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I Forge Iron

Interesting visitor to my shop


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I got a text message on Friday from someone saying that he knew the son of my shop's landlord, that he was interested in blacksmithing, and could he come by. I told him I was a bit busy but that he could.

What I didn't realize until he got to the shop was that he was a 16 year veteran of the Marines (out now) named Max who was on a road trip that had lasted a month so far and taken him from Los Angeles to Portland, across to Tennessee, and was in San Antonio only briefly on his return trip to L.A. He had met the landlord's son at a party in L.A. I dropped what I was doing and we forged out a small knife blade. Max was really taken with my primal/tactical Bowie "Thunderdome", as well as a Ridiculously Large Bowie that I had forged out a day or two earlier, so I agreed that we could forge one out the next day, Saturday.

On Saturday, I cut out a couple of pieces of F-250 coil spring, and we got busy. Using my hydraulic forging press to straighten the spring and Gunnhilda, my power hammer, to do the heavy forging, we forged out a couple of large Bowies, one for him and one for me to demonstrate the process. After taking a break in the evening to eat some pizza and carve some pumpkins with my girlfriend and one of her friends, we got down to the stock removal. We finished that up, hardened three times in veggie oil, then started the blades on their first tempering cycle before calling it a night around midnight.

The next morning we started the second tempering cycle, had a leisurely breakfast of coffee, pork chop, and huevos rancheros at a cafe around the corner, started the third and final tempering cycle, and took a quick trip to see a couple of the Spanish missions San Antonio is famous for. My girlfriend met us back at the shop, where I snapped some pictures of Max and his knife, then shut down the shop to spend the rest of the day with my girlfriend while Max headed out of town. Before he left, Max gave me and my girlfriend, a nursing student, the medical kit he had carried as a combat medic in Afghanistan. We were both greatly touched by this generous gesture.

Here's Max enjoying a cigar and his new Bowie that he made in Texas:



Here's what the Bowie looked like. We turned a missed hammer stroke into a notch for his thumb, and he was very pleased with the result. We established the secondary bevel on my belt grinder before he left, and he will clean off the baked-on oil, wrap the handle, and sharpen it back in L.A. This thing is a working knife, and balanced a bit ahead of the blade/tang transition. It'll chop, but it'll fight well too. Max knows how to handle a blade, and I'd hate to be on the other end in a fight.


I didn't get to measure the blade before he left, but it was approximately as long as the one I made to demonstrate, which is 12" overall with a 7" blade.


Before he left, Max wrote a check for the Ridiculously Large Bowie. I'll finish it up and mail it his way. It's forged from 1/4" thick 1084 bar 1 1/2" wide, and ended up 14 1/4" overall with a blade 8 1/2" long by 2 1/4" wide. The demonstration Bowie, by way of comparison, has a blade 1 3/4" wide.


I was very glad to meet Max, and he is welcome back at my shop any time he's in San Antonio again! :)

P.S. - I was going to wrap the handle of the Ridiculously Large Bowie in neon orange paracord and name it "Subtlety", but Max said he had seen enough paracord for a while and ordered up hemp with amber shellac instead. :D

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I have become interested in bowie knives. I've been doing a bit of research into their history as fighting knives. They are beginning to fascinate me! Apparently they are older than Sam Bowie himself and owe much of their dangerous reputation to the development of an unusual fighting style. This "backcut" fighting tactic seems only hazily remembered in this modern world but was apparently remarkably effective in it's heyday. As I read more about some of the fighting exploits of old time bowie users I am becoming convinced that the "backcut" fighting style must have created HUGE advantages for it's users! Sam Bowie himself was said to have carved up as many as four opponents in a single incident and that seems to me to indicate that he was able to dispatch them with amazing speed and ease! I want to learn more about this style of fighting as it seems that the knife ought to be balanced just about right and otherwise carefully designed for this particular style to be optimized.

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It's a basic blade shape and so goes way back---some pre-1000 sceax can be found with a similar blade shape. James Bowie put it in the limelight and it became a "fad" just like today we have seen tanto fads, tubular handled "survival knife" fads, etc.

Sounds like a great time and a worth thank-you for a returning vet!

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Bigfootnampa - Sam Bowie? Didn't he play for the Lakers? :D You mean Jim Bowie, right?

As for him, there is so much legend and misinformation that there is no way of knowing for sure even what style of knife he used. Many different blade styles get called "Bowie". You may have a good point about the use of a fully sharpened clip being used to fight. I got to hold a replica of the infamous Musso Bowie that had been made by the president of the American Bladesmith Society. This is a brass-backed design, and the way it was described to me being used (presenting the spine to the oponent, blocking their blade on the spine, then tipping the point forward to cut them with the sharpened clip) actually seemed to make a lot of sense when holding the blade. Before that it had always seemed like a bit of a goofy design to me.

None of these Bowies in this thread have a fully sharpened clip, just false edges.

MacBruce - That was a carefully chosen background for that shot. :)

Thomas - We had a blast, all right!

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This is a good video that I think gives some clues to the technique and it's potential. Mr Selberg is demonstrating with a saber but it only serves to accentuate the motions involved. It is my understanding that the Bowie backcutting styles were inspired by saber fencing techniques originally. This is 12 minutes long but worth watching IMO. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cw-yNdbXE8Q&feature=related

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