5 Quick Tips on Knifemaking at Your Own Home Forge
So, I cleared out all the wasps and other squatting insectoids, got the forge heated up, and the metal in the heat. Like I said, I hadn’t done much forging in a year or so, so my three-pound forge hammer became quite heavy soon into the project. My shoulder was giving out rather quickly and it was all I could do to keep working through the pain until I had the desired length I thought I needed for the blade.
A few months back, my cousin on my mom’s sides gave me a whole bucketful of old files that he was going to get rid of. I told him I’d be interested in having them for knife making and he gladly obliged. I haven’t done a lot of forging in the past couple of years - since the two shoulder surgeries - but I do get out every so often and get to hammerin’ and slinging a few forge-sparks. The motivation for this last endeavor was actually a conversation with my other cousin about forging and knife making.
I thought, “you know what? I have all these files out here that I could be putting to good use”. So, I fired up my three-burner propane forge and got busy.
I had used an old farrier’s rasp for one of my other knife builds and it turned out pretty good. (at least I thought so). I have since made a leather sheath for it and actually put some colored graphics on the veg-tanned leather and I’m liking it so far.
The rasp was about two and a half feet in length and had plenty of girthy real estate to work with and honestly, it turned out to be more of a short machete instead of a handy knife with the versatility for camp use and bushcraft. The file I used for this build was just at two feet (not including the “handle-tail”).
Tip #1: Make Sure You Have a Clear Place to Work.
So, I cleared out all the wasps and other squatting insectoids, got the forge heated up, and the metal in the heat. Like I said, I hadn’t done much forging in a year or so, so my three-pound forge hammer became quite heavy soon into the project. My shoulder was giving out rather quickly and it was all I could do to keep working the file until I had the desired length I desired for the blade.
Some of the hammer marks that are still in the blade are the evidence of a battered and fatigued shoulder that could barely heft the weight of the hammer after a few minutes of using it. In my mind, I’m thinking “I’ll get those marks out on the next pass”, but the next pass would come and the shoulder just wouldn’t cooperate with the aesthetics I was trying to achieve.
I finally got the length I wanted and quenched in the oil bath (which I had moved from under the lean-to to a place where a “flame-up” wouldn’t involve trapping the flame under weathered two-by-fours and tin). It was a success!
Tip #2: Have an idea of what you want your knife to look like
After I had the shape and hardness for the blade, I went into stock-removal mode and began shaping the squashed file into something that looked like a knife. This part of the process is still labor-intensive but at least I didn’t have to swing that hammer anymore!
It’s also at this point that the vision of the blade begins to take shape and is the blank slate to do some creative brainstorming and to decide what kind of knife it will be. I used my “go-to” design and began molding the metal and sculpting it to the shape of my vision.
Tip #3: Have an idea of what the handle will look like when finished
The handle is then shaped in silhouette to accommodate the scales or handle material. At first I wanted to do steel bolsters on the top and bottom of the handle. This would have looked really cool and give the knife an overall air of quality craftsmanship but I didn’t have any material on hand to make them out of.
So, instead I went with a two-tone plastic laminate that I had made out of bottled water and V8 energy drink wrappers. I found a really cool video on YouTube on how to make plastic laminate material out of melted Wal-Mart bags, (or any other plastic bags for that matter), and have been using this process to compress this melted plastic material into squares of approximately 10 inches by 6 inches and a thickness of approximately a half to three quarters of an inch.
Cutting up the plastic laminate with my handy-dandy scroll saw, I am able to lay out the scheme of the colors onto the handle and get an idea of how it will look when it’s finished. This is why not using steel for bolsters might be a better idea. At least I thought so.
Also, the hilt was just some really cheap sheet metal I had laying around the garage. I had it slipped up to the stopping point and then tack-welded in place. It looks okay, but is not the strongest or most ornate I could have used.
Tip #4: Try not to harden the handle before drilling the pin holes
So, after the holes are drilled into the metal for the pins, getting the handle on is just a matter of time and…, patience? I have to say here, that if the heat is high enough and the oil quench is successful, the handle may be a bit hard to drill through. I’ve had this happen a few times and this one was no exception.
I was finally able to get the holes drilled and the pins cut to the lengths I needed. So, the next step is to epoxy the scales, set the pins, and then shape how the handle with a sander. After this one was said and done, I realized that the girth of the handle was a little on the small side. It’s okay, but someone with larger hands may find it too demure for effective handling.
If I needed too, I could do a paracord wrap around the handle and give it some extra girth to fill the palm. It might be a good idea anyway if the knife was to be used for wilderness survival, you would already have cordage built into your tool and could be unwrapped if the occasion called for it. Just a thought.
This style knife is my own “signature style” with the thinner fore blade, ridgeback, and a fuller belly for better chopping. I’ve made several of these style knives and, maybe it’s just me and my taste in knives, but I think they look badass! Whether they’re all that functional in the wild or not still remains to be determined.
Tip #5: Get experienced instruction in forging before attempting any hazardous activity
I started forging shortly after the History Channel’s Forged in Fire program debuted and have noticed that in subsequent seasons, they have added the disclaimer of “forging is dangerous and shouldn’t be attempted at home”. I know they probably have to do that for a liability reasons, but on the other hand, sometimes home is the only place you can try it.
I would definitely advise anyone who is interested in forging to get professional guidance and look into the local vocational schools that offer classes on knife-making and forging techniques.
Thanks for stopping by today and I hope you found this article entertaining and/or helpful. If so, leave me a comment below and let me know. Until next time, keep the fire hot and the beverages cold! See y’all later.