Jay Fisher - World Class Knifemaker

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My Knife Book

Where, When, How?

Thanks for being here; it means a lot to me to know that you're interested in the knife book I'm writing.

I have been working on the manuscript and chapters for years now, and was happily hopping along when it became clear that my old website coding was not sustainable. W3C (the World Wide Web Consortium) had given new guidelines in markup language and standards, and many of my earlier website functions were simply no longer supported by my server. I had to take a serious look at the coding, and a major rebuild of the website was required. This required me rewrite every single page, every single line of code on the site, in order to stay compliant, modern, and versatile with new coding recommendations and server support platforms. I decided on strict XHTML coding, as this is readily and easily acceptable across browser types, but it does not allow or accept any coding errors. While many sites are built using transitional coding, these sites are much more irregular and untrustworthy of proper display and reading by the various browsers. Also, I needed to separate my content from the style and formatting, so Cascading Style Sheets were in order. I also rebuilt the site with a Dynamic Web Template for uniformity and faster loading and updating.

I know that most people with a knife interest and interest in my book particularly are not versed in website construction, but since this is my only source of income and my professional livelihood, it was imperative that the site was correctly, cleanly, and properly coded. For several hours every day I continue to work on the site to bring it up to modern compliance, which can offer a much better and more reliable experience for the person on the other side of the server, my clients and patrons. Please remember that while I'm doing this, I'm also adding topics and chapters in the book and making knives for ten hours a day. I had hoped that the website rebuild process would take a year or so, but it has taken over two and a half years!

The very good news is that it's over. Now, I'm dedicating my non-knifemaking hours to writing, specifically two novels and the book on modern handmade knives. 

You might wonder just what form the book will take. Since this site gets so many visits and so much interest, there are many fields and directions the book could take. For instance, many knife makers have asked if I'll create a how-to book that details the steps of how I make a knife, sheath, accessories, and embellishment. Since there are so many how-to-make-knives books on the market, this is probably not a reasonable direction. Without revealing just what form the book will take, I'll say that I hope to offer a text that will interest, educate, and be a resource for knife enthusiasts, knife users, graphic and sculptural artists, and the professional metal arts field with a modern focus. One of my far reaching career goals is to help bring fine knives into the professional modern metal arts field, something I've rarely seen in our culture. If you've read through the pages of this site, you'll see a continuous, recurring directive that knives are not just the refinement of a hand tool used to cut, that they are also modern combat weapons and works of sculptural art. Knives occupy a unique and original relationship with humanity, yet are often taken for granted as being the result of simple craft. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

You may see large coffee table books with glossy photos of elaborate knives, but isn't it interesting that you never hear of a professional knife making career offered by any metal arts degree program in any fine college or higher learning institution, only schools of blacksmithing with old and primitive techniques? You'll see knife making classes that teach primitive forging and hammer techniques, but not one instant is spent on the critical modern tactical combat and counterterrorism knife sheath, the other half of the real tactical knife used by professionals. Higher learning institutions may offer jewelry making, metal sculpture, and fine metals degree directions, but nothing for man's oldest, most personal, most commonly recognized, and some say most valued ancient (as well as modern) form. Isn't it also interesting that not one of them mention that it is first and foremost a tool and weapon? 

In the book, I'm writing about what I know and what I have learned, and the experiences it has taught me in three decades of making knives.

Any man who will look into his heart and honestly write what he sees there, will find plenty of readers.

Edgar Howe,
American Author and Editor
(1853-1937)

As the writing progresses, I'll keep this very page updated as to when and where the book may be available. Thanks for being here, and thanks for your interest in the field of modern handmade custom knives, swords, daggers, weapons, tools, and works of art!

Here's an excerpt from my nonfiction book on the modern knife maker, internet artist, and patron.

I'm a realist. Not every person likes a mirror, or polished, or bright finish; that's fine. I finish my knives a variety of ways, too. I'll simply explain my preferences and reasons for finely finished blades.

Since the dawn of the metal blade, the finest finishes have always been mirror. There are good reasons for this, but one only needs to look to history and tradition to see this illustrated again and again. Metal, no matter the kind, is much more beautiful when brought to a high lustrous polish. Like most finely prized precious gemstones, the brightest, finest, clearest, and most reflective polish brings out the true nature and character of the material. Historically, man has always respected the effort and skill it takes to bring metal, stone, wood, horn, or any other material to a bright finish, and such a finish allows a clear, sometimes even translucent view of the material at it's purest and most revealing.

