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How to Start - A beginners guide to bladesmithing


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How to Start...
A beginners & newbie info thread

The Age old craft this forum is about seems to attract more guys as it used to for some while.
Thus in the past months we have seen an increasing number of "How to Start", "Where to begin" questions posted to this board.

I believe the great thing about this very community is the will to help each other, to advance and to share.
However the "downside" is that if a question will be asked too many times, people could get annoyed by and not answer, vanish, or answer the
question "halfhearted". All options which I would not desire.

This community is one of the finest I've found on the net (thanks a lot don!), and most here are known by their real name. We are real person and I consider it nice to show not only a strange alias. No offense, this is up to you, but think about it for a moment... and should you like to change your alias into a real name, just send me a private message smile.gif (Personally I strongly suggest you to go by real name).

Beginners Place -> the "Beginners Place" is THE forum if you want to post basic questions, share your first results and such things... DO NOT post such questions in other boards, with the hope that more "Pros" do read and answer your question.
The Beginners Place might be used for all very basic beginners questions, and those amongst us (which are quite a few) who have the time & knowledge and the will to answer beginners question will answer...

Please refrain from posting "TEST POSTS"... this forum does work smile.gif

This sticky-thread (which is closed for posts but open for suggestions [send me a private message]) serves the purpose to help those who want to get into
this craft. I try to cover as many aspects which could be interesting for those who start out without going into too many details.
Keep it simple.

On the other hand, I truly recommend you to use the search functionality this forum provides, as the forum holds a vast amount of knowledge.
Often the "basic" questions have been covered a good dozen times.

There are so many resources around considering the "right" approach to the craft that I understand it to be sometimes a bit confusing...
I have compiled some information and a link list below to point you to places which I recommend.
Read these information, do some trial and error runs.... and then, if you have any specific question, do not hesitate to communicate it here.
Share your success and share your troubles and it is my believe that the community here will try it's best to help you on your way, once you've
made the first basic steps on your own.

One advice ahead of all the other information provided here: TAKE YOUR TIME and do not forget, that at one day even the best amongst us was not
more than a simple beginner. There does not exist (and I'm quite happy about this) a "become a blade smith in 21-days" course for this art.
There are only few right and wrong things. Much is about what you like, about your personal style and preferences. Do not expect that your first
results are the best amongst a thousand. Do not give up should something not work straight from the book. Do not falter if this takes indeed longer
as you might thought it would, as I may assure you it does take long wink.gif

now to the facts:
A Bladesmith by definition is a person who forges knives from whatever appropriate material using an anvil and hammers and other tools.
A Knifemaker is someone who starts usually with a flat piece of steel and grinds it into the desired shape using files, grinders, mills,...
There has been some fuss over which way is superior... none is. Both methods are different approaches to create a blade.
Both can produce superior results. In the final product there will be only little, if any difference if both craftsmen are skilled in their trade.

Well there is a difference... A Bladesmith works with fire, with red glowing steel, with the force of a hammer... and for most here this is
still after many years a fascination. I might say a life long fascination.
Some prefer the machine work (grinding) some the work with at the fire of a forge. It's all about you... not about quality or superiority.

Shop & Tools
Often at the beginning it is confusing to see what you really require to start out...
Again.. take your time. Good tools make no good craftsman. It takes skill and experience to use and appreciate appropriate tools.
So don't do a budget-overkill and get all the things you have once seen at a professionals shop.
Most of us have acquired what they have over an extensive period of time...
Time will tell you what you want and need for your work.
at the beginning you can have a very simple setup and there are some amongst us, some who indeed are very experienced and craft quality blades
who do only rarely use power tools. Others have a large machine park and fixtures and tools for almost any cause.
Both ways have their pro & con. A lot is about the way you like to work and what way you like to walk.
But take it for granted that you do not need an expensive setup to create fantastic knives.

For a bladesmith the minimal requirements would be:

- forge (gas / coal / charcoal) [more on this later]
- anvil
- hammer
- steel
- files
- and some basic tools like a small drill press, measurement-equipment, basic metalworking tools

You see it is not much.
Sure if you buy everything new, and only top quality you can spend 5000+ $ on the things above easily... easily more.
But be aware that this, especially at the beginning is not a necessity.

A Forge can either be bought second hand or made on your own (see the link section).
It is not really expensive... and there are "nice" ready made forges at affordable prices as well.
Gas, coal, coke, charcoal... all have their unique features, advantages and disadvantages.
Gas forges are easy to maintain and not that difficult to build, thus quite cheap. (I use gas most of the time)
Charcoal (hardwood) burns very clean which is nice and charcoal forges do not require heavy blowers and are easily made.
Coal/Coke forges usually require stronger blowers and need to be of a bit more solid construction.
Whatever way you go... you're free of course to experiment later. All methods will work. All require some practice.
However no forge should be operated in a closed space without a ventilation or chimney... especially gas forges produce a good amount
of Carbon Monoxide (CO) which can be lethal if not vented properly.

Anvil... Well I'd say 50 pounds are a minimum if you plan to do "serious" working... basically the heavier the better.
A good thing for a single smith is something between 100 and 200 pounds... this will server you well.
The shape and type, at the beginning I consider not as important... a "hardy-hole" would be an advantage as it is used to hold the hot cutters and
other tooling.
But to keep it simple even a piece of railroad track will serve you for the first few knifes. Not optimal but it can get the job done.
A heavy and sturdy wooden base is a plus.

