As far as I can see there are two main ways that custom or handmade knives are referred to. They are “stock removal” and “forged blades” or knives made by bladesmiths. But to be accurate both types normally require stock removal to some degree. There is some dividing line between the two types, at the Blade Show in Atlanta these two types are separated from each other in the room as if to avoid contamination. Why this division exists within the custom knife world I don’t know but imagine that it has to do with egos, jealousies, insecurities, old hard feelings, etc.
When it comes to cutting, slicing, or chopping anything that most of us cut, slice, or chop, there are probably plenty of reasonably priced factory made knives that will do the job just fine. The fact is that relatively expensive custom or handmade knives are not needed by most of us to perform the tasks we normally use knives for. We don’t need them, we just want them.
Forging a blade with hammer and anvil
Most of the custom knives that I have purchased over the years have been made by bladesmiths, and recently I began wondering what is it that draws collectors to the forged blade? I suppose that a lot, maybe most of it is the romance and historical aspect of the forging process. Perhaps the collector thinks that he is getting something that requires more skill or that more work is involved. Maybe he is attracted to Damascus or laminated steel. The collector might believe that the forged blade is a better blade when it comes to performance.
As to the last sentence in the above paragraph. I don’t know of any published, scientific tests performed by an independent laboratory that show a forged blade to be a better blade than a stock removal blade when it comes to cutting or edge holding. Claims are easy to make, proof is apparently not so easy to offer. Besides, the majority of expensive custom knives receive very little hard use if any use at all, and this fact is not unknown to makers.
When it comes to the amount of skill or work involved in creating the blade itself, I would say certainly that more work is involved because the forging process creates another step or steps, and it’s fair to say that additional skills are required to properly accomplish the forging phase. When it comes to Damascus steel, San Mai, or the carbon/stainless laminates that are popular today even more skill is required on the part of the bladesmith.
Grinding a forged blade (stock removal)
Collectors or users should probably keep in mind that most bladesmiths do their own heat treating and the better, more experienced among them probably know what they are doing. Often times though the maker has very little in the way of accurate temperature controls in his shop or a lot of experience under their belt. The processes of forging, laminating, or making pattern welded steels, and then heat treating them offers opportunities for things to go wrong. All knife makers including bladesmiths come in all levels of skill, experience, and aptitude.