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 Knifemaking as a hobby…

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  • #39721
    tcmeyer
    Participant
    • Topics: 38
    • Replies: 2077

    About forty years ago I did some hobby knife making, starting out with the cheap Sheffield blades sold by CVA.  I’d silver-solder a brass guard on the blade, then epoxy a Micarta handle onto it.  Really easy.  I probably put no more than four hours into each knife and the satisfaction index was way high.  Eventually I realized that the carbon-steel blades from Sheffield were really of poor quality, so I decided to take the next step.

    At that time, what with no internet, there was very little info out there and hardening a blade was the major barrier to an amateur like me.  I did a little research on the steels used for knives and found that D2 tool steel could be air-hardened.  This meant you only had to get it up to temp for a while, then let it cool down by itself.  After hardening, I’d stick it in my wife’s oven at 400F for a couple of hours to temper the steel.  The first few knives I did this way turned out quite well.  I had one checked for hardness by the machine shop at work and it came back at RC59.  Unfortunately, it also came back with a deep pin-prick in one side – way too deep to fix.  Their tester used the depth of penetration of a diamond stylus to estimate hardness.  I tossed that blade out.  I made several knives that way and was really pleased with the results.  They went to good friends as gifts.  One skinner went to a Wyoming rancher who says he still uses it.

    Fast forward to today.  When I retired in 2006, I made a list of the hobbies I might get into and knifemaking was one of them.  I started out by buying a really good Jet pedestal buffer, but I really needed a metal band-saw to cut out blanks of D2 tool steel and a belt sander to do the shaping.  Either one was out of reach for my hobby budget – I was spending too much of my budget on Wicked Edge stuff.  Eventually I bought a cheap Rikon 6X48 belt sander with a 10” disk.  This spring I finally bought a really cheap bandsaw at Harbor Freight.  With their 25%-off coupon, I paid about $200 with tax.  It works really well for my purposes and this finally got me started.  I don’t have any fixtures, so all of my shaping was strictly hand-held work.  Not real pretty but good enough.

    My first project was a replacement blade for a Spyderco Resilience.  I wanted to tackle the fitting issues of a liner-lock folder.  Hopefully, when I’m done, I’d have a $50 knife with a higher quality steel in the blade.  But mainly, it was a test of whether or not I could harden a D2 blade with a propane torch.  All my hardening back in the ‘70s was with an oxy-acetylene torch.  I didn’t really like the shape of the blade that comes with the Resilience, so I made the D2 blade closer to the shape of the Stretch.

    My first try at hardening didn’t go so well.  The torch on MAP gas simply didn’t have enough BTU’s to get the whole blade up to temp.  Rather than getting knee-deep in an oxy-acetylene rig, I decided to try two torches on MAP gas.  How coordinated can I be?  With the blade hanging from the basement ceiling, I lit both torches and tried to get the blade up to a bright orange glow, but couldn’t quite get there.  Was I at the critical temp?  How could I check for magnetic attraction when I’m holding a MAP torch in each hand?   I set the torches down and reached for my test magnet – super-glued to a carpenter’s pencil.   Surprise!  No magnetic attraction and the blade wasn’t even red anymore!  I let the blade hang unmolested for an hour or so before checking it for hardness with a mill-cut file.  The file skated over the steel and I could see clearly that I had actually accomplished what I had set out to do.  Wow!  To temper the blade, I put it in my wife’s oven at 400F for an hour and a half (I wanted something harder than RC59).  I don’t know how hard it is, but when I tapped the blade on my granite plate, it sure sounds hard.  Ding, ding!

    One important lesson here was that I didn’t have to go as high in temp as I thought and I didn’t have to hold it there.  The importance here was that the lower temp causes little or no oxidation on the blade surface.  With the oxy rig, I had burned the surface pretty good and had to spend a lot of time sanding and buffing out the rough surface.  Not so with the lower temp.  All of the data you find on hardening D2 calls for a long soak at temp.  But with a slender blade like this, any heat on one side is almost instantly felt on the other side.  I only held it at temp for maybe 30 seconds.

