So, where were we?

Bake at 415 for two hours.

You should recognize this picture.

That’s right, we’d finished the last of the heating operations on the metal. Now, at this point we checked for any warping on the steel (I had none, the instructor had a warped tang), and for hardness. We used a series of chisels to determine a Rockwell hardness value. “Around sixty” was where we wanted. The other student’s Damascus came out to a sixty-one. Both of the 1084 blades came out to a sixty-three. The reason for this is simple – the heat treat parameters were calibrated for 1084, and the different multi-steel configuration of the Damascus couldn’t reach its maximum potential. Oh well, it was still plenty hard.

Now we were in the home stretch of making this steel into a working knife. We had our profile, out pin holes and the start of a bevel. The first thing we had to do was to make the primary bevel whole. While the primary bevel doesn’t hold the actual cutting edge, its geometry contributes to the effectiveness of the knife as a whole. The more acute the angle, the easier time you’ll have cutting with it. So the objective of this stage was to stretch the primary bevel from the edge to as close to the spine as you can get it. We’re not putting an edge on yet, so there should still be some blunt space on the narrow side. I also took the opportunity to remove as much of the remaining hammer marks as I could. The instructor was going for the rustic look with forge scale on the ricasso and near the spine. I personally don’t care for that look. I want to make a knife that is more polished.

During this step, we did not have the magnets. Actually, we had them but they went unused. This is because the tang would provide ample space to hold onto the steel, and the thumb on the back of the steel would give a good indication of the temperature the metal was at. The temperature matters because the grinder can produce enough heat to damage the heat treat of the steel and weaken it. But, if you keep it cold enough to hold, you don’t get into that range. There is a basin of water just below the grinder to cool the steel when it’s getting too warm. I pushed that bevel pretty close to the spine.

I actually burnt the tip at one point, but cleaned it up, so you can’t tell.

Once the bevel was in there were two more operations on the steel before we turned to the handle – re-flattening the tang in case of warp, and sanding the primary bevel. Flattening the tang was the same as last time, and as I hadn’t picked up a warp worth noticing, I just ground until the decarb was gone. What is decarb? Well, back when we went and put the knives in the kiln, there was a chemical reaction with the air. Since there was a lot of heat and not a lot of carbon from say propane or coal to occupy the attentions of the atmosphere in the kiln, the carbon in the surface layers of the steel went ‘sayonara’ and left to join the gasses. This left a layer of just iron on the outside, called decarb because it had decarbonized. It was a different color from the steel, so I could see when it was ground off. It gave a pretty good indication for making sure the tang was again flat.

Sanding the primary bevel… well… ugh. I know now why the ancient Japanese swordsmiths fobbed off the tedium valiantly let others take the honor of polishing the steel. It is tedium personified. The problem is that the grinder will always leave scratches that are not aesthetically pleasing. So you have to knock these off with a similar grit sandpaper. That sandpaper will leave its own scratches, not as severe as the grinder, but which you have to knock off with a finer grit sandpaper. Rinse and repeat. We only went down to 600 grit paper, since this is a utility knife and we’re not going for a mirror finish. Trust me, that’s enough. I was quite happy to have that blade wrapped in a protective layer of blue painters tape when we moved on to the next operation.

Up until this point, the handle scales were just flat pieces of wood waiting to be worked on. Now, we superglued one to the steel, took it over to the drill press and used the holes in the steel to guide the drill and the reamer into the wood to ready it for pins. At this point we had pins to test. Indeed, we used them to secure the scale once two holes had been drilled in case the glue let go. We repeated the process with the other scale, pin precaution and all. Other than testing their fit, the pins proved to be unnecessary, as the glue fought against any attempt to separate it when the time came for the next operation. I was worried I was going to break the scales levering them off. But they came free. Using the grinder to clean off the scales and acetone to get the superglue off the metal, I was ready for the next step.

Tracing the outline of the tang on the inside of the scales (with the pins in to make sure the outline was aligned correctly) we took the scales to the band saw. I don’t like the band saw. I’m not as afraid when using it as I am of my table saw, but it worries me. I did however, get the rough cuts in and moved on. Using the grinder, we contoured and chamfered the ricasso end of the scales because it is nigh impossible to work those areas once the epoxy is on.

Those divots in the tang are actually to give the epoxy more space to fill and get a grip.

And it was time for the epoxy. We used five-minute epoxy, which, as the instructor said, turned into two-hour epoxy in the winter. I had already done this sort of thing before, so I had few qualms about being able to do it again. I wasn’t as neat about it as I would have liked however. Still, it got clamped up and we took our lunch break. The other student spent his lunch break acid-etching his steel. Darn Damascus.

Super messy. At least I didn’t glue the paper towel to the table.

