A knife Forged from a Railroad Spike Knife

A railroad spike knife is made (….wait for it….) from a railroad spike and it’s a project that seems to be a right to passage for a lot of blacksmiths and bladesmiths. It takes a little knowledge and experience to get it right, but honestly, I find them more of a novelty item.

There are two basic ways to make a knife like this. First by adding some high carbon steel or just drawing out what’s there.

The railroad spike is not high carbon so it’s not going to make a great knife by itself. There are railroad spikes marked “HC” which stands for “Higher Carbon”, but it’s still not high enough to make a great knife.

Most you see will have the handle twisted, which is done by heating the spike in the forge to working temperature, locking it in a vise and twisting it with a wrench. I just used an adjustable wrench, but if you plan to twist square stock often, adding a handle extension helps quite a bit.

I then forged welded a file into this knife. I drew out the end of the spike a bit, split it with a cut off wheel in the grinder (although a hacksaw or bandsaw would work as well) drove the file in, added flux and forge welded it in. After that it’s grinding and heat treating as you would any other knife.

Making a railroad spike knife is more about learning a few blacksmith techniques and having some fun with the forge than anything else. Although it doesn’t come out as an extremely high quality knife, it does come out as a cool blacksmithing and knife making project that you can add a few of your own twist (pun intended).

And these knives to seem to sell, although that could be a perception. You can find them all the time on etsy, knife makers websites, Instagram and at knife shows.

Knife 56 – A Fully Forged Hunting Knife that I broke cold forging

  • Blade – 4 3/4″
  • Overall – 9 1/4″
  • Scales – Stabilized Spalted Beech
  • Handle Finish – Hand rubbed Tru-oil

I forged Fully Forged Hunting Knife that I broke from another tine as shown in knife 36. I sound up breaking it. I knew I was not finished forging it but I ran out of time, so I just left it sitting on the anvil. The next day I only had a few minutes in the shop. I picked up the knife and noticed a slight warp. Sure, I should have known better but my experience working with mild steel sort of kicked in and I gave it a couple good whacks with the hammer. Boom! A duh moment.

You will often hear this kind of finish described as “Brut de Forge” or  “Brute de Forge” – meaning “rough and unfinished”. Part of the blade is left in an “as forged” or partial “as forged” state.

I asked if this would have happened if it was already normalized. Thermocycling will help with the coarseness of the grain.

Tempering will give it bend without the break and leave an edge that will hold its sharpness.

And Lesson learned, do not forge below forging temps.

Fortunately, there was enough left of this Fully Forged Hunting Knife that I broke to turn it into a hidden tang.

Thermal cycling is a process in which material is cooled and heated in cycles.

Normalizing is to bring or return a substance to a standard or normal condition or state.

As knife makers we thermal cycle our steel to return it to a normalized state, so we call it normalizing or normalization.

I needed to make sure this metal would normalize correctly. After straightening the tines, I found just a light hammer blow would cause the metal to break as shown in the photo to the right. So, I ran a test.

To normalize it, I brought it to nonmagnetic three times, and let it cool in the vise. After normalizing a tried several times to break it and it did not break after several hammer blows.

It was then heat treated as described earlier. The normal test all passed after tempering as well.

Stabilized beech handle

Hand crafted, hand stitched 7-9 oz veggie tanned leather sheath

Knife 55 Seax – Vine Filing-laminated scales

Stabilized Spalted Beech and Wenge laminated strips

  • Steel – 1/8”” 1095
  • Blade – 4 1/4″
  • Overall – 8 3/4′
  • Scales – Laminated stabilized beech/wenge
  • Handle Finish – hand rubbed tru-oil

The vine pattern is probably the most common type of file work done on a knife spine. I’ve outlined the steps below so that most everyone can complete this and move on to more exciting filework.

Vine Spline Filing

1). Mark the spine with layout blue or marker. Alternate left and right. I used 3/8″ spacing.

2). Cut semi-circles on the left side every other mark. I used a 5/32” chainsaw file.

3). Cut semi-circles on the right side, every other mark. These are cut the same depth as the left side. (option: make these cuts shifted ahead by 3/16″).

4). With the narrowest edge of a triangular or half round needle file, cut the ‘leaves’ about 3/32″ above each big half round. Do this on both sides.

5). Carefully shape the lower portions of the big half rounds to smooth the vine. I used the flat side of the triangle file to knock the corner off and finished with the chainsaw file.

