m zeeb custom knives


Most knifemakers tend to develop their own particular style of knifemaking and I’m certainly no different. When I first started making knives in 2002 there were certain designs that particularly interested me. In particular, Don Fogg’s style with bold hamons and attention to detail really stood out to me.

hamonI started out working with cheap junkyard steels like leaf springs during the beginning of my knifemaking career. As my methods improved I decided that I needed to start using better steels, and I graduated up to simple 10xx series steels. These allowed me to create a knife blade with a harder edge, and a softer spine. When polished correctly the blade will display the delineation between the hard and soft steels in a beautiful way. This line is called a hamon. The term comes from Japanese smiths who have been employing similar methods (although they use different steels) for hundreds of years. Most Japanese swords and knives will display the characteristic hamon along their blade.

Since all of my knives are hand crafted they generally take anywhere from 15 to 25 hours to complete. I also do all my own leatherwork for the sheaths.

Generally I will start out by sketching out a design on paper. Once I have the profile of the blade the way I want it I’ll trace it only a piece of 10xx series barstock. The reason I use this particular steel is that it has few other materials in it other than iron and carbon. This allows a nice hamon to form during the heat treating process. clayed

Once I have my design traced onto the steel it gets cut out and I proceed to grinding. Generally I’ll grind the blade bevels and leave the cutting edge about 1/16” to 1/32” thick the reduce the chances of the blade cracking during the heat treating process. Then I clay up the blade. I use furnace cement to insulate the parts of the blade that need to remain softer and I leave the cutting edge and the very back of the spine exposed. Then it’s off to heat treat.

I heat up the blade to critical temperature which is just above the point at which the steel becomes non-magnetic. Generally I’ll keep passing the blade in and out of my gas forge while I constantly check the blade to see if it’s non-magnetic. Once I have it up to the correct temperature and I’m heat treatsure of an even heat I plunge it into quench oil which hardens the steel. At this point the parts of the steel that were exposed are hard, but they are also quite brittle. To solve that problem I place the blades into a tempering oven for an hour or two at about 400˚ to temper the blade.

After tempering I’ll grind the blade down until I have a cutting edge and then the hard work begins. Because I’m looking to bring out the beauty of the hamon I have to hand sand the blade up to 2000 grit which can take anywhere from 5 to 10 hours. At that point the hamon is visible but not prominent, so to make it bolder I use lemon juice to lightly etch the blade. After several cycles of etching and polishing thehandle hamon really starts to stand out and make a beautiful blade.

At this point I attach handle slabs to the blade and then shape them into a comfortable handle. There are a lot of different types of handle materials that can be used, but I tend to prefer hardwoods or stabilized softer woods that aren’t prone to cracking or shrinking.

Once the knife is completed it’s time to move on to the sheath. Since every knife I make is subtly different I have to design each sheath to match the knife it will carry. I plan out the sheath using sheathspaper and then trace and cut out the parts on leather. Then I glue, hand sew and finally stain and finish the sheath to finish up the project.

Although the whole process of completing a custom knife can take quite some time, the results are worth while!

Knife designs, images and website design © 2011 by M. Zeeb Custom Knives