Birth of a blade


October 5, 2010, 08:18 PM
There have been a few members here expressing an interest in making their own knives. I have been making knives for a little over twenty years and do almost all of my work by hand. I was thinking of posting a thread here on how I make my knives so I forged out a blade from a very old and rusty leaf spring. It looked like it came off the first car ever invented according to my eight-year old son. I apologize for not having any photos of me forging the blade but I was the only one home at the time and simply can't forge and take pictures simultaneously. What I plan on doing is recording and posting the steps I take to make a blade from a rough, annealed blank through to the final fit in its sheath. I hope this is OK with the moderators. If not please let me know. This will be a project covering several months so sit back, relax and enjoy. Here is the first installment, the rough blade blank. Constructive criticism and suggestions are welcome during the process as well as any questions one might have. And awaaay we go!

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October 5, 2010, 08:50 PM

Can't wait!


October 5, 2010, 09:47 PM
This is gonna be a good one. I can feel it.

I can't imagine the mods having a problem with it. this is the sort of thing that knife guys on this board salivate over.

I can tell you right now, I'm already fascinated.

October 5, 2010, 10:42 PM
Did you have to forge the tang down or did you profile before forging?

October 6, 2010, 05:57 AM
Yes HSO, the tang is drawn out from the bar of steel. The piece I started with was approximately 1 1/2" wide by 9" long. I spoke with the Wife last night and she recommended that I forge out another blade and she will photograph the steps involved in the actual forging. She is a teacher and says I am cutting you guys short by not showing the entire process. Besides, the fire part is the "funnest part" according to my 8-year old. Whaddaya think?

October 6, 2010, 06:22 AM

Russ Jackson
October 6, 2010, 06:55 AM
You should save a piece of the original spring and put it in the presentation case. Looking forward to this thread...Russ

October 6, 2010, 07:37 AM
I am in for the wait

Smokey Joe
October 6, 2010, 07:10 PM
Yep, I'm in too. As if I didn't already have enough of a variety of ways to use up my time!

What, if anything, do you have to do special to the spring steel when you start out? I have a nice 1/2 of a broken truck spring leaf that says to me "Knife, knife!" occasionally. I'm not into forging (forgery?? :D ) yet.

BTW, I rather like the rough shape of your blank.

October 6, 2010, 11:47 PM
Bring it on!

October 7, 2010, 11:53 AM

Great idea for a thread. I am looking forward to seeing the progress. I have been itching to try forging and will be watching your post intently. Tell your wife thanks. I'm sure myself and the others will enjoy seeing the forging part take place.

October 7, 2010, 01:39 PM
Bring it one Brother this will be GREAT!

October 7, 2010, 08:19 PM
My only 2 attempts to forge were failures of epic proportion. Looking foward to learning some thing.

October 10, 2010, 11:56 PM
I wanna see this, too! The only hammered-out edged weapon that I've made started out as a chunk of copper bar stock.

October 10, 2010, 11:58 PM
Looking forward to this thread. Thank you

October 11, 2010, 10:28 AM
Great idea!

Subscribed... :)

October 11, 2010, 08:17 PM
Sorry for the wait everyone. I was finally able to do some work on the blade this past weekend. First I removed as much scale as I could by soaking it in a bath of plain white vinegar overnight and then scrubbing with some 0 steel wool. Then I marked on the blade what parts to file away.
This is one of the reasons I try to forge my knives as close to shape as possible. A few hammer blows on a hot blade can save minutes or hours time filing. I suppose if I had power tools I could use them to save time as well.
Here I am draw filing the spine of the blade and the finished shot. I will hit it again with a finer file and sandpaper later on.
Next I will do the sides of the blade. As you can see there is not much to my set up just an old Workmate, some 2X4s and a few C-clamps
I try to keep it simple for several reasons. Of course the first is economy and second, I like the accomplishment of being able to do something almost entirely by hand. I will try and post some more photos tomorrow. Please feel free to ask me any questions you may have. Thanks for looking

October 11, 2010, 09:59 PM
Are you sure you aren't Norm Abrams evil twin? Ya know the one that works with hand tools and metal? I'm just joking around. I think we need MORE tutorials like this. Cause not everybody has a dremel or an entire workshop full of power tools to do stuff with.

