Joe Mason of www.joemasonengraving.com and I have entered into a collaboration project on two knives together. Sandy Morrissey has also agreed to make the sheaths. I will be documenting the progress here with pictures of the entire process so you can see it all come together. A collaboration blog of sorts.
12/28/03 I get an e-mail from Joe asking about a custom knife. He’d seen some of mine listed and wanted something close to the ‘white stag’ I have posted in available. He’s getting ready to do a couple knife shows, one in April and the Blade show in June and wants to have a couple show piece samples to promote his engraving. I’ve never had an engraved knife but I sure want one. After a couple messages back and forth we came to decide I would make two knives, he’d keep one and engrave another for me. I’m excited. I send Sandy a message asking his help with a couple sheaths. He agrees. We’re off to the races…
12/29/03 I finally get started. In this picture you will see the original white stag knife Joe referenced. Then there is a picture I printed out for reference. Not sure why I printed it out, I still had the original. Joe needs a bit more room on the bolster than the white stag knife gives so I needed to tweak the original pattern. Simply giving it a wider waist for extra bolster space didn’t help. The wider waist killed the visual appeal of the design. It took three patterns to figure that out.
The answer was to scale the whole design up an inch in length. This gave it a wider waist that was needed for the engraving but kept the design flow. The second from the bottom pattern is the original. The other three patterns are variations I tried. None of them worked.
12/30/03 Here is the final pattern. It is 1” longer than the original pattern on the top. The black marks on the blade are where I plan to put the bolsters. It scaled up nicely. If I had done this originally in my CAD program, it probably would have taken two minutes to scale up but hours to draw. It comes out as a wash but I really need to get these into my CAD software one of these days. This is a slow drop point with a tear drop handle. The blade will be tip to bolster just over 4” with an overall length of 9 1/2”.
12/31/03 I am cutting out the steel on the 4×6 metal band saw. It’s 0.20 thick so it’s slow cutting. Too slow. I change the blade and it goes much faster but it’s a used blade and has a couple teeth missing. Now it goes chunk – chunk every few seconds. So what, it’s faster. I’ve just noticed one of the benefits of having your own web site. When you resize pictures to fit the screen, you can distort them and make yourself look much thinner. But I didn’t. This is about how thick I really am. I was tempted though. Most every knife maker has one of these 4×6 metal band saws. They work upright like I am using it or they tip down to cut off pieces right where I’m sitting. I have installed a nice pad to sit on for long cutting sessions….chunk…..chunk…
12/31/03 Here I’m grinding out the profile. I wear a respirator when I grind to scare little kids that wander into the shop. They don’t come back.
Basically, I have to rough grind the outline of the knives down to the scribe marks from the pattern. I normally don’t pay much attention to scribe marks and grind it to the outline where the muse takes me. This time I will make all three knives as close to identical as I can.
12/31/03 Here is what I end up with after grinding the profiles. The top blade is the pattern I used. The bottom three are the knife blanks. I stacked each of them against the pattern and they all came out. Not on the first try, but eventually they all came out just alike.
The steel I will be using is RWL-34.
ATS-34 is hands down, the most popular stainless steel used by custom knife makers and for good reason. It holds a good edge and is fairly corrosion resistant. RWL-34 has the same content as ATS-34 but is a particle double vacuum foundry steel. This means it will have a very fine finish when it’s done. The problem with this steel is there is just one distributor in the USA and it is sold by the inch, not the foot or pound as most steel is. It costs twice as much as ATS-34.
1/1/04 Looking close you will see two lines scribed on the edge of the knife. These are the lines that I will follow to form the cutting edge of the knife. I use Dykem layout fluid to show the scribe marks.
1/1/04 The flats of the blade are ground on the disk grinder. This will leave a nice semicircular pattern on the flats in a satin finish. Raw steel is rarely dead flat so the full tang handles are done on the disk grinder also to help give a nice tight fit. This disk grinder is one I made using a 9” disk made by Rob Frink.
12/10/07 These 9” disc’s are available in flat or beveled and fit a 5/8” shaft. The flat disc is dead flat. The beveled disc has a 1degree bevel – which is the one I use and is pictured here. The bevel does not pucker the sand paper. It is such a small amount the paper is sticks perfectly flat to the disc. The advantage of a beveled disc is that when grinding a long blade like I am here, the blade will not catch on the opposite side of the disc. It has a 2degree clearance. (both sides combined) Doesn’t this leave a hollow grind if it’s beveled? Glad you asked. Yes but it is less than .0005” hollow over a 1” wide blade. This is less tolerance than a human can hold it flat. Look at some of my bolster fittings and you will see how flat this is. You can not get anything flat on a belt grinder! It takes a disc sander to make things flat. Belt sander belts pucker and swell around the edges of what ever is being ground. A disc grinder has the paper glued to a disc using feathering adhesive. This sticky stuff allows you to put on a sheet of sandpaper, peel it off and reuse it later. It has just enough tack to hold the paper in place but it isn’t so strong you can’t peel it off. Very cool stuff. This allows you to use 9”x11” adhesive sheets instead of higher priced PSA discs. Switching abrasive using feathering adhesive is a snap. Cleaning up PSA disc is horrible – but then some guys prefer PSA disc’s. If it works for you, use it.
