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Tools #1: 18th Century Striking Knife

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Blog entry by ElroyD posted 03-22-2018 07:35 PM 709 reads 0 times favorited 6 comments Add to Favorites Watch
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One of my long-term goals as a wood worker is to create an 18th Century shop for myself. One of my other hobbies is reenacting, where I take part in events replicating and remembering life during the American War of Independence. Specifically, I belong to a unit that bases our impression on the men that lived and fought in and around the Lake Champlain region of Vermont/New York during the year 1777. In addition to battle reenactments, we also occasionally do “lifestyles” events, where we get to show off skills that civilians of the time period would have used. Due to all of this, I tend to focus my woodworking studies on the years between 1750 and 1790, and would like to eventually be using the sorts of tools that would have been used during that period.

My first jump into recreating tools of the time period was to make myself a striking knife. One of the difficulties with trying to be “period correct” is that there isn’t always documentation available for the time and place that you are interested in. Fortunately, hand tool woodworking hasn’t changed much in hundreds of years, so I can look to sources outside of my usual 40 year range. This was the case with my striking knife.

The closest to the time period that I could find was a knife illustrated in 1812 in Smith’s “Explanation or Key, To The Various Manufactories of Sheffield.” The knife pictured is similar to some that I’ve seen described as “Colonial Williamsburg Knives.” Those knives are used by the joiners and cabinetmakers at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, who recreate a time period just a few years prior to what I target.

Making this tool was another case of using what I had on hand in an attempt to make something useful. I found a scrap piece of 1/2” x 1/8” bar stock, marked out a rough shape based on the Smith drawing, and cut it out by hand with a hacksaw. When the rough shape was done, I went after it with a file to round the rat-tail end and smooth out the other areas. I took a few test cuts with it before sharpening, and was happy with the result. That is, it made a mark. Not a perfect mark, but not bad for an unsharpened piece of hacked scrap metal.

Since it was a cold New England winter when I worked on this, the wood-fired boiler in our basement was going full tilt to keep us all from freezing. I took advantage of this to harden the steel. I tossed my knife blank in the coals, let it get to a nice yellowish-orange, then quenched it in oil. I’m not a blacksmith by any means, but with a quick file test it looked and sounded hardened to me. Then, when my wife wasn’t home, I tempered the steel in our kitchen oven.

With tempering finished, I dug out various grits of sandpaper and worked the surface of my new tool till it was polished. I then sharpened the edge with my oil stones, creating a reasonable chisel edge.

With this, tool #1 for my 18th century shop was finished. It’s not perfect, but it works as a demonstration piece to show visitors at events. I need to regrind the bevel to create more of a knife edge. The pricker end works great, and I find myself using that side to strike lines more often than I use the knife side. I definitely learned a few things during the process, and hope to make an improved version sometime in the future.

-- Elroy



6 comments so far

View Ron Aylor's profile

Ron Aylor

2649 posts in 734 days


#1 posted 03-22-2018 07:41 PM

Way to go, Elroy. Good for you. Can’t wait to see more. Now we need to see this knife in action!

View Oldtool's profile

Oldtool

2685 posts in 2277 days


#2 posted 03-23-2018 12:15 PM

Nice work Elroy, there’s something satisfying about making your own tools. I think it is part of the soul of any hand craft, making the tool that is then used to make something else.
I also tried my hand at blacksmithing and hardening tool steel, was fun and not as difficult as I expected. Granted the object I made, also a striking knife, won’t receive any hard abuse like a knife or sword edge would, so maybe my work would fail under those circumstances, but what the heck – it was fun to try.
On the topic of striking knives, what are your thoughts on the angle on the cutting edge off center to create the spear point? (Not the angle of sharpening) Why I’m asking is that it appears to me that two knives are needed, one each right and left handed, to reach in between close quarters like dovetails with super thin pins. The point on your example will reach into the pin corner on one side, but not so easily on the other side. You agree???
Just food for thought, have fun in the shop, nice work on the knife.

-- "I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The point is to bring them the real facts." - Abraham Lincoln

View ElroyD's profile

ElroyD

100 posts in 675 days


#3 posted 03-23-2018 03:49 PM



On the topic of striking knives, what are your thoughts on the angle on the cutting edge off center to create the spear point? (Not the angle of sharpening) Why I m asking is that it appears to me that two knives are needed, one each right and left handed, to reach in between close quarters like dovetails with super thin pins. The point on your example will reach into the pin corner on one side, but not so easily on the other side. You agree???

I agree. When using this one, I’ve found several instances where I wish the point was on the other side. That may be another reason why I use the awl end more often. Picking up a spearpoint marking knife is on my wishlist, I just haven’t decided which one to purchase.

-- Elroy

View Oldtool's profile

Oldtool

2685 posts in 2277 days


#4 posted 03-23-2018 04:32 PM

Why buy when you can make? In fact, you can convert your existing to a spear point style with some grinding and sharpening. Just a thought.

This post is probably not the place to ask, but while I have you on the line: what have to learned about 18th century finishing? How do you plan to finish period promects?

-- "I am a firm believer in the people. If given the truth, they can be depended upon to meet any national crisis. The point is to bring them the real facts." - Abraham Lincoln

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

2413 posts in 669 days


#5 posted 03-23-2018 11:36 PM

Nice work on the marking knife!

Picking up a spearpoint marking knife is on my wishlist, I just haven’t decided which one to purchase.

I bought a few of the spear point ¼” marking knives from Ron Hock. Handling them up is fun, and I like the results.

-- Dave - Minneapolis

View ElroyD's profile

ElroyD

100 posts in 675 days


#6 posted 03-24-2018 04:59 PM


This post is probably not the place to ask, but while I have you on the line: what have to learned about 18th century finishing? How do you plan to finish period promects?

I need to look into finishes more. I know I’ve come across mentions of recipes for shellac and procedures for jappaning, but I haven’t really studied them yet. I’ve also found period recipes for various colors of paint, but they were mostly tailored toward artists.

-- Elroy

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