Mark the spine with layout blue or marker. Alternate left and right. I used 3/8″ spacing. Then Cut semi-circles on the left side every other mark. I used a 5/32” chainsaw file.
Cut semi-circles on the right side, every other mark. These are cut the same depth as the left side. (option: make these cuts shifted ahead by 3/16″)
With the narrowest edge of a triangular or half round needle file, cut the ‘leaves’ about 3/32″ above each big half round. Do this on both sides.
Carefully shape the lower portions of the big half rounds to smooth the vine. I used the flat side of the triangle file to knock the corner off and finished with the chainsaw file.

Laminated Handle

I made this laminated handle on this “Knife 55 Seax – Vine Filing-laminated scales” by stabilized strips of beech and wenge and compressing them together during the process of cooking the cactus juice.

Another good article, http://dcknives.blogspot.com/p/basic-filework-vine.html

This knife was made from a file with Blade Filings added

This knife was made from a file with Blade Filings added. This knife’s design is not what was intended. I had a failed attempt to cut Fuller’s in it. I was using a cutoff wheel with a straight edge guide. The guide slipped. So, tyo make something out of nothing, I narrowed it to save the blade. The spline filing was added to dress it up.

  • Blade – 5 ¼”
  • Overall – 10”
  • Steel – an old file
  • Handle – stabilized beech

The filings on this blade were made for decoration, no other purpose. In some instances you will see “saw teethe” on the spline. This is meant to be an added tool in a survival situation, but most of them do not work very well. I suspect in most cases they are added for the “cool” factor more than being a real advantage in a real survival situation.

There is nothing wrong with recovering from a failed attempt. I tend to learn by doing, and sometimes making a mistake forces you to learn new ways you’d not otherwise thought of.

The stabilized beach on this handle was a piece with extraordinary figure. It wasn’t wide enough for anything other than this type of handle. This wouldn’t be considered one of the best style handles, but it’s small, and compact. For a utility type knife this will wind up serving someone very well and has a unique enough look to be somewhat appealing.

Also see jimping on

My Knife 34 came out of the quench with a small warp.

Here is how I fixed it. I’ve used this several times since and it has worked fine every time.

I clamped it to a solid straight piece of metal.

I tempered it at 450 degrees for 2 hours. The warp was slightly diminished but still there.

I added a finish nail behind the knife to provide a slight over bend and tempered for another cycle of 450 degrees for two more hours.

This time it came out straight.

Another option when Straightening a Custom Made Knife after Heat Treating is to use a leaf spring with the curve sill in it. Heat the knife and spring in the oven to tempering temperature and place the knife against the concave side of the piece of spring. apply a small (1″) C clamp to the blade and spring at the place where it warped and tighten till the blade is straight (ware gloves as everything will be hot) temper for 1-2 hours, cool, check and if not straight, do it again this time going a little past the straight point when you clamp.

Straightening Immediately After Quench. Immediately after hardening, while the blade is still warm to the touch, it is remarkably flexible. After a while that goes away and you have a hard, brittle blade.

Being prepared ahead of time with a couple lengths of angle iron in the vise, you can squeeze the knife back to straight. Jason Knight has a video showing how he does it with two pieces of 2 x 4. You only have a short period of time after the quench, so be ready ahead of time.

I’ve also used a leaf spring. The natural curve will sometime help with the over bend. Also keep in mind that additional tempering cycles when Straightening a Custom Made Knife after Heat Treating doesn’t have a whole lot of affect on the hardness.

Knife 51 & 52 Friction Folders

  • 1/8” – 1095
  • Handle – bocote
  • Pins – Steel and brass
  • Pivot bolt is a brass bolt.

It was time to try my hand at making a Friction Folder. A friction folder is a folding knife that doesn’t use a lock or springs. It uses the handle’s friction against the tang to stay open. The design of a friction folder has an extended tang. This allows the user’s hand to keep the blade from folding shut.

When making a Friction Folder it’s best to make a prototype out of heavy paper or thin wood pieces. This allows you to get the pin locations close enough so it can be tuned in final fitting.

You’ll see my first attempt required an extra pin. I didn’t leave enough metal  to tune it to a single pin. It actually worked out pretty well.

I finished these knives by sandblasting before heat treatment. They were hand sanded to 600 grit then sandblasted. I plan to leave the blade as it comes off the tempering color.

Making a cardboard working template will help ensure your success. It also helps gauge the size of your finished knife.

