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Carter Cutlery News

August 11, 2009

Info Column

Our YouTube Channel is growing!

We keep adding more videos to our YouTube channel. To make sure you don't miss any new additions, you can subscribe to our channel by just clicking on the "Subscribe" button on one of the video pages. Thanks for watching! Oh, and don't forget -- you can leave your comments on any of the videos you watch. We do read them all and leave our own comments as well.

Do you have questions about steels, knifemaking, or just cutlery in general? Send us an email and Murray will be happy to answer them for you.

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Shop and Office Construction

Those of you who have visited our shop and office, either as a Traditional Japanese Bladesmithing student or as a customer, will have noticed several rooms still under construction. We are pleased to announce that we have some very able men working towards their completion. This fall we will move into a new office with three times the room. It is our expectation that our new office will enable us to serve you even better.

Dennis Nelson
Electrician Dennis Nelson in action

The bladesmith shop has also undergone a total overhaul of the three-phase electrical wiring. This upgrade, which cost thousands of dollars, has greatly simplified the operation of several of the machines and adds an extra element of safety as well. Now past graduates returning for another bladesmithing class will undoubtedly reminisce of the “old days” when one machine had to be unplugged before the next one could be turned on. The days of testing students for patience and plug-changing dexterity are gone!

In the same line of thought, you should come and attend a course before we move to our new and improved facility in the future. Believe me, you will have wanted to be part of the select group who attended where it all started. Vernonia, with its natural beauty and small rural town atmosphere, is an awesome background for the Traditional Japanese Bladesmithing classes.

New Knives

Murray, assisted temporarily by Shehan Prull (see below for more about him), is working on 80 new knives which are scheduled for completion at the end of August. Included in the batch are more than 20 beautiful hand-forged Damascus knives, varying in size from neck knives to Whitecranes. A couple of new models will be debuted, as well as Murray’s second “Chinpira” model neck knife. Those of you who are on our New Product Alerts will be notified as soon as these new knives are posted.

New on the Tube

Our latest YouTube addition is the first part of a two-part series on "The Virtues of a Neck Knife." In Part 1, Murray goes over the main advantages of having and carrying a neck knife. Those of you who do carry a neck knife know exactly what Murray is talking about, and you no doubt can relate quite a number of benefits yourself. Why not share your thoughts with the whole world? We welcome your comments. Just click on the link above and go to the bottom of the page to the section, "Comment on this video."

Neck Knife Class 101 Report

The latest Class 101 proved to be another success, especially for those who attended. All did very well in producing their very own neck knife -- and were very happy with what they produced, as you can see.

Neck Knife class students

Phillip Deuchle was one of the students and he wrote a very nice report of his experiences. Take the time to read this -- you'll agree that these classes are an experience of a lifetime.

Carter Cutlery 101 Class Report
by Phillip Duechle

You 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 hand-forged blades.

Murray 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.

Murray Carter 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.

The day before the 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 he does.

After 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.

I 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.

We 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.

Neck Knife class forge

Once the 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.

After 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.”

We 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.

After 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.

Once 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.

We 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.

Neck Knife class - grinding

The 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.

From 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 handle.

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.

After 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 any standard.

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.

We cut 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.

After 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 my razors.

My 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.

Thank you, Phillip, for your excellent report. Students like yourself make teaching these classes all the more meaningful.

Neck Knife Class 101 Slide Show

You've just read about our most-recent class -- now you can see what was going on. We have put together a slide show of Class 101 on our Picassa Photo Gallery website for your viewing pleasure. You'll see most of the points covered above, from learning how to use the power hammer to forging to grinding to finished product and a happy ending. Click on the image below to go directly to our latest album.

PicasaWeb Neck Knife course gallery

Until our next email news,

Stay Sharp and may God richly bless you!

Carter Cutlery

P.O.Box 307
Vernonia, OR 97064
phone 503-429-0447
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