I failed at a hollow grind!

 


I recently built an attachment for my grinder: a setup for a 10” diameter contact wheel. This was a huge step up in my arsenal: hollow ground knives initiate a cut at an insanely thin angle, for maximum efficiency on the initial cut. The only drawback is that the angle becomes increasingly obtuse as you continue the cut, making it best suited to cutting thick objects.

Turns out, that’s not the only drawback.

Dangers of super thin hollow grinds

  From this angle the blade looks fantastic. Unfortunately, I just ground it too thin

From this angle the blade looks fantastic. Unfortunately, I just ground it too thin

 

The problem was, I didn’t do my homework on hollow grinds. I approached a few knives just like I would a full flat grind: grind to “zero”, thinner than any hollow grind I had done before. This means grind away until you’ve eliminated the flat surface on the edge (like establishing the blade edge in sharpening, as covered last  week). This works well on a flat grind because the material thickness increases relatively quickly, but for a hollow grind, you’re left with less than a millimeter  thickness for nearly 1/16” or so.

This didn’t bode well for heavy performance. The edge did not hold up to the brass rod test: it punctured a bit, then crinkled... and finally chipped. 

I think my heart did likewise.

It could have been a heat treat issue, but after testing some other factors, I believe it was geometry. The blade was simply too thin to hold up to any serious use. In fact, it’s likely that I brought the grind too far back, increasing the amount of super thin steel. This was a heartbreaking realization; four knives, forged, heat treated, ground, and wrapped, all in the dump heap. 

That said, I learned. Any and every failure shows me how I went wrong, and the concept, attached to the “pain” of how I learned it, makes it far more memorable. 
 

Caleb Harris

I’ve always fooled around with tools and hardware, but I think my passion with blades started far back in my childhood: wooden swordfights with the neighborhood kids. I became the neighborhood “blacksmith”, using my grandfather’s tools to hammer little crossguards onto wooden sticks. I always tried to find the best scrap wood: lightest, strongest, trying to get the perfect length and shape for each “customer”. This started my passion with blades.
 
When I was ten years old, I joined a local rock and gem club, learning stonecutting and cabbing, and through that came to take silversmithing lessons from a local jeweler. It wasn’t until around the age of 13, that I turned my attention to bladesmithing, which has captured my heart. 
 My personal obsession with bladesmithing, as I’m sure you can relate, isn’t just the joy and passion of the making: the musical clang of the hammer on steel, the shower of sparks on the grinder, the whisk of the blade over the sharpening stone, but also of the fulfillment in creating something that is twofold: that of beauty, and that of function. It’s trying to make something that is as much an art piece, as a tool that you can trust your life with. That’s what caught my heart, and the pursuit of that perfect combination still drives me.  

[Summary] Coffee Treating Damascus Blades

  Coffee treated patternwelded blade by Mareko Maumasi

Coffee treated patternwelded blade by Mareko Maumasi

 

Coffee Treating Patternwelded Steel

Note: this information is from Mareko Maumasi of Maumasi Fire Arts. Mareko is bladesmith who specializes in high-end kitchen cutlery. He makes a habit of weekly sharing details into how he does things: usually it's a damascus pattern, but a little while back he did a series of videos on Instagram detailing how he finishes his damascus blades, using a coffee-based treatment. With his permission I transcribed it to text, which can be read here. This is the shorter article that I rewrote using the information from Mareko's original videos. Enjoy, and let me know if you try this! 


Coffee treating has two great advantages: one, it's a very beautiful, high contrast finish on damascus, a smooth dark gray over the bright silver. Second, is being coffee, it's completely food safe, and so very suitable as a final finish on kitchen cutlery.

The first thing to get set is the temperature and mix ratio. Coffee is an acid, albeit a mild one. So, the hotter the mix, the faster the etch. If the coffee mix is boiling hot, it can get where you want in about ten minutes, whereas a cold mix can take about 24 hours. Mareko uses "tap hot" water, water that's about as hot as you can get from the tap, or just about a simmer on the stove. 

For the mix ratio, use three cups of instant coffee mix to a half gallon of water. Mareko specifically uses mix from a seven ounce container of Nescafe Clasico Dark Roast. 

This mix is plenty sufficient for your average to large knife: when I tried this finish, I mixed my solution and poured it into a 3" diameter PVC pipe with the bottom end capped off. Plenty of solution to fully submerge my 9" blade. 

So that's the solution. Now for prepping. The damascus is first etched in standard ferric chloride (Mareko uses a 4:1 ratio of water to acid). Etch it to the depth you want. This gives height difference between the contrasting steels, and so a shimmery 3D look, but the coffee gives the final coloring. After etching to the preferred depth in ferric, neutralize the acid on the blade with baking soda water, and wet sand with a worn out, used piece of 2500 grit sandpaper. Scrub the whole blade down nice and evenly. 

Now, if it's just the bare blade at this point, you're good to go right into the coffee. If the handle is already fixed on, paint a resist (such as nail polish) over the handle where it meets the blade; this will prevent the coffee solution from staining the wood handle. 

Once you've got your knife prepped, the coffee mixed, and the temperature set, you're ready to dip the knife. Hang the blade in the coffee solution, and check every ten minutes or so to make sure it's darkening evenly. It'll take forty minutes or so, give or take depending how dark you want it. 

Troubleshooting

If it looks like the blade isn't darkening evenly, there's likely something wrong with the prep. Take it out and scrub it down with fine steel wool. It's a mild abrasive, but it'll even everything out and break everything down. Then, put it back in and try again. 

Uneven darkening can happen at the second or third check too, so be ready in case that happens. If it does, take it out, scrub it down, and try again. 

Another issue you may run into is if you have too much "bright" steel in the pattern as opposed to dark. Damascus patterns are typically two steels, one "bright" and another "dark" (silver and gray/black), usually something like 15n20 for the bright and 1084 for the dark. If it's too much bright steel, the bright steel tends to darken instead of staying untouched. Mareko doesn't know why, it just does, so if the particular pattern you're doing has a larger amount of bright steel then the coffee treatment may not be the best way for it. 

Once you've reached the desired darkness, take it out and neutralize it with baking soda water and wipe it down with a paper towel. A bit of the oxide should come off and it'll lighten a small amount but the rest should stick. If you're not happy with it then it's steel wool and repeat, but if you are, it's a light oil and you're done!


P.S. Mareko noted that if you have any questions, he is more than willing to answer them and help other bladesmiths out. You can email me, or contact him through his website.

Caleb Harris

I’ve always fooled around with tools and hardware, but I think my passion with blades started far back in my childhood: wooden swordfights with the neighborhood kids. I became the neighborhood “blacksmith”, using my grandfather’s tools to hammer little crossguards onto wooden sticks. I always tried to find the best scrap wood: lightest, strongest, trying to get the perfect length and shape for each “customer”. This started my passion with blades.
 
