Knives are well-known instruments, made for cutting a great variety of substances, and adapted by differences in form to various uses; but the two principal sorts may be classed under the terms of pocket-knives and table-knives, with their now necessary accompaniments, forks. The manufacture of these articles in this country is almost wholly conducted at Sheffield. Our account of the process of making them must necessarily be concise, and afford only a glimpse of the procedures, as it is manifestly impossible for us to transform the uninitiated into cutlers by any information that we can give.
In the making of pocket-knife blades, one workman and a boy are generally employed; the boy attends to the heats, (that is, to the rods of steel in the fire,) which he successively hands to the forger, and takes back the rod from which the last blade was formed. One heat is required to fashion the blade, and a second to form the tang, by which it is fastened into the handle. The skill of the forger is displayed in forming it so perfectly by his hammer, as to require but very little to be filed or ground off in the subsequent operations. The springs for the back of the knife, and the scales which form the rough metal under-handle, and to which the other pieces are rivetted, are made by a distinct class of workmen. In the forging of table-knife blades, and other blades of a similar or greater size, the forger has an assistant, who, with a large hammer, strikes alternately with him; and the hammering of all blades is continued after the steel has ceased to be soft, in order to condense the metal and render it very smooth and firm.
Table-knife blades are usually made with iron backs, which are welded to the steel by a subsequent forging, to that of forming the cutting edge; the thick piece that joins the handle, called the shoulder or bolster, as well as the tang that goes through the handle, is forged out of the iron immediately after the welding of the steel blade: dies and swages being employed to perfect and accelerate the shaping of these parts. When the forging is completed, the blades undergo the processes of hardening and tempering, already explained in our account of the steel manufacture (article Iron). The blades are then ground upon a wet stone, about 4 feet in diameter, and 9 inches wide, which roughs out the work; they are subsequently finished or whitened, as it is termed, upon a finer dry stone; and the shoulders or bolsters are ground upon a narrow stone, about 3 feet in diameter, which completes the grinding. The next process is that of glazing the blades, which is effected upon a wooden wheel, made up of solid segments, well fitted and secured together, and with the ends of the fibres of the wood presented to the periphery of the circle; over this is extended a piece of leather, which is charged with emery or other powders, adapted to the finish or nature of the work required.
It is only about 200 years since, that table-forks were known in England, when they were introduced from Italy; and even now, in some remote parts of Scotland and Ireland, they are regarded as useless articles of luxury. The cheaper kind of forks are made by casting them from malleable pig-metal, (see Iron,) sometimes denominated "run-steel;" and some of these, which are well annealed and worked under the hammer, turn out very serviceable and good. Those made of wrought metal, were formerly either forged, and the prongs drawn out by the hammer, and welded together, or they were forged into one solid piece, and the spaces between formed by cutting away the metal. These processes, however, were tedious and expensive, and a great improvement in their manufacture has been introduced. The tang, shoulder, and a thick, flat piece, called the blade, are forged, and the blade is then submitted to the action of a pair of dies, contained in a powerful fly or stamping-press; the dies being so formed as to force or cut out the superfluous portion of the metal and raise the curved swelled portions at the junction of the prongs, termed the bosom.
The forks after this operation are filed up, ground, glazed, and burnished, when they are ready for hafting, which is a distinct business.
The instruments required for hafting knives and forks are few and simple. The principal are, a small polishing wheel and treddle, mounted upon a stand, a bench vice, and a kind of hand vice to fix in the bench vice, termed a snapdragon; it has a pair of long projecting jaws, adapted to hold a piece of metal or other substance, with the flat side uppermost, in order to be filed or otherwise worked; a few files, drills, drill-box, and breast-plate, burnishers and buffs, emery, rotten stone, etc. The substances used for covering the handles are almost infinite; the chief are bone, horn, ivory, tortoiseshell, and wood of every kind. The several pieces of the handle being filed to the shape intended, holes are drilled through them for the pins by which they are afterwards rivetted together. The pinning is at first loosely done; until the blades, springs, and all the parts are well adjusted and fit closely, they are then firmly rivetted together. The handles are afterwards scraped and then polished, by means of buffing, on the wheel.