The Art of Knife Making

An exquisite knife is made from exquisite materials. Starting point is the selection of steel. Stainless steel, as used in most knives, is an alloy containing at least 10% chromium. While the addition of chromium is good from a rust prevention point of view, the downside is that chromium forms rather "chunky" structures in the alloy. These chunky structures cannot be reduced in size, thus making it impossible to make the blade really sharp. It is a bit like trying to use cutlery wearing boxing gloves. It may work, somehow, but it will only take you so far and the results are most probably less than ideal.
That is why really good knives rarely use stainless steels. Instead, steels are used that have a finer molecular structure (often steels containing certain amounts of carbon), which allows for extreme sharpening. This results in knives that require a minimal degree of care in order for them not to rust, but that are true masters of every knife's sole purpose: outworldish sharpness.
Damascus steel is a combination of at least two different types of steel that are fused together over and over again (thus forming the layers in Damascus steel). The layers are made visible (also see below) by dipping the final blade in acid, which reacts differently with the different steels used.
The picture above shows the starting point for a Damascus steel blade. You can see how different steels are stacked up in order to then be fused together.
 As a first step, the steel package is put into the forge in order to heat up to a temperature where it can be shaped. The forging process requires a lot of experience and a seasoned bladesmith will be able to judge by the metal's colour if it is hot enough to be forged.
The different layers of steel are fused together, then folded again and again, until the desired amount of layers is achieved. While heating, the bladesmith will repeatedly put Borax as fluxing agent onto the steel package in order to ensure that the different layers of steel fuse together properly and impurities in the steel are absorbed.
The metal is then forged into the raw shape of the final blade. Quality knives include the so-called tang, a narrow extension of the blade that reaches into the handle, thus stabilising the knife as a whole.
It might not look like much, but this chunk of craftly forged metal will become an exquisite knife.
Next step: grinding the raw blade into its final shape. This, in comparison, is a more straightforward process, but getting it wrong, grinding a little too much in the wrong place, will ruin many hours of work. There is no such thing as "adding" steel that has improperly been ground off.
The blade geometry is ground into the blade, which determines the overall weight of the blade, its stability and cutting features.
Machines merely follow instructions, while humans have the ability to check, analyse and proceed as appropriate. It is this constant quality control and adjustment that ensures the quality of the blade... your blade..., and gives it its soul. Mass-produced knives are interchangeable, soul-less products. Have your knife crafted by an expert craftsman though and you will feel the difference. The knife has a personality of its own, which reflects on every food you prepare with it, each and every time, for years and even generations.
The final touch after hours of grinding. The last imperfections in the blade are removed by sanding and polishing it with various grits, from rough to an extremely fine grit. Care is being taken of the last detail, which then results in a mirror smooth surface, ideal for extra delicate cutting and slicing.
It is now time to normalise the blade. Normalising is a cycle of heating and (rapidly) cooling the metal in certain ways, which impacts the material structure of the blade and gives it its hardness.
Normalising steel is a science on its own and most bladesmiths have developed their very own sub-variants of this process. Do it wrongly though, and your blade will be ruined, either by it warping during the normalising process or by it not having reached the required hardness. As with most other steps during blade crafting, experience is key to getting this right.
A Damascus steel blade prior to acid treatment. The different types of steel used react differently to the acid treatment, thus making the steel layers visible.
The same blade after acid treatment. A truly unique piece of art, showcasing the skill of its creator.