Monthly Archives: April 2015

Perfectionism

In the making of both knives I had most of the same equipment, and all the same skills (I knew what to do and how to do it); the knife on the right lacked the perfectionist mindset

One of the hardest and most daunting things I’ve learned, and am learning, is perfectionism in my work. When I started out, my goal was to “make knives”, which I accomplished easily. I did the bare minimum in accomplishing that goal, in that I only made what could barely be defined as a knife. My knives weren’t beautiful knives, they weren’t even good knives. They were functional knives, but that was it. A year ago, I went on a trip to Europe and took some knives with me. I visited several bladesmiths and asked them to critique my work, and the main thing throughout was I needed to perfect each aspect of every step before moving on to the next step. If I made a mistake I could not fix, I had to learn to throw it away and start again.

This is true, and learning to accept that you can’t fix it and so throw it away is very important. At the time I had the skills to make a good knife, I just lacked the patience and perfectionism. I’m not naturally a perfectionist and so I had to force myself to make each step perfect and have the perfectionist mindset throughout the entire process. “It’s good enough” became a crime.

Many people recommend, when you learn something, just do it over and over and make a whole bunch of whatever it is. At first, do so. This is giving you the muscle memory and basic intellect as to how to do the things. But only doing this, your hundredth knife is not sellable. Why not? It’s not flawless. It’s useful. But it’s not perfect. Once you feel you know how to forge, you know how to grind, you know how to peen, work wood, heat treat, and so on, start your next knife slowly. Take a month to do it if you have to. But when you start, make sure each step is done to the best of your abilities. When you forge out the blade, is it too thin? Throw it away. Is there a deep forge mark? Throw it away. When you grind the blade, if you grind too thin, fix it or throw it away. If the ricasso is not lined up perfectly on both sides, take a week to fix it. If you ground a divet too deep, throw it away. It gets harder after the blade is near finished, and after the knife is assembled. Its easy to make a mark, to cut the wood too far, to skip over sanding a barely visible mark out. Don’t let it happen. Make a mental checklist before you move on to a next step, some knifemakers even have a real checklist.

It’s daunting and touch, forcing yourself to make each step perfect, but one thing I wasn’t told is that it will become easier with time. It really does. After you force yourself to perfect the knives, and you make a few that way, finishing it becomes habit and it is no longer daunting. You can finish a knife quickly, as quick as before, but it’s still perfect. Habit makes perfectionism a joy, rather than a drudgery. Get through the initial perfectionism stage and it’s smooth sailing from there.

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Even Forging

One of the main things with handforged knives that makes it look good, is even forging. If forge marks are still left in the blade after grinding, it really looks horrible. So a smith either has to grind the entire surface down to depth of each hammer divet, or can just initially forge the surface evenly and carefully. There are several tricks to help reduce the amount of divets you make while forging, but mainly it’s caution and practice.

First, make sure the anvil is at the right height. If it’s too high, the hammer will strike with the bottom edge, or the “chin” of the hammer hitting. If it’s too low, it will be the “forehead” or the top edge of the hammer that hits. To find the correct height, stand erect with hands by your sides, holding the hammer at a 90 degree angle to your body, and mark on the wall or a board exactly where the height of the hammer face is, and stack up the anvil to that height. This makes it so the hammer face is parallel to the face of the anvil, reducing deep marks significantly.

Second, make sure you have a good, firm grip on the hammer. When you grab it, wrap your pinkie finger first then follow the other fingers one by one. Do this until you get used to forging. Before beginning forging, hold the hammer firmly but comfortably, and hold it out directly in front of you. Adjust your grip until the face is facing neither right nor left.

Another tip is using a file or grinder of some sort, very slightly round the hammer so the face is slightly convex, so in case you do hit sideways, it won’t make as deep a mark as a sharp edged hammer would.

The last tip for even forging, is doing light taps at first until you see the workpiece deforming easily, with no evidence of one or the other hammer edge hitting. Once you have that down, give gradually harder and harder strikes, letting off a bit if you start to hit edge first. When starting out forging it feels and acts like writing with your non-dominant hand, you’ll gain muscle memory quickly and forging evenly will take no mental effort at all.