Looking closely at the images you can see the first folder I made has an extra pin. This wasn’t really by design, at least not the original design. It did however, work out well and added a bit to the knife. In the end, it works well and looks good, so I’m happy with it.

There are an endless number of designs and styles for friction folders. I will be making some different sizes and styles. They are fun to make and are a very useful and functional every day carry.

Using a friction folder isn’t much different than using any knife with the exception of possibly being a little more cautious if your going to use it in such a way that your grip isn’t going to keep it open. I really don’t think it’s much different than any knife. There is some inherent danger in using any sharp instrument. Use good judgment and know your devices limitations.

Knife 50 5 ½” Hunter – What About Knife Handles & Scales

  • Steel –  1/8” 1095
  • Blade 5 1/2”
  • Overall – 10 7/8”
  • Scales – Desert Ironwood
  • Handle finish – wax
  • Drop Point design

Desert Ironwood  is a hard dense wood with a great grain figure. It doesn’t take well to stabilizing because of it. It is dense enough that it makes a great knife handle as it is.

Knife Handles & Scales

Knife Handles & Scales come in a variety of materials. Natural Wood, Stabilized Wood, Carbon Fiber, Unique Resins, Composites, Micarta, G-10, Bone, metals, horn, antlers, and and some I’m sure I’ve missed or do not even know about. Most you can find by searching this site for the knife handle type.

To me a classic looking knife, a truly exquisite knife, one you just want to carry on your next adventure, will always have a wood handle. Wood is the traditional substance for a beautiful knife handle, and unless you plan to be in the most extreme survival conditions, for lengths of time almost humanly unbearable, a wood handle will always perform wonderfully. And nothing really can compare to wood for adding beauty to your knife, but a basic note about wood scales or handles. If you are using wood for your Knife Handles & Scales that are not stabilized, you should make sure the wood is dry. (See stabilizing wood ) Store your blanks in a dry place to get them dry and keep them dry. The typical recommendation is your wood be between 6-8% moisture content. For Knife Handles & Scales, lower is better. This will work well, especially if you are just making knives for yourself. The real issue is as a knife crosses to other climates, it will lose or take on moisture depending on the climate. The good thing is knife handles and scales are typically small, so the movement is minimal. If reasonable precautions are taken to ensure the wood is dry, they should work without issue. Using stabilized wood for Knife Handles & Scales made from wood that is more susceptible to movement is recommended.

Doing a google search can sometime get you answers on the stability of the wood you want to use. If in doubt, I suggest using stabilized wood. There are good dense wood that if dry, will not need stabilization like rosewood, ironwood and similar.

Many knife makers prefer something less susceptible to moisture, especially for kitchen knives. For this Micarta, G10 and other synthetic materials work well. The advantages of Micarta are, it’s pretty well impervious to weather and moisture, most oils and solvents, and is EXTREMELY durable and tough. Since it’s made up of thin layers, the more angles and cuts you make in the material, the more the “grain” shows.

The primary difference between G10 and micarta is in the materials used in construction. G10 is made from layers of continuously woven fiberglass, impregnated with epoxy. Micarta is also laminated, but uses materials such as linen, burlap or canvas. Most people consider G10 to be easier to grip than micarta when the knife handle is dry, while micarta is usually considered to offer a better grip while wet.

Knife 49 – Hunter – EDC – Testing the Knife’s Hardness

  • Blade – 4 3/4″
  • Overall – 9″
  • Scales – Stabilized Spalted Beech
  • Handle Finish – Hand Rubbed Oil

Testing the Knife’s Hardness

Up to this point Testing the Knife’s Hardness has been to chop a hardwood scrap, roughly 2” x 2” by chopping at it as hard as I could. A used knife I had folded on the test and I couldn’t get it heat treated so it would not harden. I was still researching trying to find a better way without buying expensive equipment.

Then I stumbled on the “Brass Rod Test”. I think this test is a little more reliable and I’m not sure why it’s not documented with more knife makers writings.

I did find a couple different processes, both basically the same. On way is to just hold a brass rod in a vise, the other you mount it in a block of wood. I decided to mount a piece in a block of wood.

You don’t want the knife completely sharpened yet, but the edge geometry needs to be close to sharp. The idea is to fold the edge. If the edge returns to the original shape, the knife has the proper temper. If it folds and stays folded, it not hard enough. If it chips, it is too hard and should be run through a tempering cycle at a higher temperature than before.

