Are you searching for the best handmade kitchen knives? You’ve come to the right place. If you’re a chef, foodie, or gastronome, the kitchen is something akin to a sanctuary. It’s where you retreat when you want to block out the world’s madness and focus on yourself. More than that, it’s been a place to learn new skills. It started with mastering mom’s spaghetti and rapidly progressed to masterminding the family’s Sunday roast. But while you may have expanded your recipe repertoire, we’re willing to bet the same can’t be said for your utensils.
Handmade knives help us embrace and express our unique individuality and personality. Everywhere you care to look, society has embraced locally sourced, organic, seasonal produce, which has, in turn, influenced a shift towards high-quality bespoke tools and knifemakers are “carving” out a respectable slice of the market for themselves. A number of chefs choose to buy Japanese blades, which are great, but when you can support local artisan makers and create something truly your own, what could be better?
As home cooks and chefs begin paying more attention to their knives, it’s become increasingly apparent that the quality of the tool matters just as much as any ingredient. Quality knives are a joy to use and do more than save you time when you’re slicing and dicing vegetables. When chopped with a sharp blade, fresh herbs release more of their aromatic oils and give your recipes a flavoursome edge. Blunt knives aren’t as safe and tend to tear, rather than slice food cells, which release excess moisture and nutrients that should ideally end up in your mouth.
A great chef knife needs to be made with love, by hand, and by someone who has worked to master the craft. Crafting a high-quality blade starts with selecting the right materials. Steel is the essence of the blade and the most important decision to make. Hardness, toughness, edge retention, corrosion and wear resistance are all factors that need to be considered (what is the best steel for knives). Local South African hardwoods like African Blackwood, Wild Olive, Sneezewood, Mopani, and Leadwood are highly prized around the world and make great natural handles.
The good news is that there are many knife makers all across South Africa who make excellent knives so narrowing this list down to a top 10 was a real challenge. We polled a number of the top knife makers in the field for who they thought were the best chef knife makers and applied defined selection criteria in order to curate this list, so it’s safe to say, we’ve already found the best knife makers out there today.
- Kitchen/Chef knives are their “main” body of work.
- Excellent fit and finish.
- Performance grinds.
- Frequency / Active.
Any one of the below knife makers would be an excellent choice to make your dream knife. To that end, consider what kinds of aesthetics you’re looking for, your budget, and go from there. Are you ready to buy a Custom Knife?
Who are South Africa’s top chef knife artisans?
In no particular order…
One of, if not the premier kitchen knife makers in South Africa, this former chef and now full-time knifemaker, specialises in making high-performance handmade kitchen knives from his home in Sheffield Beach, KwaZulu-Natal. Most of his knives are handmade from stainless steel and feature brightly coloured burls, carbon fibre or African hardwood handles. David was invited to present a talk about kitchen knives at the 2019 South African Knifemakers Guild’s annual show.
Priced from: R3850 ZAR
Anthony is a part-time knifemaker who hails from Hillcrest in KwaZulu-Natal. He specialises in handcrafting Japanese inspired kitchen knives that are light, nimble, and extremely sharp. His knives come standard with high-end stainless steels, advanced s-grind geometries and hand-shaped natural South African hardwood, or stabilised burl handles.
Priced from: R2500 ZAR
Food photographer and bladesmith, Sebastian has exploded onto the South African knife scene with “rad” designs and unique san-mai (3 layers) kitchen knives. Sebastian is no stranger to the kitchen with his Father, Marco Nico being a dominant figure in the Durban restaurant scene for many decades, meaning Seb knows what is demanded in the top kitchens. Sebastian worked with De Wet van Zyl (KGSA) to refine his forging processes and having set up his own shop, is producing some stunning knives of his own.
Priced from: R3500 ZAR
Philip Dunn (KGSA)
Philip is a self-taught bladesmith from Cape Town who creates heirloom grade cutlery that is not only functional but beautiful at the same time. While Philip looks like he’s fresh off an Atlantean film set, he describes himself as a full-time ‘hobbyist’, because it sure does not feel like work. Philip does make other styles of knives, but his chef knives are uniquely a cut above with hand-forged san-mai and damascus blades. I have personally heard good reviews from chefs on his knives cutting performance when up at the Brooklyn Knife Show.
