Introduction: Cast a Blade!

Picture of Cast a Blade!

When I was a kid my father used to make jewelry. I watched him make
amazing things and I could always count on him knowing how to do something that would help me with my projects.

One day I asked him to make me a fish necklace. I was surfing at the time and everyone was wearing something interesting. Dad pulled out some cuttlefish bone and asked me to draw what I wanted on it. I drew a fish and then watched him turn my picture into a 3d object. He used a fine tipped oxy acetylene torch to heat up a bar of silver and drop forge it into a mould.

The result was so beautiful! The fish had a timber-looking grain running throughout it and it was timeless because of the old-school feel. I never forgot that day and have always wanted to try it again. Well here we are! Time to forge a letter opener with a timeless feel. This knife may not be practical as a bush-bashing, hair-whittling kitchen knife, but as a work of art it will certainly have people asking how you created it. I hope you all enjoy and get the opportunity to try this at your own home.

Step 1: Why a Knife?

Picture of Why a Knife?

Knives are one of the oldest tools and remain one of the most useful. A beautiful blade is rarely thrown away because people recognize its usefulness and topical value. Knives carry history, stories and are recorded throughout history.

This instructable is a great way to learn knife-making with a softer material. You will have the opportunity to think about blade design, functionality and purpose. I even discovered that brazing rod, after being poured, takes well to being beaten with a hammer. You may want to pour some blades that you can put into your forge and have a go at black-smithing. You will also learn a bit about grinding a bevel on a blade and shaping a handle - or at least get to practice and learn along the way.

I will outline the basics to the best of my ability so that you can go on a journey of your own.

Step 2: What Is Cuttlebone?

Picture of What Is Cuttlebone?

Cuttlebone is part of the skeletal structure of the cuttlefish. The bone runs from the tail to the head of the cuttlefish and is situated just below the skin on the top of the cuttlefish.

These bones often wash up on beaches because they float, though really good specimens can often be hard to find. My father brought me some from a beach he walks often here in Australia. You can also buy these at pet stores because people use them for a calcium supplement for their birds to gnaw on. "Num num num"

Because the cuttlebone is comprised of rich calcium layers and air pockets, it makes an ideal mould for pouring moulten metal into. This is one of the oldest ways of casting objects and there are a good amount of artifacts found to support this. Cuttlebones also create a very unique look with every knife because, like fingerprints and snowflakes, there are no two alike.

Step 3: What You Will Need

Picture of What You Will Need

Things you will need for this knife:

  • Two large cuttlebones
  • Some 3mm or 1/8th ply wood
  • Coping saw or scroll saw
  • Quick clamps
  • Pipe cleaner
  • Wire
  • Brazing rod (not containing lead)
  • Map gas or propane torch
  • Crucible
  • Crucible tongs
  • Old tin (large enough for crucible to sit in)
  • Selection of files or a belt sander
  • Various off-cuts of bone, timber, stone, compressed paper or leather for making the handle
  • Wet and dry sandpaper, various grits

Step 4: Make a Prototype

Picture of Make a Prototype

Here you can design your own blade shape. Make it fairly simple with not too many sharp curves, as you want the hot metal to follow your pattern with ease.

Here I used some thin ply to cut out the shape I wanted. Don't get too hung up on your shape because you can sand it down the track and neaten it up.

Use a coping saw or scroll saw to cut out your shape.

Step 5: Cutting a Guard

Picture of Cutting a Guard

The small letter opener will need a handle so I decided to cut a guard out and mold it into the blade.

I first marked out the width of the tang and the top of the guard on a piece of ply. Then I cut the center hole till it fitted nicely. You can then cut the whole guard out and sand it till it's nice and even in shape.

Step 6: Pressing Your Shape

Picture of Pressing Your Shape

With your pieces cut out, it's time to start pressing the shape into your cuttle. I held the cuttle and used both my thumbs to push the prototype into the cuttlebone. The prototype will stop when the crushed cuttle dust fills the hole you are pressing. To fix this, remove the piece and blow the dust away, then continue pressing.

Most people only press in one cuttle side and use the other just to cover it, but because I want a guard, I decided to make two halves to ensure the mold line falls close to the center of the blade.

