From rLab

Introduction to the Blade-Smithing workshop[edit]

The Basic Blade-Smithing workshop is intended as an introduction to the use of the forge and some of the common techniques used to make simple blades by the traditional methods. The workshop takes the form of 2 days, at least a week apart as well as some solo work. The first day is the actual forging process for the blades along with annealing and some of the initial grinding. Then each participant can go off and finish the grinding for their blades separately, since we only have one large linisher, and the process could easily take several hours per person. Second day, a week or two later is finalising the grind, hardening the blade, making and fitting the handles, surface treatments, sharpening, etching if wanted. If people prefer a 1-on-1 course that is also available which allows the workshop to be broken up into 4 or 5 half-days for more flexibility in scheduling. Examples of the types of knife that are made during these workshops are available to view or buy.

There's a charge of £40 per person (£65 for 1-to-1) to cover cost of standard materials and consumables, premium materials like higher grade steels or fancy timbers for the handles may be available at cost, depending on availability. It would be helpful but not essential if you're already inducted on the bandsaw and at least one of the welding machines ( I like MIG best for this but any of them will work ) Please bring photo ID proving that you're over 18 and the course fee in cash, or we won't be able to continue. This workshop requires a moderate level of physical ability but isn't overly taxing. If you're able stand comfortably for a few hours, to walk up stairs without getting out of breath and to comfortably raise both arms above your shoulders then you should be fine.

Clothing wise don't wear anything that's good, it's going to get a bit dirty and possibly burnt spots! Overalls are ideal if you have them, otherwise reasonably sturdy clothing. Avoid synthetic fabrics as best you can because they can catch fire easily. Safety boots if you have them, otherwise sturdy shoes that you don't mind getting messed up.

These will be quite long days, at least 8 hours and quite possibly 10, be aware that unless you're used to this sort of work you're likely to be sore the day after, especially in the forearms!

Notes for non-members[edit]

There's been quite a bit of interest in this course and the possible follow-up courses from people who aren't members of rLab. I'm very happy this course has garnered this level of interest and I thought I should explain a little about how people can take part. In order to take part in this course you do need to be (or become) a member of rLab, this is because the the two "Solo work" sections require you to have access to the tools and equipment at rLab and to use them un-supervised. Our insurance requires that anyone who's got unsupervised access to the building must be a member and have their details recorded in our membership database.

You can simply join for one month (at a cost of £25) take the course and then drop your membership, although you're very welcome to stay on as a member, rLab memberships are a month-to-month thing with no long-term commitment required. In order to join you'll have to arrange to sign up and receive your hackspace induction at some time before the workshop. The process normally takes around 60-90 minutes but might be considerably shorter for people who're already members of other hackspaces as you'll already be familiar with what hackspaces, how they work, and normal member responsibilities.

Workshop plan - Day 1[edit]

