This project caught me as soon as I understood what the goal was. A father contacted me with the idea to build a custom-designed Bowie knife for the eighteenth birthday of his son. With the idea that it will become a future family heirloom.Continue reading “The heirloom knife – the Warrior Heart”
With every knife I made I learned one or two new things. With this Kopis build, I aimed for: “let’s try what I can do at max without limits” and trying all the stuff I had on my list for future builds.
I had seen some ancient Kopis swords in pictures and similar to the Kukri III I wanted to make a smaller knife version of it. Again I also decided to give it a modern look. The blade was designed and I pushed myself to even try a hollow grind, freehand on a big recurved blade – yeah, why not try something easier first? It came out a bit uneven and I hoped to compensate for that during hand-sanding. As this knife should become my actual masterpiece I was expecting hours of hand-sanding anyway.
The handle should be also a new technique and I chose to do a frame handle I never did before. As Kopis swords are from ancient greece, I found nice curly olive wood to fit pretty well. As a contrast, the frame should be done out of ebony wood and some veneer liners. The handle itself would consist out of 12 parts that had to fit perfectly to get the final flush results. Everything was sanded on a flat surface to have perfectly flat sides.
I brought the blade to an 800 grit surface pre-heat treatment. I mixed my top-secret special Hamon creating Japanese ancient clay (my grand grandfathers preserved the secret mixture for generations) with water and brought my signature pattern on the blade and let it dry overnight.
The blade – ground to a thin hollow grind – plus the clay for selective hardening led to a serious issue after I dunked the glowing steel into the oil. The steel hardened nicely but I had a really serious warp in the blade – or to better describe it: The edge was wobbly like corrugated sheet metal. No way I could straighten that – only option: reshape the blade. Fortunately the blade was wide enough, even a bit wider than initially designed. And after some more hours of hand-sanding i had a blade that looked better than before.
I also needed to work on the guard piece – also a first-timer: I needed to hot form some steel. I needed more bend than I could archive by just taking away material. And I needed a suiting tailpiece for the handle too, that resembles the form of the front guard.
The blade went up the grit scale from 80, 120, 180 up to 1200 and then on the polishing wheel as I wanted blade, guard, and tailpiece at a perfect nice mirror finish.
I wanted to try something special and etch ornaments or something with meaning into it for the front guard. I went for the Latin words: “Memento Moris – Mors Certa Hora Incerta”. Translated that means “Remember that you are mortal – Death is certain, the time is uncertain”. First I thought about some more etching on the blade but I do not want to overdo the whole piece – especially after I already put so many hours into this knife. But these words are perfect for a knife.
So finally it was time to glue all up and move on the handle shaping. The tailpiece would be the last and glued on in a separate step. Handle shaping went pretty smooth but then I discovered one of the hardest challenges. The tang sticks out from the bottom of the handle And I need to get all the surface around it perfectly flat. That alone took some hours of scratching tiny parts of wood off, just with the tip of the file. I will need to come up with a better idea if I do this kind of handle again – Probably, that I can take the handle off until final assembly.
The last step was to weld the tailpiece to the tiny tip of the tang that stuck out. I am not a welder, I am far from good. So I managed to weld the two pieces but did not manage to get it perfectly and so that it is invisible after grinding, sanding, and polishing the bottom part. You can now see where the two pieces are put together. I am still thinking about trying to weld over it to close the spots – but I am hesitant as it might ruin the knife.
I am working on my first folding knife model. And to make the challenge complete I am trying to build a spring folder where a spring holds the blade in the opened or closed position (like the swiss army knives are made).
The most complicated part is, that all pieces have to fit together very precisely. The spring should not be too strong nor so weak, that the blade is able to wiggle around. This would also be a safety issue. Nobody wants to have a super sharp knife that could open while in the pocket. If the spring is too strong the risk is to slip when you try to close the knife and too much force is needed.
The axis and the connection points have to be set up very precisely. I feel like a clockmaker with fine files and sandpaper, tidying the friction parts up and even polishing them, so they do not scratch in the movement.
