How to Make a Serbian Chef Cleaver

Serbian Chef Cleaver - Brown County Forge

Our latest custom blade is a Serbian Chef Cleaver made out of 1084 carbon steel.

A local contractor requested it. He does a lot of camp cooking  and liked the style.

Here’s how Terran Marks, the blacksmith at Brown County Forge, created it for his client from start to finish.

How to Make a Serbian Chef Cleaver

The first decision you have to make with any blacksmithing project is the steel.

Picking the right steel with the right carbon contact can mean the difference between success and failure.

For this cleaver project, I picked a common, easy to work carbon steel grade: 1084.

Steel Stock Size

The cleaver needed to be pretty wide: At least 4 Inches from spine to knife edge.

I bought a 36-inch long piece that was 3/16-inch thick from Jantz Knife Making Supply for $81.89 (includes shipping from Oklahoma to Indiana).

Based on my measurements I knew I could get a few knives out of that single piece. It justified the cost.

Step One: Knife Design Layout and Stenciling

Cleaver Layout - Brown County Forge

The steel took a few days to arrive from the Okie State. (Not unexpected due to how busy those folks are.)

I took it over to the shop and started sketching my basic design on a piece of wood first.

I like to start with scrap wood because it’s:

  • Easy to cut.
  • Easy to correct.
  • Inexpensive.
  • Sturdier than paper or cardboard so I can reuse it.

You can see from the photo that I had to make some adjustments to the tip of the knife.

It looked too stubby at 9 inches long. So I added another inch and continued the slope of the spine.

I like to add in the rough positions for the handle pins so I can visualize the whole blade better.

Note: I traced my wood stencil in a way that would waste as little material as possible. This makes it tricky to cut, but worth it if you’re trying to get multiple knives about of a single piece.

Step Two: Cutting the Basic Knife Shape

Cleaver Stenciling - Brown County Forge

I used a DeWalt 7-Amp Angle Grinder with a 4-1/2 inch cut-off wheel to cut out my knife shapes.

Getting in between the two cleavers was tricky. When I do it again I’ll leave more space between the two so I can “fudge” a little more.

After they were cut out, I smoothed and ground down any rough edges with a standard bench grinder. No need for anything fancy, here.

Step Three: Forging the Serbian Chef Cleaver/Normalizing

 

Butcher Knife Annealing - BCF

This knife is a combination of the two types of blade making: stock removal and forging.

I created the basic shape by cutting away (removing stock) and finished it by hand-forging the edge.

I also added a pebbled texture at the request of the client.

When forging 1084 you should work it hot. The recommended minimum temperature is 1500 degrees Fahrenheit. (cashenblades.com)

After working the blade edges and texturing the steel, I set them on a concrete block to cool/normalize.

Step Four: Edge Grinding/Adding a Touchmark

When the knife is cool and unhardened, it’s much easier to grind and manipulate.

I used two main tools to add a refined edge to it:

  • Angle grinder with medium and fine grit flap disks.
  • Fine grain bastard file. One of my favorite tools for sharpening.

There are many different ways to grind a knife edge.

For a handmade butcher knife, I like to keep it simple: 1/2-inch wide bevel at approximately 20-degrees. We’re not filleting or paring with this bruiser so no need for scalpel-level precision.

Knife Pebbled Texture - BCF

I also added a simple touchmark in a hidden spot.

Touchmarks are the traditional method for blacksmiths to sign their work.

Using hardened steel stamps of their shop logo or their name, they made an impression in the steel.

For these pieces, I went with a simple “T” for my first name on the underside of the handle.

SImple Blacksmith Touchmark - Terran Marks

Step Five: Hardening and Tempering

Twin Serbian Cleavers - BCF

Hardening

Hardening temperature for 1084 should not go above 1500 degrees.

The blacksmith’s trick for finding the proper hardening temperature has two steps:

  • Heat the piece until it approaches cherry red in color.
  • Test with a magnet.

If the piece still attracts the magnet, gradually heat it more and test again.

As soon as it no longer attracts, heat slightly more to compensate for the heat lost during testing and then quench.

