I was asked the other day "How much would a knife like THAT ONE cost?"
When I answered the customer seemed a little shocked. I actually priced it a little lower than the actual cost because I knew the person. It was suggested to me that I should do a short write up on exactly what it takes to make one of these knives.
You may think A person could whip one of these babies out in an hour or two, or that all it takes is a little pounding on a an anvil an presto chango you went from a RR Spike to a Knife just like that.
The truth of the matter however is, it takes a lot of time and effort to get them to the point at which the quality is such that it can be sold as a usable, long lasting, and sought after item. The first few I made were ok at best and were not not heat treated and I didn't spend a lot of time on them, but they were functional. As I grew in my ability and my clientele, I was getting a lot of custom requests for new and innovative ideas for my knives. I love a challenge and when someone says "Do you think you can do this?" I almost always say "I never have but I sure Can!" I am a firm believer in the fact that there isn't anything that I can't do. If I (or you, for that matter), can imagine it I can do it.
My customers have developed my style as much as I have. If I get a custom request and I like it, it will most likely end up in my store. I come up with pretty good ideas on my own but, the customers always have new and more creative ways that they want their custom pieces made. I put a disclaimer on the very first page of my website stating that if you have a custom request and I like it, it will be for sale in my store.
Enough of that...Here is the process
First of all I will need a bulleted list for reference, (it's a lengthy process)
Acquire a Forge, Anvil, Multiple sets f Tongs, Hammer(s), Vise, Grinder, Belt Grinder, Buffer, Polisher, and various other tools.
Get a hold of some HC RR Spikes
Forge the Spike into the correct shape
Grind it into final shape
Do any twisting of the handle or other finishing forging
Grind the flat and the bevel into the blade
Start the finish (Matte, Polished, Etching, Rough, Painted)
Leather Wrapped Handle
Make a sheath (A whole other Project)
Acquire All the tooling and materials for working with leather
Acquire the right size and weight of leather
Figure out a unique design
Do any artwork or customization
Packaging and Advertising
Figure a unique way of packaging your product
Acquire the materials for packaging
Have business cards to include with your packaging
Ship your product.
Acquiring the necessary tools for the trade is first and foremost and takes a lot of time, money and effort.
It took me 3 or four years to get enough of the proper equipment to accomplish the quality in my products that I must have. It takes a lot of searching through word of mouth, classifieds, and auctions to get where you can have an operational shop. Once you find the pieces you are looking for you need to purchase them. This takes money and usually a good amount of it. Unless you are lucky enough to have a blacksmith in your family that is ready to retire and hand you down all his tools, the first step isn't to easy.
Finding the right spikes.
RR Spikes aren't the ultimate best steel for knives but if you get the ones marked with HC, Which stands for high carbon, they take to hardening and annealing pretty well and will hold an edge for a long time. I use only High Carbon Spikes when making knives. This is important because while RR Spikes aren't the best steel for making knives the HC ones are better than ones that are not. These knives will stand up to years of use and hold an edge just as well as any other treated steel knife. Just Think, how long do you think they last on a railroad? A really long time right?
Forging it into the right shape
Practice, Practice, Practice... Forging anything correctly just comes with experience. I have been smithing for over ten years. I have only been producing the knives for sale for a couple years, but have been making them for approx. 5 years. I have made so many now that I couldn't possibly count them all. The forging step takes about 1 hour by hand, maybe longer or maybe shorter depending on a few factors.
Grind it into shape
Grinding the knife into shape can be a fairly quick process once you figure out the forging process and get it down to a science. The more precise your forging the less time it takes to grind the knife into the final shape. This takes a good half an hour to one hour.
This is usually done after the blade is in it's final shape. However it can be done before hand. There is special tools I have made for twisting that I will not share here but they are easy to make and you can Google them and make your own if you so choose to. This takes about a half hour.
