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I Forge Iron

Medieval knife - first project


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Greetings, IFIers!  This is my first post after spending hours and hours avidly reading.  The blacksmith bug has bitten.


I am not yet anything more than a person very interested in blacksmithing, although I have spent a tiny amount of time behind an anvil.  I took a class at Pratt Fine Arts (a great school in Seattle that has a very well stocked blacksmithing studio), and rather than take on the trivet project the instructor suggested, I decided to try making the knife that's been rattling around my head for a few years now.  I wrote a novel (for NaNoWriMo), in which the main character receives a rough-forged knife, about the size of a paring knife, which becomes a primary item in the story as it moves on.  It was supposed to have been made in a fantasy-reality Scotland of around 700 AD (ignoring, for the moment, historical questions of what Scotland was called in 700 AD).  As I started on the sequel, I kept imagining actually having a real-world knife that looked the part for the cover photo.


Anyway, I eventually decided I should just make it myself, and after exploring a bunch of options, ended up at Pratt.  It was a good choice, and although I didn't end up with exactly what I had been imagining, I'm still pretty happy with how my more or less first-ever blacksmithing project turned out. 


Just to set the context, I've done a lot of book-larnin', but I started on this knife after about 45 minutes of hammer time, and spent about an hour and a half forging (along with another hour or two finishing, back at my own shop which includes metal-working tools and supplies, but no heating equipment beyond a propane torch).  To make this, I started with 1/2" x 3/8" flat stock, most likely 1018 or something else on the "mild" end of the spectrum, although it has enough carbon that the edge got harder when I hardened it.  The tang was drawn out, found to be vastly too long (I had plans in my head that included 1/8" thick stock, and I didn't make any adjustments for the thicker steel), so the first thing I did was make the massive scroll on the end, to shorten the handle a bit.  The twist followed, then the bend.  I cut the blade off with a hot chisel hardy tool and shaped it almost entirely by forging.  Because I don't have any real heat at home, I did the heat treat at Pratt, planning to take it home and finish there.  Unfortunately, my anvil time was limited, so I was rushed to get the project done.  I would have been much happier to spend another hour or so getting it right.




Once home, I used a file to clean up the profile (the chisel cut needed to be dressed right at the tip, you can see it in the picture next to the normal butter knife), then filed down until I got something like an edge.  Then it was on to a finer file and a whetstone to clean up the edge.  The thumb notches (which I'm sure have a more technical name that I'm forgetting) were done with a tiny round file.  The whole thing got more wire brushing, and I regretted having left so much scale on the blade, but decided not to worry about it.  It's coated in straight beeswax which was melted on and spread with a clean chip brush, then wiped down with a clean paper towel to remove the excess while still warm.  I did the warming with the propane torch.


Unfortunately, I had been aiming for a small knife, something like a 4" long handle and a 3" long blade.  So I got that part totally wrong.  I had been hoping for a triangular blade with more or less a straight line edge from the handle to the tip, and a straight spine.  So, I got that wrong, and the "swaybacked" spine shape is not very pleasing to my eye.  However, I got the handle shape almost exactly as I'd wanted it (excessively large scroll aside, although that's grown on me, so to speak), and it is still pretty darn good for a first project.  The edge is sharp, although it was so easy to file and sharpen (thus so soft) that I'm sure it would make a terrible knife to actually use on a regular basis.


So, now the bug has bitten, and I'm reading more (which I have time to do right now), and eyeing classes at Pratt, which will then allow me to rent their studio for a surprisingly small amount of money.  I really appreciate what I've read on IFI so far, and will be reading more.  For the outright beginners like me who are reading through, perhaps seeing this will give you a bit of inspiration to get rolling.



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If you are interested in medieval knives have you read "Knives and Scabbards, Museum of London"  Over 300 actual medieval blades all drawn to scale and with information on what was used for handles and the metallurgy of the blades.  (I've made one of the folding knives, to scale and with the same wood for the handle.)

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Welcome aboard Ian, glad to have you. I'd like to thank you for tipping me to NaNoWriMo, I've never heard of it but have the aspiration to write. . . Well. I write all the time, just not too well. Is your Novel available to read?


I'm not a knife guy though I've made a couple few blades. The mistakes you describe are really easy to make, we've all done the same thing on various projects. Estimating stock to start with is a learned thing and NOT trying to use it all is another. It's human nature to use all the resources available, especially if we estimated the amount.


All in all pretty well done.


Frosty he Lucky.

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Absolutely agreed on the choice of steel -- the situation was that I was taking a class, and the instructor (Scott Szloch, a great guy from my interactions so far) handed me some bar stock for the next project he'd planned. I decided to strike out on my own and do my little pet project with the steel I found in my hand. Although I appreciate being able to start in a mild steel for ease of working, I would not choose it for a knife project. I'm actually fairly amazed that it hardened at all. My hope for this project was that I would end up with a knife-shaped object, so the fact that I was able to put a reasonable if non-durable edge on it means that hope was exceeded.

I appreciate the recommendations to check in with NWBA, and I probably will when I have more time to pursue the skill (my time is currently being taken up being a Technical Director at a small theater, working a 9-to-5, and getting my house ready to move). I'm not sure what I'm interested in doing with blacksmithing, although certainly knife making appeals to me. If I can get myself in front of an anvil again, I'll almost certainly make more copies of this knife to see if I can get closer to the vision I've got in my head.

Frosty: NaNoWriMo is pretty enjoyable. I've written I think five novels so far, none of which are great works of literature, but I have had fun doing them. It's a really interesting challenge to try to write 50k words in 30 days, and really helps you shed your inner editor (a frequent block to creativity in service of a perception of quality). My novels are all up for anyone to read at http://dangerpants.com/ and the one where the knife appears is called Sight. Iron is the sequel that would ideally have the forged knife on the cover. There's a third book of that story planned, but I didn't have the requisite gumption in reserve to do it this last November. Maybe this year.

I really appreciate all the feedback. Congrats to all on a welcoming and informative forum, and I'm glad I've found it.

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