I use canola oil as my quenchant. It’s pretty quick making it ideal for 1084 sections under 1/4-inch thick. Above that thickness, water or brine can be used with extreme care (you risk cracking and micro-fractures).

I did an edge quench into my metal tub of oil, keeping the majority of the blade out of the oil.

Tempering

I performed what’s called a draw temper on both cleavers to reduce the “as-quenched hardness” from 65 HRC (Rockwell Hardness) to something softer and easier to sharpen.

This involves applying heat toward the spine of the blade and watching as the color changes and moves toward the blade edge.

The idea is that you have enough time to catch the color before it goes too far.

Tempering Colors In Steel - Brown County Forge

I tempered the two blades to around 400-degrees or the Light Gold color to the far left of the above temper scale.

Tested with a file you can now feel it “grab.” This indicates that it can be hand-sharpened.

Step Six: Handling the Serbian Cleaver

After the heat treat (the hardening and tempering cycles), it’s time to go to work on the handle.

Handling is an art in and of itself. If you’re handy with woodworking, this will come naturally to you.

For my handle material I chose a nice piece of oak for its color and grain.

andle Glue Up Cleaver - BCF
Gluing and clamping the knife scales.

I rough cut the scales of the handle after tracing the shape of the full tang.

Matching up the holes can be tricky so err on the side of too much material than too little.

You can always rasp and grind away the excess wood.

Since the steel handle section was kept out of the hardening cycle, it was easy to drill.

I measured my three pin locations and marked them with a center punch before drilling them out.

This is much easier if you have a drill press to use, but can be done with clamps, a power drill, and steady hands.

Glue Up

I got all of the holes lined up and put them together dry to make sure it would be smooth before adding glue.

Then I took it apart, wetting the pieces of wood per instructions and added the glue.

I clamped it all together using two hand clamps and my shop vise and let it set up overnight.

The epoxy/glue I recommend: Gorilla Glue Two-Part Clear Epoxy

I’ve put knife handles together with regular Gorilla Glue and it works. However, when it dries the glue is yellowish, hard, and puffy-looking.

Clear epoxy is a much better result.

Handle Shaping

Oak Knife Handle Rough Shaping - BCF

You can spend hours working on a handle. Sometimes it takes longer to make the handle than it does to forge the knife.

To shape it, I used a standard wood rasp and a 2 x 36 belt grinder attachment from MultiTool.

If you have a standard belt sander you’ll be in good shape.

Keep in mind that you will be grinding metal and wood simultaneously (the pins and the handle).

Step Seven: Handle Sealing and Final Sharpening

You probably noticed the blue tape in the last photo.

This protects the blade while we work on the handle with rasps, grinders, and stains.

I used a Medium Dark Natural Danish Oil on the handle for a light look.

It also allows the customer to darken it if he chooses to.

I let that set over night before pulling off the tape and doing my final polish and sharpen.

When he saw the finished cleaver he loved it.

Here it is:

Serbian Cleaver - Brown County Forge

Want to Learn How to Make This?

If you’re interested in making your own Serbian Cleaver, send me an email:

browncountyforge@gmail.com

Forging a Twisted Railroad Spike Knife

Twisted Railroad Spike Knife - Brown County Forge

Blacksmith Project Breakdown: Twisted Railroad Spike Knife

Students forge railroad spike knives in class every weekend at Brown County Forge.

From time to time they opt for the twisted handle look above.

In this post I’ll go through the steps it takes to forge a twisted railroad spike knife.

The Basic Steps:

  1. Forge the blade.
  2. Twist the handle.
  3. Clean up the knife profile and grind the rough bevel.
  4. Harden.
  5. Temper.
  6. Final polish and sharpen.

Step One: Forging the Railroad Spike Knife Blade

Railroad Spike Knife - Brown County Forge

Get the railroad spike up to a nice glowing yellow-orange color.

Start hammering half way up the spike and out towards the tip.

By starting halfway up you’ll leave enough room for a handle and have plenty of material for your blade.

Depending on your hammering stamina and hand-eye coordination, this thinning process can take some time.

Usually it will take anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours for a beginner.

