This was a neat project for a customer in Oklahoma. He wanted a bush knife that would be big enough for skinning big game yet light to carry. He also wanted something that looks really special.
We started by incorporating some features from other knives that he liked. We combined those ideas and added a few twists of our own. After several exchanges of ideas and sketches via email, we decided on a design. The customer wanted Damascus steel and giraffe bone handles.
We decided to also use Damascus for the guards and spacers. This was a first for me. The Damascus proved to be considerably harder to work and shape than the stainless steel or brass that would normally use but I think the results were worth the effort.
We wanted a lightweight knife but still needed a sturdy blade. I chose a billet of .120" (slightly under 1/8") 416 layer Alabama Damascus.
I cut out the blank
This is going to be a fairly big knife
Now to profile the blade and clean up the edges
Alabama Damascus contains a lot of high carbon steel and a few layers of 203E low carbon high impact high nickel mild steel alloy. It does throw some sparks when grinding it.
Next I drilled the holes for the handle pins and a keyhole slot that will receive the stem of the butt cap. I surface grind the blade to make it nice and flat. The surface grinding removes the surface etching so you can't see the layers of steel until I etch it again later. At this point I rough grind the blade before heat treating.
After heat treatment to harden the steel, I surface grind it a second time. I cut and slot a piece of Damascus bar for the guard and get my stabilized giraffe bone handle slabs to do a quick mock-up and see how it will come together.
Things are looking good so far so I proceed with making the rest of the Damascus guards and spacers. I then trim the giraffe bone slabs to fit and drill them with countersunk holes for the stainless steel corby bolts that I will install later. After doing the finish grind on the blade, I polish the blade and start smoothing the guards and Damascus spacers. I used some black vulcanized fiber spacers to give it a little accent line.
I also do some arrow filework along the spine.
Since I will have to acid etch the blade and guards together to make the Damascus pattern show up, I need to fit, shape and finish everything and etch it as an assembly before permanently attaching the handle slabs.
After a lot of finish sanding by hand on the guards and spacers, I acid etch everything except the giraffe bone handles in ferric chloride. Now you see the patterns of the 416 layer Damascus since the acid reacts differently with the 4 different types of steel used in the Damascus. You will also notice that I pinned the Damascus spacers with stainless steel pins. I originally planned to friction fit these parts but since I needed to trim them very close to the spine and underside of the handle, I decided to peen pin them to make sure they stay secure. The front guard fits into a notch in the blade and the rear guard is threaded onto a stud that is welded into a keyhole slot in the end of the handle.
The stabilized giraffe bone slabs are attached with a layer of black epoxy between the tang and the bone to insure a waterproof seal. The stainless steel corby bolts are ground flush which removes the screwdriver slots. Now I grind and sand the handles flush to the tang and guards. Next I sand the bone very smooth with successively finer grits of sandpaper and then polish it with series of buffing compounds.
We finally have a finished product.
The Damascus guards and spacers were a bit of a challenge but I think they they look great.
The customer named the knife "BWANA" and asked for a special sheath to go with the knife. I carved the name and an elephant into the leather sheath and dyed it to match a cartridge belt that he owns.
This was another really fun project for a great customer. It was a bit more work and more of a challenge than I originally estimated but that's what keeps me moving forward as a knifemaker.