How Steelport Knives Are Made: Handcrafted Tradition + Modern Innovation

Our process is a combination of traditional methods and modern innovations, completed entirely in the US using American-sourced materials.

Making a STEELPORT knife involves 14 major processes with over 134 steps. From start to finish, a STEELPORT takes about 21 solid days of handcrafted work over 9 calendar months, which includes preparation of our base materials, like curing and drying the wood for our handles.

STEELPORT Factory

Many steps in our process can only be done one-knife-at-a-time by skilled hands, but the STEELPORT team, which includes several high level engineers with product development backgrounds, has also developed custom machines and other innovative solutions that enable us to optimize our production without compromising quality.

Compared to Other Knives on the Market

STEELPORT is the only American-made knife that’s broadly available with the features otherwise only found in a custom-made knife.

STEELPORT’s key differentiators (American-forged, solid one-piece construction with an integral bolster, 52100 carbon steel, differential heat treatment, unmatched 65 HRC hardness, stabilized burl contoured wood handle, and hand polished finish) are all features that would each normally be totally inaccessible to consumers because of the much higher price points, long wait lists, or only sold through auctions from the custom individual makers.

There are broadly available knives in the market but only from Germany, China and Japan. It is well known in the knife-enthusiasts circles that American artisans make the best knives but not easily accessible. There are many talented individual knife makers in the US right now, but they are operating on a very small scale making them inaccessible to the general public. There are some commodity American-based knife companies, but their knives are (in-part or fully) mass produced abroad, and are stamped out/stock removal bolster-less knives (rather than forged) without individually handcrafted features. Bob Kramer originals are an example of a well known great American-made artisan knife. These are very limited and auction-only knives. Kramer-associated Zwilling knives are widely-available but are actually built overseas using standard processes without the coveted custom knifemaker features; the higher price such knives garner shows the power of simply being associated with an artisan maker.

STEELPORT is delivering an exceptionally high-quality American-made knife with handcrafted individuality in large enough consistent volumes to be the first American-made knives available through premium independent and national retailers.

The STEELPORT knife making process

The STEELPORT Process

Below is an overview several of our major steps within the our process of handcrafting each STEELPORT knife:

1. Starting 52100 Carbon Steel Rod

Starting 52100 Carbon Steel Rod

52100 is a Carbon Alloy Steel originally developed in 1905 as a bearing steel for high pressure applications, but has since become legendary as a blade steel. 52100 Carbon Steel achieves the balance of sharpenability, edge retention, and toughness we’re looking for in a kitchen knife.

Starting with a single billet rod of metal vs. stamping out from a flat sheet of metal (the common practice) means we’re able to have an integral bolster and end cap for a solid one-piece construction knife. Starting material is just one of the ingredients for making a great blade. One needs the optimum shaping and heat treatment to achieve the goal of making the best cutlery blades.

2. Drop Forged One-Piece Construction

Drop Forged One-Piece Construction

The drop forge process is the same concept as the traditional blacksmith working the steel and shaping the blades from a rod of steel, just using larger equipment. STEELPORT knives are created using this drop forge method. Drop forging involves the shaping of heated metal parts between a top die attached to a ram and a bottom die attached to a hammer, anvil or bolster. While forging has evolved tremendously with advances in computers, robotics and engineering, it is still an art requiring human skill and craftsmanship. In knife making, forging is the traditional (and still the best) method used to control the grain and produce a stronger and durable product.

Drop forging from a single billet of metal produces the strongest piece of metalwork. Our “S” icon shape is inspired in part by industrial hooks, like those found in shipyards that lift cargo from ships – those hooks are drop forged to maintain the strength of the grains in the metal, and so are STEELPORT knives.

With the temperature of the metal and size of the drop forge hammer we use, it takes 12 hits to transform the round billet held and moved by hand into the STEELPORT knife shape.

3. Differential Heat Treatment to 65HRC

Differential Heat Treatment to 65HRC

The heat treatment is the soul of the blade. You can give the same piece of steel to different knife makers and get totally different quality knives depending on the way they heat treat the blade. It is analogous to baking where different chef’s can start with the same ingredients but the careful attention to the heating process will result in that perfect cake.

