After Foundry editorial director Sean Ragan gave me a knife for my birthday this year, forged from a length of steel wire cable, I fell down a rabbit hole into the world of knife-making videos. The backyard knife forging “scene” on YouTube is its own strange little maker subculture.
Here’s a video from the knifesmith who made my Cable Damascus knife (the finished knife can be seen above). Mine is almost identical to the one forged in this video. It’s really a gorgeous piece that I love showing off to people. And I basically can’t show it without somebody mentioning that I am now prepared for the imminent zombie apocalypse.
I find these backyard knife videos strangely compelling to watch, but your mileage may vary. Production values, tastes, and skill (and safety) levels are all over the map. To me, that’s part of their charm, but again, YMMV.
The knives being made in these videos are forged from all sorts of metal source material. There are knives being made from dill bits, box wrenches, railroad spikes, saw blades, rebar, wire cable, and chunks of junk metal. You name it. A guy even made a knife out a broken shovel and a chunk of concrete. Here are a few of my favorite videos.
The tools used to create these blades are equally diverse. They range from basic box tools (files, hack saw, drill) to full-on machining tools and a blacksmith forge.
The videos I enjoy the most are the ones where the most sophisticated knives are made from the most challenging set of tools. Here’s a good example, a rebar knife made with a couple of hammers, a hair dryer (to create a temporary forge), and a file. Oh, and an anvil which he neglects to mention.
I love when kids create their own YouTube channels to document and upload their projects. The 15-year-old from the UK who made the above knife from a drill and plastic bottle caps posts dozens of videos of his knife, sling-shot, and other homemade weapons projects.
And once you’ve gone really deep down the rabbit hole, you’ll find yourself moving on to the really hardcore stuff, knife sharpening videos. Here’s a great example. Twelve edge-of-your-seat minutes staring at a blade scratching across a whetstone. Oh, don’t worry, there’s tons of excitement. Four different grits! I don’t know about you, but I’m going to make some popcorn and watch more backyard knife-making.
Hey, I wonder if anyone has tried to forge a knife from meteorite Damascus? [Does YouTube search] Yup, lots of videos. Popcorn it is.
Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. And he has a new best-of writing collection and “lazy man’s memoir,” called Borg Like Me.View more articles by Gareth Branwyn