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Nick and Cole Smith

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After a recent discussion with some friends of mine, I decided to pitch the topic out here for some level headed thought. Are knives made with any power tools, (I.E. an angle grinder, belt sander, ect.) hand made or no? I was arguing that they were, but said conpatriots were decidedly against this.

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In my opinion, yes they are.  Any knife who's final shape and form is dictated by hands-on human interaction to me qualifies as hand made (or at least hand finished), regardless of the tools that are used to make it.  There is most definitely an argument to be had as to whether the methods used to make a knife fall into the category of traditional vs. modern, but that is a totally different discussion.

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If the tools used are guided by hand, then the piece is handmade. Whether those tools are powered by some other means is utterly irrelevant. Water powered hammers and grinding wheels have been in use for over half a millennium. A hand hammer is powered by gravity. An anvil is powered by inertia. The question is nonsense.

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just consider what the antonym of hand-made is, machined. i think the only time it is in question is on the other side of the spectrum, at what point is something no longer hand made, but machined? 

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1 minute ago, S. Cruse said:

just consider what the antonym of hand-made is, machined. i think the only time it is in question is on the other side of the spectrum, at what point is something no longer hand made, but machined? 

I was thinking along the same lines. There is a line after which we don't consider something hand made. But, if we go with Alex's definition, the blister pack SOG at Wally World is hand made.

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The answer is completely up to the individual.   Just to muddy the water with that answer, bowl turner and potters both use machines to turn their work but still call it "handmade" and I've never meet someone that thought otherwise.    I've also done quite a bit of work, where the client insisted I use no power tools to do my work.  An example of that was a restoration of a 1750's house in Pennsylvania.  700 clinch nails and a whole bunch of hardware, all made as if I was working at Colonial Williamsburg.

Edited by Gerald Boggs

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Now Gerald did you use the same material that would have been used historically along with the historic techniques?:P

Edited by Dan Waddell

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No, client wasn't that insistent.  For them, the ironwork being forged with a hand hammer and the tools that were available in 1750 was what they wanted.  But total authenticity wasn't my point, my point is everyone has a different opinion on the matter and that's the answer to the OP's question.

 

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I am going to elaborate on what Jake said.

What is a power tool?  Does a water driven hammer count?  Or a water driven grinding stone?  Both of those have been around for the better part of two thousand years (Trip hammers were used in China from at least 40 BC).  What about a foot driven grinding stone?  What about an air driven hammer?  What about a foot powered treadle hammer (also thousands of years old)?  

That last one is driven by human power, but is certainly a power tool.  They are all power tools.

Or are we just talking electrically driven tools?  

And then I would ask, if we are talking about electrically driven tools, why does the type of power matter?  I would contend just what Jake said then.  As long as I am guiding it by hand, then it is hand made.  How it gets its power is a non-question.  And I would also contend that it is related to that fact that people are misinformed about history and how most things were really made.

 

 

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This is one of those arguments that has no end :)

For my part, I happily combine using machine tools, and hand tools to make whatever I am trying to make.  For me, the purpose of my projects is to enjoy the journey, and to push myself to somewhere I wasn't able to go the last time.  I call my knives hand made.

Some people do this sort of thing because they want to explore how it used to have to be done before machine tools were so accessible.  That is wonderful, and what they do is certainly hand made.

If people want to badger me or lecture me about how it used to be done, or that I am cheating because I used a mill, I smile and ignore them.  Anyone who would actually be that way isn't someone I care to listen to anyway.  The real craftspeople who do everything by hand, aren't (generally) the kind of folks that would be an ass about it.

The hard truth of the matter is that unless you are one of the few who goes out with a bucket and shovel  to bring back ore,  Then chops wood to make charcoal used to smelt the steel and other metals to use for your knife, you are using a lot of machine made goods in your work.  I'm glad there are a few people around who keep the old technology alive.   I hope to be able to smelt my own steel someday, but even then I'll probably drive my car to find the ore...  

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In my opinion, so long as the piece was directed and manipulated by the hands, it's handmade. Includes milling machines and power tools and the lot. Once you get into cnc or waterjet it's like half-handmade, or production handmade. No power tools at all I think we can say "fully traditional". Cuts it for me. 

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I'm starting to think that I want to do and end run around "hand made," and just call my work "boutique." The connotation focuses on quality rather than method. 

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if the method I use for making the knife has any impact on the discussion, the kind of knives we were arguing about were stock removal technique, (I'm fairly certain that I don't need to explain what that means,) Vs. one forged from a piece of rebar for example. THe stock removal that I do is always done with an angle grinder, (except for one instance where I used a torch,) but I would never use cnc routing to make a knife or sword.

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1 hour ago, Nick and Cole Smith said:

but I would never use cnc routing to make a knife or sword.

Why not? 

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Not to stir, but that is an interesting question Gerald.

I can take a piece of dimensioned steel, trace a pattern line, zip wheel close to the line, then grind to the line on the grinder... perfect profile.

Then I make fun of my son for cutting 6 at one time on the water jet.

I know what I enjoy more, but what, really, is the difference?

Understand that I've spent countless hours in a circa 1756 shop with no electricity or water, so I'm not a tech guy... just waxing philosophical here.

