Making a Knife, Part II

Dec 20 2014

Made some good progress over the last few days. First I did a lot more filing and got the shape of the knife pretty well fleshed out.


Next, I filed down most of the bevel of the blade and drilled a couple of holes in the handle. Dowels will hold things together. I also sanded the whole knife and then polished the blade with abrasive paper up to 1500 grit. In retrospect, this was a waste of time since I’ll have to do it all over again after the heat treatment, which leaves lots of oxidation all over the blade which needs to be sanded off.

Note that there is not really an edge on this yet. I filed the bevel down to leave about a millimeter of width on the knife edge. This is because you don’t want to have a super thin edge during heat treatment, as this will heat up too quickly and start to oxidize. After the rest of the knife is done, I’ll put the final edge on it.


Next came some brass pieces for bolsters. I drilled a couple of smaller holes in the knife and cut off two pieces of 1/8″ brass. Lining those up with the blade, drilled matching holes in those and held everything in place with some 16 gauge brass wire.


Next came shaping the brass, first, filing it in place on the knife so it is even with the top and bottom edges.


I then took the brass off and filed the front and back edges even with each other.


And finally the heat treatment. First, I used a MAPP torch to heat the whole blade to a cherry red, then quenched it in oil to fully harden it. I see now that I’m at about the limit in terms of size that I can do with a plain torch. It was really hard to get the entire blade to stay red. If I moved the flame towards the back, the tip would cool down. When I went back to the tip, the back part would go black.

I wasn’t happy with the first attempt. So I used a few bricks to create a makeshift torch kiln to concentrate the heat. This was barely adequate. I think I got it solidly red long enough before quenching. I don’t have any photos of this part because 1. I was holding a torch, and 2. I needed to move fast. I need a photographer.

After hardening, I needed to temper the blade, otherwise it would be too hard and brittle. This involves bringing it up to a lower heat and letting it cool again. This is best done by color. You look for a “straw” color, particularly along the edge of the blade. You can go up to blue or purple on the back. Earlier, I’d done this in toaster oven, but since then I’ve read that you can just do it with a torch. I like this method much better. So much quicker. First I had to sand all the carbon off the blade from the hardening, to get it nice and shiny. Then I set the torch to a lower flame and played it over the back of the blade. Before long, the whole thing was straw colored and then the purple and blue showed up, right on schedule. Pretty impressed by how this part went.


And that’s where I’m at. I re-sanded and polished the blade. So it looks just like it did in the earlier photos.

From here, I need to attach the brass, cut some wood for the handle, drill that and attach that. Then shape, sand and polish the handle and bolsters. Then I’ll be ready to put a final edge on the blade and hone it.

All this sounds like it’s a lot of work, but honestly I’ve spent a surprisingly few number of hours on this so far. And if I pick up a belt grinder, that will cut huge amounts of time out of the process, compared to hand filing.

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Making a Knife, Part 1

Dec 18 2014

Inspired by my success in making a nicker blade for a plane, I decided to have a go at creating a knife. I got some 3/4″ x 1/8″ O1 tool steel. This is surprisingly cheap. I paid around $8 for an 18″ piece, which should give me at least two knives.

Then I spent some time creating and refining a design. It probably sucks, but you need to start somewhere. Graph paper with 1/4″ grids is a good drawing medium for this step.

I cut out the final shape and sprayed it with some adhesive.


And glued that to the steel.


Cut it to rough length.


Then used an angle grinder with a cutoff wheel to do some rough shaping.




And a good old fashioned file to refine it.

Still lots of shaping left to go on the blade itself, not to mention the shape of the handle. I’ll go back and forth between the grinder for roughing it out and the file for refining it, I think. Eventually, if I get more into this, I’ll pick up a belt grinder, which should make things a lot easier. But I’m willing to put some elbow grease in it for this first time. More updates to follow.

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Hardening a Blade

Dec 06 2014

Following up from my last post on making the nicker iron

I got prepared for hardening the steel. I bought a Bernzomatic TS8000 Map Pro torch. These were highly recommended, and burn hotter than propane torches. Got a can and a quart of peanut oil to quench in, and with some bricks, built a little oven. If I were heating up something larger, I’d have to get a little more intricate to let the heat build up, and use bricks designed for the purpose. This was mainly just to prevent me from setting my bench on fire.