When I was ten years old, I joined a local rock and gem club, learning stonecutting and cabbing, and through that came to take silversmithing lessons from a local jeweler. It wasn’t until around the age of 13, that I turned my attention to bladesmithing, which has captured my heart. 
 My personal obsession with bladesmithing, as I’m sure you can relate, isn’t just the joy and passion of the making: the musical clang of the hammer on steel, the shower of sparks on the grinder, the whisk of the blade over the sharpening stone, but also of the fulfillment in creating something that is twofold: that of beauty, and that of function. It’s trying to make something that is as much an art piece, as a tool that you can trust your life with. That’s what caught my heart, and the pursuit of that perfect combination still drives me.  

Coffee Treating Damascus Blades

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Chef Knife by Mareko, treated with a coffee solution to etch the blade for the final finish

 



Coffee Treatment by Mareko Maumasi


Note from Caleb:
Mareko Maumasi of Maumasi Fire Arts is a bladesmith who specializes in high end kitchen knives. Aside from being easily in the top kitchen bladesmiths at work, he is also extremely passionate about sharing his experience, knowledge, and experiments.

Typically he posts weekly videos on one or another damascus pattern, however a little while ago he did a detailed series of videos on his Instagram profile on a method he uses to finish damascus: the Coffee Treatment. I asked for permission to transcribe it to text, as I find this very useful to save and study for later. This is the full transcribed version with only minor edits: if you're looking to get all you can, I recommend reading this article. You can watch the original video series here. For simplicity, I also rewrote the information into a shorter article that hits the main points and troubleshooting tips. That will be part two. 


Transcription from video series by Mareko Maumasi.


"Today I wanna talk about coffee treating blades, I'm not gonna be doing a pattern this week. I get a lot of people asking me a lot of questions about "what is this coffee treatment you're doing?" "Why are you using coffee instead of just doing ferric?" And so I want to answer those questions, help you trouble shoot it as well because I've been working on this technique for finishing my blades for the last two years I've been messing with it. I have been getting consistent results here and there but then something changes and I don't know what it is. And it's only been the last month that I feel like I've really nailed a system for doing this that works really well and gets consistent results. "

"Okay so right off the bat I want to talk about mixture ratios and temperatures. 
Like I said I've been playing with this process the last couple years and temperature plays a big role. Essentially, there's a whole spectrum; the colder the mixture is, the slower it etches. Which is good, because overall the coffee is a pretty mild acid that is affecting the steel, and so once you get to the hotter end of the spectrum, like boiling hot water, it can etch a blade, it can get the results you're looking for in maybe like ten minutes. Versus on the cold end of the spectrum you can leave a knife in there for 24 hours."

"So I use three cups of one of these seven ounce containers of nescafe clasico dark roast, with half a gallon of water. "


"So now let's talk about prepping the blade before you actually get it into the coffee. I use ferric chloride, which is usually like a 4:1 ratio water to ferric chloric acid which is also still a pretty mild acid; you can get it on your hands and go wash them later and it's not that big of a deal. Definitely don't wanna get it in your eyes and don't wanna ingest it. But anyways I use ferric chloride to etch my steel down to the depth that I want. From there, once I have the depth that I want in my steel and the pattern I take a spent, worn out 2500 grit piece of sandpaper and scrub the whole blade down. This is after neutralizing: I use baking soda water to neutralize the blade, and do a wet sand on it. "

"And then, especially if the blade is off the handle material, you're good to go. You don't have to paint on any resists to protect any kind of handle material or anything, you can just go straight in and start hanging your steel in the coffee. If you do, like I typically have my handle attached to the knife as I'm etching it into that acid, or rather dropping it into that coffee. If I don't have a resist painted on, (like I'm talking like a nail polish painted on; clear nail hardening nail polish. Essentially it blocks the coffee from coming into contact with my handle material) it will stain it, as well as it's unnessecary extra moisture that would be getting on the wood so you want to do something like that to protect your wood."

"So that is in preperation to getting your knife ready to dip into the coffee mixture. Now like I said, there's a huge spectrum from cold to hot that all works, but the mixture ratio, how much mix you're doing, how hot is it, how did you prepare your blade,  it's pretty much three major factors that I've been fussing around with for the last two years and like I said it's only been like in the last month or so that I feel like I've really figured out something that's 1, simple and user friendly and safe, and 2, gets very consistent results; the last two knives that I've posted on my instagram, I've used this technique for both of my knives."

"So I mix my three cups, this is a seven ounce container, essentially three cups, three measuring cups, of instant coffee, mix that into half a gallon of water, then I bring that up to like a simmer almost, so some of the water is starting to steam. I don't bring it up all the way to a boil anymore: I used to, but I don't any more. Essentially I want to bring it up to what I call "tap hot"; whatever the hottest temperature that your tap water gets. You can still put your hand under there unless it's around 180 degrees, before it feels like it's burning your hand. But for most people's homes, you can put your hand under your hot tap water that's been running for the last couple minutes, at its full temperature, and you're good to go. You can even use your hot tap water to mix with your coffee and pretty much get your knife straight in there. Once you have your mixture ratio, you've got your temp, you get your knife in there, and you want to hang it in there, I check it every ten minutes. I've done all kinds of stuff like I said, but I've been finding recently that checking in on it every ten minutes has helped a good time period. You don't want to let it go too long cause maybe it's not etching evenly and getting the results that you want. Anyways, every ten minutes until it has the darkness you want. The last one I did, it took forty minutes, which sounds like a long time but for the results you get it's well worth it." 

"Okay, let's talk about some troubleshooting. I've had all types of messed up stuff happen and think that I'm doing the exact same thing that I did last time and it's all going to s*** and it's not working, so for this new process that I'm doing, after the first ten minutes I go in and I take a look at the blade. If it's not darkening evenly, there's something up with the preperation you did with the blade. So what I do is I pull it out, and I scrub the blade (I don't neutralize it or anything) down with a (I think it's a) 4/0 steel wool, a very very mild abrasive, but that helps break everything down, even everything out, and then I put it back in the coffee."

"That should do the trick. If that happens like 2-3 rounds down the road, it's okay, it can be frustrating, do the same thing, put it back in the coffee, come back, check it every ten minutes. That happened actually, two knives ago that I posted, I'd already been etching the knife for like thirty minutes, I thought it was going great; I pull it out, and it looks like s***. And I think "y'know what, I'm just gonna try this.", so I took the steel wool, scrubbed it all down, put it back in, after a couple more rounds, it was perfect. So, don't freak out, be calm. That's the other trouble shooting suggestion I have for you."

