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Making a knife is primal - it's probably the first tool Adam used.

I love making knives because I get to use a variety of materials (steel, horn, wood, composites etc) and I use multiple tools to transform the raw materials into a thing of function and beauty. I have complete and full control over the design, and I take immense satisfaction from using something I've made, or giving it away as a gift.

Today I'm going to step you through making a damascus forged knife. I'll be using an unlikely source of steel, and my design will incorporate the challenging step of including an integral bolster...that is, the transition area between blade and handle will be forged into place.

This forged knife will have a hidden tang with a stag antler for the handle - I'll try and leave this antler in as natural a state as I can.

Step 1: Safety First People! Safety First...

Keep yourself safe. We're going to be cutting, welding, heating, drilling, grinding, etching...and ideally none of that to ourselves.

In all of these activities be alert to what you're doing, and keep an eye on your equipment and your surroundings.

Remove trip hazards (I nearly went head-over-kite when tripping up on an extension lead), and keep children clear of danger. If you're doing something and that little red light in the back of your head starts flashing...listen to it and stop what you're doing! It's telling you you're on the edge of safety. No task is worth an injury. However, sometimes a small cut or burn is just going to happen so keep a medical kit handy.

You'll want

  • boots (preferably steel toe)
  • eye protection
  • hearing protection
  • leather apron
  • gloves (on occasion...I'll explain more shortly)
  • long pants are a good idea to keep hot sparks or slag from flying into your shoes (yes, I've had that)
  • hat/cap to keep long hair out of harms way, and also to deflect sparks from landing on your neck (yes, I've had that)

More on Gloves. Great when you're handling hot material but a big no-no when grinding (or near any spinning thing). The first reason is you don't want a glove to be caught in a wheel or machine dragging your hand into it. Secondly, it's useful to feel the heat through the blade as you grind it so you avoid over heating it and thereby ruining the hardness you've achieved.

Having said all of this, we're going to have fun so don't be put off by the above...rather understand the risks and act appropriately.

Step 2: Tools and Equipment

Raw material I used in this knife

  • Chain from a car transmission
  • stag antler
  • liner material
  • copper washers
  • epoxy

Tools you'll need:

  • metal cut-off saw
  • forge capable of reaching forge-welding heat
  • flux (anhydrous borax)
  • anvil
  • hammers
  • hydraulic press
  • drill press
  • belt grinder
  • clamps/vice

Step 3: Cutting the Chain

Use a metal cut-off saw to cut the chain into 5-link lengths...I've stacked 5 lengths for a total of 25 links. Using a mig welder, spot weld the links so they don't move around, then weld a piece of rebar onto the chain. This is your handle.

Step 4: Into the Forge

Light the forge then place the billet into it. When the billet has gained some color sprinkle anhydrous borax onto it...borax will help the steel weld together by fighting off oxidization and also acts to drive out impurities from the billet. Place back in the forge.

Step 5: Hydraulic Press

When the billet has heated through (this will be around 900-1000C) it's time to begin forge welding. I apply light pressure to both sides of the billet, returning it to the forge frequently so it remains hot. Forge it hot to reduce the risk of faults in the welding. Continue heating and pressing until the chain has formed into a solid billet.

Step 6: Cleaning Up

Remove the billet from the forge and grind off the spot welds. I don't want to forge these into the billet as it will introduce mild steel to the knife that will etch as unpleasant gray spots in the finished blade.

Continue heating and pressing the billet.

Step 7: Taking Shape and Drawing Out

The billet has now welded and I'm beginning to draw it out in length.

Step 8: Hammering

It wouldn't be right to make a knife without using the hammer and anvil at least some of the time.

Begin shaping the end of the billet into what will become the knife blade.

Step 9: Disc Grinding

I'm removing some raggedy pieces of steel from the edges of the billet so as not to inadvertently forge these into the billet which could introduce pits or inclusions...not good.

