Hidden tangs are not my usual, but they should be.
I had some time between knives, waiting for some Damascus to show up for some really cool knives that will get built in the upcoming weeks.
The upcoming knives will be top of the line so practice is needed. I decided to take on the challenge of a Spanish Belduque . The Belduque is , was the common man’s fighting knife. Said to be what the famous bowie was modeled after.
While the Belduque ( peasants knife) is a model there are some distinct differences from the original. The original design had a thick oversized spine up to one inch in some cases. I can’t even imagine an inch on the spine of a blade so I’m gonna say ” no” on that one. I used 80CrV2 steel that allows me to thin the blade way down and retain strength.
Thinning the blade will make it more effective in slicing , sharpening , and skinning should the owner decide to do one of the three. I honestly feel like blades have gotten too thick. Resistance is a blades enemy. Thicker spine means more resistance , but the edge geometry also plays a major roll in cutting ability. A good example of both would be the classic hollow grind.
The handle : I had a big chunk of ebony on hand. It makes for a really nice handle , the down side was carving the feathers in the hard dense wood. Resorting to a rotary tool to outline the feather helped a little. I had to be careful the bit didn’t dig in.
Copper guard: without a mill the getting the slot in the guard positioned and clearance perfectly is a big pain in the backside. Copper adds to the issue further by being gummy and clogging up files every few minutes.
Coloring the copper was the fun part. It took a lot of experimenting with different heats but finally came up with a dark purple tint that made the guard seem old.
Pin: this is where the biggest struggle happened. In my research ( vast amounts of You Tube videos) I had learned of a critical mistake.. I should have drilled the pin hole before I shaped and glued the handle. Pushing the drill bit into the wood isn’t an issue , hitting the steel tang , becomes an issue. The drill bit wants to wonder and gnarl out the wood. I had to go really slow to keep that to a minimal.
Glue up: I decided the vintage look was what I was after, especially after how cool the purple copper guard came out. So , I decided to add two leather spacers between the guard and the ebony handle. If I had to do it over again, I would add more spacers to make more of a statement.
So in closing I learned a lot. This is not my first hidden tang but certainly the most involved. I will be doing more in the future. I like the technical aspect of doing a guard and perfecting the clearance between the blade and guard.
This is all about doing the hard stuff. I tested this knife on some pine tree branches. Very comfortable handle, the carving adds to the grip. The knife is light despite its size. The thin 1/8″ thick blade goes right thru the branches 1/4″ thick.. I will admit they were green but I’d imagine dry wouldn’t be too much more work. N.J.H.
A small 6″ chefs knife ( Kitchen Knife ) with bells and whistles. This little chefs knife was built with function and looks in mind. I placed some interesting bits of function into the knife that might avoid the common man’s eye, but a knife maker would notice them.
The tip of the knife clips down at the end. Kitchen knives get dropped or bumped on hard surfaces at times. This clip will take the majority of the impact with the hopes that the cutting edge stays true and in chipped.
The back half of the knife is flat, with a nice arch 2/3rds down the blade. The flats good for utility work like separating joints in between bone. Its important to have that flat blade to push down on and keep stable as the knife cuts. The arch rolls nicely helping in the chopping motion.
Steel is 80CrV2. I have really come to like this steel. This blade took twice as long to sharpen because of the hardness of this steel. I left too much on before heat treating and paid for it in extra belts needed to finish the knife.
Scales & Pins: Scales are 1/8″ ivory Micarta set to the knife with mosaic pins. Copper liners add thickness and aesthetics.
Improvements on the next round: I will work a little harder to get the handle surfaces flatter. I had a couple spots where you can see the smallest space. Not all the way thru but more a looks issue than function. Solution would be a surface grinder or maybe less expensive option would be a granite block with a super flat surface?
1935-1960’s Vintage Case XX Knife & Axe Restoration
The CC Axe and Knife combo from what I have researched, was active in the Case Knives lineup from the 1940’s thru the 1960’s. The handles were Celluloid (considered to be the first generation of thermoplastic) or natural woods like walnut.
The kit’s genius happens in the handle. The blade or hatchet head clips on a pin then is locked in with a lever that folds from the pommel to the bolster. The removes any chance of the hatchet or blade from moving on the pin by locking the square frame tight to the lever. Surprising to me, this is an incredibly stable way of keeping the blade or axe on the handle frame.
This setup belonged to a gentleman in his late 70’s and was given to him by his uncle. Also why I date this knife between the late 40’s to the 60’s.
The handle frame was in excellent shape for its age. A little rust and grit with a few nicks and scratches but nothing major outside of one big problem.
