Making Kitchen Knives – Part 4 – Heat Treatment

This is when things did go a bit pear-shaped, although I learned that only today. You have seen my “equipment” before, but not in detail. Now you can see it in detail. An IR thermometer on the left, small insulated chamber with gas burner in the middle, a can of sunflower oil, and of course gloves and pliers.

©Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

With a blade this thin I have to somehow prevent carbon loss, because I cannot simply ground away a few tenths of a mm afterwards. There would be barely any blade left if I did that. So, as you can see on the last picture in previous post in the series, I tried to coat it with an experimental solution to prevent said carbon loss as an alternative to the rather expensive stainless steel foil. It worked and did not work at the same time and the knife is now in a stage when it will be crap no matter what I do. I am going to finish it anyway, just to get the measure of time, but this step was a definitive flop. Which I did not expect, because I heat-treated two knives from this steel without problems.


Firstly the gas burner has trouble reaching the necessary temperature of 1.050°C that this steel requires. It can reach them with success (the blade that I have given to my mother was hardened this way), but it takes a long time and it is difficult to heat up the blade evenly. I thought that I have reached the right temperature and quenched the blade OK, which was confirmed by subsequent scratch test with my impromptu gauges. However, as it turned out, the scratch test only passed because the protective coating has made a thin but hard layer on the surface that was bugger all to remove.

©Charly, all rights reserved. Click for full size.

I hoped it would dissolve in hot water – that was the intention – but it did not. It was extremely difficult to clean off in the following step and after I measured the hardness on polished blade (properly – I found out we have HRC measurement at work), it had only about 50-51 HRC. That is weaksauce for a kitchen knife, although it would be OK for a machete. The blade is hardened, just not to its fullest potential. It will cut fine, but it will require more maintenance, so I will probably keep this knife for myself and not give it to anyone. Bugger.

In addition to above mentioned quality problems, this whole step took me more than 1 hour, and I am not counting the 1 hour in baking oven at 150°C, because that does not require my personal presence and thus does not de-facto cut into manufacturing time (and I can load the baking oven with 10 knives at once should the need arise).

At this moment, I do not see any way how to reduce that time. Making more knives at once might help a bit, but for that I would need to set-up heating with charcoal. If I do that, I  estimate that I could harden about 5-6 knives in one go, but that one go would take probably about 3-4 hours of constant work. So a saving of 15 minutes, or 25% time per blade could perhaps be reached on this step, but it is questionable.

A heat treating oven would of course completely change this whole equation, but that would be a big investment – they start at 3.000,-€. Should I ever have to produce knives for sale, a heat treating oven would be a definitive must, or I would have to simply send knives for heat-treatment. Right now I will try to do the heat treatment again by myself, and the next batch of knives will be split 50/50. One half hardened with the use of stainless steel foil, one half with modified coating, and I will either set-up a bigger gas burner, or use charcoal.

This step is put in the “high hanging fruit” basket. There is potential for significant time-saving here, but it is very difficult to reach with my current equipment.


  1. says

    I just looked, and the cheapest one I could find was 2.000,-€ and was so small that my knife would not fit into it. To be honest, I also do not have a place to put it.

  2. voyager says

    Ugh! I feel your pain Charly. Why do so many problems get easier if we just throw a little (or a lot) of money at them? I hope you can find a McGyver solution. (you really should watch that show once or twice)

  3. says

    I have an IR thermometer and it doesn’t appear to be accurate at all. When I quench blades I take it gently up to normalizing (non-magnetic) temperature for about 5 minutes -- most of my damascus is already pretty well worked and has had lots of time for the carbon to arrange itself -- then quench it in warm ATF or parks #50. My IR thermometer was reading 200F below normalizing temperature and the magnet was not sticking…

    I use a lot of the super steels, so I should be more careful quenching than I am. I get edges around RC 59 and then temper them down to 57 or so.

  4. avalus says

    These IR thermometers can give quite variying results, I have one that looks tha same for my laboratory and it is meh. I hope you can find a cheaper solution for your heat-treatment, the shape of the blade is really beautiful!

  5. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    We tried using IR thermometers at the chemical plant where I worked. It helped to have a block spot to aim the detector at. As mentioned above, other colors gave erratic results.

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