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I Forge Iron

Xtreme Challenge knife


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This is something I came up with for the Extreme Knife Challenge on BladeForum's Wilderness and Survival Skills Outdoor Gear, Survival Equipment & More sub-sub-forum. :)

Basically, the idea is that a number of knifemakers sign up to make knives that they think will meet the requirements for the challenge and they are sent to one or two judges who put the knives through their paces and post their conclusions about how they performed.

The first one that I heard about was the Custom Machete Challenge, but only after it was over. :( I would have loved to participate in that one. There have been several others since then, but this is the first challenge I've participated in. The challenge this time is to build a knife to handle extreme survival situations, which can take place anywhere, including urban environments, and may include what would constitute testing to destruction.

I did a rough sketch, then forged the blade from 1 1/2" x 1/4" 5160 steel. I wanted a plenty capable chopping blade with a big belly and the sweet spot dropped below the level of the hand for extra chopping power. However, I wanted the blade to remain straight for general ease of utility (such as drawknife duty and choking up for fine work) and to make it easy to sharpen on a flat stone, so I made the drop come from the curve of the handle and the angle of the blade to the handle. It needed to handle a variety of task sizes, and I wanted it to not be too heavy and to also be somewhat concealable if needed in an urban environment, so I went with a 12" long blade. Big, but it could be slung under a coat or long-sleeved shirt or fit into a backpack.


After forging it out, I decided that although I was quite happy with the profile and that it would make a great brush chopper, the thickness of the blade was a little suspect for some of the suggested activities for the challenge (breaking padlocks and chain, etc.) The spine was approximately 3/16" before the raised clip, 1/8" for most of the false edge, and about 1/16" just back of the point. I knew how it would handle hardwoods and such, but the more extreme end of things had me worried. I decided that I would finish out the blade, but then would forge a heavier version for the challenge.


As it stands now, the Mk II version has been soaked in vinegar to eat off the scale and is ready for stock removal. The false edge area is around 1/4" thick right now, but will thin out a bit. The MkI had a shorter handle than I typically do, making it where I wouldn't have enough room for my usual Turk's head knot at both ends of the handle, so I made the Mk II have my standard handle length.


I chose some subdued olive drab paracord for the handle wrap and two-strand Turk's head knot, sealed in Minwax Wood Hardener. After sharpening, I tested it out on both thin, whippy hackberry branches and a good-sized pecan log. I'm happy with it and will put it on my table at the Blade Show, while finishing up the Mk II version for the Extreme Challenge.


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The Mk II version is now ready for heat treatment.


I need to do the stock removal on four more big blades for the Blade Show and then I'll heat treat them as a batch, including the Mk II.
Notice that the false edge isn't as well defined on this one. I wanted to just even it up a bit and not thin down that section much, leaving it plenty thick for hammering.

I've had a couple of people question me recently about my integral socket handles being offset; they aren't. I align them with the blade. There's a little bit of asymmetry due to the ends of the socket preform moving differently than the middle, meaning that the seam side tends to be just a bit flatter than the opposite side. I put the seam to the inside of the fingers so that the more curved side fits into the palm, and when I wrap the handle I lay the end of the cord along the seam before wrapping around it, helping fill out the seam side better and also making the cord *really* anchored.

Here are some pics I took of a different integral socket handle to show what I mean.

The view of the seam side:


The view of the opposite side:


Looking at it from the top. Notice the handle is not offset to the blade but is aligned:


You can also see how much the end of the handle is rolled back on itself. This also makes for a stout anchor for the cord as well as adding some visual interest. Notice also that the socket is an oval cross section, making a mechanical lock in the hand to keep it from turning sideways while chopping. I'm all about handles having mechanical locks. :)

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  • 4 weeks later...

I gave the Challenge knife my typical triple normalizing, triple hardening, triple tempering heat treatment that I use on 5160. Given the nature of some of the proposed tasks, I decided to hedge my bets and selectively temper the spine to a tougher spring temper.