The celluloid didn’t like being in his hot garage for so many years and had pulled the hidden pins right out of the brass liners on the handle frame.
The problem with celluloid is it has a tendency to gas out , crack , and warp much like this vintage handle did. The original scales were black with a simulated mother-of-pearl. Pins were hidden under the scales.
The bolsters I later found out during the restoration were nickel silver. A good indication that this setup wasn’t inexpensive even in its day. Liners and frame were built from brass alloy. Pins for handles were also nickel silver, with the frame’s structural pins being steel.
The handle was an intimidating project to take on. I wouldn’t normally do a project like this but I could not say no to the old boy. It was worth a try and I’d learn something from it for sure. Up until that time I had avoided the hidden pin technique and this was just the project to force me into learning.
First actions taken were to study the knife for a couple hours. Taking not of how its constructed , materials in the set, as well as any research I could come up with about the Case Knive’s combo. Images of the condition I received the knife in were taken as well.
Next, I started to come up with a plan. Writing down the steps I was going to take to disassemble and assemble the handle frame.
It is vital I keep the already damaged scales in one piece if possible. Minimal one break along the pin lines. This was very important so I could use the pin holes as a pattern.
Gently prying the scales from the brass liners I was able to get both sets off. One complete the other with just one break. The broken scale was easily super glued back together.
My choice of handle material was black walnut. I had researched other handle materials used on this setup and found black walnut was popular. The big difference on how I was going to take on the handle was keeping the pins hidden. Most factory setups with natural wood scales had exposed pins. I did not feel aesthetically the way the pins were placed in the liners were acceptable.
Once the scales were free and glued back together it was time to get the knife handle frame clean so I could see what I was working with. In this situation , using brass kept the knife from rusting and pitting badly ” in my opinion.” The only signs of rust were on the lever used to secure the cutting instruments.
I try to use as gentile cleaning agents as I can. Good old distilled vinegar works wonders on rust and grime. I don’t soak over night but more or less give it an hour or two then take q-tips and gently scrub inside the frame and on the lever. As you can imagine this took some time. I could have used a soft brass brush but I tend to lean on the side of caution. Time scrubbing is better than having a new liner machined.
The knife and axe head were in good shape. The blade’s original geometry were still good. The knife blade had some deep scratches from aggressive sharpening stones and hard use but no chips.
The hatchet had been taken to an aggressive grinding stone wheel or an angle grinder at one point. At this point I decided I would have had to remove way more material than I wanted to remove the deep abrasive scratches and keep the mirror polish the set came with.
Instead I went with a high grit satin finish on both the blade and the hatchet. This really turned out nice, and considering the handle wouldn’t be original , no harm was done as originality had been compromised already. Once over with some 220-600 grit sandpaper then to the finishing belts we had them looking great!
Measuring the distance between the bolster to the pummel of the knife I worked out the length of the scales. I wanted to leave a small gap on either side to allow a small amount of flex room for the wood.
Even stabilized, wood can still move. Stabilizing helps but its not a solution for every issue wood has. The epoxy I use has a rubber like property when dry allowing it to move with the wood and not crack and break out.
Once my scales were the length I wanted, I proceeded to use the old scales as a pattern to drill in my pin holes. Before I could do that I had to take on re-setting my original pins that had pulled free when the handles had warped.
Peening on brass liners that could not should not be bent at any cost was difficult. The solution was to use a piece of high carbon scrap. harden the steel and use it as an anvil. the piece I used was close enough to support the brass liners just enough to seat the pins.
When drilling for the hidden pins I used a size smaller than the pins for the length of the pins. Once all pins were drilled I placed the walnut scales on the frame and pressed the scales into the pins with my vice. Being very cautious and going slow to be sure not to bend or damage the frame. This creates a fit that is very tight. I had issues getting the scales off afterwards.
The next step was epoxy and shape the handle . I taped the bolsters up to help keep the belts from ripping into the soft nickel sliver bolster material. Knowing it will help but not completely prevent it.
Keeping to the high grit belts I managed to keep the scratches to a minimum. I just had to back over the bolsters with higher grits until we were free and clear.
Shaping the handle was the hardest part. I wanted a nice swell for the palm, something the original handle lacked. If I was to take it from original to different, I might as well make it better than I found it.
Going slow I eased into the shape using files , abrasives, and the 2×72.
I the goal wasn’t to make an old knife new. The goal was to keep an old knife in working condition for generations to come and make an old guy happy. He gets his knife tomorrow so fingers crossed I hope its everything he wanted and maybe a little more. N.H.
