Craftsman of the Month
"This was one of those projects that turned out looking nothing like the original plan. What began as a small sheath knife with a white maple handle ended up as the fantasy dagger (letter opener) with gem-encrusted handle that you see in the picture.
"I enjoy making knives but have always used premade blades for my projects, so that I can devote my creative efforts to the handles. This was mainly due to the fact that I have never cut a piece of steel in my life, and I don't own the proper tools required for this kind of work. But as a dedicated tinkerer, I had to try making my own blade at least once.
"For this project, I started with a piece of 3/4-inch by 1/8-inch flat stock, cut to a 6-inch length. I don't know what kind of steel it is, but I purchased it for some other project that I never started. I traced the outline of my blade on the stock, and then I tried to cut and grind the shape. But I had no luck.
"Finally, I ended up using a metal-cutting blade on my table saw to shape my knife blade. Instead of cutting the steel, I used the saw blade to 'carve' a shape to the flat stock, making kerf cuts for the deeper areas and using the side of the saw blade to bevel and taper the knife blade.
"As I worked, I lost the outline of my original drawing on the steel, so I just cut what felt right. After I achieved a pleasing shape for the knife blade, I continued to the handle portion, because the resulting blade shape looked terrible when I placed the maple handle scales against it.
"Once again, I free-formed the handle to what seemed like a good match to the blade. After all of the 'carving' was done, I filed and ground the rough edges smooth. Final cleanup of the metal was accomplished with 3M polishing wheels and Tripoli buffing compound.
"Next came the task of gem mounting. At the hilt and butt ends of the handle, I placed 10-millimeter-square cut onyx cabs. The settings for these were made from 22-gauge silver sheet and dead soft bezel wire. I cut the sheet into squares and hard-soldered the bezel material to them. Then I ground a crown shape into the bezel to complement the cut of the onyx cabs while still maintaining a secure setting for the stones. I used paste solder to attach these settings to the knife handle, along with precast bezel cups for the other stones. Next to the onyx, I placed carnelian cabochons, and the center of the handle holds a gold tiger-eye."
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