Great shot of my safety boots, and an even greater shot of sparks...what's not to love about knife making!

Step 10: Cutting the Billet

I'm cutting the blade from the billet...this small portion will become the knife, and I'll return to the rest of the billet at a later date to make more knives.

I've attached a handle and placed back in the forge. When the billet is hot I'm using a combination of press and hammer/anvil to shape the tang, integral bolster.

Step 11: Final Shaping

Using a drawing hammer, stretch out the billet. I've then placed a straightening die in the press and applied pressure to the billet...this realigns the blade and tang.

Step 12: Annealing and Normalizing Then to the Grinder

One final heat and then I leave the billet to cool at a slow rate...this helps to relieve stress from the billet and leaves it in an annealed (unhardened) state...easier to grind and drill.

When the billet has cooled to room temperature I begin to rough grind with a 50 grit belt to create the profile and flatten the blade.

Step 13: Taking Shape

I'm working over the entire blade...the edge profile, sides, bolster and tang. The blade gets hot so constant dipping in water is necessary.

Step 14: Heat Treat

Using my smaller heat treat forge, I heat the blade until it is hot enough to harden. When the steel is non-magnetic it's ready to quench in oil. Keep a magnet nearby, but not on the side of the forge...I learned the hard way why this is a bad idea...no gloves on at the time...it was hot!

Step 15: Quench - Flaming Good Stuff

I've heated up some old junk steel and placed in the oil to warm it up a little, then it's time to quench the blade. Taking it immediately from the forge I quickly quench the blade in the oil, keeping it still until the flames have ceased. I'm edge quenching only, which should leave the spine of the blade a little less hard...adding toughness to the finished blade.

Step 16: Tempering

My blade is now hardened but it is as hard as glass...and equally brittle. I need to take some of this hardness out by tempering in an oven for 2 hours at 200C.

Step 17: Establish the Bevels, Beryl

Once the blade has been tempered, return to the belt grinder and continue to improve the overall shape. I've now begun to establish the bevels and work these until I get the desired shape. I continue through increasing finer belt grits, removing scratches from each previous pass:

  • 50 grit - beginning and roughing out
  • 80 grit
  • 120 grit
  • 240 grit
  • 320 grit
  • 600 grit - finishing

This blade is now finished. It won't be polished or buffed beyond this point...buffing would 'smear' the surface of the steel which wouldn't allow it to etch well.

Pro Tip: Constantly dip the blade in water to keep it cool. If you over-heat the blade you can ruin the hardness and you're back to square one. Not great when the blade is thin and can easily warp in the forge.

Step 18: Preparing the Antler

Select the portion of antler to fit the bolster, then drill the center of the antler to snugly accommodate the tang.

Step 19: Assembling

Assemble the parts and test-fit them together, making minor adjustments so they fit snugly.

As an added feature, I have cut a section of antler so as to introduce a further point of interest...sandwiching this section between copper and red liner.

Step 20: Preparing Epoxy

Mix equal parts of epoxy.

Step 21: Start to Glue Up

Load epoxy into the drilled hole, the begin to layer up the components, using liberal (but not messy) amounts of epoxy. Clean up excess epoxy as you go.

Check out my nifty holding device.

Step 22: Layer Cake

Stack the pieces then push firmly together. Follow the manufacturers epoxy curing directions.

Step 23: 24 Hours Later...

The epoxy is now set. Begin to clean up the handle on the belt grinder taking care not to scuff the finished blade (it is a good idea to wrap the blade with tape and cardboard to protect it).

Step 24: Finishing With Fine Grit Belt

Slack belt grinding with 600 grit belt. This will soften hard edges and allow curves to be established. I generally run the grinder at a slower speed during this phase. I'm constantly running my fingers over the blade and handle, removing high spots as I find them...another good reason not to wear gloves.

Step 25: Optional Step - ​Preparing the Makers Mark

Clean the surface of the blade with acetone then attach the stencil with tape. The wand of the etch machine is moistened with etchant solution then applied to the stencil until the etch has taken…I check a couple of times during this process until I know it’s complete.

