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 viseĀ 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:

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)

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 – $23

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

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.

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 –

Your anvil should be purchased from Centaur Forge to get the best price on shipping –

The hammer is least expensive directly from Vaughan –

Your tongs will come straight from Centaur Forge as well –

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

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 550 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, fill out the form below and we’ll get started.


Terran Marks - The Blacksmith - Brown County Forge


Sword Sharpening Service in Indiana

Did you know that Brown County Forge offers a sword sharpening service?

Terran the Blacksmith is happy to sharpen any bladed tool from knives to axes to longswords.

Sword Sharpening Service in Indiana

Sword Sharpening Service Indiana - Brown County Forge

New customer Beck brought in his longsword this afternoon.

His goal is to have it competition-ready with a clean edge and a new polish.

The sword is almost four feet long from pommel to point.

The Sword Sharpening Process

First, Terran assesses the condition of the blade.

He observes these key points:

  • Any chips or hairline fractures.
  • Bluntness along the length of the blade.
  • Nicks and gouges on the flat of the blade.
  • Any visible rust.

Beck’s blade is well-cared for so all it needs is a sharpen and polish.

To get it ready for competition, Terran follows these steps:

  1. Hand-filing the edge from hilt to point. Maintaining a micro-bevel along the length of long blades takes practice and patience.
  2. Any marks and scratches are polished out using finer and finer grits of sandpaper.

Sword Sharpener Indiana - Brown County Forge

Next Day Service

The sword is ready for pickup the next day.

Most bladed tools will be ready within a few hours. If you arrange to drop it off in the morning, it will be ready by afternoon.

Axes or knives in very poor condition may take longer. Terran is happy to provide quotes on costs and timelines.

How Much Does It Cost?

Sharpening swords properly takes time. For a sword like Beck’s that is in good shape, it will take an hour or so.

The shop hourly rate is $45 per hour for most services.

There is a sliding scale depending on exactly what you need done and your budget.

The most important thing to Terran is that you have a functional edged tool.

Sword Sharpening Blacksmith - Brown County Forge

Want to Learn More About Blades?

We cover knife making basics every Saturday throughout the year.

You will gain the knowledge you need to take care of all of your bladed tools.

You can get more information on the Classes Page.