Blade Zen

Projects Board! => Drafting Board! What's In The Works. => Topic started by: JDB Knives on February 05, 2009, 05:51:13 PM

Title: Night School Build-A-Long!
Post by: JDB Knives on February 05, 2009, 05:51:13 PM
Hello All,

Here's the first entry from the drawing board at JDB Knives.  A terrific young author named Ty Schwamberger ( and I have entered into an exciting new collaborative effort.  It's a knife to celebrate the publishing of his first novel.  His novel, Night School is in the horror genera and lets just say that it involves knives and a very twisted personality.  Sound cool?  Well, sounded cool to me as well.  I am a knife maker!

It seems that Ty's imagination as a writer extends to thinking outside the box of marketing.  Ty's idea is to produce a one of a kind, limited edition knife that fits his vision and offer the knife and an autographed edition of his novel to his fans and collectors. 

See what I mean by out of the box?  Well, after some conversation and design consulting we've decided on a knife for the project.  That's what you will see here.  I'm gonna let everyone in on a build-a-long kind of thing.  As I build the first knife of the series, which will be Numbered 1, you guys can watch the process I go through to produce each and every original knife design. 

Feel free to ask questions, make comments and suggestions.  Heck, there are lots of ways to do this stuff.  You may have a faster, easier, smarter way of doing it.  Maybe we can all learn something. 

The actual first step was the concept art/computer rendering that I sent Ty for approval.  There were several of those and several more Ty never saw.  We're gonna skip that for now and start with my actual first step for building every new knife design. 

All that we go!

The first step involves spending some quality time at a drafting board or in this case with a cad (computer aided design) program.  I start with a simple, single line scale drawing.  This scale drawing is what I use to make the patterns for individual parts.  That's what this first image is.  A screen capture of the cad drawing. 

Step 1:


Step 2 is to then print out the drawing and transfer it to a material I use for patterns.  Carbon paper makes this step pretty easy.  You can see the transferred drawing in the middle and the printout underneath in the Step 2 pic.  I've gone back over the carbon lines with a fine point sharpie to preserve the grind lines. 

Step 2:


Then for step 3...use scissors and Exacto knives to cut out the pattern.  Now is a good time to mention that I trim the pattern slightly smaller than the finished size of the knife.  I want to be able to grind down to the layout lines to get the finished profile.  If I just draw around the outside edge of a full size pattern I have to grind away my layout marks to get it to finished dimension.  Then I'm just guessing if I've gone too far. 

Step 3


Steps 4 till completion will be added in installments later.  Lets hear your thoughts. 


Title: Re: Night School Build-A-Long!
Post by: Ty Schwamberger on February 12, 2009, 06:27:03 AM
WoW, this is pretty cool...I had no idea.  No, wait, I guess I did, huh.  Very nice post, JD...I like what I see!

Title: Re: Night School Build-A-Long!
Post by: JDB Knives on February 12, 2009, 07:10:34 AM
Hey Ty,

Glad you're on board with it.  Between the ice storm and now the wind storm that knocked out the power around here all day, it's kind of a hit and miss kind of thing to get this build a long up and running. 

Got a couple more pics I'll be posting here pretty soon. 

Hope all is well. 

Title: Re: Night School Build-A-Long!
Post by: Ty Schwamberger on February 21, 2009, 03:17:01 AM
Can't wait to see more!

Title: Re: Night School Build-A-Long!
Post by: JDB Knives on February 22, 2009, 07:45:02 AM
Ok, here's the next installments. 

The 4th step is to transfer the pattern shape to the steel stock.  In this case the stock is oversize, which just mean it’s slightly larger (wider and thicker) than the finished dimension of the blade I want. 