Remove the stencil and clean the area with a neutralizing agent.

Step 26: ​Preparing to Etch the Blade

At this stage, the Damascus layers are still hidden beneath the shiny surface of the blade. It requires an etch in a light acid to highlight the two metals, thus exposing the pattern.

Wash the blade in acetone, then submerge the blade in ferric chloride for 60 seconds, repeating until the etch has taken. When I’m happy with the level of contrast I wash the blade under clean water then submerge in trisodium phosphate (TSP) to neutralize the acid.

Now I can finally see how the chain has become a blade. The high shine areas are the pins that hold the chain links together…spectacular how they transform under heat and pressure.

Step 27: ​Oiling the Handle and Blade

I use a mix 70/30 mix of beeswax and mineral oil to coat the entire knife. This will help keep the blade protected and brings a luster to the antler.

ProTip: Make your own wood treatment. Melt the beeswax in a pot then slowly add the food-safe mineral oil. Stir until mixed then pour into a jar or container. The treatment will remain solid but soft and is perfect for keeping your knife handles looking great, as well as wooden spoons, chopping boards, clogs...

Step 28: Knife Is Finished

You now have a unique, one of a kind damascus knife. You've recycled high-carbon steel and turned it into a thing of beauty.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this instructable. There are many steps in the process but I hope to encourage you to have a go at making your own knife.

For a quick look at the process to build this knife, check out this montage Forging a Knife from Chain

I have knives available for sale from time to time - please check out http://minnearknives.co.nz

Final thoughts…you can get by with less equipment so don’t be put off if you don’t have a some of these tools…you’ll be surprised how far you can get by sticking with the basics. It may mean more beating with a hammer and anvil but I want to encourage you to have a go…you can do it!