When an artist or knife maker chooses to leave a material in a roughened state, he usually does it for one of six reasons:

  1. The textural effect is necessary to convey an artistic concept or pattern. A sculptor may leave a piece of rough stone in his piece to demonstrate the emergence of his finished work from the stark roughness of a raw and beginning material. A jeweler may bead-blast or roughen an area of metal or stone to show some contrast with the rest of a polished finished work, or to make a pattern, theme, or component stand out apart from a finished field.
  2. Some artists leave materials in a roughened state for economy. A mirror finish on metals, sculptural or utility, add to the expense of the project, no matter how small. Extra machinery, abrasives, compounds, electricity, and expendables are all required to bring blades to a mirror polish. Fine finishing also requires a great deal of time. Time spent on finishing naturally brings the cost of the finished piece up, so the economy of time management may also limit the finish of the piece.
  3. The material itself can discourage fine finish. Some knife blade materials simply can not be polished to any modicum of realistic beauty. Take the popular steel CPMS30V (S30V). It is not currently possible to reasonably mirror polish this steel. The finish smears, digs, skids and fogs. It is not a good steel for a fine investment knife for this reason.
  4. The artist may lack skill. It takes a trained, practiced hand to bring a metal to a mirror finish yet still maintain crisp regions of geometric form. Some makers are just not skilled enough to pull off a crisp, clean, mirror finish on hardened tool steel and you can see this in washed-over and rounded grind lines, grind terminations, grind lead-offs, and irregular, wavy, or scratched surfaces when they are not successful.
  5. Great handwork patience is required. Bringing a knife blade from a ground finish of 180 grit to 2000 grit and a crisp, clear polish multiplies the blade grind work by a factor of ten. Every step of master grinds, control grinds, and finish grinds must accomplish the complete removal of previous grind cuts, marks, and scratches to accomplish a clean mirror polish. Several steps of polishing and buffing on different wheels may be needed, with additional wheels, machines, and compounds.
  6. Safety is a serious concern to the artist who polishes metal blades. The buffer is the most dangerous machine in the studio, and many makers have been scared away from this high speed machine that can turn a knife into a deadly projectile.

You'll see a ton of excuses and justifications toward the practice or hand-rubbing or sanding a knife blade, ignoring historical perspective and the vast array of methods, abrasives, machinery, and polishes available to the custom knife maker. A prevalent view I've read claims that a hand-rubbed blade looks hand made, and a mirror finished blade looks machine made. This is one of the most ridiculous things I've ever read. What factory knife is mirror finished? None that I know of, because factories know that in order to mass finish, the only method to true mirror polish would be tumbling en masse, and the grind lines, corners, and edges of the blade would all be rounded over. This would be instantly noticeable as a poorly constructed piece of washed-over metal, and rejected outright as low value. Some mass-produced jewelry is mass-finished and tumbled but those forms are all washed over and rounded by design and intent. The finest, accurate, crisp forms of knife blades could not be manufactured this way, so they aren't. You simply won't see a true mirror finish on a factory steel blade. Factories do, however, have machinery that imitates the hand-sanding, hand-rubbed appearance of knife blades and this is actually the most dominant finished appearance. Another of late is the painted or coated blade, but that is for another discussion.

The truth is, a fine mirror finish on a knife blade and on most other metallic forms is best achieved by a skilled and knowledgeable craftsman, well-practiced by experience. Simple machinery alone can not produce a fine finish. A machine may be employed to achieve this, but the work and control is all offhand. (In the book, I go into how and why the mirror finish must be made offhand)

Another excuse or justification made by knife makers for the hand-rubbed or hand-sanded finish is utilitarian. They claim that since the blades will eventually be scuffed and scarred by use and insertion in sheaths, textiles, animal flesh, paper and cardboard, or whatever the cutting chore requires, they prefer to start the blades with this finish. The blade is also wiped during cleaning along its length, the same direction as the rubbing, so why not start this way? Actually, this is a good argument for a utility knife. If a knife is to be used, it is going to be scarred by that use. But this is only valid on inexpensive utility knives, not fine hand work. The difference of a gracefully aged mirror finished blade that wears the patina and wash of use is much different than hand-sanding the surface to 240 grit and then selling the knife that way. But again, this point is only valid for a utility, low end knife. It does not speak to the maker's skill, only his low-end business practice. Other justifications recited may include a rough or macho look, a rugged appearance, or the look of a tough knife ready for action. Let me get out my 10" rodeo belt buckle...

It must be noted that some materials simply can not be polished within reasonable practice. As I said above, steels like CPMS30V and CPMS90V have so much vanadium carbide that they resist extreme efforts to be brought to a high finish, and are best left sanded, bead blasted, or roughly ground. This fact alone precludes their use as fine investment grade pieces. Some makers, users, and collectors might argue this, but a flat, sanded and poorly finished knife simply looks utilitarian, no matter what extravagant handle material is applied.