"Sometimes, if you don't have an even amount of dark material in your damascus and bright material, essentially silver and black lines (the 15n20 is typically the silver line stuff), if you have too much bright stuff it probably won't etch very nice and easily in fact it'll probably darken, and I'm not entirely sure why that is, it just does, and it doesn't really look that great and so maybe in that case the coffee treatment isn't necessarily the best route for that blade or that pattern style or whatever. I don't know if this process works for stainless steel; I've done very very little with stainless damascus so that is something for somebody else to discover, not me."

"Okay, just to recap now. You wanna take three cups (at least, this is what I do), for my process take three cups, or a seven ounce container of nescafe classico dark roast instant coffee, to half a gallon (or two liters of water), bring it up to tap hot, either by using hot tap water or by heating it up on your stove and pouring it into some sort of container (I use a 3" diameter PVC tube with a cap on it), you put your coffee in there, and then hang your blade (if you have to prep your blade, use a resistor or something to keep the coffee from staining your handle material), and then check it, every ten minutes until you have the color you want."

"Final thing, is once you do have the color you want, take it out, neutralize it in baking soda water, wipe it down with a paper towel. Only a little of the black will wipe off onto the paper towel but even after wiping the blade down, it should still look great. If it didn't do that, you wanna hit it with that steel wool again, go back for another couple rounds, until you have a solid black that doesn't wipe off with a paper towel, and then from that point, dry it off, you're gonna oil your blade, if you use a rennaissance wax, use a rennaissance wax, but, you should be done at that point. For me, etching the blade is like the second or third to last thing I do because after that, I take photos, after that, I sharpen it, after that, I send it on its way."

"So, in closing, the coffee treatment does work. The reason I like it, is it's coffee. It's food safe. And it gets really nice high contrast results. There are a lot of ways to get nice high contrast results, I don't know exactly what anybody else is doing, I just know that this works for me and I like that it's food safe. If you try this, it works for you, great. If you come up with something else that works, I would love to hear about it. The biggest reason I'm putting this out there, a lot of people are "Don't tell the secret, don't tell this stuff!", the reality is like, I want there to be progress in the trade, in the craft, and I want people to put out great stuff! Put out stuff that they're proud of and not because it's just what they could achieve. And when I say achieve, I mean I've been making knives for a while, for the last 4 1/2 years, going on 5 years on my own there have been plenty of times where I could not get the finish on the knife that I wanted and I was like "you know what, **** it, I'm just gonna buff the whole thing!" 
But that doesn't feel good. So the reason I want to share this is because it's something that works for me, it's very user friendly, it's safe; I was doing a lot of stuff with buffing wheels before and that can be really scary and dangerous (people have died from it)."

"Basically, I just want people to feel proud of the work that they're doing, that they're putting out there, and I don't want them to feel limited because of their lack of knowledge. Ultimately, you can either do this work or you can't. And a lot of people have (and this gets into some muddy water a little bit), in my philosophy I hear a lot of people talk a lot about "training your competition, competition, competition, competition, gotta keep your secrets, competition!". I don't believe there is any competition so I have no problem, and that sounds like it's a very egotistical thing, and that belief comes from the demand for finely crafted, well made knives, far far far exceeds the supply."

"And because the demand far exceeds the supply, that means that there are hundreds of thousands of people all around the world who want well made knives. I can make them for them, I know plenty of great makers out there (I'm constantly talking about other makers), who possibly are a better suited maker for a particular person. That's totally cool with me because there are enough people out there interested in the work for every talented knifemaker to make knives for. So I have no issue putting any of this kind of stuff out. 
Sorry about the little rant, I want people to put out knives that they feel proud of. I would love to see your results if you give this a go, I would love to hear feedback. If anybody has any questions please do not hesitate to reach out to me, I'll do my best to answer any questions you might have and follow up. The system that I've come up with, that I'm using now myself, it's pretty straighforward. Hot water, instant coffee, scrub down the blade, put the blade in the coffee, let it do its thing, check it every ten minutes. Once it's dark, and it's durable, and it's holding its finish, you're good. So, have fun, be safe. Happy holidays!"

I am actually going to be travelling west back to washington for the holidays, I'm not gonna be in the shop so I'm gonna be doing things a little differently. If people have any questions, I would love to hear them. I thought something that I could try to do, is try to help people with stuff they're working on and processes they're struggling with whenever. One of the things I've really come to appreciate working in a shop with other makers is that you have people to bounce ideas off of and I know that there are a lot of makers out there who work by themselves. I was one of those people until about six months ago. And so, if you have questions, ask! Because we can work together to figure things out, bounce ideas off each other, and to help break through whatever kinds of barriers and walls you might have. Alright, take care!

 

Caleb Harris

I’ve always fooled around with tools and hardware, but I think my passion with blades started far back in my childhood: wooden swordfights with the neighborhood kids. I became the neighborhood “blacksmith”, using my grandfather’s tools to hammer little crossguards onto wooden sticks. I always tried to find the best scrap wood: lightest, strongest, trying to get the perfect length and shape for each “customer”. This started my passion with blades.
 
When I was ten years old, I joined a local rock and gem club, learning stonecutting and cabbing, and through that came to take silversmithing lessons from a local jeweler. It wasn’t until around the age of 13, that I turned my attention to bladesmithing, which has captured my heart. 
 My personal obsession with bladesmithing, as I’m sure you can relate, isn’t just the joy and passion of the making: the musical clang of the hammer on steel, the shower of sparks on the grinder, the whisk of the blade over the sharpening stone, but also of the fulfillment in creating something that is twofold: that of beauty, and that of function. It’s trying to make something that is as much an art piece, as a tool that you can trust your life with. That’s what caught my heart, and the pursuit of that perfect combination still drives me.  

An Overview of Wood

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Note from Caleb: this is a guest article by Benjamin Greenberg of Greenberg Woods, a wood supplier who deals in a huge range of wood for knives, from maple to cocobolo, from burls to spalts. I asked him to write a primer on the most common handle material for knives: wood. This article will take us through a few common types of wood, the stabilizing process, pricing, and finishing techniques, giving a few whats, whys, and hows in the wood world.
 

Some quick wood info

MapleAcer spp 
 

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Figured maple is a longtime favorite of many knife makers, because it is incredibly easy to stabilize, work and dye. Its figure is described in a few ways. Curly means the grain has "fold" that reflect light differently, creating perhaps the most common and well known figure. This is most often seen in quarter sawn pieces “those cut radially to the grain,” often just called figured. Birds eye shows small circles in the grain resembling the eyes of a burl, though often they do not have the surrounding rings of grain normally found in burls. This almost only occurs in hard maple, while all other types of figure are most prominent in soft maples. Tiger/ flame and fiddle back maple all refer to a very tight pattern of curls. Quilted maple is another type of figure at resembles water with a breeze. The folds seem to lap into each other and become quite complex, giving a very 3d figure. This one is most often found in the big leaf maple of the pacific west coast and shows up best when flat sawn. Maple also forms huge and sometimes extremely well figured burls.



