Nicolas Lenze 08.14.23
You’re probably wondering why the main image of this article is of a knife that is of what some call garbage-tier quality. I guess I kind of… what do the youth say? Click-bait! I click-baited you. This article is not a review of the knife, but a review of its origin. I made this knife with my own two hands. For my birthday, my wife signed me up for a knife-forging class at the Kilroy Workshop in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The goal of this class? To create, from a bar of mild steel, one mini knife.
Kilroy Workshop: The Facility
Kilroy Workshop is a straight shot down Parker Road from where I live. Colorado, represent! I woke up early to get gas and a monster can of Monster. It was going to be a hot day, and I was on my way to make things with fire. I grabbed an extra shirt, just in case, and I was on my way. When I got there, I walked through the door of an unassuming building and into a celebration of steel. The lobby was filled with interesting and impressive creations. Among those pieces were photos of the people who made them, including my friend Nic Meyer of Rhino and Ravens Forge and TactiCloak, who was a contestant on Forged in Fire.
My class was being taught by Noah, a high school senior who built his first forge in his backyard (with his parents’ permission) at 10 years old. It’s been a love affair with fire and steel ever since. Also helping us was Magni, who guided me through more than one task. We made our way through the double door into the 21,000-square-foot workshop. We walked past the power hammer and selected our weapons of choice.
All Fired Up
We were then asked to choose a blade profile. They all looked pretty difficult for someone who’s never done this before, so I chose a tanto blade. There were six anvils of various sizes surrounding a central forge, which I shared with my classmates. We put our blanks into the forge to heat up, bringing the mild steel bars to a nectarine glow.
Using the comically large tongs, I repeatedly removed the glowing material, introduced it to my hammer, and returned it to the fire. Every time I hammered the piece, the shape gained a level of resemblance to the knife I was imagining. One mistake that I made was being too concerned with precision. Be exact later and just hammer the thing!
To form the handle, Magni ran the tongs and led me in double strikes on the steel. This is mostly because I was taking too long to form my knife, but that didn’t make the experience any less cool. Magni pulled the knife from the forge and struck it against the anvil. I followed suit, and when his second strike came down, a rhythm was formed. We repeated this process, working together until the handle was stretched and shaped.
The part everyone knows, of course, is the quench. This is the process where a hot knife is removed from the forge and air-cooled several times before being submerged in oil. If you’re going to do this, make sure you use the proper tools. My tongs were too big and let slip my knife down, down, down into the blackness of the oil. Poor Noah had to stick his entire arm in the tank to retrieve it.
Getting Baked In Colorado
After the quench, the knives need to be heat-treated. If I understood correctly, the steel effectively becomes glass during the process. The heat treating takes a convenient amount of time, and we were released to an hour-long lunch while the blades bake.
- Leftover tri-tip, cooked to near perfection
- Kroger 90-second jasmine rice flavored with a dab of butter, some kosher salt, and parsley.
- One bag of Ritz Bits crackers with cheese.
Back to the Grind
A quality blade is one of the most important tools in my gear bag, no matter which activity it’s for. However, the best blade in the universe means nothing without an appropriate and functional handle. My choices that day were hickory or walnut. Noah explained the pros and cons of each and the whole class quickly settled on hickory. If I’m being honest, I wanted the walnut, but I followed the pack. I like that it essentially makes mine a 1 of 8 collector’s item.
Noah cut all the pieces to size on the shop’s band saw. I was a little bummed about not getting to cut my own. I love the band saw but I also understand the amount of liability that must come with it. He fitted the wood blanks with brass pins, then the whole assembly was glued together with epoxy. Once it dried, it was time to hit the grinders.
The rest of the day revolved around sanding, grinding, and cursing under my breath. I was unable to get a photo of this part because I got to use the big sander. Okay, the band saw issue is forgiven. The moment the handle touched the sander, sparks erupted between the fine-grit band and the brass pins. This continued as I watched the pins quickly vanish due to the soft properties of the brass. At this point, our blades had been profiled and flattened, so there are minimal sharp edges. Once the handle was shaped, we set off to remedy this unfortunate dullness.
Creating the edge is rather difficult. The process is simple, and the principle isn’t complex, but putting the image from your head onto a physical piece of steel is not a direct connection. If only HDMI could do that. I ended up with a few more angles on my sharp edge than I wanted, but ultimately, I’m still proud of what I made.
Adding to the custom nature of this limited edition knife, the instructors set my knife in a vice and fired up the torch. Once I was satisfied with the look of my handle, Magni added beeswax to the bare material and sent me on my way.
My Brand New Tanto-ish Blade
I drove the whole way home with the knife in my cup holder. It was wrapped in a paper towel to keep the beeswax from not doing what it was supposed to. I couldn’t see it and I was anxious to unwrap it. The moment I got home, I unwrapped that paper towel and feasted my eyes on the perfection before me.
Obviously, I see the flaws in the knife I made. I really don’t notice them, though. I spend that energy remembering how much fun I had, how much I learned, and how thoughtful of a gift this experience was. I love you, Baby!
I will absolutely be returning for another class. Kilroy Workshop also offers welding, glass blowing, and jewelry classes. It would be hard to run out of things to do there. I’d also like to thank the instructors for a great class, and specifically Noah for helping me remember everything I forgot about the day.
If you want to check out all of the classes they offer, or just want to read more about their story, head to the Kilroy Workshop website. Socials more your thing? Hit them up on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube. Go learn a new skill!