Saturday, March 30, 2013

Throwing knives

03/30/2013 Throwing knives! I've got 'em, you want 'em.

I have a few sets of throwers right now. They are very simple, a handle (steel, no wood, leather, or anything else) and a point, and just a hint of an edge. They are heavy (1/4” thick) and they land with real authority. Mine are sinking 3 inches into a Cottonwood block. 1 for $20, 3 for $60 plus shipping. Having a set of 3 (or more!) is nice, you can build up some rhythm in your technique.

I'd like to talk a bit about my theory of throwing knives, the knife itself, not how to. I make mine out of mild steel (though the most recent ones are made of T1, and I'll probably keep doing that). I think that if you use hardened steel, even if you draw it way back, you risk chipping, spalling, and breakage. If one of mine hits another blade, or a rock when you miss the target, the worst thing that happens is a small ding, or the tip may bend. A quick smack with a hammer and you're ready to go again.

I don't put handles on them, because, you're going to throw them and handles won't last a season, if that. I don't put any fine work into them, because,'re going to throw them. I grind the sides at about 45 degrees but I don't put real edges on them. They just get dinged up when you throw them anyway. It's not like you need them to cut anything and they might cut you.  

If you want handles, the material is soft, you can drill holes with a hand drill for pins. I wouldn't, but you can.

So why do I make them at all? At best, they are knife shaped objects (KSO's). They are a just about break even item, they buy my coffee and sweet roll. They have the same relationship to a using knife that a picture of food has to real food. But they are good for practice, and throwing knives and hatchets is a blast.

I am doubtful, however, as to the historical use of such things. It's true that knives, hawks and things got thrown from time to time. But so did rocks, sticks, beer mugs, and just about any thing else that will fit in the human hand. If you want to knock over a bunny for dinner, a rock or a stick is a pretty good choice. There are lots of them around, they don't need much work to make them function, they do a good job, and, if you lose them or break them, go get another one. OTOH, a real knife (as opposed to my KSO's) has a fair amount of work in it, so throwing it and losing it, or breaking it, is a real waste of resources.

Throwing a knife in a combat situation has got to be a last resort. There is an account of a man in the 16th or 17th century (I can't remember just now) who fought several duels, one after the other. One of his opponents attempted a stand off and throw knives, strategy. The swordsman chased him down, ducked most of the knives, and then killed him.

Even the best throwers are limited to throws of 25-30 feet, and at that range it's pretty easy for the target to duck. You can try this yourself with tennis balls and a friend. Unless you are King Felix (Go M's!) you are not going to have the 90 mph throw. The best combat throws are in the 0-7 foot range, which is pretty close, particularly if the target is armed.

So, if you have a perfectly good knife, why would you throw it away? Now you've got no weapon, and your opponent has one that he didn't have a minute ago. Second, despite what the movies show, you are very unlikely to bring down an opponent with a single stab wound. For some real world examples of this look at this web site, but don't eat first,

Why do I make and sell throwers, then?  Because throwing at a target is a blast. I use it as a break from grinding and polishing, along with archery and an air gun. It clears my mind and loosens up my back, which gets tired. And there is a real sense of accomplishment when that blade thunks into the target. Geoff

On Blogging, or Why I haven't written

On Blogging.

My intent when I started this blog was to talk about knife making, knives, and the stuff surrounding the making of knives. What I've found is that I have much less to say than I thought I did. Right now I'm STILL working on my ABS MS knives. I don't have anything, of the quality I want, done.

It's really, really hard!

  I am still making knives, and, in some ways, I'm a much better (or at least faster) maker than I was even just a couple of years ago. I've got a line of waterjet EDC's that people seem to like. They are not as much fun for me as a full forged piece, OTOH, I can get them done and off the bench pretty fast. This means that I can sell them for about half of what my bottom end forged pieces go for. Heck, I'm even carrying one myself.