Once the blade shape is pressed evenly into both sides, fit the guard and push that in also. It's important you have enough cuttlebone to insulate a pour like this. You do not want molten metal to burn through the sides and fall out.

Hot tip: The less dust in your mould, the better your pattern will come out. You can use a straw to blow your mould out if you don't have an air compressor.

Step 7: Prepping the Mould

Picture of Prepping the Mould

With your shape pressed simply, cut a funnel in the top of your mould and flatten it off. With the prototype still inside the mould, drill a small hole and push some locator pins through. I used some fine wire.

Now open the mould, remove the prototype and put it back together with the locator pins.

To ensure my mould stayed tight, I used a quick clamp to press it tight while I twitched it off with some pipe cleaners. Prop your mould upright near where your forge will be.

Step 8: Gathering Materials for the Forge

Picture of Gathering Materials for the Forge

I am using map gas because it burns hotter than propane.

As my medium I am using brazing rod because it melts pretty fast compared to a lot of other alloys. Be sure the stuff you buy does not contain lead. Breathing lead is not a good idea. I bought a carbon crucible off eBay for $20AUD and some stainless crucible tongs which make holding the crucible safe and a breeze.

Step 9: Notes on the Forge

Picture of Notes on the Forge

Now it's time to burn it! Or melt it.

This is a super simple way of making a forge. Just poke a hole in the side of a tin can and you're done.

Notice I angled the torch slightly. This enables the flame to flow around the side of the crucible rather then hitting one side and heating one side only.

During the heating process I placed some little flat pieces of copper on top of the crucible to speed things up. Add your brazing rod bit by bit till it's all melted. Better to allow more than less.

When the metal is hot enough you will see the surface moving. You will also see some patchy bits. These are impurities you don't want. Bend a piece of wire like an "L" and ladle this out before pouring. It will stick to the wire.

The pour must be made swiftly and accurately. Try to fill that mould as fast as you can.

Special thanks: To user "Ironsmiter" for answering some of my mini forge questions and offering good advice.

Step 10: Cooling the Mould

Picture of Cooling the Mould

After you pour, the mould needs a little time to cool down. I then poured water on the outside of the mould, followed by over the top. The cuttle will soak in a lot of water. After about 5 minutes you can open the two halves to reveal what you have created.

My metal cooled at the top before filling the tang connection and so didn't completely fill my shape. I was not really upset because solder is cool stuff to work with. I will show you how I got around this later.

Check out the blade!!!! Cool huh.

Step 11: Attaching a New Tang

Picture of Attaching a New Tang

To get me back on track, I used some 45% solder to solder a new tang on. Simply put some brazing flux on your two clean surfaces and heat it up red hot with your torch and push your brazing rod in.You can use a piece of metal or pour another mould as your tang.

Clean up the tang and shape it with your bench grinder or a file.

Step 12: Making Your Handle

Picture of Making Your Handle

Now is the really fun part.

Gather hard materials of your choice and cut a tang hole through them. Here I used green suede leather as a spacer material and sangelo timber and samber stag bone to finish my handle. You can use timber as your last piece if you don't have any antler laying around. Be creative and have fun with the design.

To cut my tang holes, I drill a hole and then use a coping saw or scroll saw to clean them out to the right size. They don't have to be super tight, but very close is good.

Step 13: Drilling Pin Hole

Picture of Drilling Pin Hole

I then used a drill bit of the same diameter as the brazing rod to drill my pin hole through the last piece. Make sure to push all your pieces down hard while you drill this hole.

Sand the brazing rod with course wet and dry, to create a hold for the epoxy to grip onto. I also sharpen one end to help me find the tang hole.

Step 14: Glue Your Handle

Picture of Glue Your Handle

Now it's time to glue all your pieces together. Mix up some 2 part epoxy. I use 24 hour araldite because it's so very strong.

Use a sacrificial brush or small piece of timber to place a thick layer of glue between each spacer or piece of timber/bone in your handle. Include a good layer between the guard and first spacer.

Before placing on the last piece, fill it with epoxy be sure there is no air in this piece. Follow this rule the whole way as you stack your pieces by making sure everything is full of epoxy. Push your pin through the tang and make sure it has plenty of epoxy on it.

Since araldite dries like glass, it's important to clean up any you don't want on the blade or guard. Use a rag and the solvent suggested on the epoxy that you choose to do this.

