Small custom folding knife by Dan Warren ABS Mastersmith

Small custom folding knife by Dan Warren ABS Mastersmith

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Forge Finishes

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Today it is in vogue for bladesmiths to leave portions of the blade with a rough finish as left from the forging process or to use intentionally created roughness. These “unfinished” areas can be a wonderful design element when used by a skilled maker, but all too often these unfinished areas on a blade look to me to be exactly what they are, unfinished. Sometimes makers create special texturing hammers or dies that give the surface a pleasing appearance, other times, not so much.

I have seen knives with blades done in this manner touted as being “working grade”, “user grade”, or some other creative name for unfinished looking knives. I may be wrong but I think that a rough finish on a working knife made from carbon steel is just asking mister rust to start in all those little rough places. If rust does show up it would be harder to clean the blade I would think. Also it seems to me that it would be much harder to clean the blade of blood, grease, etc. after dressing game, fish, or preparing food. Pair a rough blade finish with a cord wrapped handle and you have lots of little bitty bacteria friendly places.

A knife maker suggested to me that perhaps the forge scale left in the depressions of the rough areas might protect those areas from rusting. I suppose that is possible, I don’t know, also I wonder if the forge scale will stay there on a knife that is used. I once knew a blacksmith that kept his fresh from the supplier steel stored outside because he said it rusted and that removed the mill scale.

Certainly I won’t go so far as to call all smiths that use a forge finish lazy or accuse them of taking short cuts to a finished product, but I do think it applies in some instances. No doubt as time goes by areas of the blade or its fittings textured or left as forged will continue to be used as design elements by skillful smiths. Knives with areas of “forge finish” by the less talented will doubtfully command much respect or many dollars.

Copyright Bill North 2013