Forging Ahead

Check out this sweet little knife and sheath I made. I did this a few weeks ago during a course at a local forge where we learned how to make an “integral knife”.

The course was basically an grown up game of Simon says with metal and fire. The instructor would live demo something, and we would try to replicate his movements and techniques. All tools, materials, and first aid supplies were provided.

We were using coal forges with noisy air blowers underneath. One of the most important skills, I learned, is being able to control the fire so that it burns as hot as you need it, and not crazy hot where the metal turns to jam. Sometimes we’d even splash water in key spots to cool the flames.

Once the forges were hot, we took our blanks and heated then hammered them to shape. At one point I left mine in the fire a bit too long and the end bit of the handle broke off. I’m going to have a waaaay small handle. That’s right, I made a knife for seven-year olds and hobbits. Maybe even seven year old hobbits.

The process of normalizing the blade, quenching, and tempering the steel was explained to us. These are all super important steps in conditioning the steel. Otherwise, it may break in your hand when you’re cutting steaks or fighting orcs.

Making the knife sharp was done via the “stock removal” method. That is, we took it to the belt grinder and ground down the primary and secondary bevels. I’ll spare you the details, but the lesson learned was that big expensive power tools are awesome. I left with a shopping list growing in my head.

We did a cowboy temper to save time and I got the blade too hot. This is why there’s a blue spot in the blade. This is an area of softer steel compared to the straw yellow parts. I sanded this off with a bit of wet 600 grit sandpaper to hide my mistake. I’m not too worried about it as this isn’t meant to be a hard working knife.

That was the end of the course, but a bare blade is a bit pokey in the pocket. I thought a little sheath might be safer so I made one at home.

Using a paper tracing of the blade, I transferred the shape to a bit of veggie tanned pig skin. After punching the stitch holes and dying to a light brown, I left it to dry under a small weight to help it take shape.

Stitching the sheath together was a little fiddly with the saddle stich method, but I got it done with only a minor loss of blood.

A quirk of the knife is that distinctive curly cue handle. It serves as a convenient catch for the keeper string I added to the sheath. This will prevent the knife from falling out as I run merrily through the forest.

However, I think I’ll keep this as a lunchbox knife (that’s why there’s no belt loop on the sheath). The design of this knife doesn’t make it great for any real work, except for maybe slicing peppers.

Since I don’t have the hands of a fourth grader, I experimented with a little pinky loop. This keeps the knife from slipping out of my hand on heavy draw cuts. I don’t know if I’ll keep it though. It looks a little out of place.

This was a fun activity. If you’re interested in traditional skills or hand making stuff, search for a forge or knife maker in your local area and take one of their courses. You’ll gain an appreciation of craftsmanship, and maybe a hobbit sword to take home.

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