Cutlery 101 Class Report
probably have a pocketknife or kitchen knife. In fact, you probably
have had more than one knife in your life. Did you ever stop to think
about why you retired that knife or kitchen knife? Maybe the edge would
not stay sharp. Maybe the rivets fell out. Maybe it lost its luster.
Maybe you just lost interest in it and it was replaced with the newest
thing. Did you ever stop to ask yourself if edge retention,
serviceability, ease of use, attention to detail, or beauty are
requirements? If these are the qualities that you look for in cutlery,
then look no further than Murray Carter’s
Carter, a 17th-generation Yoshimoto Bladesmith and an American
Bladesmith Society Master Bladesmith, has been forging knives and
cutlery for over 20 years. He has produced over 14,000 knives
and has an annual output of between 600 and 1000 knives. His
cutlery is designed to be used until the item is completely worn out.
As his own well-used neck knife can attest, that will not be until
yours is a family heirloom.
loves his work and he regularly holds classes in forging these
magnificent blades. I had the pleasure recently of attending his Two-Day
Neck Knife Class 101. You're probably wondering,
“Two days to learn to forge a blade from steel? No way! Not
possible!” I can truly say that I had no idea how to forge
anything other than a path through the woods. Murray’s
two-day class gave me the skills and insight to forge my own blades,
maintain and service them, and keep them usable until they
have to be retired.
first class day, he invited me out to his home and forge to meet his
family and his new student from Japan, Shehan.
He says that he likes to meet his students before class so that he can
talk to them about what they are looking for, and whether they have any
concerns or other things outside the course that they may want to
learn. We talked about the forge, his knives, and his passion for his
work. Shehan has been forging since he was 12 and moved to Japan to
study blacksmithing for two years before moving back to America to
apprentice with Murray. Shehan, like Murray, is passionate about what
chatting and touring the forge, Murray asked me to stay for supper.
During dinner, Murray talked of his volunteer work at the Christian
Prison Ministry and that one of the students that was joining us is a
lieutenant at that prison. Murray talked of his family and children and
the sense of community that he enjoys in Vernonia. I left with a good,
optimistic feeling that night and my head was buzzing with
possibilities as I drove back home.
arrived at the forge the next morning and met the other
student, Glen. Aside from being a lieutenant, Glen is also a
knife maker in the hobby sense. He enjoys the challenge of the work and
the finished product. He expressed at the end of the class that he
might now build his own forge and give forging a chance so that he can
move to the next level for himself.
started each day of class with a prayer and a review of shop safety.
Murray introduced us to the Japanese power hammer.
A deceivingly small tool that when properly employed shakes the ground
beneath your feet and bends steel to your will. We took turns with the
Japanese power hammer hitting small aluminum tubes, and then moving to
2x4s to illustrate a particular pattern that Murray uses to properly
stretch the steel. Murray guided everyone’s progress and was
very "hands off," letting us make the mistakes and only stepping in
when there was a problem or he saw something that needed correcting.
After we were comfortable with the power hammer, we lit the forge using
the splinters from the 2x4s, which was half the fun of letting the
power hammer run at almost full speed. As the splinters caught on fire,
you could feel the excitement build in the shop… this was it
-- the moment that the knives would be born.
forge was lit, we added some coke to get it raging. Murray
started this portion of the class by drawing diagrams on the shop floor
to illustrate the different zones of the forge and what they do to the
steel. He showed us the pattern for hammering the steel again and then
went to work on a customer’s white steel neck knife. We
watched each other work with anticipation as Murray, Glen, Shehan, and
I forged our steel in the manner that Murray showed us, by both his
example and diagrams. Our small billets of laminated blue steel were
quickly taking shape. Murray watched and even smiled a little as we
exceeded his expectations of how to see the temperature of the steel as
the hammer pounded and stretched the material according to Murray's
diagram. Once the rough metal shapes were tapered and properly
hammered, Murray stepped in to take over for us. He only did this three
times during the whole class: once for annealing,
once for quenching and once for tempering.
Murray annealed our blades by heating them and putting them in
traditional Japanese ash.
After lunch, we returned
to cold forge the blades -- a process which
consisted of lightly hammering the steel. For me this was the most
nerve-racking process. Unlike hot forging where I can hold onto the hot
steel with tongs at arm’s length, with cold forging you have
the steel in your hands and are power hammering mere inches from your
hand. Murray is very explicit about how to hold your hands and thumbs
so that you will not leave them accidentally at the shop.
we cold forged the blades, we scribed the knife pattern.
At this point, we were all excited to see the ghost of the blades
resting in the steel. We went to Murray’s cut-off wheel and
cut the blank out. Once the sparks had settled and the burrs were
removed, we had knives -- rough, soul-less knives, but knives
nonetheless. Murray would later say after heat-treating them at the end
of the day, “The knives now have a soul.”
proceeded to drill holes for handle pins and to
remove some weight, because despite what they look like, neck
knives are a pretty substantial piece of hardware. They are solid and
have a good weight to them, but they are not uncomfortable to wear for
long periods. After we drilled our holes, we had the option of stamping
our blades with our initials or a smiley face die that Murray made.
this, we learned the hardest part of the forging process, and one that
Murray takes great pride in showing his students. This is how to
develop a sense of seeing what is not visible.
