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Knapped Steel Blade Tutorial, posted on The Carving Path Forum, September 19, 2007

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Ive nally managed to get around to making another knapped steel blade, and Ive documented the process I use. First, however, when youre trying to synthesize the features of something in your art, its very important to understand the appearance of that which youre trying to imitate. Along that vein, I dug up two examples of knapped stone blades, and also marked out the ake scar shapes and patterns. One example is of a pressure aked blade, and the other is of a percussion knapped blade. Both of these stone blades are by Dr. J. P. Higgins, a friend of mine and expert knapper.

The rst example is of a pressure aked blade, this one in black obsidian (volcanic glass). Pressure aking is performed by using a hand held tool with a small point and literally pushing a ake off of the stone with hand force only. Pressure akes tend to be much smaller than percussion akes, and appear to be longer (actually only more narrow and more shallow). This example is an oblique technique, and the ake scars run across the blade at an angle. Parallel akes run across the blade at 90 degrees. Knappers normally try to make akes from one side meet up with an opposing ake on the other side.

The above is an example of percussion knapping, this blade in a heat-treated jasper. Percussion knapping removes akes by using a small but dense object to strike akes from the stone. Percussion akes are larger, wider and deeper than pressure akes. I usually simulate percussion akes in my steel blade work - simply because I like the looks better.

Heres my blade blank, along with a kozuka-like handle in copper (see Ford Hallams kozuka making tutorial on The Carving Path Forum - http://www.thecarvingpath.net/forum/index.php?showtopic=950&h l=kozuka). This will be a small, narrow blade so the blade blank is from 1/8 of an inch thick 1080 carbon steel. For larger blades I normally use 3/16 to 1/4 inch thick carbon steel. I previously designed the blade length and shape, and Ive rubber-cemented a paper copy onto the steel blank for use as a reference during grinding and shaping. The blade steel has not been hardened or tempered at this point, the blade portion is 5 3/4 inches long, 8 3/4 inches overall (not including the handle).

If you examine any knapped stone tool, youll nd that it is shaped like a lens in cross section. Here Im using an angle grinder to grind that rough shape into the blade blank. Ive clamped the blade into a vise: NOTE: THIS IS A HAZARDOUS OPERATION WITH THE BLADE STICKING OUT LIKE THIS. PLEASE USE CAUTION WHILE WORKING WITH IT, AND REMOVE IT FROM THE VISE ANY TIME YOU ARE GOING TO LEAVE IT UNATTENDED! Also, with a thin blade like this, you should only grind the portion of the blade nearest to the vise - the grinder will set up vibrations in the blade if grinding too far from the vise. This can damage the blade and possibly you as well. When you need to grind farther out on the blade, reposition the blade in the vise.

Cross section of the blade blank should look something like this to start with.

Here is another option for holding the blade for hand ling. I use a standard woodworking clamp fastened in a bench vise to hold the blade horizontally. Once again, this is a hazardous position, MAKE CERTAIN ALL THE CHILDREN HAVE BEEN RUN OUT OF THE SHOP - THIS IS RIGHT AT EYE LEVEL FOR LITTLE PEOPLE! Youll only want to work on the portion closest to the clamp because of vibration - this isnt as much of a problem on larger, thicker blades, but was denitely a problem with such a long, thin blade as this.

Heres the blade in the handle, with a rough lens shaped cross-section ground and led in.

Heres a closer look - note Ive left the center of the blade at the original material thickness - well be needing that thickness shortly.

Here Im marking in the centerline of the edge portion of the blade. This will provide a reference for how deep well be grinding in the ake scars, so we can keep the edge reasonably straight and centered. I rst darken in the edge with a Sharpie permanent felt tip marker (dark colors only). Then, I select a diamond burr size that is nearest to half the blade blank thickness (other types of grinding/sanding burrs will work as well). I lay the blade blank on a at surface and then draw the burr along the edge. This will scrape away part of the Sharpie marker color, leaving a bright mark. Flipping the blade end-for-end I repeat this, leaving two closely spaced parallel bright lines. The center of the edge is halfway between these two marks. Repeat for the other side. This is a quick and dirty method of center marking the edge, and works surprisingly well.