A Quick Note About Steel:  Most steel suppliers sale bar stock in a couple ways, oversize and precision grades.  Precision grade, sometimes called precision ground, is a bit more expensive from most suppliers and it does eliminate having to remove a dark coating and surface blemishes left over from the production process.  I prefer to use oversized stock because I normally use a metal scribe to mark up layout and the dark coat actually is good for that in the beginning.  For this build I’m using Sharpies so you guys can see it easier.  Plus, I like to have the few thousandths of extra material on oversized stock to work with. 

Ok, back to the build.  You’ll notice over the next few steps after this that lines for edge and detail grinds are drawn on the stock as well.  The way I do this is to punch a series of small holes in the pattern at key points and then transfer those to the steel.  Then I can just connect the dots.  Now it’s time for the first bravery test!

Step 4


The fifth step is to begin to rough shape a profile of the blade from the bar stock.  I do this with a combination of cutting and grinding wheels on right angle grinders.  But you can also use things like the air grinder pictured below with the grinders and disc I used on this one.  A bench grinder or even one of the 4 x 36 belt/disc sanders are good alternatives for profiling too.  They provide good control if you aren’t comfortable with free hand grinding.  What ever you use…BE CAREFUL! 

Profiling Tools


Safety Note:  Do not use wheels that are rated for cutting to do grinding.  They’re intended to be used edge first.  They are not intended to take side loads and they will explode.  As a matter of fact…the thin ones I use for cutting may explode even if you use them the way they are intended.  So always use the guard and wear safety glasses.  Also ALWAYS have the work piece securely clamped into a vise in a comfortable position when doing any free hand grinding or cutting.  If the work can move or vibrate, kickback becomes a real possibility. 

I use a little 1/6” cutting wheel on a 5” angle grinder to cut the straight lines along the tang on this one.  Then I just grind up to close to the profile lines with a 1/4" grinding wheel on the rest of the profile.  That’s the close to finished profile laying on my ASO (anvil shaped object as smiths call cheap anvils).  The reason I don’t cut or grind right up to the finished layout lines on this step is because the heat of grinding will hide or burn off the lines.  So in this step I just get it roughed out and then cleaned up a little so I can reinstate the layout marks. 

Step 5


The next step is to reinstate the layout marks so I can grind the profile to a finished state.  Using centerlines on the blank and pattern to index the pattern, I redraw all the layout marks.  Notice that I always reinstate the lines for grinding the bevel and the other details like the false double edge and anvil.  I’ve found that it helps keep me from loosing site of what the finished blade is supposed to be.  You’ll also notice the places I didn’t get very close to finished dimensions.  Some are because the line had disappeared, like at the edge going up to the tip and in the case of the tang, so I could leave room for a detail I don’t put on the patterns.  But I’ll explain more about that in the next steps. 

Step 6


Step seven is to grind the blade down to it’s finished profile.  You can see in the pic that I still haven’t tackled the place where the tang meets the blade, Some people call this area the rassico, but the tang isn’t what we need to be concerned about right now.  The important part is to get the blade to a finished profile.  The next step is to start edge bevel and detail grinding.  Once the detail grinding starts, the profile is pretty much set.  So be sure the blade profile is what you want before you move on from the next step.   

Step 7


Ok, Easy part over.  Step 8 till completion coming in a few days.  It's about to get really fun!


Title: Re: Night School Build-A-Long!
Post by: Ty Schwamberger on February 24, 2009, 02:44:27 AM

This is looking great!

One awesome thing about this process is not only seeing the Night School Knife come to life, but learning alot about the process of actually making a custom knife with each step you detail for everyone.

Title: Re: Night School Build-A-Long!
Post by: JDB Knives on February 25, 2009, 08:05:52 PM
Thanks Ty,

Yep, coming along pretty good.  If I can ever get a few uninterrupted days in a role, it'll come a lot further along. 

And I hope there is something to be learned. 

A lot of aspiring knife makers get discouraged and don't try because they believe it takes hundreds or thousands of dollars in equipment to build high quality knives.  That's just wrong.

I'm kind of using this opportunity to show that with just a few easy to get, inexpensive tools and a little determination...anyone can produce a cool knife. 