It's the getting done part that I struggle with right now. I get so twisted up in the details of the high end pieces that they tend to sit on the bench for a long time (looooong time).

Right now the Eugene show is on the near horizon, April 12-14. I'm trying to get some new stuff done for that show, a couple more EDC's (they should get handles today) a kitchen set (this is what I hope is the first of a series of waterjet kitchen knives). The set will have a 9 inch chef, an 8 inch general slicer, and a paring knife, all with the same stabilized Box Elder burl for handles. The set will be priced at $700, which is pretty good for a set of (substantially) hand made knives. There is also a bread knife, a narrow meat slicer, and cleaver that are not part of the set, but would go very well with them.

I also hope to have one new damascus piece, it's going to end up like a sgian-dubh/pukko crossover, and some cool little friction folders with textured copper handles. These friction folders are another thing that I can make and get off the bench pretty fast, though even these are starting to get some fancy elements. I'm thinking of versions with bone or ivory slabs, textured silver handles, damascus blades. I'm sure that will lead me to slip joints and there goes the whole simple/fast thing, sigh.

So what does all of this mean? Partly, I'm still trying to find a niche. I have made some inroads into the blackpowder/rendezvous reenactors community, unfortunately, like the Renfaire/SCA folks, they are reluctant to spend the kind of $ that my best work commands. I do have to say that the most recent blackpowder show was a huge success for me. I'm hoping that it's a good sign.

I'd like to think that having $100-$150 pieces on the table will bring in the beginning collector, and the impulse buyer. The truth is, I have no idea what causes a random stranger to spot one piece out of 400 tables of knives and decide to buy that one. I just have to hope that something on my table is what he's looking for.

Thanks for looking,


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

What Makes A Custom Knife “Good”?

What Makes A Custom Knife “Good”?

This is part of a post taken from the Don Fogg forum. Since I haven’t posted here in a while, I though I’d expand upon it for my own use.

Right now I am working on the pieces for my Mastersmith stamp. Actually, I am working on the pieces the will be the foundation of my MS pieces. None of the stuff on my bench currently will be part of MS suite (I don’t think), but they are intended to teach me the things I need to know to make those piece, if that makes sense.

So if you , my presumptive reader, are looking at a custom knife, what should you be looking for?

Let’s start with a knife you have, if it’s a production piece, so much the better. I have a ‘60’s era Old Timer folder on the desk as an example.

Are the spine and handle back straight and in line. Mostly this is true and the few times when it's not are special cases
(like the Bowie #1 ).
In the example on my desk the spine of the blade rises to a point and then dips down to a clipped point. It’s a style, but not one I particularly like. When you are looking at the knife, there is a slight jarring of the eye as it traces the profile. At a show, or in a picture those small things make the difference of a potential customer passing a piece by, or stopping to take a better look.

Ideally, I think a piece should “flow” from the handle, through the body of the piece, to the tip of the blade. Looking at a piece you should not encounter places where your eye catches or hangs up. This is not say that some parts (like a damascus blade) shouldn’t catch your eye, but the overall look should be clean and attractive, unless the maker is going for that “Made in Mordor” look.

Do the lower line of the of the handle and the lower edge of the blade, be it edge, ricasso, or what have you, match up? If your eye tracks along the line of the blade to the handle without a break, the piece seems harmonious and balanced. Again, there are special cases, often larger pieces break this “rule”.

Sight down the length of the knife. Is the handle proportional and symmetrical? Does the handle twist, or have more mass on one side? Is the blade in line with the handle, or does it kink to one side? These are signs of some lack of proper design. On my Old Timer, for instance, the blade kinks to the left slightly, and the liner lock makes the blade sit off to one side, there is a double brass liner on the right side. On my example the blade does not sit straight when it’s closed, either. On a custom folder that is one thing you should see, the closed blade sitting square in the handle.