These are the tools I use for grinding in the ake scars, a Foredom exible shaft grinder and small drum sanders with medium grit sanding sleeves. I have three sizes, ranging from 1/2 inch diameter up to one inch diameter. I keep a coffee can of water to cool down the blade as I grind. I hand hold the blade against the carving station you see the handpiece lying on. I can grind about two ake scars before the blade is too hot to hold. NOTE: DUST MASK AND EYE PROTECTION ARE REQUIRED FOR THESE GRINDING OPERATIONS! YOUR EYES WILL BE VERY CLOSE TO HIGH-SPEED GRINDING, AND LOTS OF VERY FINE SILICA DUST COMES FROM THE SANDING SLEEVE! Ill be using the middle sized one (3/4 inch diameter) for this narrow blade, since it will most closely simulate a short, smallish ake scar. A single sleeve was enough to do this 6 inch long blade by reversing the sleeve halfway through the grinding. I nd I use the far end of the sanding drum the most, leaving the closest end pretty much untouched, so reversing the sleeve will make it last longer. I also leave the sleeve a little long on the drum, so I wont hit the metal end of the sanding drum on the blade during grinding. The sleeve will also bend at the end slightly, allowing detail grinds using just the end portion. Ill also use the very smallest sanding drum when I do the last inch at the tip of the blade where the smallest ake scars will be.

Ive drawn in (using the Sharpie permanent felt tip marker) the rst few ake scars. I always start at the base of the blade and work towards the tip. Since the base of the blade is where the blade will meet either the handle or a blade guard, it is the most critical area in terms of t and function. I grind in that area rst while Im fresh and alert.

Heres the rst ake scar ground in. Im paying special attention to the base of the blades edge, where the blade guard will touch. I want the edge to come to a point there without a at spot that will look bad

when the blade is installed in the handle. As I grind in the ake scar, I rock the grinder up and down and move it along some of the length of the sanding drum so the scar is actually curved along the lens shaped cross-section.

Starting to grind a ake scar (start at the edge, then rock the handle upward cutting in farther towards the center).

Finishing grinding a ake scar in the center of the blade. Repeat as necessary.

Heres the second ake scar ground in (on the far side of the blade). Ive marked in the edges of the scars with red to show how they overlap in the center of the blade.

Heres the third ake scar. You can really see the lens-shaped curvature in the third scar in the enlargement. Also note Ive left the intersecting edges of the scars high. Dont forget to turn the blade over and do the same for the other side. I try to keep both sides of the blade fairly even as I work the ake scars. Theres a lot of adjusting as I go along, keeping the sharp edge fairly centered. I want a little undulation in the edge for visual interest, but not too much!

Heres something to avoid as you work along. As Ive worked both sides of the blade, Ive left little at

spots along the edge of the blade (see the red arrows at the top and bottom enlargements). I want the ake scars on both sides of the blade to meet in the center forming the sharp edge, but without these at spots. Ill correct this by grinding both meeting scars a little more at the edges, forming a small dip in the edge when viewed from the top or bottom of the blade.

Heres a view of the same points from above in the nished blade - note how the edge curves in between two sharp points. By a little more grinding, I created the curve and eliminated the at spots so the higher boundaries between two adjacent ake scars meet as points at the edge.

Here you can see where I removed the at spots with the extra grinding. However, I dont want two adjacent ake scars on one face to meet perfectly with two others from the other face of the blade. Notice How Ive offset them slightly. Too much perfection doesnt look right in a blade of this style.

Here Ive completed 5 rows of akes, on both faces of the blade. Notice how the ake scars from one side of the blade generally meet up with a matching ake from the other side, but Ive introduced enough offsets to make the scar pattern more random and interesting.

At long last, heres the blade with all the ake scars rough-ground in. Ive done a little quality control and checked to make sure there are no at spots left along the sharp edge, in between adjacent ake scars, or in the center. Now is the time to x any problems.

There are still some grinding marks left in the ake scars at this point left by the sanding grit. Ill go back and use a Cratex grinding wheel (this one is ne grit, I think - its brown, whatever that means) to remove most of those sanding marks. Now be careful here - youve worked hard to keep the edges crisp looking, dont polish them off now. Im not looking for a bright and shiny nish here, just something to remove all those little parallel sanding marks. This is supposed to have a little bit of a rustic look to it, so dont go too crazy making it all perfect.

Here is the nished blade after heat treating and before descaling, slight polishing and bluing. Since this is such a long and thin blade, I tempered it at 450 degrees F (232 C) so it isnt quite as hard (and therefore brittle) as my normal blades (I usually temper simple carbon steel at 425 degrees F - 218 C). Im not going to go into the ins and outs of heat treating. Lots to say about that subject, and there are more in depth discussions available on www.thecarvingpath.net or http://forums.dfoggknives.com.

Heres the nsihed blade after a slight polishing with bufng compound, followed by a little gun blue (Birchwood Casey Super Blue). Ive added the kozuka-like handle (copper) and a fossil ivory guard and butt cap, just because I thought it needed something. Now all that is left is to add some carved embellishment to the handle and then patinate the copper.

Here are a few other examples of knapped style blades, just for reference. Hope this tutorial has been enjoyable and of use to you.