Forging the Confection Cleaver: The Finishing Touches on “Cakerist”

Last week, I went into excruciating details about the handle process. This week, I will admit, is mostly just showing off.

After waiting for the handle’s adhesive the cure, the process for finishing was pretty simple: touch-ups with sanding, adding a few coats of polyurethane on the handle, an oil coat for the blade, and shipping it out.

Once more, the process took some time. When applying a coat of polyurethane, one must wait a set time before touching the wood at all and before adding another coat. As I wanted at least three coats, the progress consisted of coat, wait a few hours, lightly sand (if needed), apply another coat, repeat. My goal was to ensure that this handle will LAST!

Still drying, but looking pretty good!

Protip: keep the tape on the steel during this step, as if you get this material on the steel, you’ll have quite the time sanding it all off.

Once it dried and I removed the tape, I realized that we were in good shape and ready to go for the next step.

Looking good indeed!

The next step was pretty simple: clean the blade, strop it on leather to hone the edge, and apply generous amounts of oil. Washing was a basic soap and water routine and thoroughly dried. As the knife needed to be food safe, I used a food grade camellia oil (the same type used on chef knives) to coat the blade and guard.

Note that I didn’t bother to sharpen the blade. There are a number of reasons for this, honestly.

First, this was being sent out in the mail, and the last thing I wanted to do was to mail out a razor-sharp knife in a cardboard box.

Second, there’s a tradition in Germany that if you receive a knife as a wedding present, you should pay the gift giver a penny so as to not cut them from your life. Of course, since I wasn’t attending, we couldn’t go through with that, so I went with a Japanese approach: send a dulled knife to represent that someone isn’t being cut from life due to the lack of a proper edge.

Finally, it was just a matter of time; I finished the knife one week before the wedding, and I had to mail it during the 4th of July weekend. If I had the right tools to speed up sharpening and polishing, then I’d have considered it, but without them and the little time available, I went the easy route.

So how does this knife weigh in? Well, I didn’t bother actually WEIGHING it, but the package was close to two pounds, and I had to use a pretty beefy box when I shipped it out.

BOXED!

In all honesty, the entire knife measured in at 14.5″ from tip to pommel, while the blade alone measured in at just 8″. Considering the starting steel was only about 7″ (give or take), that’s a pretty nice difference. For “Cakerist: The Confection Cleaver,” that is a pretty good size!

Yup, 14.5. Not too bad!

There are still a few imperfections that I’d love to get rid of, but sadly didn’t know how. Namely, a few minor scratches on the guard, cleaning up the discoloration from hot fitting the guard, and an almost unnoticeable wiggle in the blade.

These will bother me until I die, I swear.

But the blade itself is almost perfectly balanced with the handle. In fact, I can balance it on my finger from the guard, which is normally a good spot (most people want it on the guard or just above the guard). I’ll take that as a win, because it means that my ideas worked! Huzzah!

Victory is mine!

The blade itself turned out pretty well. This is, by far, the cleanest knife I’ve ever made. There were few pockmarks to grind out, and there was little profiling that needed to be done. In fact, the majority of my time with the angle grinder was dedicated to the polishing to get it as close to the mirror finish as possible.

Not quite a mirror in the end, but I’m getting there!

The blade also rests well in hand, and it does strike a pretty nice little profile, if I may say so.

Look at this majestic beast! By the by, yes, it has been dubbed “Cakerist”

There are a few things that came to mind after mailing this out, and a few questions were actually posed to me afterward (and not just by the bride).

First, I was asked how much this would cost if I were to make another one. My response? “Too much.”

To be completely honest, this was truly a labor of love. I made it because I love blacksmithing, to be sure, but I also wanted to make do something for this couple to further represent the idea of marriage, a union of sorts, and I didn’t think buying a gift would cut it. To the bride, this knife is priceless.

From a shop perspective, “too much” doesn’t sum it up, so I sat down and did the calculations. I have between 30-40 hours of work on this knife, between the running around to find things that were needed to the slow process of sanding and shaping the handle. If I were paying myself minimum wage, this is about a $350 project. Granted, I didn’t keep track of my hours as I should have, but it was pretty intensive.

Alternatively, many craftspeople I know say to take your material cost and double it to get a “standard” rate. If that were the case, this was about a $200 knife. Between the cost of the raw materials (with related shipping costs), fuel (almost $30 in propane all said and done), and all of the other supplies needed (sandpaper, angle grinder discs, gloves I destroyed, etc), I’ve spent about $100 out of pocket, give or take (and that’s not including what I spent on tools and buying the materials in bulk to make more, so initial costs were much higher).

Yes, you are reading that correctly: this knife, if I were to sell it, should be between $200-$350. I don’t know if anyone is willing to shell out that kind of money on a custom job, but there’s one thing I can say:

In the end, I have a happy customer with a hand-made gift that should last.

On the other side, I was asked how does this knife compare to what I’ve done before, and to that, I have to say: “See for yourself.”

Comparison to my first knife.
Comparison to my first knife.

In the above photos, you are looking at two knives. The bottom one is the first knife I forged. It was created from 8″x1″x0.189″, and measures around 10 inches, give or take. The handle is also bubinga, and it is a pair of slabs glued to the tang. It is a “standard” knife by most standards, with a normal shape, slight ricasso (dull part by the handle) and a psuedo-drop point at the tip.

The blade has a number of pockmarks and divots from improper hammer blows, the shine isn’t that nice, and the bevel leaves something to be desired. It’ll still cut things (I’ve cut squash, soap, and other pretty tough things with it), but it’s not as nice as it could be. Granted, it is my first knife, but it is hard to not be critical of one’s work, especially since I had a knife less than a year later than was cutting paper and tomatoes with relative ease.

Cakerist, on the other hand, is much different. The stock was about an inch shorter but was a half inch wider. The shape of the blade is much different, implementing a top edge reminiscent of a kukri, but still remaining straight along the spine.

Unlike my first knife, I implemented a “hidden tang” instead of a “slab tang”; in this case, you can’t see the tang at all because it is within the wood of the handle, while if you looked at the spine of my first blade, you’d see the tang between the handle material. I’ve also added a guard, something that I haven’t done before on a knife (and have only done once with a sword). I’ve also had to do a great deal more woodworking this time around.

While I didn’t have overt failures in this project (and we tend to learn more from failure than success), I learned quite a bit here. I learned about shaping metal in new and strange ways. I realized a stick tang is entirely workable with my tools and experiences. I reached the conclusion that making a handle isn’t nearly as daunting as I thought (but I do need more tools for it if I am to do it correctly and efficiently in the future).

If anything, I’ve learned that I’ve come a long way in less than two years, but I still have a long way to go.

Before you ask me “What’s next?”, I’ll cut you off and tell you: prepwork. I recently acquired a shop space, but I need to fix it up with a new roof and new electrical work. . .to the tune of an estimated $6000. I’ll be working on it over time and doing some smithing work in this shop until then (and making a new forge with a friend’s help), but much of my time in the shop will probably be spent renovating due to the need to save money so I CAN do projects like this again in the future (unless I get some paid commissions in to speed that up).

For now, be patient, I’ll be posting more projects as I make them!

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