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Knife Making Raw Materials

Learning Something New - Part 1

As I mentioned in my post about my goals for the year one thing I wanted to do was get started in bladesmithing. I was actually thinking about this the other day and I my interest in knives can be pretty clearly traced back to Poppie. I remember him showing me a knife from his time in the military. It was a folder with a fork and spoon and I thought it was the coolest thing. He told me when I got older he would give it to me, and it's one of my most prized possessions. So, while I've had an interest in knives, and edged weaponry in general, for nearly as long as I can remember I actually knew very little about their construction. 

Around December of 2009 (as near as I can tell) I watched an episode of GeekBrief.TV which featured a chef's knife by famed Master Smith Bob Kramer. It combined two things I loved, cooking and knives. I started reading all about Bob's history and lusting after his knives. Since then I've been on the waiting list for my chance to get a knife made (one of these days!). This was my first real exposure to the knife making, and particularly the craft of knife making. 

Fast forward to the beginning of winter last year. I was doing ... something on youtube when a video by Walter Sorrels made it into the recommended videos section that was about tools for beginning knife makers. I clicked on it, watched it, and quickly started watching the rest of his videos. I was clicking on them at random at first, getting all the tips etc and eventually going back thought the channel history and systematically working through every video. 

The main take away was that just about anyone can do it, and you really don't need all that much to get started. Also, your first knife is probably going to suck, and that's ok. This is something that any maker would already understand and hopefully embrace. Acquiring any new skill takes time and your first attempts are probably going to be pretty sad examples of whatever your goal is. The key is to not get discouraged. There have been countless talks/articles/presentations on this, because as obvious as it may seem, so many people give up early. It's easy for people to look at something, want to do the same thing, and forget the *years* of effort that went into creating the "thing." Sure, it took that Master Smith a couple hours to bang out that glorious knife, but it took them years (literally the minimum is 4 years through the ABS) to get to that level. 

I find this is self defeatism is actually pretty common in naturally gifted individuals. People for whom things normally come easily, when they can't master this new thing in a couple weeks they just give up. If you *really* want to do something, it won't be lack of skill that keeps you from achieving it. Skill is something built, honed, and slowly added to your quiver of abilities. 

Enough preamble - onto my actual first knife. At the end of the day, to really get started making knives there's very little you actually *need* to have. Walter has many videos on making knives without a single power tool, just files, a couple saws, a brace and bit, and charcoal. Now, I tend to go a bit overboard, within a certain financial limit, of course.

First off, there's two methods for making knives. Forging is the one that most people think of first. This is the whole hot metal, hammers, anvil stuff. You heat up your stock metal and pound it into shape with hammers. While this is where I'm heading (and is the requirement for knives judged for ABS status) it also requires a lot more equipment (and anvils are expensive!). The other method, the one Walter recommends for getting into the hobby, is known as "stock removal." With this method you take a piece of flat metal and cut/grind/file it down to shape. Once you have your shape down both methods are the same. 

Using the stock removal method I cut my 1095 steel stock down to a little over 7 inches and drew out the basic shape I was going for. One thing you learn early is the many types of steel you have to choose from, 1095 is a high carbon steel and generally pretty forgiving and is a pretty good choice to start with. My goal was a simple paring knife, and I actually took one of my favorites from the kitchen down to the shop and used that as a guide. The main "big boy" tool I lack is the all important grinder. Typically these are 2"x72" belt grinders - some variant of that is what you'll see in just about every professional knife maker's shop. I do have the more common 4"x36" sander, but it doesn't work nearly as well. 

Without the grinder the first step was taking the hacksaw out again and trimming off as much of the stock as I could. I think used a double cut bastard file to file the metal the rest of the way down to the shape I wanted. No lie, this takes a lot of work and I needed several breaks before I could finish creating the "blank."

Once I had the shape I wanted pretty well figured out it was time to add my holes in the tang to attach my handle scales. I first used a punch tool to mark two spots then, since I have 3/16" rod stock, I chucked up a 3/16" center drill countersink bit in my drill press. You use these short bits to get the hole started. Once you have the hole started put in the regular high speed 3/16" bit and drill the hole out. Can you go straight to the bit and drill the hole directly? Probably, but when drilling steel the long standard bits can "walk" before they actually start to drill into the material. While it's a couple more steps this method ensures your holes will be exactly where you want.

Now that I had the holes in my tang I started putting my bevels in. Now, I probably should have stuck to the files, but I thought I'd see what I could do with that sander. I tried getting that plunge line, and that just didn't work at all, so I ended up with a blade that is all bevel. This is certainly an acceptable knife style, but it's just not what I was going for. At the end of the day I had something that more or less looked about right, but there was some pretty clear flaws that I had introduced. The blade isn't the smoothest thing in the world, and that's the second main issue. 

At this point the blade is ready for heat treat. For the heat treat process and the rest of the build check out part two!