When you're shopping for kitchen knives, you might hear them referred to as being forged or stamped. What's the difference between forged and stamped, and which one should you choose?
A forged knife is made of a single bar of steel, which is heated and then pounded into shape, sometimes by a specially trained craftsman, sometimes by machine. The alternative is a stamped knife, in which the blade is "stamped" or cut out from a large sheet of steel, then is honed and heat-treated for durability.
A forged knife is typically heavier by several ounces than a stamped knife.
Features of Forged Knives
An easy way to identify a forged knife is to look for a bolster, a wider lip on the end of the blade where it meets the handle. More than anything, the bolster helps balance the blade by adding weight near the center of the knife. Many cooks also like the feel of a bolster, which they grip between thumb and forefinger.
Forged knives also usually have a full or partial tang, which is an extension of the metal blade that reaches into the handle. If the handle of a knife has metal rivets, or if you can see the metal along the edge of the handle, that's a good indication that the knife has a tang, which is a sign of quality and durability and helps with the balance of the knife. Some stamped knives, though, also have tangs.
The Quality Question
The process of making a forged knife is usually more expensive and time- and labor-intensive than making a stamped knife, so it's often pricier.
It used to be that forging almost always meant that knife was better-quality and more comfortable and efficient to use, but today you can find high-quality stamped knives (Victorinox is one example of a good-quality stamped knife), and you can find cheap, poor-quality forged knives, so the lines are blurring.
Further blurring the lines, many knives today are produced with a combination of forging and stamping. For example, some "forged" knives are produced with a stamped blade that has bolster applied to it.
Which One Should I Buy?
It's best to choose a knife based on how it feels in your hand and how comfortable and efficient it is when you're actually using it. (Fine Cooking magazine says that the best tests to perform on knives include mincing parsley, dicing an onion, slicing a hard winter squash, cutting a carrot into strips and carving a melon). While a forged knife is weighty and feels balanced in your hand, a stamped knife is lighter and might feel easier to use for some people.
If blade retention -- how long a knife stays sharp -- is important, look at a knife's reputation for holding an edge. Traditionally, forged knives tended to be harder and therefore had better blade retention than most stamped knives. Here, too, the lines are blurring, but generally speaking, a forged knife is likely to hold an edge somewhat better than a similar stamped knife.
Looking at knives from well-known and well-regarded brands is also a good way to narrow down your decision. However, the name alone is not a good indicator of quality, as it's not uncommon for well-known brands to expand their product lines to include low-end offerings.
The bottom line is, if the knife feels good to you, and it has a good reputation for the performance characteristics you need most, you'll probably be happy with it.