Let’s look at the handle. Do you see scratches, dips, bumps, an uneven level of finish? Those detract from the piece. On my Old Timer there are some signs of honest wear, those are not a problem on a vintage piece. However, there are three pins holding the scales on. One has a spun head and the other two are ground flush. That looks bad. On a custom piece, you’d expect a consistent look.

There is a shield on the scale that says Old Timer, it’s a nice touch. However, with the blade closed and the piece sitting on the table, the logo is upside down. What’s more, the shield sits just proud of the surface, so the edge of it catches on your hand. This is typical of a production piece, but on a custom you should expect to see a much greater attention to detail.

Are there gaps in the fit of the handle and bolsters? A custom piece should be near perfect. On a production piece, not so much. My Old Timer is pretty good. You don’t want to see epoxy filling gaps, or worse, light through places where the fit should be tight.

Have a close look at the guard or bolsters. I have to take my glasses off to see at this level. You don’t need a magnifier, but you want an eyeball level, tight, even fit and finish. Is the guard side to side even? Are the bolster edges even where they hit the tang? These are signs of care and skill.

Let’s look at the blade. On a production knife you may see what is sometimes referred to as “deeply scratched and finely polished”. I won’t mention a name here, but it begins with a “B”. You should not see this on a custom knife. The level of polish depends on the desires and skills of the maker. Some of us like a hand rubbed finish (me for instance) some prefer a mirror finish, but you shouldn’t see scratches, uneven surfaces, fishhooks, or that kind of stuff.

Look the plunge cuts, are they at the same level of polish as the rest of the blade? Are they even and the same shape? On my OT, they are not even, not symmetrical, and not the same shape. On a custom they should be eyeball perfect, or nearly so.

Look down the blade from the tip. It should be straight and symmetrical. Again, my OT is not. That could be the manufacture, or it could be a previous owner doing a bad job sharpening it. On a new blade, particularly a custom blade, you should not see this kind of problem. Most hand makers have to fight their natural right/left tendencies. You tend to grind differently on each side. A skilled craftsman knows this and figures out how to compensate.

Are the handle and blade balanced and proportional? I built a clip point utility a while back and I was trying to get a particular look in the handle. By the time I was done the handle was too small, both visually and in terms of feel. The blade was very point heavy and it was always trying to fall out of your hand.

The width of the blade is a strange thing. A big chopper, or a chefs knife, can have a big wide blade and it looks fine. Shorten that by a couple of inches and it starts to look "hatchety". Some times taking an 1/8th or less out of the width of a blade changes it a lot. I have a dagger I'm working on right now, (in fact, daggers are ALL that I'm working on right now, and I'm getting sick of them ). I think that the blade is too short, either that or the blade is too wide. If you took an 1/8th off of each side, I think it would change everything. In this case, I'm stuck with it as is, too much damascus involved to be grinding it down.

Sometimes the handles are too long. Most new makers have problems with this aspect of their work. It’s another place where a 1/4 of an inch can make all of the difference. For most knives up to 6 or 7 inches, 4.25 to 4.5 inches of handle is good. For small blades you can go even a bit shorter. For big blades, like big bowies and swords, you can get away with 5 inches or even a bit more.

This may all seem kind of fussy, after all, it’s just a knife. I see it this way. If you, as a person who just walked up to my table at a show, are going to spend the money to buy one of my custom, hand made, one off, custom knives, you are entitled to get the best work I can do. That work should be able to withstand the scrutiny of a critical eye.

If I can see a problem, then I assume my customers will see it. Now often, that’s not true. I have a finer eye (just from practice) than most of my customers. But I don't want to be in the position of knowing that there is a flaw, but figuring that no one will find it, and having a customer pick up the piece, look right at the flaw, and give me the fish eye and walk away. Or worse, ask me about it, putting me in the position of having to explain the problem.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Bladesmith flies, fails to stick landing!

