A Short History of Sheffield steel and knife making

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The history of steel making, cutlery and knife making is a history of Sheffield. Generations of Sheffield citizens have passed on their heritage skills which even today are reflected in their products. Made in Sheffield is still the hallmark of quality. Knife making templates and even machines have been passed from generation to generation and so has the pride that accompanies the creation of their products.


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The towns cutlery industry dates from around the early 1400’s and at one time around 150,000 people worked in the steel industry and associated trades along the Don Valley between Sheffield and Rotherham. In 1624 an Act of Parliament set up the Company of Cutlers in Hallamshire. Around 1740 Benjamin Huntsman invented the crucible method of making steel and very quickly Sheffield was supplying the world with engineering and tool steel.


In the 14th century Geoffrey Chaucer mentions Sheffield knives in the Canterbury Tales. In the 1740’s a Thomas Bolsover invented invented a method of fusing a thin layer of silver to copper and that made a wide range of goods cheaper to produce.

Wine accessories

HMS Victory gifts

Royal Yacht themed gifts

Nautical and military themed gifts

Sgian Dubhs

French folding knives

Bowie knives

Waterloo Knife

Special Offers

Historic  Keyrings

St. James’s Pen

Gardening knives

Unique Belt Buckles

Nautical and Naval paperweights

Letter Openers

WW1 Centenary

Victory paperknife

Agincourt Knife

Arkansas Stones

Imperial Knife

Minster Tea Light

Queens Birthday

Somme Knife

Mammoth Ivory

Heritage Wood

Care of Knives

Terms

Ankole Horn

Lee Enfield Knife

Historic Cufflinks

In the 1850’s Henry Bessemer invented a new method of making steel with the Bessemer furnace which made refined steel much easier to produce in greater quantities. Another subsequent development in steel production was the advent of stainless steel. This resulted from the work of Harry Brearly around 1900. This steel was much more resistant to rusting. Steel production round Sheffield gave rise to a number of associated industries vital to the industrial development of the UK. Basic products like railway lines and armaments became easier to produce. Indeed some of our products are made from hardened Sheffield steel which was utilised in both world wars as sniper plates, trench supports etc. The concentration of steel making and handling expertise around Sheffield gave rise to the associated industries centered round cutlery manufacture. Innovations in steel making were rapidly adopted by local manufacturers of cutlery and associated wares and the concentration of skills gave Sheffield per-eminence in the manufacture of those products.


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Remember to have a look at some of our products which have utilised some of the skills still to be found in the Sheffield area.


Cutlery making became so refined that each specific task in the production of knives and other products that a worker might only throughout his working life engage in one or two semi skilled operations. That produced for many years competitively priced goods but the associated piece work payment systems created resistance to change and in however small a way decreased innovation.

Folding Knives by Michael Harrison of A. Wright & Son Ltd of Sheffield

More Sheffield made pocket knives

Sheffield knives made with historic material

Scottish knives including sgian dubhs

Sheffield Made Bowie Knives

Sheffield Made Bushcraft Knives

In our own very small way we are trying to look for materials which are unusual and utilise existing Sheffield skills. Dotted around Sheffield are a few small workshops which are repositories of some of those skills.

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Our ‘meaningful metals’ pages from time to time display some of the products made from our searches.


In some cases matters have come full circle when Sheffield made sniper plates buried on the Somme for over one hundred years and made from hardened steel now return to Sheffield to be incorporated into knife handles. And it’s good of the people involved to put up with the difficulties in the production of these rare and unusual products and the work is in turn being undertaken by individuals who are 4th and 5th generation cutlers.

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