Mexican Kingwood: Dalbergia congestiflora 
 

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Also called Camatillo. The wood is a beautiful royal purple, swirling with scarlet, black, gold, violet and pinks. The wood is incredibly beautiful, with amazing grain patterns and unmatched color. The wood is also mechanically superb, with amazing hardness and density ratings that in many cases beat even those of Desert Ironwood.  Able to take an amazing polish with almost mirror like finish, it is also water proof and wears well. This is my personal favorite wood, though it has recently been CITIES listed and supplies are dwindling. The two main ways are to finish with wax or oil. An oil finish will greatly darken the wood down to a deep purple black, while a wax finish will leave the wood with its right purple and all the contrast, my personal favorite way to finish.

 

 

Black PalmBorassus flabellifer

 

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Perhaps the most unique “wood” on this list. Black Palm is technically a member of the grass family and there for a monocot. The wood is also incredibly unique, lacking any growth rings or other features commonly associated with wood. Instead, the wood contains varying densities of  incredibly hard, tough dark fibers embedded in a softer deep brown matrix. These darker fibers give palm is strength and pieces with a high density of these fibers can be incredibly strong and denser than water. Most of the Palm you will find on my site is Bias cut and stabilized.Bias cut means that it is cut and an angle relative to the direction of the denser fibers, which grow parallel to the height of the tree. This results in a stunning effect of what appears to be fish scales or a grouping of leopard spots. The wood is stabilized not for added density or strength, to properties Palm is not lacking for, but rather to prevent tear out. In unstabilized pieces, the darker fibers often tear out of the matrix leaving unsightly gaps. By professionally stabilizing the wood this can be mostly if not completely eliminated. 

 
Stabilizing

 

Stabilizing is a process that is not well understood by many people. To put it simply, it is the process of forcing a plastic polymer into wood at incredibly high pressure before curing the resin, thus leaving a wood that is impregnated with plastic to make it heavier, stronger, resistant to water and able to be easily polished to a high finish. The thing to know about stabilizing is that it does not fill voids. You cant take a voided wood and stabilize it solid. It makes wood denser and more stable, it will resist warping and cracking due to heat and moisture changes. 
 

Many people will try home stabilization using all manner of vacuum pumps and off the shelf chemicals. This simply does not yield the same results as professional stabilization.


What woods need stabilization? There is some debate about that. My list of exotic woods shows my personal suggestions for stabilization, but again. These are suggestions. In general, stabilizing is generally recommended for woods of about the density and hardness of walnut or lower. Thick maple, koa, redwood, mango and oak.

 

Finishing Stabilized woods: Stabilized wood finishes differently than even the same wood untreated. The injected resin means that the filled pores can be finished to a much higher degree. While something like natural maple, walnut, buckeye or koa would normally be sanded to in the range of 220 grit as a finishing grit, 1000-2500 is not uncommon with stabilized woods. Stabilized woods are also much easier to finish with a buffing wheel, as the filled texture does not stain and hold onto compound like raw wood.

 

When buying stabilized wood, it is a good idea to ask where the wood was stabilized. Most sellers on ebay sell a lower quality home stabilized product. In general, a stabilized block will be about 10 dollars more than an unstabilized block

 

A question I often get is “Why are knife handle blocks so expensive?”

 

The answer is; are they? It's important to think about the labor and competition involved in delivering a clean, knife handle sized block of wood. The most important thing to remember is that knife making is a back water industry as far as wood sellers are concerned. The real money is is Guitar making, veneer making and turning, all of which use a far greater volume of wood than knife makers and drive up the price of fine woods.

 

The next is labor and yield. It stuns most people to hear that the loss rate from cutting up a burl can be as high as 90%. With some large domestic burls such as maple, buckeye and walnut, a 50 pound burl may yield 10-20 pounds of high quality blocks, and given that burl is normally sold by the pound, thats a lot of lost product. With high end exotic burls like rosewood, ironwood or bloodwood burl, the losses can be incredibly. A recent batch of 65 pounds of high quality bloodwood burl yielded a mere 8 pounds of useable burl blocks, with an even smaller percentage being top quality. The labor and tooling required is also surprising. Breaking down a large burl can easily take the better part of the day, and combined with sanding, finishing and buffing its not uncommon for each block to have 5-10 minutes of work put into it.

 

All these factors combined with the cost of shipping, stabilizing and website hosting contribute to the cost of blocks. There are exceptions of course. I carry 3 species of wood, African blackwood, Kingwood and Cocobolo that i do minimal work to. The surfaces are not sanded past the bandsaw finish, the blocks are not individually photographed and they are cut from large logs rather than small burls, and these blocks sell for 10-20 dollars, a real bargain when you consider the cost of wood and time.

 

Finishing your wood handle

 

A good finish starts with good sanding. After shaping, jump up grits in increments of roughly 50, making sure to remove ALL scratches before continuing on to the last grit. This is often done using the slack of a belt sander, and j-flex belts like those sold by Tru-Grit are perfect for this. Use scalloped belts for best results, as these help to blend in edges and don't leave sharp dug in lines. I tend to stop belt sanding at 600 grit. Now, its time for hand sanding. Jumping back down to 400 grit, using either plain paper backed by your hand or with a heavy piece of felt or cork, go over the handle until a uniform scratch pattern is achieved. From here, continue up the grits until 1000-2500.  After you are completely finished sanding, jump back down to 1000 and do one final pass before finishing again with your final grit. Why all this jumping up and down? Scratches have a way of hiding and not appearing until you are getting ready to send off the knife. The extra time with paper will save you a lot of time and heart ache later.

 

After sanding, I love to use the buffer. Using a large, soft wheel using a small amount of finishing wax, go over the handle several times. Some people like to use brown Tripoli, but i find this has a tendency to get trapped in pores, and if the sanding was done properly its not needed. The heat of the buffer will allow the wax finish to melt in and give a very flat, even coating.

 

After machine buffing, finish the wood with a very vigorous hand buffing using a soft cotton cloth.

 

Beware the call of oil! Flooded oil finishes are something of a siren song. When first applied, NOTHING looks better than a heavily oiled handle, however the oil will darken the wood, muddle figure and blend colors. Resist the urge, and use a high quality finishing wax or light coats of tru-oil following the advice of makers like Nick Wheeler.


