Metal knives are important in all aboriginal communities.   Blanks of annealed (soft) carbon steel can be made into beautiful skinning knives using basic hand tools and sandpaper.  The final steps of hardening and tempering require a kiln with a temperature gage.  For smaller knives, propane tanks can be used to harden and temper the steel, avoiding the use of a kiln.
Metal knives are important in all aboriginal communities.   Blanks of annealed (soft) carbon steel can be made into beautiful skinning knives using basic hand tools and sandpaper.  The final steps of hardening and tempering require a kiln with a temperature gage.  For smaller knives, propane tanks can be used to harden and temper the steel, avoiding the use of a kiln.

© 2008, Najuqsivik Community Museum. All Rights Reserved.

O1 is a carbon steel which is annealed when purchased.

Blanks of O1 steel (O stands for oil quenched), is annealed and can be purchased in various sizes from metal dealers. This project uses 3/16" thick steel, that is 1" wide and purchased in 3' lengths. Annealed steel is a soft metal and eventually it will be hardened in a kiln and tempered to make a fine quality skinning knife.

John Jamieson
Chris Meeko, Danny Kavik

© 2008 Najuqsivik Community Museum. All Rights Reserved.


Many designs are possible

A skinning knife should have a small curved cutting blade and a small handle. Students often want to make extended and pointed blades, which are not useful for skinning.

John Jamieson,
Chris Meeko, Danny Kavik

© 2008 Najuqsivik Community Museum. All Rights Reserved.


The final design can be traced onto the blank.

The final design can be cut out of paper and either glued to the steel or traced onto the steel in pencil.

John Jamieson
Chris Meeko, Danny Kavik

© 2008 Najuqsivik Community Museum. All Rights Reserved.


Protecting the knife surface

Soft leather is wrapped around the blade to protect it from the teeth of the vise.

John Jamieson
Chris Meeko, Danny Kavik

© 2008 Najuqsivik Community Museum. All Rights Reserved.


A small nick with file helps cutting

It is often difficult to establish a surface for the hacksaw. Making a small nick with a file assists with creating a surface.

John Jamieson,
Chris Meeko, Danny Kavik

© 2008 Najuqsivik Community Museum. All Rights Reserved.


 Making vertical cuts

Keep the hacksaw as perpendicular as possible. Rotate the blank in the vise. Make straight cuts to rough out the design. Use a lubricating oil, or any type of oil to assist in keeping the hacksaw blade cool and decreasing friction of the hacksaw blade.

John Jamieson
Chris Meeko, Danny Kavik

© 2008 Najuqsivik Community Museum. All Rights Reserved.


After 6 or 7 straight cuts, the blank is roughed out and ready to have the profile filed for a final shape.

John Jamieson,
Chris Meeko, Danny Kavik

© 2008 Najuqsivik Community Museum. All Rights Reserved.


Shaping the profile

The hacksaw makes straight cuts. A bastard file is needed to smooth out the shape and establish a smooth profile. After using the file, the edge can be further finished with sandpaper of grit 120, 180, 220 up to 400 grit. The profile does not have to be further finished until the blade has been hardened.

John Jamieson
Chris Meeko, Danny Kavik

© 2008 Najuqsivik Community Museum. All Rights Reserved.


Final profile

Although the knifemaker starts with a pattern on the steel, this does not mean the final profile will be exactly the same. Each knife will be different in shape. But, it is best to engrave the steel handle with the student's name, since they are easily mixed up. The steel handle will be later covered with a handle.

John Jamieson
Chris Meeko, Danny Kavik.


© 2008 Najuqsivik Community Museum. All Rights Reserved.


Making a sanding stick

Sanding sticks are an essential element in working with metal. It is best to use hardwood, but plywood works well. Apply a piece of masking tape lengthwise over an edge of the stick, with the grit side up.

John Jamieson
Chris Meeko, Danny Kavik

© 2008 Najuqsivik Community Museum. All Rights Reserved.


Crease and roll the sandpaper

Flip the sandpaper on its back. Use a sharp object to crease along the wood. Fold the stick around the crease. Repeat with another crease and fold. Continue until the sandpaper is totally wrapped around the stick, grit side out.

John Jamieson
Chris Meeko, Danny Kavik

© 2008, Najuqsivik Community Museum. All Rights Reserved.


Tape off the ends

After rolling, wrap tape around the ends. Write the grit size on the tape. As the sandpaper becomes used up, tear off a strip and expose fresh sandpaper below. You will need various grades of sandpaper, 120, 180, 220, 400, 600 and 1200. Take the knife profile only to 400 grit. After hardening and tempering you will use 600 and 1200.

John Jamieson, Chris Meeko, Danny Kavik

© 2008, Najuqsivik Community Museum. All Rights Reserved.


Preparation for drilling

It is best to drill the holes for the pins in the handle now. If you forget, you will never drill a hole in the blank once it is hardened. Nail punch each hole that you need, usually 2 or 3.

John Jamieson, Chris Meeko, Danny Kavik

© 2007, Nuiyak School. All Rights Reserved.


Drilling for placing handle pins

Use slowest speed of the drill press. Apply some oil to keep the drill bit cool and assist removing shavings. Put the blade into a clamp, or clamp the blade to a piece of wood. Use a bit appropriate to pin diameter. A stripped welding rod works well for a pin. This is a dangerous operation and must be constantly observed by the instructor.