These two knives are two more in a set of two completed a few months ago. If you go back far enough in my Instagram, I bet you can figure out what two knives those were.
This kitchen knife is a little more practical for everyday use. The first two were just to impress and replicate days gone bye.
1095 Steel, Maple Scales, Brass Pins. I chose not to bolster the cleaver. My thoughts behind not doing so was more practical. A cleaver is used with great force to crack and separate bone/joints. The bolsters being made of brass would or could be easily damaged by bone or hitting something hard. Best to keep a tool simple in my mind! I will say , this maple is beautiful. Its hit or miss on maple, sometimes its just blah. This was an exception.
The Kitchen Knife:
Same skeletons as the clever with 1095, maple, and brass. The exception being more pins than needed and brass bolsters. She is a bit of a show queen with an added hamon. You know for discussion with friends.
Going Back in Time:
Its fun to go back and research vintage knives. A knife being a tool can tell us a lot about life in the times of its creation and use. These were based off late 1700’s – mid 1800’s buffalo skinning knives and bowies. The coffin handle was used on bowies. Being an item of self defense , bowies were made to be noticed. This was a way of making a threat think twice before making a move. The buffalo skinners usually had square handles but the long upward swoop was prominent in these knives but the size of the knife varied depending on use.
These knives hint of both bowie and buffalo skinners heritage but the added benefit of modern steel, heat treat methods and wood finishes. So you cannot go back in time, but you can bring it forward and make it a little better. N.J.H.
Its been a few since I have posted any work. I have gotten lazy with the Instagram feed doing all the work for me. Instagram is great but it does little to explain the work or thought that goes into a knife.
I have been focusing on details with some success. I study the knives of the greats trying to figure out how they do it! How do they get perfect symmetry, zero scratches, and perfect fit on scales and guards? I believe I have it figured out. Its simple.. years and years of working at it , patiently.
What I mean by that is, building a lot of knives won’t help a blade smith/ stock removal maker get any better.
It goes back to the old saying ” practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.”
I have stopped the deadlines from my customers. I try to get a knife built in two months max but it can be longer. I’d rather take my time and build the knife at my own pace , than haul butt and leave a scratch or not be perfect on my plunge lines. Not that I purposely would do that. Its an example.
Even then, it will still take years to get to that point. I guess that is what makes legends , legendary.
On the other hand:
Talking with a professional blade smith tonight , the subject came up about makers that purposely build to keep a rustic appearance on the knife. Meaning leaving scratches , and hammer marks. Signatures that a knife was hand made. Its been seen as a trend for sometime now and I wonder if its because we have a couple generations that want to see imperfect, working art made by a person. As if that knife is conscious or a part of its creator. By owning it you own a part of that magic.
Who knows? I might be making something of nothing or I might be on to something.
My personal preference is both kinds of knives. I respect a working tool, meant to be used and not put on a shelf. I also strive to achieve the perfectly made knife as so many of the Art Knives have inspired my attempts.
In a time where so much knowledge is present and at our fingers.. lets not declare a winner, just enjoy the variety. Unless someone is making a big pile of crap.. that’s never cool. N.J.H.
Oh and here are some projects I’ve been working on. Let me know what you think!
One thing great about knife making is there is always something to learn. Always a new way of doing something or a skill that can better be perfected. If you are stock removal or forging blades a serious maker is always after the perfect knife. A goal that is never attainable but perused, nonetheless .
I watched a YouTube video with Caleb White Knives where he explains how he makes dovetail bolsters. He does a great job explaining how he makes knives I recommend watching his video if you are just starting out or even been around awhile. We can all learn something new from other makers.
I have been fighting the idea of doing bolstered knives. Bolsters are tedious and easy to mess up. As you can see in this pic. these bolsters are not dead on. What I need to do to get them dead on is increase the angle width putting more scale material behind the bolster for a tighter fit. If you don’t do that it seems like the wood gets too thin and wants to bow out at the tip of the scale making it look as if your bolster is off. Easy fix next go round.
One point I make when trying a new method of knife making is attack it. I will keep on making bolstered knives until I can get them to art knife levels. That’s going to take a while. They kind of suck to do , to be honest. They do add to the knife and really make the lines of a knife flow better. So regardless I will keep doing bolsters.
Copper- beautiful color… hell to work with.
I really need to try something else. My fingers can’t take much more of the instant heat copper likes to transfer to the hand. But copper seems to look so good against so many handle materials. The other down side to copper is it scratches easy. I might try to run down some bronze on my next inventory fill.