Grinding the flat and bevel
To grind the flat and the bevel you need a belt grinder. This takes some time as well, it usually only takes a couple hours and can take up to four hours to get it right depending on the style of the grind you are after. There is a hallow grind and flat grind. I usually go for the flat grind. as you can see we are already up to 5 hours and possibly up to nine depending on the style of grind desired.
This is somewhat a secret of the trade as to what temperatures and the process of heat treatment I use. I combination treat the knives so you get the flexibility of the spine but with the harder edge holding ability of the blade edge. This takes at least three hours.
Now we need to start the finish
Sanding with progressively finer sandpaper will make a nice finish on the knife and you can achieve a very shiny finish this takes a long time usually 2 to 3 hours at east and if you are going for a mirror finish it takes at least two more hours of polishing and buffing.
I use KG GunKote™ brand coatings when a customer wants their Knife painted. This is a baked on coating that will never wear off and extends the life, look, and wear-ability of the knife. This is an incredibly durable coating that is used on firearms, automotive applications and is MIL SPEC. It is available in many many colors.
The process Is simple yet lengthy.
First I sand blast the blade and completely de-grease it.
I then Airbrush K-Phos™ Phosphate treatment onto the metal which actually changes the molecular structure of the surface of the steel and creating a super protective phosphorus coating which will resist rust almost indefinitely.
After the K-Phos™ Treatment is dried I preheat the blade and airbrush the Colored GunKote™ Finish onto the knife.
Once it is dried it is baked for at least two hours to cure the finish. Once the finish is cured the only way to get it off is to sand blast it off.The longer it bakes the deeper the color gets.
I am going to experiment with different patterns and and going to be offering digital camo for sure as an option in the store.
Then if you need to etch a name, logo, or image into the blade you need to go through the whole process of building the image in a computer program and cutting it out on a CNC Vinyl cutting machine and chemically etching the design into the metal. This process takes few hours , depending on the complexity of the design.
Leather wrapped Haandle
To wrap the leather on the handle is not easy. It is eight strands of premium grade upholstery leather cut into strips and braided in an eight plait bullwhip pattern around the handle all done by hand by me. It is glued with a special epoxy on the front end and tied off and glued again at the pommel end. It is then finished off by a wider piece of leather being wrapped around the unfinished end and glued and riveted in so it will never unravel or come loose for the life of the knife (which should last a lifetime).
We are now somewhere around fifteen hours into a single blade just for the metal work, Not including the Leather Work for the Sheath.
Making the sheath takes at least four hours, by the time you cut out the correct shapes and custom fit it to the blade (since every one is hand made and completely unique), Glue it up, Grove the stitched area for the stitches to reside below the level of the surface (to protect them from wear on the front and back), Hand stitching it, adding the hardware to it such as snaps and rivets in the areas prone to wear, finishing the leather, burnishing the edges, and customized artwork. Whew!!! that was a mouthful...
I was originally spending a lot of time on this. I since have decided to go rustic and use plain newsprint and wrap it as though I am wrapping a subway sandwich. I always ad a business card and usually a strip of leather holding a small tag with car instructions tied to the sheath. Simple but presentable.
So all in all it can take between 15 to 25 hours and sometimes more depending on how customized it gets.
This is why the price can get up there, not because I am trying to make a crap load of money for nothing. I think my time away from my family is worth a lot, so I don't think it is unfair to charge a fair amount for it.
The base price only puts me at around $10.00 dollars an hour and that is before I add in the cost of my Fuel, electricity bills, and materials... I'm not making much on each knife. Leather IS NOT CHEAP. Propane and Coal ARE NOT CHEAP.
Please understand that when you buy a knife from me you aren't just buying a knife. You are buying a one of a kind - hand made - never to be duplicated - useful - Beautifully Master Crafted - Tool.
There is a lot of Time, Blood (sometimes literally), Sweat, and Tears put into each one. I strive for the highest standards and am not satisfied with anything less.