Monday, November 30, 2015

The Jaguar Build

Well, I sure hope everyone enjoyed their Thanksgiving holiday as much as I did.  There is nothing better than spending time with family and loved ones while you're eating pie.  Between the fun and festivities, I was able to slip out to my shop for some quality build time as well.  Here is the product of the long weekend.

Here is my latest knife design that I call the Jaguar.  It's a little larger than the usual knife I make, with a blade just over 3 inches.  I'm excited to see how this design works out.

I decided to mix up my build order a little bit and start with the blade.  Since I'm not planning on doing any spine file work on the blade, I think I can get away with it.  The above photo shows the blade after it has been profile ground.  I'm drilling out the holes for the pivot and the thumb stud before heat treating the blade.

All wrapped up in foil and ready for heat treatment.

Into the oven she goes.

While the blade is heat treating, I'll get started on the handle.  Here you can see some 416 stainless for the bolsters and spacer and a sheet of titanium for the liners.  I was going to use this buckeye burl for the scales but I changed my mind a little later and went with some burgundy-colored Micarta.

Here are the parts after rough cutting on the band saw.  You can see the Micarta there at the top.

The liners have been temporarily glued together with the pattern on top.  The liners get profiled at the same time so that they are identical twins.

After drilling all the holes in the liners, It's time to begin fitting the bolsters and scales.  The bottom liner in the photo has the front bolster clamped to the liner.  I will drill through the liners into the bolsters to get the screw holes aligned.

After the holes have been drilled through the bolsters, they get pinned together in order to get the rear end of them ground even.  The next photo shows what I mean.

The face of the bolsters that will mate with the scales around ground down to match one another.  The photo shows them still pinned together.

Now that the bolsters match, the back side of each gets ground down at 30 degrees to create dovetails.

This shows the complete dovetails.

Here's a little tip when working with dark-colored scale material.  Put some masking tape over the scale and trace the pattern onto the tape.  Easy to see and the tape peels right off without any trouble.

After a short trip to the band saw, here are the scales ready to be fitted to the front bolsters.  They are cut slightly large so that there is extra material to help with fitting.

Dovetails have been ground into the front of the scales to mate up with the bolsters.  The photo shows how they dovetail together.

The scales get clamped in place and holes drilled in the same manner as the front bolsters.

The back end of the scales get ground to match each other and ground at an angle to start the dovetails with the rear bolsters.  The rear bolsters get dovetailed, clamped to the liners, and holes drilled just like the other parts.

You may have to get out your magnifying glass, but if you look very closely at the bottom corner of this liner, you will see a little black dot.  That's what it looks like when you break off a tap in a hole when trying to cut threads into titanium.  This doesn't happen to me very often anymore, but I used to just scrap the liner because that little piece was impossible to get out.  I recently heard of a trick used by other knife makers when this happens to them.

Here's the trick.  Acid!  Titanium is stable and unaffected by acid, but the carbon steel tap isn't.  This is the first time I've tried this trick, so my fingers were crossed when I dipped it into some ferric chloride.

It worked!  After leaving the liner in the acid over night, the acid has eaten away the steel and left the titanium unscathed.  I'll for sure have to remember this trick.

Here are all the handle parts assembled.  Looks kind of "chunky" and uneven, but we'll take care of that right now.

After a few minutes on the grinder, all the parts are ground down to match the liners.  Building my scales and bolsters this way, the handles are perfect mirror images of each other.  There's nothing worse than dovetails that are a little bit off from each other.

I assembled the handle together and rounded over each side.  I really like how this handle looks, and it feels very comfortable in the hand.

Confession time.  While grinding the first blade, I made a fatal mistake and had to scrap the blade completely.  It doesn't happen very often, but after throwing a little tantrum like a 2-year-old, I built a new blade and through the old one into the drawer of shame.  Here is blade #2 after getting hollow ground.  Looks much better now.  Once I get the blade fit to the handle, I'll work on the blade finish.  I don't want to get everything polished up at this point as inevitably it will get scratched and I'll have to start over.