Murray told us, “If you look closely at a knife, you can see
what is there. Nothing is hidden.” It is true, after we
learned to see in millimeters what was wrong with the blade as far as twisting
or bending, Murray showed us how to correct that bend or
twist. Identifying the twist or bend is the hardest part of the
process; the second hardest part is removing it.
the knives were straightened, we moved to the quenching,
which is done in the traditional Japanese style of coating the blade in
clay, heating it, then quenching it in water. Murray’s
results with this method are a Rockwell hardness of 63~64, whereas most
blades are hardened to a Rockwell of 58~60. We coated our
blades and Murray did the quenching. Each blade went into the water
with a satisfying sizzle… a sizzle that did not sound like a
normal hot-metal-in-water sizzle. It actually sounded more like a
sucking sound, like the water was sucking the heat from the blade
faster than the steel wanted it to.
placed our finished, soulful blades on the anvil and admired our work.
Each student was proud of his achievement that day. As we were looking
at the blanks, Murray commented that for him it was the internal
beauty of the steel and not the outer appearance that make
the knife attractive. He was referring to the unpolished steel that
glitters like diamonds in the sun. That glitter is the internal
structure of the steel. That is the beauty of the blade for Murray.
next day arrived and we started right in with grinding
the finished blades' secondary bevel on a rotating 86-grit Japanese
water stone. If you have never seen a rotating water wheel, it is truly
a site to behold. It is a large, several hundred pound piece of
Japanese stone, turning at an incredible rate, flinging water against
the back splash. It truly makes short work of the knives that Murray
grinds on them. Again, Murray demonstrated his technique and smiled at
the progress that each student made as they ground out the secondary
bevel of the knife.
blade blank to finish grinding, it took Murray all of 15 minutes to
complete the knife to shaving sharp. He then asked us to test
the hardness of the blade by shaving off some metal from the
band saw deck. I thought he was kidding when he asked that, but there
we were, shaving metal off the band saw deck. The edge was
still fine and sharp after that shave. After we reported back that the
blade was shaving metal, we dulled the edge and began work on the
Murray selected ironwood for the handle
material. We cut the blanks on the freshly-shaved band saw
and began the process of sanding the inside chamfers for the neck knife
as well as making sure that the scales were flat and properly
book-matched. Once we had the flat scales and had properly chamfered
the internal thumb rest, we drilled our holes for the scales. We placed
loose pins in the scales to check for anything that needed to be
adjusted. Again, Murray is focused on a millimeter of difference, and
it is that level of attention to detail that sets him apart from all
the others. Once we were satisfied with the rough shape, we glued the
scales to the full tang using temporary pins to support the shape. We
removed the pins and let the epoxy cure while we went inside to watch a
slide show of Murray's master in Japan.
that, we watched Murray shave with a broken kitchen knife.
I shave regularly with straight razors and I know the preparation that
needs to go into a quality shave. Murray just sharpened his knife,
lathered with hand soap and hot water and shaved a three-day beard
right in front of us. The knife was sharper coming off of a
six-thousand grit stone than my straight razors coming off of a
twelve-thousand grit stone. As far as my eye could tell, he had no
razor burn, no nicks or cuts and no shadow. It was a perfect shave by
We went back to the forge, picked up
our knives and it was at this stage that I started to see some real
excitement, as everyone was seeing a finished product develop in their
hands. Everyone had a sense of urgency, a sense of the moment -- a
sense that they had taken a piece of steel that was nothing more than a
blank piece of stock and wrought it into a serviceable tool.
and peened the handle pins, then sanded them flat to the handle. We
then went into the detail sanding and hand sanding
section of the course. At this point everyone's attention was focused
like lasers on their individual knives. Each student was at a
particular belt sander doing finish work for all the curves and finger
grooves. Murray again, with hands off, looked on as we proceeded with
the detail sanding. He would stop around and check the progress that we
were making to ensure that we ended up with a quality product that was
up to his specifications.
everyone had finished the detail sanding, they moved to the hand
sanding and pit filling that is inherent in ironwood. After
several trips outside in the sun to check for scratches, and return
trips to the knife maker's vice and sand paper, we had a finished
product. Murray took the knives over to the buffer
and finished them off. He then asked us to put an edge on the blade. We
all tried Murray's method of sharpening, which puts the sharpest
edge on a knife I have ever seen. Only Glen could pull it off
as he has had more experience in sharpening than Shehan and I. However,
to Murray's credit, once I arrived home and let the knowledge of the
past two days settle into my head, I sharpened two kitchen knives from
dull to razor sharp.
I was thoroughly happy with
Murray's two-day course and would love to take another course when the
time comes. I know that I learned so much in his two-day course that
his other courses have to be jam-packed with even more
valuable information. I am still digesting all the
information that I came across in the class and I can tell you that it
has made a huge difference in shaving with straight razors. I have now
given up my leather strop and have adopted friendlier means of
maintaining the "perfect triangle" to get the best edge possible from
attitude towards honing of other cutlery has gone from "I have no idea"
to "I can put an edge on this in twenty minutes." My scale making and
attention to detail has been raised up several notches, and I cannot
wait for my next antique razor restoration project so that I can
demonstrate what I have learned. I highly recommend this class,
even if you are a hobbyist, weekend forger, wannabe forger, or just
interested in what goes on in the forge. This class will not
disappoint you in any way.