FROM THE DESK OF BRIAN LYTTLE:
A Knifemaker: Why?
Advice for New Makers
My Pride & Joy
My Current Favorite Steel
Two Visits with Brad Pitt
Prop for "Lonesome Dove"
Folder for "The Edge"
Conquering Diabetes II & Obesity
FORGING (written for Mar, 2001)
I started out forging because the only source of good steel that I had at the time was old files. Then I started buying knife magazines and, through the dealers listed, I began to buy other steels. I got a Wilton square wheel grinder and, for some time, only did stock removal. After a few years, I read about the work of Bill Moran and basically how he made Damascus. I got some 01 and mild steel and went back to my old coal forge and started to make Damascus. For about 6 months, I pounded steel on an anvil by hand and then, miracle of miracles, I found an old Myer Bros 50-lb "Little Giant" trip hammer. It needed refurbishing and new dies and then I was really off pounding steel.
I pounded Damascus for a year and a half in my initial learning stage and everything that I made, I destroyed. It is a standard that I have kept to this day. If a blade has a flaw, even one that only I know is there, and even if it does not endanger the integrity of the blade, it is destroyed. (Back to top)
HEAT-TREATING (written for May, 2001)
The performance of those blades I credit a lot to my friend and fellow knifemaker, Tim Zowada. Through his technical advice, I have built a gas forge similar to his which performs better than anything that I have ever used. Also on his advice, I have set up a salt bath heat-treating system. My blades are austenitized in molten salt and mar-quenched in a low temperature molten salt. The high temperature pot is fired by propane and automatically controlled with a digital controller and a solenoid valve (many thanks to Randal Graham of Nova Scotia for aiding me in the basic design of this piece of equipment). The low temperature salt pot is made out of an old pottery kiln and Tim Zowada's advice on the setup of the controls for this pot was invaluable. With this piece of equipment, I can remove the salt pot and also use the kiln for spherodize annealing. Besides the two salt pots, I have an electric paragon oven and, in all, I think that these three pieces of heat-treating equipment are the minimum amount of equipment that I can get by with in order to be able to successfully heat-treat a range of steels from the various stainless steels, carbon steels, and Damascus steel. I do custom heat-treating for other makers.
I take great pride in the fact that EVERY type of knife that I make is made from a steel to suit the knife's purpose and that I can properly heat-treat it with the equipment that I have built so that, whatever the intended function of the knife, it will perform to a very high standard. (Back to top)
MY PRIDE & JOY (written for Apr, 2001)
In the summer of 1999, I visited a fellow knifemaker and friend, Ed Storch, who lives just out of Mannville, about 6 hours north of me. I played the role of go-fer and he, the master, as together we built a 42.4 ton hydraulic press which now resides in my shop and is my pride and joy, next to my 50 lb. Little Giant trip hammer. The press is an H-frame design and is an absolute joy to use when making Damascus steel. The pump is a Barnes two stage which will pump 16 gallons a minute on low pressure. When it goes over 600 psi, it automatically switches to high pressure and slows to a pump rate of 4 gallons per minute. The slow rate on high pressure gives the operator very good control over the forming and welding of the steel. Coupled with a 6 inch ram and 3000 psi from the pump, the press is able to develop 42.4 tons. The press enables me to produce larger billets--enough for my own needs and some to sell to fellow knifemakers. (Back to top)
MY CURRENT FAVORITE STEEL (written for July, 2001)
I have completed several pieces to date out of some tri-laminate style damascus that I forged. The sides are a bright showy nickel damascus and the core is 01 steel. After heat-treating, the blades are hot salt bath blued and buffed. The blades show a very bold hammon-style line that gives them a striking appearance. Examples can be found in the following galleries: Hunters, Dress Knives, and Miscellaneous Knives. (Back to top)
ENGRAVING (written for Dec, 2000)
I do all embellishments on my knives: scrimshaw, engraving, relief carving, and gold inlay work. I used to think that I was too old to learn to engrave, but one evening some years ago at the New Jersey show, Martin Butler (engraver), on seeing some of my scrimshaw work, encouraged me to start engraving. He even sent me a couple of chisels with which to get started. I am in his debt for this. By doing all of my own artwork on my knives, I can design the knife totally before I begin. Not long ago, I obtained some lapidary equipment and now cabochon cut my own stones to mount in my latest knives. (Back to top)
WORKSHOPS (written for Nov, 2000)
Over the last few years, I have been holding classes from time to time at my shop, teaching others how to make Damascus steel and how to properly heat-treat various steels, as well as showing faster and easier ways to produce close-fitting components. (Back to top)