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First ever knife forged

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(Edit: I now realize this would be more appropriate in the "show and tell" section, could anyone move this topic?)

Hi guys,

Contrary to most (if not all), my first approach into this forum was through the "bloomers" section...my goal was (and is still) primarily to make steel, forging something out of it being "secondary" :P

That being said, I found something of interest last time I went on an ore search, so hey, how about I use the opportunity to get a little bit of training?


What you can see here in the trunk of my car, next to fresh ore blocks, is a big old rusty "anchor" (not sure of the english word), usually found in old brick walls (that are abundant here). My ultimate goal being to produce "local" steel, I figured that would be  an appropriate alternative in the meantime. I have no "cheap" way to date the stuff, but it's likely going as far back as the mid-19th century.

This is plenty of steel, so I decided to cut a small bit and started to hammer it into a flat "blade":



I then beveled it on a single edge (well, at least I tried...) and drew out the tang. Behold my banana:


That was a pretty solid lesson on blade curving. I wanted the "knife" to look reasonably close to some variant of a seax, so I forged it back straight.

Then I had to grind it for hours before I was able to remove most of the cracks I induced by hammering the steel like a moron (thankfully, the blade is much thicker than it needs to be). I wasn't able to either get a nice, straight profile or remove all of the cracks, and sadly I'm still fighting my "good enough" urges. For a first, I'm still satisfied with the result.


Sadly, some (big) cracks remain. Moreover, I have no idea what the composition of the steel is. Consequently, I decided not to go through heat treatment, which could have been both unecessary and detrimental to the blade.

Regardless of my incompetent hammering, this steel really shows its age, with lots of black spots/lines visible everywhere.

For the handle, I went with a cedar block from a neighbour's garden, keeping with the "locally grown" idea :) I also added a brass "collar" at an angle. The block was pre-drilled, then the tang was heated and force-fit into the hole. I added 2 rivets through the handle (common nails) and epoxied everything together.


Then it was back to the grinder for a few hours before I was able to call it a day!

As a final touch, I dipped the blade into iron chloride to etch it a little bit (and treated the cedar wood with linen oil).




So this is the story of my first ever knife! It's a big, ugly, unwieldy piece of metal, but I'm still damn proud of it :)

Edited by Drepanon
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To clarify a bit (my wife was insisting on talking to me while I was obviously posting, how rude! :rolleyes:)  the iron will not harden, so it is good you didn't try.  Forge the rest thin, and pack it in a pipe full of powdered charcoal and put it in the forge at welding heat for a couple of hours, then allow to slow cool.  Weld those thin blistered strips into a bar and you will have steel!

you will still have to work it hot or it will keep cracking.  Wrought iron and shear steel have to be worked as hot as you can go without burning it.

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34 minutes ago, Alan Longmire said:

Forge the rest thin, and pack it in a pipe full of powdered charcoal and put it in the forge at welding heat for a couple of hours, then allow to slow cool.  Weld those thin blistered strips into a bar and you will have steel!

You have peaked my interest, Sir Longmire. I must try this. I have some wrought iron that im not doing anything with. A few questions, if i may, Alan?

How tightly does it need to be packed with powdered charcoal?

Obviously one end of the pipe will be capped and welded, but what about the end through which the iron is inserted? Dont want to leave it open to the flames, one assumes. 

Is there some sort of forumla? 1 hour @ 2200° F for each 1/8" of thickness, for example? 

Is it alright if iron touches iron in the pipe? One assumes you should put charcoal between each layer. 

Should any flux be added to prevent scaling?

Sorry to hijack the thread, but this process seems time consuming, labor intensive, and fuel inefficient, and i have to try it! 


Edited by Will W.
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I should add too that i like this knife. Love the fact that you used what you had, nothing fancy, just what works. Pretty nice for a first. 

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You learned a fundamental lesson about blades curving away from the hammer. Now you will have a better understanding when you encounter mention of "pre forming" a blade profile. This basically means hammering, or in some cases cutting, the tip downward before forging the edge bevels to compensate for the curving effect.

Congrstulations on sticking with it and doing a very good job of creating what, I think, you wanted. You did a good job and you shouldn't hesitate when you finally make steel. We have a lot of seax maniacs around here who can help you if you want to create a traditional seax from your first steel. Keep going with it !

