Introduction: Fillet Knife for PopPop.
My father-in-law recently retired. He served over 20 years in the military then became a deputy Sheriff and worked his way up to Undersheriff. There has been much ado about his retirement, and he has deserved all of it. He is a proud pubic servant. I wanted to make a gift for him. A personal gift, made from my own hands. Armed with my new forge, I forged ahead and went to grinding out a knife, shaping the scales and brass bolsters. His retirement gift is going to be a folding fillet knife. He has a serious love for fishing and this knife will be perfect for him.
Step 1: This Was a Kit...Sort Of.
I first had planned on making him a simple fillet knife. Damascus steel blade and wood handle. Nothing too fancy. While at my local woodworking shop I noticed they had a kit for a folding fillet knife. I thought that would be too cool. Knowing that just about anyone can assemble a kit and sand out the wood to look nice, I decided to ditch the blade that came with the kit and make one out of damascus myself. So yes, this is a kit, but nothing was used from the kit other than the locking bade parts. All the other parts I remade. Including the pins.
Step 2: Shaping the Blade.
I simply traced out the design of the blade that came with the kit. I then went to work on it with a Dremel and cut wheels. That took me a couple of hours. I probably could have done it quicker with a angle grinder but Damascus steel isn't cheap so I didn't want to waste any. I paid $80 for the billet you see here and I wanted to maximize the amount of blades I could cut from it.
When I got the blade shaped close to blade that came with the kit, I placed the kit blade on top of my blank and spray painted over the top of both. This created a silhouette of the original blade on the blank and gave me a great way to shape the knife correctly. I simply went to work on the grinder and sanded to the paint line. When finished, I had a pretty close copy. I did add a few custom touches.
Step 3: Heat Treating and Tempering
I forgot to take photos of the heat treat as I was making a chef knife for my mother-in-law at the same time. Below is what I've learned.
All that grinding and shaping, weakens the steel. After shaping the knife it's going to have to be brought up to the right temperature to temper the steel. I've read a lot about what is the proper temperature you'll need to get your steel to but found the simplest way to go is to use a magnet.
Once the steel gets to the proper temperature it will loose the ability to stick to a magnet. It's actually kind of neat knowing you've heated the metal so hot, a magnet won't work on it. I had a strong magnet attached to the end of wood rod. I then set the knife into my forge and began heating it up. I would touch the magnet to the end of the tang while it was in the forge. Once it failed to grab to blade, I pulled it out and quickly checked all over the blade with the magnet and then went to quenching the blade in a tub filled with peanut oil. Peanut oil was recommended as this blade was going to be used with food.
Now this may be an old wives tale, but I heard that if you want your knife to stay straight, quench the blade facing true north. It was explained to me that when the ions in the metal realign, having it face north will keep it from warping. It kind of makes since if you think about the magnet not working on it when it's at temp. So, using a compass, I quenched it facing true north. It was straight as an arrow. Which is pretty cool considering how thin this blade is.
When you're done with the quench you'll need to place it in an oven at 400 degrees for 4 hours. Then shut the oven off and allow the blade to cool slowly overnight. When you're done with these steps, your metal will be tempered and very hard.
When you get to cleaning your knife up after tempering, be careful not to buff and sand to the point you heat up the knife again and ruin your temper. I used Scotch-Brite pads, wet sandpaper with windex and lots of patience. It's not easy getting all the crud from heat treating off so be prepared for this.
Step 4: Acid Etching the Damascus.
To truly bring out the beauty of Damascus steel you'll need to acid etch it in ferric chloride. I bought mine on Amazon and it's not expensive. I mixed it about 50/50 with water in a large PVC tube. I capped the bottom and put a screw top lid on the other end.
When I was ready to etch I attached some wire to the knife and dipped it into the acid for about 10 minutes. After that I hosed it off and cleaned it with windex. It looked amazing.
This acid is actually pretty powerful so don't leave it in there too long.
Step 5: Scales and Bolsters.
In knife terminology, the scales are the handle covers. The wood handle to put it simply but they can me made from many different things. This knife has scales made from acrylic. They're green and kind of look like fish scales.
Bolsters are metal sections or additions to the top or bottom of a knife handle. Since he is a retiring Undersheriff I thought is was fitting to make his knife green and gold. The colors of the sheriff department.
This was my second knife and I've never made bolsters before. I learned quite a lot while making this knife. The first was laying out the scales correctly. When I traced out the scales, I didn't pay attention to the orientation when I had them laid out and cut them not in the mirror image but the same way. Thank goodness I had enough material left in the scales to fix that.
Next was the brass bolsters. I had no idea where to buy brass thick enough for the bolsters. I first tried to melt some scrap brass I had in my forge to get a chunk thick enough for me to shape into what I needed. That did not work well. So after a few phone calls and a two hours of driving. I returned with a large brass bar for about $60.
I then traced out the knife handle onto the brass and cut it out on my bandsaw. I also ground the edges of the brass and acrylic at about 30 degrees putting the brass on top. I figured this would help protect the acrylic and give it some strength.
Once I had it all glued up, I went to shaping the brass and the scales. Everything was going well until the bolsters started popping off. I figured I had probably heated the glue up or something and caused it to fail. So I was careful and shaped the bolsters on their own and glued them back on.
While polishing the brass they popped off again. Then I remembered this video I watched on bolsters and turned them around and drilled shallow holes on the back and some on the lock. These holes gave the glue something to hold on and after that, a solid handle I had.
I also counter sunk the locking pin in the bolster.
Step 6: The Fit and Finish.
I wanted to make him a case or holster for the knife. Something he could use either on his belt or in his tackle box. I'm no leather worker but I had a few tools and some leather. So I cut a piece to fix. Got it wet and stretched it over the knife. Once I cut it and punched some holes in it. I stitched him up a pouch. I also used a wood burner to put his initials on the front flap. Not having much time before we left for his retirement party, I riveted a couple magnets on it to help keep the flap closed.
When all done, I sprayed it with two coats of polyurethane to help protect the brass finish and seal up the acrylic scales. I then went to work on the wet stone getting this razor sharp.
I'm going to add some final photos here. He loved the knife very much and I know it'll keep him outside and fishing for many years. I hope you enjoy this as much as I enjoyed making it.