    Data on the internet says that at the bright cherry red I reached, the temp was just over 1800F.  Hardening D2 requires that you reach a temp of 1800 – 1850F.  Knives I hardened back when Elvis was still kicking were heated to orange-red, which explains why the surfaces were burned.  Orange-red is over 2000F.   The tempering at 400F should produce a hardness of RC60, which was my target.

    Here’s the Spyderco Resilience showing the guts.

    IMG_0461 compressed

    Here’s the completed knife with the D2 blade installed and with the original blade shown as a reference:

    IMG_0527 compressed

    I used the original blade as a template for the critical dimensions.  I had to buy some small metric drill bits and a 5mm reamer.  I had to “sneak up on” the lock fit, but it really wasn’t that difficult.

    The last photo shows the D2 blade sharpened to 1000 grit.  My handiwork on the blade was a little too crude to warrant a mirror edge and I didn’t want to accentuate the unevenness of the bevel width.  With my belt sander I couldn’t get the area just forward of the ricasso to the same thickness as the rest of the blade.  This is for the same reason that it’s difficult to reach the ricasso with the WEPS.

    I know this is a really long-winded post, but my intent here is to show others here on the WE forum that you can do this stuff with a very limited amount of shop tools.  If you got this far, thanks for your attention!

     

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    #39724
    Mark76
    Participant
    • Topics: 179
    • Replies: 2760

    Nice story! And a very nice blade!

    Molecule Polishing: my blog about sharpening with the Wicked Edge

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    #39725
    cbwx34
    Participant
    • Topics: 57
    • Replies: 1505

    …I wanted to tackle the fitting issues of a liner-lock folder.  

    Very impressive!!!  Few pro knifemakers will even take on this challenge.

    Great job… and post!

    1 user thanked author for this post.
    #39729
    wickededge
    Keymaster
    • Topics: 123
    • Replies: 2936

    That’s inspiring!

    -Clay

    #39732
    Organic
    Participant
    • Topics: 17
    • Replies: 929

    That is totally cool. Did I read correctly that you did the heat treatment in the basement of your home? I hope you’ve got some fire extinguishers close by in case something goes wrong. That would make me nervous for sure, but I’m a worrier by default. I imagine that this could become a very addictive hobby. Have fun and stay safe!

    #39733
    tcmeyer
    Participant
    • Topics: 38
    • Replies: 2077

    That is totally cool. Did I read correctly that you did the heat treatment in the basement of your home? I hope you’ve got some fire extinguishers close by in case something goes wrong. That would make me nervous for sure, but I’m a worrier by default. I imagine that this could become a very addictive hobby. Have fun and stay safe!

    I was paranoid enough that I moved anything flammable away from the area I was working in and I did have a fire extinguisher at hand.

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    #45183
    tcmeyer
    Participant
    • Topics: 38
    • Replies: 2077

    Okay….  New knife, same topic.

    As I’ve mentioned in a post about steel for hunting knives, I’ve been working on a skinner which is much like a few I’d done in the past. I really like the design, as it is somewhat elegant in its lines and I am hopeful that it performs as well as a skinner as it looks to me.  Yesterday, I finally finished (for all intents and purposes) this bugger and took some photos in my first attempts at using a light box.

    Back when I was doing quite a bit of this (late 70’s, early ’80s), I used to be able to knock one of these out in three or four evenings.  This one took three of four weeks.  Part of the delay lies in my continuous vascillation – not being able to make up my mind about how I’d handle the design. Paralysis by analysis.  I wanted to do a full tang, but I still wanted a bass bolster which would be one piece.  Separate bolster halves would need pins to hold them in position while brazing and I wasn’t too confident in my abilities there.  Ultimately, I cut a deep notch in the bolster and cut a matching notch in the spine of the knife to receive the part of the bolster holding the two halves together.  It worked out really well, but my brazing skills had evaporated over the years, so I’m not that proud of it.  Next time I’ll do better.

