Lawn Mower Blade to Custom Knife

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Introduction: Lawn Mower Blade to Custom Knife

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Hi All, this is my first attempt at an Instructable so comments and advice are more than welcome.

Now onto the project itself: I'm going to outline the steps I took in order to turn an old lawn mower blade into custom, "one of a kind" full tang Knives. This was my version of a trash to treasure as the two main materials are simply old lawn mower blades and some firewood I rescued, and I end up with beautiful knives.

I am a chemical engineer and making these knives during exams was my method of stress relief. I do most of the work by hand so it's not perfect and is somewhat slow and tedious but I find the end product all the more satisfying. As some of the steps are quick to do but require some setup I normally make pairs of knives at a time, this saves time when doing heat treatment and grinding the blades.

My steps are all based off reading up on blacksmithing and playing around in my backyard so I'm sure I do some things in a very labor intensive way or not 100% correctly but the end product comes out looking amazing and has a properly hardened blade that hold an edge well. I also don't mind some scratches on the blade as knives are tools and should be used and each scratch or flaw gives the blade some more character.

As a general disclaimer for the project it involves: Fire, Power Tools, and of course knives (I.E. lots of fun things). All steps will typically require some form of safety equipment including gloves, safety glasses, ear protection and work-boots. In my experience even while wearing safety gear and being careful you will still accumulate cuts, bruises and burns so a first aid kit can come in handy. The main thing with working in a shop is to pay attention to what your doing, be comfortable with the tools you are using and have common sense.

The Steps I will cover include:

  1. Materials and Tools.
  2. Lawn Mower Blade preparation.
  3. Blank Blade
  4. Initial Grind and Sanding
  5. Heat Treatment
  6. Clean-up and more Sanding
  7. Sharpening
  8. Handles
  9. Final Clean-up and polish.

Step 1: Materials and Tools

Materials:

  1. Old Lawn Mower Blades.
  2. Wood for handles.
  3. Firewood or charcoal, for heat treatment.
  4. Brass Pins (not 100% necessary but make the handles a bit better).
  5. Epoxy, for the handles.
  6. Your choice of wood finisher, I use beeswax or teak oil.
  7. A whole lot of free time.

Tools: (Most of these are general workshop tools nothing too fancy).

  1. Safety gear, use what you think you need for each step.
  2. Angle Grinder with cutting blades.
  3. Bench Grinder.
  4. Drill and drill bits.
  5. Some files
  6. Hammer.
  7. Wire Brush.
  8. Sanding Paper of various grits (150 all the way up too 1200)
  9. Hair Dryer (be careful of who you borrow it from as it may get cooked)
  10. Sharpening stone/oil stone.
  11. Fireplace.

Step 2: Lawn Mower Blade Preparation

You can get old blades when you replace them yourself or if you go to most places that sell new ones. The local hardware store was more than happy to let me grab a couple that were lying around in their workshop.

Not all lawn mower blades are created equal. When looking at the blades there are a couple things to pay attention too:

  • Where the blades are damaged and how thick the metal is, you want at least one good region to cut the knife blade from.
  • Where the serial numbers are on the blades, I find these add a cool one of a kind look to each blade.
  • Whether or not the metal can be hardened, IE is there enough carbon in the steel for it to hold an edge.

Most lawn mower blades will require a good cleaning so use a steel brush and get to looking at the blade. Look for where it's been damaged and why it needed replacing. Normally only the cutting edge is worn but there may be cracks or other damage to look out for. Also look at where serial numbers have been stamped into the metal as these are quite a cool feature to have in the end blade.

At this point you can get the metal nice and hot in the fire and use a hammer to get it as flat as possible, as a bonus any grass that was left on the blade will get burnt off. A normal wood fire with a hair dryer providing extra air gets hot enough to get metal red hot.

