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James Simonds

Eccentric Kitchen knife set

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Posted (edited)

Long post alert!!! you were warned. 

I have nearly completed my third project: a collection of Kitchen knives. They are a set of 3, and then 1 individual knife. This took a bit under 2 weeks in various forges, spread over 4 months. its very much a labour of love (and expense) for someone without their own workshop. I also used offcuts and spare billets to knock together some other blades and a set of tools. because you dont waste good damascus!

All the steel is supplied as pattern welded billets to specification by Mick Maxen and its gorgeous stuff.

The set of 3 knives are feather Damascus and are a wedding gift for my younger sister. the individual one is for me. so, here goes:


Blade 1: Double twist pattern/stabilised yew handle chef's knife

This was my 2nd ever kitchen knife. my first was showcased in a thread called 'porkbane'. this blade was intended to be a full size chef's knife and i wanted it to be super thin, a real laser. however, due to a mistake/failure in forging, i wasn't able to get the full depth into the back of the blade near the tang. so it has ended up as a sort of medium knife with an unusual profile. despite this, I very much like it where it ended up. it has some unique features that i will continue to use. in fact, I haven't seen another knife exactly like it before.

The build is quite complex and i made some major changes half way through when i was not happy with the outcome. so i will go through it. The knife started out as a two day build, relatively straightforward. Yew handle with a plain finished blade. the only complication was i decided to try a sort of miniature/half integral bolster and a large raised flat shoulder/ricasso area. My reasoning for this is that i dont like stick tang kitchen knives very much, the joint between blade and handle is often unsatisfying (when just blade and handle, not with any 'intermediate' component). I also wanted to have the separating shoulder area to give somewhere to pinch grip the behind the blade, and to give space underneath the handle of this relatively narrow blade for the forefinger. both so you can really slice comfortably in both main techniques with it, despite its smallish size. so, it was all about ergonomics.


The handle/mini bolster is done by milling a slot into the end of the handle. it gives a really nice fit and also looks good. however, i was unsatisfied with the plain wood/steel transition shown above. it was nice but it just didnt blow me away or have the wow factor. I thought about it for a while then re-made the handle, re-finished the steel and re-etched with more contrast. it now looks like this.


So. there are 2 obvious changes. I added a copper bolster to the front of the handle. this really looks superb against the yew i think, and also gives a much nicer transition to the blade. i peened the end of the bolster to there is no gap at all and its a cool aesthetic. no gap filling with glue required and its a nice effect. 

The second change is the finish on the blade. I wanted to have a contrast between the etched blade and the shoulder area. the plain brushed steel of the first 'attempt' didn't quite do it for me. it was nice, but it wasn't quite there. so, i heated and brassed the shoulder, very carefully, so that the temper colours extend almost to the edge of the shoulder. 


man, i love this effect. it came out so much better than i hoped. the brassing is hand done with a wire brush, so its uneven and fades in, like pain brush strokes. the temper colours are loud and contour really well to the plunge line. its so pretty.


The mini/partial integral boster has a second large plunge line and this sweeps up towards the copper and includes some left over forging marks, which i like, gives it that hand made stamp. this photo shows it rough and unfinished, but you get the idea. faceted and geometrically shaped handle, more refined now than it was then.


Anyway. the knife is now complete and etched and handle re-shaped and the copper polished to a shine. the etched pattern is extremely cool. a multi layered bar twisted with a low layered bar to give this river of tight twist in the middle, with these 'bites' of low layer along the edges. something that again i dont think i've seen before. all credit to Mick Maxen for that, it was his idea and the billet was flawless.

I dont have a photo of the edge/thickness because frankly its just a bit think to photograph but its pretty thin, very flexible and laser sharp. by the plungeline the spine is 1.5mm, near the tip its 0.5 with a consistent taper in between. the edge was sub 0.2mm before putting the edge on with a slack belt. I love the bright unetched edge against the darker metal. The final feature is a custom mosaic pin with a copper hop leaf in, which is associated with my old family business. the pin doesnt hold the tang on obviously, its just decorative and adds a lot to the look of the handle.


overall, this knife made my day/month/year. i love it. i expect the brassing will diminish and tarnish after a while (although its still fine 2 months on), and that and the temper colours will be fragile (and impossible to repair, the handle is epoxied on), however, the 'aged' look might be nice. if not, i will just polish the shoulder clean as per the original design. I then used this as the prototype for the 'wedding' set, which i will post next. love to know what people think, have they tried these 'odd' features before (long shoulder, brassing, temper colours, semi integral bolster) and what do they think of them.



Edited by James Simonds

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Posted (edited)

So, with that prototype done, i moved onto the wedding set. i wont go into so much detail because of the similarities. here is a quick photo progression of the build and the end results. the set is a paring knife, a chef's knife and a carving knife (which will also be the cake cutting knife).

firstly the steel. here is what i started with, 2 of each.


feather pattern, simple and beautiful for a swept profile knife like these.

The handle material is ash burl with swirly blue resin. super cool, dont know the maker as it was supplied through a middleman.


