sig_230 asked me, as a complement to the excellent forging series by Terry Primos, if I would do a tutorial using the stock removal method for making a knife. Since I do not want to be repetitive or waste bandwidth, I am going to take the liberty of referring to Terry's posts from time to time. He has already covered a number of basic issues which are common to both disciplines and discussed the differences between forging and stock removal on his web site. I will also refer to the FAQ post by Big_Bear, in which he has linked to the great series by Joe Talmadge over at Blade Forums. Finally, for those that wish to really look at the nitty-gritty details of knife making I suggest reading the information created by the late Bob Engnath and kept up as a tribute to him over at: Bob's Bookcase. Part one of the tutorial will cover layout and profiling. Later posts will discuss blade grinding, heat treating, and handle installation and finishing. The steps described here can generally be used for either carbon or stainless steels, except for the thermal treatments. I rarely use stainless steel. I hope you will find the series interesting and entertaining.
I must post a disclaimer about my photography - it is pretty bad. I will do my best to take some decent photos of the process, but please bear with me when my photos are not up to par.
I want to share a few words about knife making philosophy and a little personal background. Nothing I say here should ever be taken as a criticism or flame of other knife makers or their methods. My opinions are based upon my own experiences and observations over many years. I have met and shared information with a lot of makers, many of them quite famous. Each maker is guided by a number of factors such as: educational background, mechanical aptitude, how the craft was learned, the mentor, the tools at hand, financial issues, personal experience, customer demand and the functional forms of the knives he/she desires to make. Each maker does things a little differently. There is rarely a right or wrong involved, just a matter of personal preference or experience as to what works for that maker in their shop, given their tools and background. Remember also that as a general rule economic imperatives drive markets and the custom knife niche is no different.
I agree with Terry in that the forged blade has potential for increased strength due to the way the grain of the steel can be directed under the hammer. I think that Ed Fowler and Ed Caffrey have clearly shown that with proper forging and thermal treatment, 52100 and 5160, respectively, make superior high-performance knives with increased edge retention and toughness. However, the increasing levels of performance come with a price tag for the additional time and labor involved. The merits of forged versus stock-removal blades has been argued for years. Each has its place. Does increased edge retention mean that the knife is better? Not necessarily. Does the fact that the stock removal maker uses stainless steel rather than carbon steel make that product inferior? Absolutely not. Does the increased strength from a forged blade translate into superiority in the real world? Again, not necessarily. In the real world the high performance knife may need to be sharpened less and may have a longer life. The forged knife may be a little harder to break when subject to abuse. The stainless knife may not retain its edge as long, but will be superior in many environments. Again, it depends on the intended function of the blade. If I am making a blade used for a survival situation I will probably forge it from 5160 and use the triple quench method to give the customer every bit of performance available from the steel when it may be needed most. I have been using knives for more than 40 years and have never seen a knife break anywhere, except at its thinnest point, the tip area, when used for it main purpose - cutting! I have seen knives break when used as pry bars, hammers, wedges and hatchets on inappropriate materials. It is the customer who will pay for the extra attention, time and effort put forth by the maker to increase the performance level of the blade and who will ultimately decide which type of blade is sufficient for their needs. To use the automobile analogy, it is like buying a Toyota Camry or a Mercedes SL500. Both are high quality and will get you to where you want to go, but one will definitely give you a better ride and offer better resale value. From the maker's economic point of view, there are a lot more people buying Toyotas than there are Mercedes. Although we may have a preference for the Mercedes, most of us would be happy to own a new Camry. I will confess that I made a few Yugos in my time. As Terry notes, the maker's names go on these knives and we want them to be synonymous with quality and reliability. Unfortunately, in the early years when I had not learned that vital lesson I rushed to give away and sell some blades that I would not allow out of the shop today.
Mostly, I am self taught. I started making knives about 8 years ago from blanks that were ground by the late Bob Engnath and heat treated by Paul Bos. When I started the Internet was still fairly young and without the excellent forums and web sites of today. There were no makers that I knew of in my part of the country who could show me grinding or finishing techniques. Bob Engnath was always one to share knowledge with new makers and we corresponded regularly until his untimely passing. His catalogue, found at the Internet link above, is still a valuable source of information. I never got to watch Bob work, but had to translate his writings and correspondence into my shop, using my tools and abilities. In essence, he was my mentor and his recommendations influenced much of my work. My point here is that for those of you who may consider knife making at some point in your lives, take the time to study the craft with an established maker, in his/her presence as it will help you greatly and dramatically shorten some of the learning curve. I made a lot of stupid and costly mistakes because of the trial and error method of learning and probably still do some things the hard way. I now use both methods of blade creation, forging and stock removal. The split is probably about 50 - 50 between the two on an annual basis. I am a part-time maker and usually only make 20 - 25 knives per year and have been doing so for about 5 years. I have a full-time job that pays the bills and often limits the time I can spend in my shop. My main goal is to make functional, high quality knives at a decent price, with a cost that the average working man can afford if he stretches his budget just a little. I make hidden-tang, through-tang and full-tang blades. See Engnath for a good description of each. I like to forge hidden and through-tang models and use stock removal for the full-tang blades. Why? Because I usually make my full-tang blades from precision-ground, O1 tool steel. The steel is already very flat and easy to use for full-tang construction. It is fully annealed (soft) and is very easy to grind and work. O1 is forgiving during heat treatment, takes and holds a wonderful edge and is very tough. For this tutorial we will be making a full-tang hunter/utility from 3/16" x 1.5" x 18" precision ground O1. This is where we are going:
By the way, the sheath is by Gerald Barrowcliff out of Grants Pass, OR. The handle is butterscotch micarta attached with Loveless style bolts. The thong-hole liner and rear pin are stainless steel. We will be discussing handles in much more detail later.