To do this I used a trick I learned from Tim Lively: tempering tongs. I have a pair of tongs with 1" square bar welded to the jaws. I heat the jaws up, then use them as a heat reservoir as I pinch the spine of the blade and temper down the length of the blade, drawing the spine to a blue color and the edge to a straw. This method is how I heat treated all of my big blades before getting a kiln large enough to fit them in. Some folks do the same with a torch, but I find that the slower speed gives me more control, as well as letting the heat soak into the core of the blade and not just temper the outside.


I keep a soaking wet rag (one of my old gray T-shirts) handy to control the edge from getting too hot.

I'm getting a haircut tomorrow so I don't scare folks away from my table at the Blade Show next week!


I work my way from the base of the blade to the tip. The jaws have to be pretty hot for this to be effective, and I had to reheat the tongs three times. It takes longest at the base of the blade because you are bringing cold steel up to above 400 degrees. After that it goes relatively quickly.



I drew the very tip back to blue to make sure it didn't snap off under stress. Before that, I held the blade up and dropped it on the cement floor point-first. No damage to the tip.


At this point it's ready to sand down, wrap the handle, seal the cord, and sharpen.

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Stormcrow, I've read about tempering tongs before, but haven't actually seen it done. Also helpful was seeing the results(Haloes) of their use.
Thanks for posting those pics. This entire thread has been very helpful.

Your knife looks big,bad, and extremely useful. Hope you kick some tail in the Xtreme Challenge!

Best of luck!


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Thanks, Robert. There's sure a lot of good knifemakers in the challenge. I'm very curious to see the outcome.

Most of us are using steel from Aldo Bruno. Surprise, surpise, Aldo Bruno pops into the thread and joins the challenge! He has his own blade in the mix now. :)

If you overlap the tongs a bit more, you'll get a more even band of colors. This has already been tempered multiple times prior to drawing the temper on the spine, so I didn't get too concerned.

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I've had the good fortune to meet Aldo Bruno twice in person, and found him to be generous, kind, and enthusiastic about knifemaking, and life in general. A really Cool Dude!

Too far away to wish anyone good luck right now, so I hope the best knife wins. Can't imagine you not in contention with your entry. I'm looking forward Seeing how his turns out. Good luck!


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Too far away to wish anyone good luck right now, so I hope the best knife wins. Can't imagine you not in contention with your entry. I'm looking forward Seeing how his turns out. Good luck!


Darned fat fingers. I meant to write: "I'm looking forward to seeing THIS, not his, turns out." Too late to edit. Anyhow, Stormcrow, when will the eventual winner be announced?

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  • 1 month later...

Here it is finally finished up:


Olive drab Kydex to match the handle wrap, two MOLLE locks, and plenty of eyelets to give options for attachment, cordage storage, and the addition of gear storage pouches.


And a shot in hand looking at the false edge. Plenty of steel there to turn over and use as a hammer!


This took longer than necessarry. Moving shop and getting back functional has been more of a booger and time-waster than I had anticipated. Sure am looking forward to seeing what my blade will do as well as the other knifemakers'.

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  • 2 years later...

Hi James!


I just ran into this old topic of yours when looking for something else. But man this is a very cool knife. And the ride-along is quite inspirational. 

I scatched an almost similar shape to a piece of paper a half year later as you made this one. My idea was to design "the perfect knife" (perfect only for me, of course). Despite of the small differences it's so good to see that someone actually makes blades I dream of. (Even better that you made pictures about it, cause I've lost my scatch  :) )


I hope this design and building experience was good and positive for you all in all. 





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Well, the build was good for me, though it came to naught. Everyone finished up their knives for the challenge, sent them off to the guy who was supposed to test them and then.... nothing. They never got tested out. Lots of bad feelings from the participants and those waiting to see the testing results. I eventually got my rig back and it eventually got sold. I never did see any explanation for why the testing never occurred. Oh well.

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