It's important for the maker to test his own knives, rather than let his customers do it. I certainly hope my customers do use my knives, and I welcome their feedback, but I need to make sure my knives are up to par before they leave my shop. My goal is to make knives that can be relied upon in a life-or-death situation. This involves some serious testing, occasionally resulting in the death of the knife. Basically, when I test a knife, what I'm looking for is cutting ability and strength.
For edge retention tests, I used to use hemp rope. This has fallen out of favor with me for several reasons.
1. I hate cutting rope.
2. Rope really only tests the wear resistance and sharpness of the blade, not the strength. I want my blades to be able to cut a wide variety of materials, not just rope.
3. Rope doesnít grow on trees. Wood does.
I mostly use wood for testing my knives now. I chop with bigger knives, I whittle with smaller ones. The wood I use is Osage orange, which is very hard and strong (thus tough on knives), plus I have an almost unlimited supply. My testing isnít very scientific. I donít cut X-size board for X-number of minutes. I just cut for awhile, and if thereís no damage or dulling, I call it good.
When I first started working with L6, the blades kept failing the ďosage orange testĒ. At that time I was still cutting rope, and the blades made lotís of cuts, but the edges kept wrinkling when I would chop wood. I eventually figured out what the problems were, and now my L6 blades pass the chopping test easily.
As far as toughness goes, my views on this has changed over time. I used to think it was really impressive to see a knife bend 90 degrees 45 times. And I made a few that did that. But really, a knife is supposed to cut. Right? I do think knives should be able to be used for some light prying, and for prying, you need a stiff blade, not one that will fold over. When was the last time you saw a crow bar fold in half?
I no longer use the soft-back hard-edge deal on my knives, except when I make a knife with a hamon. A knife thatís hard all over is very difficult to break, and impossible to bend. A knife that has a soft back is difficult to break, but itís easier to bend. Iíd rather have a strong AND tough knife.