  • What we're going to do
    The type of simple knife that's made in this workshop
    • Making a small utility knife
    • I've made 30 blades so far, mostly successful but I am not an expert
    • Show the metal, micarta, rivets, wood. Show the knife
    • Describe the basic forging, making tang, drawing out blade, grind, harden, grind, handle, sharpen
    • Legality, what we're doing is legal and why, what you can and can't do
  • General Safety
    • Clothing, overalls best, nothing flammable, avoid synthetics
    • Heavy boots, toe-capped preferred
    • Welding gloves
    • Ear protection while hammering
    • Good air circulation, monoxide hazard and detectors
    • Clearing the area around the forge of all flammables
    • Everyone knows how to use fire extinguishers?
    • In case of fire, TURN GAS OFF!
    • What types of extinguisher to use on what sort of fire
    • We cannot extinguish metal fires, put it on a fireproof surface and let it burn out
    • NEVER use an extinguisher on the forge it's self, it has nothing flammable anyway
    • Hazards of the oil for quenching
    • Hazards of metals high in nickel, chrome, cadmium etc, and protection needed
    • Arc-eye hazards of welding
  • How steels behave and heat treatments
    • Use the diagram to explain things
    • The states the steel can be in, what is critical temperature and why it matters.
      • Form above critical
      • Plannish under critical
      • Using a magnet to test for critical, but learn to use colour
    • How different types have different hot-hardnesses
    • Stainless needs a lot more heat
    • Damascus needs even more
    • Cover annealing, hardening, normalizing
      • Effects of under-heating and over-heating – Stress cracks, decarburization, crumbling
      • Effects of oxidizing and reducing flames – Scale, Temperature, Decarburization
    • What steels we have available
      • 1080 – Standard, easy to work with, sharp, OK toughness, rusts
      • Maybe EN47 - +£5, TOUGH! OK sharpness, rusts, harder to work
      • Maybe BS1407 - +£7 Hard, excellent sharpness, rusts, harder to work
      • Others I can get if you want to go further but don't have right now
  • Welding onto the dop rods
    • Anyone competent does their own, anyone else I do
    • Emphasise use a LOT of weld material
    • Need to normalize the welds
    • They are highly likely to break, what to do when they do
      • Watch for starting of cracks
      • Pick it up IMMEDIATELY with grips, place onto hot-safe surface
  • Lighting the forge
    Getting metal warmed up in the forge
    • Describe the forge and it's parts
    • How the tunnel can be opened longer for bigger objects
    • Never use brick choke and rear door at the same time
    • Check it over for damage
    • Vacuum out tunnel – clean before use, not after
    • Plug it in!
    • Checking the gas & air valve positions are closed
    • Start the blower
    • Let a little air into the forge
    • Cover the dramatic differences in gas and air settings
    • Turning on gas at the bottle and burners
    • Opening the main gas valve and using the lighter to get it lit
    • Adjusting the gas and air valves to get a flame the right size and slightly reducing
    • Demonstrate high/low, oxidizing/reducing, show what they look like
    • Demonstrate high/low flames
      • Large flames are more stable, small flames may result in burner over-heat, check this often
    • Starting up the second burner if you have a need to for a long object
  • Normalizing
    Normalizing the welds for the first time
    • Why we need to normalize
    • What it does
    • Proper procedure
    • What happens if we're not hot enough, or too hot!
  • Hammering technique
    • Holding the hammer right
    • Aim from your arm, power from your shoulder
    • Striking parallel, on the metal. You can tap the anvil but never strike it
  • Flattening out the rod
    Hammering out the tang
    • Heating to a suitable colour, testing with magnet if you need to
    • Squaring it off but not all the way to the dop rod
    • The need to keep it roughly oblong
    • Just getting the feel of beating on the metal, try both hammers, see what it's like
    • Don't touch metal to anvil till you're ready to strike
    • Correct any error immediately, don't let them grow
  • Forming the Tang
    • Consider the shape we're working towards
    • Think of width you want, 15-20mm? And thickness, 3-4mm
    • Need to get the thickness about right but go a touch over on the width
    • The need to come to both dimensions at once and not over-work in one direction
    • We can't fix over-thinning
    • Don't need to get the end neat, we're going to be grinding it off
    • Looking at the metal as it cools, seeing what needs to change
    • Drawing out using small hammers, large hammer on step, large hammer on side, edge of large hammer
    • Cycling draw out and flatten
    • Keep thinning, flattening, drawing out till there's room for a good grip
    • Try to get the surface nice, so we can do less grinding
    • Establishing the notch on the edge of the anvil and beating out the burr, don’t make it too big
    • Reducing the tang width a bit if you can
    • Keeping the spine flat
  • Normalizing
    • Repeat the normalization cycle
    • Furnace cooling as an option for normalization but not annealing
  • Shut down the forge
    • Standard shutdown : Air off – Gas off – Air on
    • Furnace cool : Air-off - Gas off
    • Leaving the air running to cool the forge if needed, you don't get charged for it
    • The forge may stay hot enough to start fires for up to 2 hours
    • Marking out the area of "hot things" when leaving the area at all
  • Cutting off the rod
    • Can use the cold-cut saw on fully annealed metal, never hardened
    • If hardened, use the angle grinder!
    • If working on stainless/chromolly etc remember to use dust mask
    • Making sure to cut away all the weld material as it's not knife steel
    • Using the belt grinder and/or forge to re-shape the end of the rod for reuse or cut-off
  • Welding the tang onto the rod
    • Same deal as last time
    • Focus on welding the flats thoroughly into the rod
    • Remember to normalize