I don’t have any photos of the heating itself, as I only have two hands. I will say that it went disappointingly fast. With such a small piece of metal, and a powerful torch, it was cherry red in under a minute. I kept a magnet nearby to test it with. When you hit the right temperature for hardening O1 steel, it loses its attraction to magnets. Fascinating. And it worked. After the color was right and it passed the magnet test, I put it back in the flame to revert any temperature loss during the test, and then plunged it into the oil.

Again, the oil quench was sadly uneventful as well. No hissing or flames like you see on the knife forging videos. I mean, this iron is the size of a large nail, so not very dramatic at all. But honestly, that’s probably great for a first project of this type.

Here’s the blade after the quench and cleaning up the oil.


Next step, I sanded it down to remove all the carbon from the heat treatment.

When you harden steel like this, it gets very hard. And very brittle. Too hard for practical use. So you have to temper it by bringing it up to a lower temperature for a while. I think this is the more finicky step. Overheat it at this point, and it will be too soft and won’t hold an edge. Don’t heat it enough and it will be too hard and fragile and tough to sharpen.

The step is easily done in a toaster oven set somewhere between 300-400F depending on what you read. I think these toaster ovens have an accuracy range of plus-or-minus 75 degrees anyway, so this is best done by other indicators. As the steel heats up at this point, it will go through various color changes.

You’re looking for a “light straw” color. Indeed, it turned a light straw, then a dark straw, and before I could react, a bronze/gold color, and then the tip started going purple and blue. You might just be able to see the blue in this next photo.

Once I got it out of the oven and cooled down, the whole first inch was a beautiful (and useless) purple and blue. At that point, you’ve ruined any hardness you just created in the first step. Luckily, all is not lost. You just go back and do step one again.

The next time around, I was much more conservative on step two, and watched it like a hawk. You should just be able to see in the next couple of photos that it has a very light brownish tint (light straw, as we say in the metal working biz). I feel like I could have maybe gone a little bit further here, but didn’t want to risk going into the blue area again. I’m not sure how many times you can run through this process before something starts to break down.

Once again, clean up the surface with sandpaper and then over to the diamond sharpening plates for final honing and shaping. In this phase, I got a pretty good feel for how I had done. The steel was definitely hard. A lot harder than when I was shaping it with the file yesterday. But it wasn’t so hard that I couldn’t sharpen and shape it the the diamond plates. So, I think I did pretty good.

Here it is in its new home.

To use it, you pull the plane backwards one or two strokes, to pre-cut the fibers. Then start planing.

In the above two photos, you can see some so-so results. I think I need to adjust the shape of the nicker a bit, give it more of a cutting edge along the sides, as it’s ripping the fibers in some spots, rather than slicing them. And in general, I need some more practice and experience using and adjusting this particular type of plane. But all in all, this whole project has been a blast. Learned some new skills that open up all kinds of possible new projects.

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Making a Blade

Dec 06 2014

Last week I went out the the Grafton Flea Market and in a box of wooden planes, I found this beauty.


It’s an H. Wells wooden moving fillister plane, designed for making rebates in the edges of boards. The bottom is adjustable to change the width of the rebate. There’s a brass depth stop there to set the depth of the rebate. This works fine when going along the grain, but when going across the grain, you’ll get a lot of tearout along the edge. The solution is a small blade that goes into the empty slot there right behind the depth stop. It’s called a nicker. It sticks out just a bit deeper than the main blade and scores the wood before the blade scrapes out the rebate, so you get a nice clean edge. Unfortunately, the nicker on this plane is missing.


I saw that it was missing when I bought it and dug through the box the plane was in, to no avail. Still, for $10, I couldn’t pass up the plane and figured I’d have a go of making a nicker myself. The first thing I did was to go on line and purchase a piece of O1 tool steel. Based on the measurement of the slot, I bought a piece that was 1/8″ x 5/16″ and 18″ long. Since the nicker itself only needs to be about 3″ long, I have plenty of material and can afford to make a few mistakes and learn.


The slot itself is basically a tapered sliding dovetail. About 5/16″ wide on the top and 3/16″ on the bottom. I blackened the steel with a sharpie and used an awl to scribe the shape 3″ from one of the ends.



Then I got to work making that shape. I started with a grinder, which got me the general taper, then turned to a metal file to refine it and slant the edges to make the dovetail shape as well.


