Friday, October 25, 2013

Making "Dakota"

I originally hale from South Dakota, and so do the last 8 generations of my family. My family is all still there along with many good friends. Every time I go home for a visit it takes me a couple days to get used to how nice people are and the sense of community that exists in their actions. A month ago a huge unseasonal storm hit and devastated the ranchers that eek out that tough living on the plains. One ranch that got hit hard is owned by a man I do a bit of business with and also share some mutual friends. In typical Dakota fashion he asked for a simple favor, he needed to know how much business he could count on before buying some needed equipment. No, not donations, or handouts, he asked for more work. That says a lot about the character of man and reminds me of my grandparents that survived those lean years of the dust bowl.

My idea was to give Jay of V Lazy J Custom Leather more work to do (he asked for it) by making him a knife and he could make the sheath and auction the rig off to raise some funds for his herd. I don't make tactical knives as that's not my world but wanted to give it a try with a heavy piece of 1075 I had in the shop. I had the supplies and just had to throw the effort in to get this rolling.

My inspiration was the Tom Brown Tracker, but with some modifications and personal preferences. Here is my initial sketch up pad where all my ideas start out. you can see the erased lines where I changed the design around. I then make a paper template and transfer it to the steel.  This piece of steel is 1075 HC that is 1/4" thick and 2" tall.

Here is the blank after it is flattened, cut out and cleaned up. I start with a portable bandsaw for the rough outline, then a big bench grinder to shape it more. I finish with a couple different belt and drum sanders to finalize the shape.

On the left you can see the outline for the grind lines and the finished product on the right. Again grinder, belt sander, then files and sand paper to get the grind bevel correct. 

 This beast was first normalized in my kiln to reduce the stress of grinding and shaping the steel. Then it got a light coat of clay to keep the de carbing in check and then a heavier layer. This is Japanese style differential heat treating. It allows the steel to cool at two different rates simultaneously. So the edge is hardened but the spine remains slightly softer to allow for some flexing and reduce the chance of a complete failure under stress.

Specs: 9.75" Long 4.5" cutting edge, 2" tall at the widest, 1/4" thick and weighs 13.2 oz
 I added some heavy texture to the micarta handles to aid in grip and three tubes to allow the owner to place a lanyard where needed. As this knife is a heavy work grade tool (matte etched finish) I wanted to make sure it worked before leaving the shop. My test was this, it had to shave then chop a 2x4 completely in half across the grain and still shave. Yup, it passed and I have the bald spot to prove it.

Here it is all cleaned up and ready to ship to South Dakota. Now for my selfish part, I haven't seen Jay make a sheath yet so now he has to and then I can bug him to make my clients really cool matching rigs.

Lacking much creativity this week I dubbed it the "Dakota". Not fancy but tough as nails and designed to get the job done with no excuses. Yup sounds about right. I might make a lighter version this spring if there is interest....

This will be up for auction through V Lazy J Custom--find them on Facebook.  Great leather work and world class customer service! He even makes old school rigs for wheel gunners like me.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Handmade Bench Chisels

I enjoy dabbling in wood working because this allows me to justify owning more tools and making a mess. The essential tool of any woodworker has to be chisels. Which seems odd as many youngsters don't know how to use them and have never owned one of any quality. Most commercial chisels sold today are garbage, a waste of precious resources. I wanted a fine set for my shop but realized I couldn't afford to buy a hand crafted set. So why not make one? I decided on bench chisels with a 6" blade with a 5" handle, 01 tool steel from New Jersey Steel Baron and basic sizes of 1/4", 1/2", 3/4", 1" and 2" (this one is 1075). As with most things in life I don't let a lack of knowledge stop my endeavors, learn by trying. Everything but making the dowels was done in my shop including heat treating of the steel.
Basic shapes cut out of bar stock 2" is .25" thick
the rest are .187"
Rough profiles ground and tangs rounded

The handles caused me a lot of grief in the planning phase as I don't own a lathe. My solution was to go with Japanese style handles with copper ferrules. Bell Forest Products sells exotic hardwood dowels, so round wasn't an issue. I cut them to the length I needed then made a jig for my drill press. This is easy by drilling a hole in a 2x4 scrap and then cutting it in half with a pull saw. The kerf allows me to clamp the dowel on my drill press and make a hole for the tang.
How to make a ferrule? I looked high and low and could only find one offering from Lee Valley Tools, but the shipping was outrageous to Alaska (as usual) so plan b. I discovered that 1/2" copper pipe caps have exactly 5/8" opening which is a size of plug cutter I own already. Used my dowel jig again and the plug cutter to form the piece that will fit inside the ferrule.

Excess wood removed and ferrules fit

I removed the excess wood on the bandsaw by setting the fence up and rolling them trough the cut. I used a belt sander and some steady hands to shape the bottom of the handle into a slight taper down to the ferrule and also round the top off. The handles are affixed with epoxy, sanded to 400 grit and then given two coats of boiled linseed oil and a top coating of wax.
The pattern on the blades was from the clay coating placed on the steel for heat treating to keep the steel from de-carbing. I liked it so didn't clean them up except for the cutting edges that are polished.
As with any first time project I learned a lot and this won't be the last set I ever make. Now I have my own set of  pretty chisels! 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Gentlemanly Pursuits

This is part one of an idea I started a year ago and am just wrapping up part one. I enjoy outdoor pursuits of almost every kind and like most outdoors people I long for those days when hunting required tweed vests and fishing was done with bamboo flyrods. It seemed each item was crafted by an expert and it was just as much fun to maintain your gear as it was to use it. Oh, yes I'm nostalgic for a time I never lived, the days of WDM Bell and Jim Corbett. Which brings me to the idea of a gentlemen's combination for the field; a matched set of bird and trout knives and tobacco pipes. I've always enjoyed upland bird hunting, it is a great way to spend a day. You can talk while working a field and catch up with friends while pursuing game over a fine hound. It's not about tromping mountains or carrying giant packs through swamps, its a relaxing pursuit and the tools should reflect this effort. They should be crafted to the task and be of the finest quality.
The shorter three are the bird and trout knives. 3/16" 01 tool steel, all being fit with brass bolsters and choice wood. The longer blade is for a Major sorting out some nefarious fellows abroad.

Etched blades and olive wood handles
Fitting and roughing out handle blocks

Wet fit 8oz leather belt sheaths

I did everything on these knives in house. I cut and ground the blades by hand, heat treated in my kiln. The olive wood was cut from larger block and hand fit and finished to each knife. The sheaths were made from a piece of vegetable tanned leather, just a big piece of cowhide. In these days when many "custom" gun and knife makers are nothing more than assembly men for factory made parts I think it is important to be truthful of who makes what. These are all mine, even the minor flaws that no one but me will ever see.

Now it is on to making the matching pipes to complete these sets. It just so happens my oldest friend ordered this set, now we just have to make time to pursue birds together again.  

Finished, 6 coats of tung oil on the handles to build up depth and a wax finish over the top. Double etched blades to create a pattern on the steel. 8.5" overall with a  3.5" cutting edge. The leather is finished in oil and wax as well. I despise tools that are hard to maintain, a little regular maintenance will keep this set going for a couple generations.