  • Drawing out the blade
    • Bringing the blade to a similar size to the tang but longer
    • Keeping the bar uniform, don't try to narrow the cutting edge yet
    • Using the notch to define the boundary where to stop working
    • Cutting of excess if needed
    • As always, correcting any problems as soon as they appear
    • Trying to get the surface smooth, 5 minutes hammering can save an hour's grinding
    • Try to avoid twisting, use the grips and vice to fix it if it happens
  • Forming the point
Beginning to form the point
    • Beating behind the point to start the drop but only just behind
    • Avoiding "fish-lips"
    • Forming a symmetric point using the edge of the anvil
    • Letting the length increase to maintain the thickness
    • Being careful as things get thinner, reducing hammer force
    • If an edge gets folded over, have to cut it off, can't fix
    • Thin the point a little but don't make it delicate
  • Dropping the point
    • Explain how the metal will try to move once we forge the edge
    • Dropping the point to prevent banana-shaped knives
    • Using the horn of the anvil to make the drop not the edge
    • Beating the blade back flat if needed and keeping forming the drop
  • Drawing down the cutting edge
    • Using the round-headed hammer, not the blade heads
    • Hitting below the mid-way point of the blade
    • Initially hitting harder near the edge, then evenly everywhere
    • Working the edge down to about 0.5-1mm thick, NOT sharp
    • Beat on the edge of the anvil as you get towards finishing
    • Watch out the for the banana bend, fix it if it happens
    • You CAN beat on the edge of the blade but try letting it cool a little first
    • Use care to keep the spine straight
  • Normalize and Anneal
    • This is the last chance to smooth out any gross surface defects or geometry errors
    • Using a little less heat than before as we're not trying to cause bulk movements
    • Planishing using the smaller hammers to smooth things as best we can
    • Normalize for at least 2 cycles and maybe more
    • Fix geometry before cycles
    • Using the vermiculite to slow down cooling to achieve maximum softening or furnace cool
Pouring over vermiculite to anneal the metal
  • Shutting down the forge for the day
    • As before for shut-down
    • Letting the forge cool down enough before putting it away
    • Hand-in-tunnel test
    • Don’t try to clean inside the tunnel, put it away dirty
    • Watching out for condensation dripping off the gas bottle
    • Getting the blades out of the vermiculite and cleaning up.
  • Grinding
    • Setting up the grinder, cleaning dust away
    • Using the blue belts and what the difference is
    • Using the water bucket while grinding, keeping the blade cool to avoid damage
    • Safety gear, googles, dust mask, hearing protection, watch out for getting caught on belt!
    • Using a file to sharply define the notch
    • Grinding the spine
    • Smoothing off the back of the tang and curving it
    • Doing all the boarders of the tang, then flatting it
    • Make sure it's flattened all the way to the edges unless there's a deep forging error
    • Doesn't need to be flatted across the whole surface and may even grip better
    • Doing the flats of the blade, keep the blade flat relative to the tang and perpendicular to belt
    • Blade doesn't need to be 100% perfect as it's going back in the forge for hardening
    • Grinding the primary bevel, let the knife tell you what angle it wants
    • Be extra careful of heating!
    • Movement necessary to get the point sharpened
    • Putting it up to a sharp edge but probably will have burrs
    • Don't bother smoothing off corners or polishing
    • Cleaning up the grinder when done

Solo Work - Grinding the blades[edit]

Participant grinds their blades into approximate shape, can contact me if they need help

Workshop plan - Day 2[edit]

  • Checking the grind, correcting if needed
    • Making sure the edge isn't too fine and going to get bent over
    • How we'll refine the shape further and put on the final bevels after hardening
  • Cutting the scales and pins to fit
    • Choosing the scale material (Possibility of premium options)
      • Basic hardwood as standard
      • Tiger-Stripe scales - +£10
      • Yew Timber - +£5
      • Worm-patterned timber - +£5
    • Choosing pins (Possibility of premium options)
    • Cutting the scales to size and aligning the grain, leaving enough margin around the edges
    • Cutting Micarta to the same size and taping up the bundle to hold alignment
  • Drilling the tang for the pins
    • Marking out method to get the pins central
    • Considering the balance and look, avoiding the tapered areas
    • Centerpunching and then drilling out
    • The need for Cobalt drills as regular ones wear out too fast and use of cutting fluid
      • What will happen if there are hard spots and how to cope with that.
  • Drilling the scales to fit the tang
    • Using the tang as a guide to get the drill holes in the right place, need to keep the bundle tapped up
  • Drilling out the tang to achieve balance if needed
    • How to find the balance point, where it should lie
    • How removing material and replacing it with resin changes that
  • Normalizing and straightening the blade
  • Recap the hardening process
  • Harden the blades
  • Temper the blades


  • Differential tempering
  • Laser etching or gun-blacking or neither as individual prefers.
  • Grinding in the final bevels
  • Sharpening the blades to at least 1000 grit
  • Glue on the scales and cure in the oven
  • Grinding back the scales to suit the blade
  • Begin the treatments with danish oil

Solo Work - Final finishing[edit]

  • Complete the treatments with danish oil
  • Final sharpening up to at least 4000 grit and stropping