I do not have the genius of Leonard da Quirm, but I do share one trait with him – I get easily distracted and sometimes spend several days trying to shave off a few minutes of some task or save a few bucks. Sometimes the effort definitively pays off – as in the case of my belt grinder or my forge burner, sometimes it is a success but with a question mark whether it was worth it – like the unbender (now I know it was worth it, btw, I have used it several times already and it is time-saver), and sometimes it is a bit of a flop, as when building a vacuum pump. If I had a definitive fail, I do not remember it, and so I allowed myself to get distracted again these last two days.
I have a problem with making metal bolsters, handguards, end-caps, and pommels. As in, it is difficult to get material thick enough to make them pretty, and even if it were not difficult, the result would be overtly heavy and thus would put the knife balance totally out of whack. The proper way to make bolsters and end caps is to make them hollow, and there are techniques for that. One of them is forging – as I did in the rondel dagger project. But that is labor-intensive, has poor reproducibility, and requires special tools anyway. Or I could buy prefabricates and adjust my design(s) to fit what is already on the market. Screw that!
So I have decided to make some new tools, and test them. The inspiration was a technique of minting coins before the invention of fly screw-press, which I have seen as a child in some black and white movie which has shown the making of Prague groschen at Kutná Hora. I remember nothing else about the movie except the part where they strike a punch on a silver blank with a hammer and thus make a coin. I think there was some drama and history in there too…
First I have made a die out of 5 mm high-carbon tooling steel. It consists simply of two holes – one for the bolster and one for the end-cap (I have chosen my small hunting knife as a pilot project because I think the design will be improved a lot by it and because I do plan to make more of these knives in the future). Second I have ground two punches out of square stock of high carbon tooling steel that I have scrounged at my previous job. Grinding the forms with angle grinder was not easy, but it was not insurmountably difficult either. I had actually a lot more trouble with welding onto it the 15 mm round stock for holding the punch in place and for striking – my welding sucks, bigly. And because at least the first strike needs to be real mighty, I have built a small wooden stand to hold the punch in place for that.
With the assembly on the concrete floor, as you see it in the photo, I have given it a mighty whack with my puny Mjolnir. And I rejoiced because it was a success. To protect the floor from damage I have put it on a steel plate for subsequent tries and I went and punched four sets for the four blades that I have currently in making, three out of brass and one out of pakfong.
The pakfong was a bit thicker than the brass so it gave me some grief, thus the surface is not so smooth on the end-cap – I had to whack it several times and it wandered off the die and I struck it without noticing it. But that should not be a problem, there is enough material in there to polish these dents out.
It took me mere minutes to punch all these, and after a long time, I was really, really happy for a bit. There are a few details to iron out – like making a better stand for the punch, making it so I can put it safely on my anvil, figuring out the ideal amount of overhang and so forth – but it functions as it is and it is a massive saving in time already. Whether the knives will really look better remains to be seen, but I am confident they will. Further, this opens a lot of new possibilities for knife designs for me.