I had to experiment with the spring part. It is spacer and spring in one piece and I built it in a way, that the edge of the blade does not touch any internal parts of the handle when closed, so it remains sharp and smooth.
I had to experiment with the heat treatment for springs. I did not find good information on how to do this correctly. The first one was still too brittle and I snapped it and had to build a new one from scratch. When the steel is too soft it just bends and stays in that position. The spring loses all strength after opening and closing the knife after three or four times. In the end, I had a good resistance in the spring and it returns back to position every time.
The liner is a mixed material self-made Micarta. It consists of laminated gray paper and a layer of pear veneer. As all layers are drenched in laminating epoxy it is a waterproof and very stable material mix with a nice optical effect.
For the handle, I chose Padouk wood, a very nice and easy to work with material. It has good material properties and a coarse porous texture – The only thing was that it covered my whole workshop with a red layer of dust.
The etching says “spring folder” but the font I chose did not come out as expected, so next time I will choose a better-to-read font.
Another first-time was the use of my new polishing machine. That thing is kind of scary with the high speed and power. But it gets the polishing job done very nicely and it is so much more convenient instead of using a polishing wheel on my drill stand.
I am very happy with the results of my first ever made folding knife. I learned a lot – like always – and I can improve on that experiences for the next models.
I have recently finished more kitchen knives. I worked on another Japan-style Furutsu petty knife and a Chinese chef’s knife.
I used 2 mm O1 steel for these knives as this gives a good mix of stability, flexibility and thin enough to be highly sharpened. O1 is my favorite steel to work with.
On my last order of handle material, I changed the supplier and checked out some of his materials. I found that he offered bamboo handle scales and as I already planned to do Asian-style knives I found them to fit perfectly and got two sets. The bamboo is not a solid block but more layered or stacked. I still like it a lot.
My first tries to add a Hamon
I always try to learn something new – this time I wanted to experiment with creating selective hardness in the blades and a Hamon. A Hamon is a wavy line between the hardened part of the blade – the cutting edge – and the spine of the blade, where the steel stays softer. The advantage is, that the hardened blade is supported by a softer part of the blade which results in a more stable knife – and to be honest: it looks just super cool.
To create the Hamon I prepared the blades as usual and then I created a mix of ash and clay. The recipe for the exact mixtures is a secret that is passed from generation to generation in our family. The clay is left to dry. Then the blade is heated together with the clay mantle and hardened in the oil.
After hardening the clay is removed and the blade is tempered and then hand sanded to the desired grit and then etched in ferric chloride, then sanded again. I repeated the etching and sanding process multiple times to reach the desired look.
For my first try I am very happy with the result. Must be due to the secret clay recipe of our family 🙂
I work on my own in my tiny workshop, that is what I usually do. But when a friend of mine called and told me that he knows somebody who would love to learn how to make a knife, I thought: why not give it a try. I had no idea what to charge for that, as I wouldn’t do it for the money anyway. So I just said a bit more than the material for a knife would cost.
So I met Arne – an eighteen-year-old guy, polite, friendly, and respectful – and very eager to learn the skills needed to make a knife. And what matters most: the ability to listen and learn.
He wanted to do a Santoku-style kitchen knife, similar to the chef’s knife I made. But he absolutely wanted to do a hidden tang knife – no matter how much I said that this would mean a lot more and complicated work for his first knife. But as he wants to give it a try we absolutely followed his decision.
We drafted his blade on a piece of paper on his first visit and I just added some tips on ergonomics and basic needs of a good cutting blade. Then I asked him to transfer that drawing onto the computer.
On his next visit I helped him modify some details on the computer, printed out his design and he transferred the cutout paper stencil to the 2 mm O1 steel.
Then we started with the first “big machinery” ok, just my handy little angle grinder – not so big machinery. Arne cut out the steel blade while I showed him some tricks and tweaks on how to get convex and concave cuts done right.
I let him do all the steps himself, only the ones that had the potential to ruin the knife I just showed him how I do it.
