When you use a Nicholson file you know that you are using a quality made tool. Some of my rasps have been with me for more than 10 years, rasping all kinds of wood and Osage in particular. I regularly put them through some gentle abuse, but after a working session, I always clean them, place them back on their spot, respectfully bow and say thank you, before I pull my workshop door close and walk back to a warm welcoming house. So when I bought a bunch of older tools from a retired aircraft mechanic, I was very excited to find some old files among the tools. All of them of good quality and all of them used during his long career. There was some poetic beauty in holding tools in my hands that kept aircraft in the air and safely brought family and friends together from their perilous journeys. Some were still in good condition and some had seen better times. All had a special place in my workshop. Some were re-employed and the other ones were set aside to start a new life and purpose. What this was, I did not know at the time.
A couple of years passed, before the interest of making a knife grabbed hold of me. One cold spring morning my hands were very cold after doing some chores and no matter what I tried, I could not warm my fingers. So, I walked into my shop, selected one of these old Nicholson files and started shaping it with a grinder and some other hand tools. This turned out to be a harder job than I anticipated. The cold morning was quickly forgotten as my fingers warmed up from the work. This was when I decided to get some help in the form of knowledge. I cleaned my shop, put all back where it belonged and went to the house. I started reading up on knife making from old files. And the first thing I read about, was to make sure you had a high carbon steel file and not a case hardened one, like the cheaper version that gets mass produced in you know where. So, I check the steel. What I was looking for was a secondary star burst in the sparks that flew of my $5 bench grinder. And yes, I was excited to see the meteor shower of secondary sparks coming from the exposed steel in the file. Step one checked.
What happened next was for me to soften the steel again by a process called annealing. The metal should be heated to a critical point. This, for my layman purpose, was the temperature where the steel is not magnetic anymore. Heat it to that point, let it cool slowly and you should have carbon steel that is easier to work. Now to heat my steel! I almost reinvented the wheel and was at the point of spending some serious money on a forge, when something occurred to me. It was like that awkward moment when the character realizes that the most awesome soulmate was right under his nose, while he wasted time chasing after a shallow, high maintenance, narcissistic person. To make a long story short, with some research and experimentation I converted my shop wood stove into a very handy forge. The annealing went well and I soon had steel that worked so much easier by hand tools.
Shaping, reshaping, a few hammer blows here and then some there and soon I had a piece of steel resembling a knife. I was so proud of myself at this stage that I almost left it as it was. But I knew that no piece of steel could be called a knife without it been hardened. Oh yes, I had to heat my blade to that critical point again and then quickly dunk it into some canola oil. This violent process causes the steel structure to reform in such the way that it becomes hard enough to hold an edge.
Needless to say, that sticking a piece of steel, heated to 1500 degrees into a pot of oil and then hearing the heat exchange and feeling the vibrations of the process is exhilarating. But when I put a file to the blade, to check if the steel has hardened, and the file just skated over the edge with a very distinctive sound, I knew that Hephaestus was smiling down on me. My very first blade was done, blessed by fire and although very crude looking, I was so proud of myself and knew that I discovered another journey in my life. A path of adventure!