Monday, December 26, 2011


    I was out for a hike today and I witnessed something odd: as the sun was dipping toward the horizon I began seeing, back lit by the afternoon sun, several clouds of insects. In late December. In Michigan?

     I wandered into a couple of the clouds of insects expecting them to be mosquitoes since this is Michigan after all; they weren't mosquitoes, and I am not sure what they were. This time last year there was snow on the ground. Snow... that's what I should be seeing in late December in Michigan, not newly hatched swarms of bugs! It's crazy, and I am afraid it is a harbinger of things to come.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Knife Projects

I have become engrossed with knives and knife and sheath making in the past year. It started with making a handle for a Mora stick tang blade and sewing a leather sheath; both were serviceable but were honestly very ugly and crude. For my next project I shifted gears and tried my hand at making a handle for a full tang blade and had more success. With lots of practice and failures my leather work greatly improved over the summer months and my stitching became neater, my finishes were cleaner, and I learned how to do hand tooled basketweaves.

The "Green Beast"
Over the summer I purchased a knife "kit" from Steve Smith (AKA Red of Rdneck Knives in Florida): beautiful stabilized box elder scales and stainless loveless bolts on a Koster style bushcraft knife made of 1095 carbon steel. Red kindly offered me advise throughout the project and it came together very nicely. Its green leather dangler sheath turned out nice too, but I do not have any pics of the finished sheath.

I later picked up an Enzo Trapper blade in O1 steel from Ben's Backwoods. This I handled with amazing stabilized dyed maple burl as a gift for a long-time friend. The scales, when polished, are reminiscent of VanGogh's Starry Night, which is what I named it.

Enzo Trapper: "Starry Night"

First stock removal knife
So late this fall I decided to try making a knife from a sheet of steel using the stock removal method. I started with annealed steel and cut out the basic shape. I did the prliminary grinding on the belt sander and then did the heat treating in a crude forge made from cinder blocks and a large propane torch. My neighbors were gawking at the spectacle of my flamethrower and red-hot steel show in the driveway! The quench was done in a coffee can of 30 weight motor  oil and the blade was tempered in my kitchen oven (my wife was not impressed). Finally I made the scales from apple I previously harvested. Generally I have received comments that it has "character" which I greatly appreciate; I also know that that is a polite way of saying it is rough but serviceable, which I'm OK with. Most importantly, I learned a lot by doing the complete process.

Second complete knife
This month I refined my technique and design some and completed a second knife. This one is more comfortable to use and has a better edge and the overall finish is way neater. The convex blade is still a little awkward and the balance is a bit off, but I am currently using this knife as my neck knife on outings and around the shop. I also improved the sheath design so that it can be used ambidextrously and as both a neck sheath (at a 45 degree cant) and a cross-draw belt sheath.

I'm currently working on my third knife, and am steadily improving my technique and learning from mistakes (do not let your magnet touch the super heated steel in the forge while checking to see if the blade is hot enough to loose magnetism... it leaves permanent divets in the steel).

I've found that the Internet is a great resource for people trying to learn new skills, but it is still no replacement for personal apprenticeship and teaching. Unfortunately I do not know of any knife makers in my area. However, I've been lucky to have some friendly folks I've met online help me virtually, and I'll continue to slowly learn through trial and error. I doubt I'll be moving onto forging my own blade steel or hammering out my own blades, but I'm sure I'll continue to dabble in basic knife making for a while yet, even though these early results are rough at best.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


I created this blog in the depths of a Michigan winter with the intentions of it being a journal of my outdoors experiences and creations. Fortunately I've been  incredibly busy reading, learning, trying, doing and practicing in the intervening months; this has been an amazing year of learning and experiences. Unfortunately I've failed to document most of it. Well, here on the cusp of yet another Michigan winter, I am turning back to this endeavor, and am going to try to remember that documentation is an important part of the learning process.