Heartbreaker 2

I posted about a knife I made for one of my mentors, where I cracked the tip trying to straighten it. [stderr]

That sucked, but I’ve been using that knife as a place-holder: “here you can use this until I make you one for your very own!” So it hasn’t gone to waste; it’s just not giftable. So, I did what we do in this situation, and rolled up my sleeves* and started again. The good news is that, each time, you get better.


This time I made the handle longer and narrower. And I didn’t crack the blade. That latter point is pretty important.

The original piece of wood I mounted on the handle was a bit longer; I did it that way on purpose so I could see the final knife and decide where to cut the handle off for the best look and balance.

Specifications: 1095 high carbon steel “plow cable” wire rope, forge-welded and differentially quenched. Ebony bolster with claro walnut handle vacuum-infused with resin then polished with linseed oil. The handle is shaped in a ‘D Profile’ – a layout I have really been enjoying lately.

The “hamon” or temper-line on this knife stands out very clearly because I polished the hell out of the bevels. The perceptible temper-line is the transition between martensitic steel and pearlite (the back) where the edge of the blade was exposed to quenchant and the back was protected in a layer of thermal clay. Doing a differential quench is pretty simple, getting a clear and beautiful temper-line is not: you have to start with a mirror polish and go from there – what happens is the steel on the edge is so much tougher than the steel on the back that the polishing compound affects it differently. If you look at very old oft-polished Japanese katanas, the temper-line stands out not just visually – the metal is slightly raised because the back has been polished away.

The blade has a slightly different geometry: it’s thicker at the tip, which means that the angle of the bevel gets less sharp as you move away from the handle. It still cuts just fine but the tip should be a lot stronger.

Now, I put it in a box and send it to its new home. Done; time to move on to the next. Damn that feels good.

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* Metaphorically. If you work with belt sanders, lathes and milling machines, do not wear long sleeve shirts; they can catch on something and then you’re lucky if all you lose is the arm.

Notes on product photography: photographing a mirror-polished knife is just impossible unless you cheat and do a composite in photoshop. So, I accepted that the blade was going to glare out where it reflects the soft-box. I focused on the area where the reflection was tailing off and it highlit the temper-line. There’s actually a lot of beauty and action in the wood, but the brightness of the blade pushes the wood’s texture down, visually. This is a subtle knife and it would need a better photographer than me to really make a good shot of it.


  1. kestrel says

    Oh that’s lovely. I can see how it would be endlessly fascinating to work with and balance all the different parameters to make the “best” (for that moment) knife.

    The glare issue is familiar to me. I just happen to have a giant stack of polypropylene feed sacks so I took a couple and put them in front of the lights and that helps a bit. It would still be super challenging to shoot something like a knife, for me. Most of what I shoot is much smaller.

  2. bmiller says

    Just lovely, Marcus. As someone who is utterly unskilled at anything, I admire and envy your persistence and patience in this kind of field!

  3. says

    Not knowing the thickness of the blade it is hard to say what the best use for it would be, but the blade geometry seems perfect for filleting fish. Nice slender blade.

    I have only made one knife with visible hamon and it was a bugger to photograph. I found that it helps to have diffuse light and a black or dark gray surface reflected in the blade since it reflected differently off the hard hamon than it did of the rest.

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