It's also cool for collectors to see what actually goes into the making of true custom knives.  It's a lot different than those box stock things at the sporting goods stores. 

At least that's the intention.  ;~)


Title: Re: Night School Build-A-Long!
Post by: JDB Knives on March 30, 2009, 10:16:27 PM
Ok, here we go to the end!  It'll take a couple post cause of the post size restrictions, but just keep reading.  I ain't quiting till it's done!

Step eight is to begin detail grinding.  Once I’ve redrawn the grind lines with a Sharpie, I go back to the vise and use the right angle grinder to roughly remove excess metal and begin to define the finish grind details.  It’s just the way I roll.  You can skip this step if you prefer and just start out with whatever grinder you intend to use to do the final grind. 

This is a good point to talk about equipment.  You can spend as much money as you want to on grinding equipment.  The most popular machine being used by knife makers nowadays is something called a 2 x 72 bench grinder.  It’s not really a grinder at all.  It’s really a sander that uses a belt 2” wide and 72” long.  The belts come in hundreds of grits and compounds.  You have all kinds of options as to contact wheels from 2” to 12” diameter.  These are powerful, versatile and efficient machines.  And EXPENSIVE!  You can find plans and build one for a couple hundred bucks or buy one at prices that range from 400 dollars to a few thousands of dollars.  You do NOT need these kinds of tools to produce high quality knives unless you intend to build a lot of knives. 

I have made and will be using to make this knife simple tools that you can get at any tool supply or home supply store.  You can buy all of the tool I’ll be using for the price of a home built 2 x 72 grinder.  That said, the right angle grinder removes a lot of the steel quickly so I don’t use up so much time and grinding wheel later at the 6” bench grinder I’ll use to do the finish grind.  That’s what’s in this pic.  But as I said, I could have skipped this step and just started with the bench grinder. 

Step 8


The next step is to take the grinds down to close to finished dimension.  I say close to finished because it’s important to leave material for the next step.  The steel I’m using is in an annealed state.  That just means it’s been heated up to a nonmagnetic (called critical) and cooled very slowly.  This leaves the steel about as soft as it can be.  Makes it a lot easier to grind and sand.  Once I have it ground to near finished dimension it has to be heat treated to make it hard enough to be a good knife.  The process of heat-treating leaves a course surface of scale (flakes of carbonized chemicals) and pits that must be removed by sanding later.  Several hundredths of thickness will have to be removed.  That’s why I don’t grind to finished dimensions before heat-treating.  In the Step 9 pic you can see the course grind marks as well as where I’ve started to use a Dremel style rotary tool to smooth, straighten and define the places where the grind meets flat surfaces of the spine.  That’s the next step.  I’ve also included an edge shot to show you the kind of thickness I leave the edge at this point to account for heat-treat damage.  A good rule of thumb is about the thickness of a dime.  That goes for flat grind or the hollow grinding I’m doing here. 


Step 9


Step ten is to smooth all grind marks, junctions where grinds meet the spine and to get the blade ready for heat-treat by sanding to at least a 220 grit finish.  Why take all this care if heat-treating will just destroy it?  Well, because home heat-treating is a very violent process. 

In this case I’m using a 10** series steel, 1084 to be specific.  10 series steels are intended to be water quenched, but this is very difficult to do with small cross section like this except by experienced fabricators.  Most knife makers will crack 2 out of 3 blades they make trying to water quench 10 series steels.  It does respond well to a heated oil quench.  That’s what most beginning makers should be doing, but it is still a very violent process. 

In either quench method; you are taking a piece of steel that’s heated to 1750 degrees or so down to about 160 degrees in about 3 or 4 seconds.  A 1600 degree change in 4 seconds sets up some crazy stresses inside the steels structure, but it’s very necessary to grow the crystalline structures that make a good knife blade.  However, any surface blemishes during this process can easily translate into cracks that will ruin the blade.  By the same token, any sharp junction between the grinds and flats can do the same thing.  A rule of thumb that I use is than no junction should be less than a 1/4 inch radius.  I take care of that with the Dremel and a 1/2" drum sander attachment. 