Step 15: Let It Dry

Picture of Let It Dry

Now it's time to wait 24 hours. Don't be hasty to start work on this. Leave it longer and you will be rewarded later.

Step 16: Sanding Down the Handle

Picture of Sanding Down the Handle

Now it's dry, it's time to cut off the excess pin material and begin shaping your handle.

I have included progress shots so you can see it come to life. First sand around the whole thing to get all the pieces close to level with each other.

Next flatten both sides of the handle and sand down to the guard.

Add some detail by sanding slight finger grooves and rounding the top to make the piece flow.

Use a rasp or dremel to roughly cut in this shape if you don't have a sander.

Step 17: Sharpening Bevels

Picture of Sharpening Bevels

There is a right way to be accurate while doing this, but for this knife I did not feel it was necessary. As this knife is for opening letters you want the edge angle to be fairly steep, allowing the knife to separate the paper.

Start by grinding the bevels in on a bench grinder, alternating sides and checking your edge as you go. You can see the result is quite rough. If you don't have a belt sander or bench sander, just use a file. You would be surprised how quick a file chews through metal.

Swap to a 320 grit belt or a fine file to smooth out any lines. You can see how this looks afterwards, a big improvement.

Step 18: Finishing Handle

Picture of Finishing Handle

To finish the handle nicely, use some 600 wet and dry paper to rub out all the imperfections. Remember what style of knife this is and don't be too fussy, the idea is to create an older-looking knife.

After you're happy, rub the handle down with bees wax or gun stock oil.

Step 19: Finishing the Blade

Picture of Finishing the Blade

Now you want to remove some of the oxidization that is making the blade look a little too dirty. I used a wire brush wheel, but a hand-held wire brush works just as well. Wire wheels throw steel bristles like bullets and they will go through clothes, so always wear eye protection.

Once this is done give the blade a buff on the edge also. You can use a buffing wheel, fine wet and dry or a scotch belt as shown above. Be careful if you use a buffing wheel, they tend to suck things in and spit them out just as fast. Stand to the side while wearing safety glasses!!!

Step 20: Contemplate

Picture of Contemplate

Now you're done you can sit back and get excited about opening bills with your new opener.

Remember, working with hot metals and power tools is dangerous. Use common sense and wear protection. It takes 2 seconds to put on the right gear and could save your eye or a trip to the hospital.

Enjoy,

Nick

Comments

meddler (author)2015-02-23

Ah I found that war club. Here it is. I have since put paracord on the handle. I should take a new pic.

meddler (author)meddler2015-04-09

Here is a more recent image of the bronze war club. The other is for a martial arts instructer who asked me for one.

PowellMade (author)meddler2015-02-23

Woooow! That is such a beautiful club. How did you make the etchings? In the mould? Thanks heaps for showing everyone your fine work. Thats a lot of bronze.

meddler (author)PowellMade2015-02-23

I bought some acid etch from radio shack and painted in my design with asphaltum and soaked it for several hours. I messed up though, one side is much more defined than the other. I should have suspended it in a tube. Then I cleaned off the asphaltum with mineral spririts. I did make an ax in the same class with the designs already on the piece. We moved and it disappeared though. I'll prpbably find it in the next century

NathanSellers (author)2015-04-04

Well documented and excellent pictures. The knife turned out beautifully. I love the story behind it too. Thanks for sharing.

PowellMade (author)NathanSellers2015-04-04

Thank you for your kind comments. I really appreciate it.

Raitis (author)2015-02-19

This looks great! I'm already longing working with my hands after a few days of mostly looking at lines of code and seeing this just makes it worse. :D

PowellMade (author)Raitis2015-02-19

I am sure you got a cool intractable in the making. You always do. Thanks for your nice comment.

Raitis (author)PowellMade2015-02-20

That thing is not gonna make it to an 'ible, didn't have time to document anything originally and now it's too late. I posted one just a few days ago though.

By the way, how hard did you find working with antler? I have more of those laying around than I know what to do with.

PowellMade (author)Raitis2015-02-20

Oh that's sad where is this thing? You posted it?

Antler is quite easy to shape with an 80 grit belt. It's very good to work with but it stinks and a mask is advisable. Sambar stag is the best but you may have red deer? If so its important to clean out the pithy center and use the outside hard stuff. Over time the internal stuff degrades.

