Wow! Well after a longer than intended hiatus while I settled into my new job I’m back and hopefully more diligent about opining about DIY topics near and dear to my heart.
Anyway, I recently read this article in which a smart young man shows how he forged small knives from drill bits and it’s reminded me to discuss a subject I’ve wanted to talk about for a while.
When should we make things from raw and new materials versus re-purposing/recycling old materials?
I used to be somewhat involved in the knife making community and this question comes up in one form or the other all the time, usually asked by people just getting started. Often people would ask how to turn an old file or car leaf spring into a knife and when someone suggested a different steel source than scrap, a lot of new people would get quite huffy and defensive about the steel source they had their heart set on. Why would they do that?
Just because something designed and constructed by industry to fill a certain role does not mean it will translate well to a new role without a LOT of work. The steel they make files out of is generally plain carbon steel that is heat treated to be very very hard which is great for cutting other steels but generally a poor choice for a knife blade due to brittleness. Also, in order to effectively work with it, you will have to anneal the steel which involves heating and cooling it at a proscribed rate and every time you heat steel, you run the risk (especially when you’re learning) of burning the carbon out of the steel and thereby nullifying the very attributes for which you chose that material.
Sometimes it’s just smarter and easier to buy new raw materials. You can buy the same steels they make files, car leaf springs, ball bearings, and even razor blades out of brand new online. It will come fully annealed and ready to be formed into whatever you wanted. It’ll already be flat, have no hidden cracks from years of use/abuse (because it hasn’t been used), and you will know exactly what you are getting which means you can get the right heat treating data and turn out a better final product. If you want to make the best possible knife, sourcing virgin steel for the blade is smart.
My point is this: I’m a huge fan of re-purposing and upcycling things but let’s all be honest here, we often do those kinds of things because we want to and like the aesthetic and the process of creating, not because it’s a better final product.
And that’s totally okay too.
As I said above some folks would get kind of bent when another critiqued their choice of material in the knife making forums. However, I don’t think it’s because they’re ignorant or stubborn but rather they had already began to envision the process of turning that file or that leaf spring into something else and that process is what they were going to truly enjoy, rather than having the bestest most badass awesome knife ever created when they were done.
We often allow ourselves to believe that the final product is more important than the journey taken to create it but that isn’t true. I love the journey and the sense of pride I feel when I’m nearly done but once I’m done, I’m looking for the next project and journey.
I hope that all made sense…
Here’s my hero talking about the obsessive creative process.