OK, this is only tangentially about the craft and biz of knifemaking. About a month ago, I decided to take the scooter down to town to get some things for dinner. Since it was a nice day (and we haven’t had all that many, this year), I took the long route. I was headed down the Cherry Valley road, about a half mile from the intersection with highway 203 (since you are not from around here, all of this means nothing. You’ll just have to trust me, it’s a pretty ride). Something happened. I’d tell you what, but I have no memory of the event. I remember thinking about the stop sign at 203, and the next thing I know, I’m looking up at an EMT, and my shoulder hurts.

Now you should know that when I say scooter, I mean a Chinese Chiang Jiang BMW clone with a sidecar. If you know about such things, you know that sidecar bikes behave quite differently than 2 wheelers. One of the differences is that, at times, you can unload the wheel on the chair, turning the bike from an asymmetrical 3 wheeler, to a badly balanced 2 wheeler. This often causes the driver to veer into the oncoming lane. To compensate for this, the driver moves his body toward the car in right handers (if he is well trained). I know that I was doing this before the place of the crash, so I assume that I did it there as well, but as you know, SOMETHING happened. The driver behind me (another rider and an off duty EMT) told the police that I was in control and not going fast, and then I was fighting for control and crashed. It’s possible that something on the bike failed, from the damage I’m guessing the wheel on the chair is the culprit. It hardly matters right now.

The bike went across the road, over a curb, sheared off a stop sign, and I slid 15 or 20 feet. The helmet and jacket soaked up much of the damage, I got some road rash on my hands (which is not as bad as I have done on my belt grinder, BTW), hit my toe and my head (accounting for the memory loss) and broke my collar bone.

I can’t say enough about the EMT’s and Duvall police. They were great. They treated me and Marianne with respect and great care. You couldn’t ask for better.

OK, all of that is bad, though much less so than it could have been. I do feel the need to say that riding a motorcycle is dangerous and I knew that. However, riding a bike is perhaps more dangerous, driving a car has it’s risks, and even walking down the sidewalk is risky. We all have to weigh the risks and decide which ones we are willing to accept in whatever we do. Afterall, I work with 2500 rpm grinders in close proximity to my hands, 2000 degree steel in my hands, mills, lathes, powerhammers, and hydraulic presses. I take care and do my best not to get myself or my friends killed. I will likely ride again, and I like sidecars. BTW, if you know of a sidecar bike for sale, or an HD Servi-car, I’m interested. If you don’t what a Servi-car is, well, you have to do that research yourself .

So right now I’m a bit beat up, but not beat down. I have a few pieces for sale in the gallery, and for a while, that is pretty much what there is.


Here is the big news, however. I have decided to stand for my ABS Mastersmith stamp. My target date is 2012 (subject to change). That means that I won’t have very much time in my schedule, once I am able to swing a hammer again, for new pieces for sale. So if you want one of my pieces, you need to move soon. The closer I get to the deadline, the more crazed I will be. I even hope to blog the process as I go, for everyone’s amusement. Right now, rehab is my job.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Classes at 5 Elements Forge

Well, as I could have predicted, even trying to get something here once a week is proving to be hard for me. However...

Classes at 5 Elements Forge!

As everyone is aware, the care and feeding of shop trolls is a delicate and expensive proposition. In order to make sure that all of them get fed, I am offering classes in metal working at my shop in Duvall Wa.

I’m offering classes at the forge, partly to make enough to keep the lights on, partly because it is something I like to do and because it’s in keeping with the tenets of the American Bladesmith Society.

I have enough space to take as many as 3 students at a time for hands-on classes.

So what kinds of classes am I offering?

As an ABS Journeyman I have a broad range of topics I feel equipped to cover.

Basic forging: This class will cover the basic elements of forging steel, we could also cover hot and cold forging of non-ferrous metals (copper, brass, nickel and the like) if there is an interest. We will make some simple tools, scrolls, hooks, perhaps a dinner bell, or a door handle.