<p>Nice Knife</p>
<p>This is cooler than cool! Making damascus, really, is a heck of a lot easier then it looks! Great work!</p>
<p>Nice work. I like seeing knives made from different sources.</p>
<p>Thanks for your comment.</p>
<p>This is a fine tutorial, what size is your press?</p><p>. . .JOEb</p>
<p>Thanks for your comment. It's a 24 tonne H-frame style press.</p>
<p>Nice. The etching is not really necessary though. Here is a knife my father has made. He says he used some heat treatment. He has never used any acid. This knife has 40 layers.</p>
That blade looks excellent. How did you father bring up the layers?<br>Thanks for your comment.
Hi and sorry for the late reply.<br>The key is to use different kind of metal in the layers. On one layer the metal has more nickel than the other. Especially the top most must have more nickel. Then when you have the blade about ready you heat it so that the iron melts but the nickel does not and it makes the surface full of canyons when the iron burns away. Most commonly this is done with &quot;plain&quot; high carbon steel matched with a low alloy nickel steel.
<p>Please don't advertise as damascus. It's false advertising, and only a noob would fall for it.</p>
<p>Hold on, did I miss something, or did you not forge the edge, but used 'stock removal' instead? Why?</p>
I did forge the blade edge a little but it's not captured in the steps. I also choose to keep the blade thick out of the forge so to limit carbon loss and also provide some salvage to remove any pesky hammer marks that can remain.
<p>OK, thanks for the clarification. Truth be told, I found it hard to believe that a guy who can produce a decent-looking knife like this one did not understand the necessity of forging the edge. I just wish you had mentioned this step, even if there were no photos of it, as there seems to an ever-increasing amount of people who think that 'stock removal' is a actually legitimate method of making blades.</p><p>Anyway, nice tutorial, and good pics. Most likely very helpful to many people. Kudos.</p><p>BTW, You should not experience any significant carbon loss at normal forging temperatures, even as high as dull yellow. Forge-welding temperatures (bright yellow / yellow-white) are a different matter, obviously.</p>
<p>It might reveal more of the pattern than forging would.</p>
<p>With 'normal' even-layered billets that is generally true, but damascus made of chain or cable should, due to the shape and construction of the original material, yield a pattern even with no forging or grinding. Looking at the pics of the final product, I doubt forging would have made the pattern less prominent.</p><p>All in all, I reckon my primary 'issue' here is that I cannot see the reasoning for completely skipping the forging of the edge. That very process, combined with the material selection and the heat treatment steps, IS what makes a piece of steel a blade and not just a decorative object.</p>
<p>Hi, as above I did forge the edge but didn't capture that in the tutorial. Thanks for your comments.</p>
<p>Excellent job! Good, thorough instructable. You should not be put off by the &quot;If you're not doing it the way I think it should be done, you're wrong&quot; comments. I have learned over the years that for every one of those people, there are several that appreciate the time and effort spent to illustrate how to do something instead of being an &quot;expert&quot; that instead of SHARING information and knowledge, hides theirs and nit-picks those that do.</p>
<p>How is this Damascus?</p>
There's a good section on damascus steel in Wayne Goddard's book &quot;$50 Knife Shop.&quot; Exert here: https://books.google.co.nz/books?id=AwywH4MmMf8C&amp;pg=PA104&amp;lpg=PA104&amp;dq=wayne+goddard+damascus&amp;source=bl&amp;ots=R8yiDfUIoq&amp;sig=on836PXR-Ey3s9ktMsfsICPuQeI&amp;hl=en&amp;sa=X&amp;ved=0ahUKEwiFwcqhk_TOAhWFlZQKHQYiCX0Q6AEIRDAH#v=onepage&amp;q=wayne%20goddard%20damascus&amp;f=false
<p>The term 'damascus' is nowadays, and has been for decades, used to describe pattern-welded steel, regardless of the material(s) and the procedure used to obtain the pattern. A (multi-wire) cable is obviously made of one type of steel only, yet still yields an interesting pattern. A motorcycle drive chain, which is similar to the material used in this instructable has, as far as I know, somewhat different steel in the links/rivets and the connecting plates.</p><p>Anyway, I am a nitpicking mofo, and well-aware of the history, yet even I accept this terminology. Also, forging a multi-layer billet from straight and level plates is much easier than dealing with a cable or a chain.</p>
<p>There are some very nice, leg powered, tread hammer plans out on the net.</p>
<p>Nice one bud. Well done. Unfortunately not many people have access to a power press. Yes, it can be done with a hammer but as you and I know that is tricky and a LOT of hard work.</p><p>Please don't get me wrong here. Not trying to put you off, but rather trying to warn others, if you don't have a press, don't go wasting time to try and make this unless you have done forge welding by hammer before.</p>
<p>Power press should be very easy to build, just like a log splitter. I found an old 10 ton hydraulic ram and some RSJ at my local friendly scarp yard and bought a 'log splitter valve' from a hydraulic specialist and off we go ......</p>
<p>Yes, it is easy to build. Only problem is here in SA where I am a ram, even 2nd hand is crazy expensive. To import is also not really an option as the shipping cost is so high, and once the government has slammed a very nice import tax on top of it you are back to square one with the high cost. For that reason very few of us around here have them.</p>
