As much as I love the creative process of writing, it has one serious drawback: it involves sitting down at a laptop, which is essentially what I do for a living all day long. I’m a Project Manager at a large financial services company, in which I spend most of my day on the phone with my laptop in virtual meetings. It had always been a dream of mine to write a novel, but I didn’t get started until later in life. I’ve spent the last eleven years getting up between 4 and 5 AM to put in a few hours of writing before going to work. People look at me like I’m crazy, but that’s what you have to do if you’re serious about writing. It’s worth it and I feel really proud of my writing. To-date I’ve written 6 novels.
And I’m glad I’m pursuing that dream, but I also needed to find something that got me on my feet, is physical and hands-on and kept me in shape (more-or-less). Gym memberships never worked for me. I’ve tried that several times and I’ve always found it too boring to keep up. What I needed is something physical that won’t bore me to death, and keep me interested enough to stand and use my muscles for hours.
So in the summer of 2016 I started another hobby – knife making. I forge them by hand from raw hunks of high carbon steel. It seems to be working. One hot Saturday in the summer, I rolled my forge and anvil out into the backyard under a shade tree and spent the entire day forging. I was in complete bliss, and lost almost 10 pounds.
I think I found something that holds my interest enough to keep me physically active for hours at a time.
I didn’t want to spend a lot of money, so I made my own forge out of an old barbeque I found abandoned at the side of the road. For an anvil I use an old piece of railroad track that was given to me. Some good files and a couple of heavy hammers, and that’s basically all you need to get started.
My workshop is in the garage, and when the weather allows, I roll the forge out onto the driveway. I’m not setup to run a coal forge indoors yet – that will take some serious ventilation. The weather doesn’t always allow. In my area the winters can be really crappy. Lots of snow, and this year we’ve had more than the usual amount of freezing rain.
I’ve had several people ask me for pictures of my knives, and for a while I was emailing them. So I decided to add a photo gallery to my website. So, just for fun, here are some pictures. You can click on the photos to get a closer look.
Here are some pictures of some knives I’ve made over the last few months. I’ve made some chef’s knives, some with oak handles, others with micarta handles. I shape the handles from blocks the material, using saws, files and sand paper. The blade steel for the chef’s knives is 440c stainless. I grind and sand it to shape from flat stock. I do all the heat treating myself in a small forge out in the garage.
It’s important to have interesting hobbies when you are stuck at home self-isolating!
June 2019: Here are some recent creations. These are all hand made from rough flat stock and black micarta.
I made this from 01 Tool steel. It’s 10.5 inches overall with a 5.5 inch blade. I put a brass bolster on the handle for an added touch.
This is a smaller camp/utility knife with a 4 inch blade. I made the handle from black canvas Micarta. I ground the blade from 01 tool steel. I made the leather sheath for it.
I forged this from the leaf spring of a car. Forging is a process whereby you heat the metal up in a forge to the point where the metal is soft, and then you use a hammer to shape it. It is a lot of fun and a great way to get some exercise after sitting in an office all day.
The blade is 6 inches long with a 4.5 inch handle. I can’t tell you what kind of vehicle it comes from because I found the chunk of leaf spring laying on the road. There is a brass finger guard soldered on, with hardwood handles and brass pins. The hardwood comes from a Honey Locus tree in our backyard.
Another view of the same knife above. I am particularly proud of this piece. I forged the blade entirely from a chunk of leaf spring I found on the side of the road. The leaf spring apparently fell off the bottom of a car or small truck. Leaf springs from cars are high in carbon content and will make excellent knives once heat treated. Once forged, I used a belt sander to clean it up a bit. The hardwood is beautiful and rubbing it in linseed oil brought out the grain nicely.
This is a small camp knife I made from a piece of high-carbon 1095 steel. The blade is 3.5 inches long. I soldered the brass bolster and attached the hardwood handles with brass pins.
Okay, so this has nothing to do with hand made knives or writing books, but I thought this little guy was cute. I caught this baby possum just outside of my backyard smithy. Possums are extremely beneficial critters to have around. They don’t get into your garden, and they keep the bad rodents away, like rats, mice and moles. So I released him back into my backyard. Cute little guy, eh?
Here is a better look at him.
It is easy to spend thousands of dollars on a hobby, and blacksmithing is no exception. But personally I don’t find it much fun to just go out and spend a bunch of money buying stuff new. It’s much more fun to rummage around yard sales and old used stores. Most of the tools I use I got used or made myself. And that way, if I decide knife making isn’t really for me, I haven’t spent a bunch of money and annoyed my wife.
This is my coal forge. I made it from an old BBQ I found abandoned at the side of the road. I lined it with fire brick, drilled a 1″ hole in the side to take the pipe (which I also got cheap from a second hand store).
I bought a used hair-dryer for $2 from the Sally Ann, and use it for the blower. This simple setup will get the forge hot enough to melt steel. I know because I’ve accidentally melted knives I left too long. Plenty hot enough to get the steel up to forging temperatures.