WIPstagram - American Tanto progress

Erin Burke

May 19, 2003
Hi y'all... I feel like I've been MIA from the shop and forums for a while.

I hesitate to call this a WIP – it’s more just a collection of photos – and as of today, this knife still has a ways to go before I can call it finished. I’m hoping that starting this thread will provide incentive to get back in the shop.

And also, I like photo filters.

And also again, I sometimes add text to my photos for fun. As far as I know, all “quotes” are fake (satire), and included with humorous intent.

PHOTO 1 (Sketch)

All of my knives start out as a pencil sketch. Sometimes I photograph those sketches... and sometimes those photos are creepy, like the sketch was drawn by a ghost.


You’ll notice that on one of the drawing versions I have penciled in the tang.

Who knows what this will turn into? To my eye, there's a lot of potential on these pieces of paper... but it also looks like a lot of work. :hororr:

Some thoughts on this as I consider moving forward:
  • This blade will not be as thick at the spine as some of my recent knives.
  • Because of the narrow profile, I'll probably use one of the DHIII W2 bars from my stash.
  • I'm not sure what to do with the habaki. I get exhausted just thinking about it.
  • The idea of a frame handle with dark scales and a light frame/wrap combo seems cool.

PHOTO 2 (Bar)

Bar of Don's W2. These were forged from large rounds to workable dimensions by Michael Pikula a few years back. The sketch is tacked down with Duro spray adhesive. I have a love-hate relationship with spray adhesives… but mostly hate.


PHOTO 3 (Saw)

I used to get self-conscious about the waste associated with stock removal. I don’t care so much anymore. The change in attitude wasn’t driven by any sort of logic or epiphany… mostly I’m just getting old and grumpy and don’t have time to care about stupid stuff like network TV and $0.99 worth of steel.


Here I’ve cut the bar to length, and am now roughing in the blade profile. I will leave some extra meat at the tip. (I'm sure there's a joke in there somewhere.) ;)

PHOTO 4 (Hot Stuff)

I’m not sure what’s so cool about really hot stuff… probably just a fact of life I suppose.


Here I’m running the blank through a normalizing and spheroidal anneal process to reset the steel and get it ready for grinding. I snuck in a few extra bars of the DHIII W2 while I was at it. It’s called efficiency. My kiln is called Nancy.

PHOTO 5 (Can’t Touch This)

“No! Bring me the ones covered in orange paint.”


A shot of my cooling racks between normalizing cycles. These racks from Tracy are awesome, but I find I have to be super careful not to break all of those littler ceramic pins when I'm flinging random hot metal around.

PHOTO 6 (Self-Explanatory)

Post normalizing cycles.


(Note: Tape is super important. There are two types of tape in this photo.)

PHOTO 7 (Sparks)

All of the ugly scaly stuff from PHOTO 6 needed to go away. Abrasive belts in 36-grit make stuff go way quickly… especially knuckle skin stuff.


The big black thing is a welding magnet. It allows for a better grip and more even application of pressure. More importantly, it keep my fingers from burning up.

Respirators are sexy. :cool:

PHOTO 8 (Something)

Cleaned and flattened using KMG with a short follow-up on the disc.

Am realizing that nothing I can say will make this photo interesting.


(More to follow.)
PHOTO 9 (It’s hip to be…)

Squaring up the work rest on the flat platen so I can clean up the blade profile. This will give me a clean surface with a perpendicular scratch pattern on which to scribe center-lines, etc.


It looks like somebody may be trying to slip me a note under the door. “Come play with us Dad! We miss you Dad!” Seriously kids… grow up.

PHOTO 10 (More sparks)

So I glued a copy of the paper template to the blank and am now refining the edge profile with an old zirc belt.


And yes, somebody did cut the holes too big when they installed the switch and receptacle boxes. I probably accidentally measured in metric inches or something.

PHOTO 11 (Procrastinating and Beard Growing)

Some of you (very few, I imagine) may be wondering why I’ve been away from the interwebs for so long. The truth is that I’ve been focusing 100% of my time and energy on growing this sweet beard.


