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I Forge Iron

The easy approach to knife design

Rich Hale

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I have the feeling that there is not a knife design that we can come up with that is not a direct reflection of something done in the past. WE can change materials and tweek blade shapes or handles a lot. but if we look far and wide enough we may be able to see a similiarity to something done in the past. So why try and reinvent the wheel? A huge key to making knives that are nice is to make knives that are nice. Get past the design phase and into the work of knife making in one easy step. Find something that pleases you and try and duplicate it. No matter what your taste is in blade shapes it is easy enough to select from known shapes and work from there. There are several knife suppliers that have blades for sale. draw a shape you like and enlarge to a full size working pattern and use that as a guide or template. If you transfer that design to aluminum brass or shet metal of any sort you can lay it onto the blade as you forge if that is your method and see what to work on as you go. If you saw to an outline then simply use a permanent marker to trasfer your design and cut to the line. When I borrow a shape I change something. I think that is fair to the person that gave you the idea. If you borrow a shape from someone you can reach speak with them an ask for permission. I use several patterns for my knives and when I lay aone of my patterns on a bar of steel I may shorten or lengthen the blade as I copy or I may change handle shapes and or size. One big change is to go from a full tang knife to a hidden tang or tang with a butt cap. Same basic pattern but done many different ways will look really different as a finished knife.
Handle design is really the same as above.. find an outline you like and put it to use. How you treat it and what materials you select will be crucial to the overall look. The discipline of takeing a shape and working to produce that shape will add to your skills a lot. The completion of a knife is vital to your future as a knife maker. Making a blade is a good step but fitting the furniture and handles materials and seeing it through as a finished piece will round out your skills. Anyone can start a knife or for that matter any project. Those that see through to completion will learn a lot more and move ahead in the learning curve. That is how I see it,,,Rich
p.s. If you see a knife in the forum or gallery that I have posted and like the shape you can enlarge the pic to the size you want and use it for a shape pattern!

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Generally, a blade, when it is discontinued, is at its perfection. The cavelry sword when it was stopped being used, was the ultimate in design for stabbing from a horse and not losing the blade. Many working knives are at their ultimate design now, or when they were discontinued.
All blades are compromizes between strength, hardness and flexibility.

Of course, today, a lot of our blades are made purely for design, for the looks. They are not really utilitarian for what they appear to be designed for.

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Hiya Rich
Im really a beginner at this- think ive made 2 knives before- one of them a letter opener!
Thanks for posting this- ive often wondered about originality- what can i do that hasnt been done before- knives are limited a bit because of the shape of your hand-its a tool therefore there are not so many drastical changes you can do to the fundamental desine, or so they say...!
Hands have 5 fingers- finding a shape that fits every hand is a task i do not want- too many shapes and sizes
Blade shape- what can you think of that will cut?
Limit to previous shapes?
I dont think so.
As long as theres imagination theres originality.
One cents worth

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good ideas Rich. Knife making should not be made too complicated; concentrate on certain basic steps in a blade and build from there.

Tyler: what Rich is getting at is that we, as beginners, should get down some basics and tried and true methods before branching out too much.

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I'm not a knifemaker anyway, I'm a blacksmith. I can count the knives I've made on one hand. I think the pov I was sharing is still applicable though.

I'll say that in the grand scheme of things, I'm a beginner at blacksmithing, but am I right when I say that my current work is better than that of a beginner's?



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I agree with being original, it's what sets one aparts from others. I'm just saying that instead of completely blazing a trail as a beginner, do a few things that have already been done by others and either build on them or use your gained experience to research new methods/techniques/designs.

I like the hammer but I'm not one to determine if you're more or less advanced than a beginner.

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They say that the best compliment is to imitate another's work. This doesn't mean copy it and call it your own, but to give due credit. From birth, we learned everything by mimicking others. Walking, talking, even feeding ourselves. Watch, do, learn. Once you have learned to do it like another, and learned to do it well, then worry about developing your own style. That is, if you absolutely need something more to worry about. I say you "learn" your own style while you learn to do any task or craft well.

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Trying to classify something like knifemaking, an EXTREMELY creative and expression filled art, into what to do and what not to do is ridiculous. If everyone kept using someone else's patterns, the styles and designs would start to stagnate as some makers already have. You would look at recent works of that maker and think "hmm, I saw that knife a week ago, can't they come up with something new?". Sharing patterns is a good idea, but if you just use that same pattern, just a little bigger or smaller or whatever and don't REALLY change it, why bother? Unless that is what you want to do, everyone is different but I personally cannot conform to someone ELSE'S shapes, I prefer to make my own. I go alot by feel, if a certain shape does not feel right, I change it until it does. So there are "proper" ways to do things, BIG DEAL.

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yo, thanks for posting this. i'm also a noobie blade smith, i made some blacksmith's knives based on the designs made my mr lively (see livelyknives.com), and it made me feel pretty good that i can shape a piece of metal to resemble a master piece so closely. lol
i've only recently started working with steel, made three pieces so far. (before i made things from aluminum, which was a lot easier to work with, at least most of the times) my first steel piece was a 'stolen' design, and i am pretty satisfied with how much it resembles the original work. i think for a beginner like me, it's better to try duplicating some one else's work, 'cause it give you no excuse to "change the plan". some times, when i try to work an original idea i would just wonder away and make something completely different because i'm not yet skilled enough to make what i want or i just messed up and decided to keep going. when i try duplicating someone else's work, i always sit down and plan out the whole thing, and there's no "ooops, oh well...", and what comes out in the end always satisfies me, and 'cause the finished work is already made for me, i would know exactly what i want. so ya... i think that's a great way for me to get the practice. lol ;]

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  • 4 weeks later...

The real question is whether you are designing knives for function or looks. Those wonderful curved knives with jagged edges and multiple surfaces are beautiful to look at, but they cannot do everything one might wish a blade to do.

One must consider functionality, what will the knife be the best choice for. A bread knife is not going to be good at digging out bullets from trees because the blade is too long and flexible. A survival knife is not going to be the best knife for slicing paper thin fillets because it is too stiff.

One must know the purpose of the blade before you start with your design.
I happen to make something similar to those "parallel lines with a clip point knives". For wood carving where you are cutting wood in all directions to create figurines, they are exellent. That clip point does not jab through protective gloves as the sharp point knives I learned from. It also "wedges" wood apart when jabbing into the wood, a design inspired by chip carving knives.

They are perfect for what they are used for. They are not intended to be knives that one shows at a party and everybody goes all googaly about. A carver using the knife would might take pleasure in it after USING one. but they are not going to get hot about them.

A knife is designed for function. A knife to make people googaly will is, in itself, a compromise.

Copy existing knive designs, then have the knives USED. Then modify the design based on your experiance, or the experiance of others who are actually using the knives. Makers develop names because of experiance they applied to older designs.

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