Hamons: What they are and how to make them

The hamon is there, lying within the reach of the knifemaker who is willing to take the time to thoroughly rub the steel to enhance the elusive line.

The hamon (pronounced “huh-mown”) is a Japanese invention, in popular culture most widely recognized on the traditional Japanese Katana. The development of the hamon, along with the Katana itself is attributed in legend to the swordsmith Amakuni Yasutsuna, around 700 AD.

The hamon is a visual demarcation, showing up when etched as a wavy line across the surface of the steel. When etched, the acid eats away more at the softer section, and so shows up darker, and the harder edge section, showing up lighter, sometimes with a dark band where the two meet. This should not be confused with a “temper line”.

The hamon is caused by differential hardening (Yaki ire); the cutting edge, is hardened steel (martensite), while the spine is kept soft and tough (pearlite, ferrite, bainite, cementite), and so less prone to breakage.

This difference in hardness is the objective of the process; the appearance is purely a side effect. However, the aesthetic qualities of the hamon are quite valuable, not only as proof of the differential-hardening treatment but also in its artistic value where the patterns can be quite complex.

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What is the best steel for knives

BalbachDamast South Africa

Hardened steel is the heart of any blade. The search for higher-performance steels has led to a number of metallurgical advancements in recent decades, with what some refer to as “super steels”.

Essentially steel is a combination of iron and carbon that is often enriched with other elements (alloys) to improve certain characteristics depending on the desired application. It is these additions that give different types of steel their special properties.

You’ll often hear people asking, what’s the best steel? Or is this steel good for knives? Well, the answer depends so much on what the knife is being used for, and how the steel is heat-treated. For a knife lover, it’s worth spending a little time understanding steel properties to appreciate what the “best steel” might be for his/her application.

Common Knife Steel Types

The most common blade steel types generally fall into the following categories:

Carbon Steel – These steels are most often forged and are generally made for rough use where toughness and durability are important. They take a sharp edge and are relatively easy to re-sharpen in the field.  The trade-off is that they are more prone to corrosion. The most popular carbon knife steels are various tools steels, 5160, 1070, 1085 and 52100.

Stainless Steel – Basically carbon steel with added chromium (in recent years chromium has been replaced with nitrogen) to resist corrosion and other harsh elements.  Note that to qualify as a true stainless steel there must be at least 13% chromium content as a rule of thumb. Some popular steels in this group include M390, Elmax, N690, AEBL, 19C27 and 440C.

Damascus Steel – Also known as pattern-welded steel and is instantly recognizable by the swirling and eye catching patterns caused by the folding two different steel repeatedly, until there are as many as 100 or more layers in the piece. Depending on the steels/metals used, damascus steel can be stainless or not. The pattern in damascus steel is only visually revealed once the steel is cleaned, prepared and etched in acid. The two types of steel react differently in the acid oxidation process. One oxidized steel is lighter and the other is darker.

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Are you ready to buy a Custom Knife?

A6 IKBS flipper by Andre Thorburn and Andre van Heerden : Photo by:knifetography

So you want to buy a custom knife? Well, the custom knife world can be a difficult one to navigate, with its own etiquette and hierarchy that isn’t overtly obvious when you first start out. A Custom knife means craftsmanship, high-quality materials, and artful designs and are unique as the makers who craft them. They … Read moreAre you ready to buy a Custom Knife?