October 11, 2010, 11:05 PM
Cause not everybody has a dremel

Boy, they should. Dremels are well under $50.00 at Walmart right now and represent an inexpensive, solid tool investment for anyone remotely interested in handcrafting or doing different kinds of home repair. I know not everyone has all the money in the world to blow on tools, and some, like Messerist, simply like using hand tools but it's just not that big of an investment.

On the other hand, I personally enjoy using hand tools. There is a certain zen about them, and as our society experiences something of a very small renaissance towards living more simply, owning a few basic hand tools and knowing how to use them just makes good sense. Plus, if your the teotwawki type, you can't shoot a log cabin together, nor can you tactically stab a new well. If things really do get medieval, tools and skill are going to be valuable, valuable assets.

October 12, 2010, 01:29 AM
I may have to take a field trip to Minnesota and look you up. What say?

October 13, 2010, 08:41 PM
Sorry for being a day late but Momma had school last night and I had the four "Children of the Apocolypse" all to my self. I left off where I was draw filing the flats of the blade. You can see just how much metal is taken off using a sharp, new file.
One of these days I am gonna save all the shaving just so see how much I take off a blade. This photo shows the blade after about two hours of filing. I try to make sure that the blade maintains an even thickness while I'm filing so I am constantly checking to make sure I don't take too much steel off.
After I work on the flat of the blade I tilt the file and start to clean up the rest of the blade down to the edge. A bevel is forged into the blade so I just let the file follow the bevel and do the work. This removes the remaining scale and evens out the edge. You will notice that occasionally I leave in a pit or divot caused during the forging. Depending upon the thickness of the blade and whether or not the person I'm making it for wants it, I usually leave some in. I think it sorta adds to the hand forged look. Sometimes taking out a particular pit or deformity will make the blade too thin in one spot or just take to darn long
Here is the blade with most of the draw filing finished. I will still do a bit more with a finer tooth file and sand paper but you can see the knife starting to shape up. Now I determine where I am going to start the line for the ricasso. That is the flat, un-sharpened portion of the blade between the bevel and guard.
I change the filing direction and use a file with a safe edge to cut the bevel in. I will show in greater detail this process the next time I post. I have to run for now. The eight-year old has his Karate class. Please ask any questions if you have them and I will try and answer them.

October 13, 2010, 08:56 PM
Cool stuff!


October 21, 2010, 08:04 PM
I had a few hours to work on the knife yesterday so I concentrated on the choil area of the blade. I have a jig made from two chunks of hardened steel that I clamp where I want to locate the bevel on the choil. The jig helps keep the two bevels even. You can do it without the jig only keep checking as you file to keep both sides even. I had a machinist friend make mine but I have seen them for sale on the Texas Knifemaker Supply websitehttp:// (
You can see the before and after shot using the jig.
The third photo is the blade after I have gone over it with a fine, single-cut file. It is beginning to look more and more like a knife everyday. Since I used a very old leaf spring for this knife I take some time now to carefully examine the blade with my magnifiers to see if I can see any obvious cracks. Now would be the time to make any drastic changes that a crack might require to salvage the knife. However, most cracks only come out of hiding after hardening. It is one of the risks when you use old, unknown steel. Heaven knows what the steel has been through. The last photo is of finishing up the choil and ricasso area, getting ready to prepare the area for the guard. I intend to do some more work this weekend so I should have some more photos to post soon. Thanks for looking and please ask any questions you may have.

October 22, 2010, 09:19 AM
Not sure if you have even measured, but what is the thickness of the steel along the spine and tang?

October 22, 2010, 09:31 AM
Nice work.

I remove any forge marks from the bevel, but think they're fine to leave on the flats. Just me.

Do you find your blade wanting to flip on it's side as you file the spine (post 17, image 3) clamping it with a C-clamp like that? It looks like you have your technique down pat, but it might be a little more convenient if you consider taking a piece of square channel or round pipe and fitting some wedges of wood in it to clamp the tang or blade and then clamping that fixture so it doesn't shift. A buddy made a square steel pipe with rubber faced plates that could be screwed down clamping the blade/tang tight so I could put it in my pipe clamp jaws of my vise. It allows me to just leave the blade clamped and rotate the piece as needed.

October 22, 2010, 10:58 AM
Love the blade shape.