A test fit. It’s going about 3/4 of the way down.


After about an hour of grinding and filing, testing and filing some more, bingo! Just right! Actually it’s sticking out a bit far, but that’s fine as the tip will be undergoing some more shaping and sharpening later and will lose some length. I can also shim the slot with some paper to make it a tighter fit, which will reduce how far the edge sticks out. At this point, better to be too far out than not far enough.


I filed a notch near the top of the nicker as well. This will allow me to fit a screwdriver or one of my good chisels (joking) in there to knock it loose and remove it.


Then I roughed out a point on the tip. I’ll be coming back to refine this later.


The finished shape as seen from above and the side.



When I was happy with the shape, I used a hacksaw to cut it to length and filed the end smooth.


I’m pretty proud of how this came out.


The next step will be to harden the steel. Tomorrow I’ll heat it up to around 1400F with a torch, and quench it in some oil, then anneal it in a toaster oven I plan on stealing from my wife. After that I’ll be able to do the final sharpening and honing on the cutting tip.

Then, of course, I’ll need to make a second one so I can talk about making a pair of nickers.

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Phone Stand

Nov 24 2014

Just a quick one. Wife asked me to make her a phone stand. Lots of different designs out there. I just grabbed some scrap 1/2″ walnut and 1/4″ maple, put a couple of grooves in the walnut, cut some strips from the maple, glued it up, shellaced it, and bang, a phone stand. She loves it. I think I’ll make some more of these.






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Scratch Stock

Nov 24 2014

A scratch stock is simply a block of wood designed to hold a small piece of specially cut metal. The metal has a certain shape on it and when you scrape it against some wood, it carves that shape into the wood. Good for making various mouldings or beads on the edges of pieces.

I’d seen this particular scratch stock on the Lumberjocks forum. The user who made it referenced an old Shop Notes magazine article. I dug up the plans and made my own.




In this one, there is a sliding bar that allows you to position the cutter wherever you need to. The bar is cut down the center and the cutter fits into that slot and is held in place with some screws.



The handle has a flat edge and a rounded side so it can be used against a flat piece of wood or a curve.





I bought a set of blank cutters, though any pieces of steel could be used. Using a file, I cut a multiple bead shape in one. And here it is in action on a scrap of pine. This could use some smoothing out with some sandpaper, but overall it works pretty well.



I haven’t found a use for this one just yet, but it was fun to build nevertheless.

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Bit Box Complete

Nov 24 2014

Actually, this was complete months ago, but I just realized I haven’t posted anything on here in a long while. Anyway, to follow up with my last post, here are some photos of the finished box. It came out quite well. Really happy with it.







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Box of the Week Club

Aug 17 2014

A while back I got myself a vintage brace as part of my hand tool collection. It came with an assortment of random bits, but these turned out to be four 1/2″ bits, a couple of 3/4″ and a few others. Not much of an assortment really.


So a more recent purchase was this box of vintage bits.


These came in this nice wooden box, though it wasn’t in the greatest condition. Auger bits like this come in sizes usually ranging from #4 to #16. The number is actually a multiple 1/16″, so a #4 is a 1/4″ bit, #5 is 5/16″, #6 is 3/8″ and so on up to #16 which is 1″.



This set originally contained seven bits in even sizes: #4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14 and 16. But as sold, this had two #4s, a #5, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16. Since then I’ve been filling in the gaps with a #6 and #9 so far, with a #11 on the way. But a full set of 13 will be too big to fit in the box, which, while pretty cool, is not too sturdy anyway. So… time to make a new box!

I first did a ton of planning on this, working out the whole thing in Sketchup. I decided to have a hinged top, covering a top tray that will hold the six smallest bits, from #4 to #9. Then a middle drawer holding #10 – #13 and a bottom drawer for #14 – #16. I got pretty thorough with the drawings.


Here’s the box itself.


And with the top open and drawers out.


And an exploded view showing all the parts.


But these drawing were just for rough planning. I needed to know exact sizes. So this last drawing is a 2D plane showing all the bits’ diameters, and how they will fit in each compartment, so I could get overall dimensions.


With that all worked out, I got to work on the main box. This is all going to be in red oak, pretty sturdy stuff. 1/2″ boards for the main box, and 1/4″ for the bottom of the top tray and to separate the drawers. Also, the drawers will be all 1/4″ construction. Here are all the pieces laid out.


