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Matthew Mafera

Starting the Dream

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Hello everyone! My name is Matthew and I'm just starting out with bladesmithing. I've been inspired by a lot of the great people on here *cough* Arctic Fire 2016 *cough*

This post will also serve as a place to put out my ideas for what I want to do before I do them and hopefully the more experienced will be able to help me avoid beginner mistakes.

I'm on a bit of a budget currently so I am going to start by making a stock removal blade without any power tools, so I'll be doing a LOT of hand filing. I've decided to try and make a simple ballock dagger based on the on from Hieronymus Bosch's painting "The Pedlar"

106261fdafad5726e48a39216d9ebe68.jpg

 

Now comes the thinking out loud.

 

I have a piece of 1075 bar-stock that I will use for this. My first question would be, I have a 6mm thick piece of steel should my edge thickness be about 2mm? I plan on doing a flat grind for this and I want to know if the correct process would be to do a 45 degree grind at the very edge and then do another 45 grind on the edge of the first grind working up until I am at the spine? I plan on outsourcing this to someone to do the heat-treat as well. I'm considering using curly maple for the handle because I have a ton of it just sitting in my basement.

 

Thank you all and I look forward to getting to know people!

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Welcome to the forum and welcome to world of blade making.

 

Ambitious project for a starter, don't you think?

Not that I think you cannot do it, just that you are setting the bar awfully high for yourself *cough* and possibly setting yourself up for a miserable failure. (and that's no fun at all)

Not for nuthin', but I've been at this for a little over a decade, and I'm just about thinking I finally have the chops to take on a Ballock dagger project.

Hey, you might be the naturally gifted guy and it will be a piece of cake, but how likely is that?

My advice to "avoid beginner mistakes" is to try some simpler designs first. Gather some successes under your belt, and progress to consecutively more difficult and complicated designs along the way.

Edited by Joshua States

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Agree with Josh that you are being a little ambitious, but sometimes you have to just swing for the stars. A couple of suggestions:

  1. If you are planning on doing that much hand filing make absolutely sure that your stock is fully annealed. Will save you a ton of grief.
  2. How are you planning on cutting out your profile? You might consider getting at least one simple power tool. For the short term there is a Harbor Freight grinder that won't break the bank (get the one with the paddle switch, not the extremely cheap one that has a slide switch). With that and a cutting wheel, hard wheel and flap sanding wheel you can rough out, profile and preliminary grind your blank. I know one knife maker who has made a good handful of successful blades with only an angle grinder, files and sandpaper. Use proper PPE if grinder is used.
  3. You will also likely have to do a lot of hand sanding both before and after heat treatment. If you can, request heat treatment from someone who has a technique in place to severely minimize scale (inert atmosphere, SS foil wrap...) so you don't have to do as much finish work once the blank is hard.
  4. In my opinion 2 mm is too thin for the edge before heat treatment, but ask the service you plan on using.

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I do realize that this is probably a more advanced project and I think I'll find out pretty quickly if this was a good idea or not. If I do mess it up, which I probably will, I can at least get some good filing practice out of it.

 

I do actually have access to a band saw so once I get an appropriate blade for it I will be using that.

 

I also have a kiln in my house but I'm not sure if that will work for heat treating yet.

 

Thank you for the advice!

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Welcome to the madness!

 

I second the angle grinder, the best 4.5 or 5-inch model you can afford. They make short work of heavy stock removal.

 

You will also want a few of the biggest files you can get, then a selection of decreasing size and coarseness. The bigger the file, the more even the flats you can make; the smaller the file, the finer the finish. If you do a targeted Google search of this site (site=www.bladesmithsforum.com) you will find a LOT of information on files and filing. And don't forget the hand sanding. That's where the vast majority of your time will go.

 

Your approach of starting the edge first then blending it back to the spine is a good one, as long as you keep the edge a little thick to start with so you can remove the inevitable deeper gouges that will occur during the process. And I often go to 1mm before heat treat, especially if I'm going to be finishing without any power tools. Hardened steel is hell on files. Do ask your heat-treater for their preferred thickness. If they use salt baths or atmospherically-controlled furnaces they can go thinner, if they use an open furnace you have to leave it thicker to account for more decarburization if they don't use foil or anti-scale compounds.

 

We can talk about your kiln once you get some experience under your belt. ;) Ambition is great, always bite off just a little tiny bit more than you are comfortable with, it's the only way to get better. The blade for that dagger shouldn't be too bad, it's the hilt that'll give you fits if you're like me.

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I think Joshua is being modest; his metalwork is better than mine, and I managed to turn out a halfway-decent ballock dagger a few months ago. :D

 

Alan speaks truth, as usual. I found the hilt of the ballock dagger to be much more challenging to make than I expected. Having prior wood-carving experience would help you a lot there--and a good set of chisels or miniature rasps is a necessity. Also, definitely look up ballock daggers on this site using the search method Alan described. Among other things, you will find Peter Johnsson's excellent ballock dagger WIP, which, if you haven't already seen it, will likely help you a great deal. My own ballock dagger post also contains some of my shop notes and things I learned from the project, which may be useful to you.

 

I would also suggest--as it was suggested to me--looking at museum specimens to get a firm grasp of the proportions and typical features of these daggers; they are at the same time a very specific but highly variable form. I thought I knew what I was talking about before I dug into the project, but I sure didn't. The Royal Amouries, the Wallace Collection, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art all have fine examples of ballock daggers, readily searchable in their online collections databases.

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Ballock daggers are fun!