Drew them out and basic profile under a powerhammer. however, i did as much forging as i could by hand, because i just enjoy it much more.



Chef's knife and:


Carving knife

And then i drew out the tangs, finished the profile, stretched the blades out and hammered in the bevels by hand. i even hammered in the plunge line on the carver, because why not. it didnt all go perfectly. here is me having a 'man, i don't need that much tang' moment


and an 'ah, that is pretty bad' moment. (i manged to save this billet, just cut around the failure and worked out just fine. that is the chef's knife now, its just smaller than intended)


Starting to see the pattern come out in the forge scale. innit pretty?


then, blades are forged in rough and ready for heat treatment

paring knife makes an appearance:


and the whole set, including hunting knife and bowie knife blanks that i made from other bits because, you know, the forge was hot and i like hammering. dont judge me ok! the one at the bottom is a scriber that i made from the offcut of that blade with the split in it. and very cool it is too.


Post hardening and that cool pattern starts to emerge. to the grinders! i wont bother showing pictures of grinding. we all know what sparks and dust look like.


so, approximately 4.2 years of grinding later (8 straight hours)

The chef's knife has no mini integral bolster, the material i needed for that had to be cut off because of the split. the paring knife also developed a crack in heat treating, but right near the top edge. i turned this into the 'feature' of those little shaped cut outs, which i really like. i might do them again deliberately! turning problems into features is a linking part of this whole project.




Taped up, handles rough burned on, ready for finishing and. yes, the carving knife does have a flaw in the centre. yes i did cry for a while. no, i decided not to throw it away as it seems to be stable. obviously for a outdoors knife, a chopper, a bowie that flaw would be terminal. for a cake knife? its ok.


with the block handles and rough copper bolsters


Detail here of that quirky double plungeline/mini integral bolster thing i am doing. its odd yes, but i like it. i tell you something, its either a lot of fun to grind, or a total pain, depending on your perspective!


And now, all major stock removal done on the handles/bolsters but still rough. blades finished, brassed and etched


Then handles 95% finished and done in the forge. more finishing to be done back home. some nice parting shots in the forge for 6 days of hard, hard work. (does this forum have a picture per post limit? lets find out)






including the other stuff i did (2 part finished blades with wooden handles needed re-finishing, the bowie has a rough handle not shown here), here is the full results from those 6 days. not a bad haul at all eh?





So, after a bit more work, edging, fine sanding etc.

insert mental drumroll




Still actually need to tidy up the finish on the handles (re-shape the top one, because its too blocky and big in the hand), and possibly play with the etch (re-etch the centre one because the etch finish was damaged by an errant edge grind slip up), but we are nearly there. Need to polish those handles too, to make them super deep and lustrous. all in all a very satisfying set to make, super happy with the result. shout out to Dave Budd, whose workshop i used and who kept a eye on me and helped me not make a mistake i couldn't come back from. The style of these blades is very odd, with the combination of feather, blue/burl handles, brassing, temper colours, odd double plunge lines etc. but hey, unique is often good? they are so nice i might struggle to give them to my sister. that is going to be a tough one.


As a bonus extra: what did i do with all the offcuts  i hear you ask? i made a set of marking tools:


a sort of kiridashi type thing (before and after etch, because its so shiny)



A ground and etched centre punch (god i love this one, the pattern lines up so perfect its unreal)


A forge finish centre punch, very different, and very cool. only ground the ends and etched lightly. so that shape is 95% hammered in


and a double ended scribe/marker thing.



Massive post i know, but that wasnt even all of it. 11 'things' made in total in one extended session. might update when some of them are 100% finished and polished and loved a little more. if you read this far, you are a champion sir.


i have no idea how to get rid of this photo below, its an attachment i made by accident and it wont die!



Edited by James Simonds
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Impressive !..................

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Wow, there is some energy in your post ! good work :) 

That middle seam on a feather billet will open up if you so much as stand on the wrong foot when you hit it. Love the big twisty steel.

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Random question time. Is the hammer in some of your photos made by James Wood ? its lovely 


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2 hours ago, John N said:

Random question time. Is the hammer in some of your photos made by James Wood ? its lovely 


rovtar forge in croatia. and yes, its very nice looking. also, works well too. well balanced and good weight, head size and form seems to work well. the edges are very nicely shaped and i can use them well for peening. it is the hammer i used for 80% of the above work.

2 hours ago, John N said:

Wow, there is some energy in your post ! good work :) 

That middle seam on a feather billet will open up if you so much as stand on the wrong foot when you hit it. Love the big twisty steel.

yeah, it was a nightmare with 3 of the 4 billets. both big ones split badly and i had to work around them. i think at first we were simply powerhammering too hard, causing too much lateral stress at the junction between what had and had not been hammered. i think alternating drawing out hits with upsetting hits could have helped.

anyway, manged to get away with it. one of the blades had a tang that split like a tuning fork, but we bashed it back together and welded it up, its got brass finish, which is lucky, because it wouldnt take an etch now!

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