FORG­ING AHEAD

The Shed - - Knife-making Class -

Knife mak­ing is un­der­go­ing a resur­gence at present. It may be the fact that it re­quires only a mod­icum of equip­ment. You only re­ally need a file and gas torch.

Of course the more elab­o­rate the knives you make, the more gear you will need, but this is one of those hob­bies that can grow with you. Nat­u­rally, having a forge, some sort of anvil — even if it is only a lump of hard steel or a bit of rail­way line — a grinder, and a ham­mer will ex­tend your op­tions and none of th­ese is par­tic­u­larly ex­pen­sive. There are a num­ber of knife-mak­ing classes spring­ing up all over the coun­try to cater to this in­ter­est. Shea Stack­house runs classes in ba­sic knife mak­ing, mak­ing Damascus steel, and black­smithing through his web­site (stack­house­knives.co.nz).

The week after The Shed vis­ited him for our ar­ti­cle on knife mak­ing, he held a class for two enthusiastic teach­ers tak­ing ad­van­tage of the term break. Sam Dock­ery and Ben Reay teach sci­ence sub­jects in Auck­land and Hawke’s Bay, re­spec­tively, but both are keen to come to grips with the art of beat­ing steel into some­thing use­ful.

Eas­ing into it

Shea gives his stu­dents a safety brief­ing and then starts with the ba­sics, guid­ing them through the art of us­ing a ham­mer to mould hot steel. They first forge a point on the knife blank, then, us­ing the horn on the anvil, they cre­ate a curve in the blade, all the while heat­ing and re­heat­ing the steel.

It looks eas­ier than it is, and it takes both par­tic­i­pants some time to get com­fort­able with han­dling the red-hot steel with tongs and us­ing a ham­mer at the same time. The point of the first ex­er­cises is to get fa­mil­iar with the tools. Ben has had some pre­vi­ous ex­pe­ri­ence with an­other knife maker and has tried a few things at home with­out much suc­cess — due mainly to not be­ing able to get the steel hot enough. But as he heats and forges the steel, he is be­gin­ning to get a feel for how it should be done. Mean­while Sam forges on (pun in­tended). The men draw out the point and cre­ate the drop head on the drop-point hunter knives they are mak­ing. This is a full-tang knife, so it re­quires some work on the tang to shape it into a use­ful form. 

Grind­ing and the handle

Once the ba­sic shape is es­tab­lished it’s time to start the rough grind. Then the knives are heat-treated and tem­pered. Tem­per­ing is a del­i­cate op­er­a­tion and Shea does this so they can get the idea and see the sub­tle colour changes.

Once the knife blade is tem­pered the stu­dents get the op­por­tu­nity to prac­tise their grind­ing skills through suc­ces­sive grits, learn­ing to cre­ate bevels and keep the grinds even.

With the knives ground it’s time to tackle the han­dles. Holes are bored though the handle to ac­com­mo­date brass pins. The han­dles are made from pieces of Eu­ca­lyp­tus saligna (blue gum). The han­dles are roughly cut to shape on a band­saw. Full-tang knives re­quire scales so the blanks must be split also on the band­saw. The scales are epox­ied and pinned through the tang. After the glue has had time to set, the scales can be shaped on the grinder again and fin­ished by hand. The last stage is sharp­en­ing the knives on a stone and hon­ing on a steel and a leather strop, and then the par­tic­i­pants have a long-last­ing me­mento of their first day mak­ing knives.

Shea’s classes take a full day but the price is in­clu­sive of ma­te­ri­als and the par­tic­i­pants leave with a knife of their own mak­ing and a new­found pas­sion.

This is one of those hob­bies that can grow with you

Ben Reay mas­ter­ing the ham­mer tech­nique

Grind­ing the blade through the grits Grad­u­a­tion — the stu­dents show their work

Left: Ben Reay and Sam Dock­ery come to grips with the art of forg­ing knives Above: Sam Dock­ery mak­ing a rough grind

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