So I was stuck doing nothing during one of my sculpture classes because I was waiting to be able to deliver some plywood for my project, and I decided to forge a knife. I’ve done a little bit of blacksmithing before, so I knew what to expect, but it was still hard as hell.
All in all, I think I did alright; it balances at roughly a 1/4 inch above the hilt, and the hilt is folded steel,
which makes it ridiculously strong. Mind you, it’s not remarkably well folded steel, as can be seen in the bottom picture, but nonetheless it was a cool learning experience.
Next time I wanna make something a bit longer, a lot cleaner, and try my hand at something more complicated, like folding the blade.
[NOTE: if there are any blacksmiths out there with tips, critiques, questions, or, best of all, some how-to advice, please message me! I’m self-taught, so I’m sorely missing the knowledge of someone who knows what they’re doing]
One of your tumblr followers sent me a shout via twitter that you were interested in critique/advice/whatever. I’m no expert on anything, but I have a few years making knives under my belt and recently started selling them (via the horrific wasteland of etsy (https://www.etsy.com/shop/BellonasBeardForge PLZ PAY MY BILLZ INTERNET)). I work with a propane forge and what my associates back when I was acquainted with so-called “neo-tribal” metalwork called a “50/50” approach: I prefer hammer and fire and hand tools but, when it comes to it, I’m willing to save myself three hours of work with 20 minutes at the belt grinder. My aesthetic can run a bit rustic, a bit hammer-marks and forge scale, but I try to strike a certain balance in my work between precision/intent and Showing the Work. As I like to tell myself when I consider my earliest stuff: there’s a difference between a rustic finish and no finish at all.
I’m largely self-taught. I spent a few hours in a knifemaker’s shop that mostly consisted of him running his mouth, showing me the bowie knives from some edition of one of his books then sending me off with a spare motor I might finally swap into an old belt grinder soon, 12 years later. I once attended a mini “hammer in” with two other fellows where we stood around and jawed and somehow cracked a power hammer die. I read some books, I pieced a shop together, and I beat metal. Sometimes I showed what I made on message boards where I was usually too foolish to follow the other members’ kind advice. This was a bit pre-youtube, but I owned a Tim Lively instructional VHS (now available on Amazon Instant Video and worth a look).
I’m choosing to respond via reblog/addendum because, umm, this will be a lot of words. Also I’m opening with a response to a common fallacy you’ve expressed that I’d really like to address, that in so doing I hope to maybe help educate one or two other internet floaters. Also, if I’m way off base I’d like any public that know I’m way of base to tell me what a wrong and ignorant asshole I am. Either way someone learns!
I want to make sure this is said, to make sure that you know, in case no one else has told and you and there was nothing tongue-in-cheek about your description:
Folded steel ain’t shit.
FOLDED STEEL? AIN’T SHIT.
I grew up hearing a lot of the things a lot of people do. That katana were the best goddamn weapons of all time, that the secret to their superiority was in Folded Steel, because Folding It Makes It Better. Folding it *did* make it better. A Japanese swordsmith was dealing with materials that by modern standards would be considered a bit lacking. As one person described it to me Back in the Day (which for me was about a decade ago and I’m no expert so I might be off on a few fine details), they took mediocre iron to produce a steel so high in carbon it was practically cast iron (which is bad, since it’s brittle and crumbles/shears easily). The layering/welding/folding/rewelding/and so on process was a way of refining an inconsistent piece of material. Carbon migrated from higher to lower carbon areas of the steel, averaging the carbon content of the overall piece, while excess was also lost to decarb. Slag and other impurity/inclusions were slowly worked and burnt out.The net effect of this process was to bring the piece closer to a monosteel. It was a gradual refinement of materials to something that could be heat-treated and perform consistently as a piece.
We don’t have to do that anymore.
Have you heard of “damascus steel?” Probably. The term is often applied to what People Who Know Better Than Me would pedantically insist on calling “pattern welded” steels for marketing these days. Historically, “damascus” was probably a particular brand of wootz, a steel made of iron, a carburizing agent, and whatever else their recipe called for placed in a sealed crucible. They would get the crucible hot enough to melt the contents entirely, so the end product was a piece of steel with very few of the slag inclusions and other impurities of the iron/steels being produced through Europe, Asia, Japan that required the fold/weld/on and on to produce something reasonably homogeneous. “damascus” became well-regarded to the point of absurdity in legend compared to weapons made by the more common, lower-temperature slow refinement by hammer.
Basically every blade made before the widespread production of “crucible” steels in Europe was “folded”, much like Japanese blades. There were also examples of pattern-welded blades in Europe, by smiths seeking to combine the resilience of soft iron with the hardness of a steel edge.
These techniques were developed for very good reasons that don’t really matter anymore.
