Do you want to up your cooking game dramatically? The secret might be in handmade kitchen knives! Handmade knives in Australia are growing in popularity as the blades that were once reserved for master chefs alone are becoming more available to budding chefs and even home cooks who have a passion for skilled knife work. Handmade, or custom knives in Australia are blades that are not made in a factory, but instead as the name suggests, made by hand by a bladesmith. Each knife is made to order and made with a particular cutting practice in mind (e.g. sushi, or steak), and a unique look that is custom to the knifemaker (this may be a handle style, or a blade decoration). A custom handmade knife is considered the crème de la crème of Australian knives and many of these bespoke blades are worth every penny for their beauty, usability and lifetime warranties.
What are the benefits of handmade knives?
There are many benefits of handmade knives when compared to factory produced blades. Unlike commercial knives that value production efficiency, custom knives are one-of-a-kind and each is made to prioritise cutting performance and crafted to ensure the longevity of the knife. Handmade knives tend to be much stronger and sharper than regular knives thanks to the forging process that gives the metal an extra hardness and edge. The toughness of the steel blade means they’re not flexible and won’t break under heavy use, not that you’ll need a heavy hand, because custom knives cut smoothly with little extra pressure.
How do handmade knives compare to Japanese blades?
Handmade knives are renowned, but their biggest competitors are Japanese blades which are also hailed by chefs for their sharpness. Japanese knives are the most popular knives on the market. Both handmade and Japanese knives use high quality carbon steels, but Japanese blades often have a ‘softer’ iron core in the middle, so unlike a standard custom knife that is a single piece of metal, it is two or more pieces. Of course there are Japanese knives made from a single piece of metal due to the high demand of Japanese made blades. Japanese blades are lighter and often only have one sharpened edge, while other blades have a double bevel. Both are excellent options when it comes to purchasing a good quality knife that will last for years to come.
What is the average price of a high quality handmade knife?
The better question is how long is a piece of string? Custom knives can vary a lot in price based on materials and how elaborate the design is. When it comes to kitchen knives designed for chef-grade usage, an average price for an Australian made bespoke knife is $1100. A base blade may cost you as little as $500 if you’re lucky, but the longer the knife and the more skilled the bladesmith, the more the price will go up. Given many custom knives include a lifetime warranty, they’re competitively priced against factory made chef knives which are around $100 for a quality blade and will need to be replaced every few years.
What are handmade knives made from?
Handmade knives are made from the highest quality materials. The blades are made from one type of steel or Damascus steel. Damascus steel is a steel of Syrian origins that is strong, durable and harder than stainless steel, but also supple enough to work into a blade. This makes it ideal for handmade knives and it’s a popular choice for knifemakers. Quality steel allows for sturdy knives that can hold an edge. The handles of handmade knives can be made from wood, bone, steel or other decorative materials such as marble. For cooking knives, wood is the most common.
How are handmade knives made?
There are several steps to making a handmade knife.
1. Design the blade and handle - depending on the function of the knife blade will need to be designed to cut to that function. Custom knives also have personalised handles that fit an individual's hand span. Designs can be as complex or as simple as desired.
2. Shape the steel - the design is then copied onto a sheet of steel and cut as close as possible to shape with a saw.
3. Grind the steel - the steel is then ground into a finer shape, a thinner blade and a sharp edge.
4. Heat and treat - when it’s shaped, it goes into the red hot kiln to be forged in oil and heated again in a 400 degree oven to set the steel and stop it from snapping.
5. Attach the handle - the handle of choice is then attached over the handle end of the steel.
6. Sharpen - finally, sharpen the blade until the edge is perfect.
Where to get handmade knives in Australia?
Handmade knives are growing in popularity in Australia. Here is a list of Australian Bladesmiths where you can purchase your own handmade knife.
Tharwa Valley is the home of many Master Bladesmiths. The forge has several workshops and offers courses in traditional crafts and knifemaking. They’re a one-stop-shop for those looking to invest and learn all about becoming a bladesmith.
How to get one: You can buy a knife online from the Tharwa Valley shop, or sign up to a class and make your own under their tutelage.
Bladesmith James Oatley is renowned for his craftsmanship that draws inspiration from many sources, such as his family's history in WW2 and the butcher trade. His specialty is Japanese style single-bevel knives and all his work has a unique look that makes it instantly recognisable as his.
How to get one: It can be tricky to get your hands on one of these knives but there are occasionally some available on the website, or you can email them and request a custom knife when their books are open.
Mert Tansu is a full time knife maker in the Hunter Valley who is so dedicated to his craft her even co-hosts a knife making podcast! Working as a chef for over 10 years gave him the skills to recognise a truly good blade and what each chef knife should do, which means his blades are highly sought after by chefs in Australia. Mert also won the best new knife maker at the 2016 Sydney Knife Show.
How to get one:Start saving because these are an investment piece! You can buy them online at the Tansu knife shop.
Chad Smith from Tristone Blades is a master in the Australian custom knife world. While the knives are stunning, Chad’s signature is the handles that are works of art in themselves. All are made to order, with his bread and butter being Japanese-style stainless steel blades.
How to get one:Chad only makes knives at set times and the books fill up fast. Email email@example.com or fill out the form on the website for details on available knives and wait times.
Metal Monkey Knives offers a range of bespoke, quality kitchen knives that are designed to the exact customers’ specifications. Bladesmith Tobias Bockholt has been making knives since 2014 and also offers workshops in his Victoria forge for those looking to learn.
Lottie DalzielLottie Dalziel is a 4AM riser and coffee-addict who lives and breathes the Better Homes and Gardens brand. When she isn't reading up on the latest trends in sustainability or discovering ways to upcycle almost anything, you can find her by the beach, cooking up a storm or adding to her abundant (some would say out of control) plant collection.