1/3/04 Here are three of the knives partially ground. The flats have been satin finished and the grind line will be raised and flattened just a bit more. The blades will then be taken to a 5x micron finish which is around 1800 grit. After grinding, they will be buffed to take the last scratches out. Once they are ground, they will be drilled and sent off to heat treat which takes about 2 weeks.
1/19/04 Here are the knives back from Paul Bos, the heat treat guy. They are heated to around 1900 degrees, cooled to room temperature, tempered and then cyro cooled to -300 degrees for 6 hours. Once all that is done, they are tempered to lower the hardness back to Rockwell 59 where they belong. They come back with a thin black, splotchy oxide coating layer that has to be ground off. Then the blades have to be re-polished to make them shine again. The top two knives have extra holes in the handle to shave some weight off. It moved the balance point only 1/4” forward and took off less than an ounce. I didn’t do any more after that. The bottom two knives on the left are the ones that will be sent to Joe for engraving. The knife at the lower right is a custom order and design for client Robert M and will also be engraved by Joe.
1/29/04 These are most of the parts. The blade has been re-polished. The 416ss bolsters have been cut along with the pin material, thong tube and amboyna handle material. I didn’t get the red liner in the picture, but that will also be in there. Next I’ll drill the bolster material and grind it to shape. After that it will get dovetails. Finally a nice mirror shine before they’re pinned to the knife.
1/29/04 Just to be clear, there are really four knives in progress here. To save machine set up time, I usually work on two or three at the same time. The one above is a custom order. There are three others in the box to the right. Eventually these three are also going to Joe but the custom order bumped these a bit. Now it’s time to start making decisions that I’ve been putting off. To the far right are two mammoth ivory tusks and next to that a giraffe leg bone.
I need to decide what handle material I will use for these knives. In the box I had originally picked out some spalted maple burl (top), redwood burl (bottom) and box elder burl (hiding in the middle). I like them all so it will be a hard choice. Any suggestions? Incidentally, I bought the ivory and giraffe bone off eBay. Crazy isn’t it?
1/30/04 The bolster material’s been cut to size, drilled to match the holes in the knife & ground to get the front and back to match exactly.
The four corners have to match or it will show up on the knife as uneven when you look at the dovetails or the front of the bolster when looking at the top or the bottom of the knife.
One piece at a time is super glued to the knife and the holes are drilled through the knife into the stainless metal.
The dovetails are ground on the disk grinder. The bolsters are pinned temporarily inside out. I made a 45 degree platform for my disk grinder just to do dovetails. Each side is ground 45 degrees to the middle. The bolsters are kept pinned together for the entire process to keep all the corners lined up.
I’ve finished the 45 degree dovetails and now I’m grinding the front of the bolster to it’s design shape. I have them pinned and clamped in a jewelers vice. I am using the slack belt attachment for my KMG grinder here. The belt doesn’t have a backing and will move to conform to the shape you are grinding. In the back ground you can see attachments for the 8” wheel and massive 14” wheel for hollow grounding. I will use 6 different grits, progressively smaller followed by buffing to get a mirror finish on the front edge of the bolster.
1/30/04 The bolster fronts have been polished, the dovetails are done and the pins have been cut to size. The knife has to be trial fitted several times to ensure every thing lines up properly.
If you peen the bolsters and they don’t line up, you have to drill them out, grind them off and start all over. I’ve had to do this more than once so I’ve learned to check each step very carefully now.
The very last step in making a knife is sharpening the blade. JB Weld is used to give a seal between the bolsters and blade. Some knife makers use solder but I’ve seen too many knives have corrosion problems years later from soldering process. The pins hold the bolster, the JB Weld (or solder) is only to keep moisture out.
It’s glued up and almost ready to pin. I’ll clean up the excess JB Weld around the pins and front of the bolster before I peen. It’s important to clean the pins up so there isn’t any trapped when they are peened. Cleaning the excess from the front of the bolster allows you to see that the bolster is firmly seated against the blade with no gaps.I’ll clean out the dovetail when it is done being peened.
The JB Weld has a working time of 20 to 30 minutes so there is no need to hurry and make a mistake.
