Saturday, March 21, 2009

Das Messer-Projekt des Uber Jägers - Phase 3: Handle Count, Up 1

So, my wife and my girl decided to take a trip yesterday and while I miss them, it did give me a chance to finally get the ironwood on the band saw and get the handles roughed in and attached. Here's the result. (No WIP picture for this part. Given some family history around saws, cutting things, and um.... cutting digits off I chose to focus completely on this part. Sorry...)

The scales need a good deal more work in terms of finish shaping and smoothing. I will probably get to that today. I need some 200 grit and about 2 hours. I am kind of sad though. The first knife is nearly done and in the books. One more life experience... one more day.

Of course, it would be foolish to believe that I don't have a notebook full of ideas for what the next 10 of these will look like. This was fun. I seriously encourage anyone to try this if it sounds interesting to you at all. Nothing like hold a bit of your own work and design in your hand.....

Last update on this one... I had some time after I posted the first bit here and just decided to make it happen. So, me the file and the sandpaper countoured and finsl fitted and finished. Presto chango, it's a knife..

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Das Messer-Projekt des Uber Jägers - Phase 2: Fun With Fire

And here we go.
As many of may recall from the previous post, this was the state of our blade when we left off. Forming is complete and it is time to begin the process of heating and hardening and heating some more to make things tough and flexible and really instill some of the qualities that are supposed ot make O1 tool steel such a good choice for this sort of thing.

First off the was the normalizing process. This is pretty simple but will burn the stuffing out of you if you are not careful. I myself decided to make a hanger in the basement and heat there. The idea behind normalizing is to begin to 'align' elements within the blade prior to the semi-traumatic experience of hardening. Normalizing involves heat the blade to a dull red and allowing it cool to handling temperature and then doing it again.

Once that process was completed, it was time to break out the forge. As you may gather from the photo here, this was a low budget affair. It's key components are:
  1. Galvanized bucket with a 1 1/2 inch hole cut in the side and the handle removed.
  2. A section of 1 1/2 inch drain pipe, duct taped into this hole.
  3. The hose from an old shop vac attached at one end to the drain pipe and on the other...
  4. A $10 Vidal Sassoon hair dryer from Walmart.
  5. On top of the bucket is placed a steel, deep skillet with 18 or so holes drilled to allow the air to travel into the fire.
From there, operation is pretty simple. I used matchlight charcoal for fuel and lined the skillet with crushed gravel to provide a bit of insulation for the skillet. (In my first run at this with this set up, the previous skillet melted away in approx 4 minutes. Thank goodness for thrift stores and a steady supply of pots and pans....) After allowing the lighter fluid to burn off the matchlight, I switched on the dryer and placed the blade in the forced air path. In approx 5 minutes the blade had reached the 1450 degrees required for O1 to become non-magnetic. At that point I switched the air flow to low and allowed it to bake for the recommended four minutes at that temp. After that, I pulled it and dunked it in that paint can full of oil you see in the background there. That, BTW, is a smoky, fiery, stinky mess. Do this outside if you are using oil.

Here's the blade and the firebox, post quenching. I've unplugged the air flow to the fire so it can begin to cool down.

The blade it a true mess at this point. Under all of that though, it is now hard as a rock if slightly more fragile. Once you wipe it down you find....

a blade slightly discolored but nothing a bit of sanding won't cure. This one made it through with no splits or cracks and no shattering. It warped ever so slightly but it is small enough that if I don't point it out specifically most folks will never notice.

Here we're midway through the tempering process. The blade has been polished and then heated to a constant 400 degrees F and then cooled. The spine has been heated with a torch to provide some additional flexibility. It's headed back into the oven for another 400 degree session. (big up to the wife for letting me use the cookie sheet and the oven....) This is the last step in the heat treating process and this can only mean one thing....

It's time to make the handles and finish things up. Here's the tempered and polish with 120 grit blade and the ironwood scales I will use for handles. I am hopeful to get to work on this in the next day or so. This is the most fun I have had in a while and it is way, way cheaper than building rifles....

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Das Messer-Projekt des Uber Jägers - Phase 1: Let's form a blade

(I have been looking at custom knives for a while now and honestly, I just can't stomach the price tag. I really like the look of them and by all indications, they are some of the best knives available and truly magnificent bits of craftsmanship. The other side of this though is that, at the end of the day, knives are just steel shaped with a specific set of criteria in mind, and treated via heating and cooling processes to produce a desired combination of hardness and flexibility. After reading a few good articles and watching a few videos on-line, I decided it was just time to make my own. What follows here are the results of the my first run at it. This post covers up through the steps required to get ready to heat treat and harden.)

