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New knifemaker in need of some help

Dec 31, 2006
Hi everyone.
As I browse around this forum I see that it is a great place. I'm not exactly a new blade smith but my skills are lacking. My friend and I decided to make a forge for our senior project in order to graduate high school. It started as a hole in the ground with an ancient mentality, now it is a car hood with a brake caliper as a fire pot. Up to this point, we have figured everything out with trial and error and I have forged maybe 7 or 8 blades. I have fully finished 2 of them to my liking- one is from an old file (W2?) and the other is from a 5/8" SS rod which was scrap from work. Since our anvil has a terrible surface and our forging methods are awful, (e.g. not burning coke) I have decided I will try stock removal. I am sure too many impurities enter the steel while forging and all forging does is hurt the steel.

I have a couple of questions I was hoping someone could answer:

How do I achieve a satin finish?

Also, how can I achieve a mirror finish? The closest I have come to a mirror was with 1500 grit wet/dry paper that I used with water. I am assuming I would use a buffer but with what wheel/compound/methods?

Can someone please explain "red hard"?

Although my work is not great, the earthy and appreciative mother of one of my friends requested an entire set of kitchen knives. I was wondering what steel would be the best for such an application. Can I get away with using high carbon steel as opposed to stainless? Is 1/8" a good thickness? I was planning to just do stock removal for this set because it takes so long for me to get all the pits out of one of my unskilled forgings. I was also wondering if anyone sends blades out to be heat treated and if this is lacking anything. I am assuming it saves a lot of time but I'm not sure if the quality of the heat treat is the same. I have trouble telling if my heat treating does anything and I would really like to improve upon it.

I would really like to put guards on these kitchen knives. I have never done a guard before and have heard of brazing them on. I don't have access to an acetylene outfit or any means of silver soldering, welding, or brazing. Is there any way around this? How do you guys do it?

Hopefully I have made sense. Sorry for the long post. Please ask questions regarding clarity.

I really, really appreciate all replies.

Thanks again,
as far as heat treating goes, Paul Bos does a very good job and quite a few people on the forum have recommended him, thats going to be a must if you use stainless, I would go with stainless for a kitchen knife set, 440C is a pretty good tested stainless for cutlery, plus it should be a lot easier to form compared to some of the others. 1/8" should be fine for the thickness
Welcome to the Bladeforums.
You are jumping in awfully fast. Taking a step sideways,and do some reading up on knifemaking would be time well spent.
Red hard is the term applied to a steel that is hard to forge even when red hot.A red hard steel does not move under the hammer easily.
Kitchen knives are made from both carbon and stainless steels. Both have their specific attributes, and both have makers who prefer one to the other. Most ,however, use stainless steel.As thin as 1/16 to as much as 1/8 is the normal range,depending on the blade size and shape.I use CPM-154 now, used to use ATS-34 and CM154 (both about the same).The new CPM-154 takes a better polish and has a cleaner looking surface IMHO. 440C will make good blades,and is cheaper.There are a lot of Heat Treaters out there who do excellent jobs on stainless steel,and do Cryo as part of the job.I have all the facilities to do my own stainless blades, but sent them to D'Alton Holder. He does a superb job,and is very reasonable.Stainless steel requires exact temperature control,oxygen exclusion, and many other close tolerances. It would be hard for most home HTers to match the pros.
A word about buffing and polishing - THE SINGLE MOST DANGEROUS TOOL IN THE SHOP IS THE BUFFER!! Buffing a knife can remove fingers,parts of hands, and can kill you.You have to have someone who is completely proficient at buffing show you how.When buffing,wear all required safety gear.
Getting a good finish is a matter of practice and experience ,mixed in with a lot of patience and time. Sand to a good 400 grit W&D and you will have a satin finish. Continue to 2500 (or up to 6000) and you will start getting a good polish.The mirror finish requires buffing. It can be done by hand, but is very time consuming. For using knives I always use a satin finish.
Do some searching on this forum and other sites on guards. www.knifehow.com has a lot of tutorials,also Don Fogg's site and others.The books all cover this.I almost never put a guard on a kitchen knife (and I make a couple hundred a year).
Some good books are,"The $50 Knife Shop - Goddard","Step-By-Step Knifemaking - Boye","How to Make Knives - Barney/Loveless", and "The Complete Bladesmith - Hrisoulas".
Think safety, Ask question, Have fun!
I really appreciate the responses.
I have read about buffing and how dangerous it can be. After having the knife get snagged in the wheel a couple times I ditched it because I wasn't getting the polish I desired. As for the satin finish, do I sand in multiple directions or just across the blade (instead of lengthwise)?
For the guard on the kitchen knives, I didn't really mean a true guard, since it would look ridiculous, but one similar to :

where it just runs right up to the beginning of the scales.

I have 3 out of 4 of those books, I have read what seemed fitting but I should read them again.

Thanks a lot.
Welcome to the wonderful world of knifemaking! When you are working on your satin finish, change the direction of your sanding every time you change paper grits. Don't change grit until you have completely removed the scratches from the previous paper. Finish with 400 or 600 and all strokes going the same direction.

Guards and bolsters can be silver soldered with a simple propane torch from the hardware store.. but, soldering to stainless can take some practice. I have heard that some makers are now puting on guards with J-B Weld but I have no idea how well this would hold up to the stresses put on a kitchen knife.

Also, since you have to assume that people will let these knives soak in water and might put them in a dishwasher, you need a really good epoxy. I have just started using Golfworks golfclub epoxy due to posts found on this forum and I highly recommend it.

Good luck, Kevin
As kevin pointed out, that is a bolster you want.They are most often forged in or milled into the blade,so there is no joint.To attach one to each side by soldering and/or pinning is a bit of a trick in stainless.
By Hand up to 1500 grit wet/dry paper, then go to the buffers and use Green compound. You will see it coming into it. In my shop I use them all the time. You can use 1095, 1084, and 52100. All of this steel is great for knife making. It for using knives. On the heat treating you can send it out to others to do. But in time I would get a oven yourself. This way you will know what it is. A good harden tester is another great tool to use when you are heat treating your steel. You may call me. I hope this will help. We all need it. God bless and have a New Year.