Raitis (author)PowellMade2015-02-20

Mostly roe deer so small antlers and hard all through, but also red deer and moose. Haven't noticed pithy centres though, will look out for those, thanks for the tip! If the hole is big after cleaning pith, do you fill it somehow?

Have only posted a doodle of that on instagram, nothing too serious really, just making a still controller for my granddad. Currently troubleshooting with half of my desk covered in wires. :D

Madrigorne (author)Raitis2015-02-24

I would like an antler if you're looking to get rid of one

Raitis (author)Madrigorne2015-03-02

If it suits you, I could send you a pair or so from a roe deer. Have some plans for the big ones though. :)

Where are you located though? If this goes beyond EU I'm not sure about the customs reaction to this kind of shipment.

Madrigorne (author)Raitis2015-03-17

I am in the US - according to this site: help.cbp.gov/app/answer/detail/a_id/63/~/hunting-trophies,-birds,-animals,

"bones, horns, and hoofs that are imported as trophies may be imported without further restrictions if they are clean, dry, and clear of undried pieces of flesh or sinew" so customs would be okay with it I think, though shipping might prove cost prohibitive.

Thank you for your thoughts though, my friend.

PowellMade (author)Raitis2015-02-20

Yep fill with epoxy. I actually cleaned a tiny center out of that knife handle above.

Ok I will wait till you have it done then I will surprise myself.

lrp4209 (author)2015-02-26

Amazing Work, and great Instructable!!! I have already stared looking from the bones online!!!

diy_bloke (author)2015-02-20

it is gorgeous.
My father forged me a dagger when I was just a kid. sadly i lost it through a hole in my pocket years later

PowellMade (author)diy_bloke2015-02-23

Aweee! I know that feeling. My Dad gave me grandfathers pocket watch which was a very expensive piece. One day it went through the wash. Silver case chain and cogs everywhere!!!

diy_bloke (author)PowellMade2015-02-24

Ouch!!!

bricobart (author)2015-02-21

For a few seconds I thought you managed to make a damast steel knife. I'm disappointed in one way, but pleased with your inventivity and design in the other. ;)

joel.cox.7777 (author)bricobart2015-02-22

This has to be the worst comment I've seen on this site. Not only is there no such thing as "damast" steel but "inventivity" is not A FREKING WORD...

Michael013 (author)joel.cox.77772015-02-22

"We have a be nice comment policy.
Please be positive and constructive."

joel.cox.7777 (author)Michael0132015-02-23

Maybe people should stop worrying about being nice and start worrying not being ignorant and the dumbing of America.

Michael013 (author)joel.cox.77772015-02-23

Maybe americans should realise that they aren't the centre of the universe.

http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/damast

bricobart (author)joel.cox.77772015-02-22

Welcome to the site. And congrats on your first comment.

caltemus (author)bricobart2015-02-22

Damascus*

zenTaurus (author)caltemus2015-02-22

or Damascene to include the decorative features of the metal and the blade. cf: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Damascene

B_C (author)bricobart2015-02-21

I thought the same at first when I looked at the thumbnail before I clicked on the instructable.Very unique knife though.

loony1 (author)2015-02-22

This is really neat Nick. With me starting to make knives, and being a foundryman, it is beyond cool. Most of the mold filling notes I would point out to you have been addressed, with one exception (unless I missed it). This would be to increase the height of your sprue. This forces more head pressure into your vertical mold which increases opportunity to fill your cavity completely. I'd expect that you would wish to waste less material, but it would only have to be maybe like 50% larger. You could scab something onto the exterior or with smaller cast items, make the cavity deeper.
Either way, you nailed this dude! It had my brain off and running with projects to try. While I work in a foundry, that tends to stay at work. Additionally, I've never heard of a cuttlefish bone, not being a bird person, but am thinking I've seen them in bird cages at pet stores. Nonetheless, another learning read.
Tom

PowellMade (author)loony12015-02-23

Good Points there Tom, When I have a bit of time would you mind me adding some of your tips to the instructable? There has been a few good points made here and making the pour easy for others would be good. I put the problem I had in the instructable so that people can see that with projects like this there are problems to be prevented. Hopefully some people will make some and post them up. Thanks for your comments I appreciate them a lot.

loony1 (author)PowellMade2015-02-23

No problemo Nick. I could give you some more detailed drawings or ideas; how do we connect outside of this venue?

ardrhi (author)2015-02-22

I wonder how this would work using phosphor-bronze brazing rod? It might make for a very pretty blade indeed.

