Thursday, March 8, 2012

Gems from my toy box

I received a crooked knife and an adze in the mail yesterday from one of my favorite craftsmen, Orien MacDonald. I had already purchased a spoke shave, carving knife and a friction folder from Orien. I carry the folder as my everyday knife. I have tried my hand at making a bow and used the spoke shave and carving knife on that project and quite a few other projects as well. I love a well made tool and these are spectacular.  These tools are not only great to work with but are quite goood to look at as well. I carried a Buck  pocket knife my 45 year old son gave me when he was in third grade for all these years and now I carry Orien's friction folder. I have also abandoned  an old Stanley spoke shave that belonged to my grand father that I got after his death in 1984. I hope that Orien never makes a draw knife or I will have to quit using the one I made for myself. This guy makes incredible tools.

I have not been able to do much since my heart started acting-up two years ago. My cardiologist said no working with the forge & anvil and a lot of other things I didn't want to hear.Today I made a spoon and started on a bowl.  I was able to complete the spoon without a problem but with the bowl there was a problem in logistics. This is the first bowl I have attempted and I had problems using the adze and holding the bowl blank still. I decided that my next project should be to make a shaving horse so that I don't amputate anything I might need on the next project. After that thought  I realized I had really been having fun all day and felt like my old self again. Now I think that I need to get to work. If it kills me at least I won't die on the couch. I have been resurecting old projects and making lists of things that need doing. Tomarrow I am bringing the forge out of moth balls. If anyone sees my obituary, please tell Orien that it is his fualt.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"another man's treasure."

I ran across this photo last night. It is my haul from The World's Largest Yard Sale last year. I spent $14.75 for all the wonderful stuff you see here. A treasure-trove to me, but apparently not to the folks I bought it from. I was filling up my scrap bin and they were dunning- out theirs and we both thought that it was a great deal. It seems like an incongruous statement but it is not. The seller is rid of something that he would have sold for almost nothing and the buyer is joyous to recieve something that is almost worthless to it's owner, how could we both have received a good deal?

The people that sold me these items were cleaning out barns, bins, and buckets of junk that had been in their barns and sheds for many years. They now have space in their storage spaces and they actually recieved money for the "junk" they are now rid of. I was looking for knife making materials and I found them cheaply. I also found knife making tools and one incredible forged tool. Look closely at the photo and you will see a 2# cross peen hammer, a 2 1/2# cross peen, two slag hammers, a blacksmith's hoof trimmer, a deformed prybar, three plow bits, five files, eight rock working chisels, two jack-hammer bits, a two inch ball bearing, a conical drift, and a hand forged log-dog. Hardly junk.

The files, plow bits, and some of the chisels have been turned into knives or other tools. I have found that I like the small hammers, too, I am getting too old to use a big hammer all day. I straightened and heat treated  the pry bar and it is in it's second life now. Some of the chisels I resharpened and filed the tops clean. They are excellent tools.

If you look at the point where the top of the two large plow points meet, there is a tool just above that point. It has an eye forged on one end and on the other end is a sharp point that has the last two inches bent ninety degrees (sorry the photo does not show this well). This is the log-dog. It is hand forged and it is quite incredible if you know what went into making it. From the hammer marks I believe that it was made from a piece of bar stock or a piece of metal that was unlike it's present form. The sharp end was tapered to a point and given a two inch ninety degree bend. The eye was formed and the end was pulled  back over the bar and forge welded to form a perfect circle. It was hammer worked enough to smooth out the piece and then left as it was, a working tool. It appears that there was a chain link through the eye at one time and the smoothness of the inside of the eye makes me think it was used a lot. I bought it with the intention of making a knife blade from it. After closer study, I hung it over my work bench to remind me of a master craftsman of primative tools. I hoped it would inspire me to great work but mostly it reminds me of my dad who was a metal worker and mechanic and my grand father who was a blacksmith as a young man and then became a farmer. They were always making incredible things; I wish I still had them. Unfortunitely, my family had to get rid of the "junk" when they died.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


It has been a while since I posted so thought I would compare  my first forged item and my last and look at how my efforts in knife making have changed over the years. I went to visit my step-mom recently and she gave me one of my late dad's knives. It turned out to be one I made and gave to him. It was the first knife I ever made and I was really proud of it at the time. I made it from a piece of scrap metal I salvaged from a farm implement, I have forgotten what exactly.

 I am surprised at how much I still like it in spite of it's flaws. I love the handle shape and size, the guard and the overall length and shape. It is very comfortable to hold and use. I hate that I heat treated it with a torch and quenched it in old motor oil but never tested the heat treat. The geometry of the edge is terrible and that made it impossible to sharpen properly. I spent an incredible number of hours filing, sanding, and buffing. Now I see that it looks good but it is lacking in function and what is a knife for but function. It is not a bad first effort but it completely ignores the one thing I prize most in any tool, FUNCTION.

