Hand Forged or Ground from Flat Stock?                  <back to Shop Talk articles list
Which is a better knife?

Woodcarvers are on a constant search for the perfect carving knife. In that search, they sometimes ask me which is better, a forged knife or a ground stock removal knife?

First, some definitions:
Forged: heated and shaped from one shape to another with a hammer and anvil or power hammer close to final shape and then heat treated.
Stock removal: ground to shape from a flat piece of steel and then heat treated.

My answer may sound diplomatic and even evading a clear answer but here goes.

Metallurgically, neither is better than the other.

There are bad handforged knives and terrible stock removal knives that would not even make a good butter knife.

Staying within the realm of woodcarving I will try to explain my position. Each knife is the product of the knifemakers skill in different processes in design, materials, and heat treatment.

Design
Each wood carving knife made today is a combination of several factors in just blade design; low cutting angle, edge geometry, wide blade, thick or thin spine, long or short. Blade shape and size for the style of carving. Comfort of the handle, Finely finished handle or raw wood. Handle style, long, short, fat, skinny, square, oval or round.

Materials
O1 tool steel, W1 tool steel, M2 high speed tool steel (sorry this does not mean that you can carve faster with this steel) this in my opinion, makes little difference.

A bad knifemaker can ruin a perfect piece of expensive steel. Excellent tools can and have been made from junk. I'm thinking of the Monks who carved elaborate panels using knives and gouges made from motorcycle spokes. The steel used is usually chosen for the convenience or personal taste of the knifemaker. The ease of heat treating, availability, price etc.

Heat Treatment
These are the processes that the knifemaker uses to make the steel he uses to produce specific characteristics. Flexibility, edge retention, toughness, and ease of finish.

There are a huge number of metallurgical processes that anyone can use to make a blade.

Multiple quenches, temperature temper cycling, salt pot tempering (dipping in molten salt), cryogenic cycling, (freezing a blade at -300 degrees F in liquid nitrogen) differential edge quenching, quenching fluids, quenching temperature, interrupted quenches (quenching in oil first, then in water, brine or any other goop you can come up with)

These three aspects are only the beginning of what someone may use to declare a "perfect carving knife". The combination of all these factors produce what the user thinks is the perfect carving knife.
Pick the right tool for the carving at hand.

My point is that the perfect carving knife should be good for you in making your style of carving a joy. Whether that knife is forged or ground.
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