Practice!

It’s Father’s Day and I thought about writing a bunch of stuff about my Father today. But frankly, I’m not sure I have it in me. Or, rather, I DEFINITELY have it in me but I don’t think the outlet piping would maintain the integrity required to handle opening those valves.

Besides I kinda feel like writing something to post today, since what I was working on Thursday wasn’t for the blog. And I figure if I leave these two completely unrelated paragraphs at the top then I’ll get the absolute confusion from my readers that I do so childishly enjoy.

Instead I’m going to talk about practice.

At least for a couple sentences. But then I might go someplace else in my head as I’m feeling pretty scattered right now.

Hell, I may end up writing about my Dad since, you know, it’s Father’s day and all.

cue Ren’s maniacal laughter

Among the massive list of shit I’ve always been drawn to (and I just found out that there are people out there who still carve cuneiform in clay tablets as a hobby so there’s THAT happy nonsense I need to try…of course that means I need to learn cuneiform. le sigh I kinda wanted to do that anyway.) is knife making.

The very idea of Creating Weapons has a cthonic appeal that I lack the poetic tools to describe adequately, at least to women.

Men know exactly what the fuck I mean.

Sorry. It’s true.

If you’re a man and you don’t understand what I mean, stop drinking soy milk and watching anime and start eating meat, smoke cigars, and go to bars to talk to girls. Maybe lift some heavy shit and put it down too. Then read some Seneca, Chesterton, and Mickey Spillane (I’ll also accept Dashiell Hammett.)

“Ya know not every…”
“Son, just don’t. Just fucking don’t.”

I’ve made a few little knives. Nothing fancy, only a couple of them would even count as interesting (and, in fairness my “interesting” knives are interesting as fuck.) None of them are any good. I haven’t put scales (handles, more or less) on any of them. I don’t do a very good job heat treating them, mainly because I don’t have a heat treating oven. MAYbe I could use a toaster oven. MAYbe I could use my kitchen oven (though that sounds like a startlingly bad idea.)

Knowing this, I spend a lot of time thinking about making knives and not a lot of time making knives. Truth be told the word I should use there is ‘fantasizing’ not ‘thinking’. But I leave both versions in there and don’t make the correction inline because that single little misconception is the one that really just kinda hit me like a ton of bricks a couple days ago.

I think about proportions (give me the fig leaf of using the word ‘think’ from hereon out since the ego blow when I write ‘fantasize’ every time is a little much and I’m trying to be good to myself for a change) and scale placement, ricassos, thumb grooves and lanyards, scale materials and blade profiles, grinding jigs and bevel angles.

I fantasize about buying $2800 grinders and $6000 surface grinders and $1800 heat treating ovens and $8000 water jet cutters and $5000 “desktop” milling machines.

Because if I spend a bit under $25,000 on tools, then another $3000 on grits, blade steel, end mills, vices, and other consumables, then hell, my knives will be awesome.

Yes. I know. Trust me. I know.

I think. I think too much. I get it. I don’t always think particularly well.

Well a couple days ago I tripped over (yet again, and I can’t tell you what triggered it since I was in the truck and didn’t write it down) the single most basic realization on the planet when it comes to doing things:

It doesn’t matter what you think. It doesn’t matter what you fantasize about. If you’re not DOING it, you’re not progressing. Not at all.

The truth is (“you’re the weak, and I am the tyranny of evil men. But I’m trying Ringo…I’m trying to be the shepherd”) I’ve fallen into a trap of thinking I could think my way into progression in a field (in this case, making knives) that requires hand art. It requires so much information that I simply don’t have and CAN NOT ACQUIRE WITHOUT PERFORMING THE TASK!

My primary pursuits are largely intellectual: Writing prose and software. Even they have this aspect. But there HAVE been times I’ve been able to simply think through a particular problem or obstacle. So the temptation to try and apply that easy (and sometimes not so damned easy at all) success to all problems is just too great.

I’ll sit and think about making a particular knife, say some basic hunting knife, the knife we all think of when we think of a basic, not particularly interesting, knife. I pace myself through the act of making it from a bar of steel. That pretty much goes like this:

  • Find a pattern online
  • Scale it down or up and print it out.
  • Do that a couple times ’til I get the outline I like.
  • Glue it to the blade stock
  • Rough it out with the angle grinder
  • Do some finer work on the 4×24 grinder, a rough tool, to get the outline right.
  • Put it in my home-made bevel grinding jig (which is roughly made and frankly, kinda sucks)
  • Grind out the bevels on the grinder. Trying to keep them even on both sides, mind the ricasso, and remember to not get too far without cooling the steel off so I don’t just fucking burn the thing (crazy how that happens really.)
  • Drill holes in it where I’m going to pin the scales to it.
  • Take it over to the sandpaper to smooth out the sides
  • Heat it up to cherry red with a mapp torch
  • Douse it in canola oil to harden it (different steels require subtly different hardening processes)
  • Do…erm…something to temper it back down
  • back to the sandpaper to finish up the edge
  • Polish the blade (Or douse it in ferric chloride then sand it. Whatever.)
  • drill holes in the scales
  • epoxy and pin them to the knife, waiting overnight for the epoxy to set.
  • tape up the blade so I don’t ruin it
  • cut the pins roughly flush
  • Shape the scales with files, sandpaper, and the grinder
  • put some kind of finish on there
  • do something about a sheath

I put this whole list down because it’s actually complete. These are all the steps required in taking a bar of reasonable steel and turning it in to a knife. I know this list. I know this list because I’ve watched hundreds (yes literally, not figuratively) hundreds of youtube videos of people doing this exact process. (Go watch Koss Workshop’s videos on youtube for the complete process. They’re short and he makes some truly lovely knives.)

I’ve performed most of the actions on this list a…few times, always with mixed results.

It turns out that knowing the steps means precisely dick and “No plan survives contact with the enemy.”

Even knowing these things, having watched all these videos and taken a stab at it a couple/few times, I still catch myself assuming “the map is the territory.” Even my thinking about making knives has been stalled by the meager nature of my experience.

I am NOT going to get any better at knife making until I make a bunch of knives. Somehow in my self-obsessed cogitations I’d forgotten this most basic basic lesson.

Of course I’m mad about it. But that’s just another one of those reactions to realizing things I’d forgotten and re-remembered. I swear it’s such a common thread nowadays that I’m starting to roll my eyes when it happens.

But whatever. You forgive yourself your missteps, resolve to figure out how to remember next time, know you’re going to fail, and do better.

Note: ALL of this is also true of literally everything.

Give yourself a fucking break.

But get to fucking work.

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