Are Integral Knives The Strongest Kind of Knife?
Is an integral knife inherently stronger? According to our gurus, strength in numbers—of parts, that is—is not necessarily applicable here.
“The concept is so much different it changes up the whole equation,” knifemaker Edmund Davidson states. “A hard-use integral knife is stronger than a typical fixed blade. There’s nothing to go wrong. That’s not to say some great [non-integral] fixed blades aren’t being made, but you can’t get any stronger than one big chunk of steel.”
“An integral knife is theoretically stronger, but I’ve never had one of my standard knives break at the guard junction through regular use, either,” knifemaker Marcus Lin says. “I destruction-tested one of my Loveless fighter designs several years ago and it took numerous overhead slams from a 50-pound slab of concrete to break it.
“In terms of getting the job done there’s no difference in either method of construction, as both will result in a knife that will last generations. But I can see the allure for the integral knife because of the time and additional skills involved in making it, which some customers can appreciate.”
What Is An Integral Knife?
Integral knives, short of the addition of handle scales, are literally sculpted from one piece of steel. Making a knife in this way presents difficult challenges not found in making knives in separate parts, and soldering or screwing them together.
Imagine grinding not only the blade with all its intricacies, but the handle, guard and pommel from one solid piece of steel and sculpting it to perfection. Such a knife is called an integral and any knifemaker who’s ever made one will tell you it’s a whole new ballgame.
How Integral Knives Are Made
“The primary difficulty for me is getting rid of the stock,” Lin relates. “You start out with a couple pounds of tool steel and the finished knife is several ounces. Bob [Loveless]‘s original integrals were made on his horizontal mill. I use a full-size Jet [Bridgeport clone] vertical milling machine, angle grinder, band saw and my 2×72 grinder to make mine. I try to make them as close as possible to Bob’s originals.”
Davidson makes no bones about the difficulty he faces in constructing a one-piece knife.
“It takes tenacity to build an integral,” Davidson stresses. “You start with a block of steel instead of a strip. You must have the equipment to saw the knife out and machine it. You’re working with all the basics that go into a complete knife in one single piece of steel. The complexities are physically and mentally demanding, and it’s very labor intensive because of the vast amounts of filing and sanding—not to mention hand rubbing the finish.
“There are so many aspects of making an integral that are not associated with making a standard knife.”
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