This is a picture of the blade ready to be heat-treated.  Oh, and you may have noticed that although I make the sharpening relief on the blade and cut it out on the pattern, it’s not cut into the blade at this point.  That’s because I don’t want to give the blade an excuse to crack there either. 

Step 10


Title: Re: Night School Build-A-Long!
Post by: JDB Knives on March 30, 2009, 10:51:42 PM
Step eleven is gut check time.  Proper heat treatment is what makes the difference between a good blade and a piece of broken steel.  In the first pic you can see the blade being brought up to critical, the point at which carbon steel is no longer magnetic, in my little homemade charcoal forge.  You’ll have to forgive that I can’t show the actual heat treat actions.  My camera crew has the day off and it kind of takes two hands to get it right. 

Heating Up


At this point it’s good to talk about how to heat the steel.  And forgive me…this takes the longest to explain and is the quickest to happen.  Heating 10 series high carbon steels to anything above 500 degrees and quenching it will cause it to harden to some degree. Or soften if it’s already hard.  But full hardening and optimal grain growth will not occur until the steel is heated to critical and quenched.  If the temp is too low the steel will not fully harden, to high a temp and the crystalline/grain structure will be destroyed. 

Before I start heating the blade I have the oven preheated to 375-400 degrees.  Don’t’ heat the blade and think, “Oh crap, I forgot to heat the oven.”  You’ll have to pull the blade out and start over.  It is critical that 10 series steels go into temper as soon as it’s quenched.  I also like to use a 2 or 3 inch deep pan filled with sand for temper.  But I’ll talk more about tempering in the next step. 

I like to heat the steel by nesting it in the coals with the edge down.  Heat it until a point about 3/4 the way up the grind and before the grind meets the spine becomes nonmagnetic.  The reason for this is that if you have the ability to heat your forge to exactly 1750 degrees and hold it there, the steel will heat through, not overheat and not be damaged.  However, in most homemade forges it is impossible to keep the temp form spiking way over critical temp.  Maybe as much as 3000 degrees, depending on the fuel and air supply you use.  That means the thin grind section will over heat while waiting for the thick spine to reach critical.  This WILL damage the molecular structure of the steel and ruin the knife.  On top of that, there are benefits to only heating the grind to critical.  My method will get the grind/cutting edge part of the blade extremely hard for edge retention and leave the spine and tang softer and therefore tougher and more flexible.  Basically what is known as deferential quenching.   

As I said, heating the blade up and quenching it will harden it to some degree.  Just because the spine does not reach critical does not mean it isn’t getting very hot.  Then during the quenching process, a great deal of the heat that is being driven from the grind is being pushed into the spine and tang.  That means that they too are going to get a lot harder than the annealed state. 

In the second pic you can see the scale and discoloration left by heating and quenching the steel.  So the process is, heat the steel to critical and plunge it edge down into oil that’s heated to about 160 degrees.   This is just a quick pic I snapped as I ran past to get the blade in the temper oven.   And I mean ran past. 

Quenched Blade


Step 12 is tempering the blade.  As I said, the oven has to be preheated to 375 or 400 degrees before I even start to heat the blade for quenching.  I also like to use a 2 or 3 inch deep pan that’s big enough to hold the blade an filled with sand for temper.  I stick the quenched blade in the sand just like I put it in the coals to heat for quenching.  The sand retains heat and levels out the highs and lows of the oven kicking on and off.  The reason I say 375-400 is because no two ovens will heat exactly the same.  Mine is about 25 degrees high.  But check each oven with a oven safe thermometer. 

