Knife steels?
OK been cruseing the web n have seen knives made from all sorts of steels. Curious as to knives made from box wrentchs, rebar, buggy springs etc. Could some of you metal heads that know iron n steel maybe give some info on pros n cons of different scavanged steels for knives n hatchets n such. Thanks much, might one day be good info to have stored away. Yes the steel may not have been available for our times of interest but knives n such sure we're ;-)
Posts: 229 | Location: Southeast Pa. | Registered: 03 February 2015Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Free Trapper
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Not any kind of an expert on metal stuff and what you ask for Birdman, but do know that a lot of old blades were made from refurbished tools like old files. Our ancestors were notorious recycler's and didn't waste anything that held value or scarcity. Even nails were often sifted out of burnt dwellings to be reused. I have noticed that if you ever check out the CLA (Contemporary Longrifle Association) site you will observe the knives' made by the legendary Hershall House and his brother John. Their work comes up quite often and sells within a few short minutes of their listings! Most often their blade source's come from old hay rake tines. That would be reused wrought iron which is scarce these days.
Posts: 197 | Registered: 15 January 2015Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Free Trapper
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Oh yea, I know another fellow who is constantly seeking old original wrought iron gun barrels to use to forge pipe tomahawk's. His name is John Donaldson from Minnesota IIRC. He makes a very fine hawk and is following the same tradition that has been recorded from our American history.
Posts: 197 | Registered: 15 January 2015Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Um...well you can forge all sorts of "steel" and iron to look like a knife or a hawk....

As you mentioned Birdman61, the metal itself is going to make a big difference.

For example I have some very cheap farriers' rasps. They are plenty sharp for working wood, but the farrier who gave them to me for $1 each, says they wear out within a week. They are probably made in China, without enough carbon to really hold an edge, but are surface hardened with a tiny layer of added carbon. So..., when they rust or that tiny layer wears away, they don't work very well.

Now I can make one of these into a 'hawk, BUT I would need to add by forge welding, a piece of good steel where the edge needs to be. They did this with original 'hawk blades too, as they used mostly iron. (I have a "Saxon finger knife" from a ren fair blacksmith...made from rebar...well it's barely steel and won't hold an edge. Just not enough carbon.)

IF it was a really good quality, American, Canadian, or British rasp, I probably would not need to weld in the extra steel. The same would go for using a file blade. Same would be true for a railroad spike...what type of steel is it? Does it have enough carbon??

Now I was taught that files/rasps when good quality, were pretty hard even when reforged. Less hard steel like "spring steel" or steel used in a flexible saw blade, are better candidates for reuse. In fact I've seen knives made from broken trap springs, and I have a couple of blades made with steel from an old two-man saw.

Something like 1085 or 1095 carbon steel blanks, which are inexpensive, make good blades. I've seen many knives offered for sale that use this steel as the beginning of a blade, but one does need to know how to harden and temper the blade with this steel.

For my part I've "adapted" several knives from old carbon steel knives. "Adapted" by removing the modern handles [scales] and attaching handles correct for the 18th century. I know the steel in them makes a good knife. The knives I have used are not that old, maybe only a few decades, and aren't really antiques.


It's not what you know, it's what you can prove
Posts: 3843 | Location: People's Republic of Maryland | Registered: 10 November 2004Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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I have a buckskinner friend that forges knives out of various spring steel (coil springs). They take and hold a good edge. I also believe some folks in Nepal make some interesting kukri knives using leaf springs. These also have a good reputation.
Posts: 19 | Location: ohio | Registered: 31 October 2011Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Overall, good knife steel such as 1080/84 is pretty cheap for what you get, and then you can easily find the best method of heat treat required. With mystery steels, even if high carbon, you will not know what may be required to get a good HT for it. Unless you have access to a heat treat oven, avoid 01 steel, 1095, and exotics. Years ago, many auto leaf springs were 5160. An easy and relatively forgiving spring steel in heat treating. Today there are over a dozen or so different spring steels for leaf and coil. You risk losing a lot of time and effort when things go wrong in heat treat, or don't go at all.
Posts: 557 | Location: geneva,fl | Registered: 29 March 2005Reply With QuoteReport This Post
Picture of Notchy Bob
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I think this is pertinent: Junkyard Steels

The link actually takes you to another forum, but someone posted a list of items you are likely to scrounge as scrap, and noted the type of steel from which the items are made. You'll see that files may typically be made of W2, while hay rake teeth are of 1095, as examples.

