How to make a chef's knife

Published on May 14, 2018

Students learn to make knives by hand

The skill of making a knife is so ancient, it actually predates humankind.

The earliest tools that could be considered a knife were made of stone 3.3 million  years ago – before homo sapiens (or the entire homo genus) walked the earth. As humanity advanced, so too did our knife-making skills, from crude blades from the Bronze Age to modern mass-produced stainless steel chef’s knives found in most home kitchens.

Once a skill essential for survival, knife-making is now an alien process for the average Canadian. A handful of Edmontonians recently tried their hand at crafting their own knife as part of a 21-hour continuing education course at NAIT.

Instructor Andy Walton has made about 60 knives since taking up the practice about four years ago.

“Sixty knives doesn't sound that impressive. You only appreciate what that number really means after you’ve made one,” he says.

A former welding instructor, Walton became interested in knife making after noticing that other welders had little experience heat-treating, or hardening, steel on job sites. By teaching students how to make knives, which involves heat-treating steel to make a blade stronger, he found a hands-on method to help them understand the theory involved.

“I found that I really enjoyed it and it was not as simple as I thought,” he says, calling the initial attempts “train wrecks.”

That experience proved invaluable for teaching the kitchen knife-making course which is offered a few times a year, depending on interest. Students learn every step of the process to make their own knife: grinding an initial shape to bevelling to heat treatment to handle-making to sharpening.

The end result is a hand-crafted tool that’s just as useful to people today as it was for Australopithecus afarensis millions of years ago.

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