With the exception of some power tools and propane, my knives and tools are forged and shaped with essentially the same processes that smiths have used for countless years. The steel is heated in either a propane or a charcoal forge, hand-hammered to shape on an anvil, hardened, tempered and then ground to finish. Hand forging gives the maker more creative control over the final product and makes much better use of the steel than simply grinding a knife to shape (much the steel ends up as dust!). I also think it’s important to preserve some of the ‘Old Ways’ in which our forefathers crafted items of necessity.
Additionally, I feel there is a conservation ethic embedded in my forging process that goes back thousands of years. Not only does forging require less electricity than other methods, it makes better use of raw material. The medieval Nordic and Japanese smiths, as well as the early American pioneers, were constantly plagued by the paucity of the high carbon steels necessary for the crafting of high quality edge tools. Therefore… these smiths often recycled discarded tools and/or combined poorer quality metals with high carbon steel to make effective knives, swords, hatchets, hammers, etc. This process, driven by a need for conservation, led to some of the most beautiful and functional tools known to Mankind: The San Mai swords of Japan, the laminated steel swords of medieval Scandinavia, and ‘Damascus steel’. Not only were these implements beautiful, but they also combined the edge retention and hardness of the high carbon steel with the flexibility and strength of iron and mild steel. A hair-shaving sword is useless in battle if it breaks.
I like the idea of incorporating this concept into my process. I enjoy making things from home smelted and historical steels however I don’t like the idea of completely sacrificing the performance of modern, high carbon or alloy steels for a conservation ethic… unless it’s a strict historical replica. Therefore, I like to incorporate these items into the blade my laminating historical and home-made steels with high performance modern steel.
The Heat Treat –
Heat treating in the forging process is one of the most important factors in determining the final, finished quality of an edged tool and starts as soon as you place the steel in the forge. Lack of attention to detail in this matter results in blades with edges that are too soft to remain sharp, too hard to hold up with use (chipping) or too brittle for general use. Heat treating consists of precisely controlling temperatures to minimize excessive grain deterioration in the steel (resulting in a weakened state) and maximizing the proper hardening of the edge for the intended use of the blade. I heat treat according to the specifications of the steel I’m using and this includes normalizing (reducing forging heats), hardening (quenching in oil or water from a cherry-hot heat), and tempering (drawing the hardness of the blade back to avoid excessive brittleness). My current method involves a differential process whereby the edge is hardened separately resulting in a flexible, tough blade that stays ‘scary’ sharp.
Heat treating properly and consistently is partly art and partly science and requires exacting attention to detail. I’m still learning this process and am constantly striving for perfection. I stringently test my blades before finishing by chopping on hard woods and running the edge along brass rods to test for edge retention and geometry. When you receive a blade from me, you can be sure that it will do the job required of it.