One of the key features you need to test for is whether or not the blade can be hardened. There are loads of articles and techniques for testing the metal and a quick google search can be a great help if you get stuck, I use a simple shatter test and skittering test. Basically all I do is light a fire get a corner of the metal red hot and dip it into either water or oil. First I do the water quench and once the metal is cooled down I hit it with a hammer and see if it shatters or just bends, this is a quick way to see if the metal can be hardened. If the metal shatters it's a good metal to use, if it stays soft you can try a different section but the blade may be a dud. After the water test I test it again with cooking oil (sunflower oil), I typically cut off a small piece get it red hot and dip half of it in the oil, I then check if a Hacksaw or file is capable of cutting into it or scratching it (known as the skitter test as the file will just skitter along the surface). I test the side which was quench against the normal side and its quite easy to see if it hardened well. I use cooking oil to check as my actual blade quench is done with cooking oil.

Step 3: Blank Blade

Once you have found a good lawn mower blade it is time to decide on the type of knife you want. Spend a bit of time on this as there is no point making a cool new knife for yourself if you wont actually use it. I'm not the most creative person so I usually just google designs and look at pictures until I find something I like. Once you have a design in mind you should draw it out a couple times or find a knife template online too print.

Cut out your paper template and trace it onto the lawn mower blade, I use typex for this as it's easy to see. I try to get the blades serial numbers onto the blade of the knife as a one of a kind sort of effect but this does limit me on the size of the knives I can make it also means I can only make one or two knives from each lawn mower blade.

Once your design is on the blade it is time to cut it out using an angle grinder. Try to cut as accurately as possible as this will be the shape of your knife, if you cut too much you will have an issue and if you cut it with a thick border you are just making more work for yourself when you grind it to shape. I like to have about 1-2 mm extra around the border at this makes sure that I will have a nice edge to grind smooth and clean off for the shaping of the blade.

Step 4: Initial Grind and Sanding

Now it's time to turn you blank piece of metal into an actual blade!

First stick your template onto your blank blade, you could also mark out where you want the edge and such to be with a pen or typex but I find it easier to just stick the paper to the metal.

Now follow the template and grind the blade first too shape and then put the bevel onto it. I like to do this quite slowly as you can't put metal back if you make a mistake! Also do this slowly and don't over heat the metal, the simplest way of preventing this is to work bare handed and if the metal is too hot to hold cool it down in some water. Be warned it's easy to over heat and damage the tip of the blade. You never want to see the blade get any blue spots or worse get red hot.

When grinding the edge don't make it thinner than 1mm otherwise you run the risk of it cracking during heat treatment!

After grinding it's time to begin sanding. This needs to be done now while the metal is still nice and soft, before the heat treatment. Use this time to clean up the edge of the blade, make sure the bevels are uniform and to do some general scratch removal from all exposed metal. Start with a course 150 grit and work your way up until you are happy with how the finish looks. I normally go up to a 600 or 800 grit as I get lazy and don't really need a perfect mirror finish, I like a slightly more rustic look.

Also drill the holes for the metal pins to go through for the handle. It is easier to do it now than after the heat treatment.

Step 5: Heat Treatment

Time to play with Fire!

I do a differential heat treatment on my blades; basically you pack clay around the knife to control how fast it cools when you quench it, this allows you to have a hard edge which will stay sharp and a soft spine which increases durability.

The steps for heat treatment are:

  1. Normalizing the metal, this relieves stress and prevents warping. You need to heat up the blade until its no longer magnetic and the allow it to cool slowly. I normally skip this step as I'm careful during the grinding step.
  2. Next you harden the metal by heating it up until its no longer magnetic and quench it in oil or water. This changes the metals molecular structure and makes it hard but brittle.
  3. Finally you temper the blade by heating it up to about 180 degrees Celsius and keep it at this temperature for an hour to soften the metal allowing it to be more durable.

Those are the broad steps to follow though they will vary based off which metal is being treated. I do a differential heat treatment so I put clay onto the blade before the hardening step this changes how the metal cools in the quench and gives a blade that can hold and edge while also being durable. Once again I will refer you to google if you want to read up more on the process. Put simply a thick layer of clay goes around the spine and handle so they stay soft, while the edge of the blade is left exposed so it gets hardened.

