Knife Stories

Project Kephart: Part 3

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Bar of D2 Steel with trace of my Kephart knife template.

When I opened my mailbox yesterday, I was thrilled to find a heavy envelope from Woods Bladeworks.  Will Woods, TTAK’s knifemaker-in-residence, has been collaborating with me on my first attempt at knife construction. For those of you who are new to the site, Project Kephart was born out of a conversation I had had with Will when researching this historical knife style . . .

If you are not familiar with a Kephart Knife, or its creator, Horace Kephart – here is a quick recap.  Horace Kephart was a legendary woodsman and author who roamed the Smoky Mountains around the turn of the 20th Century and was one of the driving forces behind the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The Kephart knife is a general purpose woodsman’s knife that while once incredibly common, is today only crafted by artisan knifemakers.  It has a 1/8″ thick fixed blade, between 4″ and 5″ in length, and a handle which tapers from 1″ thick down to 3/4″.

In part 1,  I explored the background of the knife in greater detail.  In part 2, I made the wooden template from the CAD drawing that Will sent me.  Will was gracious enough to allow us to publish his pattern, so any of our readers who want to follow along at home and build their own Kephart knife are free to do so.

Now that my steel bar is here, I took the next (simple) step and traced my template onto the steel with a white paint pen.  We chose to use D2 steel, as it is darned close to stainless on the steel spectrum, yet retains the sharpening properties and wear resistance of a carbon steel.

A mostly complete list of my remaining steps is as follows. (Subject to Will’s correction if I have missed, or miss-explained something)

1:Cut and grind the rough shape of the blank.  I will be using a cut-off wheel on an angle grinder for the bulk of the rough cut, and a standard bench grinder to finish the shaping.   (coming soon)

2: Grind the primary bevel – this step frankly scares me the most since if the sides aren’t completely even, the blank will warp during heat treating.  I have been exploring various jigs to aide in achieving an even grind.   So far, the best jigs look to be DIY in nature (a really good looking design for an angle grinder jig can be found here).  This step can be done with an angle grinder, belt sander, bench grinder, or hand-file.  Right now, I am leaning towards just taking my time with a hand-file, as there is less possibility I will screw it up irrevocably.  So stay tuned.  I welcome input from Will and anyone else who has done this themselves. 

3:Grind the secondary bevel (NBD – my Tormek will rock this step)

4:Send the blank off to be heat treated.  People who do this for a living are equal parts scientist, alchemist, and artist.

5:Fashion the handle.  I am a competent woodworker and have a fairly well outfitted workshop, so I am looking forward to this step.  I am going to use walnut for the handle.  The wood actually comes from a neighbor’s tree that fell during a storm a few years back.  (if you remember the tornadoes that leveled Tuscaloosa, Alabama – it was that same storm system which also hit East TN). I used some of this wood to make her a jewelry box last Christmas.  It has a beautiful straight grain, and let’s face it…you can’t get more locally sourced than a neighbor’s tree.

6:Affix the handle (there are special epoxies for this task), and the associated posts and tube hardware.  I am still trying to decide between traditional brass or titanium.

7:Final shaping of the handle

8:Sharpening.

As I said, there may be a change or additional step I am missing.  I plan on documenting the process each step of the way.  Feel free to chime in with comments, suggestions, advice, or questions.  If I can’t answer them, Will Woods certainly can.

In the mean time, here is a fantastic time-lapse video of someone making a knife that is quite similar to the Kephart that I will be making.  I hope my results are as successful as this.

 

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