At this point I decided I wanted to stabilize the wood I used for handles. Stabilizing Scales (and handles) helps eliminate the possibility of the handle going bad because of moisture causing expansion or contraction if it dries out. It minimizes or eliminates warping, cracking and other issues that can occur with wood when used under extreme circumstances. It also would allow me to use some spalted wood that wouldn’t normally be a good handle.
The equipment required for Stabilizing Scales is a bit expensive, so if you’re only going to make a few knives, and have no other use, it’s may be best to just buy scales or use wood that’s dry and stable. You may also want to focus more on making knives. Either way using stabilized scales is a great way to get some interesting figured scales.
If you want to stabilize your own however, you’ll need a vacuum
pump, a vacuum chamber, a scale and stabilizing liquid. You’ll also be using
the toaster oven. I chose Cactus Juice (it’s a brand name, not real Cactus
Juice) for the stabilizer. This process also allows you to dye the wood in
multiple colors, although it will add expense for each color.
I dry the blanks in the oven. I built a rack so they would stay separated. I weigh one and put it in for a couple of hours at about 210 degrees. Some documentation says to use 220 degrees, but I’ve had scales start to burn at 220 degrees. Other documentation says to leave it for 24 hours, but I refuse to leave wood roasting in my shop when I’m not there.
After a couple hours I start weighing one piece and tracking
the weight. When it stops losing weight, I give it one more 30 minute cycle and
stop it there. I immediately put it in a zip lock bag, wrap it in plastic wrap
or put it in an airtight container to keep it from sucking up the moisture from
From here follow the manufacturer’s instructions to stabilize it.
This is the first knife I’m going to call forged. I’ll admit it took me longer due to inexperienced, but not as long as I expected. This is an example of one of the benefits of knowing how to forge a knife along with stock removal. This piece of 1080 would not have been big enough to do what I wanted to do using just stock removal. There was plenty of metal, it just needed to be drawn out and shaped.
I started with 1/8” 1080 steel when making “Knife 40 – Fully Forged Hunting knife”. You will want to use a cross peen or rounding hammer. The flat side is for smoothing, the round or peening side is for moving and forming the metal.
First, I started with the blade. I heated and hammered the
blade into the shape I wanted. I started with the bottom curve then alternated
between that and the drop point, all the time keeping the knife flat.
I made sure the shape was exactly what I wanted, then moved to
defining and drawing out the tang. Again, making sure the knife stayed flat. To
define the beginning of the tang I used a combination of the cross peen and the
edge of the anvil, using the hammer face to keep it flat as I went.
Once the tang was developed, I started on the bevel. Using
the hammer face at a slight angle, I drew out the bevel working from one end to
the other on each side. It was actually easier than I anticipated as long as I
took my time.
Before stopping I paid extra attention to making sure it was
as flat as I could make it and the form was as I expected it to be
I then let it cool and moved to the belt grinder. (I’d you don’t have
a belt grinder yet, use what you have, a belt sander, angle grinder, etc.
Using the belt I formed the tang further and evened up the shape. At
this point I was using a 36-grit ceramic belt. I decided to try to free hand
the bevel, so I added my plunge stop. Slowing the belt down substantially and maintaining
a horizontal move. It’s here I discovered it was often best to let the knife
slide behind my thumb that was pressing the knife to the belt. Dunking in water
served to purposes at this point, it kept the knife cool so I could hold on it
and it helped lubricate the knife, so it slides behind my thumb. This allowed
me to keep a more even pressure on the bevel. Keeping the belt speed slow
enough so the knife doesn’t overheat in a single pass helps a great deal. It’s
not a concern for the overheat for the metal, it’s maintaining a temperature
you can hang onto.
From here I jumped to 120 grit. In retrospect I should have
gone to 80 first. I then moved to hand filing and sanding. There were a few
spots I found while hand working that had deep enough scratches that I moved
back to the belt to take them out, then back to hand work.
I then made sure the tang had a slight taper from the beginning to
the tip. This would allow the finger guard to slide on.
Once this was completed, I moved to making the finger guard.