Coming back from lunch, it was time to begin shaping the handle. It was back to the grinder, where we brought the rough cut from the band saw down to the shape of the steel, and put in some smooth contours for the hand to hold on to. When I’d last tried this sort of thing, I’d commented that a belt grinder is a powerful tool in the hands of a skilled user. This still holds true, however, I’m getting better with it. As with working the steel, the grinder left deep scratches in the wood that are not comfortable to hold on to. So we had to finish the handle with hand sanding. Thankfully, black walnut sands nice and easy. So I was able to take some 220 and 400 grit sandpaper and get a nice smooth finish. Some spots required a file because the gouges from the grinder were just too deep for sane sanding. But, I got it done. Nice, comfortable contours that would allow the short handle to sit easy in even my giant mitts.

Oh, did I forget to mention that? Because they started us with such short steel, the handle is too small for my tastes. I still got it to a shape where I could use it, but I’d rather have more.

I think I actually did it.

The knife was almost completed. But, we put them on hold. Why? Because the course was technically “Everyday Carry Knives”. And to carry, the knife needed a sheath. So we broke out sheets of plastic, Made in the USA. Wait, plastic made in the USA? What spoor of madness is this? Well, it all makes sense when I say it’s the same stuff most modern pistol holsters are made from. So that’s why there’s still companies making it in this country. Anyway, at this point we broke out two new (to the class) pieces of hardware – another toaster oven, and a press. This toaster oven was tiny and looked like it came from the late seventies or early eighties. It was just big enough for our sheets of plastic to lay in and heat to 225 – one at a time. The toaster oven and press are two more bottlenecks that would have dramatically slowed down a full class – like the drill station and the quench, students had to go one at a time. And it took time at each spot. At least you could be warming up the next sheet while someone was in the press.

Anyway, once the plastic was at 225, it got a consistency like a sheet of rubber, and could be folded around the knife. Once clamped into the press and allowed to cool, it picked up the contour of the blade, and provided a friction fit. Once out of the press and cooled, we checked to see if there was enough space for the belt clip and all the rivets. You see, it was hard to perfectly align the fold in the press, and if it was off by too much, you had to go back into the toaster oven. At 225 the sheet would unfold itself and be ready for another attempt. If there was enough room, we would mark them out with soapstone and pay a visit to the drill station with new bits appropriate to the hardware we were putting in.

The calipers were used in several other steps, but I never bothered to mention them.

With the holes drilled, we took a detour back to the band saw to do a rough cut of the shape of the sheath, then to the pencil sharpener to grind in a smooth contour and chamfer the outer edges. Now, the plastic chips shed during the sawing and grinding process cling like nobody’s business. Cleaning out the burrs on the inside of the sheath and getting all the plastic chips out before we applied rivets was a bit of a pain. But not that difficult in terms of the actual work to be done. By this point, the press we’d used for the plastic folding had been retooled for pressing rivets. With the rivets we used, it took less force than I expected to set them. Of course, the press gave a mechanical advantage that helped a lot. But at this point we could fit the belt clip with screws and call the sheath done.

We did use a heat gun to tweak the friction fit a bit.

Enough of the diversion, the knife is almost finished. It was at this time we realized that the time savings from prior student experience with machine tools and forging, as well as the shorter waiting at bottlenecks meant we were going to wrap up a full day ahead of schedule. That was good, because it meant I could leave town before the storm that was supposed to bring whiteout conditions to the roadways. It was now time to put an edge on the blades. Here we used the slack of the grinder, that space where the belt is unsupported. We didn’t want to take off too much material, just enough to give it an edge. To do this, you hold the blade with the edge facing the oncoming belt, and gently draw it across the abrasive. The goal is to eliminate any blunt areas and get it to the point where you feel a burr along the entire length of the edge. This is the limit of the grinder to sharpen it. We broke off the burr using what the instructor called the ‘Scotch-Brite belt’. It was a grinder belt made of a material that looked just like the green kitchen abrasive pads.

That burr gone, we were done with the pencil sharpener. The time had come for the hand sharpening. For this we used a whetstone and a strop. A whetstone is just a brick of material with a fine abrasive grit, so it’s not unlike the other processes we’ve been using all day. It’s just the nature of the grit and the way we drew the blade along it that matters. For the whetstone you continued to draw the blade edge-first along the surface, trying to get the entire length of the cutting edge with each stroke. You would do this on both sides. This produces a ‘micro-burr’ along the edge that you then break off with the strop. The strop is just a length of leather. You draw the blade the opposite way from the whetstone, with the edge facing away from the direction of travel, and apply sufficient force that the leather can break off the small bits of metal clinging to the edge.

Once we had a cutting edge, the last operation of the class was to treat the handle with protective oil. In the case of the black walnut, it was boiled linseed oil. Which requires at least three coats with a twenty four hour drying cycle in between. Thankfully, I was given a small amount of oil to take home since I wasn’t sticking around long enough for that five minute procedure over the next few days. So, it was finished.

Oooh, shiny! Wait, that’s the wet oil.

Now, I’ve been mentioning the other student’s work throughout, so I might as well provide a group photo before leaving Maine.

Mine doesn’t even look awful next to the more experienced smiths.

And after getting home, a quick comparison with my previous efforts for those who’ve forgotten or never saw the last time.

What a difference an instructor makes.

I think I’ve improved since last time. I mean, this time I even did the steel, and it has an actual cutting edge.