Philip is a member of The Knifemakers Guild of Southern Africa.
How do I get one? Visit Philip’s website dunnblades.co.za for more info and available knives.
Priced from: R2500-9000 ZAR
Dave Skinner (KGSA)
Dave Skinner is a bladesmith from Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Most of Dave’s knives are forged carbon steel or his own pattern-welded damascus steel. When forging carbon steel, he often borrows a Japanese heat treating technique, creating a clay zone differential heat treatment (hamon) which is typical to see in traditional Japanese swords.
Dave is a member of The Knifemakers Guild of Southern Africa.
Priced from: R1800-12’000 ZAR
Philip is a bladesmith from White River, Mpumalanga. Bladesmithing is a passionate hobby that he started a few years back, although knives have always been a part of his life. All of his knives are one of a kind and hand-forged from carbon steels, like 5160, 1070 1095 and 52100. For Stainless knives, he offers Bohler’s popular N690 knife steel. Like Dave Skinner above, Philip imparts hamons into some of these carbon blades (as pictured above).
How do I get one? Visit Philip’s website philipdaniel.co.za for more info and available knives.
Priced from: R1800 ZAR
Pieter van der Bank
Pieter van der Bank of PVB Knives is a self-styled metalworker, bladesmith and blacksmith based in the small town of Heidelberg in the Western Cape. Since 2016, Pieter has handcrafted unique custom blades from up-cycled materials, carbon steel, natural hardwoods, leather and a range of synthetics. His primary focus is chef’s and utility knives that are both beautiful and practical.
How do I get one? Visit Pieter’s facebook page for more info and available knives.
Priced from: R2500 ZAR
Jean Wilke (KGSA)
Jean (Fire Goby Forge) is based in Pretoria, South Africa. A past hospitalities student Jean’s is now a full-time bladesmith, teacher and chairperson of the South African Bladesmiths Association (SABA) Junior League. There isn’t much that you can say about Jean that hasn’t been said already. Jean is the youngest ever member of the Knife Guild of Southern Africa and is currently interning with ABS Master Bladesmiths Kevin and Heather Harvey at Heaven Forge. He hopes to travel to the USA and obtain his ABS Journeyman rating.
How do I get one? Visit Jean’s website fire-goby-forge.co.za for more info and available knives.
Priced from: R3800 ZAR
I always loved cleaver styled knives, but they lacked something in my opinion. So the never-ending journey of research started, never have I seen some many designs in my life! I decided on the Serbian Cleaver style, still, that was not enough. So the search continued, alas, the ever so “infamous” flint knapping appeared. I approached Jack Connan (mentor) and had one million questions. Regardless to say, I was shown the basic technique to accomplish the finish. It took me almost two years to perfect.
My knives are not built on the “safe queen” principle. They are built from the best quality steel and material at hand. Each knife is unique and no one is ever the same, they may seem similar but each knife has its own style, look and authenticity. Imported Maple Burl is my first choice of handle material and I love myself a beautiful and quality pin. I specialize in cleavers, big small, for kitchen or braai use as well as kitchen knives based on my style of flint knapping.
The occasional traditional look is sometimes requested, obviously, I would gladly oblige but I love the challenge of a unique knife leaving my workshop to your hands.
Priced From: R2200 ZAR
Ross is a part-time knifemaker from Bredasdorp, Western Cape. While he is arguably one of the youngest makers on the list, it is with good reason he has made it onto this list. Ross previously won the “Best Kitchen Knife (Novice) Award at the 2021 Durban Easter Knife Show for an exceptionally clean paring knife he entered. Neels van den Berg (Black Dragon Forge) snapped it up quick as you like and I’m sure has put it to good use since.
Ross primarily uses Damasteel and RWL34 from his blades which he gets from his mentor Des Horn. He’s been making knives from the age of 12 and is a member of the Cape Knifemakers Guild.
Priced From: R2200 ZAR
And there you have it. The best custom chef knife makers in South Africa. Do you agree with the above list? Have a comment or want to get in touch? We’d love to hear from you. This list may be updated from time to time, so if your favourite maker isn’t here, they may well be in future.