    As I had explained earlier, at one point I was so focused on the bolster and handle installations that I forgot to do the hardening first.  Really boneheaded – a shortfall I’ll blame on my advanced age.  Since D2 is quenched in air, I clamped the butt of the knife in my machinist’s vise, wrapped the handle with a soaking-wet rag and protected the bolster with a layer of Calgon Thermo-Trap.  Using two MAPP gas torches,  was able to get the edge up to its non-magnetic temperature, after which I left it to cool on its own.  On checking with a file, the steel was clearly harded than an unhardened piece of the same steel, so there ya go.

    The oxidation on the blade was rather attractive, I thought, so on finishing, I decided to forego polishing on the blade for now.  If I change my mind in the next few weeks, I’ll take it to the buffing wheels.  For now here’s a batch of photos for your viewing pleasure:

    IMG_0624 Compressed

    IMG_0632 Compressed

    IMG_0633 Compressed

    IMG_0630 Compressed

    In case you’re wondering, the handle material is Black Ink Cocobolo Micarta.  The discoloration of the D2 blade is a result of the flame-hardening process.

    • This reply was modified 4 years, 7 months ago by tcmeyer.
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    #45186
    MarcH
    Moderator
    • Topics: 66
    • Replies: 2622

    Beautiful knife Tom.  Please excuse this silly question as I know little about knife making.  Just what I watched on TV “Forged in Fire.”

    Do you do part of the edge sharpening first before attaching the handle and how did you do that?  Then do you clamp it and sharpen it with your WE after the hardening process?  How did you clamp and sharpen that configuration?  What stone progression did you use?  What bevel angle is it sharpened to?

    Marc
    (MarcH's Rack-Its)

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    #45189
    sksharp
    Participant
    • Topics: 9
    • Replies: 397

    Nice knife Tom, go ahead and be proud of it I know I would be.

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    #45191
    tcmeyer
    Participant
    • Topics: 38
    • Replies: 2077

    Beautiful knife Tom. Please excuse this silly question as I know little about knife making. Just what I watched on TV “Forged in Fire.” Do you do part of the edge sharpening first before attaching the handle and how did you do that? Then do you clamp it and sharpen it with your WE after the hardening process? How did you clamp and sharpen that configuration? What stone progression did you use? What bevel angle is it sharpened to?

    Interesting questions…  It was sharpened after the handle was mounted.  Finding a correct position was really difficult and the short radius meant that the angles would change a bit from heel to tip.  I used my Gen 3 upgrade vise and I placed the center of the belly as close to top center as I could.  The point at which the spine meets the bolster was up against the vise and touching the bottom of the vise – the locating pin was not used.  In this position, the handle was angled downward about 30 degrees.  If you can see in the photos (I didn’t post the one that showed the mirror finish on the blade) the bevel width changes quite a bit from one end to the other.

    Yes, I sharpened it before hardening.  Simply couldn’t wait any longer.  The result of that was the fact that there were several micro-chips on the edge near the heel, which needed to be removed with a resharpening.

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    #45207
    Hogdog
    Participant
    • Topics: 1
    • Replies: 18

    Beautiful work. Really enjoy this post and look forward to more of your handy work. I find I have too many hobbies but I fear you’ve inspired a new one.

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    #45208
    tcmeyer
    Participant
    • Topics: 38
    • Replies: 2077

    Marc:  I don’t think I clearly understood your question when I posted the reply.  Normally, you would not sharpen before hardening or attaching the handle.  I have a pair of heavy leather gloves that I use for working stuff with sharp edges.  I’m not sure if they’re deerskin or not.  They are quite soft though, and give me a good sense of touch.  They’re heavy-enough to allow me to handle very sharp blades without fear of cutting through, so I’m pretty comfortable handling knives after I’ve sharpened them.  Everybody who works knives on buffing wheel or belt sanders probably has a pair of gloves they feel comfortable with.

