Traditional Kukri Heat Treatment (Local Hardening)
15th November, 2020
Its festival season here in Nepal but due to the covid19 pandemic there isn’t much happening. Peoples’ mood, spirit and movement are extremely low compared to last year’s. Same story here at my home so just thought of sharing few lines as I am bit free. The topic is sensitive but important to talk about. It’s the heat treatment of the kukri and of our kukri knives we make.
Kukri has always been a simple knife from the skillful hands and creative minds of the Kamis (maker) made through a simple method in a conventional forge. Similarly, the steel has always been a basic one having high carbon contain be it either when it was extracted from iron-ore or railway track or vehicles’ suspension steel at later stage (presently). Hence a simple steel from a simple maker in a simple forge have also laid foundation for a simple heat treatment technique or also known as “Local Hardening” since centuries. It is only the extra ordinary skill of the kamis that make this simple heat treatment so successful and praiseworthy. The water (clear) has always been the key ingredient and partial quenching (differential hardening) has always been the timeless method; the evergreen thing from the past so to speak. Quenching by/in oil, submerged quenching, tempering and even normalizing have never been the part of local heat treatment when it comes to kukri and it’s maker. In fact in the whole Indian sub-continent the same method was practiced which originated in China. The famous Katana sword being one of it when it was later adapted by Japanese. Kamis simply heat treated through partial water quenching by judging the color of the heated steel required for the end result. In worst case scenario, they used salted water or sometime banana tree stem to dig in if the steel was weak. They just poured water on edge (only) to harden it only and the blade was never tempered. Thermal cycle was out of question. The knives came out really fine and functional and we all know that very well.
We still get amazed on how well those historic kukris are made even today. Its power, impact, built-up is just next to none and unmatched even by today’s standard. The old folks really knew what they were doing and got the best out of their simple method. This made kukri famous and helped it earned the great reputation of being the world’s most feared and functional knife ever.
Likewise we as a maker and being a Nepali company follow the same method our forefathers have taught and we are very happy and satisfied with it. The end result has always been excellent and users are very happy and thoroughly satisfied. Hence we don’t even dare to think of changing it or improving it. Otherwise it would not be the typical kukri knife that we are so fond of, would it?? Its totally against our principle and to be straight, NOT needed as well. We also see this as a part of respecting our old folks and conserving the classic and outstanding technique that has been there for hundreds of years. Moreover there is a famous saying in knife community which goes like.. “Don’t fix it till you break it”. It’s a time proven thing so why bother to be over smart!! Just follow the root… simple as that.
Having said that there are few people from different parts of the world who are criticizing our traditional heat treatment. They are trying to change something that we believe in and something that has proven its worth since generations. Consequently they have succeeded in influencing few modern makers presently which is simply their pride and ego taking over. If they are happy then I have nothing to say but its totally not needed. What the old folks did is a time proven technique that the whole world praises and respects. Hence why even change or better it!! All the classy pieces that we see today are the true testament and outcome of their amazing talent and outstanding method. Hence its best to leave it as it is, as it has always been; OR rather carry on with pride and pleasure. Its just not our own self-thing but our tradition, culture and belief.
I do hope you enjoyed reading and learned more about our amazing kukri knife. Please feel free to contact should you have any thoughts or comments at my email add firstname.lastname@example.org
HAPPY TIHAR 2020 !!
Thank you and Namaste,
Saroj Lama Tamang
Founder and MD of KHHI nepal
Some videos of heat treatement at KHHI