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“This hay knife is from the early 1900s,” Schrum says, describing a 15-inch toothed saber blade as he sorts through the pieces of steel scattered on a workbench. He points again. “That is a leaf spring from a ’72 Chevy pickup. This is a round rod, and this is a Nicholson file. It’s made in the U.S. and was probably used in a machine shop.” Before these pieces of steel can be shaped into blades, they have to be hammered to the desired shape and length. “It’s sort of like flattening out Play-Doh,” Schrum says with a laugh. “Except this is a lot harder than Play-Doh.” To get the metal hot enough to shape, Schrum hauls it out to the forge, which is housed in a small unfinished room off the side of the shop. Gravel crunches underfoot, and an American flag hangs against the back wall near the forge – a small 12-by-6-inch furnace propped up on a wooden stump. Schrum slips his safety glasses into place, flicks on the propane and watches as the inside of the forge bursts into flames. Using a pair of tongs, Schrum slides a piece of steel into the fiery inferno and waits. Once the steel glows red hot, he hammers it into the rough shape of a blade (and he repeats this step many times). It’s then cooled overnight in vermiculite, a mineral often used for insulation, and shaped to the finished profile on a belt grinder. From there, it’s stamped, heat-treated and dipped in oil. The blade is then transferred to an oven where it’s tempered to reduce brittleness. Next, it’s placed in a Rockwell hardness tester that uses hydraulics to test the strength of the steel on what’s called the Rockwell scale. Schrum performs this test on all of his knives to verify that they’re hard enough for everyday use. At this point, the blade still looks ragged, with hammered edges and a tarnished surface. To give it a mirrored sheen, Schrum presses the blade against a grinder, which shoots a firework of orange sparks toward the ground, until the foggy coating of age and use is ground away. Although some blades are left bare, others are treated with mustard and horseradish to force a darkened patina. Because Schrum uses high-carbon steel instead of stainless, his blades develop a patina with use. “This is a way of helping to protect the steel and also to add aesthetics,” Schrum says. “A freshly finished blade will stain and tarnish quite easily, and some precautions need to be taken until a full patina has formed. The forcing of the patina helps get to that full patina a bit faster and also looks pretty cool.” When the blade is finished, Schrum turns his attention to the knife handle. Each handle can take several hours to make and varies in material from wood and bone to handmade laminate. Bone is tricky to use. From his stash half-hidden on a shelf, the knobby deer antlers have to be a sizeable width to make a decent handle, so most pieces become chew toys for his dog, Ezra. Wood is easiest to work with. 76

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“It’s sort of like flattening out Play-Doh,” Schrum says with a laugh. “Except this is a lot harder than Play-Doh.”

October 2016 Feast Magazine  

Inspired by our love of nature, this issue of Feast is dedicated to the joys of fall in the Midwest. Crack open a cold one, find a place to...

October 2016 Feast Magazine  

Inspired by our love of nature, this issue of Feast is dedicated to the joys of fall in the Midwest. Crack open a cold one, find a place to...