I've actually been aware of Greenberg Woods for quite a while now, but until lately have not needed a more constant and larger supply of handle material; I didn't (and don't) exactly have the fastest tools and skills ever. That said, having looked over and read his site and seen his stuff, I'm very excited about the possibilities: Benjamin has some of the best prices for some of the best material available. I just ordered a bulk set of kingwood blocks from him and can't wait to put them to use. There is a ton more on his site, both wood selection and valuable information on wood, stabilizing, finishing, etc. He is definitely work checking out!  
-Caleb Harris

Caleb Harris

I’ve always fooled around with tools and hardware, but I think my passion with blades started far back in my childhood: wooden swordfights with the neighborhood kids. I became the neighborhood “blacksmith”, using my grandfather’s tools to hammer little crossguards onto wooden sticks. I always tried to find the best scrap wood: lightest, strongest, trying to get the perfect length and shape for each “customer”. This started my passion with blades.
 
When I was ten years old, I joined a local rock and gem club, learning stonecutting and cabbing, and through that came to take silversmithing lessons from a local jeweler. It wasn’t until around the age of 13, that I turned my attention to bladesmithing, which has captured my heart. 
 My personal obsession with bladesmithing, as I’m sure you can relate, isn’t just the joy and passion of the making: the musical clang of the hammer on steel, the shower of sparks on the grinder, the whisk of the blade over the sharpening stone, but also of the fulfillment in creating something that is twofold: that of beauty, and that of function. It’s trying to make something that is as much an art piece, as a tool that you can trust your life with. That’s what caught my heart, and the pursuit of that perfect combination still drives me.  

Forge Build Pt IV

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Building a simple forge torch
 

Disclaimer: building a torch is DANGEROUS. I am not an authority on combustible gas and am not responsible for any errors or accidents. This is simply to document my build, for my burner, and not to be taken as an instructional guide. If you wish to undertake a torch build of your own, do your research, take precautions, check fittings, and understand the risks involved.


This is actually the second torch I've built, in the same style and model as my previous one, reusing some of the same parts in fact, but upgraded and replaced a few of the worn out components. 

First off let's lay down a few distinctions. A solid fuel (coal/charcoal/coke powered) forge operates largely off the principles of correct air blowing and containment of heat to get the coals hot enough, whereas an efficient propane forge simply needs the most flame contained well enough to heat the workpiece. 

So (among other variables), bigger, hotter flame = bigger, hotter forge. Pretty simple. For this build, I decided not to do a complicated burner build, but simply improve on my current model, which is very easy to make.

Gas torches require a combustible gas under high pressure to be mixed with air, which is then ignited. Under the propane torch umbrella are two main types; blown burners and venturi burners. Blown burners make use of gas as well as air pumped into the torch shaft, so the air, as well as the propane, is forced in. This is more efficient and economical than a venturi burner but is more complicated to build. I'll likely try a blown burner in the future but it's nowhere near a necessity now.

Note: another bladesmith messaged me to say that it's actually entirely possible to convert a venturi torch into a blown burner. I am interested in this but that upgrade will be for another time

The venturi burner's namesake is the venturi effect. The basic idea of the venturi effect is that when gas flows from a wider area of pipe, through a choke, or restricted section of a pipe (like a funnel), the pressure decreases, and velocity increases inside the restricted area. Not only increasing the speed of the gas down the shaft, it also sucks air into the intake. 

So, a venturi burner is a torch that works by shooting a stream of propane down into a cone, into a tighter shaft, and then expelled into the forge where it is burned. Oxygen is sucked in and mixes while in the shaft, where they combust in the forge, producing the precious flame. The end of the torch is also a flare, slowing down the gasflow once more so that it ignites as it is expelled. 

Basic construction is cone, pipe, then cone, with some way to expel propane down the first cone. 

The method I used is known as the Ron Reil style burner (I actually didn't know the name before a follower filled me in, a huge help for more research), what I ended up piecing together after research on various forums and threads. I cherry-picked different principles and this is what I came up with. 


I started with three black iron pieces; two reducing couplings on either end of an 8" X 3/4" nipple pipe, threaded at both ends. I drilled two holes through the intake coupling, 1/2" diameter. 

The propane piping is set up like this: a regulator and hose goes from the propane tank and screwed onto an adaptor, which screws onto a brass nipple, which is inserted perpendicular to the intake coupling and capped on the end. The brass nipple has a #52 hole drilled in the center, this orifice is for ejecting the propane into the torch shaft.  

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Note: make sure you clean out the burrs after drilling the orifice in the brass nipple. If you don't, they will clog the hole and inhibit the propane flow. I did this carefully using some needle files and a wire brush. 
 

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The view down the brass nipple pipe: you can see the orifice drilled in the center. Check it inside and out for burrs. 


The individual dimensions of the brass pieces aren't actually all that important: I just went to the local Ace, explained what I needed along the lines of the above, and they put the pieces together for me.

Just a word of warning for those of you who (like me) are not familiar at all with piping: make sure the thread sizes match. When I first built this torch, I went back and forth to the hardware store several times before I realized there wasn't one standard thread size. Who knew, right? 

To summarize, the basic setup is like so: Three black iron componenets: two bell couplers on either end of a 3/4" nipple. One end expells the flame into the forge, the other is the intake and supports the brass piping. 
The propane goes from the tank through a hose, through an adaptor, into a brass nipple piece which is inserted perpendicularly into the intake coupler and capped on the other end. The propane is expelled through a hole in the center of the brass nipple piece, into the black iron shaft, and expelled out the flare at the other end where it is burned. 

Now, where the brass pipe is inserted into the intake coupler, you will notice that there isn't anything holding it still: the pipe will be relatively free to rotate, which you don't want happening. I marked the opposite side from the orifice with a sharpie so that I know when it is oriented correctly. It could be possible to redesign the torch so that the brass pipe is impossible to turn, but I kept it as is, and make sure to double check the orientation before I light the forge. The ability to rotate the pipe also enables me to help fine tune the burning, to get 100% combustion. 
 

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As time goes along I will be making upgrades, tweaks, and repairs to the burner, but this is a very solid, efficient, and working torch that is the perfect size for simple knife forging.

With that, I've completed (for now) the new forge build. The entire series can be found on my site here. If you have any questions or comments, please shoot me an email, I would love to hear them! I am not an expert, and there is loads that I have left to learn.


P.S.

A very valuable resource that I found only after completing the torch can be found here. I believe it is written by Ron Reil himself, the pioneer of this style of burner. It is very clearly a go-to resource if you plan on building a torch of your own. 

Caleb Harris

I’ve always fooled around with tools and hardware, but I think my passion with blades started far back in my childhood: wooden swordfights with the neighborhood kids. I became the neighborhood “blacksmith”, using my grandfather’s tools to hammer little crossguards onto wooden sticks. I always tried to find the best scrap wood: lightest, strongest, trying to get the perfect length and shape for each “customer”. This started my passion with blades.
 