The blades can vary quite a bit. Some are rather advanced with groves, bevels and asymmetrical cross sections, reinforced points....
Others are pretty plain but still dedicated and serious pieces. I have often had thoughts toward exactly that dagger you have chosen for your project. Hieronimus Bosch depicted many blades in his paintings. Some are clearly stuff of nightmares, while others seems to be picked right out from his daily life. This dagger is one of the very realistic looking ones.

For the blade I am guessing it is single edged. These wide blades are often a bit thinner than the narrower and more common blades. I would think that 6 mm spine is enough, even if it might have been even a bit thicker. The cross section is most likely triangular with a flat spine. Many of these bullock dagger blades have very little distal taper. The retained thickness at the point makes for a strong thrusting point. The last bit of edge towards the point is not all that sharp, but the rest of the edge can be viciously sharp with a narrow total angle. The triangular cross section often goes directly into the cutting edge. Only an almost microscopic bevel where the cutting sharpness is honed. These blades can be almost a cross between an ice pick and a straight razor. Murderous. And I guess that is the whole point....

In the painting it seems there is a small by-knife on the front of the scabbard. This would be a more peaceful looking utility and eating knife. It is showing some manners not to eat with the same blade you use to take the life of fellow men with...

A great project!

Looking forward to see what you do with this :-)

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Well Matthew, it looks like you have some really good support for this endeavor.

Give it a go and keeps us posted on the progress and those who have more experience with this particular style are able and willing to help you along.

Once more into the fray!

Edited by Joshua States

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..and apparently I need to make another ballock dagger, because I didn't nearly-zero-grind my first one, and thusly did not achieve its potential for maximum murderousness. :D

 

Seriously, though, thank you Peter for that tidbit of knowledge about the edge grind on these daggers. That's one of those things that would be nearly impossible to glean from pictures alone.

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Thank you all for the support! I'm researching some measurements to get the right size and I'm sketching out some quick templates. I have a little experience with wood carving but my dad has been working with wood for 32 years so I have a great resource on that front. I'm looking at places to get the heat treat done at too, I think I've found one. I'll have some pictures to share soon!

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Okay so after some very advanced math ;) I have made a basic template for the blade. Something about the curve of the blade doesn't seem quite right to me, what do people think?

 

IMG_2817.JPG

 

The blade is 14" overall with a 5 1/4" tang. Also pay no mind to the tang, that will obviously change. I'll be getting my big file tomorrow and I plan on working on this over the weekend, so you will see more progress soon!

 

Actually, the more I look at this the less I like it. I'll pitch this and do some more sketching

Edited by Matthew Mafera

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Okay so after some very advanced math ;) I have made a basic template for the blade. Something about the curve of the blade doesn't seem quite right to me, what do people think?

I had the same issue in the design phase for mine. After a lot of analysis, I found that on (I think) every historical example I could find, the straight parts of the edge and spine are not parallel; rather, they angle inward towards the center of the blade, like two sides of a long isosceles triangle (though the point of the hypothetical triangle might be well past the point of the dagger) . On the Peddler's dagger, the edge sweeps toward the spine as in your template, but if you hold a straightedge to the picture, the spine also curves gradually inwards to put the point in line with the back of the handle.

 

...just in case you hadn't reached those conclusions yourself when you went back to the drawing board. :D

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Way to go on making a template Matthew. I make templates of everything. What are you using for template material?

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A quick question before I start cutting the steel, would an abrasive blade on a chop saw cut 1/4" steel? They make abrasive blades I just don't know if this would be too heavy duty for the saw. School has started again so the weekends are my only real time to work on this. I'm all ready to go as soon as I can cut up the steel!

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IF you're talking about a metal cutting chop saw, then yes.

 

If you're talking about a chop saw for wood with an abrasive blade, then it might, but I wouldn't. Saws designed for wood are not shielded against metal dust, so you can damage them over time.

 

An angle grinder and careful use of a zip wheel is good. But be careful; I have a boot with a hole in the top and a scar on my foot to match it on account of sloppy zip wheel use.

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The gear ratios and torques are also very different for wood chop saws and metal chop saws.

If you don't have access to a metal chop saw, how about a metal cutting band saw?

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Unfortunately all of the saws I have access to are for wood :lol: I know some local shops that would be happy to cut the steel up for me so I will defer to them on this.

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If you want to get them cut close to finished profile, see if you can find someone with a water-jet.

 

My son has one at his work and he was wanting some blanks for "tactical" fixed blades. He bought a piece of 5160 plate and cut six or more at one time.

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Although a much slower option the trusty hacksaw is an easy but very slow process that will work

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How about an angle grinder? I've made due with that for years and it works wonders for stock removal. Clean up the cuts with a file if you don't have a belt grinder. You're off a to great start with lots of ambition, like others have said. Please post progress!

Edited by Austin_Lyles

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I'm still making some slow progress on this! My tax returns should be coming in soon and I plan on getting an angle grinder as soon as I can. In the meantime I've been doing a lot more looking on the blade of this dagger. It's interesting because the blade seems much wider than most typical ballock daggers, though it's probably just an artistic choice. It seems very similar to blades on bauernwehr and some baselards albeit much shorter. I'm going to base the blade on this baselard, minus the fuller. 

e5c87eb8300e70da42b855c2798081a5.jpg 

As soon as I get the angle grinder I will start working on this! 

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that baselard blade looks pretty close to the one on the ballock knife. For cutting steel, I'll never understand what people have against hacksaws - it's what they are designed for. A decent hacksaw with a decent blade will cut about an inch of annealed 1/4" steel a minute - half an hour to an hour's work with a hacksaw and a file will give you a profile blade blank no trouble...

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