Basic knife making: In this class we will cover the following: Steel and steel selection, knife design, the pros and cons of forging vs stock removal, forging a knife blank, grinding a forged blank, heat treating of a knife, guards and handles, finishing techniques. This is a 3 day class, though it does not have to be 3 days all in a row. In order for you to take home a finished knife it takes that much time.

Single topic in depth classes: Say you want to learn to forge a knife, but you are willing to do the finishing yourself in your own shop. Or perhaps you just want to learn about heat treating carbon steel. Or any of the other things I have mentioned. I can do that.

Making damascus steel: Sounds very exotic, doesn’t it? I can teach the basics of making pattern welded steel, making a billet, the basic patterns (ladder, pool and eye, twist) and can cover some of the elements of mosaic damascus. This is mostly a demonstration class, though everyone would get to take home a piece of damascus steel. Since this is a demonstration (rather than a hands on event) I can have as many as 5 or 6 people in the shop for this.

Advanced topics: The making of an ABS test knife. We will forge and test an ABS Journeyman style knife. If you have an interest in going down the ABS road, or simply want to build a high performance knife, this is the class. It will take 3 days to cover all of the information and build the knife. I am not an ABS Master, and so I cannot oversee the actual performance test. I can, however, guide you through the process and do everything but sign the form.

I think it likely that someone will have a request to cover topics that I haven’t thought of. I will do my best to satisfy your requests, and if I don’t feel competent to do it, I’ll tell you. Perhaps I can find someone who has the skills to teach the class, fees will have to be negotiated.

Prices. I’ll bet you are wondering what all of this is going to cost, aren’t you? $100 a day, per person. I provide the class, tools, and materials, plus coffee and snacks for breakfast, and lunch. We have a couple of nice local places to provide lunch, a pizza place and a great BBQ spot, and of course burgers and dogs or chili is always an option.

So come and become a patron of 5 Elements Forge, and help keep the shop trolls fed.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Tutorial, a knife start to finsh

A hand made knife, from start to finish

I am often asked “ How long do it take to make a knife?”. The answer is, it depends. That is not really all that helpful, so I decided to document a knife from start to finish and see how long it takes me.

Disclaimer: This is just how I work, and to some extent, just how I worked on this project. One should not infer that every smith works this way, or even that any other smith does. Any errors, misrepresentations, fabrications, or outright lies, are mine alone. In addition, this document is not intended to teach anyone how to make a knife. It is merely an illustration of the process, intended to inform my customers and passers by.

The Beginning

A knife starts as an idea. It can be an historical piece, an idea sparked by another maker, a picture, a drawing, or just the product of my overheated imagination. I am constantly thinking about knives (which is not nearly as creepy as it sounds) and I don’t really count this time as part of the design time in a project.

After the design is complete in my head, I often make drawings. I keep a bunch of sketch books scattered about the house and shop, so I can get something down as an idea occurs to me. A drawing can be a quick thing in pencil, just to get a basic shape, or a much more finished thing, with a materials list and such like. I often will do a single blade shape with four or five handle ideas, and I also do close up drawings of transition points like the heel of the blade.

The other thing that happens is I will get an idea, run right out to the shop with nothing in hand and start hammering steel. Sometimes these projects turn out just what I envisioned, and sometimes the steel takes me off in strange directions, there is no way to know before hand.

So what I am saying is, the time this stage takes….depends. It can take a few minutes, or it take several days, or weeks, or longer. Since I rarely work on just one knife at a time, I can be thinking about one or more pieces, sketching one or more, forging, grinding, polishing and all of the other stuff, all at the same time. As I am writing this, there are about 20-30 pieces scattered about the house and shops ( I am currently in three buildings, a bench in the house, a grinder shop, and the main shop housing the machine shop and the hot shop.).


Assume that I have just one project in train. I take the sketch out to the hot shop (where my forging gear lives, anvils, forges, AbiYoYo my power hammer, and all of the other tools), tape the sketch to a wall and find a piece of steel.