When I was ten years old, I joined a local rock and gem club, learning stonecutting and cabbing, and through that came to take silversmithing lessons from a local jeweler. It wasn’t until around the age of 13, that I turned my attention to bladesmithing, which has captured my heart. 
 My personal obsession with bladesmithing, as I’m sure you can relate, isn’t just the joy and passion of the making: the musical clang of the hammer on steel, the shower of sparks on the grinder, the whisk of the blade over the sharpening stone, but also of the fulfillment in creating something that is twofold: that of beauty, and that of function. It’s trying to make something that is as much an art piece, as a tool that you can trust your life with. That’s what caught my heart, and the pursuit of that perfect combination still drives me.  

Forge Build Pt III

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Forge Build: insulation and clay

 


Last time we talked about building the main forge body, the frame of the forge. Now it's time to work on the interior. 


The overall principle for the interior is that the end goal is, of course, to contain the heat pumped out by the torch.

Given that, many people build their forge entirely using bricks for the interior. This is a very good way to do it. For small-scale bladesmiths, a circular interior and small size is optimal, as opposed to blacksmiths who need to simply blast a ton of heat onto thick steel. We don't need all that much, but we do need efficiency in a small space. 

Thus, most bladesmiths build a forge using high-temp ceramic wool insulation. That's what I used for this build.

I ordered Kaowool (this one, to be precise) off Amazon, a little more than I needed, for under $50. A friend of mine, Will Freeman, sent me some satanite clay to line the forge (we'll get to that in a minute). 

Ceramic wool is an insulating blanket, it helps keep the heat contained and keeps the frame from overheating. I'm writing this article post-completion, and have used the forge many times. So far, the outside of the forge has not exceeded 400 degrees Fahrenheit, so it does a good job. 

Note: Ceramic wool is made of ceramic fibers, which guess what: NOT HEALTHY for your lungs. Wear a respirator when working it. I suited up with glasses, hoodie, and gloves too; fibers stick in your skin like cactus if you're not careful.

I've only ordered ceramic blanket twice, and both times it came with a simple box cutter to cut it with. This works just fine.

It took a little bit of planning, but I got the wool cut to the right length, rolled it up, and cut a hole in the center to fit the torch flare. Because the blanket is a few inches thick, the tip of the flare and the interior surface of the blanket ended up flush, which is excellent because if the torch extended into the forge, it would overheat too easily and degrade much faster. 

I placed it so the seam ended up at the bottom of the forge. Later on I'm planning on putting some firebricks on the bottom, especially if I intend to use the forge for forge welding: flux from this process dissolves (for lack of a better word) the forge lining. In any case, potential issues with insulation coming apart down the road are far easier if the seam is on the bottom, than on the sides or top where the edges could fall in. 
 

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Once the roll was in place, I trimmed it to be flush with the edges of the forge body. 

The doors were a bit trickier, and took some creative cutting to fit the wool in just right, but I got it eventually. The basic idea was cutting a disc (or a bagel, for the front) for the back, then cutting a strip to line the edge just like the main body of the forge. The main thing is to make sure you have as few separate pieces of blanket as possible,just so there aren't weird gaps between pieces, and so that it's structurally sound. 
 

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Once the inside was completely lined with insulator, it was time to coat it with refractory mortar. Refractory is a type of high-temp clay, and ceramic wool needs to be coated so the fibers don't get in your lungs. 

Now, uncoated wool is a long-term health problem. You won't notice anything immediately if you use an uncoated forge a few times, but the fibers will build up in your lungs.

Coating the wool with refractory both keeps it safe to use, but also keep the interior sturdy and in place. The refractory I used is called Satanite, and can be attained from a few different suppliers. On a side note, satanite is also one of the more common clays used for clay quenching, so it's worth getting a good amount. Rutlands, a common clay that's also widely used for quenching, falls apart a little too easily to coat a forge, so I would stay away from it for that purpose. 

I'm not sure the exact water to clay ratio, but the goal is a sour cream like consistency. I just mixed in bit after bit till I got what I liked. You don't need anything in particular to coat it with; I just put on disposable gloves and slathered it on by hand. The clay doesn't have to be particularly thick; I did just one coat, and put it a little thicker at the insulator's seams. 

Side note: because I had gloves on and they were covered with clay, I wasn't able to get any photos of this process, but it's pretty self explanatory

I also packed extra around the mouth of the torch, for extra security and structure. 

At this point we're pretty much done. It's best to wait at least overnight for the clay to dry, and though it was still slightly damp the next day I fired up the forge anyway with no issues. It works like a dream: gets up to heat in no time, the doors swivel perfectly, and the amount of flame is perfectly variable!



P.S.

You'll notice that I've saved one of the more important parts of this build for last: the torch, which will be next week. I planned on publishing that article much sooner, but due to it being a little more particular and with smaller room for error than the other parts, it's taking longer to write, so bear with me. I should be able to get it done by next week. 

Caleb Harris

I’ve always fooled around with tools and hardware, but I think my passion with blades started far back in my childhood: wooden swordfights with the neighborhood kids. I became the neighborhood “blacksmith”, using my grandfather’s tools to hammer little crossguards onto wooden sticks. I always tried to find the best scrap wood: lightest, strongest, trying to get the perfect length and shape for each “customer”. This started my passion with blades.
 
When I was ten years old, I joined a local rock and gem club, learning stonecutting and cabbing, and through that came to take silversmithing lessons from a local jeweler. It wasn’t until around the age of 13, that I turned my attention to bladesmithing, which has captured my heart. 
 My personal obsession with bladesmithing, as I’m sure you can relate, isn’t just the joy and passion of the making: the musical clang of the hammer on steel, the shower of sparks on the grinder, the whisk of the blade over the sharpening stone, but also of the fulfillment in creating something that is twofold: that of beauty, and that of function. It’s trying to make something that is as much an art piece, as a tool that you can trust your life with. That’s what caught my heart, and the pursuit of that perfect combination still drives me.  

Forge Build Pt II

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Building The Forge Body 

 The forge body is the main component, holding the parts and housing the insulator. If you have access to a welder, it's simple to design and build the body to your exact needs, but many of us use reclaimed materials, usually a tank of some kind. Old propane tanks are a popular choice. 

As you know from last week's article, I used an old fire extinguisher tank that I picked up a few months ago at an antique store. It's compact, with a handle at the bottom and a tight mouth at the top. 

 

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I started by cutting off both ends just below the weld seams using an angle grinder, and bolted on hinges to "reattach". This way I had two doors for the forge. On the one end I would have the original mouth of the tank, and this could open up further in case I had larger projects to work on such as axes or hammers.
The opposite side could open as well, in case I needed to work longer projects, and would keep it closed otherwise to conserve as much heat as possible. 