 The other photo shows two pieces I recently forged for my grandson. He is a budding pyromaniac and has been hounding me to make him a flint and steel kit for fire making. My daughter had a lot of imput in what he could have( he is ten years old). Consequently his knife has no point. It will open an artery through five layers of clothing but at least he won't stab himself. These implements do not look good but they are extremely functional. The knife looks like a butter knife but it will cut. It takes a good edge, holds it through a lot of use, and the edge won't chip or roll. The flint striker is from the other end of the file I made the knife out of. It throws a good shower of sparks but is as ugly as home made sin.

I can see that my priorities have chaged completely, I went from fancy and looks good to don't care how it looks as long as it perfoms. I need to work back to the middle position. I think I over reacted when I relized my knives were pure crap. Since then I have concentrated solely on function. My wife thinks that I intentionally make them ugly. Possible, but I do not consciously go for ugly.

 It is time to take some new direction and try to incorporate a little style with the function. I admire several of the bladesmiths that I have met or studied. They have mastered both form and function, some are true artists.  I have purchased several of thier knives and most of the ones I like are also very functional. A few, however,  have not lived up to my expectations. Those are strictly lookers, they don't work well. I won't mentions the makers that disapointed me but I will single out one maker that has gained a lot of admiration. His name is Orien MacDonald. I have been watching his work for a while and have purchased three pieces he made. They are orginal and quite striking. I would call them art but the important thing to me is they are really great knives. They are  great to look at or use. I hope to do better in that respect in the future. I don't kid myself about becoming an artist but I believe I can make a better looking knife and stil make a functional one as well.

I am in the process of moving and my shop is in boxes and stored . I hate it when I decide to do something and then can't. I need a heavy metal fix soon. I may have to set the barn on fire and beat on anything that gets hot enough to glow.

Friday, May 14, 2010


I recently had a visit from my nephew. During our conversation I mentioned using a sling when I was a kid. He had never used one and I had to tell him the story of David and Goliath to jog his memory. I had a sling that I had made and we started throwing rocks with it. He took it home and I made another and then after finding some websites about slings I made several more. I always had slings when I was a kid and I never left the house without one in my pocket. I got my first one when I was about 9 years old. My grandmother knitted, braided, and knotted one from wool yarn while she told me the story of King David. I used a sling constantly from then until I graduated from high school. I usually made them from grass rope and old boot leather much like the second one pictured above. You can make them from almost anything.The first and last ones pictured are braided hemp. The second is cotton line and boot leather. The third is 5 strand paracord and the fourth  is braided wool yarn. I have made them from boot laces, bailing twine, fishing line and just about anything you can think of. They all are effective and are a light weight but heavy duty weapon you can carry in your pocket and can construct quickly without a lot of special materials. Shoes strings and a piece of your shirt tail will do.The sling was a standard part of ancient armies and was around until replaced by the bow and arrow. Imagine the sky full of clay or lead bullets raining down on you. Fire could also be flung with a sling. Pretty impressive weapon. Making them is addictive. I like to braid so I had a hard time quiting after I had a drawer full.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


I have really neglected this Blog over the winter. I am into  farming again. Most of the garden is planted now and it is a busy time. I made quite a few knives this winter and a few of them were pretty good. By that, I mean they are functional and not TOO ugly to look at. I have been working on both function and appearance but function is always first. I need to work on design and better angles but have noted some improvements. My heat treating is much better. I salvage all my steel so it is a little more difficult to get the heat treat just right. I am learning to work-up a sample first and do some destructive testing before putting a lot of time into the knife. I've made 13 knives since I last posted. I really like three of them so that is all I'll post today. I made a little necker for my brother-in-law with a scrap of a grinder blade and some osage left over from another knife. It may be the best knife I've made. Very hard edge, soft back, and everything is well fitted. The other two are meant to be period knives reminiscent of the fur trade era. I plan to use copper tacks, horse hair, and rawhide lace to do more decoration. I also want to make rawhide sheaths for them that are similarly decorated. I will post that when I learn these new skills.