    On a slightly related point, and one I hadn’t pointed out, was that I actually hardened the blade twice.  The first time seemed to take a good hardening, so I sharpened the edge to test it for durability.  After about fifty slices on a pretty hard piece of cardboard, I could see with my microscope that the edge was pretty dull.  Deciding that I hadn’t held the edge at the non-magnetic stage long enough, I did it again, trying to hold the temp for about a minute.  Something interesting happened.  There was some debris or contamination near the heel and I saw some sparkles popping in that area when it reached a pretty good glow.  After the cool-down, I inspected the edge with my microscope and found a couple of micro-chips in the edge near the heel.  I’m not sure what the cause was.  Could it be the contamination?  Could it be the crystallization of the already hardened edge reacting to the reapplication of heat?  I don’t know, but it is interesting.  The heel, by the way, was closest to the heat sink of the Thermo-Trap paste and this area required the most amount of heat to reach the desired temp.

    Coming soon:  Finally finishing this knife has  inspired me to do another.  I have a blade (same design, but hidden tang) that has been in my junk drawer for about 40 years.  I had silver-soldered a brass bolster onto it, but was distracted by something (ADD defined) and when I revisited it, the acid from the flux had corroded the bejesus out it.  I more or less abandoned the project, but now I have the equipment to deal with it, so tonight I fitted and epoxied a black Micarta handle with a single 1/4″ brass pin going thru the tang.  What’s different about this one (other than the hidden tang) is the rake angle.  The handle is pitch down by ten degrees.  The intent was to improve the working angle, making a skinning job less tiresome.  Stay tuned, folks, we’re gonna have a Popeye cartoon in a minute.  🙂

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    #45209
    tcmeyer
    Participant
    • Topics: 38
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    Beautiful work. Really enjoy this post and look forward to more of your handy work. I find I have too many hobbies but I fear you’ve inspired a new one.

    Hi HogDog:

    Knifemaking is a really rewarding sort of hobby, because you can see the results of your work almost immediately and everything you do has your own personal touch to it.  The only power tool you really need is a belt or drum sander and a couple of buffing wheels with compound.  I started out with a 6″ diameter, 2″ wide drum sander and I’ve been using it every year for forty years.  I don’t think they’re available anymore – maybe on eBay.  Only the last couple of years did I get a couple of belt sanders.

    Correction:  There’s a similar one available here.  It’s 1-1/2″ wide with a 1/2″ arbor diameter, while mine is 2″ wide with a 5/8″ arbor diameter.  Otherwise the same.

    Knifemaking is fun.  Get the itch.  Scratching it is the best part.

    I would start out with a kit knife.  Jantz sells a bunch of kits for knives and sheaths.  They also sell finished blades.  Epoxy on you handle material and you’re on your way.  I graduated to grinding my own knives, so I but my tool steel from them too.  I also bought a couple of Damascus kitchen knife blades from WoodCraft and they turned out beautifully with Honduran rosewood scales.  Next, I’m going to try a kitchen knife from scratch  – probably a chef’s knife.

    • This reply was modified 4 years, 7 months ago by tcmeyer.
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    #45211
    Bill Kirkley
    Participant
    • Topics: 19
    • Replies: 97

    Here is a link to building a simple forge that might make it easier to heat treat your blades.

    https://www.bladesmithsforum.com/index.php?/topic/36681-very-simple-beginners-propane-forge/

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    #45215
    tcmeyer
    Participant
    • Topics: 38
    • Replies: 2077

    Hi Bill:  Yup, I’ve seen that one before.  In fact, there are a bunch of different variation on the home-made forges.  I’ve got a propane burner out in my old smoker, but I don’t think it’ll put out the BTU’s I’d need.  I’ll keep and eye out for something in the area on Craigslist.  One of the videos actually shows how to make a burner from scrap.

    One of the advantages to my method is that it doesn’t harden the tang, so you can drill it for pins, screws or rivets.

    I finished my second knife tonight.  Pretty cool, with a black handle.  After seeing it next to the prior one, I’m going to have to polish the blade on the first one after all.  I’ll have to set up my light box and take some more photos.

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