 

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The bolts will later be covered with insulating blanket and refractory

 

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A small side note: make sure you mark out properly which side is up, down, and exactly where the hinges should be. Of highest importance is to make sure you don't have everything lopsided or unbalanced, but also double check you have the hinges on the correct side. Because I am right handed, I have the hinge on my left when I'm facing the mouth of the forge. 

Next is the base plate. Because the body is circular, I bolted a flat plate of steel to the bottom. 

I like to keep my forge on top of a few cinderblocks, held up by a cart. I don't like to keep it permanently fixed anywhere, as I'm constantly moving and rearranging things in the workshop. Because of this, I used long bolts and kept them extended: the forge is placed on top of the cinderblocks and bolts go in the opening, this ensures that the forge is not bumped off its stand. 

 

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The final step in the forge body is setting up the torch.

Now there are two things I did not do in this particular rendition that I intend to do in the future; first, is build proper angling for the torch. 

For peak efficiency, the torch is best built at a slight tangent to the wall of the forge, rather than directly down. An angled torch will shoot the flame along the wall of the forge, creating a swirling flame. This mixes, spreads, and contains the heat for as long as possible.

I intend to modify the torch better in the future but for now, this runs efficiently enough for me not to have any problems, especially as I don't do very long of workpieces.

Second is the method of fixture. I punched a hole through the forge roof, slid in the flare, and pinched down the edges of the punched hole to fix it in place. Obviously welding, or a better mechanical fixture is superior, but I was in a rush to get this going for certain projects and this is extremely sturdy for now, and will require only simple modification for a more firm structure in the future. Later insulation and clay structuring cemented it further, but that'll be a topic for next week.

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You can see the top is threaded; the torch shaft will later screw into this component.

The flare protrudes a bit into the forge, which had me a little worried that it would stick too far into the interior and overheat (disintegrating over time) but later when I installed the insulation it ended up being perfect distance.

A possibly superior way would be to cut the hole into the body and place the flare on top rather than inserted into it. Inserted as it is now puts the tip of the flare nearly into the forge interior, which means it gets red hot and at higher temperatures will disintigrate faster. This means I'll have to replace the flare months down the road but this isn't much of a worry, especially as once the insulation is installed it will be flush with the walls of the forge. 

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So that's the forge body setup!  

I think this is the seventh forge I've build, possible eighth.

Definitely more compact, tight, and efficient than any other rendition to date.

If you have built your own forge and have photos of the setup, I would love to see what you made it out of and how it was done! There are always ways to improve. 

Next week will be the insulation, and following that an overview of the torch build (spoiler: it's a Ron Reil style burner).

Caleb Harris

I’ve always fooled around with tools and hardware, but I think my passion with blades started far back in my childhood: wooden swordfights with the neighborhood kids. I became the neighborhood “blacksmith”, using my grandfather’s tools to hammer little crossguards onto wooden sticks. I always tried to find the best scrap wood: lightest, strongest, trying to get the perfect length and shape for each “customer”. This started my passion with blades.
 
When I was ten years old, I joined a local rock and gem club, learning stonecutting and cabbing, and through that came to take silversmithing lessons from a local jeweler. It wasn’t until around the age of 13, that I turned my attention to bladesmithing, which has captured my heart. 
 My personal obsession with bladesmithing, as I’m sure you can relate, isn’t just the joy and passion of the making: the musical clang of the hammer on steel, the shower of sparks on the grinder, the whisk of the blade over the sharpening stone, but also of the fulfillment in creating something that is twofold: that of beauty, and that of function. It’s trying to make something that is as much an art piece, as a tool that you can trust your life with. That’s what caught my heart, and the pursuit of that perfect combination still drives me.  

Forge Build Pt I

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Planning The Forge Build

Hey all! It's been a bit of time since I last wrote. But, with a bit of equipment needing upgrading, it's time to get some more blade talk out there. 

I forge all my knives using a propane forge I built a few years ago, a fairly redneck one but it worked extremely well. Despite this, it's starting to fall apart and there are some things it lacks that I could use.

So, it's time for another forge build. 

This series of articles will cover everything from the bare frame, to insulation, to building the venturi burners. 

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The build of a propane forge usually revolves around the main "frame" piece, the steel containment. I like to browse antique stores a lot (it's a bit of an obsession), and on one of my journeys a few months ago, I found an antique fire extinguisher.

Did you know, by the way, that fire extinguishers used to be based off a soda-acid reaction in order to build up pressure? Who knew! Turns out those vinegar and baking soda volcanoes you made as a kid actually had an application. 

I picked it up originally intending to use it for a quench tank, but never put it to that use. Instead, it's the perfect size and shape for a propane forge.

Having a fire extinguisher made into a forge is a bit poetic, don't you think?
 

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The forge will have hinged doors on both ends, the front end (the top of the extinguisher) having a small opening, but with the ability to open wider (see sketched diagram above), and the back end completely closed unless the door is opened. This will allow me to contain more heat, or open the forge for wider projects.

Inside the tank will be ceramic wool (an insulator), coated with a refractory, and layered along the bottom with firebricks.
Assuming I can build it right, I'll have a few torches inserted nearly vertical, but at a slight angle to swirl the flame. This swirl helps the efficiency of the forge as well as contains more heat.

The torches will be simple venturi burners; we'll get to the details later when I begin building them. 

Feet for the forge will be welded or bolted on, and it'll be fixed atop an old barbeque cart, as I like to be able to move the forge around. 

 

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So, there we are.  As far as tools go, forges are actually extremely simple. A propane torch pumps out flame, all you gotta do is build a structure that is shaped so that this heat is most efficiently contained and controlled, and the workpiece supported. Under this basic principle of course, there are a lot of nuances that help work together for an efficient, convenient forge. 


You'll notice that I didn't draw up full blueprints and my plan isn't exactly complete, but that's partially how I work: I like to start with a rough idea of a plan, start following it, and modify as problems or opportunities arise. And if there's one thing I've learned, it's that problems or opportunities always arise. 

Caleb Harris

I’ve always fooled around with tools and hardware, but I think my passion with blades started far back in my childhood: wooden swordfights with the neighborhood kids. I became the neighborhood “blacksmith”, using my grandfather’s tools to hammer little crossguards onto wooden sticks. I always tried to find the best scrap wood: lightest, strongest, trying to get the perfect length and shape for each “customer”. This started my passion with blades.
 
When I was ten years old, I joined a local rock and gem club, learning stonecutting and cabbing, and through that came to take silversmithing lessons from a local jeweler. It wasn’t until around the age of 13, that I turned my attention to bladesmithing, which has captured my heart. 
 My personal obsession with bladesmithing, as I’m sure you can relate, isn’t just the joy and passion of the making: the musical clang of the hammer on steel, the shower of sparks on the grinder, the whisk of the blade over the sharpening stone, but also of the fulfillment in creating something that is twofold: that of beauty, and that of function. It’s trying to make something that is as much an art piece, as a tool that you can trust your life with. That’s what caught my heart, and the pursuit of that perfect combination still drives me.  