Step Two: Twist the Handle

Railroad Spike Knife Close Up - Brown County Forge

Twists look great, but I’ll let you in on a secret:

They are one of the easiest techniques to do.

Due to the thickness of the material, we need to do one quarter-turn per heat for the railroad spike twist.

For each quarter-turn you will put the heated spike into your vise blade down.

You then grab just under the head of the spike with a pair of locking vise grips.

Keep the grips level and pull toward you for one quarter-turn.

Reheat and repeat.

Step Three: Set Aside to Cool and Then Grind the Profile

Now that you have your basic knife shape forged and the twist made, set it aside to cool completely.

When it’s cool to the touch (about 20 minutes later), use a hand file, a bench grinder, or an angle grinder to clean up your rough edges.

You can also start cleaning up and polishing the flats of the blade.

As you do this you will see just how consistent your hammer blows were.

Your goal at this stage is to get smooth, clean lines and the final shape of the knife.

If you want a bowie railroad spike knife, you will grind in the bowie anatomy.

If you’re looking for more of a skinner, you will grind in skinner lines.

The grinder is your friend. =]

Step Four: Hardening

Hardening a Blade - Brown County Forge

Now it’s time to reheat the knife to just above cherry red.

The reason this color is important is that it’s our visual signal that the knife is approaching non-magnetic.

We want it to lose its magnetism before we harden it.

This is an additional sign that the molecules in the metal are aligned properly for hardening.

(Want to see this in action? You can sign up for Online Classes here or take a class in person!)

When it’s hot enough and nonmagnetic, we quench it in oil for a count of eight seconds.

Then the knife is set aside to cool.

Side Note: We use vegetable oil as our quenchant in the shop. It does a great job and isn’t as toxic as burning motor oil.

Step Five: Temper

Tempering Colors In Steel - Brown County Forge

After cooling, the knife is ready for a polish to help the silver of the blade shine through.

This is necessary because we need to see the temper colors as we apply low level heat to the blade.

To temper we use a propane torch and apply heat to the spine of the knife.

Making steady passes across the spine, we gradually heat the blade up.

When it is a light straw color (the color all the way to the left in the photo above), we quench it once again in the vegetable oil.

(Click here for a full breakdown of tempering)

Step Six – Polish and Sharpen

You don’t have to leave the temper color on your blade.

When it’s completely cooled down, you can take a piece of sandpaper and sand it back to silver.

Some people like the “Man With the Golden Knife” look, but it’s up to you (bad James Bond reference).

Now it’s time to put the final edge on your twisted railroad spike knife.

I prefer to use a 10-inch Single Cut Hand File.

If you have experience using whetstones you should use what you’re comfortable with.

Proper sharpening with hand file involves these five things:

  1. Only file with forward motions. NEVER saw back and forth.
  2. Start with a steep angle to make your two bevel sides meet. Then go shallower for your final edge.
  3. If the file is screeching, adjust your file’s horizontal orientation.
  4. If you over-sharpen it’s not the end of the world. Knock the burr down with light strokes against the grain.
  5. Test carefully as you work. Don’t slide up and down the blade to test. Lightly pull across the blade edge to feel for sharpness.

If you’ve never done it before it will take some time to get good.

All of this is a patience game.

Thanks for Reading!

Twisted Railroad Spike Knife - Brown County Forge

Weekly Blacksmith Classes

Weekly Blacksmith Classes - Brown County Forge

Terran Marks teaches weekly blacksmith classes at Brown County Forge.

The classes come in two formats:

  • Beginners Class – This class focuses on five fundamental blacksmithing skills: drawing out, scrolling, quenching, bending, and twisting. The class is project-based meaning each student starts with a fresh piece of metal and forges it into a finished piece.
  • Knife Making Class – This class is also project-based, but it’s more specific that the Beginners Class. Each student takes a standard railroad spike and turns it into a functional knife.

When Are Weekly Blacksmith Classes?

The Beginners Class currently starts at 10 AM on Saturdays and wraps up between 12 and 1 PM.

The Knife Making Class begins at 2 PM on Saturdays and ends by 6 PM.