I think I have said before that a loathe February and March. This year has been better in that I so busy at work I almost don't have time to use the bathroom while I am there and I am just whipped when I get home. For about 5 weeks, this was a good anesthetic for the boredom. Vegging out felt nice and I was happy to do it. Like always though, something sparks me up and I get moving on an idea. (OCD is a drag most days but has its perks now and then...) This time it started with a question to Phil in Alabama about a knife he has pictured in the hunting forum on It turns out it was made by a guy in Carolina named Russel Easler. Just a fantastic looking like instrument. Phil pointed me to a site called . Just a fantastic selection of stuff there, including a few Easler knives. One thing you may notice looking around there is that these things are not cheap. Since I am (fundamentally cheap) this is a problem.

After poking around a bit more I found a post of RFC by a user named Sqwasach who, it seems, makes hellishly nice knives and is willing to tell everyone about how he does it. (Check it out here) The stuff I have done here is based in large part on what I have seen there.

First things first then... I needed to find some 01 tool steel at an affordable price and in usable form. It turns out, there is an antiques shop in PA (Sheakley's Antiques...... Check them out on eBay here...) that sells 9 to 12 inch pieces of several different types of steel, has remarkable seller ratings, and they take pay pal. It's like a match made in heaven. That bit of steel above here is 3/16 X 1 1/4 X 9 inches. $10 including shipping. Gotta like that price so far....

Next, I decided to sharpie my design on to the steel to see if I could draw it without the graph paper and to make sure it would fit. The notch drilled there is for reference and was cut with a 7/32 bit. I got so excited after I drew it out I just decided to press on.

This is the blade, pre-grinder after I drilled and then hack sawed a bunch of the steel out of the way. Note to self... buy an angle grinder before we do this again. Hack sawing 3/16 tool steel, sucks. (Maybe I am not so cheap as I thought.... or just lazy :-) The bottom of the grip there had a whole bunch of 7/32 holes drilled in it and I saw through those. That was not so bad as the tip of the blade.

Here's the blade after the first shaping grind. It actually looks like almost like the knife I have in mind. I am not happy with the lines at this point and I am going to drop the point some more and level the grip between the top of the reference notch and back end. You can see the original design on the graph paper below the blank here.
Here it is after the second grind and some polishing on the disk sander. One thing I did discover here that was more than a little surprising to me is that a disk sander with an 80 grit disk on it will contour the blade, including starting the bevel. ( this was unintentional and an oversight on my part but still, good to know.)
After that initial bit of shaping, the file work to contour the cutting edge was a good deal easier. The only really negative side effects I can see with doing it this way boil down to me not leaving enough width in the edge of the blade for when I polished out the file marks. In this picture the blade is, from the tip to the middle of the cutting edge, sharp enough to concern me about cracking during heating and hardening. We'll see I guess. Live and learn.

The 3 - 1/4 inch holes are to allow pining of the handle. I have ordered some desert iron wood in grade 1 to form them up and some black spacer material to set them off.
The last step before heating was to add a dozen or so holes in the handle to lighten things up and provide places for the epoxy to bind the grips to the shank. I am pretty pumped. Next step... heating. Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

One Bullet Away: The Making of Marine Officer by Nathaniel Fick

There's just no point in skirting the obvious truth here. Most men are not cut out to be an officer and a leader in a culture or warriors. Fewer still are cut out to write about it in book form. For these reasons I have to say the Nathaniel Fick ears a huge pile of respect from me, aside from his service to his country, simply for who he appears to be given the insights shared in this work and manner in which they are recounted.

One Bullet Away is the story of how someone, yearning for a more visceral experience in life than a corner office and subjugation of subordinates can provide, went about filling the gap he felt in his life. This book is a clear, highly intelligent and insightful work that shows what being a Marine officer is all about and things we could all probably carry forward into our lives that would make them better for us and others.

I won't spoil it but I can say, if you're looking for an action packed bit of shoot-um-up reading, this book is not for you. If you want to have a contemplative look at the challenges of leadership under high stress and to have an honest review of the impacts of war and sacrifice on a man, this is your book. As well written a book as I have read and it covers vast amounts of detail with becoming totally bogged down in it. It's a tightrope at best to try to walk.

  • Readability - 5 of 5 - It flows and the flows some more. Nate is an excellent author with a clearly polish style that will serve him well in politics.
  • Editing - 5 of 5 - It's well done. Execution as sharp as the corners on a Marine bunk.
  • Subject Matter - 5 of 5 - Only because I wanted to know about this. I have read enough about the sun bloating the bodies of enemy soldiers cooking in the sun and the shots that dropped them there. Without the very human stories of the men behind these events, they become Hollywood tripe and the real valor is lost. Not so here.
  • Did I like the story - 5 of 5 - Absolutely. This will not be true for everyone though proceed with caution if you are looking for detail accounts of assaults on or by the Taliban. Not that sort of book.
I have to say read this but I realize it is not for everyone. That's what I enjoy about as much as anything. The story was told because the author felt it needed to be. That's something pretty important in writing. I think it serves this work well... and Nate, if you are every in Columbus, drinks and steaks are on me sir.