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grinding-- clamp or freehand??

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Bob Terzuola in his excellent book on how he makes his fabulous tactical folders shows using an adjustable and moveable clamp on the table in front of the belt, to hold the blade, which is edge up, in exactly the same position both sides of the blade, relative to the contact wheel, in order to get the grind-- and the grind line-- symmetrical on both sides. Bob has a machinist background. How do you achieve this? What's your method? Clamp or freehand?

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I clamp the blade in a vise for filing, freehand for the belt machine operations. If yer hand aint steady, then knife making aint a good choice for a hobby.

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Terzuola is striving for total perfection in the symmetry of his grind lines, side to side, and every other aspect of his knife, on not just one or a few, but hundreds of knives, all of them hand-made. The prices his work commands speak to his quality. I am sure his private-designed and custom-made clamp helps make this possible. But I am curious how others do it.

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My opinion is that freehand grinding is one of the things that makes a true custom knife. If your using jigs, clamps or other fixtures to make each blade come out identical, its more like a production knife. The subtle differences achieved when blades are ground freehand is what makes each one unique, and there for a true collectible "one of a kind". I can understand Bob's desire to make things in that manner, and that's OK if that's what an individual wishes to do....its just not something that I would want.

The argument could be made that if he is using CNC machined blades, or other parts, then is it really a "hand made" knife? Not taking anything away from Bob, he's a legend in the knife world, but the question that remains is where is the line drawn between "Custom", "Hand Made", "Bench Made", or "Mid-tech"? That's something that has always been a kind of "hot potato" issue, and I'm sure it always will be.

Edited by Ed Caffrey

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Ed-- what diameter contact wheel do you recommend? Do you think an 8-inch wheel is adequate? The prices sure do jump up past that. Many thanks.

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As far as contact wheels go, I only use them to rough profile blades. 95% of my grinding is done on a flat platen. That being said, if your hollow grinding, most say that an 8" is the minimum for general purposes. Many makers I know use 10"-12", and I know a couple who are all the way up to a 14" wheel. The platen that I use has a 3" contact wheel on the bottom, and a 1 1/2" on the top. I do not hollow grind, so the contact wheels on the platen take care of all of the small contour work I need.

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The size wheel needed for a hollow grind is determined by the size of stock you are grinding. and that includes thickness of the stock. If you grind a two inch wide piece of steel that is 3/16" of an inch thick with a 8" wheel and you grind to the spine area the belly of the grind will be too thin for use. A ten or twelve inch would be better for that. If you grind smaller width and or smaller thickness steel the eight may be perfect. Order up a set of wheel of all sizes and you are covered...haha Yes I do know what they cost. I use an eight inch for all hollow grinds,,it is what I have and I make knives from the size of stock that works best for it.

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Ed-- you are describing exactly the set-up that came on my old original-maker Square Wheel. Square Wheel aka Wilton wants really incredible money for their large wheels. I have the prices here somewhere, but they are on the far side of $500 for a biggie. I got an 8-inch from SunRay, thanks to the guidance of Vicopper next door, for just under $100 with shipping. Rich-- what size stock is optimal for grinding with an 8-inch wheel? Many thanks, gents!!

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Square Wheel (as of April) prices for wheels: 10 X 2 SERRATED 790.00 -- 8X2 SMOOTH 306.00 -- 8X2 SERRATED 324.00 Of course, what with gas going up, who knows what they are now....

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Quality does not depend on whether you use a fixture or free hand grind. Quality is a form of discipline. It really depends on what is the worst thing you will let out of your shop. If you use a fixture or grind without one it really boils down to you. Will you let a knife go with scratches in the blade or a little gap in the guard fit? Will you let one out with a little different grind line on one side than the other?
If you will let a flaw out, how big of a flaw? One scratch? Two? More than two? It is simply not the equipment it is the user. Terzuola makes fine knives but you may be surprised to know that there are makers all over the world that do also. You can check the knives listed in the gallery on this site or many of the other sites. If you check some of the sites that offer custom knives for sale you will find many makers getting high prices. A common among them will be that they have rigid quality control and have spent a long time getting the skills up to do what they are doing. A suggestion if you need experience is to just get some equipment and grind a lot of blades. Learn what the equipment will do and polish body mechanics to get the most form what you have. Taking classes from experienced teachers will speed up the learning curve a lot. Go to knife shows and look at the works of others and ask what they do and how they get the fishin on their work. For the price of getting into a show and whatever it takes to get to the show. and that may include an overnight stay, you will advance your knowledge. And have fun....

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Brethren, brethren, brethren, harken unto me. Puleeeeze! Leave us eliminate the acrimony, please! Leave us credit each unto the other the good sense to have read, to have pondered deep within ourselves, to have studied, to have practiced. Okay? This ain't no lecture hall, in other words, it's a colloquy. There is no gospel, no one received wisdom. There are many voices. I just simply wanted to know how people do what they do, is all, freehand or clamp. I am not holding Bob Terzuola out as the pre-eminent exemplar, merely as an example of somebody who makes splendid blades, with the aid of a clamp. Ed makes his splendid blades freehand. How do you do yours, is my question, plain and simple, period.

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Yes, but... how? Edge up? Down? How can you tell where the grind line is vis a vis the other side when you can't see it if you are hollow grinding freehand? Or is all that what the friend who gave me his daddy's old Paragon anvil called "stereognosis," the hand knowing?

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OK.... Edge up, weak side is ground first, then the strong side, in an attempt to match the grinds. No visual references, other than watching the blade's edge (or what will be the edge). For me its more "feel" and "sound". As far as matching grind lines, the only ones I have to be concerned with are the plunge cuts, all of my grinds are rolled out the spine, usually during hand finishing. I try to match the angle of the plunge cuts to the angle of the guard.
For me, each blade is different, and doing it freehand allows me to adjust to each blade being ground.......can't do that with a jig or fixture.

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I use a scribed centerline on both edges to guage the depth/evenness of the cut.
Normally grind edge up but will change to edge down to even things up.I also will grind a blade holding it vertically on the platen, using the long surface to even up a grind. And it's not uncommon to take the blade to the vise and draw file to clean things up.
Mostly its just practice, practice practice to get things square.

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OK.... Edge up, weak side is ground first, then the strong side, in an attempt to match the grinds. No visual references, other than watching the blade's edge (or what will be the edge). For me its more "feel" and "sound". As far as matching grind lines, the only ones I have to be concerned with are the plunge cuts, all of my grinds are rolled out the spine, usually during hand finishing. I try to match the angle of the plunge cuts to the angle of the guard.
For me, each blade is different, and doing it freehand allows me to adjust to each blade being ground.......can't do that with a jig or fixture.


Ed What do you mean by "weak side and strong side"?

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Weak side/Strong side....

Generally, a right handed person will have the most difficulty grinding when they are holding the tang of the blade in their left hand, just the opposite for those who are left handed.

Being right handed, I tend to always start grinding on the "weak" side, and that way, since I am better and more controlled with the "strong" side, I can more easily match the grinds. More often than not, folks who are new to knifemaing and grinding have the tendency to always start on their strong side...most do fairly well until the have to change hands and grind on their weak side. When I teach people to grind, I insist that they start on their weak side, and if they can master that, the strong side is generally easy for them.

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I never looked at it that way,Ed.
9 yrs ago I suffered a TBI in an accident and left and right became irrelevant for a few yrs. Unless I'm grinding daily, it takes me a few blades to get in the swing of things.
I can grind a near perfect grind both left and right but one grind won't match the other:-) Takes a bit to get coordinated .
Thanks for that Ed.

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