These are the set class times each week.

However, time during the week is available for private lessons/special appointments.

Terran would be happy to set up a class time Monday-Friday with you.

Classes run from early March through mid-December. (February in Indiana is usually just too darn cold.)

How Much Do Classes Cost?

The Beginners Class is $120 per person for the single session.

The Knife Making Class is $220 per person for the single session.

Can Beginners Take Either Class?

Yes! Absolutely.

Both classes are set up for complete beginners. No prior experience is required.

Out of the 581 student projects coming out of the shop, 98% of them were made by beginners.

Rustic and Rugged - Brown County Forge

How Old Do You Have to Be?

For safety reasons, the minimum age is 14 for both classes.

A parent or guardian must be present during the class. However, they are not required to participate.

How Dangerous is Blacksmithing?

On a scale from sitting on the couch to jumping out of an airplane:

Blacksmithing is less dangerous than using chainsaws.

It’s also not as dangerous as driving a car.

The biggest difference between driving a car and blacksmithing is the variability of other people.

In blacksmithing, at least at Brown County Forge, your environment is carefully controlled.

Terran takes great care in mitigating risks in the shop and explaining what can happen.

Where Can I Find Out More About Weekly Blacksmith Classes?

The Classes Page has more information and available dates.

Custom Metal Church Signs

Custom Metal Church Signs - Brown County Forge

We make custom metal church signs!

Need a beautiful, durable metal sign for your place of worship?

Our Custom Metal Church Signs

Each sign starts off with a design.

This can be as simple as a drawing on a piece of paper or the back of a napkin.

Terran, the owner of Brown County Forge, is happy to convert your drawing into a digital file.

St. John's Episcopal Church Sign Example - Brown County Forge - Indiana

Next, we take the design and create a cost estimate based on:

  • The type of metal.
  • The complexity of the design.
  • The size of the sign.

Once we agree on the estimate, the digital sign file is transferred to the plasma cutting machine to cut out the sign.

We start the finishing process after your sign is cut.

We want to b sure all sharp and rough edges are softened.

At this point we also add any holes for mounting hardware.

What Are The Signs Made Out Of?

Stainless Steel Modern Metal Numbers - Brown County Forge

We recommend stainless steel for indoor and outdoor signs.

Stainless holds up against humidity much better than standard steel.

Moisture and humidity can be a real issue here in Indiana.

Even though the signs are made out of steel, they are not incredibly heavy.

Because they are made out of steel, we can make them thin to reduce the overall weight.

How Fancy Can the Sign Be?

We can do quite a bit with steel, but here are some good guidelines for sign design:

  • Block letters are easier to make and read than script.
  • Simple, clear shapes come out better than wavy lines and small details.
  • Bigger is better for outdoor signs.

How Much Does a Custom Metal Church Sign Cost?

Stainless steel is very durable due to its high chromium content and resistance to corrosion.

As a result, it tends to be more expensive than standard steel.

With this in mind, a sign that is 1 foot by 2 feet with simple lettering and design will cost $395.

The final price depends on the size and complexity of the sign.

How Long Does It Take to Make It?

The turnaround time on a sign is usually pretty quick.

Please plan on about two weeks once your design is set and the deposit is made.

Will It Be Delivered or Shipped?

We like to focus on churches in Indiana and are happy to hand-deliver the signs.

Due to gas costs and drive time, a delivery fee will be calculated based on your location.

You are also welcome to come to the shop to pick it up! Terran would love to meet you.

Ready to Discuss Your Sign?

Terran Marks - The Blacksmith - Brown County Forge

The best way to reach Terran to discuss your sign options is by email:

browncountyforge@gmail.com

You are also welcome to call the shop: 812-269-6350.

To reach him during business hours, please call between 11 AM – 5 PM Tuesday – Saturday.

If it’s after 5 PM or on a Sunday or Monday, please leave a message with:

  • Your name
  • Your number
  • The church the sign is for

He’ll get back to you within 24 hours to set up a meeting.

Looking forward to working with you!