Just a short note, I try to use steel of a size appropriate to the knife I want to make. I could forge down a 2 inch round of 1084 to 1 x ¼, but I won’t without good reason. It’s one of the advantages of a modern smith, I can get steel in the size and shape I want, I don’t have to make it myself. It saves a bunch of time.

For this project I decided that I wanted to make a flattop Bowie/fighter in an early 19th century style. I have done several of these, including this one from my JS suite,

so I didn’t make a sketch.

I took a piece of steel from under the forge (which is where all of the tool steel cutoffs end up) and got started.

The piece is 1084, 1.5” by .250”, about 6.5 inches long.

I start by forging down the tip, this picture is just after one heat. I could just cut off the tip, but that tends to make the point of the knife a bit stubbier, and I wanted the length.

As I forge the tip down, the mass of the metal has to go somewhere, so the piece of steel gets wider. I know that I’m going to want to get rid of that extra thickness at some point, so part of every heat is spent forging the width back down to the .250” (more or less) that I started with.

This is after the 2nd heat. You can see that I’ve gained an inch or better in length already. This is the advantage that a forger has over a grinder, I’m not grinding away steel, (yet). I can start with a fairly small piece of steel and change the dimensions of it with my hammer.


I’ve forged in some taper to the blank, you can see the ripples from the hammer in the surface. I’ve gained some more length and cleaned up any problems. It’s taken me 4 or 5 heats to get to this point.

At this point I decided that I wanted more length, so I took a couple of heats to narrow the blank and draw some length. I could do this by hand, but since I have a powerhammer, I used it. It saves me time and effort. You can see that I’ve gained another inch or better in length.

I decided to start the tang, just because it makes holding the piece a bit simpler. I start with a top and bottom fuller to set the notch, and then one heat on the hammer.

This is the basic preform for most everything I do. A preform is just what a bladesmith calls a piece of steel that has been given a basic knife-like shape. None of the bevels have been put in and often, none of the taper. If I was going to do a dagger or a spear point I’d adjust the final position of the tip, or if I were doing a Seaxe, I’d leave well enough alone.

Once I have the preform made, I start to forge the edge bevel. I work 2 to 3 inches at a time, blending the hammered surfaces together. Forging the edge pulls the tip up toward the spine of the blank. The edge is getting longer and the spine is staying the same length, so the tip rises. In this case I also forged the tip into place, because I wanted a flat back, and not a big curved clipped point like a Southwest Bowie.

I’ve forged the edge bevels back to where I want them, and I’ve set the start of the plunge cuts. One thing you can see in this photo is the blank has a decided curve to the spine. On some other project, that might be fine, but in this case I don’t want it, and I will take it out in the next couple of heats.

And so I have. I’ve also squared up the ricasso. I took a couple of heats to take out the lumps and bumps, finish drawing out the tang, and to make sure that the blank was square and straight.

Here is the final product from the forge.

At this point I took 3 normalizing heats (I bring the whole blade up to about 1600 degrees F, and let it cool to ambient temperature.) On the 3rd heat the blank is buried in vermiculite overnight and allowed to cool slowly. Normalizing relieves stresses caused by forging, refines the grain structure of the steel, and sets the steel up to be hardened. This takes longer to talk about than it does to do. The forging is the most fun of any project (for me, at least) and takes the least time. Not counting any think time, I’ve spent about 40 minutes forging and another 45 minutes or so normalizing.

Total time: About 1.5 hours


Unless you like the look of a forge finished blade, and I don’t right now, everybody has to grind their knives. The next day I pulled the blank out of the vermiculite and ground off the forge scale with an angle grinder. The scale is very hard and will eat up a grinding belt. Once the majority of the scale is gone, I profile the blade and grind to a clean 36 grit surface. There is another 2 to 3 hours spent to get to this point.

Total time: About 4.5 hours.

I spent another 2 hours or so grinding at 60 grit and then at 120 grit and putting in the Spanish Notch. The blank is ready to heat treat.

