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Going into a build, the first thing the custom bladesmith does is create a design. Sometimes it is pre-determined, sometimes you just want to find out where the hammer takes you. Either way, every single custom knife has a purpose. The smith finds the purpose for that blade and sketches/hammers that into a design. This completes the design, so next comes the rough profile.
There are two methods of creating the custom knife profile:
Stock removal – This is where the design of the blade is either sketched/ and printed out to dimensions and glued/traced onto a bar of desired steel. The design is then cut out using a variety of tools which creates the rough custom knife profile in a matter of minutes.
Forging – This is the incredible craft of taking a hammer and beating the hot, hot steel into shape! If you watch Forged in Fire, it is basically the exciting part of the show, except our custom knife makers take their time. So, this requires taking the steel, placing it in the forge, letting it get up to forging temperature, and then hammering it into the profile of your desire!
*Of note* One process is not better than the other or makes harder steel. It’s the smith’s preference on method they use.
Following the rough profile, the bladesmith then takes your custom knife over to the grinder. Most bladesmiths who do this professionally or are serious about knife-making use something called a 2×72 grinder; the king of kings in the knife world. This incredible machine is what the bladesmith uses to grind the custom knife into the desired profile. Once the custom knife maker is satisfied with the profile, it’s on to the heat treat, the most critical time in a custom knife’s life.
In very basic terms the steel is super heated, quenched (rapidly cooled with air or oil), and tempered (baked at lower degrees to relieve stress). This provides the desired properties at the end which include edge hardness in combination with sufficient duration under hard use. Now for the technical stuff: Your steel goes through transformation at high temperatures to a non-magnetic phase called austenite. The carbides dissolve and carbon diffuses into the austenite and then are RAPIDLY cooled, quenched, to “lock in” the carbon so that hardness is obtained. This forms martensite which is where the carbon is now between the Iron atoms. Quenched custom knives are VERY hard, but very brittle. So, we have to temper your custom knife in the oven to relieve the stress and lessen the hardness but increase the toughness!
After the tempering, it’s time for finish your custom knife. This means a bit of hand or grinder sanding. The most common method, is to finish the bevels of the blade to the grit you desire then move on to the handle material. There are SO many different handle materials! Wood, resin, burl-wood, honeycomb resin, micarta, G10, G10/rubber… the list goes on! But the maker traces the design onto the material and cuts/grinds it out. There are many different ways to mount a handle, but here are the most common:
(Old school) Peen the rod and create a “rivet” holding the material in place, usually with epoxy under.
Corby bolts – A mechanical hold that looks like a pin on top, but has a large head and smaller body with a lip which secures to the handle material just like a screw but gives the sleek look of a pin (my favorite). Usually, epoxy is between the material and the tang. That thing is NOT coming off!
Screws/bolts – same as above, but you see the screw head and usually these are removable handles
It differs between makers, but the final part is sharpening the custom knife to its final edge. This gives it that razor-sharp edge! Now, remember, every knife has a purpose, and every edge does too. When we make a field knife, the edge is sharpened at a 22.5-degree angle, giving it a razor-sharp edge but a bit thicker for the environment it will be in. The fillet knives are sharpened at a 17-degree angle for more razor-fine slicing abilities.
And there you have it. A short read on how your custom knives are made! Now there is a LOT more that goes into this process, and it can take YEARS to master this and make a good custom knife. Remember one thing, just because a blade may look good, doesn’t mean it actually is. The attention to detail and professional knowledge of the maker is why we accept only the most qualified makers to sell their products here at BladesWork Unlimited!