October 23, 2010, 01:09 AM
BRad, the blade is 3/16" thick and the tang tapers to the end where it is a little over 1/8" thick. HSO, I use pine 2X4s so when I clamp the tang down it seats itself into the wood but I see the importance of making a clamp. I was in the process of making one before our shop was flooded with 7' of river water during last month's heavy rains. We are busy trying to rebuild and dry out so the clamp project is on is my smoker:mad:. JShirley, thanks for your comment on the design. I like the shape alot. It is a cross betwixt a skinner and a Bowie...sort of a "Skinowie."

October 23, 2010, 01:27 AM
I noticed the continuous curve.


October 23, 2010, 12:02 PM
Nice work. I also like that blade shape and I am enjoying the progress. For those of us in the cheap seats, how often do you stop to clean the file? Do you use chalk or anything to help prevent clogging?

October 23, 2010, 11:59 PM
Fergy, when I draw file I use a double cut file with very aggressive teeth so I rarely have a problem with them clogging up. It also depends on the type of steel that I am making the knife out of. If I am making a knife out of a forged file the teeth tend to get clogged more than on other types of steel. My guess is the composition of the steel used to make the file(which has a higher carbon content than most blade steels)lends itself to clogging the teeth. My kids sidewalk chalk is just the ticket to keep the teeth from catching too much detrius.

October 27, 2010, 08:37 PM
I am getting close to finishing the filing part of this knife. I now need to finish up the tang, the choil and the false edge. I use the same jig for filing the tang that I used on the blade's bevel. The jig helps to make a nice even joint for the guard, which helps immensely when soldering. I use a round file in order to maintain a rounded corner where the guard meets the blade. A square corner can create a stress point and could result in a fracture at that point. Once the tang is finished I use my trusty Sharpie to mark out where I want to file to for the false edge. Here it is all free-hand so I just take off a little bit here and a little bit there until it looks like a false edge. I am now done with most of the major removal of metal. I will touch up points here and there but now I am going to start working on a guard and deciding what type of handle this knife needs....any suggestions. I am considering some type of antler. I have to dig through my box and see what I can come up with. I probably spend more time trying to pick the handle that I do on other parts of the knife. I have to forge some tomahawks this weekend(weather permitting) so I will try and post some photos of that and maybe some knife forging shots. Thanks for the questions and gracious comments. Messerist.

October 29, 2010, 11:21 AM
This is an awesome thread messerist. Love the pictures. It's very informative. I vote for antler handle with lots of bark. It would look great. Tho I'm partial to antler.

October 29, 2010, 08:25 PM
Very nice. I love these kinds of threads. I have a great interest in doing things in simple ways with basic tools and this is really right up my alley.

No suggestions for the handle. I'm just happy to read along and learn a bit.

Thanks for doing this and for listening to your wife who suggested you show more detail. :D:)

October 29, 2010, 10:39 PM
Ooh! Tomahawks!

(sorry, got excited, there. PM me?)

October 29, 2010, 11:22 PM
Outstanding effort.

November 2, 2010, 02:13 AM
This is very interesting. I might have to try making a knife or two.

Quick question...Can a newer leaf spring be used? Any other source for re-claimed metal to start with?

November 2, 2010, 07:48 PM
Hollywood. I have not used "new" leaf springs but I suppose it would not hurt to give it a try. I have used relatively new files, Nicholson, Save Edge etc. and they make good knives. The leaf springs I use come from a salvage yard. I buy whole springs not broken ones. There could be hidden cracks in both kinds but I will take my chances with what appears to be an intact spring rather than one that has an obvious flaw. I have, of course, found defects in sound springs so it is a crap-shoot You could also buy knifemaking steel from several suppliers and have the piece of mind that you have metalugically sound steel that won't reward your days of work with a nice crack right down the middle of the blade!:banghead:

Tim the student
November 2, 2010, 08:01 PM
Very cool thread! Looks great!

November 5, 2010, 06:53 PM
You're not finished are you?

November 6, 2010, 09:42 AM
Not done yet. No time to work on the blade. Promise to post some more this weekend....or to die trying!

November 12, 2010, 08:51 PM
Yes I am delinquent to say the least but I had some computer issues earlier this week and am only now able to update you all with how far the knife project is progressing. I have chosen a piece of sambar stag for the handle and some 1/4" brass for the guard. To fit the guard I drill a series of holes a bit undersized from the actual size of the tang. Then I use files to get as tight a fit as possible. This is important when it comes to soldering the guard on. Sometimes I don't get the guard as tight as I want it to be but there is a little wiggle room. Next step will be fitting the handle.