Total time: About 6.5 hours.

Heat treating or hardening

I do all of my heat treating after dark. Even though my shop faces North, there is still too much light in the shop during the day. The light washes out the color of the steel and make it difficult to judge how hot the steel is. Too hot is as bad or worse than not hot enough. Being in near total darkness makes it much easier to see the color of the blade. Most of the books will tell you that steel needs to be a “Cherry Red” color to harden. I don’t really know what that means, to me, the color is “Tangerine”, whatever THAT means.

However, when the steel is at the right temperature (about 1550 degrees F for the kinds of steel I use) it becomes non-magnetic. This is the transition or Curie point. I keep a magnet stuck near the forge to test the blank with. Before I quench the piece, I do two more normalizing steps on the blank, just like I did before grinding it. This relieves any heat or grinding stresses I might have set up during the grinding process.

On the third heating pass, I carefully bring the blank up to the transition point. This is where being in the dark makes the difference. By taking the time to figure out what color the steel is at the right temperature, it’s much easier to find the color for the hardening step. When I have the blank at a uniform color, and have tested it with the magnet, I soak the blank for 30 seconds more and quench it, usually in oil. After quenching (if everything goes right) the blank is hard as glass. If I were to leave the blade in this state it would be too brittle to use, and it might even crack or break just sitting on the bench, so the next step is tempering.

All in all this takes a couple of hours, partly because the forge I use for this step is different than the one I forge in. Because it is also my welding forge, it has a brick floor and it takes 30 to 40 minutes to come up to an even heat.

Total time: About 8.5 hours


Quenching the blank makes it hard. Tempering trades off some of the hardness for toughness. I do this by heating the blank in an oven for several hours. The temperature the blank is heated to depends on a number of factors, the type of steel, and the intended use are most important to me. I could go into the details of the process, but in the interests of time and space, I’ll leave that research for the folks who really want to know. There are a number of good resources on the Web that talk in great detail about heat treating steel.

Once the piece is heat treated and tempered, it looks like this

You can see by the dark line that I quenched just the edge of the blank (I still call it a blank at this point. It’s not really a knife yet, just some kind of KSO (knife-shaped-object). Some time in the next few hours it will go from blank to blade, it’s still not a knife to me until all of the pieces are assembled). Edge quenching gives the finished blade a hard edge and a soft spine. A blade like this will take a lot of abuse, bending and twisting, without breaking. The black smudge is excess oil from one of the other blades I heat treated at the same time, resting on it in the oven.

I usually temper in 3, four hour blocks of time, so it takes half a day to do. On the other hand, I’m not actually doing anything except waiting. So I’m not going to count this time. If I have other projects in the works, I’d go and work on them, or mow the lawn, or clean the kitchen.

Total time: About 8.5 hrs. 12-14 hours wait time.

More grinding

Once the blade is hardened and tempered, I go back to grinding, in finer and finer grits. I have to be careful. If I over-heat the blank at this stage, I will have ruined the heat treating in that area. As the edge gets thinner I have to slow down my grinder to avoid over-heating, which means that it takes more time to remove the steel I need to take off. I start at 36 grit and work my way down to 220 grit, removing all of the scratches of the previous grit before I move on. 220 grit is where I like to start my hand work. This takes 2 - 4 hours for a moderate sized blade, up to 10 or 12 inches.

Total time: 12.5 hours.

Hand sanding and polishing

This is just what it sounds like, a lot of time, a lot of elbow grease. Depending on how well I have gotten all of the pre-220 grit scratches out, and how complex the blade is ( a double edge blade, or one with a false edge, or one with fullers (blood grooves) can take a lot longer) it can take 15 or 20 minutes per side, or several hours per side to get a clean, 220 grit, hand rubbed surface. Once that clean, 220 grit surface is established, the hand sanding goes quicker, but it can still take a couple of hours to get to about a 400 grit finish. I usually stop at 400 grit and start working on the guard and handle. I need to have the blade close by to test fit the guard and handle, and it’s going to pick up dings while it sits on the bench. This blade took about 4 hours to get to a 400 grit finish.

