Round Two - Handles and Mechanics
I've heard complaints about Forged in Fire when it comes to some of the insane challenges that they put the smiths through in round 1. Some guys are tasked with making knives from bicycles, cutting up an old truck, using random 'junk' steel, etc. while others like myself are given good steel and challenged in other ways. I've heard people say they'd rather see the bladesmiths be 'given a chance' to show their skills with hammer and anvil and a known-good steel. Personally, I think part of the attraction to the show is the skill required to overcome these crazy challenges. In any case, the bottom line is that it's a competition and like they say in the Highlander movies "There can be only one!" Therefore, someone HAS to go home in each round. The elimination portion is as nerve-wracking in person as it is on the show. Even knowing that I had a good blade and couldn't think of anything wrong with it that might keep me from round 2 I still spent a good deal of mental energy worrying that I had somehow missed a parameter or something might be wrong with my blade. When it came time to stand in front of the judges, listen to their comments and wait for a decision it was pretty tense in the room. As I said earlier, there was a sort of bond between the 4 of us. We had all been selected for the show and we went through the stress and craziness of round one together. I really couldn't pick any one of them and say, "Boy, I hope he goes home first." Atsatsa just drew the short straw. He seemed to have had zero issues forging a blade, I think maybe the belt grinder just took a little too much off of his ricasso area due to his unfamiliarity with that kind of equipment. When they announced he had not made the cut, he took it in stride. He's a classy guy and a good competitor and his comments upon leaving showed a great deal of of maturity.
Designing the folder
I told my kids before leaving for the show that one of my main goals was to simply make it to round 2 because I knew if I made it into the second round, more than likely I'd get to hear Doug Marcaida say "It will cut!" That alone would have made my time at Forged in Fire enjoyable and rewarding. After the elimination, I was relieved knowing that I'd made it into round 2. I thought about the handle and the challenge that the curved tang might present and I knew that once again I'd need to start this round by planning first and managing my time by using each hour for a specific task. I spent the first hour planning, gathering my materials and beginning the process of cutting the parts needed for the handle. Right off the bat, I took my blade, traced it out on the brown paper and then began drawing out various handle shapes that would accomplish what was needed to meet the handle parameters. Again, I think the discussion of parameters was eliminated from the show because we all met them but the handle parameters were as follows: The tang had to extend at least halfway down the back of the handle, the blade edge and tip had to be completely covered by the handle and the blade had to remain in the open and closed positions under friction. Almost immediately, the curved tang caused me problems. As Dave Baker indicated in the round 1 blade review, having a straight blade and a curved tang would make for some interesting design challenges . The handle would need to be a bit longer to accommodate for the difference while still concealing the tip and blade edge. I drew out a complete paper model of the knife and using a box cutter, I held the paper blade down at the pivot and began rotating the paper handle scales to make sure everything would line up. By the time I finished this design stage, I had a complete and working paper version of my final knife, all I needed to do was to cut the materials to match and assemble it. I only found one block of micarta in the pantry that was large enough for me to cut the curved handle scales from so I grabbed this huge, plank of micarta and began tracing out the shapes based on the paper model. I located the handle pin, pivot and tang-stop pin locations and marked them on the micarta. Cutting and drilling the micarta didn't take long so the next step was finding pin material. In round one I had used a 1/4 inch round punch to hot-punch my pivot hole. This left the hole slightly larger than 1/4 inch so I needed to select a pivot pin material that would expand as it was peened down; Copper seemed a good choice. I selected 1/4 inch and 1/8 inch copper and used both in various parts of the handle and pivot. I used a piece of stainless tubing that had a 1/4 inch inside diameter as a spacer for the 1/4 inch copper stop-pin mid-way down the back of the knife, this would be a secondary support along with the tab on the tang to make sure my knife would survive any beating that occurred if they decided to do some kind of chopping test.
As I began to assemble the knife, I realized that the end of the tang had a slight bend to it which was causing me issues getting the blade to open fully. I decided to try and adjust this at the vice thinking that because I'd left the tang un-quenched, it would be fairly easy to bend. Obviously that wasn't the case, as I began to work on bending it back at the vise, I heard a loud TING! and the last inch of the tang with the tab went flying off to my left. I heard the judges groan and I threw my head back and winced, I thought perhaps the break would mean that my tang was now too short but after investigating it, I was still within parameters. Whew! After looking it over, I decided it was probably not a disaster since I had a the stout 1/4 inch pin with a stainless spacer as the tang-stop. I figured the tang-stop would be plenty strong and that this had probably saved me valuable time since I wouldn't have to worry about making a pocket for the tab to sit in on the back of the handle. At this point all that remained was to refine the profile of my handle scales, assemble the knife again, finish peening over the pins, and put an edge on the blade. I used every minute of the last hour of round 2 and finished with a folder that would shave hair and sliced paper cleanly. I had no clue what kind of tests it would have to face but I felt like I'd done everything I could and that it was out of my hands at this point. I laid my 'fully functioning forged in fire friction folder' on the anvil and waited to see what torture test J. Neilsen had in mind for our blades.
Next - Testing the folders.