I cut a piece of ¼” x 1” steel. I marked the slot and drilled a series of holes
the appropriate size for the tang. I used the mill to finish the cut, but a
file or Dremel would have worked as well. I rounded the guard on the belt
I marked out and cut a piece of aluminum that will be the
frame. I cut serrations in it about every ¼” all the way around. This gets
cleaned up and roughed up with 80 grit sandpaper to slow the epoxy to stick
I then cut out two rosewood scales square and slightly
oversized and epoxied black spacers to them. I clamped them together with wax
paper between them for easy separation.
That was the end of the day. I would estimate I had about 5
hours in this knife at this point.
Finishing the knife happened in small time slots over the next few
days. I basically made the frame the same as I did for Knife 34 – Hidden Tang Aluminum Framed
on page 47.
With this frame I cut the slots all the way around the
frame. I then epoxied the handle together with epoxy tinted black and let the
epoxy cure. I then drilled a series of 1/8” holes for the brass pins and
epoxied the pins in place. These are for both esthetics and strength holding
the frame together.
At this point I heat treated the knife and after it cooled, I started
the tempering process. While this was in process, I roughed out the scales.
And here is the mistake. I realized at this point I did not
normalize the knife before I heat treated it. I didn’t want to risk anything
going wrong with this knife after the work I’d out into it, so back to the
Normalizing Your Knife
When a knife is forged it needs to be normalized. Forging adds stress to the steel. If you research this, you will find it has to do with the grain structure of the steel. But for now, just know it needs to be done.
Normalizing is a pretty simple process. Heat the metal to nonmagnetic then let it air cool. For most metals we’ll talk about in this book, doing this three times should do the trick. After annealing you can go straight to heat treatment.
Typically normalizing is not required with stock removal but I recommend you normalize recycled steel. If in doubt, normalize.
I normalized the knife three times. Each time bringing the knife to
non magnetic and then letting it air cool. I then heat treated it once again and
tempered it with the normal two hours at 450 degrees with two cycles.
I debated at this point if I should go further on the handle
or wait and get it all together. I decided it would be best (since the finger
guard would be flush to the handle) if it was all formed to final shape
I decided to add some spacers and epoxy the handle on. Since the clamp was positioned so I could drill for the tang pins, I went ahead and drilled and installed them as well. I then let it cure overnight.
Knife 34 – Hidden Tang Aluminum Framed knife – Here it the process for this knife.
Layout and design. Basically, this was marking the basic
outline on the steel.
On this knife I did another Jimping sample and decided to use 9/32″ spacing
The jimping was first laid out and cut with the band saw. A hacksaw would work well here if you didn’t have access to a bandsaw. I then started the filing with a triangle edge of a file. I then used a chainsaw file ADD FILE SIZE> to cut the Jimping. I cut 10 Stokes on each hole until the cut marks disappeared. That way I had even depth all the way across. (See Adding Jimping to your knife)
I the ground the blade profile only
I marked the blade center
I marked the blade start line
Using a grind stop I ground the blade bevel.
I marked out the aluminum frame and cut it out on the band saw and used the belt grinder to finalize the rough shape.
I cut grooves in frame with bandsaw. These were just cut free handed.
I found a piece of Walnut and cut the scales fr this Knife 34 – Hidden Tang Aluminum Framed Knife.
I test fitted the scales and frame to tang. I marked the outside outline where tang is going to be after installation.
I epoxied the scales and frame together. I used epoxy
colored black to accentuate the aluminum frame pattern.
I decided to try grinding this knife free hand. I’ve discovered a couple tricks over the last few knives. Since they are working and improving, I’ll share them here. First, being able to slow down the grinder helps with control a lot.
Also, you need to make sure you move up the grit sooner than
I thought to get the aggressive grit marks. I also discover I can move to hand
sanding quicker, and back to the belt if needed. Hand sanding shows the problem
areas that the grinder hides.
Moving back and forth between hand sanding and belt grinder seems to be my training wheels.
Slowing down the grinder also allows to keep going on a full grind from one end to the other without the blade getting to hot to hold.
One thing it took me a while to figure out is during
grinding is you want to keep the knife perfectly level through the stroke, just
like it was in a jig. Think of your hands as the jig. I have a desire to want
to follow the curve at the end of the blade. Don’t do that!
The other thing I decided to try on this knife is a ball
peen hammer pattern. I tried on the anvil buy it left scratches on the back
side, so off to the bench with a piece of leather under it.
I’ll try this process while forging on a future knife, but
this time it was a cold steal hammered pattern.