My Mother-in-law recently retired. Her husband (the Undersheriff) is retiring too. There has been much ado about his retirement, and he has deserved all of it. She was also a proud pubic servant, serving over 20 years in the Air Force and contracting for the Navy after that. I wanted to make a gift for both of them. A personal gift, made from my own hands. Her gift was first to be made. My first knife. A chef knife made from damascus steel. Armed with my new forge, I forged ahead and went to grinding out a knife, making the liners, scales and mosaic pins. His is going to be a folding fillet knife. I'll post that next. So here we go...there is no try.
Step 1: Damascus Steel Billet
I really got into this show called Forged in Fire. A reality show centered on knife making and blacksmithing. One night while watching it I got inspired and ordered a piece of Damascus steel. My intention was to cut out a knife, shape it and make the scales (handles). Just a simple knife. The more YouTube videos I watched on knife making, the more complicated it got.
If you look at my last instructable you'll see that I had to make a forge. You can't just grind out a knife and expect it to hold an edge and maintain sharpness without being able to heat and temper the steel. Ya just can't. I've seen some videos where guys cool the steel down to below freezing (with nitrogen I assume) and then grind out the edge. I wouldn't mind trying that but nevertheless...I made a forge.
I simply traced out the design of a chef knife I had and then went to work on it with a Dremel and cut wheels. That took me about two 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.
Once my skills get better, I plan on forging some of my own Damascus.
Step 2: Marking Center on Your Blank.
I used a paint pen to color the blade side of the knife blank. I then took a wood bit that was the same size of the billet and scratched a line down the blade. This technique creates a centerline on the knife blank and allows you to keep an eye on your grinding and ensure your bevel is even when you are done.
Step 3: Grinding the Blade Out.
There are many different techniques for shaping your knife bevel. Most depend on either skill or specially crafted Jigs. Freehand grinding a bevel is a serious skill. The truly skilled knife makers I watched, all freehanded their knife edges. I did build a bevel jig, but I found it to be cumbersome. I didn't like how it took the "skill" out of learning this craft either. Being a fairly dexterous craftsman, I decided to freehand my bevel on my first knife and never look back.
I used a 4" belt sander that is actually made for sharpening knives and tools but not really made for shaping. When I get some more time I'm going to build a true 72" belt grinder like all the pros use.
I took my time, paid a lot of attention to the time I spent on each side of the knife so my bevel was straight. I paid close attention to the centerline, used water to cool the blade down as I went. After a few hours, I had a good blade, straight bevel and everything was even.
Step 4: Mosaic Pins.
There are several videos you can watch that will teach you how to make mosaic pins. I used a simple design and here's what you'll need.
1 stainless steel tube.
1 stainless steel rod.
9 or 10 brass rods.
Five minute epoxy.
Dye powder of your choice. I used black and gray to get it close to the color of the steel.
Once you are sure all the brass rods fit evenly around the stainless steel rod in the center of the tube, duct tape one end of the tube. Glove up (this is messy) and get to mixing your epoxy and dye on a piece of wax paper. Quickly draw some up in a syringe. Then run all the rods through the epoxy and insert them into the tube. Once they are all in place. Fill the rest of the tube up with the epoxy you have in the syringe. Tap it up and down on a hard surface to ensure everything settles well you're filling it up.
Then set aside to dry.
There are many different ways to make these so get creative.
Step 5: Heat Treating and Tempering.
Like I mentioned before, 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.
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 6: Acid Etching 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.
I experimented with some of the acid when I first got it. I wanted to try to etch my initials on my little pocket knife I carry. I put stickers on the blade and then covered the rest of the blade with nail polish. The acid won't etch where the paint is. Once the paint was dry, I removed the stickers and placed it in the acid. Totally worked and etched my pocket knife nicely.
Step 7: Scales and Liners.
In knife terminology, the "tang" is the handle. There are many ways to make and or cover the tang. This knife was going to have what is called an "open tang." That is, you can see the metal running down knife from top to bottom. Some knives have "hidden tangs." This means the knife handle covers the metal and you can't see it. Because of this, I wanted to incorporate liners in with the scales.
In knife terminology, a "liner" is a thin layer of something (wood, metal or plastic) you put between the tang and the scales. To pay homage to the brass rods in the mosaic pins, I made some brass liners to go between the knife tang and the wood scales. Using some thin brass plates I had, I traced out the handle shape and cut them out on a bandsaw. I then drilled the pin holes to match.
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.
The scales I chose were 1/4 redheart wood planking. Once I cut the redheart to size, I drilled out the pin holes slightly smaller then I needed to help me line up the holes on the tang. Then I lined up the brass scales. I mixed up some 5 min epoxy, glued and clamped everything up. I know it's 5 min epoxy but I gave this part a few hours to cure nice and hard.
Once I was sure it was cured, I drilled out the pin holes and glued them in place as well.
Step 8: Shaping the Scales, Polishing and Finish.
Once the liners, scales and pins were all cured and ready I went to shaping the handle. The advise to give you here is the same as before. Don't heat the metal up and ruin your temper. Cut the pins to the proper length before you start sanding as well. The wood and the pins will not sand at the same rate so be careful or you'll get pins that are too long and scales too thin. I used progressive sanding and carefully shaped until I got the desired feel and look I was going for. To seal the wood I used three coats of polyurethane.
I also went at the blade with polishing compound and a wheel. Still being very careful not to overheat the knife. I would cool the blade in water the moment I could detect any heat with my hands.
For the final edge, I used a Diamond sharpener and a wet stone. I sat at the table and took my time to get this blade razor sharp.
Not too bad for my first knife. Hope you enjoyed. My mother-in-law sure did.
Step 9: Requested Pics.
I was asked to post some more pics. Here you are. Thank you for your comments.