The main difference is in the method used to shape them. Most knives are made by what is called the “stock removal” method, a nice euphemism for simply grinding out a blade. These knives are made by taking a bar of steel and simply grinding away material until you have the desired shape and dimensions. With this method, the knife will not have the toughness and edge- holding ability of a hand-forged knife.
At Forged in Time, we hand-forge every blade. That means we heat the steel in a coal forge to an average temperature of 1900° Fahrenheit and shape it by striking it with a hammer against an anvil. This method does two things: it increases the toughness (shock absorbancy) and refines the grain structure. By hammering the steel, the grain structure of the steel is fractured and compacted, forming smaller carbides that improve the edge-holding ability of the blade.
We also do our own heat-treating. Heat-treating is what takes advantage of the carbon content of the steel. Steel is made of basically two elements: iron (ferrite) and carbon. A little bit of carbon goes a long way. For instance, in the 1095 steel that we use, it contains only 0.95% carbon. Not 95%, but 0.95%. This small amount of carbon spreads throughout the iron and imparts the ability to be hardened and resist wear. A piece of plain iron can be made into a knife, but without sufficient carbon and proper heat-treating it will not hold an edge and will bend and stay bent.
A knife blade must be hardened and then tempered. Tempering removes a certain amount of the hardness to impart toughness to the blade. A full-hard blade will hold an edge almost forever, but if you drop it or applied too much pressure, it would shatter like glass. The trick is maintaining the right proportion of hardness and toughness for the intended purpose of the blade. A kitchen knife is designed to slice and to be more efficient it should be able to keep its edge for a long time, thus a kitchen knife can be left a little harder than a hunting knife. A hunting knife is not only required to slice, but also chop and sometimes even stab. This requires a blade that is a little softer than a kitchen knife to handle the added stress. Most knives made today are heat-treated so that the entire blade has the same degree of hardness throughout.
At Forged in Time we use a special technique that allows us to provide a blade that is harder along the edge but softer at the back of the blade. This type of hard-soft heat-treating, when combined with hand-forging of the blade not only imparts better edge-holding but also toughness. The harder edge retains its cutting ability for longer and the soft back withstands shock better. All of this adds up to a better value, and a knife proudly made by hand in the U.S.A.