Have you ever tried to cut an onion with a blunt knife? It’s a nightmare. You need a good knife to make light work of it, and, most importantly, avoid losing a finger. Any chef will tell you that one of the most important parts of cooking is preparation. That means chopping, dicing, and slicing and, for that, having a good knife is essential.

Bladesmithing is the art of making knives, swords, and blades using a forge, hammer, anvil, and smithing tools. A blacksmith is someone who forges metal with a hammer and anvil and a bladesmith is the same but they only make knives.

The art of bladesmithing is thousands of years old and found in cultures all over the world. Traditionally, Irish bladesmiths crafted weapons, tools, and ceremonial blades, honing their skills over generations. With the advent of the industrial revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries, bladesmithing became more mechanised and factories began generating mass-produced blades.

Still, there were artisans who kept the craft going, and today bladesmithing is becoming a popular hobby and profession, with a focus on traditional techniques and craftsmanship. In Ireland, we have seen a rise in the number of independent bladesmiths returning to this ancient craft.

Loftus Knives

In the world of custom knife-making, Holly Loftus stands out. As the founder and creative force behind Loftus Knives, a London-based handmade knifemakers, she has carved out a business for herself in the industry, crafting blades that marry functionality with aesthetic appeal.

With a dedication to quality craftsmanship and an eye for detail, Holly’s knives have garnered a devoted following among collectors and enthusiasts alike.

A selection of Loftus Knives

“When I was still living in Dublin, over 10 years ago now, I first thought about the idea of handmade knives and reached out to a few knifemakers for advice at that time,” recalls Holly. “They were able to suggest books and online forums, which was my introduction to knifemaking. It was about five years before I actually got even close to making a knife.

“My partner at the time got me a one-day knifemaking class with a swordsmith and bladesmithing teacher, Owen Bush, at his school near London. That was the first time that I forged anything. When I left that day with my first forged knife in hand, I knew that I wanted to pursue it.

“I spent the next couple of months trying to figure out how I would get started in it. Because in the UK and Ireland, there’s no formal route into knifemaking outside of factory production. There’s no apprenticeship or professional training that you can do. I had to figure out my own path into it.

“I did a City & Guilds course in forge work, which was actually for farriers – someone who makes horse shoes. It was the closest thing I could find. We didn’t make any knives on the six-month course, but it gave me confidence.

Holly uses a range of woods that she gets from a timber yard in London for the knife handles


“I got work in London in a place called Blenheim Forge that make Japanese-influenced chef knives. I ended up being there for three years making their knives and learning every part of the process. That was amazing. There’s not really anywhere else where I could have done that training, so I felt incredibly lucky that they took me on when I had so little experience.”

At the heart of Holly’s craft lies a commitment to excellence. From the selection of materials to the forging and finishing processes, she approaches each knife with meticulous attention to detail. Her knives are both practical and beautiful, forged together like the metal they are made from, which is something that drew her to the craft in the first place.

“I think I got completely drawn into the idea of making something utilitarian, or something we use every day, by hand,” says Holly. “They can be made aesthetically beautiful but they’re actually something that all of us use every day to look after ourselves and do tasks. I thought there’s something really nice about that.”

While knifemaking is something that was traditionally handcrafted, most knives that we buy nowadays are made in factories by machines.

“I assumed that all knives were made in factories now and just stamped out from sheets of stainless steel, kind of like a cookie cutter, and finished in machines. It’s the process of making them by hand that really drew me in as well. You’re taking steel, which as a material seems really cold and hard and then just by heating it up, you can make it malleable, almost like plasticine, and be able to form it just with a hammer and your own body weight.

“As a woman, it’s a really interesting process too because the stereotypical image of a blacksmith is often a big man with big arms. But there’s ways that you can work that anyone with any kind of body can do blacksmithing.”

Styles of knives

Most people only have one big knife in their kitchens for general use. However, keen cooks will likely expand their collection to have knives for different uses, from filleting to intricate chopping. Not only are there different knives for different jobs, but knife styles and how they are made vary around the world too.

“Knives and knifemaking does vary a lot between Japan and Europe,” Holly says. “There’s almost a knife for every kind of application, or every kind of food, in Japan, whereas in Europe, it would be more typical that you would just have a big knife and a small knife. The European style of knives tend to have a round belly, where the cutting edge is, and that’s because the European style of cooking and chopping is a kind of rocking chop. The Japanese blades have a flatter cutting edge and would be for a slicing action.

“The way that I learned to make knives at Blenheim Forge was the traditional Japanese way, which is where the blade has three layers. The simplest way to explain this is you use really fine steel for the cutting edge, and then sandwiching it with a softer steel – they’re laminated together.

“That provides the kind of supportive jacket on the knife means the cutting edge can be much harder, and therefore much sharper. If you didn’t have that jacket, it would be too brittle. They stay sharper for longer than typical European knives, which is just one steel.”

Loftus Knives are also distinguishable by their handles and Holly uses a range of woods for them that she gets from a timber yard in London.

“In Fallen & Felled timber yard, they take in street trees in London that have fallen due to storm damage or have to be felled for some other reason,” she says.

“They process them into usable timber for furniture makers and crafts people. A lot of the trees are species that you wouldn’t be able to find in a larger timber yard because some of the trees would be so small, like fruit trees. It’s really nice to be able to get these really local trees and create quite unique handles with them.”

In demand

Holly makes about 10 knives a month as the process by hand takes time and she is committed to the quality of each one. Luckily for her, there is a high demand and it’s first come, first served when they are ready.

“I’ve just been selling through an email newsletter and my website. I use the newsletter to let people know when I’ve restocked my online shop. The last couple years they’ve been selling out in less than five minutes. I feel really lucky with the success of the business so far.”

Loftus Knives are priced between £160 and £580 depending on size and steel used. See loftusknives.com

In brief: all about bladesmithing

•There has been a rise in the number of independent bladesmiths and forgers in the past decade.

•A blacksmith is someone who forges metal with a hammer and anvil and a bladesmith is the same but they only make knives.

•Dublin-born Holly Loftus is the founder of and bladesmith in Loftus Knives, based in London.

•Holly is among only a handful of women bladesmiths in the craft between the UK and Ireland.

•Other Irish knifemakers: Lew Griffin (Galway), Dunn Bladesworks (West Cork), Hugo Byrne (Limerick), Fingal Ferguson (West Cork), Sam Gleeson (Clare), Smith Knives (Roscommon), Sperrin Knives (Down), and Blackthorn Knives (Tipperary).

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