The steps I follow are:

  1. Cover the blade with clay and allow it to dry, as wet clay will crack off during heating.
  2. Get your fire nice and hot, heat your blade until its red hot and is no longer magnetic.
  3. Quench the blade in cooking oil and crack off the clay, you can see the effect of the differential quench on how the blade looks in the one photo.
  4. Cook your blades in the oven at 180 degrees Celsius for and hour, I cooked a couple sweet potatoes to eat while I was at it.
  5. Examine your now heat treated blade in all its glory.

Step 6: Clean-up and More Sanding

Now that your blade has been hardened it is time to clean it up and get it looking presentable. I do all this by hand so this step takes me the longest and it gets really tedious.

During the heat treatment a layer of rust will have formed on the blades surface you need to sand this off and sand the surface of the blade to the shine you want it at. So once again start with a grit and work your way up.

At this stage your blades edge is still about 1mm thick, so it is super blunt, and you will need to get it a whole lot sharper before you take it to an oil stone. The thing is you shouldn't use a grinder now cause if you over heat the metal you will undo/mess up part of the heat heat treatment you just finished! Thus what I do is put some sand paper onto a tile and use this as an initial sharpening stone to work the edge until it's thin enough for a real sharpening stone. Start at 150 grit and work your way up.

Depending on how you want your knife to look now is the time to get some polishing compound to buff out those last scratches and get your knife to a nice mirror finish. I don't mind some scratches as they give the knife character and allows me to use the knife without worrying about damaging the finish.

Step 7: Sharpening

Once your blade is reasonably sharp it is time to sharpen it for real.

I use an oil stone to sharpen my knives but it really is a case of do it how you want to. Also I'm no expert on the best way to sharpen knives on oil stones so I will once again refer you to the all knowing google as there are loads of video tutorials on the subject.

On thing I have found is it is easier to sharpen the blade before you put the handle on it. Also once you have sharpened your blade wrap it in some form of tape as this makes it easier to handle while putting the handle on.

Step 8: Handles

I like like full tang knives where you can see the metal all the way through the handle, thus this is the finish I go for. You could alternately grind the handles metal down smaller and inlay it into the wood but I find it quite a labor intensive process.

Here is how I make may handles:

First I wrap tape around the blade as this prevents any glue or scratches getting onto the blade and makes it far easier to handle without getting cuts.

Next I have a piece of lead wood (scavenged from some firewood I came across) which I use to make the slots for the handles as it has a nice deep red color. I cut a couple slots of lead wood which are about 8mm thick and are large enough to cover the handles. These slots need to be slightly bigger than the handles and flat enough that they fit flush with the metal. I trace out the rough shape of the handle and cut the wood to shape with a fret saw. Make sure to label which side each piece of wood fits on. If there are any cracks in the wood you can use a wood filler or saw dust (from the wood itself) and super glue to make them disappear, my lead wood has a nice grain with tiny crack along it so I always have to fill in a couple spots.

I then cut some brass pins, slightly longer than necessary, and drill holes through the wood and handle. Make sure everything lines up perfectly as you don't want to find that it doesn't quite fit when you are epoxying it together. These pins are not 100% necessary as the epoxy creates a very strong bond, but they do make it slightly stronger and give a nice finish to the handle. Some people just use brash pins and flare the ends in order to hold the handles together but when I tried doing this all I managed to do was crack one of my handles.

Wash the blade with a bit of solvent (paraffin, turpentine, ethanol, acetone, etc) or in soapy water (rinse it off well) to make sure there is no oil on the blade handles. Then it is time to stick it all together.

Mix up some quick set clear epoxy and as fast as lightning smear epoxy onto both slots and into the pin holes before clamping the handle together to set. I use quick set epoxy as I always have some lying around but you do have to work fast with it as you only have about 5 minutes of working time with it. I also find that clear epoxy leaves a better finish on the knife than grey/metal epoxy.

Once the epoxy has set solid (24hrs at least, to fully cure), it's time to make the rough handle shape into something nice to hold. As the lead wood I use is incredibly hard I simply take the whole thing to my grinder to get it to as close to comfy as possible, I also use the grinder to get the pins to sit flush with the wood. Once the handle is sort of to shape I use files and sanding paper to get a nice smooth finish that sits well in my hand.