For the handle material he got some nice cherry wood and for the front plate (guard/bolster part) I had a nice brass and paper micarta piece left from a previous project. We tried a new technique to slot the handle for the hidden tang: We drilled a hole into the handle and only had the bolster with a tight-fitting slot around the blade. The hole was filled up with epoxy during assembly and the plate serves as a nice-looking cap.
The last thing to do was shaping the handle roughly with the band saw then going through rough grinding and finally hand sanding the wood into shape. The cherry wood is nice to hand sand to a satin shiny finish and the last step was to treat the handle well with Linseed oil varnish.
Arne did really good and the final product looks awesome. He can be really proud of his work and the knife which is a present for his father.
The first Tigershark knife I made might be the knife I learned the most from. I tried to do the final surface finish only on the belt grinder and failed miserably. The scratch pattern I got was way too uneven. Additionally, I etched the blade too early and ended with a partially ground out marking.
I used the belt grinder to put the secondary bevel on the blade as the first step of sharpening – I usually did that with diamond sharpeners by hand. The ultra-fine grit belt worked pretty well. It also was my first blade I sharpened with a leather strap and polish paste. That thing is razor-sharp now.
I always thought about if I want to sell the knife. I think it is one of my most beautiful designs with a nice handle and in the end, it is also a very practical knife. It has its small flaws and so it is still here and I am not sure if I want to keep it for me.
Then I got an order for a knife and suggested this model to my customer and friend. So I got the chance to start from scratch, make another Tigershark knife, and improve. This time I went for a high mirror polish with a mix of scratch pattern finish.
And then – the name-giving handle material serpent wood (with its tiger-like stripes) was out of stock at my usual shops. I waited a bit if it would be back in stock, but when it took too long, I went on to search for other suppliers and found one. I took the chance and also ordered some bamboo for two Asian style kitchen knives (more on that in a later post).
The making of the knife took me a pretty long time with lots of interruptions and private life issues which took me off my progress path. But I came back in my holidays, finished the blade and I am pretty happy with the results.
Next and last step will be making of the leather sheath.
I built a new burner for my water tank forge. The first one I built had serious airflow problems and with too much gas it tended to blow out its own flame. So the generated heat was limited.
With my new welder, I was able to rebuild the whole cap. This type of burner is called a Venturi Burner. The gas flow from the nozzle pulls the air through a pipe by the sheer velocity of the movement. The air is not accelerated by an electrical fan or something, it is pushed into the pipe by atmospheric pressure. The mixture of air and gas moves fast enough to flow and mix in the pipe but the flame can not go back into the pipe.
These burners actually rely on two principles: the Bernoulli Principle and the Venturi effect.
An increase in velocity of a moving fluid results in simultaneous decrease in its pressure (and visa versa)Bernoulli Principle
The result is that the velocity of the gas leads to a lower pressure of the gas (this is what the Bernoulli Principle says) and so the surrounding air (and so the oxygen) at atmospheric pressure is ‘entrained’ into the low-pressure gas flow to even out the difference of pressure, this is the Venturi Effect.
I bought some plumbing pipes made of iron and used a wire brush wheel on my angle grinder and a scraping disc to remove the zinc from the surface. Zinc can lead to health issues if heated and the gases are breathed in.
First I just held the cap near the top funnel and lit the burner to find the right distance and the right gap for the air intake. Then I welded the two parts together. The top cap is the former tip of a usual gas burner used on roofs. I just cut int into the right shape.
Yes I know it is not beautiful but a huge improvement that ads a lot of power to my forge and the flame is more stable at higher settings.
Literature and sources:
As I wrote some times ago I like to learn new things, combine the techniques I learned to something new, and expand my skills. One thing on my bucket list was to buy a welding machine and learn to weld. Probably because I saw my dad try his best with his not-so-good arc welding transformer when I was a child and still I am fascinated.
