I want to make 2 heirloom knives for my family

Discussion in 'Custom & Handmade Knives' started by Michael Emerson, Aug 18, 2020.

  1. Michael Emerson

    Michael Emerson

    Aug 18, 2020
    I am a U.S. Marine Infantry veteran, I am planning on buying some steel like M390 and making 2 almost matching knives to pass on to my 2 sons when I die in 40 years, and they in turn they will pass them on generation to generation.
    I want to buy the steel about 1/4" thick and 2 1/2" wide and about 16" long to make a 12" blade and 4" inch handle with a Nickel silver guard. I want to cut the handle to make a full tang bird's beak style with stabilized wood "scales" to last centuries.
    I am going to do all of this work at my buddy's machine shop and then a friend is letting me use her forge to heat treat the steel after I cut and grind it at the machine shop. I am watching YouTube videos and "Forged in Fire." But any help/recommendations I can get from all of you would be appreciated. Even how to buy the steel I need at a good price...
    I live in Stockton, California (Near Sacramento, CA).
  2. Spalted

    Spalted My name is Britt Askew I like making knives Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Dec 9, 2010
    I dont think that steel will heat treat well in most forges. It has to get @2100 degrees and hold that temp for 30 minutes , that is hard to do in most forges. There are several places to sent the blade to for HT though. Like https://www.jarodtodd.com/

    edit; Alpha knife supply is a good place to look for the steel
  3. 3fifty7

    3fifty7 Gold Member Gold Member

    Dec 24, 2016
    While I admire your ambition, I wouldn’t recommend M390 in a friends forge with a forged in fire education.
  4. John Cahoon

    John Cahoon JWC Custom Knives Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Apr 13, 2017
    Welcome @Michael Emerson. You came to a great place. Check out the knifemakers shop talk section of the forums. If you post designs there there's a ton of good solid help available from cutting steel to finishing handles. You won't regret it. IMHO that's a lot of blade for a 4" handle.

    Edit to add... making two knives is more than enough to become hopelessly addicted. Don't say you weren't warned!;)
    ShannonSteelLabs likes this.
  5. Ron Sabbagh

    Ron Sabbagh Platinum Member Platinum Member

    Sep 15, 1999
    Thank you for your service

    Let me say first that I am NOT a knifemaker.....but I can't help but feel that a hands on education...even for a day or two...may be much more valuable than some youtube videos. I learned this through experience ;-)

    Check out the ABS (American Bladesmith Society) website and check out the dates for their "Hammer-Ins". These are informal meetings where guys like you can work alongside ABS Mastersmiths to learn a thing or 2. Only thing is that I think the summer schedule has been cancelled due to COVID but something you might want to check out for fall.

    Good luck....excellent project!
  6. Aidenag


    Apr 16, 2009
    Judging by your proficiency level described, as others have said, your biting off more than you can chew here. But it is doable with a few adjustments to you're game plan.

    First suggestion is don't intend to make these 'heirloom' knives as your first attempts. I can 110% promise you they will not be heirloom quality. Nobodies first knife is. Ive seen many of the best makers in the world's first knives over the years, and they would be best described as shivs with pretty wood handles... Maybe your the exception to this, but ive yet to see a nice first knife from a maker before. at least not one i'd be proud to have future generations of offspring pass down time and again. An alternative to this would be to contact a skilled maker in you're area and take a class with them where you make these 2 knives. With their tutelage and help you could pull it off and have something really nice with 90+% of the work still being done by you, just with help and guidance as needed.

    2nd suggestion is don't start off with that steel if you are doing the heat treat. Send it out, or switch steels to something that a new maker with just a forge can handle. Otherwise your knives will end up wall hangers or at best a letter opener.

    Last suggestion, don't try to get too fancy with these. It's you're first knives, KISS applies here big time. Full tang with nickle silver guard = a bit much to bite off initially.
    ShannonSteelLabs likes this.
  7. Hengelo_77

    Hengelo_77 Basic Member Basic Member

    Mar 2, 2006
    have a look here:
  8. ShannonSteelLabs

    ShannonSteelLabs KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Sep 9, 2015
    Excellent plan to build these knives.

    But you can not use M390 in a forge. It will not heat treat effective. You need a kiln/heat treat oven. This steel would make an excellent set of knives. This is also a difficult "first time" steel. You may find the wear resistance frustrating.

    If these are your first knives try a simple cheap steel like O1 Tool Steel or 8670, 52100. These are inexpensive and have a pretty simple heat treat in a forge. (If you are worried about heat treat send to Peters Heat Treating).

    Good luck and have fun with it.
    But be careful you might get hooked!
  9. daizee

    daizee KnifeMaker / Craftsman / Service Provider Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Dec 30, 2009
    Yeah, what they said. Get a cheap stick of 1084 or 80CrV2 and make a couple warm-ups first. You can heat-treat those in a forge super easily. I'd avoid anything with Chromium. Even O1 is a challenge to heat-treat properly without strict temp controls. You'd be paying for performance you wouldn't achieve. 1084 and 80CrV2 can go into forge and canola (52100 too, but it's harder to work!). 1084 is about $4/ft in 1/8"x1.5"x4ft, so about double the price at your dimensions, but still cheap to experiment.

    Caveat: IF you are experienced at machining and metal work from another part of your life, your chances at early success are way way higher.
  10. Bigfattyt

    Bigfattyt Gold Member Gold Member

    Jun 23, 2007
    As others have said, m390 is not "hewt treat in a forge" material.

    But sending steel out for professional heat treat is not cost prohibitive, and for a steel like that, makes sense.
    I recommend Jarrod Todd for hest treating services. Amazing customer service!

    I have simple carbon steel knives from my grandfather that are re still going strong, and close to 90 years old?

    Keep us updates with what you accomplish.
    Last edited: Aug 26, 2020
  11. Sam Harper

    Sam Harper

    Dec 16, 2017
    Good luck! I've made a bunch of M390 knives, and it's a difficult steel to work with. I once tried to hand sand a 5 inch blade, and it took me nearly a week. The stuff has extraordinary wear resistance.

    I can understand wanting to make a knife out of it, though, if you want it to last a few generations. It'll definitely last. But I'm afraid you'll end up in tears at some point in the process.

    And like others have said, you're probably not going to be able to heat treat it in an ordinary forge. You're going to need to wrap it in steel foil and heat treat it in a kiln. 2100 F for 30 minutes, then quench it between two big aluminum plates. Then, Cryo quench it to -100 F, which you can do with dry ice and acetone. Then temper it to the hardness you want.

    Or, you could send it to Peter's Heat Treat or somewhere to heat treat it for you.

    If you've never made a knife before, you should consider investing some time in a less expensive steel that's easier to work with. I mean if you're going to make some heirloom knives for your family, you want them to be as nice as they can be. You can improve your skills for less money by starting with a different steel and getting some practice. M390 is an expensive steel to experiment with.
  12. Peerless Saw Company

    Peerless Saw Company

    Nov 14, 2019
    8670 is a fine steel to consider using. Pops Knife Supply or Alpha Knife Supply should be able to provide.
  13. Jsega51

    Jsega51 Gold Member Gold Member

    Feb 11, 2015
    My only suggestion here would be to make your handle bigger. 4” isn’t very much at all, especially with how long of a blade you intend to have.
  14. Spalted

    Spalted My name is Britt Askew I like making knives Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider

    Dec 9, 2010
    Michael Emerson was last seen:
    Aug 18, 2020

Share This Page