Once you have a nice comfy handle check that there are no cracks and if there are fill them in and give it a quick sanding so it matches nicely.

Now that the handles are shaped finish the wood in whatever means you personally enjoy using. I like a raw wood feel so I just give the handles several coatings of a mixture of beeswax and teak oil. The handles come out with a deep red colour and fit comfortably in the hand, also after some use its easy to re-oil the handles.

Step 9: Final Clean-up and Polish

Its time to pull off the tape on the blades and look at your almost complete knives.

All that is left to do is a final polishing of the blade, a quick touch up with a sharpening stone, re-oil the handle and maybe make a sheath for your new knife.

I used a bit of leather to form a couple rough sheaths just to store my knives in and I'm still looking around to find some thicker leather to make a proper belt sheath.

You now have an awesome one of a kind knife which makes a perfect gift to any outdoors enthusiast or pocket knife which has a cool backstory to it.

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1 Questions

in steep 5 heat treating your blades are clayed for a hamon the picture shows electronics is that for a picture ore do you used
electric i any way
thank,s graveyard

0

The first picture with step 5 shows when I had just put the clay on and it was still soft. The electronic parts were just used to hold the knives in place and prevent them from tipping sideways. There aren't any electrical processes that need to be done with the heat treatment.

9 Comments

Good effort.
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It might pay to find out from the mower or blade manufacturer/s, what grade/s of steel they use, AND the heat treatment methods for that or those grades of steel - temperatures / air cooling / oil / water / brine quenching, and annealing / tempering, if necessary.
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You see that the steel grades, vary tremendously in their final product, and anyone less than a commercial operator such as a farmer or someone who slashes enormous amounts of roadside vegetation, probably will never notice the difference in longevity between Brand X blades and Brand Y blades, when pushing a lawn mower around the back yard 5 x a year.
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I would be inclined to think about this, is that how much harder can the edge actually be made, by heat treatment, AND for the most part, you cannot have junk blades, that wear down very quickly or break loose and throw, on so potentially dangerous an operation...
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The blades DO have to be hard enough to resist rubbing against the silicon dioxide fur (quartz or sapphire) on the surface of grass leaves etc., but not so hard that they chip badly and crack when they hit stones.
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This is the "metallurgical limit" or balance of properties, of these alloys.
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Again you DO need to know the exact chemical properties and steel grade, to know the limitations of the heat treatment. It may be that you can get a much harder edge, or that there may be little to no real advantage to any heat treatments.
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My inclination is to use a very thin cutting disk and to cut slightly wide in the cutting edge area, and to consider that the manufacturer has done a good job already with the steel grade, and to at best, perhaps cold forge or work harden the cutting edge with a big hammer or a ball pein hammer, and to experiment on some offcut, to find the limit in hardness - as to where it starts to crack or break, and work to about 30% less than that, along the cutting edge, prior to the final cool and wet shaping of the cutting edge.
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You can find interesting tid bits and fine details in "knife making / suppliers" in unusual places. Here they make reference to pressed or rolled edges on their blades - which is work hardened edges.
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http://www.loxtonengineering.com.au/information-for-your-slasher-cutter-mower-windrower-topper-mulcher-stubble-mulcher/
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http://www.fbblades.com/austempering-process
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http://www.fbblades.com/wear-resistant-mower-blades
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http://www.fbblades.com/lawn-mower-blade-history
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http://www.fbblades.com/mower-blade-safety-testing
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While not technically "ideal" - inferences, and implications - from people who already KNOW their own product, are worth considering. They may already be able to supply samples and or more technical information. Also the days of the "heat it up to cherry red and toss it in old oil" are kind of dead and sort of long gone - as metallurgy and heat treatments now tend to be an exact science, to produce an exact outcome, in a particular product. It's not to say do not do what you did, but find out what it is that your working with, AND then find it's limitations and how the professionals work the metal. In what form does it come from the steel mill, and then then what process's does it go through, and what is the end products final use. What are the designed in limits of that product? Can the product be modified with the desired properties? Will it make it better or worse? Mower blades are mostly designed to be wear resistant, shatter proof and to provide a long service life. Like if your mowing square kilometers of hay per day, day in day out, and assume 5 brands of blades on the market, were similarly priced, the blades that gave the best service would be consistently bought, and the word would get around that they are good blades, and all the blades that wore quickly or broke and shattered would not be repurchased. Thus the market would dictate that the average quality of the blades would tend to be consistently high. Meaning that the grades of steel, and the heat treatment, would have been determined to be comparably high and hardening would have to be a method based issue, based upon the properties of the original material.