Total time: About 16.5 hours.

Making the guard, handle, and furniture.

I start with the guard. In this case, after fiddling with drawings for a while, I decided on a double lobe “S” guard in German Silver (a Copper/Nickel alloy). I sawed a piece off of a block and roughed the shape with my milling machine. Then I started to refine the shape with a file. It took an hour or so to this point.

After filing the basic shape I cold worked the arms of the guard. In the lower part of the next picture you can see how the arm has been tapered and elongated, and the end flattened.

The short arm was treated much the same, and then I dished the ends of the arms and cut the slot for the knife tang.

In the next picture you can see the dished finial and the back side of the guard (where the handle will meet the guard), I have relieved the back side of the slot so that as I file the slot to fit the tang, I don’t have to file away so much material. You can also see that the guard is not very symmetrical. It gets better as it goes along.

I decided to do a version of a shell guard. Since I had never done one, I spent half a day finding pictures of historical shell guards. Mine is not a copy, but my interpretation of one. I also decided that edges of the guard needed some file work as well, and that the spine of the blade (where I often do some decorative file work) didn’t need anything.

I then finished all of the surfaces while the guard was still flat, and then carefully bent the arms into the shape I wanted (at all times reminding my self which side had to go which direction. Being dyslexic is a challenge, at times). All in all I spent about 6 hours on the guard, and another 2 on online research for ideas.

Total time: 24.5 hours

Here is a picture of the guard and blade mocked up together. I did this so I could think about handles.

Fitting and gluing

It took me a full day to create the things in the following picture, about 8 hours of fitting and fiddling. There is the paper template at the top and the mock handle in maple. A German Silver frame with the pin holes located and the pommel attached and two bone slabs with pin holes drilled. Everything has to fit perfectly for a handle like this (well, for any handle, but this is fussier than most), if anything moves or is mis-drilled, it’s start over time. The two ironwood slabs were a test to see if I liked the look.

Total time: 32.5 hours

The next day I cut the shell features into the pommel and glued up the bone slabs. Once that had cured overnight, I ground everything to fit. All of that took another 5hours, not including the dry time for the epoxy.

Total time: 37.5 hours

Now we are in the home stretch. I took the blade and finished up the hand work, polishing to 1200 grit, marking the blade, final fit of the guard, and gluing and pinning the handle in place, and, after the epoxy was dry, cleaning the nooks and crannies where epoxy hides. I spent another 4 hours on all of that.

Total build time: About 41.5 hours.

And here is the final product, photo by Mitch Lum.

I don’t want you to think that this knife was finished in a just a week In fact, I did the forging parts and the rough grinding, and then the piece sat around for a couple of weeks while I worked on other things. After I heat treated this piece (and about 6 others) I pretty much worked straight through to finish it. So the actual time spent was several weeks, it’s just that not all of that was spent on this one project.

As I said at the beginning, I am often asked “How long does it take to make a knife”. The real answer is that I don’t have a clue. I usually say something like “Oh, 20-25 hours.” That’s when Marianne smacks me in the head and says that its double that, at least. I’m beginning to think she is right. I am not the fastest maker in the world, but I’m pleased with the way this piece turned out, so I guess that is OK. I hope you have found this little look into my world enjoyable and informative.

Geoff Keyes
5 Elements Forge
August 2008

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Words from the Shop

So here we are, new web site, new blog, a whole new world. My intent is to try to post something once a week or so. I hope to put tutorials here, a shop tour, random burblings about knives, knife making, the biz, as it 'twer.

If I decide that I have more to talk about than just knife making (though why anyone would want to talk about anything else.....) I'll start a sidestream. This place is gonna be about knives and the making thereof.

Lead Shop Monkey
Lord High Everything Else