(This photo is actually a few months old… the beard is like 7 time sweeter now. Believe it!) :thumbup:

PHOTO 12 (Galvanized Grind Template)

Making a rigid template is kind of a pain, but will be a hero move as we proceed. The template will help ensure that we end up with symmetric grids.


I stick one of my sketch copies to a sheet of galvanized flashing, then cut/grind it to shape. It's important to rub off the burrs at the edge to avoid bloody fingers.

PHOTO 13 (Draw Filing)

I did some grinding on the KMG, but draw filing will get the bevels dialed in prior to heat treat.


PHOTO 14 (Tools)


These are the exact tools that I used for draw-filing the pre-HT bevels… originals… not reproductions. Amazing. :thumbup:

PHOTO 15 (Clay and Symmetry)

I like to use a thin wash of clay, not only to help the thicker clay stick, but also to minimize decarb during HT… I’m not sure whether this actually works, but it makes me feel better. The clay wash is usually applied with a 1” paint brush, and set with a couple waves of the heat gun.


I sketch in some guide lines on one side, then use the folded cardboard to get a mirror image on the other.

PHOTO 16 (More Symmetry Magic)
Some iPhone magic to show the clay on both sides. I know, right!?!:eek:


PHOTO 17 (Quench)

Prayers said, the blade goes into the quench tank. I interrupted this quench a bit early, and nearly lost my eyebrows. :grumpy:


I use an electric roasting pan to hold the oil. This also allows me to pre-heat the Parks 50 as necessary.
When all done, I just throw the lid back on and roll the tank back into the cabinet... after allowing it to cool, of course.

(More to follow.)

Looks good so far. can't wait to see the post HT shots.
Thanks Stacy. I'm trying to post the next batch of photos, but the forum software is giving me grief.
Don't lose hope... I will persevere. (Nevermind... I think it's working now)

PHOTO 18 (Failure)

Am sad that the first heat treat went all ugly. This defective hamon gets weird toward the tang... but even worse than that is the ugly bit right at the tip. I'm not excited to have to redo it… but I'd never be happy if I left it as is. :sulkiness:


I think that my soak temp may have been a few degrees low… will try a bit more heat next time.

PHOTO 19 (Clay 2.0)

Let’s try this again. This time I made sure the clay was solid over the spine and had symmetric undulations. I also put a bit of fine charcoal in the mix.


We'll shoot for a kiln temp of 1455 this time around.

PHOTO 20 (Unbending)

This piece of steel has been kicking my butt.
  • The first quench left me with a bad hamon (as shown in previous photos).
  • The second left me with a bad hamon AND horrible bend.
  • The third (yes the mysterious, undocumented third) also had a substantial bow in it, but I'm not sure about the hamon yet.

On the hamon front, the first two quenches left the pearlite with a substantial drop toward the edge near the tip. Structurally not a big deal, but aesthetically nasty. I really pulled the clay back from the tip this time. Hopefully it helps.


This photo shows my effort to remove the bend in my second temper cycle. Involves a length of angle, a couple clamps, and a shim.

PHOTO 21 (Coloring Inside the Lines)

After two failed attempts at heat treat, I finally got something I can work with. Warping and regrinding left me with a thinner, lighter blade than originally planned... and repeated clay quenches gave me significant sori… or reverse-sori… or something. :confused:


Much grinding has been done to this point. Here I'm cleaning up the primary bevels with a disc at 120grit... it's kind of like coloring inside the lines, only dirty, and nothing like coloring.

I'll probably proceed to 240grit on the disc before heading into hand sanding.
The edge will be quite thin, with minimal secondary bevel. I am relatively pleased with the detail that I can see in the hamon so far.

PHOTO 22 (Habaki – the Big Idea)

Can I make a habaki from a piece of copper tube and some fire?


Yes, I will jump through as many hoops as necessary to avoid soldering a Habaki. It’s a legitimate phobia.

PHOTO 23 (Hot-Fitting)

As mentioned above, I'm not big on all of the soldering that goes into traditional habaki construction, so I came up with the great idea to forge fit one from copper tube.