The goal is 400 degrees maximum temp for at least 2 hours for most knives.  Then turn off the oven and let it cool to room temp before the oven is opened.  Very important.  Never open the oven after the blade is in for temper until the cycle is complete and the oven and knife are back to room temp.  A lot of makers like to double temper blades.  That is to run the blade through another temper cycle after it’s cooled from the first one.  I generally don’t on thinner blades, but it won’t hurt the blade and may be of some benefit.  And if the blade is still too hard a second cycle at a higher temp will soften it so that it won’t chip. 

Just a note on tempering.  Why temper?  If quenching gets the steel as hard as it can be and you want a knife to have a hard edge so it won’t get dull, why temper?  Well temper is not just softening the steel.  But it does.  And it is necessary because the edge will be brittle and chip at full hardness.  It also relieves those crazy stresses that are set up during the violence of quenching.  If stresses inside the steel aren’t relieved by tempering…it will crack.  Yes, I mean split open.  Within as little as 2 minutes or up to 24 hours latter it will crack somewhere in the blade and ruin it.   Just depends on how it’s quench, blade thickness, blade shape, surface blemishes and several other variables, but it will crack if it’s quenched to full or very near full hardness!  That’s why I run to get it in the temper oven. 

This next pic shows the knife after it’s gone through the temper cycle.   The pic after it shows the cheap little telescoping magnet I use to check when the steel has reached critical.  That’s the point at which I check it.  When this point is no longer magnetic, I quench the blade without wait for the rest of the blade to reach critical. 

Tempered Blade


Blade and Magnet


Step 13 is when the fun starts.  There are deposits of carbonization, sometimes called scale or decarb, and pitting left by the heat treat process.  These can be pretty heavy depending on the fuel source and speed of heating before quenching.  They can be from a few thousandths to a couple hundredths thick.   It’s why we left the dime thickness in the grind.

I like to take the blade to my belt sander to remove the worst of it.  Then I go to my rotary tool to refine the lines and reestablish the shape of the blade.  I use 1/2" drums on a dremmel style rotary tool to get this done.  I also use a little fiber reinforced cutting wheel on the same tool to shape the parts I have avoided till now.  That can be seen in the pic.  The sharpening relief has been cut in and the shape where the tang meets the blade has been refined.

Oh, now is a god time to mention a common problem.  Sometimes the blade will take a bend during heat treat and temper.  If that happens it can be clamped in a vise and gently tugged on to straightened it…if the spine and tang were left softer during quenching as this one was.  But the blade should be heated to 200 to 300 degrees to do it.  It can be heated and straightened with a hammer on a block of wood. 

Or the sensible choice…take advantage of that extra material we leave for heat treat and use a table top 4x36 sander or something similar to grind it back straight.  Then re grind in the grind lines to match the new grind on both sides.    Try to remove most of the bend from the material on the tang first.  It should be tapered toward the blade anyway.  Then the blade should require only minimal grinding. 

Refined Shapes


Step 13


Title: Re: Night School Build-A-Long!
Post by: JDB Knives on March 30, 2009, 10:59:29 PM
The 14th step is to sand the blade in preparation for polishing.  Since this blade will have a mirror polish, it needs to be pretty smooth before it makes it to the buffing wheels.  I start with around 100 grit sandpaper and get progressively finer in about 80 grit steps until at least 400 grit before I start polishing.  Never move on to the next grit until all of the scratches from the previous step are gone.  Moving on too soon will show up in polishing and will require back tracking. 

Step 14


Step 15 is polishing.   Mirror polishing is best done using firm/hard buffing wheels on a grinder.  I actually just buy 6” buffing pads at the local Lowes store.  I also use the green colored buffing compound from the same place. 

Mirror polishing can’t be rushed.  And it shouldn’t be.  I’ve found that using a buffing wheel on a grinder is the most dangerous piece of work I do in a knife shop.  As the blade drags over the blade it heats the steel…hot enough I can’t hold it.  Not to mention that if the sanding stages are done right, the blade is now sharp enough to remove a finger.  The hot blade begins to grab the compound and tries to pull it off the pad.  One slip and the blade will flip in the hand and dig into the pad to become a unguided spear head traveling at near light speed.  Just kidding of course, but I haven’t been able to dodge one yet.  If I’m lucky all that happens is a ding I have to sand or polish out of the blade.  If not, six stitches in the top of my foot or a new scratch in my glasses.  So be careful!!!

