Forging the Confection Cleaver: Part 1

One of the coolest (or most annoying) parts about being a blacksmith: having someone tell you of a project they have in mind. Some of these projects are fun, push your knowledge of the craft into new venues, and test your skills.

I didn’t expect a project to push me this hard to come from an old student of mine.

After working in academia for years, I collected a number of “students.” Some worked for me, some were favorites that would stop by the library for research or a chat, and others were students I advised in some capacity. I still keep in touch with a number of them, even after leaving that position in 2013.

One of them invited me to her wedding, and as soon as the Save The Date hit my table, I got in touch. Money isn’t something I have a large amount of (read: public librarian), but I could make something, so I asked her what she wanted. She sent me a picture in response, with the words “I want this as a cake knife.”

Well…shit.

Not to take this lying down, I chatted with her about it and the goals. She loved the idea of having a cake knife made for her instead of buying one, especially if it had a geeky twist. She also loves knives, especially if they can be both decorative and useful (thus why she’s indifferent to fantasy replicas now; they just aren’t well made).

With the gauntlet thrown, I wasn’t about to back out. I hammered out a few details and rules, which basically consisted of “I’m not sure how I’m pulling off the handle since I’m not a wood worker, and I can’t get that art on the blade.” She agreed, and the project began.

While the project ended up in her hand two days before the wedding in early July, there was quite the list of tasks to complete, not including the design phase.

Like most of my metalworking projects, it began at the forge.

My psuedo-complete setup.
My psuedo-complete setup.

I already had the metal for this, so I was able to get started immediately.

About 11 inches of steel here.

Not too surprisingly, it didn’t take long to hammer it out.

First part of the curve.

I’ve been getting better and more efficient over the year and change since I started bladesmithing, and it showed in this piece.

Getting into shape.

I went from stock bit of steel into almost exact shape in under two hours. I don’t think that’s too bad.

Cut from the rest of the stock.

Once I finished shaping it, I threw it into my box to anneal.

It has a shape!

Sadly, I was too exhausted (read: outside temps were near 100 and I’m standing at a 1600 degree forge, so I wasn’t seeing straight) to notice there was a bit of a bend at the center of the blade, so I had to heat it and bend it again before I started the cleanup; it’d be counterproductive to clean it and expose it to something that would make it dirty again, after all.

Even if this was the first step to cleaning.

Unlike a few of my previous knives, the cleanup here wasn’t so much reshaping or taking out imperfections (not saying I didn’t have any, but they were thankfully few), but rather trying to get it to a nice shine. I wanted to ensure that the blade was as clean as possible before running it through a heat treat cycle.

Looking a little gross here.

As I’ve voiced before, after the heat treat process, blades are hard. Sure, you can scratch it with sandpaper, but you aren’t cutting into it with a file too easily. I wanted to have it as close to a shine as possible so my after-treatment cleanup would be a bit easier than everything else.

After spending many evenings in the shop with files, sandpaper, and polishing wheels, I finally had this cleaned up enough to be comfortable with doing a heat treatment.

I was a bit nervous getting to this step, as I always am. What if I accidentally created a cold shunt near the guard? What if I made it too thin and it warps? What if, what if, what if. . .these are the things that run through my mind every time. This time, I was pretty lucky, as it went through the entire process with just one small hiccup: I lost a sliver of the blade near the tip, which I was thankfully able to fix with a short application of an angle grinder and a steady hand.

After the process was finished, it was back to cleanup, which meant more sandpaper and polishing wheels, which I was far too happy to have for this project (seriously, I wish I had them with previous blades!).

And this is why we always wear safety glasses in the shop. This caught the blade edge and chunks flew EVERYWHERE.

The blade portion was completed over the course of a week or two due to time (working full time tends to do that); I spent one morning forging, one afternoon heat treating, and every night (and at least one morning and one afternoon) cleaning the blade.

But this was the end result!

By this point, I had to enter territory I wasn’t as familiar with: handles and guards. That, my friends, is a post for next week. Curious how it all panned out? Well, you’ll just have to wait until next week!

4 comments

    • I’m glad to see that you are enjoying reading it! I just finished the final post last week, so feel free to check out the rest of the posts when you have the time to see the end result.

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  1. I know that this an older post, but I had to comment. I can sympathize with the fit and finish struggles…and the “well,shit” reaction to that picture was completely appropriate. Keep on hammering!

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    • I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who struggles with that problem, I had a blast making it, and I’m hoping to get hammering once I finish fixing up and unpacking the shop (moving tends to do that). Hopefully I’ll have more progress shots of new projects later this year!

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