And a detailed shot of some of the cuts. These were fairly complicated pieces. Lots of grooves and rabbets. Lots of chances to use my favorite tool – the Record 044 Plough Plane! I like that where the grooves meet the rabbet, it makes it look like two layers of wood, with some smaller pieces sitting on a larger one. But that’s all one chunk of wood cut into shape. This is all done with 100% hand tools, of course. No electrical anything but the basement lights.


And here’s a dry test fit. Looking good. I was surprised how quickly all this went together.



And finally, the glue up. Have we got clamps? Yeah, we got clamps! Enough clamps? Never!


Tomorrow I’ll prepare the top and bottom and glue the bottom on. The top will be hinged, so that will come later. I’m not totally sure on the mechanical strength of all these joints, so I’ll probably throw in some small nails here and there for insurance, though I think it’s probably fine.

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Another Week, Another Box

Aug 12 2014


Yes, another dovetailed box. I do like making these, and I’m actually starting to get pretty good at the dovetails. Everyone says it’s just practice. I guess so. I banged these ones out pretty quickly, gang cutting the tails. This means I put the two front and back boards together and cut the tails on both of them at the same time. This is not only quicker, but the added width helps you to cut straight. Including layout, the tails took about a half hour to cut and chop out.


The pins took a bit longer. It’s always a more delicate operation because you are now matching a second set of cuts precisely to the first set. And they have to be done one at a time. And due to poor planning, one of those pins was smack in the middle of a big knot. I wound up breaking a big chunk out of that knot while I was chopping out the waste. But it’s inside so you can’t see it.


Other than the knot incident, these dovetails came out as close to perfect as any I’ve done yet. Only one small gap in the whole bunch of them. I guess the fact that it was pine helps. This stuff is like cutting and planing butter.


The top and bottom went very quickly. Not much to them. Just a couple of boards with some roundovers. I was using a nice wide pine board, so there was no need to glue up panels, just cut the top and bottom to size. When all that was done, I decided to try a bit of stain. This is just a shop project to hold a tool – a Stanley 71 router plane with accessories – so it was a good piece to experiment on.


Wiped on the stain, it sucked right in. Let it sit most of a day, then wiped it down and applied three coats of shellac and some wax. I was surprised how good the stain made the cheap home center pine board look. It’s a cherry stain, and almost looks like cherry. The illusion is destroyed when you pick up the box though. It’s way too light.


The whole project took no more than a few hours total. The build was accomplished over the weekend, but I was out most of the weekend doing other family stuff, so was only able to put in a half hour here and there. I did the stain Monday morning and the rest of the finishing Monday night. As usual, this was done with 100% hand tools. The only electricity used was for the shop lights so I could see what I was doing.

So another fine shop box project. This one was a quicky and feels pretty cheap when you pick it up, but it will still probably last a few decades longer than I do. I always imagine where these things will end up in the far future. In someone else’s shop as a proud possession, still holding the tool I made it for? Repurposed for something else, and still in use? In a basement or shed somewhere, under a pile of other old junk? Even the last one would be OK, kind of like a time capsule, waiting for some kid to come along and find and clean up and use to store some precious toys. The only bad option would be to have it wind up in an incinerator or landfill somewhere. I’ll never know, I guess. That’s part of the fun.

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Mitered Dovetail Box Complete

Aug 07 2014

Next came the bottom. This is a glued up 1/4″ maple panel. Damn near impossible to plane this stuff. The grain is all over the place.




Had to resort to a cabinet scraper for some of it.




Eventually got it fitting nicely in that 1/4″ groove in the bottom of the frame. Smoothed it all out with a card scraper.


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Again, this was sized to fit an 8 1/2″ x 11″ stack of paper.




I then cut grooves in the tops of the two side pieces for the top.


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The top is 1/2″ thick with a 1/4″ rabbet, so it slides right into those grooves.


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The front handle is another piece of maple, rounded over, and attached with glue and a few dowels.


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And finally, all glued up. Three coats of shellac and polished with wax. The maple has some really nice figure. I’m happy with the way this turned out. A few gaps in the dovetails which I didn’t even try to fill. This thing is solid and will last 100 years easily if it’s not completely abused. I love knowing that. I have no use for this box. I mainly made it to try my hand at the mitered dovetails which wound up going really well. For sale, best offer.









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