On Trying Something New

When you started making knives, the entire process was foreign and new. You learned to get better at forging, grinding, finishing, fitting, woodworking, shaping and all by jumping right in and applying the book knowledge you gained by reading or watching videos. 

When you made your first knife, regardless of how pretty it turned out, you learned something. Usually something you can apply to make the next knife better, but often you'll find out a trick that made some part of the process easier or better somehow.

Now because this was your first knife, it was new. Because it was new, you learned something. This principle carries on whether you've made five knives or five hundred. 

So what I like to do is every once in a while, is build what I call a "Novel Project".

The Novel Project is something new or unfamiliar to me. It could be a Katana, it could be a chefs knife, it could be a folding knife.

By now I have the basic know-how and experience to have a good idea of what to do in each step, but having not done it before forces me out of my comfort zone and to find new methods to get around unique challenges, especially those that are unique to me and to the tools available. 

The best thing about a Novel Project, is if I return to try making it again at a future date, the second time around is far better than the first. This is both because of the experience and knowledge gained the first time around, as well as my natural improvement from other projects over time. I only fully realized this when I went looking at pictures of some of my old work. These are all the daggers I've made, four in all, with roughly a year in between each. 
 

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The photo sequence is a little wonky, but it's quite clear in which order they were made. Bottom left, top left, top right, and finally bottom right

Now I talk about using a Novel Project to get better, to stretch your skill muscles and to gain experience. And that's all true, but to be really honest, my motivating factor for them is to have fun. That's really all it is. Usually a Novel Project is spurred on by sudden inspiration, and it's really a revival of my first love for the art. Everything else is a bonus, as great a bonus as they are. 

Of course it's good to stick with one style for an amount of time; my preferred one was small bowies, but this is about the benefits of doing a Novel Project. 

Now to continue my earlier point: the first novel project in a certain type (say a chef knife) dips my toes in the water, and often is a complete failure. The second one usually is fairly passable, but not sellable. The third, I can refine the points and mistakes I made last time. The fourth, I can focus on the details and trying to excel. At this point, the novel project has become familiar, and if I like it I'll continue doing it, but it's no longer a novel project. About this time I'll get the bug to try something different, say a katana. 

Over time this all adds up. Every time you do something it becomes a little more familiar, and you gain a little more skill. It's very much like a video game; as you get better at the game and play it more often, you unlock new characters, and harder and harder levels. So it is with knife making. As you make knives, if the attempt fails, you've learned enough to correct it next time, and as you get better, you gain the skills to attempt new novel projects that would have been impossible a dozen knives ago. 

This, coupled with the attempt to make each knife better than the last, is the real way to improvement. After all though, it's all about fun. We put far more effort into the job when we enjoy it. 

Caleb Harris

I’ve always fooled around with tools and hardware, but I think my passion with blades started far back in my childhood: wooden swordfights with the neighborhood kids. I became the neighborhood “blacksmith”, using my grandfather’s tools to hammer little crossguards onto wooden sticks. I always tried to find the best scrap wood: lightest, strongest, trying to get the perfect length and shape for each “customer”. This started my passion with blades.
 
When I was ten years old, I joined a local rock and gem club, learning stonecutting and cabbing, and through that came to take silversmithing lessons from a local jeweler. It wasn’t until around the age of 13, that I turned my attention to bladesmithing, which has captured my heart. 
 My personal obsession with bladesmithing, as I’m sure you can relate, isn’t just the joy and passion of the making: the musical clang of the hammer on steel, the shower of sparks on the grinder, the whisk of the blade over the sharpening stone, but also of the fulfillment in creating something that is twofold: that of beauty, and that of function. It’s trying to make something that is as much an art piece, as a tool that you can trust your life with. That’s what caught my heart, and the pursuit of that perfect combination still drives me.  

Thoughts on Design

I had been working on a collaboration piece with a friend, Timothy Artymko, which proved to be a bit of a challenge. The blade is a san mai (three laminated layers) bowie style with a lot of character. The thing was, it was a little different in style than I'm used to working. This one had distinct curves and a wide blade with a large belly. 

My job was the handle. 

I started working on a fairly basic handle, a pretty standard shape that I use with some variation on a lot of my blades, and got it all the way to where I had it polished out and fit up. I was going for a takedown style so it wasn't (thankfully) permanently fixed to the blade. 

I just didn't like it. Something seemed.... off. Like the handle was too skinny for the blade, even though it felt very natural and useful in the hand. It fit my grip but not the blade. 

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And so even though I felt that it was "oh well", I didn't finish it. Just put it in the "almost done" drawer and worked on other projects. Which I felt bad about delaying on, but I didn't feel the life in that. 

So, after finishing another blade, I decided to push myself and get back to it. I thought "Okay, so this handle seems too slim and fast looking. The blade looks thick and curvy. I need a handle that reflects that."

With a bit of tweaking I went with some more dramatic curves, and some more tipping down of the butt, going for a curve that reflects the dip of the blade's chill. Because the blade's features are fairly dramatic, I went with some dramatic curves and corners in the hand. 

As many practitioners of the martial arts know, "The weapon is simply an extension of the wielder." So too, the handle is simply an extension of the blade. It should reflect it. 

This new handle was a huge improvement, you can see this even with the second one in extremely rough shape. I'm not saying that it could be better still, there are always little bits that could be made better, but I am very happy with the profile on this one. 



See if you can identify what features made improvements from one to another. There are often invisible lines you can imagine which point out either errors or successes in making the design flow from blade to handle. 

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Caleb Harris

I’ve always fooled around with tools and hardware, but I think my passion with blades started far back in my childhood: wooden swordfights with the neighborhood kids. I became the neighborhood “blacksmith”, using my grandfather’s tools to hammer little crossguards onto wooden sticks. I always tried to find the best scrap wood: lightest, strongest, trying to get the perfect length and shape for each “customer”. This started my passion with blades.
 
When I was ten years old, I joined a local rock and gem club, learning stonecutting and cabbing, and through that came to take silversmithing lessons from a local jeweler. It wasn’t until around the age of 13, that I turned my attention to bladesmithing, which has captured my heart. 
 My personal obsession with bladesmithing, as I’m sure you can relate, isn’t just the joy and passion of the making: the musical clang of the hammer on steel, the shower of sparks on the grinder, the whisk of the blade over the sharpening stone, but also of the fulfillment in creating something that is twofold: that of beauty, and that of function. It’s trying to make something that is as much an art piece, as a tool that you can trust your life with. That’s what caught my heart, and the pursuit of that perfect combination still drives me.