Blade Smithing Q & A

The blade-smithing courses at the Calnan & Anhoj forge includes forging, finishing and heat treatments of one layer blades. If you would like to make a good knife of your own design, spend a day blacksmithing and get an insight into practical heat treatments, this is the course for you. I am a blacksmith (not a blade smith) so you will learn the ‘blacksmiths approach’ to knife making, basic hardening and tempering skills will be covered - same as I would do the day to day hardening of tools in the hearth without the use of modern gadgets.

If you are thinking of going into blade-smithing on a professional level and for a more in depth program of the theory of heat treatments UK blade-smith Owen Bush's courses come highly recommended:

This 'questions & answers' should give you some idea of what the course covers:

Q: Can I bring my own design? A: Yes, prior to the course I will email a basic guide to blade shapes and uses. I recommend a blade length of 10-12cm (plus tang) as its a realistic size to finish nicely. Keep the blade length to a maximum of 15 cm (plus tang). 

Q: Will the course give me an idea of knife shapes, angles and different uses? A:  Yes.

Q: Will the course give me some history on knives? A: No.

Q: Will the course cover heat treatments? A: Yes, I will go through the basic theory of heat treatments of carbon steels and then carry out the practical side of normalising and hardening. Tempering is done at home with the use of a kitchen oven. I call it ‘heat treatments for blacksmiths’, no gadgets, we use the coke-hearth.

Q: Will we sharpen the blades during the course? A: Yes, participants usually manage to get this done. Again it takes time, so aim to get the edge started and assume you must do the final 'razor edge' at home. (The safest bet is ofcourse to do your final sharpen after the tempering and handle work is done) We have a couple of Lansky (diamond) kits, which will give you a choice of a 17-30 degree angle. 

Q: Will my knife stain during use? A: Yes, we will use carbon steel not stainless steel, so you will have to look after your blade. You can keep it clean with scotch brite (the green pads you can find in the cleaning aisles of a supermarket)

Q: How long will the forging take? A: regular blades are usually done by 3pm. Iron age knives (also known as blacksmiths knives) with a forged handle will take you through more blacksmithing techniques - so gives you more time at the hearth - usually they are done by 4-5pm.

Q: I want to make more knives at home, do I need to forge the blade? A: No. Just have a look at to realise the vast amount of process covered and see how minor a part the forging part plays in a modern knife forum.

Q: I want to make a wood carving knife with a 20 degree bevel, can I do that on the course? A: Yes, but accurate bevels are based on stock removal (adding a jig to a belt sander or using a filing jig) We don’t have gadgets – so we will do a bit of maths, mark up and followingly work by eye.

Q: I want to make a chef’s knife, can I do that on the course? A: Yes, but bear in mind that we are using carbon steel not stainless so it will stain (please see the below) You will have to keep the blade to 15cm max length please, also it will have a thicker spine or back than the stainless blades you might be used to (usually people are happy with that as it gives a nice weight to the blade) 

'Clean, modern, high quality martensitic high alloy stainless tool steels are the best choice for fine, well-made, and durable chef's knives. Carbon steels and non-stainless damascus steels are not a good choice and there are several clear reasons. Plain carbon steels will quickly and easily rust if not meticulously cared for, and that doesn't often happen in the kitchen. Carbon steels corrode, and the steel that corrodes away goes somewhere, usually into the food...' from

Q: Will I be doing all the work on my blade myself? A: Forging yes, but the use of power tools is reserved for the tutor only with the exemption of tradesmen or other people with experience of the use of angle grinders. Unless you want to keep a hammered blade finish, grinding tends to be the sensible option as a ‘100% hand made blade’ (as in filed) requires 2 days as opposed 1.

Q: Does the course cover handle making? A: No, we dont have time ( and some people use as much time on the handle making as they spend on the blade making - if not longer)

Q: How do I fit in a hidden tang handle? A: Slow setting two-pack glue like araldite, or ask me how to use pine sap!

Q: I want a blade with a guard and pommel, can I make that during the course? A: No, we don’t have time.

Q: I want to make a ‘stick-tang’ blade, to fit layers of leather and other materials to the handle, can I make that during the course? A: Yes, but again that type relies on a guard and pommel (home work) Fixing a stick tang is traditionally done by riveting the end over, this can be hard to do with a carbon steel, so Id recommend a threaded version, easiest is to talk me into welding on a short section of threaded bar to the end of the tang.

Q: There seems to be a lot of knife terminology used on knife forums, will the course teach me some knife lingo? A: No 

‘Sophistic linguistic vain superiority, doctrinarian, snobby verbal claptrap... A knife is just a piece of metal and a handle. Why bother? Who cares?’ (from: ) Go on, look it up, you know you want to. But you wont be able to communicate with me... I keep it quite simple.

to be continued !

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