Modern steels are modern. Modern steels have a lot of science/engineering behind them to arrive at CONSISTENT SHIT WE CAN COUNT ON right off the block. Not every piece of steel made in the past hundred years has the potential to produce something that performs better than those old steels run through their traditional processes, but a modern high-carbon tool steel is made to perform.
If I took a piece of 5160 or 1094 and folded it over and over like they used to it wouldn’t do anything appreciable but maybe give me excess decarb and create the possibility of bad welds weakening the piece.
…this is a long-winded, digressive way of telling you that your statement that “the hilt is folded steel, which makes it ridiculously strong” is kind of less than accurate.
Unless you’re committed to recreating historical methods for historical/archeometallurgical or aesthetic reasons you’re not going to get much out of “folding” your steel but headaches. I’ve seen a lot of beautiful pattern-welded knives and swords that probably perform just fine, and that beauty is certainly worth a lot to some in itself. I really like wootz! It’s my favorite now-sort-of-useless bit if steel technology. I’d like to mess with it someday, time and budget and skills permitting, but I don’t expect more out of it than out of a piece of 5160. Or out of a car spring I think might be 5160. Or a file.
ALL THAT SAID:
The Beast Itself: I like the idea of your handle. I think it’s a novel way of filling out the grip, kind of obvious but labor intensive (forge welds, as I imagine you know, can be a pain) enough that many wouldn’t go for it. It’s just: the “folding” aspect does not = “strength”, full stop.
It seems very much a first knife, but the profile is clean and seems deliberate, not the “vaguely banana” a lot of us run into first. My first certainly wasn’t so handsome, and there was a belt grinder involved at some point. If you’re going for the forge-finish on your bevels I highly recommend the aforementioned video by Tim Lively (Knifemaking Unplugged), a great help to me years ago when I was a better/more idealistic person who dreamed the dream of gorgeous, clean bevels done only with the hammer, like his.
If you’re committed to forging, hammer control is everything. If it’s not there yet, don’t shy away from files/abrasives, because when it comes to the cut your edge geometry is all the rest. I learned a lot from forging as a close as I thought I could, then having to fix my fuck-ups by hand to make sure it really cuts.
It can be handy to practice on some mild steel: bang out a few KSOs (Knife Shaped Objects). Mild steel moves easier and if you fuck it up bad you haven’t ruined good blade steel. Which raises the question: what did you forge this out of?
Heat-treatment is the difference between a knife and a KSO. If your material won’t harden and take a temper then KSO it is. A lot of bladesmiths will tell you to work with known steels only (as in: new, so you know the exact alloy), because then you can follow exact heat-treatment procedures as laid out by the manufacturer. I can’t push this too hard, as I started with scrap. Most of the things I currently have up for sale? Scrap. 2 from coil springs, one from a leaf spring, two from files. One I can’t even remember, but it hardened and tempered and now it cuts.
I’ve made knives from:
-all of the above
-circular saw blades
-that old standby the railroad spike
The last is usually rather low carbon and the results are considered novelties.
Other things I imagine I forgot I guess idk
If you really get into it, test what you make. See what you break. Learn from it.
Jim Hrisoulas’ “The Complete Bladesmith” (along with his other works) is kind of the standard text, and I’d recommend it, but I learned a lot more about compromise on the cheap and the nitty-gritty from Wayne Goddard’s “$50 Knife Shop” and “The Wonder of Knifemaking”.
iforgeiron.com has a nice “Knifemaking Classes” subforum stuffed full of great archived info. I *used* to know some of the people that post there and they’re solid folk as far as this stuff is concerned.
Above all: if you want to make knives, make more. Make the thing that cuts. Make the thing that cuts as well as you’d hoped, someday (soon?). Then maybe try to make it pretty, if that’s your thing.
Still want to “fold” blades, just for the fuck of it? Go nuts. Just know what it’s doing so you can be certain of why you’re doing it. I’ve been forging bronze brazing rod lately, which is a bit silly.
Bronze really likes to fall into pieces if it gets too hot.
It’s like this has never been a common method of working this material for a reason.
Like Vern tells us, Strive for Excellence.
-some dude on the internet, bulldozing his principles with a giant block of text on tumblr way too early in the goddamn morning so he’s probably just a huge dick above
^ This is in reply to my post about the first knife I made - I thought I’d reblog it so everyone can see.
His words are a bit less than polished in places, but he’s really knowledgable, it’s great read, and he points to a lot of good resources for those interested in smithing.
As a correction to my post, folding the steel doesn’t necessarily make it stronger, and, in fact, with just about all modern steel, won’t really do anything to it except rearrange it a bit (this post outlines why very well, and I looked it up to make double sure; he’s spot on). As such, I struck that part out.
Thanks for the information, sir, it’s very, very much appreciated, even if I didn’t see it until just now, haha. I also want to say I did check out your shop, and your pieces are BEAUTIFULLY crafted, and I’m a huge fan of your hilts. (It’s funny you mention railroad spikes, I’m literally about to post one I made with a railroad spike now)