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Make a Railroad Spike Knife
This is an easy blacksmithing tutorial. It is one of the first projects that a person might make when first starting out in the craft. It is pretty much a staple project of the art. We do a down and dirty, quick and easy knife.
If you are new to blacksmithing this is a great project to start out with. And you don't need a whole lot of guidance for this project. You can pretty much visualize the shape of the knife and then hammer it into that shape.
I also have a video tutorial at the bottom of the page
Here is the knife we make.
One thing that I will talk about in this video is variety of hammers. They make a big difference when it comes to blacksmithing. Watch the video if you want to see the various hammers in action.
The more blacksmithing you do the more hammers you are going to accumulate.
Okay! Inspect the spike. A little bit of rust is quite ok. The forge will burn it off. No need to try to remove it.
Heat it nice and evenly. But you don't have to worry much about the butt of the spike. We aren't going to be working that part of it. This looks great. It has a nice even color and needs just a little bit more heating.
Ok, once it is heated give it some hits with a heavy hammer. I am using a 3 1/2 pound hammer here. Just to start to flatten out the blade end of it. And do this evenly on this side, then flip it over and do it on the other side too.
Now, I am not hammering directly flat down on it. We dont want to flatten it exactly even. We are leaning toward one side of it. That is because the spine of the knife is thicker than the blade.
See how the Blade is starting to take shape? And see how you can now determine which side is the actual edge to be sharpened is. This is what the leaned hammering does.
And just like that, with a little bit of hammering our knife is starting to take shape.
So, continue heating and hammering. As you are doing this you will start to get a feel for the malleability of the metal and you will get a sense from that and from the color as to when it should go back in the forge for more heating.
Now we start to define the difference between the blade and the handle. This is where the blade is flatter and it flares into the handle. How do we do this? We do something called half face near hammering. This is where we put the piece on the edge of the anvil and hit it with the hammer with the center of the hammer right about at the edge of the anvil. Hitting it right about where the white arrow shows.
This area of the knife where the blade tapers into the handle is called the choil of the knife.
Keep an eye on the spine of the knife. Working it will distort it a lot which is ok. Just keep looking at it and bringing it back into shape along a center line. And you can see how you have to hammer one side of the knife and then flip the knife over and hammer the other side. This will keep it along the center line. (White line is added to show the imaginary center line.)
Ok, it is looking good and the major shape has been formed. Now we can switch to a lighter hammer and do some more work on it. But with the lighter hammer we can get more accurate.
Ok, starting to look pretty good. It is pretty straight and starting to thin out nicely. It needs more work because it is still way too thick for a knife. Keep at it. Keep hammering, flattening and straightening. But with the lighter hammer.
I like the shape. It is just the way I want it. Now I switch to an even lighter hammer to do the lighter detail work, further getting it right about to where I want it.
Don't try to get it exactly to your final knife shape. We will do that work with sanding. Keep it a little oversized in every dimension.
We are just about done with the blacksmithing part of this knife so one more thing to show you. Remember that half face near hammering we did at the choil? Well, we can further work on this with a cross pean hammer and a ball pean hammer. this will allow us to shape it exactly how we want.
One final step. Now I want to smooth it out and give it a fairly flat and even surface. I do this with a nice smooth hammer. A planishing hammer would be great for this. I am using the flat end of a ball pean hammer.
And that's it! The forge work is done with this knife. It looks pretty good.
Master smith Wayne Goddard is an icon in the field of knife making. As a full-time maker, teacher and writer, Goddard works as hard to teach knife making skills as he does to acquire them. His affiliation with BLADE Magazine has brought new and interesting information, tips and tricks to thousands of would-be knife makers. Other popular titles from Goddard include The Wonder of Knifemaking (2000) and $50 Knife Shop (2001 and 2006).
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