I'll add that once or twice a blade pops up that is claimed to be CPMS30V with a mirror polish. One of these is a knife manufacturer who originally offered the knife for about one hundred bucks. Something smelled fishy here, so I did some digging. The knife manufacturer insisted there was no difference between CPMS30V and their designation which was S30V. So was this an attempt to sell a knife under the banner of CPMS30V that was actually another steel? The tenacious difficulty of finishing the high vanadium steel to any degree of polish and the relative cheapness of the knife did not make sense. Then the technical person who I spoke to told me it was simply buffed out, then stumbled around words, and finally revealed that the finishing process could not be disclosed. This large and popular American knife company has discontinued the manufacture and sales of this knife, and would not say why.  

In another instance, I heard of "old so-and-so" who mirror finished a CPMS30V blade once. Yet when contacted, he would not return calls and was evasive about the process. Could the maker and the manufacturer know some special process that the entire knife making world and industry does not know to simply and very cheaply mirror finish a high vanadium carbide bearing knife blade? What do you think? And if so, why are their knives not continually made this way? The knife manufacturer discontinued the model entirely. The maker supposedly had it on one knife... perhaps they know something I don't. Please remember that the manufacturer of these tool steels plainly and clearly states that they can not be mirror polished. This is not a fault; they are great steels by a great company, but they are intended for plastic injection molding dies, and not originally designed for fine cutlery, no matter what you may read on the internet. If you doubt me, call Crucible Metals Corporation (now Crucible Industries) and talk to one of their fine engineers about the steel properties and finish potential and they'll enlighten you.

It was humorous to read a post on a forum where I was derided for not "naming names" about the suspicious steel identification by the knife manufacturer in the content of this section. The reason I don't do this is because I name NO names of any product that I do not endorse, for any reason, anywhere on this web site. Unlike these people, who post anonymously and who think that it is endearing and somehow productive to slam and insult me personally and professionally, by name, I am much more respectful than that. Though I could go on in specific and exact detail identifying each knife maker, manufacturer, person, and company by name so I could then go on to deride their work and pick apart their individual processes, materials or shortcomings, this is not the gentlemanly and polite thing to do. I believe it is better to give clear examples by description, illustration, and experience with these problems rather than pick individual people or knives to attack and impugn. For the anonymous posters and flamers, I'll say that if they can indeed mirror polish these high vanadium steels that even the foundry says can't be polished, I'll ask them to do so, and offer up examples and a clear technical treatise on how they accomplished this. I imagine I'll wait a while on that- 

For all the knives that have a sanded finish, the number one reason that most makers  hand-sand their blades along their length is lack of the necessary patience and skill to complete a finer finish. They want to get to the handle, the fun part of knife making. They want to get the knife out the door; they don't want to have to do hours of repetitive work where one mistake ruins the blade. (In the book, I go into exactly why this is difficult to pull off) So the string of justifications continue, and I believe that dishonors our history and fine craftsmanship in general.

If you need a very good technical reason for a mirror finish, even in a utility working knife, it's corrosion resistance. All steels benefit from a reduced surface area that is the result of mirror finishing. When a blade is ground or sanded to finer and finer grits, the surface scratches become smaller and smaller, and more and more shallow with each diminishing grit size. The surface of the metal is like a field of furrows, starting out deep and rough, with the surface broken up in hills and valleys, grain exposed like dirt clods in freshly plowed land. You can visualize that a tremendous amount of surface area and roughness is exposed, and the more surface area, the more contact corrosive fluids and oxygen will have with the components in the molecular crystalline structure of the steel. This is like the plowed field's ability to take on water. Now, as the field of steel is finished finer and finer, these rough surfaces, hills, and valleys are reduced considerably. So, then, is the surface area, and more corrosion resistance is obtained. But when brought to the finest mirror finish, something entirely different happens. The act of polishing literally melts the microscopic surface of the steel and blends the smallest furrows and imperfections into one monolithic surface. It's like spreading a layer of clay onto our smoothed dirt field, thus preventing water from penetrating, as it is trapped on the surface. Since the surface area is reduced to a minimum and smoothed, the steel (and every other metal polished this way) is much more resistant to corrosion. Since corrosion is a reaction of oxygen and often a fluid, minimizing the surface area assures the greatest corrosion resistance. The surface, like the surface of our clay field is slick, resistant, and clean. Not so great for the farmer, fantastic for steel and its corrosion resistance.


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Funny Letters and Emails, Pg. 3 D2: Wear Resistance King
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Funny Letters and Emails, Pg. 5       Heat Treating and
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Funny Letters and Emails, Pg. 6       Elasticity, Stiffness, Stress,
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