The original list was compiled by one David Wilson of the North Texas Blacksmith's Association, and he should be given full credit. I was given a copy of the list when I attended a blacksmithing workshop a couple of years ago, but I was pretty sure somebody would have it posted online and there it is.

I think, though, that those of us who are interested in 18th and 19th century technologies don't necessarily have to worry about this too much. I know of a few very old knives made from barrel hoops, which were likely pretty low carbon and probably not heat treated. They worked, or were at least better than no knife at all.

Several of the old-time chroniclers specifically mentioned soft metal in frontier knives. Edwin Thompson Denig was one, and the Earl of Southesk was another that comes to mind. Some of the early steels were only carburized on the surface (like case-hardening). Many of the old trade knives with plains Indian provenance were resharpened on one side only. The theory is that early on, the trade knives they obtained were only carburized on the surface. By sharpening one bevel only, they could keep a fine line of carburized metal on the cutting edge, where it was most needed. If they sharpened by beveling both sides, the hardened surface would be removed and the cutting edge would be from the soft metal core of the blade.

When I was about nine years old, I hacksawed a crude knife-like shape from scrap mild steel my dad had collected and started playing with it. Dad saw it, and took it to his anvil with a heavy hammer and cold forged it into something a lot more like a knife. He showed me how to drill the tang and I believe we made the handle out of a section of broomstick, slotted with a saw and riveted to the tang with "rivets" of heavy copper wire, driven through and peened. All I can say is that it served all the purposes required of it by a nine year old country boy who was under the spell of Davy Crockett. It dulled fast but could be sharpened with a few licks from a file. I wish I still had it.

Best regards,

Notchy Bob

"Should have kept the old ways just as much as I could, and the tradition that guarded us. Should have rode horses. Kept dogs."

from The Antelope Wife
Posts: 333 | Location: Florida | Registered: 24 May 2009Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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cool story,thanks for sharing.....

Beer is proof that God loves us,and wants us to be happy-B. Franklin
Posts: 1928 | Location: Oreegun Territory | Registered: 24 March 2013Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Ive use old files and they make good knives. There a a few people out there who sell railroad spike knives. Railroad spikes are not good steel for knives as they are low in carbon. A lot of the pattern welded bar-stock for sale on ebay is made in India and is also not great for knives for the same reason.
Posts: 129 | Location: Southern California | Registered: 28 April 2011Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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I've go a metric carload of neat books, many of which have "how to" articles on making useful outdoorsmen's gear including knives. One knife blank often recommended is used power hacksaw blades. Older machine shops often have dozens of these free for the asking. They are made of very good quality hardenable steel and are often very hard at the cutting edge and well tempered and tough in the main area of the blade. In order to drill more easily the handle portion must be annealed. I do this by heating the handle portion to a medium red then cooling in a bucket of wood ash. No esoteric magic here, wood ash is just a good insulation and will allow the steel to cool very, very slowly, retaining the softness needed to allow it to be drilled. A good cobalt or Titanium carbide coated drill makes it easy.
To make drills hard enough to drill glass, simply take a cheap carbon steel twist drill, heat about 1/4" to 1/2" of the tip cherry red and quench in mercury, STAY OUT OF THE SMOKE UNLESS YOU WANT SOME NASTY DAIN BRAMAGE! STAY OUT OF THE SMOKE UNLESS YOU WANT SOME NASTY DAIN BRAMAGE!!
Posts: 506 | Location: Puget Sound Area | Registered: 26 May 2008Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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