Edited by Don Abbott

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How much of what we admire in earlier makers are simply work arounds that they used to overcome issues with materials or tools?  Tamahagane is, by modern standards, pretty poor material for blades.  That is why the Japanese smiths developed processes to hammer refine it, and why current makers can make superior performing blades out of L6 and cable (to name just 2 steels).  Why go to all of the work, when you can just buy the right steel to start with?

To some extent, hollow grind blades are an industrial artifact.  Grinding on a big stone wheel gives you a hollow grind, and a plunge cut,  just by using the grinder.  I don't think a fat spine, saber ground blade is a good cutter, in comparison to a flat grind, but it is what people expect to see, because it is what they have always seen.

It's good, and useful, to explore what out ancestors in the craft did.  The how and why inform what we do, but we shouldn't be slaves to it.

I can make good quality blades in a hand cranked charcoal fire, finished with just files and stones.  That says something about me and my skills, but nothing about the processes or their value.

 

Geoff

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15 hours ago, Don Abbott said:

Not to stir, but that is an interesting question Gerald.

Not at all.  Folks should feel free to use whatever methods they wish.  I use very few modern tools, but that's because I LIKE working that way, not because I think it makes me more pure.

Edited by Gerald Boggs

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I'd say the only knives that are NOT hand made are the following:

- Fully CNC milled knives (like John Grimso's Norseman etc.) The blades are profiled on a CNC water jet, milled to shape. All the components like the scales, clips and screws are milled or turned on a CNC lathe. They are hand assembled, some hand polished, but the bulk of the work is done by the CNC machine. They're probably great knives with very high precision fit. 

- Production machine blanked, die cut and machine ground blades (99% of the kitchen knives on the market). The big kitchen knife manufacturers have robot grinding rooms where they do all the final shaping, sharpening and polishing. Humans inspect the blades and handles for defects, but they don't make them by hand.

I don't have CNC control over my mill yet, so I do any milling and drilling by hand. Unless I'm using the mill's power feed :)

I would definitely do production runs of folding knives on a CNC mill if I had a good one. I'm a machinist and a programmer, so I find modern methods interesting.

But I'd say if I was doing that that they are 'benchmade' production knives, customizable in materials and finish, but not in pattern or shape. 

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1 hour ago, Brian Madigan said:

I don't have CNC control over my mill yet, so I do any milling and drilling by hand. Unless I'm using the mill's power feed :)

When I was a younger man, this was still considered a machine process.  I never heard a machinist refer to his work as "By hand"  How times have changed :-)

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On 3/21/2017 at 3:03 PM, Gerald Boggs said:

Why not? 

mainly because an angle grinder is as 'impersonal' to use an unfortunate choice of words (I can't think of any other words at the moment,) I believe that a sword or knife should be felt as it is made. I prefer the finer control that I can get with hand tools, whereas a cnc router just cuts the pattern out. The maker is seperated with the item. That and I've only ever used cnc once, and I was not overly pleased with the results...

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On 3/24/2017 at 11:48 AM, Nick and Cole Smith said:

... That and I've only ever used cnc once, and I was not overly pleased with the results...

Before I had access to a machine shop, I was a woodworker.  I remembered being envious about how "Easy" it was for a guy at a mill or a lathe to make such precise parts.  Then I started using mills and machine lathes and I discovered how hard it is to turn a simple cylinder that is truly a cylinder, not to mention a cylinder that is the size you intended.

Once I got used to making parts "by hand" that were accurate, I started to become envious of the CNC guys because it was so much "Easier" to make a part without mistakes if you don't have to turn the handles manually.  Then Is tarted doing some CNC work and discovered how much longer it takes to set everything up, and how the machine doesn't necessarily know how to compensate for tool wear or spring back, and you have to run several parts before you get the program and setup correct.

About this time I found myself envious of what people could do with CAM software going directly from CAD models to CNC programs, and how "Simple" it was to program the wonderfully complex shapes.  Then Is tarted doing the CAD work, and realized all the problems associated with it, and the hours it takes to draw the parts.

In the end, I have learned that there is a level of high craftsmanship associated with any method of creating a good quality part.  The machine tools make it easier to make a lot of parts that are very similar to each other, but are actually more of pain in ways that are not always obvious.  Now I choose to appreciate the work that went into the creation, and not focus on the work that didn't.

I enjoy the zen-like hours of hand filing and hand polishing.  However, I choose to mill the slots for my guards because that is how I want to do it.  So, are my knives not hand made?  Maybe you think so, but my fore-arms will disagree after spending 8 hours hammering out pattern welded a billet.  "Hand made" has a very personalized definition, and those two simple words cannot be expected to fully describe the work that anyone on this forum does no matter how they do it.

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To my minds eye, if the object in question was fashioned through the use of a programmed machine, then it was not "hand made". Lots of grey area there to be debated though. I strongly admire fine double shotguns and rifles for there beauty and the way they fit and function and are decorated, yet, most of the steel parts they are made with are in fact cnc cut, even the stock blanks are often roughed out on a programmed machine, but ALL the final fitting and finishing are meticulously done by hand, by very skilled craftsmen. So do you admire them as being Handmade, or, handcrafted? A buyer who pays $80,000 for a handmade, or, a handcrafted shotgun, does not quibble about whether the reciever was cnc cut, or drilled and filed to perfection. Handmade or handcrafted? This is one of those questions that is always to have a debatable definition. Just my view. 

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