The tube used is C101 copper from Onlinemetals.com. I cut a small chunk off just a bit longer than the proposed habaki.


I was pre-heating my kiln for another project, and used it for heating the copper during forging.
First I hammered the tube into a flat oval, then began driving it over the tang using the apparatus shown. This gave me a nice snug fit.

PHOTO 24 (Filing for Mune-machi)

Here I’m using a small file with a safe side to cut a slot for the mune-machi...


PHOTO 25 (Rough Cleanup)

After a bit of grinding on the disc and slack belt, the habaki begins to take shape. I still need to true up the front and rear planes, and the corners.


I'll hold off on embellishment until later in the build, as I still need to come up with a "flavor" for the knife... establishing a theme and color/texture palette to tie everything together.

(More to Follow)
That was fun.......keep em coming.:thumbup:


PS there's a better than average chance you are almost as odd as me:thumbup::thumbup::D
PHOTO 26 (Spine Cleanup)

Fresh pink filters and some cleanup on the spine… what a beautiful day. :thumbup:


PHOTO 27 (Back Rub)

The grinder can do the rough-cleanup of the spine fairly quickly… but it can leave a rippling unevenness to the finish. It’s like knife cellulite. :numbness:


Here I’m smoothing out the spine by hand. It gets the wrinkles out.

PHOTO 28 (Habaki Mune)

In this photo, I’m starting to file the back of the habaki to make it even with the spine. I’ll further refine this in the next few shots.


PHOTO 29 (Sick)

So I called in sick today. Mainly just a nasty cough and icky sinuses, but also dealing with a kidney stone. :dread:
Thanks to genetics, I seem to get one every four years or so. This one sent me to a Chula Vista emergency room over my Christmas vacation.

In these photos, I am not in the emergency room… but I do have to urinate. :grey:

Most Japanese-inspired blades seem to look better with a crowned spine. For me it is easier to cut this in cleanly with stones then follow up with high-grit paper on a stick. I don't have any real shaping stones, so I use the ones from my Lansky set instead.

PHOTO 30 (Thumbs)

Doing some more cleanup and shaping on the habaki. I want to get the shape fairly dialed-in so I can use the final dimensions as guidelines for the spacer layout.


It's difficult to see in the photo, but I have an old knife blank through the middle of the habaki to help provide control against the slack belt. The belt is an A45 trizact running backwards.

PHOTO 31 (0.98”)

I think it's important that the spacer behind the guard line up in profile with the front and back of the habaki. Here I'm measuring, and will plug the information into my details of the spacer and tsuba.


These are my computer calipers. They mostly stay in my {home} office.


Translating measurements into eye-pleasing templates in CAD. This was my first draft. Since the blade is relatively thin and light (and I want the handle to be proportional), I thinned the spacer/handle thickness a bit more for the final printing.


(More to Follow)
Impressive WIP. I don't know if I'm more keen on the blade or the quotations.

Nice beard, too.
Thanks for all the kind words guys... here are a few more photos for today.

PHOTO 33 (Milling)
I don’t know why, but I really like this image.

Milling the guard/tsuba. In this photo, I have already milled the slot, and am now taking the guard down to the correct thickness. A smart person would have reversed this order of operations. :stupid:


Oftentimes I'll use a shop vac to clear chips when milling, but today I'm blowing with the compressor.

PHOTO 34 (Disc)

A quick touch of the tsuba against the disc grinder to remove marks from milling.


My in-laws gave me that genuine alpaca hat for Christmas. Boom.
Hey!... Would somebody empty the garbage already?.?...

PHOTO 35 (Fit)

Here, I am slowly adjusting the fit-up of the guard slot with small files. The tang is coated with Sharpie so I can see where things are tight. (see next photo)


PHOTO 36 (Tight)

Here is a better shot showing where the guard/tsuba is tight against the tang. This gives me some idea where I need to do more filing in the slot.


PHOTO 37 (X’s and Y’s)

For embellishment, I drew an arrangement of three holes along one quadrant of the guard. I spent a long time dragging circles around in CAD to come up with these location, so I’ve got my heart set on making sure that they end up in the rights spot.