One of the main efforts in our journey to create STEELPORT was implementing a heat-treating process that could allow us to create the best possible chef knife and meeting the ideal trifecta of: best in-industry hardness, no compromise of toughness while being easily sharpenable. We developed our proprietary 8-step cryogenic heat treatment that pushes our steel to achieve an extremely hard yet tough 65HRC. We incorporated an additional complexity of individually processing blades to get a softer 30HRC along the spine for more durability. 65HRC hardness at the edge not only blows past the other knives on the market, but even exceeds the steel manufacturers’ known hardness and stability capabilities.

The two-tone color on our blade is a visible reminder of this differential heat treatment, showing the temper line between 65HRC on the edge and 30HRC on the spine and handle. This unique process can only be done one-knife-at-a-time, which is why you would never see a mass produced knife with this feature.

Because the heat treatment process requires the blade to go through several cycles of extremely high heat and then down into liquid nitrogen, we leave it at the same thickness as when it was forged to avoid warping.

4. Water Cooled Bevel Grinding

Water Cooled Bevel Grinding

After heat treatment, we grind the blade down to its proper thickness, including a distal taper.
Once the steel is hardened, it is extremely crucial to avoid heating the blade which can soften the steel. That is achieved by very careful grinding using a water cooled process and the right choice and progression of abrasives – one wrong move can ruin all our previous work and even the smallest burn mark will force us to scrap the blade.

5. Polish and Maple Burl Handle Assembly

Polish and Maple Burl Handle Assembly

We polish the blade to a mirror-finish in order to reduce the surface available for moisture collection. With a smooth surface, there are fewer places for water to hide and react with the steel. The mirror finish also makes the blade look better, especially when we add our patina.

Our handles are made of locally sourced Oregon Big Leaf Maple burl wood, resulting in beautiful natural color, figure, and truly unique character to each knife. Because burls are an irregularity in wood, no two burls are ever the same. Burls are considered undesirable for mass manufacturing and are often discarded because of their twisted irregular grain, but when processed with care, their inner beauty is beyond comparison.

We also fully resin stabilize our wood handles to ensure a lifetime of use, this is achieved by placing the kiln dried wood in a vacuum chamber which removes the air and replaces it with a hardenable resin which is then baked. Stabilized wood will not absorb water, oils, or other contaminants. With fully stabilized wood and some basic care, there is little risk of cracking, warping, splinters, or shrinkage over a lifetime of use. In addition to the physical durability, a fully stabilized wood even looks better since it can be polished to a finer surface.

The final geometry of our handle is a blend of octagonal geometry and contoured shape, with a palm swell. The flat top provides a surface for better control and indexing of the blade while the curved bottom is more comfortable to hold. The resulting contoured shape is one that gives you excellent control without fatigue from all day use.

6. Coffee Patina, Contour, and Finishing

Coffee Patina, Contour, and Finishing

One of the final steps for our blades before handle assembly is forcing a patina through a custom process we developed, which serves multiple functional and aesthetic purposes. It protects the blade against reaction with moisture, it acts as a quality control for our team to see our temper line, grain flow, and integrity of the blade – and it creates the beautiful, complex aged look we want in a modern heirloom. We create our unique patina by submerging our blades in strongly brewed (to a level similar to espresso) hot coffee, steeping each blade for less than 1 hour. Then we carefully rinse and dry the blade.

The finishing process begins after the assembly of the handle on the blade with sanding to match all of the contours and edges of the handle to the blade. After an initial rough shaping, each surface is further sanded using finer and finer grits. Our team rounds out and hand polishes ALL contours, from the handle, to the bolster and finger groove, and all along the spine for an extremely comfortable hold. This attention to detail in smoothing all surfaces makes time spent preparing meals in the kitchen a joy rather than a chore.

And of course the final process step is sharpening each blade.

We’re often asked what angle our blades are sharpened at so customers can aim to recreate it when they sharpen at home over the years. Because we hand-sharpen each knife for optimal performance for its unique blade, there is no exact degree, but our typical angle can be considered 15º.

Once the knife is finally ready, we either add it to our factory store shelf or place it into our fully recyclable packaging, ready to be shipped.

An Accessible Modern Heirloom

By combining the artistry of traditional forging and handcrafted knife making techniques with some modern innovations for scaling, STEELPORT proudly offers a modern heirloom culinary tool, locally made with custom features, that’s also widely accessible.

Animated GIF of smoothing the knife handles