Keith Nix Knives FREE Learning!!
What Makes A Good Custom Knife? How to Design a Great Kitchen Knife
THE STEELS-- I like thin knives. All other things being equal thin knives cut better, feel sharp longer, and are easier to sharpen when dull. Regardless of the steel the knife is made from, these statements remain true. Because I make thin kitchen knives, the steels I choose and the heat treat protocols I apply must result in a matrix of carbides and ferrite that are tough enough to support thin knives and acute sharpening angles. Due to these requirements, AEB-L is my stainless steel of choice for kitchen blades. It is the toughest stainless I have seen test results for, offers high hardness and extremely fine grain structure, has good machinability, polishes well, is easy to sharpen, has good stain resistance, and doesn't break the bank when restocking. For a carbon steel in the kitchen, I offer 52100, 80CRV2, or 26C3. These are relatively simple steels with low alloying and high carbon. They have a fine grain and carbide structure, offer outstanding toughness, high hardness, ease of grinding, sharpening, and machining, and a comparably low restock cost.
THE HANDLE-- It always feels good when you pick up a knife and it falls into the curves of your hand as it it were made for you. I build my handles from stabilized wood, G10, or Micarta, in a pattern similar to a drink bottle. These handles have no straight edges other than at the spine, have a light swell in the middle to fit in your palm, and two smaller areas to guide in placement of your front and rear fingers. They are sanded as high as 3000 grit and finished with a blend of oils and varnishes developed for gun stocks. Handles can be customized to fit your hand and style of holding! PRO TIP: The finish on your handle will withstand many hand washings. It WILL NOT survive a single trip through the watery Hell of the dishwasher! Please hand wash and dry your fine knives! Also don't use any scrubber or oil/chemical you wouldn't use on your best piece of furniture.
THE PROFILE-- The profile is the outside dimensions of the knife we're making. Profile includes the amount of "belly" in the edge, how the edge and spine meet at the tip, the shape of the handle, and the overall height of the blade. All these factors have to play well together to make a knife that is practical, functional, and easy on the eye. If you like to rock your knife when chopping, you'll need enough belly to allow that to happen. If you chop by lifting your knife from the cutting board (like me), you probable prefer a bit more "flat" toward the heel to accommodate the guillotine chop!
THE EDGE-- The edge is the business side of the profile, where the actual cutting takes place. And there are literally dozens of ways to put the final edge on a knife. The method I employ most resembles the fifth in the picture to the left, the compound bevel, though my edges are far more acute than those shown and there are three angles. The first angle forms the "cheeks" of the blade itself, and is usually 2-3 degrees, depending on the height and thickness of the blade. This angle extends from the spine to an edge thickness of 0-.005 and the heel, and .005-.010 at the tip to provide a little more strength. The second angle down toward the edge is 10 to 11 degrees per side, and forms an apex at the edge. The final angle is 14-15 degrees per side, applied by hand on a fixed angle sharpener, and is finished to 2000 grit, stropped to shaving keenness, and delivered to you. So to summarize, the steel, profile, handle, and bevel angles must all work together and support your slicing or chopping efforts. The steel must be tough and strong enough to support the thinner edge geometry of a kitchen slicer. The handle needs to fit the hand and provide a firm grip. Finally, the profile has to be functional as well as eye pleasing! See my FREE Learning articles and posts about "Sharpening" to learn more about that subject. In the future we'll discuss hardness, weight, balance, specific thicknesses, surface finishes, and more. Next in the series:
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