PowellMade (author)ardrhi2015-02-23

That would be interesting indeed. Currently the blade bevel that has been polished has turned a nice shade of gold. Looks even better now.

The Rambler (author)2015-02-23

This is amazing. It's like a history lesson and an instructable in one! I love the way you used an old world method to cast the blade. It makes it so much more natural, like the life and death of the creature is wrapped into this creation and the blade itself is a part of the culmination of its cycle. And the handle is constructed similarly as well, with the offcasts of leather and antler. Great project, definitely deserving of the feature.

PowellMade (author)The Rambler2015-02-23

Thank you. I like your description very much. Thanks also for being apart of the community and making comments.

Ricardo Furioso (author)2015-02-23

Beautiful. Sensible. Well presented. Thank you for a great Instructable.

Thank you for looking and your very welcome.

garethllewelyn (author)2015-02-23

Super 'structable, well done.

Thanks for you nice comment.

meddler (author)2015-02-22

Bronze will hold an edge and be very sharp. Just not for very long. There have been ancient bronze shaving razors found, can't remember the site I saw it on, sorry. My point is, a knife like this can be very sharp, you will just have to sharpen it A LOT. I cast a bronze sword in my sculpture class once. Heavy as heck and not at all practical. Fun as heck casting it though. I made a bronze maori war club as well.

PowellMade (author)meddler2015-02-23

Thanks for the post. I love pics. Beautiful piece you made there. Have you still got the club? I wouldn't mind seeing it.

meddler (author)PowellMade2015-02-23

I have a pic somewhere. I'll try to find and post it.

Ironwave (author)2015-02-22

Nice texture and nice ible!
Oh, and the Inventivity!
Love it :-)

bricobart (author)Ironwave2015-02-22

If it doesn't exist, we make it.

'Inventivity' is, in fact, an 'englished' dutch word, which I declare official by now. It's that kind of genious creativeness that made Mc Gyver a man.

Inventivity will be my favorite word. You gotta be inventive to invent it. Awesome.

joel.cox.7777 (author)bricobart2015-02-23

You know who else would love the word inventivity? George Bush Jr.
Oh. And there is no apace in McGyver....

PaleHorseRider (author)2015-02-19

Yes but how tough is it; that's that question. How long can it hold an edge and how many hits can it take without snapping in two...

I'd say it will hold an edge about as long as a bronze blade. I think if you put it on two bricks and hit it as hard as you could- with a hammer in the middle, it would break. :)

ironsmiter (author)PowellMade2015-02-20

It would probably BEND! Seriously tough stuff. It was THE goto metal for weapons, armor and tools, for a long long time. And some examples are still looking good in museums.
Much like 'mild steel' swords that predate modern carbon steel, a blade doesnt have to last long. Short fight, then spend the evening straightening and sharpening if you survived.
As for how long it will stay sharp? Depends on what you are cutting. Probably at least as long as a boyscout knife (notoriousy soft blades to force you to learn to sharpen properly, through practice practice practice). Whittling, probly weekly sharpening. Utility hoot knife? Weeks. Heirloòm display piece? Generations.

tling (author)ironsmiter2015-02-22

Weekly sharpening for whittling? My guess is daily sharpening.
Casting a blade is one of the worse ways to make a user.

Even modern steel requires frequent touch-ups to stay whittling sharp.
The Author was right when he guesses it's about as strong as a bronze blade and how it's a nice letter opener.

spark master (author)tling2015-02-22

I resharpen hourly if the wood is hard, or the steel is soft. . The angle of the cutting edge and the hardness of the wood and the steel determine how often you resharpen or at least give it a few strokes on the steel/fine stone/strop. And always give it a kiss on the stone before putting away, so it is sharp when you take it out.

But I carve not whittle, so my tools are many. Whittlers use 1 knife, no matter the size. Use more then 1 you are a carver.

Carve wood, give blood!

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Bio: My Name is Nick and I love making things!! Learning about everything is something I like to do. I have been a carpenter here in ... More »
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