Here is what the knife looked like when I knocked off on Saturday afternoon.  The open position for the blade has been dialed in and the blade has been ground to the handle for a seamless fit.  This is going to be a nice knife!  I'm toying with the idea of going with a full mirror polish on the bolsters and the blade, but I haven't decided for sure.  I like the looks of this knife enough that I might also leave the knife without any file work to embellish it.  I'll toy with these two ideas throughout the week before I get back to the shop.  Either way, this knife is sure to be a winner.

Thanks for tagging along with me on this new build.  I hope you are enjoying your time spent here on the Robinson Edge.

-  Brandant Robinson

Monday, November 23, 2015


Sometimes a knife just comes together even better than how you imagine it.  That's what happened with this knife.  I am very pleased with the overall look and feel of this knife.  Here's what it looks like all finished up.

This is a photo of all of the parts in their final condition, waiting to be assembled for the final time.  As you can see my mark has been etched into the blade, I have sharpened the blade, and the liners have been jeweled and anodized an ice-blue color.  The light blue looks great against the dark red scales.  I have also turned a thumb stud for the knife, but it's too small to be seen in this photo.  There are 34 parts in all that make up this knife if you include all the screws in the count.

And here's the knife in it's final, completed form.  I wish my camera had captured the beauty of the Damasteel bolsters.  They really look great in person.  You can see that I added just a little file work on the lock so that the user's thumb has a positive place to register when unlocking the blade.

And here is a shot of the spine of the knife.  Looking good if I do say so myself.

I took this knife by to show a friend of mine who is also a knife collector to get his opinion.  When I told him how much I was going to ask for it, he tossed it over on his desk and said, "Sold!" Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to take any quality photos of this beauty before my friend claimed it as his own, so I guess you'll have to believe me when I say that the photos do little to show off the details of this knife.  Without a doubt, it's my best work to date, but I think I say that with almost every new build.

Thanks for following along with me on this knife-building adventure.  I hope you have enjoyed the journey as much as I have. I already have a new pattern for the next knife that I'm going to make, and with the extra vacation time for Thanksgiving this week, I expect to get some bonus shop time.  I'll do a better job of taking better progress photos this time and keeping you all up to date.  Stay tuned for the "Jaguar" build.

-  Brandant Robinson

Thursday, November 12, 2015

My Knife Making Philosophy

I've never really articulated the underpinning ideas that guide me in the process of designing and crafting my handmade knives.  In order to share my thoughts and feelings on the subject I elected to dedicate today's post to communicate what I feel are the most important characteristics and qualities that are required in a great knife.  To do this, I have broken down my ideas into two categories: Function and Form.

Function refers to those important qualities that help a knife to perform at its highest potential.  The characteristics of Form are those that make a knife look beautiful to the eyes and feel comfortable in the hand.  That being said, here are my thoughts on what makes a good knife great.

·         Function: 

·         A knife should first and foremost be an implement designed and crafted for cutting.  This, after all, is what is knife is meant to do.  I’ve seen may knives that “look” cool, but would be absolutely worthless for actual cutting tasks.  Art knives do have a place in our community, but for those intended for actual use, they need to be able to cut.

·         Edge geometry and the overall grind should be matched for its intended purpose.  A knife intended for a specific purpose, such as a chef’s knife or a skinning knife, should have the edge geometry designed for those cutting tasks unique to that style of knife.  Most of my knives are of drop point design, simply because a pocket knife needs to be able to perform many differing tasks and do them well, and a drop point design accomplishes this better than any other.

·         A knife meant to be kept in a pocket for daily use should be accessible and operable with one hand.  This is the main reason why I use thumb studs on my knives as opposed to a nail nick.  The thumb stud allows the user to open and close the blade while his other hand is busy holding the object that need cutting.  A nail nick opening system requires both hands to be free.

