Good points on making knives

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Bump hammers out a glowing piece of steel fresh from the forge in his shop. Through refinement, the rough metal will eventually become a fine, working Bowie knife.

Building a knife can be as simple as cutting a knife shape out of a piece of metal, grinding it, and putting a handle on it. This method is generally called stock removal, and is a fast, efficient way to make knives.

Forging is a more involved process in which the bladesmith heats steel in a forge and presses or hammers it into a blade. Some knife makers feel this method results in a more durable knife.

"To save my life, I would want a forged blade," said Master Bladesmith Bruce Bump, adding some members of online knife making forums would disagree. "They'll flame me on the forums."

Damascus steel is named after the Syrian city where the type of steel was alleged to originate. The process involves repeatedly folding steel to created multiple layers, often as many as 300 times or more. Damascus blades were once reputed to be superior to "plain" steel blades. However, modern steels tend to outperform Damascus.

"It's almost all cosmetic," Bump said of the blades, though he added modern Damascus steel will perform at a very high level.

Bladesmiths can create striking patterns by using two different types of steel, one of which contains some nickel, and then washing the blade in an acid solution. Due to the greater difficulty in manufacture, as well as their striking appearance, Damascus blades command higher prices than "plain" steel blades.

In addition to the shaping process, every steel knife must also undergo a heat treating process that both hardens and strengthens the blade. Historically, knives are heated then quickly cooled by "quenching" in a liquid, often oil or water. After hardening, blades are heated a small amount again, then quenched again.

A modern method for hardening steel includes submerging blades in liquid nitrogen for up to six hours.

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