I have glued a copy of my guard template in place with spray adhesive – did I mention that I hate spray adhesive? – aligning the front and rear centerlines with scribed centerlines on the guard blank.


In this photo, I have placed a drillbit into the chuck backwards, and am using it to establish X & Y coordinates on my DRO display. Once I have all of the coordinates written down, I will flip the drill bit back around and make holes. This order of operation negates any error due to slippage or mangling of the paper template once I begin drilling.

PHOTO 38 (Abrasives)

More grinding to the lines.


(More to follow)
Quote - "....PHOTO 36 (Tight)

Here is a better shot showing where the guard/tsuba is tight against the tang. This gives me some idea where I need to do more filing in the slot.

Or a high spot on the tang that needs to be taken down a tad.
Or a high spot on the tang that needs to be taken down a tad.

Yeah... you could say that. Typically my hidden tangs are slightly tapered -- both in profile and in thickness... so those rub marks represent where the fit starts getting tight. But, given the taper, it's fair to assume that -- were I to remove material from the tang -- I'd have to grind/sand all the way to the habaki. I'm not sure whether a few thousandths really make much difference, but I prefer to keep them in the tang when it is just as easy to make a couple of file strokes in the guard slot. :D:thumbup:
PHOTO 39 (Lovely)

There's something quite lovely about freshly milled copper. I have a large plate of this stuff and nibble pieces off as the need arises.


When preparing blocks for spacers, I find it is best to leave them oversized… especially in the front and back. This allows more flexibility when milling and fitting the slot.

PHOTO 40 (Guidelines)

Here I have laid down some guide lines for milling the slot in the copper spacer block.


In a pinch, huge Sharpies make an awesome (rapidly deployable) substitute for Dykem. Not sure whether I’ve mention it before, but every shop should have a height gage and granite surface plate (or two). :thumbup:

PHOTO 41 (First Trial Fit)

The spacer block has been milled, filed and hammer-fit into place. This is very snug and will need to be tapped back off with a wood block and small hammer.


As mentioned earlier, the spacer block still has extra meat in the front and back.

PHOTO 42 (Taking to Shape)

In this photo, I've {carefully} ground to the template lines. I started at about 50 grit and progressed through an A45 trizact. Pictured is a cheap 220 grit belt.


PHOTO 43 (Peen or Pein)

We go through all this trouble with scribes, templates and stencils to get cleanness, symmetry and precision... then we beat on it to give it texture and character. :eek:

Here I'm peening the edge to get a slightly raised lip around the front and back faces of the tsuba. This has the added benefit of leaving a pleasant dimpled texture along the edge. I've just started the hammering in this photo... so you'll have to wait a bit to see the final effect.


You’ll note yet another appearance by my patented multi-function wood devices. These exact blocks have been used on nearly every knife out of my shop. Right now they are being deployed in a vertical clamping configuration. Incidentally, these revolutionary and historic blocks can be yours for a one-time payment of $389.98… and incredible value. But wait… if you order now, I will autograph these very blocks and ship at no additional cost. :encouragement:

PHOTO 44 (Groovy)

This little montage shows how I add a groove to the spacer.


In the upper left corner, I have measured the edges of the groove shown on my sketch, and am transferring the info as lines to the rough spacer. I darkened the edges of the copper using a large black sharpie to provide contrast; and have scribed three lines... bottom of groove, top of groove and middle of groove.

At the upper right, I am cutting in a starter groove along the center scribed line. I'm using a diamond wheel on my little mill.

The lower left shows the spacer as viewed through a magnifying light. I don't actually use this magnifier, but instead use one of those cheap magnifying visors from Harbor Freight. Lower right shows that... sort of.

Cutting in the groove with files probably took about an hour, with about another half hour required to clean it up with fine sandpaper wrapped around the shaft of a center punch.

(More to follow)
Hey Erin,

Excellent WIP and the humor is refreshing (I think some get too serious on here at times!). Bonus points for mentioning Dean Kamen!

The thing you're calling a diamond cutting wheel, do you have a link or an official title for that guy? All I'm finding are dremel wheels and that looks a bit more beefy than the dremel one. Thanks