a high speed grinder to thin the blade in order to actually make it a functioning knife.
This is in contrast to a hand forged knife in which a chunk of steel is highly heated and then hammered into the rough shape of the knife being made. From there a maker will use the same stock removal process as mentioned above.
So the question is...is a hand forged knife a better knife?
Most people we talk with generally seem to believe that a hand forged knife is a higher quality knife. In some cases, we would agree. The benefit of forging steel includes better grain flow which generally improves toughness. We use machined steel which has one directional grain flow and that leaves grain ends exposed and possibly more open to cracking from stress. The pictures below give you a better understanding of what is meant by this.
Forged Steel Machined Steel
*Pictures courtesy of Scot Forge
In this case, the forged steel may have an edge on machined steel but that assumes that the knifemaker, after forging, doesn't expose these grain edges when stock removal occurs. Further, the heat treatment of steel (which occurs after forging) generally relaxes most grain particles so the differences from this are minimal.
Another benefit to forging is that it should eliminate any internal voids or air/gas gaps in the steel. This is especially important when dealing with older metals that may have been made without some of the more modern technologies in steel mills that have helped eliminate these flaws.
With all that said, it must be noted that ultimately the quality of the blade when hand forging is involved will depend more on the person forging the blade than the steel itself. In far too many instances, we have seen hand forged blades fall short in quality compared to a machined blade because the process was not done correctly. Delamination of steel as well as cracks and voids can be common in poorly forged knives. Dare I say it...I think that in many cases forging a blade actually increases ones chances of screwing it up.
When forging, it's not just the hammering of the steel that matters, its the heat cycling and timing of the process that really make a fine blade. When it's done correctly, I think an argument can be made that a forged knife perhaps does have an edge over machined steel. And lets just say it...there is something very enduring about a blade that was hand hammered and formed to shape.
BUT, and its a big BUT...I feel the differences are fairly minimal. I think with the right heat treatment a machined blade can go head to head with a forged knife and, aside from esthetics, be very close in performance if not equal or greater.
The quality of metal available on the market today is incredible and in most cases I think it's very hard to improve upon what steel mills are producing directly today. There may be some who vehemently oppose this view and that's fine. Were always open to listen, but as it stands now, we really don't see significant difference in the performance of a forged knife compared to a knife cut from modern steel stock.
At NORA, we choose not to forge as the time involved just doesn't make sense from a production standpoint. That's not to say that we don't want to. ( In fact, we are working on producing a handful of specialty forged knives next year. ) Forged knives are a labor of love and, accordingly, I think that is why they are so enduring to people. They take time, they take patience and they take skill. Making a knife from machined stock also takes skill but it eliminates a very tedious part of the process and allows us to keep our price point down for our customers.
If you are interested in this subject, below are a few articles we found trolling the inter web that had interesting information on the matter.