November 15, 2010, 05:09 PM
I actually had a few minutes today to get a lot of work done on the knife. After fitting the guard and roughing it to shape I sawed off the crown end of the sambar stag antler. I use a 1/4" drill bit, a round rasp and a drywall saw to hog out most of the spongy pith in the center of the antler. Sambar has very little pith and more solid antler so it takes a little elbow grease. I use to have some nice bits called "Saw Bits," they were just the ticket for grinding out the center of an antler because they have teeth along the shaft of the bit which helps out immensely when trying to open up a hole for the tang. I have not seen any in the local hardware store in a few years. Mine are very dull. If anyone has seen such a bit for sale anywhere drop me a PM...please. Anyways, back to business. Now I am ready to heat treat the blade. 5160 steel is very forgiving in the heat treat process but it pays to follow certain guidelines to ensure success. I have been following Ed Caffrey's process pretty much for about 20 years and I have never had a problem. I have had blades that cracked during the heat treatment but that was a result of poor steel and not the method of treatment. Ed's heat treatment of 5160 is relatively easy and if I can do it anyone can. Right now I am right in the middle of tempering the blade so I will post an "after" photo before I start soldering the guard on.
130712 parts ready to come together

130713 Sorta what the finished product will look like

130714 blade after first quench

130715 Yours truly forging another knife. Wife would only take one photo because she kept getting splattered with red-hot scale...yeah, what a baby!

November 15, 2010, 09:30 PM
Cool stuff, man!

Is this the type drill bit you're talking about?

If so, they're available at Home Depot for about $9. I've always heard them referred to as drill saws. You can find them online for as little as $3.


November 15, 2010, 10:00 PM
Are you heating your metal in an old grill?

BTW awesome looking knife.

November 16, 2010, 05:41 AM
Thanks for the heads up Matt. "Mr. Lazy" here did a Google search and found a bunch online too. I'll check out HD. Shevrock, It appears that I am using my Weber but if you look at the lower right corner of the photo you can see the front of my forge. It is a propane "knifemaker's forge" from NC Tool Company. Thank you for your comments:)

November 17, 2010, 07:48 PM
Yea stag. That knife gets better and better looking all the time.

November 21, 2010, 09:29 PM
Sorry, but I have no progress to report this weekend. The Wife has a mess of papers and presentations due for school so that leaves me with the "Children of the Apocalypse"...well, they are really not as bad as minions of satan but it does not leave me with much time to work. I am ready to solder on the guard and I must get to that this week because it looks like we are in for a deep freeze and it really bites working in the garage when it is cold. I have finished heat treating the blade and sanded it again to 220 grit. Will get some photos posted soon. Thanks for looking.
p.s. here is a tutorial I found over on the Bladesmith Forum. It bears some looking at. He makes an interesting knife with some nice photos as well

November 23, 2010, 01:15 AM
p.s. here is a tutorial I found over on the Bladesmith Forum. It bears some looking at. He makes an interesting knife with some nice photos as well

Great thread, thanks.

that leaves me with the "Children of the Apocalypse"

I hear ya, I had to take care of "Sean the Destroyer" the other day.

November 23, 2010, 02:53 AM

November 30, 2010, 08:02 PM
Lots of progress to report but alas, no photos. I had to send the camera off to the "dropped you camera eh?" "Dumba##!" repair center. Don't fret, I do have pictures but I can only download them with the camera. Should be posting in a few days. Sorry for the delay.