To start the peen, I use the flat side of the ball peen hammer. This gets the mushroom started. I flip the blade several times to keep the progress even. The bolsters move around quite a bit at this stage so you have to constantly flush them up against the blade using a C clamp or pliers. If your pin holes are loose, you also need to make sure they don’t get out of alignment by checking the top and bottom corners.
Tap them back into place if they slip. Once the mushroom of the pin is well formed, use the peen side of the hammer to finish the full rivet. It’s not important if it’s pretty, it’s going to get ground off anyway. The other thing I’m concerned with here in this picture is if my hair is thinning on top.
I’m wearing latex gloves to keep the JB Weld off of my skin. It is basically an epoxy and all epoxies are sensitizing and carcinogens. After peening a few of these, you’ll appreciate wearing hearing protectors. Remember, keep the bolsters flush against the blade and check the alignment frequently during the whole process. What holds the bolsters in place is swelling the pins by the peening process. The mushroom head helps push the bolsters flush against the blade but only a little. Using a C clamp several times to squeeze it all tight during the peening is critical here.
2/1/04 Here is a close up of the finished job. The pin stock is nearly flush with the bolster material.
After it cures for a day I will grind off the remaining pin stock flush with the bolster and continue grinding the bolster down to 220 grit to remove all the dings, dents and pits to a smooth finish. When that is done, I’ll cut off the most of the excess bolster with the band saw and then grind the top and bottom edges flush to the blade. After that, I will continue to finish the bolsters to a mirror polish.
2/2/04 The bolster has been trimmed to size and ground to shape. It has also been taken to a fine polish. It will get several more scratches that will have to be removed but that is just part of the process. The Amboyna scales and red liners are cut to approximate size. Both are much larger than the handle at this point.
One liner and wood scale are temporarily super glued to the knife handle. The pin and thong holes are drilled from the back and then the scale and liner is removed and repeated for the other side. This gives you a close, tight fit when you drill the holes.
The epoxy has been applied and it is now clamped up to cure. This epoxy takes 24 hours to fully cure so we are done for the evening.
12/10/07 Note I no longer use the epoxy pictured here. I have better epoxy here.
This is how it looks after it is all cured. Believe it or not, this isn’t terrible. Somewhere in there we will find a beautiful knife. First I will take it to the band saw and trim off most of the excess handle material to keep the dust down from grinding it to shape.
In this top down view, the excess wood has been trimmed and I have roughly shaped it to size. Note the right hand side of the handle is slightly larger than the left hand (face or logo) side of the knife. This is intentional as the client is right handed and this knife will have a bias for right handers with a right side palm swell and the extra right index finger relief in the bolster.
This will give you a better idea of the handle profile. Still pretty ugly so far but the Amboyna is starting to come out now and our ugly duckling is starting to show some signs of life.
The shaping is basically done. Now the finishing detailing starts. It will take several hours of sanding and polishing with some minor grinding on the bolster to finish it up. You can see the personality of the Amboyna really starting to show up here. If you look closely at the dark spot on the bolster, you will see where I super glued my thumb to it. I hate doing that. With the blade taped up, it’s hard to see how the whole knife will come together. I think it will though. A couple more days and this one is out the door. Stay tuned, same bat time, same bat channel…
2/8/04 Here is the custom knife order for client Robert M we’ve been showing progress on for the last couple weeks. It is complete except for the edge being sharpened. I will leave that for the very last thing before shipping so no one gets cut. The blade is 4”, the handle adds another 4 1/4”. It is 154CM with dovetailed, stabilized Amboyna handles. I put a couple coats of Deft finish oil on the handle to help seal the wood and then a good coat of Bri-wax all around, including the blade. Tomorrow it ships to Joe for engraving and then to Sandy for a sheath.
Here is Joe hard at it. Most engraving is done through a microscope. Notice that it has a head rest built right in. Joe says, “I use the Gravermax System from GRS with a Sil-Air compressor. The microscope is a Meiji Zoom that goes up to 22.5 power. I use a GRS Positioning Vise and Power Hone. The graver for the project will be a 90 degree square with a 50 degree face and a 20 degree heel.”
2/15/04 The engraving by Joe starts with the border being cut. As Joe engraves this knife, he will be sending pictures along with commentary so we can all follow along.
Now if you have been reading this straight through, it’s time to take a break, grab a cola and come back and watch Joe as he engraves this knife.
Stippling is the little dots that add texture and depth to the background. It is not found on all engraving. It is a choice of style and design.
This little darling sports a 3” S30V blade and is just a hair over 7” OAL. The handle material is ‘cracked ice’ mammoth. You can see the mirror polish on the hollow grind reflects the grain in the sheath leather. The bolsters and flats of the blade are a scratch satin finish as this is a user. I like this pattern enough that I will make one of these for my personal carry.