John Jamieson,
Chris Meeko, Danny Kavik

© 2008, Najuqsivik Community Museum. All Rights Reserved.


Mark the centre of the blade

It is best to find a way to mark the centre of the cutting edge on the blank. This will allow the filing to be approximately equal on both sides. But, there is lots of variability that will still exist. So if the student does not follow a line the knife will still be successful. We use the hard tooth of a caliper to eyeball the centre. If not available, use a black felt pen to lay out the centre. Erase and start again if off centre.

John Jamieson, Chris Meeko, Danny Kavik

© 2008, Najuqsivik Community Museum. All Rights Reserved.


A safety platform must be constructed

The blade is going to be filed. It is essential that the blade not extend over the edge at any time. Set up several screws to assist in holding the blade. If the students' hands slip, fingers will only hit the wood and not result in cuts.

John Jamieson, Chris Meeko, Danny Kavik

© 2008, Najuqsivik Community Museum. All Rights Reserved.


Use clamps to secure the blank

It is important to keep the blade protected behind the edge of the table. Use leather and a piece of metal to lay across the blank to form a shoulder and a guide for the file. This shoulder is necessary to prevent the blade from cutting the holders hand. Keep a low angle on the file. Slowly move the file edge towards the top of the blade. A black line shows the file line as it moves up.

John Jamieson,
Chris Meeko, Danny Kavik.

© 2008, Najuqsivik Community Museum. All Rights Reserved.


Holding the knife

The knife under construction is a small skinning knife. The forefinger makes contact with the back end of the blade and requires a shoulder to prevent the finger from being cut. The thumb extends up to the tip of the blade.

John Jamieson
Chris Meeko, Danny Kavik

© 2008, Najuqsivik Community Museum. All Rights Reserved.


Knife shoulder

The pencil shows the location of one possible shoulder. It is created by placing a piece of metal along the shoulder to act as a stop when filing.

John Jamieson, Chris Meeko, Danny Kavik

© 2008, Najuqsivik Community Museum. All Rights Reserved.


Trace knife outline on handle material

Choose handle material. Micarda is used in this example. Hardwood can also be used.

John Jamieson, Danny Kavik,

© 2008, Najuqsivik Community Museum. All Rights Reserved.


Specify outside of handles

Handles are mirror images and easily confused.

John Jamieson,
Danny Kavik

© 2008, Najuqsivik Community Museum. All Rights Reserved.


Clamp blade securely

Drilling the holes is very dangerous. The knife must be securely clamped. If not, the drill bit may start to rotate the blade. Instructors must observe students during the operation.

John Jamieson, Danny Kavik

© 2008, Najuqsivik Community Museum. All Rights Reserved.


Pin the handle to knife

Drop in a pin to keep the knife and handle aligned. Reposition the clamp and drill the second hole.

John Jamieson, Danny Kavik

© 2008, Najuqsivik Community Museum. All Rights Reserved.


Two pins have handle aligned

Once one side of the handle is aligned, the unit is flipped over and the other handle is drilled.

John Jamieson, Danny Kavik

© 2008, Najuqsivik Community Museum. All Rights Reserved.


File profile in handle

Remove blade, replace the pins and file the handle close to a final shape.

John Jamieson, Danny Kavik

© 2008, Najuqsivik Community Museum. All Rights Reserved.


Harden knife in kiln

Carbon steel needs to be heated to 1450 F for 15 minutes before being removed and quenched in light vegetable oil. Use protective eye wear and wear gloves.

John Jamieson, Danny Kavik

© 2008, Najuqsivik Community Museum. All Rights Reserved.


Quench quickly

Insert the blade into light oil quickly and stir it around the liquid for several minutes. This traps the carbon atoms inside the iron crystals, making the steel very brittle and not appropriate as a finished knife.

John Jamieson, Danny Kavik

© 2008, Najuqsivik Community Museum. All Rights Reserved.


Carbon coats the blade

The blade was originally taken to 400 grit. This was necessary since the blade needs to have more sanding, starting with 400 grit.

John Jamieson, Danny Kavik

© 2008, Najuqsivik Community Museum. All Rights Reserved.


400 grit sandpaper

Clamp the blade keeping the cutting edge protected. Go to 600 grit before tempering.

John Jamieson, Danny Kavik

© 2008, Najuqsivik Community Museum. All Rights Reserved.


Temper at 425 F

After the blade is worked to 600 grit, place in a kiln at 425 F until the blade becomes a light straw colour. This process removes some carbon atoms from the centre of iron crystal and places them on the face of the crystal making the steel 'softer'. Watch the blade carefully since if it turns dark brown or even purple you have lost the hardness and you must repeat the hardening.

John Jamieson, Danny Kavik

© 2008, Najuqsivik Community Museum. All Rights Reserved.


Sand, buff, glue

Sand up to 1200 grit, glue handles together with a super glue, use buffing wheel if available.

John Jamieson, Danny Kavik

© 2008, Najuqsivik Community Museum. All Rights Reserved.


Learning Objectives

A blank of annealed O1 steel will be hacksawed, filed, sanded, hardened, tempered and made into a small skinning knife. The project will cover all details of the process and explain the concept of hardening and tempering.

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