What’s better: forged knives or stamped knives? This is a debate as old as time — at least, it’s been going on since I started making knives.
If you want the short answer, it’s really a question of the heat treatment and the selection of steel.
Forged knives are typically considered higher quality, whether they deserve that title or not. Most people simply assume handmade items are higher quality.
But that isn’t always true. Take jewelry, for example: A factory-made necklace will usually turn out better than a custom necklace made by someone with little to no experience. The same is true with knives.
So, should you buy a forged vs. a stamped knife? Or a stamped vs. a forged knife? Let’s break down the debate so you can make the most educated purchase.
What Are Forged Knives?
A forged knife is made by taking a piece of steel, heating it, and manipulating it into the shape and form the end user or maker desires.
In my opinion, forging is the most efficient way to utilize material — you can stretch the steel in any direction you want. Forging also cuts down on waste because you’re not grinding or cutting steel and throwing that excess material away. That’s why craftsmen forged so many things in the old days; they had to make the most out of the small amount of material they had.
Forging also allows you to make unconventional shapes. If you want to make an integral knife with an integral guard, for example, forging is the way to do it.
Even outside the realm of knives, how do you think medieval blacksmiths turned a long, flat bar of steel into a wagon wheel? By forging. Forging allowed them to join two pieces of steel, weld the ends together, and create a solid circle.
Forged Knives: Pros and Cons
I think forged blades are more enticing to buyers because they make people feel nostalgic. A forged blade just feels like it has more heart and soul. When I hold a forged blade, I know the maker put his blood, sweat, and tears into it, which often makes it more valuable than something a machine stamped out.
But forging demands a lot of experience. It can be difficult for a new bladesmith to forge a high-quality knife. Inexperienced forgers can damage the steel by overheating or underheating it. And hammering steel while it’s too cold, for example, can create microcracks in the structure.
Forging requires a lot of equipment people may not have on hand. It’s also very hard, physical work. Makers often prefer stock removal just because it’s a lot easier on the body. (We’ll get to that soon.)
What Are Stamped Knives and Stock Removal Knives?
Stamped knives are made using a die in the shape of the blade. A fineblanking machine takes that die and stamps a blade out in a single, accurate motion. At that point, there’s very little need to do any grinding or sanding around the edges.
Then you have stock removal knives. Stock removal is widely known among custom knife makers as a way of cutting or grinding a blade shape out from a piece of flat steel.
No individual knife makers really have the ability to fineblank or stamp out a blade, so it’s more common for a custom knife maker to use a bandsaw cutout around a template or pattern. Or, they might use a belt grinder to grind a template or pattern to create the shape that would otherwise be stamped.
Stamped Knives: Pros and Cons
Fineblanking is a quick and efficient process. It requires little to no labor and provides a high rate of repeatability, minimizing human error.
On the other hand, fineblanking offers limited options in terms of steel thickness and alloy selection, as the pressing action of fineblanking can create stress in the wrong type of steel. Fineblanking is also very costly and, quite frankly, impossible for individual knife makers.
Also, while it’s not something we can measure, I find that the lack of human involvement in the fineblanking process makes for a heartless blade.
Stock Removal Knives: Pros and Cons
While fineblanking and forging might be out of reach for newer and/or individual bladesmiths, stock removal is easy to learn. An inexperienced knife maker can easily grind a blade into the correct shape.
Also convenient for the new knife maker is that the stock removal process starts with a fine, flat piece of steel. Forging, on the other hand, often starts with material that’s crooked and difficult to straighten.
Stock removal also allows for a wider selection of steel, and there’s less risk of overheating.
Of course, stock removal has downsides. It’s limited in steel selection. From the standpoint of size, you need to start with a piece of steel large enough for the knife blank you’re making. Unlike in forging, you can’t use stock removal to stretch a small piece of material.
Stock removal is also a dirty process that requires more equipment than forging or stamping — belt grinders and bandsaws, for instance.
How Does MKC’s Process Compare?
So, how is MKC’s manufacturing process different from forging and stamping?
Here at MKC, we laser our blades, which is a combination of fineblanking and stock removal. Lasering allows for repeatable, high-quality results, and we can laser thinner blades than anyone can fineblank. There’s no limit to what type of steel we can use.
Lasering also has a very minimal impact on the steel, so there’s no risk of damaging it or overheating it.
While we use lasers to cut, we use machines to grind, and we hand assemble and hand sharpen everything that comes through our warehouse. Our overall process is a combination of production and hands-on work.
Someone who wants a completely handmade blade may not be satisfied by our process, but it’s a great combination of efficiency and accuracy. It makes the most of the manufacturing process, but adds hand finishing as the cherry on top.
Forged vs. Stamped Knives: Final Thoughts
Forging, stamping, and stock removal all have unique pros and cons, but ultimately, MKC’s process is the best way to put great knives into customers’ hands.
There’s simply no other way to meet the huge demand for high-quality, American-made blades.