Let us get started.
The Stock Removal Blade - Part 1 - continued
We start off with some precision-ground, O1 flat stock from Starrett. I have found the best prices are usually to be had from MSC Direct.
I use blue dykem to cover the steel so that it will be easy to trace the pattern with a scribe. Note the line already scribed at an approximate 45 degree angle in the middle of the billet. I know from experience that I can get two of this model of knife out of one 18" piece of steel with very little waste. As O1 is fairly expensive limiting material waste is an added bonus.
The knife blank is a master pattern. Note that the point is not dropped as much as the point in the photo of the finished model, which was by customer request. I also use this pattern for tactical models. With slight changes to the tip of the knife and the addition of a false edge or clip, the same general design is readily modified to suit the needs of the customer. The original knife was a customer design. The customer liked the Loveless drop-point influence, but wanted a guardless, safe, secure grip when working with wet, cold or bloody hands. While it has a wonderful feel in the hand, I thought it would be awkward to hold it cutting-edge up when dressing game and did not think it would be popular. Surprisingly, this model has been one of my biggest sellers in either the hunter/utility or tactical rendition. Notice the holes in the handle. They serve several purposes. Some are for bolsters as requested, a few for positioning Loveless bolts depending on handle design, one is for a thong-hole liner in the handle and others are for weight reduction. I do not taper my tangs. We could get into a lengthy discussion here regarding the merits and function of tapered tangs. I prefer to skeletonize the handle. At a later stage we will actually hollow grind the handle to further reduce weight and allow for a nice adhesive cavity to bond with the handle scales.
I use small pieces of masking tape rolled up, adhesive side out to temporarily hold the pattern in place while I scribe the outline. I use a sharp lead pencil to mark the holes onto the steel and then scribe the 45 degree line to evenly divide the steel. I then cut the steel in half using my die grinder and a small cutoff wheel.
We will center punch each of the holes we have laid out and drill a pilot, then enlarge the holes to the appropriate size. I drill all of the holes at this point because the square stock is easily held in my drill press vice. The final step is to debur all of the holes with a countersink. In case you are wondering, the bolster holes and small hole for the rear pin are a #30 numbered drill, or just a few thousandths over 1/8" allowing use of 1/8" pins with space for adhesive. The thong hole is an "F" lettered bit, which allows use of 1/4" thong-hole material. The holes for the Loveless bolts are #18 for the 10-32 bolts. The perimeter holes are #1 for weight reduction and the center hole is 15/32" just because that bit happened to be sharp at the time.
Now we are ready to grind the blade to shape. I use a worn 50 grit belt and the flat platen for this step. The grinder is a Bader BM III with a 2-HP motor and variable speed controller. In my opinion, a variable speed motor is essential for fine grinding and finishing. The object here is to get the grind reasonably close to the scribed line, then switch to a 220-grit belt to grind right up to the line. To grind the finger grooves I use the small contact wheel attachment with a 1" contact wheel. I rough them with the 50-grit belt then true them up with the 220.
We take a file and debur all of the edges of the steel, which is quite sharp when fully profiled. At this point I always check the blank for straightness. O1 is very soft when delivered in this form and can get bent in shipment. A tap-tap here and a tap-tap there. . .well you get the drift. After I am visually certain that the steel looks straight, I get out the surface plate to make sure the handle is true and flat. Later on when we install the handle scales we do not want gaps between handle material and spacer. I tape some sand paper, grit up, onto the stone, add some Cool Tool cutting fluid and begin working the handle area on the stone to get it perfectly flat. Again, I find that it is easier to do this now rather than after the bevels are ground. After the bevels are ground it is too easy to scratch the blade or change the grind line at the top of the plunge cut. Since the bevels and plunge cuts will be ground later I only need to get the steel flat from the rear of the tang to the front of the ricasso.
Since it is already very flat and smooth, I can usually go straight to 320-grit paper. Sometimes there will be some slight deformities in the steel and I will have to start with 220-grit. If it is worse than that then I need a few more strategically placed taps. I should add that I prefer to use a spray adhesive on the stone to hold the paper as taping will allow the paper a slight "roll" with the sanding motion, which will add a slight radius to the end of the tang later causing a gap between the handle and the steel. I ran out of adhesive and had to use tape, which can be used in a pinch if you are careful. If I am not sure if the steel is perfectly flat, I take a colored indelible marker and mark up the perimeter of the handle area and then sand some more. If it is truly flat then the marker will be gone in a few passes. When we install the handle we will use 400-grit to get the handle closer to final finish.
The profile is done and the knife is ready to have the bevels ground.