Blacksmith Starter Kit

Blacksmith Starter Kit - Brown County Forge

Looking for a blacksmith starter kit with exactly what you need and nothing you don’t?

You’re in luck!

I talk about the basics of blacksmithing every week in class at Brown County Forge.

We go over skills and techniques, but spend real time talking about essential equipment. That’s what we’ll cover in this post.

The Four Items in the Blacksmith Starter Kit

The equipment you need to get started blacksmithing comes down to 4 items:

  • Forge – How you heat the metal.
  • Anvil – Where you shape the metal.
  • Hammer – What you shape the metal with.
  • Tongs – How you hold the metal.

How Much Should a Kit Cost?

Let’s break down the items in the kit by price.

Forge – $325 (plus shipping)

Blacksmith Starter Kit - Brown County Forge

Your forge will be one of the most expensive pieces to buy.

The forge I recommend is the Knifemaker Economy forge by Majestic Forge.

It costs $325 and ships for around $50 depending on how far you live from Lancaster, Ohio.

Why I like it:

  • Two burners – It gets up to heat quickly.
  • Compact – It doesn’t take up a lot of space.
  • Easy to set up – Takes about 10 minutes right out of the package.
  • Ships fast – I ordered it on a Tuesday and had it 2-3 days later.

Anvil – $280 (plus shipping)

The anvil I use in the shop is a 70 pound NC Tool Company brand anvil.

I own two of them and they’re each responsible for hundreds of projects.

Why I like them:

  • Movable – You can move one of them on your own. No need to call a friend.
  • Inexpensive – At under $300 or $4 per pound, it’s a steal.
  • Durable – Mine have seen heavy use over the years and they keep on truckin’.

Hammer – $28

Your hammer really doesn’t need to cost a whole lot.

Blacksmith's Hammer - Brown County Forge - Terran Marks

If you find a hammer that weighs between 2 and 3 pounds at a flea market or yard sale for a dollar, buy it.

Your main concern is overall weight and then handle length preference.

For my money, and the hammer I use every day, I go with a 2.5-pound Vaughan Cross Peen. (Find here on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2MsOuLN)

I could lose all of my other equipment, but if I lost that hammer I’d be very sad.

Tongs – $32

I use Centaur Forge’s 3/8-inch V-Bit Bolt Tongs nearly every day.

They’re good all around tongs useful for flat stock, square bar, and round bar.

Total Cost (before shipping): $660

Where to Buy Each Item

Your forge should be purchased directly from Majestic Forge – majesticforge.com.

Your anvil should be purchased from Centaur Forge to get the best price on shipping – centaurforge.com. Also available on Amazon here.

The hammer can be picked up on Amazon. It might cost slightly less directly from Vaughan – vaughanmfg.com.

Your tongs will come straight from Centaur Forge as well – centaurforge.com.

Want to Learn How to Use It All?

I’d be happy to show you the basics of blacksmithing.

There are two options I currently offer to get you started:

  1. You can schedule a class through the Brown County Forge Classes page and then order all of your equipment separately.
  2. I can take care of all of the equipment ordering for you, deliver your items, help you set up your shop, and provide a tutorial on-site.

For Option 1, classes range from $120 – $220 per person per session. Your total cost would be between $800 – $1000.

This option would involve quite a bit of legwork and running around online.

For Option 2, where I take care of the details for you and hand-deliver the equipment along with personal instruction, the cost will vary:

  • Within 50 miles of Bloomington, Indiana your “Done-For-You” Blacksmith Starter Kit setup and instruction is $1995.
  • If you live 50-100 miles away, I would need to cover an overnight stay, meals, etc. so the cost is $2195.
  • Outside of 100 miles, please contact me at browncountyforge@gmail.com.

Have a Professional Blacksmith Help You Get Started

Blacksmithing is a lot of fun and very rewarding, but the learning curve can be steep.

Having taught over 640 people how to do it since 2016, I’ve figured out how to make the process straightforward and fun.

If you’re ready to combine that experience with getting your blacksmithing equipment hand-delivered, send me an email at browncountyforge@gmail.com.

Cheers!

Terran Marks - The Blacksmith - Brown County Forge

Terran