I really enjoy recycling scrap steel into knives. I need to study metalurgy and become more proficent at choosing and processing steel. I have buckets and shelves of metal that I think is suitable for knives. There a a lot of plow points, drag plates, and other farm implements. I also have several hundred grinder blades from a commercial meat grinder that makes good blades. I pick up files and rasps at flea markets and yard sales. My wood bin is also full. I am a packrat. If it looks like it could be useful, I keep it. I thought about buying blade steel to make it easier but decided to educate myself instead. I like the primitive aspect of using scrap to make my tools and knives. My great grandfather was stationed in Arizona with the  U.S. calvery from the mid-1850's until  1860. He told my grandfather that the Apache tribes would raid to get scraps of steel, files, etc. to fashion the many edged weapons they carried. I don't picture myself as an Apache warrior but is neat to think of primitve peoples fashioning weapons much like the ones that I make.

Monday, December 7, 2009



I made this brief slideshow to show how easy it is to set up a working forge. Just wish I was capable of showing how easy it is to   USE   it.  I was pretty lucky in finding the stuff I needed to do all this.  I went to an auction and bid on a lot of blacksmithing gear but got outbid. The winner of the bid gave me, free-of-charge, two broken forge blowers. I was able to fix both of them easily. I bought a metal gas can for an outboard motor for $1 at a garage sale and I paid 30 cents/lbs  ($42) for a 4x4x32 inch piece of steel that I used as a post for my anvil.  I also had to buy a plumbing cap for the tweer pipe. The total purchases for the forge and anvil was $44.50 and a few welding rods. I scrounged everything else  from my scrap pile.

I cut the top off of the gas can and used  it for the forge body. After drilling a 1-1/2 inch hole in each end I mounted a tweer pipe with 1/4 inch holes on one inch centers and packed it with a clay/sand mixture. I took the mounting bracket off of a TV satellite dish and used it to mount the blower to the forge. The holes on the blower and connecting pipe were different sizes and unthreaded.  I cut the tapered tube (that the wooden handle goes into) off of a broken shovel. The tapered tube worked perfectly. Again, "It is better to be lucky than good." I bolted all this together and mounted the whole thing on a piece of 3/4 inch plywood.

The anvil base is a brake drum off of an old Frieghtliner. I put it wide side down and welded a piece of angle iron on each side of the bottom and bolted them to a piece of plywood to stablize the base.  I thought the 32 inch tall stake might make it top heavy. Then I welded together large angle iron and strap to form a long square tube that would just slide over the four inch square stake. This square tube was inverted vertically in the center of the brake drum. Two pieces of angle iron were layed horizontally across the brake drum so that they touched the tube on each side and then welded to the brake drum on the ends and to the tube in the center. I also welded a piece on the inside of the brake drum to both drum and tube to give it strength. It was easy to then slide the stake into the frame.  A small piece of angle iron was then wedged between stake and tube to firm up the standing stake. I had intended to pour cement in the brake drum to add mass and give stability. It was unnecessary.

I had everything else needed to set up shop.

Thursday, December 3, 2009


My family and friends in the northwest love winter.  I don't.  After living in Montana, Idaho, Colorado, and Nebraska  for twenty plus years, I still don't like snow, Artic temperatures, or wind that tries to cut you in half and knock you down. I love Arkansas but wish it was in the Carribian from October through March. I am still looking for  consolation in our normally mild winters.

 Winter causes more defensive work and less productive work on the farm. I like to work on the farm but I like productive work, something that adds to or improves the farm. Defensive work(winterizing the well pump, constantly changing frozen water for animals, mulching in warmth loving plants, protecting my worm beds, etc., etc, etc.) isn't fun and doesn't give much satisfaction.  Mowing the yard is nonproductive. Cutting, raking, and baling hay is  productive. You want the grass to grow in the hay fields, you want the grass  in the front yard to quit growing. One of the best things about winter is that it stops the grass from growing in the yard.

 I don't hunt any more so the coming of winter no longer has the pleasant consolation  of  hunting season. I don't object to hunting. I got out of it because I  traveled so much during the last forty years. It is difficult to hunt if you don't know the countryside and don't know people willing to let you hunt on their land. I threw myself into fishing instead because there are usually public places to fish almost anywhere you go. I grew up hunting and fishing but now I  only fish. Another reason to dislike winter is the unplesantness it adds to fishing. I still catch fish in the winter but shiver in the process. 

I started forging knives this summer as time permitted. Now that winter is here there is less farm work and more time for knife making. I think this will be a cosolation for the cold. I am working on a couple of new knives now and will build a fire in the forge to heat treat them this week. I plan to anneal several pieces of steel at the same time so that  I can do some preleminary work on them. I cut up a plow bit and several pieces of a skid plate from the bottom of a Bushog. I think they will make good blade steel. There is also some blades off of an industrial meat grinder that I want to try.

I will make the best of winter. There are a lot of slab crappie in a flood control lake five miles away and my boat is in good shape. I just got more charcoal and my scrap bins are full of good blade steel. I still like spring, summer, and fall the best.