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 More Custom Knives?

I write new books on blacksmithing and knife making every year. The latest book, DIY Knife Making – Bushcraft Knives, is On Sale in Full Color paperback and on Kindle:

DIY Knife Making - Bushcraft Knives - Terran Marks

  • Full color, step-by-step instructions for making your own custom bushcraft knives.
  • Detailed heat treating specs (Rockwell hardness, color temperature, and more)
  • A full chapter on Handling knives the traditional way.
  • Access to a printable template to use in designing and creating your knives.

Pick up your copy here.

 

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