Making a knife

Friday 20th March 2015

I don't think I've ever learned so much in one day. A friend and I went on a knife-making course with Dave Budd in Devon, where we started with a steel bar and ended up with a rather fetching blade.

I couldn't recommend Dave highly enough, he is extremely patient, friendly and knowledgeable. 

I've never tried metalwork before, the tricky bit seems to be getting the temperature right. Dave gave us tips on what colour the steel should be for different parts of the process: we need a bright orange for this step, or a dull red for that one. Once the metal is the right colour, it's like working clay, the steel bends easily and is great fun to work with.

Here's a quick rundown, each step has an image below it.

Edit: Dave sent me a bunch of corrections!

Bashing it into shape

  1. We started with a half inch bar of spring steel

  2. First of all we heated and hammered one end flat until it was about 5mm thick, and then hammered a point onto one end.

  3. When you start flattening the sharp side of the blade, the steel will try to bend away from the sharp side. To counter this, we curved it - the sharp side is going to be the inside of the curve.

  4. We flattened the sharp side, the blade has straightened itself out during this process.

Refining the blade

  1. We hammered the other end of the bar into a point to make the tang (the bit that goes inside the handle)

  2. Next we refined the blade to about 1mm on the sharp side, and then gently straightened it out. The blade is covered in a layer of scale (iron oxide, rust) which I've accidentally hammered into the surface of the blade, but hey - it's hand made.
  3. Then we ground the blade down to the shape we wanted. This is the point where it suddenly turned from a lump of metal into a knife.

  4. Then it was time to harden the metal. This is done in three stages: Normalising (letting it cool from a red glow) to soften the metal, refine the grain size and de-stress the steel; Hardening (quenching the metal in oil from a red glow) to harden it, but leaves the steel brittle; and finally Tempering (in an oven) to reduce the hardness and brittleness.

Finishing touches

  1. Next we ground the scale off the blade (you can see pits where I hammered the scale in) and sharpened it. It's really, really sharp.

  2. The final step of the course was to fit a handle. We drilled some little pilot holes into a lump of cherry wood, then heated the tang and burned it into the handle. Awesome.

  3. When I got home, I worked the handle into the shape I wanted with sandpaper, starting with a rough 80 grit and working up to superfine 1000.

  4. Finally I bought some leather from eBay (I love eBay) and made a sheath for it. Awesome!

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