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Thank you all very much for your nice words :)

9 hours ago, Alan Longmire said:

That is indeed wrought iron!  Not bad for a first blade.  You should carburize the rest to get shear steel.

It does appear to be wrought iron indeed. And yes, I discovered you really should stop hammering it as soon as it's below orange!

I was thinking about using the process described in this video (that is, packing the steel into a sort of "clay" made of charcoal, water and flour), but your recipe makes sense as well.

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The charcoal/flour/salt recipe is an ancient one and works well.  It was described in Theophilus as a way of hardening files, much like in that video.  As you may have noticed, carbon migrates faster the higher the temperature.  So, (and Ric Furrer taught me this) the most efficient way to make shear steel by pack carburizing is to make the thinnest bars of iron you can so the carbon doesn't have so far to go.  It's okay if the bars touch the pipe, but it is vital that there be charcoal powder completely covering the wide flat sides.  A vent hole is handy, but does not need to be more than a microscopic weep hole.  Too big and you risk losing your iron to oxidation once the charcoal is gone.  In the pre-Bessemer, pre-Hunstman days of making steel, iron bars packed in charcoal were sealed in clay boxes with no vent holes and baked at around 1400 degrees for up to a week to get blister steel, so called because it's going to be ugly when pulled from the case.  Ric figured out that since carbon migration happens logarithmically (not really, but that sounds better than an asymptotic curve) faster as temperature goes up, an hour at 2200 is roughly equal to a week at 1400.  The danger is that once the iron soaks up enough carbon you can cross the point of steel into cast iron.  If that happens, your pipe will suddenly melt, or even if it doesn't, the thin bars of iron you put in will be a blob of melted goo when you open the can. In other words, hotter is faster, but riskier.  You have to balance your needs against the other variables and hope for the best.

Once you have blister steel, it will be ugly as all get-out.  Clean it as best you can, stack it into as large a billet as you think you can weld, and weld it solid.  Draw that out, cut (shear!) it up, restack, reweld. Now you have shear steel.  Do that twice, it's double shear.  

Finally, if you want clean steel you have to start with clean iron.  Drepanon's iron is clean enough, barely.  If your iron is that really gnarly wagon-tire muck bar grade, your steel will look pretty gnarly as well, and be correspondingly more prone to weak spots and cracks.  If that's all you have, you get to refine your iron before you make steel out of it, yay!  All that requires is a great deal of cutting, stacking, and welding, all done at as hot as you can get it short of melting.  The goal is to get as much slag out of the matrix as possible while lengthening and combining the strings of pure iron.  

All this extra labor is why you see guys experimenting with open hearth carburization here.  It's a shorter process.  Just melt your iron through a hearth with the proper airflow, depth, and tuyere angle, and ideally you end up with a puck of mostly slag-free steel in a puddle of slag.  That puck then has to be further refined, of course.  Or you can use Huntsman's method of making cast steel.  Take your blister steel strips and pack them in a sealed crucible, then slowly heat until liquid.  Allow to solidify, then pour off the slag cap and dump the yellow-hot ingot and start refining that by drawing it into a bar.

You begin to see why steel was an expensive commodity before the Bessemer/Kelly process was introduced in the 1850s...

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Wow, thats a lot of information, thank you Alan, i appreciate it. Bookmarking for future use. 

Despite it being labor intensive, i think i may have a better shot with that than the hearth process. Ive done a fair deal of research on crucible steel and i just do not have a proper setup for it. Plain and simple. 

The wrought iron i have is of relative quality, it was refined at least once, i believe. I cut off a small piece and brought it to the metallurgist at work, and he was more than happy, excited actually, to take a look at it. It had inclusions, of course, but they were mostly only visible under a scope. The grain was massive on it for some reason though. He said it had less than 0.005% carbon and almost no sulfur. Very interesting stuff. 

Again, sorry for hijacking the thread. Ill quit my banditry now! :P.

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As Will says, wow indeed. This might be one of the most comprehensive guides to steel making I've ever had the pleasure of reading, Alan. Thank you so much for being so helpful with the community.

We'll certainly have a crack at hardening/carburizing in the upcoming months :) (it will depend a lot, of course, on the kind of iron/steel that we're able to make in our bloomery).

5 hours ago, Will W. said:

Again, sorry for hijacking the thread. Ill quit my banditry now! :P.

No issues whatsoever mate, I'm quite happy to learn new things and thread hijacking often helps in that regard :)

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