It’s been a little bit! I have been making knives but not posting. Shame on me but here are a few projects I have finished up the last weekend. I work on knives on my open nights and weekends so work flow is inconsistent but I manage to get one or two out the door every week.
First Knife: 1095 Hunter in Zebra Wood: This knife is a large blade. More a Western style fighter than a hunting knife really. Could be used in both situations if the need should arise. The profile on the handle are what sets this knife apart from knives I’ve done in the past. Two finger choil sit side by side so the user can choke up on the knife and do detail work . Or the user can slide the hand back for more leverage on the swing. I chose not to bolster this one. Not sure if that was the right choice or not but it is what it is. I am still happy with it.
Second Knife: This one I’m kind of proud of. I got over my fear of bolsters and just kept going until they were right. I want to keep on the gas with the bolsters until I am comfortable with the process. Its tedious but a challenge worth taking on. It does bring something to certain knives that ups the appeal. 1095 ( yeah I bought a bunch of 1095) Ambrosia Maple ( fancy way of saying orange , spalted maple ) , copper bolsters, and pins. The orange from the maple and copper really blended well. The other first for this hunter was the gut hook. Lots of detail work was done just to get her to cut a 1/8″ slab of tanned leather , properly. It was a lot harder than I thought it would be.
Last but not least: Kitchen Utility Knife in Osage: This knife was a fix from a bad epoxy job. Yes, I will take the fail on this one. That said, I always stand behind my work and fixed the wrong. This time I used a lot more sturdy handle material and a completely different finish on the O1 blade. This time around I decided to use Osage Orange. I have a big box of Osage Orange my father-in-law found and cut up for me.
This was my moms knife and she uses it a lot . This is also one of my first knives so the second time around I put everything I had learned from that time forward into making it ” the best work I can do.”
Going Forward: I am starting to focus more on my finish work and trying to get to that next level in knife making. This means, I’m slowing down as much as it takes to finish with the best product possible. I do that today but I want to push myself further and really work on clean lines, no scratches, and perfect pins. Everyone has to have goals!
My Slicer has been a popular knife this spring , probably because not a lot of custom knife makers seem to make them. This slicer or abbreviated scimitar as prefer to call it, is just a touch smaller than the knives I’ve done early this year by about two inches.
The scales are made from Osage Orange post that was taken out of a fence after serving time holding back cattle for over 100 years. The age of the wood was evident by the deep orange-red color. Still harder than a rock and very durable.
I’m not sure this little guy counts as a Santoku considering he has a western style handle. Nothing wrong with the Japanese handle I just feel a western handle with a nice birds beak is hard to beat.
Well not much has changed with my skinner. I just used 1095 instead of O1 , its usual spec steel. More for the ability to get a hamon on the blade than anything.
Both steels are great steels I would still favor the O1 in performance, but its hard to get a hold of sometimes and I must admit using New Jersey Steel Baron’s 1095 has been nothing but consistent and fun.
The story behind this knife.
This blade was commissioned by a friend looking for a graduation gift for his nephew. I have known this friend for a lot of years and jumped at the chance to make him a knife.
His nephew is an avid sportsman. Shooting sports and hunting are his passions it was just natural to assume his choice in knives would follow those lines.
I am pushing my hunting line to be high performance, razor sharp, light weight blades. They have a slim profile to keep out of the way on the belt. I contour the handle heavily to make up for the lost mass. The swoop in the blade helps catch tissue or hide giving the user more control. A deep finger choil helps keep the knife in the hand. Micarta is a favorite handle material in my hunting knives. As I have said before it is one of the few materials that gets sticky when it is wet.
For a hunting knife 1095 is a great choice.
Carbon steels are excellent heavy use steels and in my opinion can’t be matched by a stainless steel. There are some stainless steels out there that are amazing, like AEB-L. To me its still not the same as a good old 10X , high, and low alloy steel.
I have been doing some research on knives made in the 17-1900’s in the U.S and England. The styles and production processes, and that’s helped feed my interest in the traditional steels I suppose.
I’ve read a lot of performance charts on a lot of different steels. I’m no expert. However, I am starting to believe the difference between steels that have been around a long time and some of the super steels is minimal. The super steels are great on paper but performance in real life might be so minute that the average user will never really notice.
I’m not saying , stay away from the super steels. Not at all! I have all kinds of S30V and other super steel blades. I am actually a big fan of such steels. However marginal the improvements might be , they are still improvements and that’s what this game is all about, making better knives.
So like anything, be skeptical , be cautious and don’t rush out to be the guy to have the first knife in the latest greatest steel. There has never been a steel to do it all.