Wow thanks for the long reply. I am going to break up my response into a couple sections for this:

Firstly I would like to thank you for the thought and curiosity you have into different types of metals that are available. I am a chemical engineer and I have done metallurgy courses so I am actually quite familiar with the topic. I agree with you that in an ideal world you could just google the brand of lawn mower blade and a nice spreadsheet of metallurgical information would appear but for most brands this really isn't the case, most of the lawn mower blades I have come across aren't actually branded by whomever made them (they simply have a manufacturers number) and most companies don't give the actual metals composition/grade on websites. So when I get a bunch of blades from a hardware store it really is a lucky dip of them and I don't spend much time trying to look for information that isn't available.

Next in terms of how metals are handled and the "heat treatment" already on lawn mower blades. Most manufacturers like to brand their products with terminology of how amazing their blades are but you have to remember that what they are aiming for in a lawn mower blade and what we are aiming for in a knife are completely different. They want extremely soft blades as the risk of breakage when hitting a stone is a serious hazard, while we want fairly hard edges which will hold an edge and consequently are less durable. Thus there is little point in keeping most manufacturers already done heat treatment.

I agree with you that each metal has it's own set of heat treatment guidelines and they make huge differences in how the metals qualities are determined, as you said "the days of the "heat it up to cherry red and toss it in old oil" are kind of dead and sort of long gone", but in practice this Instructable wasn't written for people that have access to temperature controlled furnaces which can be used for the ideal heat stands at the perfect temperature and who also want to spend a fair amount time firstly researching into different metals and selecting the best process. From a metallurgical standpoint if you want to achieve the correct heat treatment on a knife I would recommend going to a steel manufacturer or supplier getting a blank knife/bar from them of known composition and once you have shaped the blade send it back to them so that they can do the heat treatment for you. I wrote these instructions for people who want to have a more hands on experience, you may not get the perfect heat treatment but you do get the satisfaction of knowing that you made a knife from scratch using recycled metal.

There are loads of instructions on the internet nowadays for making knives, blacksmithing and metalwork, there are also quite a few artisan blacksmiths and knife guilds all of which can help guide a person to making there own knife. My instructions are written for hobbyists who may just need some rough ideas on how to go about knife making and the steps involved, I didn't go into lots of detail with most of the steps as the instruction would turn from being a quick read into a truly massive research article and frankly if you don't understand something or if you want to know more on a topic you can always google it. This brief writing style also applies to heat treatment which is a massive body of work and impossible to write up in a few simple lines, the methods I used are based off my reading up on using recovered metal of unknown composition and what tools and equipment I had readily available at home.

This Instructable was written up to follow my method of knife making and not to claim that it is the best method. When it comes to the final knife in my hand I am proud of my work and like the end result and frankly if it doesn't hold an edge forever I can live with having to sharpen it every now and again.

Problem is do you actually know what's in that metal? Hopefully not lead. :)

Most alloys nowadays are pretty standard and don't have high levels of impurities, so a standard piece of iron or steel is unlikely to have any lead in it. Lead is a really soft metal so it wouldn't make a good lawn mower blade, it also has a very low melting point so you would be able to tell its lead almost instantly.
The main metals to be careful with when doing home metalwork is anything which has been electro-plated with zinc or chrome (looks shiny and is "rust" resistant) as these can give off toxic fumes. That being said never do metalwork indoors as fumes from either the metal or the fire can be toxic in high concentrations.

Great knives, them. They'd be great for bushcraft, nice job.