Oh yes, a lot of work to get this done by hand. One option is to start with a wire rope...it's quite achievable to turn this into cable damascus...that was the first damascus I made a few years ago.
<p>Yes, cable does make a nice knife. I've been using chains from chainsaws. Get very nice patterning from those. I think if you flattened your billet from the other side (turned it 90 degrees before flattening) you would have picked up more patterning.</p>
<p>Fantastic, I appreciate all the intricacies and procedures of your beautiful knife - I recently, for the first time did a 2 day blacksmith course. I was a little disappointed that it was not as fulfilling as a blade-smith course would have been.</p><p> I made the iron nugget (last image) from workshop drill-turnings, which I converted into Iron-Oxide. Following this procedure I reduced the oxide into a nugget. I took this to the forge on my last day as we were allowed to make something of our choice. </p><p>This baby took forever to heat, even at bright yellow heat it was as hard as slate and I had to use the power hammer they had there in order to fold and draw it out. I only managed to get this far but it's still a feat and very hard ;-) I G</p>
Wow that looks fantastic. You could try annealing it if it's too hard. Post some more pics of the finished knife...I'd love to see how the blade comes up.
<p>Thanks, I was happy to have made something out of this as it was as hard as nails even with sufficient heating - I have not had the facilities to hand to enable the completion of the blade - but I will I would like to acid etch it to see if there is a pattern...... If your interested in making a nugget It's on this site....</p>
<p>Great one!!! - is there any chance to ask you to make one for me?? Of course for reasonable price</p>
Great question! I'll have some knives on my website soon...mostly I make damascus kitchen knives that have stabilized New Zealand native timber. I'll post the link when they're up.
<p>That's a great piece of work, congratulations an thanks for sharing</p>
Thanks for your comment.
<p>Thanks for this great, really detailled instructable. That's a beautifull unique knife!</p>
Thanks for your comment..yes any knife like this is a one-off piece due to the individual way the steel is forged.
<p>The most detiled &amp; easy to understand knife making tutorial ever. A master class. &quot;Hat's Off&quot;</p>
*humble bow* <br>Thank you for your comment.
<p>All I can say is WOW! Thank you for sharing.</p>
Thanks for your comment.
<p>I actually got quite excited reading this! I've always wanted to try my hand at forging - fat chance of that ever happening though.</p><p>Thanks for a really good instructable.</p><p>Gorgeous, gorgeous end result, true craftsmanship.</p>
Thanks for your comment. Absolutely, definitely have a go at forging - it's very rewarding. Your local tech may offer a class and tools if you don't have these.
<p>this is the coolest thing I've ever read and seen</p>
Awesome! I'm pleased you enjoyed it.
<p>Thank you for the most detailed and easy-to-follow knifemaking tutorial I have ever had the pleasure of reading. </p>
That's fantastic, thanks for your encouraging comment.
<p>That has to be one of the best if not THE best tutorials I have seen on knife making. All I need is half a million dollars in equipment to get started and time. That's all. Really this is extra special as it has answered a lot of my questions. I'm a paper modeler or Card Stock modeler and this is a never ending learning hobby. I did save this page if ever I have a question again. Beautiful knife. Very special blade. My deepest thanks for sharing. wc</p>
I'm humbled by your comment...thank you! Yes, I'm always learning something making knives. Card modeling...now that is some exquisite skill!<br>Thanks for your comment.
<p>Excellent! Thanks for making such a clear and concise 'ible. It has inspired me to try forging a knife rather than using a hacksaw and files. I also appreciate the idea of using a chain. Of course, people may be critical about specific metals, terminology and working temperatures but I think that is missing the point, which is to TRY and do your best to create something. Especially something that you may not have tried before. Thanks again! </p>
Fantastic! I'm humbled that this has inspired you to have a go at forging...you'll love it!<br>Thanks for your comment.
<p>You mentioned that you, <em>&quot;grind off the spot welds. I don't want to forge these into the billet as it will introduce mild steel&quot;.</em></p><p> Question: What is the transmission chain made of? How can you be sure that it has sufficient carbon content before you take on the project? This is always a question that must be asked when making a blade... whether from cable, chain, old saw blades, or other scrap parts. There's nothing worse than pouring serious time into a project like this only to find your time and effort were wasted.</p><p>So let's say you test a small piece, and the answer is yes (this is carbon steel and can be hardened). What hardening and tempering profile should be used? Typically you'd want to know EXACTLY what steel you're working with before you start in order to get to the correct quench temp... the correct quench medium (air, oil. water, etc)... the correct temper profile(s), and even the correct annealing/normalizing. </p>

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