Category Archives: Projects

The making of a small camp knife, part 2

This is a follow-up to a previous post. Earlier, I mentioned a knife blade that I had forged and was preparing for heat-treating (hardening).

The knife was given a clay resist along the back and also at the end of the tang. The clay prevents whatever area that it is coated with from becoming hard during the heat-treating process. Of course, a watchful eye on the temperature of the knife while it is heating is essential. A few degrees too cold and the knife will not become hard. A few degrees too hot and the clay will not function properly. Or worse, if the temperature gets far too hot, the knife will be brittle.

a hardened blade

The as-hardened blade

Making steel hard is always exciting for me. The knife is heated until it glows a bright red and is immediately placed into hot oil. Once the knife is removed from the oil bath, the oxides that formed on the surface flake off as the steel reaches room temperature (due to the shrinking of the steel and the growth of the martensite structure). The white areas are where the oxides (scale) has come off. It is also the first strong glimpse into what pattern will be visible on the finished blade.

Remember that the metal is pattern-welded? It is a basic ladder-pattern. Because it is only about 42 layers, the pattern is pretty bold.

It is crucial that the tempering be done as soon as the knife is cool enough to touch. Although the picture does not show this clearly, the tip and edge have a pale yellow cast.

tempering colors

The knife is now tempered

Because my heat-treating was what I would describe as “optimum”, I need to be careful to not get the steel too hot while I grind it to its final shape. A file bites easily into the area along the back (where the clay was) and only just barely bites into the area along the edge. Because the back of the knife is so soft, I can get away with having the edge be a little harder than might be normally expected.

After some judicious sanding and finishing with stones, the knife was really beginning to take shape.

I had a beautiful piece of Bois de Rose that I was eager to use. I wanted this knife to have a partial tang (so it would not conflict with the beautiful wood), yet be substantial enough to withstand any use that the knife would be subjected to.

After forging and fitting a stainless steel guard and carving the groove into a block of bois de rose, the knife was ready for assembly. With everything clamped into place, a hole was drilled for a stainless steel pin. Some epoxy (I call it an insurance policy) was applied and the knife was assembled. The knife got a final sharpening and was able to whittle the hairs on my arm without skin contact. That is pretty sharp!

Along the way, I decided to make a sheath as well. Overall, I am quite pleased with the result. The lump of metal that was on my shop floor finally got to fulfill its potential and I was able to share this with you.

knife with sheath

The completed knife

The recipient of this seemed quite pleased as well.


The making of a small camp knife

knife billet

The damascus billet

I was cleaning up some corners of my shop the other day and came upon a lump of metal. I had started making a damascus (pattern-welded) billet a few years ago and must have become distracted. I had two reasons to re-visit the project; one was to make a gift for someone and the other was to work on my resolution to finish more projects that I have started. It only took a few more heats to double the billet back onto itself a few times and achieve my goal of about forty layers.

A few more heats and some grinding left me with something that is starting to look like a knife.

grinding blade

First stage of grinding

Notice the two lines marked on the ricasso area. This will be the transition area into the sharpened edge. It is marked the same way on the other side.

After some filing to establish a soft transition, I am able to grind back to the line I have filed.

More grinding.


knife in progress

This is about the extent of the aggressive grinding.

Grinding the sides of a knife

view of knife edge Notice that the choil is taped. The real pros probably don’t do this step, but I have found that it really helps to prevent any mistakes. Also notice that the edge is still pretty thick. This will help prevent warping during the heat treatment. It also allows me to remove the decarburized material and still have something left.

The black mark on the tang tells me where I want to cut this off. After holding this in my hand, I realized that the tang I forged was too long for my desired proportions.

After a few hours of grinding, filing and more refined sanding, the knife is now ready for hardening. Everything looks good. No deep scratches, no sign of inclusions trapped between any of the layers. It is sanded to about 220 grit. I wanted some “tooth” on the surface for the clay resist I intend to put along the back of the knife.

A knife blank ready for hardening

Ready to be hardened

Next post: Heat-treating and finishing

Installation of railing sections at Grand Avenue Park

Railing assembly

Railing assembly at Grand Avenue Park in Everett


batlock #1 by Paul Casey, Seattle. High and low carbon steel, 3 1/2"

This is something that I made many years ago, yet I still smile every time I see it. It was an interesting project. The springs were all hand-forged and heat-treated, no stock components were used. The mechanism, hidden inside the case, was a delightful challenge.

Where Sea and Sky Meet

Site of intended railings

railing with traditional joinery

Railing detail

The above picture is of the viewpoint at Grand Avenue Park in Everett, Washington. I was chosen some time ago to build some railings for the scenic overlook. It is a breathtaking view of the Olympic mountains across Puget Sound (when the mountains are not shrouded in clouds).

The design requirements of the project were pretty straightforward; there were to be six sections, eight feet long and 42 inches tall. The outside frame was to be 2 inch solid square for the upright ends and 1 1/2 inch solid square for the top and bottom. The thinnest any part of the infill could be was 3/4″ X 3/4″. Of course, the usual railing standard that dictated any open area must be less than a four-inch circle also applied.

During several visits to the site, before I began the project, I became fascinated with the ever-changing cloud formations and how the waters of the Sound reflected the mood of the sky. It was a dramatic vista and nothing I could possibly do would be able to compete with the surroundings. My best hope was to complement the site.I had a couple other challenges that I gave myself. One challenge was that the railings use some type of mechanical (traditional blacksmithing) joinery. As a blacksmith, creating work for a visible public setting, it seemed like a great opportunity to give an example of work that utilized the process of forging. Another challenge I faced was that the railings, once installed, would be visible from a considerable distance below the hill. If the railings were merely 3/4″ rods, they would disappear into a blur when viewed from such a distance. I thought that they might also serve as a landmark from the bottom of the hill, in addition to being a feature at the top (where their function as railings was served).

A visit to various historical archives provided some additional inspiration. I’ll let you investigate on your own to discover some of Everett’s colorful past. What I did glean from my investigation was that Everettt began as a city of optimistic promise and has a backbone founded on industry. Both of these continue to the present. It is also a relatively new city (by most of this country’s standards) and the tales of the Native Americans who lived there did not happen all that long ago.
Now I was prepared to begin. Filled with the same optimistic promise as the city that commissioned these, I wanted to pay homage to the natural surroundings, the Native Americans who took care of the land before the captains of industry arrived and to capture some of the essence of all the good things that industry (and human ingenuity) can provide. I felt that keeping some evidence of hammer blows (and there are thousands in this project) would give a sense of the industrial aspect. The central component of the railings gets its inspiration from a Native American oar design and provides a central focus, a beginning to the design. My biggest concern at this point was to capture some of the delicate, ephemeral nature of the clouds and the sea below. This I hoped to accomplish through the use of broad, sweeping curves, punctuated by precise alignment of vertical elements. Doing this with 1 1/4″ forged steel would be challenging. If I were to give a title to this project, I would call it “Where Sea and Sky Meet”, for that was a theme that kept recurring throughout the process.

Soon the railings will be installed.

Railing section

Railing section with traditional joinery

Articulated sculpture

Articulated sculpture, Mended Moon

I’m new at this. . .

You may check out the rest of my blog for more delicious metalsmithing topics by clicking the link.

Soapstone is a predominant feature of any blacksmith’s design process. A naturally occuring mineral, it is highly effective at creating white lines that will withstand the heat of the forge. Likewise, it is very handy at making notations on the floor during the design process.