Hammer... as long as you're not a weightlifter accustomed to hundreds of repetitions smile.gif most of us are happy with hammers between 1 and 5 pounds...
Personally most of my work gets done with a 3 pound hammer... I can work all day long without getting too tired.
A larger hammer like 4 or 5 pounds is nice for breaking down larger stock but takes some good practice to be able to swing it long.
The face of a hammer should be slightly rounded and all hard corners ground.... else you'll have a lot of "hammer marks" on the surface.
What type of hammer? personal preference again... experience will show you what you like best for your work.

Files... Good Quality files, handled with control and skill can be darn fast at work.
it's often the wrong technique and / or the wrong type of file which make work slow and a pain in the...
Good files can replace a grinder. A Grinder is convenience and offers a lot of options, saves a lot of work... I for one would be fairly reluctant to
part with my kmg setup. But other don't need them and are happy.
A good grinder however doesn't make good knives... it takes more practice and much more control as with files.
Files provide an excellent control and much less chance to ruin things.

Steel... if you forge, you'll want carbon steels... not all steels are suited for beginners. Some are pretty tough to work, even more complicated
to heat treat and will thus for most beginners only serve as basis of frustrations.
Stick to plain carbon steels like the 10XX Series, (1050-1095), 5160 is an excellent steel as it is a bit forgiving.
I like 01 as well... some don't, I consider it a perfect "all around knife steel".
Scrap steel, can be used and often is a cheap source for trial and error runs at the forge, however be aware that two similar looking objects
(leaf springs for example) must not necessarily be the same steel... one can be 5160 the other could be 65Si7 or even 1075.
So often scrap steel can be a bit confusing as ten things made from one piece will make good knives and no. 11 will break during heat treatment or not get hard at all.
If you can afford it I'd say go with known materials, especially at your first steps...
As soon as you're confident with the materials and the work, you can try more difficult steels like D2 or 52100 or whatever.
Should you want or need to work with scrap steels usually Automobile leaf-springs are good steel, rail road spikes can be used (although some have a low carbon content),
old files usually are either W1 or W2, ball bearing are mostly 52100, bandsawblades can be a good steel (but be careful there are many types), railroad track can be used...

Tools like powerhammers, presses, grinders, milling machines, lathes, welding equipment, are no requirement.
Such tools can save you a lot of time, or like a press / powerhammer enable you to work alone with stock sizes or damascus billets which otherwise would
require the assistance of 2 to 4 trained strikers.
But take your time (I know I mentioned this already)... do not rush it and buy tools as you progress, as your skills become more advanced.

"I want to make a Sword, I don't care for knives"...
this attitude is often to be found and I tell you it is the very wrong approach.
Swords require their very own set of skills, have a lot of "complications" compared to small stuff and are anything but a beginners project.
Even for an experienced craftsman a good sword can be a challenge.
Start out with smaller knives, go with simple shapes and patterns. Get good at this, and then try your hands at larger knives.
When you feel that it works out nicely, go ahead and try the sword, you'll still be amazed at how demanding a work swords can be.

An important experience and tip I like to share:

As with all in live, things are being created and things turn to dust.
From nothing into nothing smile.gif ... Be prepared to work hours or even weeks or months at a special project only to see it being ruined by a simple wrong step.
See fantastic damascus blades crack and break during heat treatment. Experience mistakes made by haste and yet unskilled hands.
All of this, while it can have a certain degree of frustration, should not be regarded as a bad thing. Learn from it.
There is no teacher like your own mistakes if you're willing to learn.
Don't be afraid to make mistakes as you will make them anyways.

Still after some years in the trade "occasionally" I loose a good blade or ruin something by doing something stupid.
And I have not met a single craftsmen, no matter how experienced who is free of this type of happenings.

As a conclusion I want to add the following few tips:
- Try to get in contact with an experienced bladesmith... don't expect too much, but watching a skilled hand can teach you a lot.
- Try, Try and keep trying. You will master the craft in due time when you keep trying.
- Think about your mistakes and experiment. Maybe one way works better for you then another.
- Do not only try to copy... Try your own styles... advance them let unique works come true. You will appreciate it and other will too smile.gif
- Ask when you have specific questions...
and last but not least: Blame the shop trolls... this will keep you sane smile.gif

By now I the only thing left for me here to say is to wish you good luck on your way and do not forget, it is about fun as well.

Daniel Gentile
RONIN Custom Knives


Recommended Books:
- "The Complete Bladesmith", Jim Hrisoulas
- "The Master Bladesmith", JH
- "The Patternwelded Blade", JH

- "The Craft of the Japanese Sword", Yoshindo Yoshihara & Leonhard kapp

- "How to Make Knives", Richard Barney & Robert W. Loveless

- "The Tactical Folding Knife", Bob Terzuola (excellent if you're into linerlocks)

- "How to make Folding Knives", Ron Lake, Frank Centofante, and Wayne Clay

- "Custom Knifemaking" by Tim McCreight's an excellent starting place for beginners.

There are more books of course, but these are good ones and will do the startup-trick quite well.
As you advance I'd recommend readings about metallurgy and heat treatment this will advance your quality quite a bit... but you already should know what you are doing.



How to become a Bladesmith

Bladesmithing resources for the U.S.A.

Edited by Alan Longmire
outdated links
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FERRUM - Daniel Gentile

custom knives & forging classes


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