Hand-forged v.s. "Machine-forged" Knives, What's the Difference?
April 15, 20214 min read
When customers ask me for a good daily knife, I often recommend the Haruyuki Kuma and the Tojiro DP. I love these knives! They are made out of exceptionally high-quality steel. Their performance ranks among the best knives in the world. They look gorgeous. They are super consistent. They have an extremely reasonable price point. What’s not to love?
But... are they handmade? That’s often the first question raised about some of these lines. What does it mean when we use that phrase? What makes a knife handmade? It’s actually pretty tough to define. A lot of folks might say that handmade knives need to be “Hammer Forged” - that the blade needs to be pounded into shape by a blacksmith - but is this the only kind of knife that is truly Handmade?
Some machine-forged knive, some hand-forged. Can you tell the difference?
One could easily argue either side, but the truth is, there are a lot of viable ways to make great knives. If you thumb through the pages of The Knifenerd Guide to Japanese Knives, or watch Springhammer, or even just read some of our other blogs, it becomes clear that what we're really focused on is quality craftsmanship. We’re passionate about high-quality knives that perform very well, hold edges nicely, and speak to their users on a level that goes beyond stats and figures - and make no mistake - there are many ways to make this happen!
Roller forging is a technique utilized by the aforementioned folks at Haruyuki. By adopting modern technologies, they can transpose a great deal of the virtues our blacksmiths adhere to into a much more streamlined process. How does this work? Imagine a pasta dough roller with a hand crank. It works by having two cylinders spinning in tandem that roll out your dough into a thin sheet. Now imagine a tool that does this with hot steel billets... Presto, you’ve got a thin, tapered, and forged piece of Japanese steel with which one can produce a kickass knife (just like Nonna used to make)! The actual shape (santoku, gyuto, etc.) is then punched out of this rolled billet using a big cookie-cutter-esque machine to ensure consistency. From that point on, the knives are entirely finished by hand. Finishing, engraving, handle-fitting, sharpening, and quality control are all done the old-fashioned way, exactly how a blacksmith would. The only real difference is the forging method.
A roller forging machine. It looks just a little different from your nonna’s pasta roller but works using the same principles.
Forging knife steel using this method is actually one of the most similar methods to hammer forging steel on an empirical level. The biggest difference is that it requires much less manual labor. Less manual labor means less time. Less time means less money. Simple economics! We consider these roller forged knives to be some of the absolute best when it comes to getting some serious bang for your buck.
Knife Stamping is easily the simplest way to make a quality knife, as long as it’s done with precision and high-quality materials. Tojiro really stands out as one of the best in the business. Their no-nonsense and hands-on approach to this method has garnered them some well-earned respect from knife nerds, chefs, and home cooks looking for incredible value.
Tojiro will typically buy steel that is already pressed into sheets and often already pre-laminated into layers, ready to be punched out. Again, using a cookie-cutter-like machine, they’ll cut the steel into the required shape. From there, things get pretty interesting! Have you ever been to the dry-cleaner? Imagine that instead of coats and pants on hangers on a track, they’ve got knives. And imagine that the destination the track leads to is, first, a gigantic forge where the blades are heated, and then on to a giant quenching area where the blades are cooled. Get the idea? Man, my analogies are amazing!
The type of knife-stamping machine used by many manufacturers.
After the knives finish their mystical quest of extreme temperature change, they’re ready to be finished - again - by hand. When most people imagine a “knife factory”, images of robotic arms on an assembly line often spring to mind. But this is Tojiro, not Toyota. The Tojiro factory is buzzing with people. The knives are ground and machined by hand, the handles are fitted and polished by hand, engraving, sharpening, quality analysis - all done by hand. The result? In my opinion, the best stamped knives in the world. The Tojiro DP series checks virtually every box in terms of what I want my knife to do and what I expect from a knife. It’s not fancy, it has no bells and whistles, but it gets the job done with flying colours.
So are these knives hand-made? Yes! I don’t think that one can deny the level of craftsmanship that those who produce these knives display. These craftspeople have simply chosen to embrace modern techniques to make exceptionally high-quality knives for a great price. They’re also able to produce quality blades in high quantities - hammer forged knives are super cool, but they’re very labor-intensive. It’s not always easy to get exactly what you want whenever you want it!