·         A blade must be sharp and retain its edge during daily tasks.  I go to great measures to heat treat my blades to that “sweet spot” where the chosen steel performs its best for knife blades.  This allows for a blade to retain its edge for as long as possible without losing toughness.  I also put a razor-sharp edge on all my knives before they leave my shop.


·         Every knife should be unique and beautiful.  The world is full of “ugly” knives.  Granted, Function is likely more important than Form, but there is no reason that I can see why a knife cannot have both.  Therefore, I take great care to make sure that my knives are both functional and beautiful at the same time.  Each knife is also handcrafted and made unique on its own merits with no two knives ever being exactly alike.

·         Lines and curves should be kept simple, elegant, and aesthetically appealing.  I resist the urge to follow trends with flamboyant designs which may look attractive but give up much in the function aspects of a knife.  My designs use gentle curves, simple lines, and clean looks.  I find that sticking to these standards my designs turn out to be stylish and classy.

·         A knife should be comfortable in the hand and well balanced both physically and visually.  Visual balance can be seen with the eyes when everything on a knife flows together as a whole.  Physical balance and comfort are perceived only when the knife is actually held in the hand.  When physical balance is achieved, the knife simply feels right and becomes an extension of the hand.

·         Materials used should be of high quality and meet the intended purpose of the knife.  This does not imply that all parts should be made of the most expensive materials; it simply means that each part of a knife should be made from materials that match the requirements of that part without “cheapening” the product.  The materials should also be capable of being finished to a high degree of luster and beauty.

·         Embellishments should complement and enhance the knife design, not detract or overpower.  The purpose of file work, engraving, anodizing, pattern-welded fitting, and all the other forms of embellishment is to add to the look and aesthetics of a knife.  There is a fine line where too much embellishing makes a knife gaudy or garish.  In this case, more is just more and not better.  Embellishments should improve the knife and not take away.
·         Simplicity is beautiful.

In summary, a good balance between Function and Form must be achieved in order to attain a great knife design.  Each and every knife I make must be beautiful and meet all aspects of its intended use.  These are the guidelines I use for my designs, and I hope you will agree, that I do my best to achieve the very best that my skills will allow.

-  Brandant Robinson

Monday, November 9, 2015

Detail Work

This is the part I love the most about knife making, the detail work.  Everything up to this point comes together quite fast, but the detail work is what takes the most time and attention.  The following are a few crumby cell phone pics of the progress made this last week.

The handle is almost complete.  At this point, I have several coats of oil finish on the scales.  They need another coat or two before they get a final waxing.  Even in this phone pic you can see how the colors and textures of the burl wood pop into life.  I'm really liking the look of this wood.  It reminds me of molten lava.  The Damasteel bolsters have been polished to a perfect mirror finish.  Even though they will get etched in acid, it's still necessary to bring them to a mirror finish in order to get the best etch to bring out the beauty of the Damasteel.

At the end of last week's work I had the blade mounted on my hand sanding jig.  In this photo the blade has been finished up to a 600 grit hand-rubbed finish.  It's hard to see the beauty of the satin finish in this photo, but you'll see it when I take some good pics upon completion.

Here is the process of how the Damasteel bolsters are etched.  The jar is filled with sulfuric acid which etches away the different steels of the pattern-welded steel at different rates which brings the layers into view.  I found that a 1 hour dip in the acid at room temperature gave me the best etch.  After the etch, the bolsters will get a light sanding with 2000 grit paper and a quick spin on the buffing wheel with pink scratchless compound.

I chose to do my favorite file work pattern, the twisted ribbon, on the spacer for this knife.  This step is very time consuming, but is certainly worth the effort in the end.  I've said it before, but file work and these kind of details are what make handmade knives so unique and valuable.

