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Capturing the Character of Old Knives

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@Aiden CC

If you (and anyone else) want to get into some nice soft-fast working whetstones 

these here are my favorites, they're big, they're thick and one sided so you can use them on their side which makes them easier to keep flat and honestly you probably wont need the entire width of the face sides anyway.

these are baller and comparatively cheap(sometimes...prices fluctuate frequently)



ps: I'd avoid double sided stones, they seem like a good idea but two sides with different composition being fired at the same temp for same duration usually means one side was made to the correct specification and the other side can be...yeerr eeerrr durr hurr...

Edited by J.Leon_Szesny
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One thing to think of when folks talk about knives made by old blacksmiths. It wasn't an everyday experience because the knowledge, that a smith was a highly sought after! In other words a knife being something that was done during his down time! As a smith in a small town, that smith if he was any good he had more work than he keep up with making the tools that others used to tame the land and raise their crops.


As the mechanical age begin to progress, those items that were being shipped westward from back east. Their was no supply store for parts and parts that were shipped westward. Well that took time and effort all of which contributed to a high price for a repair point! The smith was the man of the hour!


To say this and then say a smith did not build knives full time. Well that means many are left believing I am wrong and that smiths just threw something together and sold it as as a knife, is as far from the truth as possible.

When a smith set out to build a knife it was a labor of love. After all he wanted the client to come back and that knife would have been used well. Not a mantle piece but, something that would be admired by all that seen it. The owner would brag on the smith for as long as he carried. It would become the best source of word of mouth advertising that any smith could ask for.


So to say an old knife would not have been top shelf work. Well that just is not soo!! Maybe that might be true of a knife, a man made for himself at home. But not so for a knife that a trained smith would have made!! It would have been made using all the knowledge that he had with his knowledge he had attained as a smith!! 


One thing that most overlook in the age of westward expansion most knives that folks carried were what I like to call "use what you brung"! Most were knives from the table or butcher knives from the barn. The majority of knives used in this period were production knives being shipped over the ocean, from places like Sheffield. If you go back and read the journals of the trappers and the folks who were suppling those Rendezvous. They were ordering in bulk from the eastern markets who were in turn getting the goods from providers overseas. 


I remember on quote from a Rendezous supplier ordering from his supplier. He wanted 40 of those tomahawks with the curly spike on it. "The Iroquois Indians loved them. but for the life of me I can't see why"! The why was that the Iroquois Indians waged war with them against the neighboring tribes and the knew exactly what that curly spike was used for!! 


You make a knife to a standard as good as you can possibly do. That doesn't always mean you can't use modern tools. You have to make it old when it comes to aging the blade, the handle, the sheath that it goes into. You want to end up with something that by using the time machine was transported thru time today's world! So don't come back with one of those less than stellar knives. Remember even then a knife was something that whoever carried took pride in that knife. It would be used to do their everyday chores or to show off with when the folks all got together.


It is said in an old trappers journal, about one of the Rendezvous.  The man rode in on his horse much like an Indian warrior at full gallop the horse had scarcely stopped when his feet hit the ground! The first thing that struck me was his size as he was well over six foot but, moved with the grace of deer. His highly colored and ornate buckskins were adorned with bead and needle work had obviously been made by a full blood Blackfoot.


He wielded a 58 caliber Hawken as if it were a small stick! As he stood there, I realized everyone else was doing exactly as myself. They were looking at every full inch of this man. The next thing that commanded my gaze was a large knife which he swept from a full rawhide sheath! He raised his knife and with one effortless toss stuck it in an Oak tree dead center of a possibles bag that hung from the branch of that tree. The knife was the most beautiful piece of work I had seen. Not like any of the knives I was seeing being traded at the Rendezvous. Later I found out that he had paid a large amount of money to a smith who was a personal friend in St Louis!! I could not take my eyes off of that knife!!


The entry in this mans journal went on to talk for another several pages about this man and his knife and the skirmishes he was engaged in during the week and a half that he stayed at the Rendezvous! The long and short of it was that his knife made an impression on the man's mind!! Ok enough of my rambling!!


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21 hours ago, Aiden CC said:

This reminds me of the first assignment in a class called "fundamentals of machine shop operations": take a piece of round aluminum down to a 1" cube +-0.001" to a side using files. They can certainly be precision instruments!


@Pieter-Paul Derks good point mentioning the handles as well! It seems like before belt sanders, powered wood shaping wasn't much of a thing outside of turning (I can't imagine a grindstone would like wood all that much). I have played with scraping a little bit in metal when I made a fuller scraper for Sakha/Evenk knives and a kisage for kinko work, but never really with wood. What would an old scraper look like? I guessing it would look different than something like a modern cabinet scraper but similar in principal.

I've had to do similar filing exercises for jewelry, so I'm not really saying that it can't be done. I was thinking of the changing of the bevel angle towards the tip and convexity, and many old knives are not really ''precise'' in that way.


I really love scrapers and use them on almost every handle I make, they are real nice to quickly get rasp marks out of an handle.

A set like the picture below is fairly traditional and allows for most shapes.


I would think those old scandinavian handles were scraped with a puukko type knife held at an angle.

I know spoon and kuksa carvers can get great finishes with a skillfully handled puukko.




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On 3/29/2021 at 11:58 PM, C Craft said:

You make a knife to a standard as good as you can possibly do.

This is definitely something I want to make sure I keep when making these knives.  I think what I have found is that with a flat platen on a belt sander and high grit sand paper I am able to do things that would have been difficult to impossible for many in the past, especially in the less well equipped workshops. It's looking like using some older school tools may be what it takes, at least at first, to capture some of that old spirit. 


On the topic of scrapers, I was actually considering trying them out a little while ago after I decided to try hanging the collared axe I made below just using hand tools and without any sanding. I used a combination of a hatchet, drawknife, and puukko and did a lot of scraping with the puukko and draw knife. I think a proper scraper would have done a much better job though. The handle is all smooth, but definitely has the characteristic dips of carved wood.  I have tried whittling some burl/curly birch handles before and it's tough but still possible. Adding in a file/rasp before the scraping would probably help immensely. 



I also decided to bit the bullet and get a few more stones to try out. I'm beginning to plan out a project to look into the effect of tools on design, and will probably make at least one scraper/sen as well as a more ergonomic setup to use stones. I think it would be pretty neat to start with a specific inspiration piece and then make one interpretation using all of the tools in my workshop alongside a second where don't my sander or any sand paper. I will probably do something like that this spring. I also tested some new stones out on my "beater" puukko:


This is the finish at 220, which actually seems to be a pretty good match for the scratch pattern on a lot of old knives. I'm pretty sure most of the whetstones in the world are 100-300 grit.



This is after 800. This stone finish is nice and flat, but it also feels like it really wants to rust. I usually buff puukkos with emery for this reason (in addition to quick stropping). I have some pumice/aluminum oxide powder and a horsehair brush I made for kinko work, which seems like it could actually be a good way to make a more "closed" surface, especially on the flat part of a knife. I have noticed that the surface of copper alloys after a 1200 g tool and die stone have this same frosty effect, but that it gets smoothed out pretty well by the brush and powdered abrasive before patination. I suppose some super mild abrasive like the end grain of hardwood charcoal, or a steel burnisher, could be other options.

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I ditched my flat platen years ago for just this reason. I do all my grinding on a 10" contact wheel. I find it's faster, more intuitive, and allows you to do things like complex distal tapers far more easily.


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