Hold the knife at slightly more of an angle than the sharpening angle and put pressure on the edge enough that you see it fold. A light shining directly on it helps. As the edge folded, the light will change. Now drag the edge across the bar watching the fold slide. If the edge returns to its original geometry, you’re good to go finalize the sharpening. If the fold stays folded, the knife edge is not hard. If it chips, temper again at a higher temperature.

You can also force the edge to deform while checking the weight required to force a deform. If you can push at 30 pounds or so you know you’re ok. This is a good test once in a while, but until I bought the file set Hardness Testers on page 74 I did the test on every knife I made.

Hardness Testers

After a while, I began to become more interested in a serious test for hardness. I decided to order the “TTC 6 Piece Hardness Tester File Set”. This will allow me to get the hardness within the 60-65 Rockwell hardness which is ideal for a knife.

These file help measure Rockwell hardness. It’s measured as HRC, or Sometimes RC. An abbreviation for Rockwell Hardness measured on the C scale. The abbreviation usually appears after a number, e.g. 22 HRC. See: Rockwell C Hardness. Rockwell C Hardness is a designation of hardness, of steel or Corrosion Resistant Alloys.

A typical knife will usually be around 62RC, although some knives such as cleavers may be as low as 55 HRC as will machetes. Hatchet would also be 52 – 55RC. Some like a softer steel in the 54-56 RC range their knives. Softer steels require sharpening more often, but they are much easier to sharpen than harder steels. They are also less likely to chip. The edge is more likely to roll over, rather than chip, which is a much easier fix than a chipped blade.

To use the file to test my knives, I file the heat treated and tempered blade with the 55RC file. If it skates off, the blade is harder than 55RC. I then try the 60RC file. If this one almost bites or bites a little (a metal shaving shows up or there is a visible scratch) you are around 60RC. Moving up to the 65RC. This should skate over the steel. If it doesn’t another temper cycle may be in order.

Testing the Knife 62 – Brut de Forge Bowie

Small Seax – EDC – Stone Washing

  • Steel –  3/16” 1095
  • Blade 3 1/2”
  • Overall – 8”
  • Scales – Desert Ironwood
  • Sanded to 320, used deburring wheel, polished
  • Etched in Ferric Chloride straight for about 40 minutes
  • Scales – Stabilized Spalted beech

Seax is an Old English word for “knife”. Traditionally the seax is a weapon consisting of a curved sword with a notched blade, appearing, for example, in the coats of arms of Essex and the former Middlesex. The Seax was a universally carried knife in Northern Europe. Also known as the Viking dagger, it was carried and used by the Saxons, Angles, Vikings and Germanic tribes. Viking Daggers, use probably dated before the fall of Rome and continues on into the early Middle Ages.

Small Seax – EDC – Stone Washing

It was about this time I decided to build a knife tumbler as a grinder attachment for stonewashing knives.

Stone Washing for Your Knives’ Finish is quite simple. You can actually do it by hand. Just put the knife in a container with media. I used stones I picked up from the side of the road.

The beginning tumbler is pretty simple. I mounted casters to a wood base. I had a cardboard shipping container some metal was shipped in that was about the right size, so I used it.

One end is capped and the other has a block of wood I cut to fit. It’s thick enough that the sides of the frame holds it in place. I used a course belt on the grinder to “drive” or turn the barrel. There is a wooden baffle to “flip” the media. The block of 2 x 4 in front was to keep it from possibly jumping off, but it didn’t seem to be a problem. The base is just clamped to grinder table.

You can also use a purchased tumbler. I’ve heard the vibrating type used for reloading or some that are used in polishing.

After just a few minutes in the tumbler this is the way the knife looks.

Design note for stone washing. In order to finish the scales, it’s nearly impossible to leave the etching on the spline. I should have added Jimping in front of the scales. This would have made a good border from etched to not etched.

A few notes on Stone Washing for Your Knives’ Finish:

You can put nail polish over parts of the knife you don’t want stonewashed. Remove the nail polish after you’re done stonewashing the blade with nail polish remover.

Try adding Spray a little WD-40 in the barrel with the rocks, or a little soap and water.

The longer you stone wash, the lighter the blade will be.

You can purchase tumbling media or use stones as I did. Different media gives a different texture, so you should experiment to see what you like. You can create anything, from a matte that’s finely-textures down to a rough or scratched-up look that looks tough and cool.