Kapatiran Suntukan Martial Arts


Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Put Hammer to Steel

At the last Gathering at Chuck’s, we (the Tribal Edge guys with Buzz and myself) did a trial run for what may become a regular occurrence: Knife Making 101. It was a spontaneous thing for me to do, and I am so glad I did it.
Keep an eye out for the announcement if this becomes an official class.
For the last few years, Chuck, along with Mushtaq Ali Shah, Buddha Weatherby and now, Ian Robbins, have been producing pointy things at Tribal Edge Knifeworks

Along the back half of Chuck’s garage (anyone else think of Joe’s Garage?)are the tools and equipment of Tribal Edge. The forge is propane driven and has a wall of firebrick on the backside to prevent the flames from igniting the building. The ignition process sounds like an F-4 Phantom at full afterburner.

Fire in the hole!

The group works with a variety of steels and in the case of the knives that Buzz and I decided to make, it was a former coil spring from a vehicle. It is 5160 high carbon steel, which, according to Chuck, makes great blades.

The first step was to pound it into a billet to work with and then we began the shaping process. Buzz was going for a custom fit kerambit. I like the retention ring from the kerambit I carry and decided to see how that would function as a straight blade with edge on the “inside.”

Ian did a lot of the initial work and some shaping. He let us hammer enough to make us feel like we were doing something, however. Just as I was getting the rhythm of the swing down, it was done. I hadn’t noticed that I had blistered until near the end of the hammering. There is definitely something therapeutic in the swinging. We then let the metal cool in the forge overnight.

Following the forging, we did what Chuck referred to as “stock removal.” We smoothed out a lot of the hammer marks, trued the lines of the overall profile a little as well as dressed up the geometry of the blade that would save us time on draw filing. All of which I think was a result of my novice hammer strokes. We did this fixing up using a belt sander. Chuck was apt to point out to be very aware of the grip as the sander could snatch the blade-in-waiting and pull in a finger to smooth.

The next step was to bust out the lube. We used Oil Stones to smooth out the appearance of the blade’s texture and move toward a good shape and look. The first run was with 120 grit stone to get the groove going. That was followed up with 320 grit to get a little deeper. We also located and drilled the holes for the pins using the drill press.

Then we moved the blade slowly in and out of the forge repeatedly to normalize the metal. In other words, we just heated and manipulated the heck out of it and this process to will help the metal align its chakras. It’s Tantric.

The blade was then heated to a non-magnetic state and I found this rather interesting. Using a magnetic bullet, I pressed it against red hot metal to see if it would still pull. When it was no longer attractive, we quenched it in oil. This hardened the metal to a state of brittleness such that it would have shattered if dropped. Needless to say, after all the work that went into the knife so far, that would have sucked. Chuck was rather nonchalant about it, so I didn’t let it worry me.

In order to get the metal back to a state that if would not become a pile of shards, we applied what Chuck referred to as the “drawing process.”
This involved a high tech piece of equipment: the toaster oven, which happened to be the only piece of equipment not in the garage. We heated the metal for an hour at 375 degrees and then let it cool to room temperature. Chuck had buffed an area of the tang so we could watch for a color change. The process was repeated until we saw a distinct golden straw color. This indicated the brittleness of the metal had lessened enough to allow it to hold and edge and not shatter when dropped.

We again used the Oil Stones to polish the blade further. This process was actually a little challenging due to the taper from the original thickness of the metal down to the eventual edge of the knife. It took a skilled hand and I definitely let Chuck smooth out my rough edges on that.

At this step, we also cut out and rough shaped the wood that will become the handle. Tribal Edge offers a number of cool woods to fit the mood. I chose Gabon Ebony for this knife, as the lighter grain really looks great on the overall black. We aligned and drilled the holes for the pins in the wood. Using a band saw we rough shaped the handle and fit it with homemade pins. The pins are varying sizes of metal tubing with epoxy holding them together. They are surprisingly simple things that add a tremendous amount to the aesthetics of the finished product.

Now is the moment when it all comes together. The wood is affixed to the tang with a binary epoxy and the pins get a layer of super glue and are slid into place. The piece is clamped and allowed to set overnight.

The main thing left to do is sand down the pins and shape the wood using a combination of belt sander and hand sanding. Once the correct and ergonomic feel of the handle has been found, it is slathered in Danish Oil. The oil soaks into the pores and crystallizes. This helps protect the wood from moisture. Chuck applies oil to the wood multiple times to assure it is deeply penetrated.

Chuck kept the blade to make a leather sheath similar to the one he fabricated for my kerambit. I also asked him to make a trainer version for me and am sure that will be nice. That is one of the coolest benefits about working with the guys; they made the live blade and can easily replicate a trainer with the feel and weight of the original. This is highly advisable investment, particularly so if the blade you have made can be your everyday carry.

Chuck is fairly demanding about all the custom blades made at Tribal Edge having a name. The first thing that came to mind was, “Call it Terry Trahan,” because it was his fondness for the pikal grip that led me to the design I chose. The next thing just rolled off the tongue and everyone liked it, so it stuck:

Reversal of Fortune


  1. That is so beautiful, a really great piece.
    Nice to read and see the progress of it.
    Talk to you soon, Bro.

  2. Hi Jay,

    I tried to post a comment yesterday, but I guess something must have happened to it. So, I'll try again... :-)

    I had a really great time doing this clinic...I hope we generate some interest. You did a great job on your blade...the mosaic pins buffed out really nice also.

    I hope to have the sheath done this weekend and to get it shipped. The trainer is coming along nicely. should be finishing that up also this weekend...needed to get more leather...


  3. I think you will be generating interest as soon as you say the word.
    I look forward to seeing the final product for sure!
    thanks again.

    more leather, eh?

  4. Can you ever have enough leather? *evil grin*

  5. Depends on the company I am thinking.

  6. Nice shiv..and an appropriate name to be sure.,...great work..peace

  7. Chuck does nice work, doesn't he?

  8. I expect to see a replica of Narsil by years end.

  9. if I was to wield something that long, I personally would choose a scimitar.
    But Narsil would be cool.


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