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The making of a custom forged knife, start to finish.

post #1 of 32
Thread Starter 

Greetings all,

 

A little background.  I have been an avid knife collector for some 25 years, and have been a contributing writer for a number of large custom knife publications for the last 8 or 10.

 

More recently, however, I have been learning how to make the type of knife I most frequently use and collect - the forged fixed blade.

 

I have been fortunate to count among my friend a very talented American bladesmith - Dan Farr - who lives about a 2 1/2 hour drive from me around Lake Ontatario, in Rochester, NY.  He has patiently showed me the ropes and rescued me from some near-terminal mistakes along the way.

 

Generally, it takes one 3-day weekend for me to complete a blade, then another full 3-day weekend for the guard and handle.  One one visit, however, Dan and I - together with another friend and knifemaker Matt - decided to try to take a knife from raw steel to completed product in just one weekend.  What follows is the result of three consecutive 14-hour days of hot, dirty work.  Hopefully it will illustrate what goes into the making of a quality custom field knife, for those unfamiliar with the process.

 

We'll start with the design, which was for a large camp knife with a 10-11" blade.  It's the kind of knife one would use for diverse tasks such trail-clearing, shelter-building and even food preparation.


Dan's forge is located at his hunting camp, about an hour south of Rochester in the Genesee Valley.  Over a hundred acres of woodland, fields and streams surround the cabin, so there's no-one to disturb with all the banging:

 

 

Shop dogs are constant and welcome companions:

 

 

The starting point is a bar of 1095 steel, and the first step is to get it hot.  Real hot.

 

 

Dan (left) and Matt wait for the steel to heat, hammer and anvil near at hand.

 

 

It helps to have a rough scale representation of the shape you want to form close at hand:

 

 

 

A power hammer is a handy tool to help with some of the initial shaping - like creating distal taper - or a narrowing in blade thickness as we progress from the guard to the tip.  And for yours truly, not blessed with blacksmith Popeye arms, it definitely cuts down on fatigue:

 

 

 

 

The real shaping of the blade, however, is best done with hand and hammer:

 

 

More to come.

post #2 of 32
I <3 this thread already. Have thought about making my own, someday.
post #3 of 32
Cool, looking fwd to more posts and info!
post #4 of 32
Subscribed.
post #5 of 32
Thread Starter 

Thanks guys.  A few more steps along the path:

 

When forging out a blade this long, hammering out or 'pulling" the steel down to form the edge tends to make the spine bend like a banana.  So it has to be straightened out periodically, by laying the spine on the anvil and whacking downward on the edge with a 2 by 4 until the spine sits straight.  Yes, very high tech.

 

 

Here is the blade forged very closely to shape.  The closer you get on the anvil, the less grinding is required afterwards.

 

 

This is also the stage at which we leave the forge and return to Dan's workshop in Rochester.  First, I us a surface grinder to clean up some of the forge scale and form a nice, flat square ricasso (that flat section between the guard and the dropped cutting edge):

 

 

And Matt (who is FAR better at grinding that I am) cleans up the blade itself.  Grinding free hand and maintaining a flat, even grind with no dips or hollows takes skill.  And it also takes nerve to get your fingers that close to the belt.

 

 

 

Which takes us to this stage after initial grinding:

 

post #6 of 32
lurker[1].gif
post #7 of 32
Looking good! After you see this process you start to wonder why they only ask about $300-$400 for a knife by some of the Japanese shops.
post #8 of 32
Awesome thread.
post #9 of 32
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by SkinnyGoomba View Post

Looking good! After you see this process you start to wonder why they only ask about $300-$400 for a knife by some of the Japanese shops.

 

But it does perhaps give some insight as to how some Japanese swords can cost $3,000 to $4,000 - or indeed, several times those sums.

 

Not all knives advertised as 'hand made' are forged in this fashion.  A good many simply have the blades laser or water-jet cut from sheets of steel in large batches, with minimal hand finishing going forward.

post #10 of 32
so, are you going to be selling knives? smile.gif
post #11 of 32
Thread Starter 

One the blade is ground fairly close to it's final shape, it's time for quenching - which hardens the blade.  It is MUCH harder to grind a hardened blade (for obvious reasons) so you want to take things close to final, leaving just a bit extra blade thickness to resist warping or cracking - the latter being fatal to the entire process.

 

The process involves heating the entire blade to an even orange glow:

 

 

Then immersing it rapidly in quenchant.  The result is quite visually impressive, as flames erupt from the quenching tube - in this case, filled with Parks 50 quenchant.  It's also a really  great way to lose your eyebrows):

 

post #12 of 32
Quote:
Originally Posted by RogerP View Post

But it does perhaps give some insight as to how some Japanese swords can cost $3,000 to $4,000 - or indeed, several times those sums.

Not all knives advertised as 'hand made' are forged in this fashion.  A good many simply have the blades laser or water-jet cut from sheets of steel in large batches, with minimal hand finishing going forward.

I'm sure thats the case, in fact for the production forged pieces I would imagine they're forged in a press if they are not forged by air hammer. Still, all things considered forged knives have always been something I've admired.
post #13 of 32
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by BubblyMasquerade View Post

so, are you going to be selling knives? smile.gif

 

I've only made six in total and have only ever sold one - and I keep trying to buy it back!  Honestly, there's so much blood sweat and tears (yes, literally) poured into the process that I find them very hard to part with.

Now, there are a great many professional knifemakers out there whose skill vastly exceeds my own, and I'm happy to make recommendations. smile.gif  At the end of the process I'll show some of the pieces from my collection that are at another level entirely.

post #14 of 32
I assume the tears start where the knuckles meet the grinding belt. I'm a woodworker by hobby so for me they start by mallet.
post #15 of 32
Thread Starter 

One reason to get close to the quenchant is to listen.  Carefully.  Amongst the roiling hiss of the quenchant being brought instantly to boiling, there is one sound you DON'T want to hear.  The dreaded "ping" that tells you the blade has cracked.  Sometimes the crack will be visible - but not always - which is why you have to listed carefully.  That sound means you start from scracth.

 

Thankfully we didn't hear that sound.

 

The blade actually warped just a little at quench, and you have just a few seconds to make that right (as the steel is rapidly hardening at this point).

 

Matt straightens it out, and then immediately plunges the blade into a tank of liquid nitrogen.  Wihout getting to technical, the deep cold helps the hardening process along.

 

 

The frosty blade is extracted from the liquid nitrogen tank the following morning, with a long day of work ahead:

 

 

 

I've been taught by Dan that the best way to design a handle and guard is to do a tracing of the blade with the tang, then sketch the handle around it.  This gives you an idea of the proportions needed, and also lets you know if you need to adjust the angle of the tang.  You'll notice that the tang runs almost the entire length of the sketched handle, for strength.

 

Off to the side is the hunting knife I made the year before - this knife was to be a companion piece.

 

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