This is the first in a series of articles on the making of a Gordo Horsewright knife by Dave Ferry. Dave will take you step by step in the knife making process. There are two basic methods of making a knife, stock removal and forging. In stock removal you remove all the pieces of steel that don't look like a knife and in forging you take a red hot piece of steel and beat it into the shape of a knife. On many of my knives I combine these two techniques and that's what we'll be doing on this knife we're working on.
Photo 1: You see our steel. It has had two patterns laid on it and their shapes outlined with a sharpie. In this case we're gonna be cutting out a Gordo and a Buckaroo. This is a piece of damascus steel. It was left over from some other knives I'd already made. It was a thick piece, maybe a 1/4" thick by 3" long and 1.5" wide, just not big enough to make a knife out of. I was able to heat it up and forge it out to a piece about 6.5" by 2.5" and maybe 3/32" thick. This is really one of the advantages of forging, you can take material that is not usable and make it usable.
Photo 2: Here I'm cutting out our blades. I use a small metal cutting bandsaw for this operation. The saw has variable speeds but for cutting steel you use the slowest. Even still its pretty darn efficient considering you're cutting steel. Total time to cut these two blades out, maybe 10 minutes. After they've been cut out is the time to drill the holes that will be needed for the knife. The steel is relatively soft at this point and will drill easily. Later on it can get work hardened and be difficult to drill, requiring special bits and lots of work. Now is the time to drill, learned this the hard way. We're gonna follow the Gordo along here, so we need a thong hole, a pin hole in the handle area of the tang and two holes for the bolster. I have four drill presses that I use to do this. This allows me to leave them set up with the different bits I need all the time. Saves a lot of time when I don't have to find bits and chuck them up, then switch to another bit for a different size. I just move from press to press.
Photo 3: After the tang of the blade has had the needed holes drilled I profile the blade. Here I'm cleaning up the rough cuts from the saw and getting the blade much more exactly to the profile drawn on the steel. Using this 9" disc grinder I'm able to get the blade to about 90 to 95 % of its shape. Here I'm working on the spine. The abrasive disc is 60 grit Zirconia. It will chew your fingers up fast! Ask me how I know this. Course it is self corrective behavior, you sure as heck try not to make that mistake again. I also use a belt grinder and a spindle sander to finish this operation, but most of the work is done on this disc grinder.
Photo 4: Here I'm flattening the blade. I don't always need to do this as most of the time the steel has been ground flat when I buy it. Since this was a piece I'd forged out it needed to be flattened to get rid of some hammer and anvil marks. To hold the steel flat on the disc I use a large magnet mounted in a wooden block. Works surprisingly well and with practice you can get a piece pretty darn flat.
Photo 5: I'm pulling the steel out of the forge ready to work on it. This is a special knife makers propane forge with a round fire chamber. The round chamber helps prevents hot spots and over heating the steel. Unlike other steels you don't want to forge damascus too cool. Doing so can cause de-lamination between the different steels that have been forged together to make the damascus. Having made this mistake I carefully monitor my temps when working with damascus.
Photo 6: I've already forged in the bevels of the blade. Here I am using this block of steel to help straighten out any "wowies" that might have been forged into the blade . Over the next few stages I will constantly be checking the blade for straightness and flatten as necessary. Forging will also distort parts of our blade's shape so we will re profile it again. Mostly this will entail cleaning up the point area of the blade and the edge shape of the blade. This time we will get our profile to 100%.
Photo 7: After forging the blade we must "normalize" the steel. This is a VERY important step and one of the big differences between a knife made by a knife maker, or a factory overseas someplace. A lot of places and some makers simply skip this step. All steel has been forged whether by the knife maker or at the foundry when it was made. Forging induces a lot of stress into the steel. The heating and re heating to proper forging temps grows the grain of the steel. This makes it weaker. The hammer blows also induce stress into the steel. The normalization process is time consuming and kinda boring. Its not exciting and fun like pounding hot steel or sending sparks flying on a grinder but it really is the difference between a knife shaped object and a good knife. This process refines the grain size of the steel and relieves all the stress built into the steel, whether by me forging or the foundry making the steel in the first place. First we heat the blade to about 1450 degrees. Accurate heats in a forge is kind of an art form, you have to pay attention. Steel at this temp loses its attraction to a magnet. So I will heat the blade until it will no longer stick to a magnet then set it aside. In the pic you will see the black marks on the brick to the left of the forge, this is where I will set it. I will leave it here till the red hot steel turns "black" which is about 900 degrees and then quench it. In the ammo can in the background is 2 gallons of canola oil. When the blade goes black it is dunked in here until cool to the touch. Then back into the forge. Here is the hard part. We don't want it quite as hot this time, we want it just slightly sticky to the magnet, about 1250 degrees. Then cool to black and quench again. Finally we do it a third time but again just not quite as hot as the second time. This time we're shooting for about 1050 degrees, so a little more sticky on the magnet. Cool to black and quench again. Now we'll let the blade rest over night.
So check back soon and we'll continue on getting this Gordo built!