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Bo T

Fur trade era butcher and scalper (16th - early 19th century)

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I am interested in learning about the methods the forgers in Sheffield and France would have used to forge these blades. For example; thickness and width of the blanks, the initial shape of the blank, and the hammering pattern to form the final shape. I am thinking of the half tang 4 pin blades

Thanks in advance,

Bo. 

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Have you corresponded with any institutions in Sheffield that maintain information on the trade from back then?

I take it that you do not smith?  "The hammering pattern" was probably unique for every smith though the pattern it was hammered to would be set by the company selling them.

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I have not corresponded with anyone regarding the forging of blades in Sheffield. I have watched the documentary on Albert Cravens. So, my understanding is, there were 3 trades involved in the manufacture of knives. These were forger, grinder, and cutler. Knives for the fur trade were likely of low quality and forged as quickly as possible. According to Cravens, a gross of small blades, for pocket knives were possible on a per day basis. Because the forgers were paid per blade, starting with metal of the correct thickness and width would be needed. Cutting that metal to the best starting profile, allowing the smith to complete the blade in the fewest number of heats and the fewest hammer blows, of some importance. I have only forged a few blades so I don't have any experience to speak of. I imagine that a rectangular piece of steel would work for a butcher. As the tip of the blade is formed on the edge, the metal would move across the top to form the distinctive hump above and behind the tip? For a scalper, perhaps a diagonal cut forward down to the tip, to allow for the relatively flat back? But I am not at all sure of this. I am contemplating blades where the width of the starting steel is about the same as the height of the handle from top to bottom. About a 4-7" blade with a 2" tang. 

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I am not familiar with how Sheffield did things in the early 19th century; I have read some on how armour was made at the Royal Armouries at Greenwich a bit earlier and know that they would buy metal and sent it to a batter mill to be converted into plates that would then be worked down into armour at the armoury. 

With the industrialization  of the rolling mill; a lot more stock was sold in pre sized material---like nail rods, rather than in bulk sizes.  However the fact that this would be high carbon stock makes it much more unusual for the time.  We are probably talking of Blister Steel for low end blades and perhaps shear steel or even crucible steel for higher end stuff.  I may get a chance over the holidays to review "Steelmaking Before Bessemer vol 1 Blister steel" but as I recall it was made in 1" sq bars commercially which would take quite a bit of further work to get to knife blade strips!  I would wonder if that was done in house---or like the earlier armoury be purchased and sent out to a specialized forge.

While putting a bevel does tend to arc the blade away, there are several fast easy ways to deal with this while forging.  One way is to pre shape the blank before beveling so that beveling creates the proper end shape---very easy for someone with a lot of experience making a lot of the same blades!  Another way is that it's possible to place the hot steel "edge up" and tap it down so the spine is flat against the anvil face.  I would believe that extra grinding or cutting was NOT used as they waste what was a fairly expensive material. (Even as late as the American Civil War steel could cost 6 times as much as wrought iron.)

Doing a bit of a search I ran across this:

"The cutlery industry collection at Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust consists of approximately 1000 items of materials, tools and equipment used in the manufacture of cutlery and other similar edged products such as surgical instruments. It includes part-forged and part-manufactured products.

The collection also consists of trade samples, trade cards, items of advertising and exhibition cases of edged tools.

Objects range from grinders' tools, cutlers' forging tools, samples of knives, shears, various types of razor blades, material for handles and samples of forgings."

Might be a place to ask where you should be asking!  If you run across any good sources I would be happy to learn of them.  I have a bit of documented 1828 high carbon steel that I've been thinking of making a fur trade era knife from...

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From some of the archaeological papers I have read, many of the fur trade era knives and axes were identified as iron. And also as having no evidence of a steel bit. This, of course, indicates the blades were made of wrought iron. Also, some information from early Britton labels knife artifacts as iron while later knife artifacts are labeled as steel. I am thinking that due to cost, knives for the lower class and for trade would, at least early on, be made from wrought iron.  In the Americas, as the indigenous population became more sophisticated, I'm guessing bitted knives and axes would be introduced, followed by steel knives in the later part of the 19th century. I think early scythes and sickles from Europe were probably wrought iron as, I believe the edge was work hardened. Which is moot as double/triple refined wrought iron is as scarce as hens teeth and as expensive as the golden egg. I'll probably make due with some 1084. 

If indeed many of these trade knives were made from wrought iron, the thin strips of the correct width would probably have greater availability due to demand from the blacksmith community. 

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Trade knives for the indigenous peoples may have also been case hardened---which lead to the IP's sharpening them with a chisel edge so that there would always be a thin layer of steel at the edge.  (Also take archaeological papers with a grain of salt unless you know that the finds were examined by a competent archaeological Metallurgist;  just like it's a standing joke in Geology that to an archaeologist all green rocks are "Jade". Things have gotten better over time though.)

BTW are you on the Archaeological Metallurgy mailing list?  

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Another idea on the single bevel that the IP used was that it worked well for the skinning of game. Thanks for the link to the Archaeological Metallurgy site. I'll send them an e-mail.

On 12/18/2019 at 6:17 AM, JHCC said:

Photos of what you have in mind?

I'll sketch out some profiles and post them later.

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Regarding Albert Craven-blade forger. I watched the documentary on him again. In it he states he could do 2 gross of small pieces in a day. Which at that time would have been 336 blades (watch the documentary).

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I was wandering about the same thing. Did they express fractions of inches using the metric system back then?

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I bet  its 0.090 of an inch

Also I have a 5 ft wooden folding rule that is marked in 1/10 of an inch

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You mean using the decimal system not metric system.  You might want to check on the history of the micrometer.

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4 hours ago, ThomasPowers said:

Is that really 0.9"---almost an inch thick?

Darn. My ruddy cheeks are some what redder. Steve is right-0.090".

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The dimensions on your sketches would result in pretty unusable knives Bo. Have you tried to apply leverage with a 2" handle? I don't have large hands and find a 4" handle a little small though not uncomfortably.

I believe there are sketches and drawings of blades from the day and artifacts have been measured so it's not hard to interpolate dimensions for the original sketches and drawings. 

Where in general are you in Washington? I have kith and kin all over the PAC.

Frosty The Lucky.

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Frosty,

I'm just east of Spokane. The sketch is for the blade only. And I'm looking at a half tang knife. A lot of the fur trade knives seem to have longer blades, but there are shorter ones also. Now these are rough sketches and the tang might stretch out more after punching the holes and flatting. I'm thinking a shorter blade will be easier for a beginner than a longer blade. 

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I'm very fond of the Scab lands, the Bretz Floods features are nothing but awesome. 

The tang can be drawn longer easily. 5" is a good working length, you're on planning on killing a bear with it are you? You're right, save larger knives for later when you've built your skills. 

Frosty The Lucky.

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Frosty,

Friends and I have done a little fishing for Laotian Cutthroat in Lenore Lake, I think just north of Moses lake. We also did some hunting in the scablands. A number of little fishing lakes along I-90. Oh, and I'm one of those guys that needs a good topo and compass if very far off of the trail. I'm actually west of Spokane. Anyway, you think some inexpensive hickory for the handles?

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