This blurry photo is a shot of the liners for the knife.  Instead of file working the liners like I usually do, I chose to try something a little different.  I chucked up a tiny carbide burr in my rotary tool and added a stipple texture to the edge of the liners.  Let me tell you that this was a pain in the backside.  That edge is really narrow and I about went cross eyed trying to focus on what I was doing.  Thank goodness my magnifying visor showed up that very morning.  Perfect timing!  I'm still not sure how these liners will look in the end, but I'm hopeful that after they are anodized, the texture will become more apparent.  It will be interesting to see how they turn out.

The pics that I took of building the lock and detent didn't turn out well enough to post, so if you want to know how I do those steps, I guess you'll have to scan back through previous posts.  Sorry about that.  The knife at this point is nearing completion.  I still need to build a thumb stud, anodize the liners, polish out the bolsters, etch my mark on the blade, and sharpen the edge.  I hope to finish this knife build up next weekend.

Thanks for following along with me on this build.  If you want to be added to my email list to receive notifications on when new knives become available, just send me a quick email with "Subscribe" in the subject line.  You can unsubscribe at any time in the same manner with "Unsubscribe" in the subject line.  I only send out emails periodically when new knives are available or when I decide to hold a sale, so you won't be inundated with unwanted messages.  I appreciate all the support and would love to hear your feedback via email or a comment here on the blog.  Thanks for stopping by the Robinson Edge.

-  Brandant Robinson

Monday, November 2, 2015

Handle Shaping

Most of my efforts this weekend went into shaping the handle and hollow grinding the blade of this, the new Bobcat knife.  I like to take my time when making a knife so that I can be sure to get everything just right.  I guess that's why handmade knives are so highly regarded since the maker does his best to get the details as close to perfect as his skills allow.  With each knife I make, I try to make it a little bit better than the last one finished.  I take a lot of time after finishing each knife to evaluate each area where improvement could be made and do my best to make those improvements on the next one.

Here are a few photos of the progress made on the knife over the weekend.

Before working on the handle, I spent some time getting the pivot assembly built up.  I bought myself a new micrometer which really helped to get everything to fit together more precisely.  I've shown many times how I build my pivot systems, so I didn't take time to snap photos of that process.

To begin the shaping of the handle, I removed the scales and worked on the bolsters alone with them still attached to the handle.  The reason for removing the scales is the fact that wood is much softer than steel.  I don't want to remove too much wood from the scales as the steel bolsters are ground down to shape.  I will reattach the scales once I get the bolsters ground down to about 220 grit.  This photo shows the bolsters after they have been shaped using an 80 grit belt on my slack belt attachment.  I really liked the look of the last knife that I used this method on and decided to give it another go with this knife build. 

Here is the handle after the bolsters and scales have been ground down to 1500 grit.  The bolsters are nice and shiny and the Damascus pattern in the Damasteel shows up faintly, even before they get their bath in acid.  I'm really sold on shaping my handles this way.  I have a feeling that this method will make it into most of my future work.  You really have to feel it in your hand to get the full picture, but it is very comfortable and sleek.

Here is a view of the spine of the knife.  You can see how the curves of the sides are very gentle and sweep over the whole face with only a slight reveal at the spine.  Very classy and very comfortable!

I didn't take any photos of hollow grinding the blade.  There's really not much to see along the way that I haven't shown before.  The grind turned out really well with an extremely fine edge and mirrored plunge lines.  The photo shows the blade where I left it for the weekend, fastened down to my hand-sanding jig.  I still have quite a bit of hand sanding left to do before the blade can be considered finished, but it will have to wait until I get back to my shop next week.

My goal for next week is to get the blade finished up, get the fit all dialed in, and maybe get started on the file work for the spacer and liners.  Time permitting, I might get brave and try my hand at etching the Damasteel bolsters.  I've done some research since my last experience with Damasteel and hope to get a better etch and really bring out the contrast in the layers.  Thanks for stopping by the Robinson Edge.

-  Brandant Robinson