I looked up different machines, not too expensive for just getting my feet wet, with good reviews, and most importantly it should be as flexible as possible when it comes to welding techniques. I ended up having a look at Stahlwerk Schweißgeräte [unpaid advertising]. I was thinking about to get their MIG 200 amps machine as it was able to do Mig/Mag, arc welding and flux-cored welding. Unfortunately, it was not on stock for a long time on their site and on Amazon. I even got a welding automatic helmet and welding gloves for Christmas long before I got the machine itself.
So last week I did it and hit the “buy now” button as a pre-order. I had decided that for my needs 175 amps would be sufficient and bought the machine. The day the parcel service announced the package I kept hitting the reload on the parcel tracking page, nervous like a kid on Christmas Eve. Meanwhile, the tracking page even got a 500 server error message but fortunately, it wasn’t me. They where just launching a new page 🙂
I tried to weld some beads onto some scrap metal and oh boy times have changed. It was so easy to ignite the electrode and or the flux-cored wire. No way you can compare that to the old transformer I got in my garage, the old welding machine of my dad. In the end, I had the best results with simple arc welding electrodes.
In the above video you see my son trying out my new machine.
Before I sent the first built of my Kukri III custom knife model to my friend @JAMZT53 I showed the knife around. It was admired by many people, friends, and family – so I quickly got another order for that knife in my books.
After I finished the Longbow I tried a different way to organize my work and started to work on multiple knives at the same time. I began making another PB, Tigershark, and Kukri III model at the same time and planned to switch whenever I had the motivation for a specific step of knife making.
While doing so life hit me and I found myself in the middle of switching my daytime job. Don’t get me wrong, the step was planned and long overdue but it brought a lot of changes to my life. With a lot more responsibility and freedom of making decisions, sculpting an entire IT department from the ground up and such. It is honestly an awesome job and it was absolutely the right decision.
As a result, I simply did not have the focus on handcrafting and coming back home late, and then go to my workshop and work on a knife. So knife making got a bit off my schedule. I was all the time looking forward to diving back into it though but even on the weekends, I could not find the time and energy for it.
Times have changed, I “arrived” in the new job and I got a lot of very positive feedback from my new boss and I am obviously doing one or two things right there. That put a lot of wind under my wings and additionally then came the Corona lockdown and we are all working from home. That took away all the commuting to and from work. In the end, I am working a lot more on my job from the home office and on the other hand, I am finding back my way into knife making on the weekends or finishing one or two steps in the evening. And also: It got warmer since spring is here – the small radiator just does not warm up the workshop so nicely when it is cold outside 🙂
So here I am back, with a finished Kukri III on my table, working on the sheath and pushing things forward to deliver the knife, which by the way came out quite good. I am happy with the final result and look forward to seeing the reaction of the one who ordered it.
I was looking for a different material I can use for liners. I constantly use liners in the handles between the handle scales and the blade on full tang knives and between the guard and the handle on hidden tang knives.
I usually use Micarta I make out of resin and paper and was looking for other ideas and came up with some felt my kids use for handicrafts. So I gave it a try and made some simple tests:
I brushed a good amount of epoxy resin on the felt and pressed one between two pieces of scrap wood and the other one I just pressed flat and let both experiments rest for 24 hours. This long wait is just because I use a very slow hardening epoxy.
After removing the clamps I cut out the flat piece with scissors. The wood pieces I sanded flat on 3 of 4 sides to simulate the effect when I use them as liners on a knife handle.
I made some stress tests with the wood pieces trying to break them apart but they are solid and well bonded to the surrounding wood. I wasn’t able to break them apart with a realistic amount of force.
There are some advantages to felt. First of all, it is thicker and the layers needed to reach a certain thickness is clearly lower, this might save some time. Second, the darkening effect when the material is soaked in resin is not as extreme as when using paper so I can better predict the resulting color.
As a disadvantage I have to check if there are air bubbles left in the material. You can see the effect of air bubbles in the flat piece in the picture above – the brighter part in the middle results from tiny air bubbles.
The top picture shows how I fit a Kukri III that I am working on while dry fitting the pieces of felt between the different parts of the handle. Pictures of the finished built Kukri III will follow.