The pic shows the blade polished to near finish polish.  I don’t try to get it perfect at this point because I’ll have to go back over it after attaching the handle anyway.  Besides, I like having the handle to hang on to and help control the blade to do finish buffing.  But I do make sure it is finished at the point where the guard/bolster meets the blade.  That’s because it’s hard to get to once the guard is on.  So it saves time and aggravation later.

Step 15


Now I move on to the handle.  Step 16 is laying out the handle blank.  I do it just like the blade.  I use my drawing to make a pattern that I then transfer to my handle stock.  Same thing with the brass I’m using for the finger guard. 



Once the parts are laid out, I just cut out the rough shape.   That’s what can be seen here with the blade.  Jig saws, table saws or even key hole saws are all good options to do this fairly accurately.  But they don’t have to be that close at this point. 

Step 16


Next step is to drill the parts in preparation for attachment.  In Step 17 I find and mark the center of both the guard and handle.  Then I measure and mark the width of the tang on both faces where I intend to drill the attachment holes.  That’s what’s shown in this pic.



After the parts are marked, all I have to do is drill um out.  Keep in mind that the brass finger guard has to be drilled out smaller than the actual thickness of the tang.  Why, because If I want a really precise fit I have to do the finish shaping by hand.  I don’t have any fancy milling machines.  Just hand and bench tools.  I can be more accurate with a dremel style rotary tool and diamond or carbide cutting tool.  This pic shows the parts after drilling.  Notice that the whole in the wood is considerably bigger than the tang.  That’s to give plenty of room for positional adjustment and plenty of epoxy for strength. 



After it’s drilled out I use a rotary tool to fit the guard to the tang.  That’s what’s in this last one.  I’ve also done the rough shaping to it as well.

Guard Done


Then Step 18 is just a matter of gluing the whole thing together.  That’s what’s in the next pic.  Make up enough epoxy to fill the cavity in the handle at least 3/4 the way up.  Be sure to smear some on top of the wood around the hole to bond the brass to the wood.  Then, using a spring clamp to hold the handle in place in an upright position, set the guard/bolster on top of the handle.  Then while holding the guard down tightly on top of the handle, slowly slide the tang down through the guard until it’s seated in place.  To be safe I let the weight of the blade push it down and the excess glue ooze out around it as it goes.  Now just eyeball the alignment and let it dry.  Oh and wiping off the excess from the brass with a paper towel now will save a little work later.  And I might mention that it’s a good ideal to polish the guard where it meets the blade for the same reason as the blade should be polished at this point.  It gets harder to do now. 
Step 18


Step 19 is where it starts to look like a knife.  First I cut off anything I can to get the shape close.  Then using files and a sanding drum on a rotary tool I give the handle and guard the final shape.  After that it’s just a matter of sanding the parts smooth using progressively finer grits of sand paper. 


The last step is to apply the finish and take some pics.  We thought we’d leave the concept art I sent Ty till now so it can be compared to the finished knife.  That’s what this fist one is.  It is NOT a picture of the knife.  It’s the concept art I sent Ty.


Finished!  This next one is a pic of the finished Night School themed knife.  It incorporates the cover art from Ty’s book engraved in the blade.  I also includes a stand that’s in the shape of a book to mimic the cover art of the novel.  I think it works pretty well.  Let us know what you think.


Title: Re: Night School Build-A-Long!
Post by: Ty Schwamberger on March 31, 2009, 01:51:04 AM

Thanks for the step by step during this whole process.  The blade, handle and stand looks incredible!  You are truly a master of your craft!

As a side note to those that have been following this process.  Be on the lookout in the near future on JD's main page and mine for pricing and ordering information!