December 4, 2010, 08:43 PM
Excuse my ignorance but my Wife showed me how to "remove" the memory chip from my camera and put it in hers and download my photos. I am not what one would call computer savvy in the least. So, where were we before my "digital episode?" I hardened the blade and tempered it and that was all covered in my last post. The guard is rough ground to shape(I cheated and used a disc sander at work) and the slot for the tang drilled and filed out. The soldering of the guard used to drive me insane because I did not follow the two key steps that ensure a good solder joint. A tight fit between the tang and guard and a clean surface...clean clean clean! I can not over emphasize that enough. The way I solder is to apply liquid flux over both surfaces to be joined. I used to use "Ruby Red" flux but have found that "Stay Clean" works just as well. They are available at most hardware stores or online. Then I take silver solder wire, don't ask me the gauge because I have no clue. I would guess that it is about as thick as cotton twine. Roll out about six inches of solder wire and light your propane torch. I use propane because it is all I have and it works. Now keeping the guard in place while you are trying to solder is the trick here. There are some gadgets that you can buy but I have found that a 3" chunk of 3/4" square steel tube with two sides sawn off about half way works to hold the guard tight against the knife. I slide the tang into the tube and clamp a vise grip on the portion of the tang protruding out the end of the tube. Then just clamp the vise grip into your vise or have some intrepid soul hold it while you heat up the tang and the guard to the melting temp of the solder. I once had some steel chunks I would clamp on both sides of the blade during the heating step to act as heat sinks and keep the blade from losing it's temper. I found out after some experimentation that the heat never gets hot enough to damage the temper on the knife so I omit the heat sink all together. You just have to solder fast and that requires that your surfaces are tight, CLEAN and fluxed. I have a video made by the late Bill Moran and I follow his soldering methods pretty much to a "T." When he applies the solder to the heated guard he does it from below. That is why I cut out two side of the tubing that I use to hold the guard in place. The two "windows"(for lack of a better term) allow you to stick the solder into the joint between guard and tang. If your metals are clean, tight and well fluxed you will see the solder flow upward and follow the edges around the guard. I now take a CLEAN, NEW acid brush dipped in flux and brush all around the joint and that also helps pull the solder up into the joint. As you can see from the photos the solder filled up the joint between the blade and guard and there is only a little to clean up. Sometimes for me there is more and sometimes less because sometimes I listen to myself and ensure that I have followed the steps to a good solder joint ans sometimes...well, most of the times I ignore myself and end up having alot of solder to clean off. I am glad I able to pull off such a good solder joint for this thread. It almost looks like I know what I'm doing. Next I will glue up the knife and get to finishing it and making the sheath.


December 4, 2010, 09:09 PM
That is a fascinating process. Thanks for sharing this.

December 4, 2010, 09:26 PM
Ok. I know it is a different post but I had a brain fart and instead of clicking on "preview post" I clicked on "submit post." Told you I was a bit addled when it comes to computers. Once I have soldered on the guard I need to cut and clean off all acid from the flux that is on the blade. I have found that just cleaning it off does not keep it from eventually oxidizing your work and causing rust. A slurry of baking soda and water and an old toothbrush will work here. Just scrub the "whole blade" with the baking soda slurry and rinse with hot, hot water and let air dry. Or you can steal your wife's hair dryer and dry off the blade. Now let's glue up the knife. We know that everything fits nice and tight and that there are no unsightly gaps between your handle and guard. If there are now is the time to make sure everything fits like a glove....or you can do what I do and cheat. I have used a leather washer between my guard and handle since I started making knifes twenty years ago. At first it was because I was making knives in the barracks and having no tools to speak of, making a nice fit was difficult. What I would do was take a chunk of leather, cut a hole in the center the same size as the tang and use that as a spacer to hide any remaining gaps. I have gotten a little bit better at fitting up a knife since then but the spacer remains. Mostly because I like it. Sometimes I will use several washers as filler so that I can use a shorter piece of antler that would otherwise go to waste. I have even made handles entirely out of leather washers, like those seen on Randalls, Case, KaBar and other fine knives. Gluing up is done with a good one hour two part epoxy or JB Weld. A brass pin is inserted through a hole drilled into the handle and tang. Tapering the pin makes it easier to tap through once the hole is filled with goopy epoxy. Sorry that I don't have any photos of me during the gluing process but I only have two hands and had no one to snap shots while I was gluing up. I have modified a Jorgensen clamp to hold everything together once it is glued. Now I let the epoxy set up for a solid 24 hours before I do any finishing. The photos here are of the blade in the clamp drying and one of the blade after several hours of filing and grinding to shape. This is as far as I have gotten. I will go through several more grits of paper before I can say I am finished and then I will start on the sheath and post some more photos of that process and the finished package.

December 4, 2010, 09:33 PM
Very nice. Thanks for sharing the process. :)

December 6, 2010, 04:31 PM
here it is finished to 220 grit. I plan on going to 600 . I need a couple of semi-free days and I will have some sheath photos. Merry Christmas.

December 6, 2010, 04:43 PM
Looks great! It needs a rig with sheath on one side and powder horn on the other. :)

December 11, 2010, 06:17 PM
That's a very nice looking knife.

December 11, 2010, 07:07 PM
Awesome! I have a small tactical knife collection - with some old ones, too - and have always wanted to make one, this is awesome info. Nice knife!

Thank you so much for your time and knowledge!

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