Last summer I was able to attend only two of the summer metalworking classes offered by the art school at UWM. With the classes running again this summer, I signed up for two more sessions. The object of this class was to make a prison shiv letter opener via the techniques of riveting, small fasteners, and slots and tabs. In reality, we stuck with various styles of riveting – I’m quite familiar with fasteners, and slots/tabs are kind of a pain.
First up was just making a sample piece. I liked the simplicity and look of flush rivets vs. raised rivets (especially since if done well, you can carefully sand and polish the surface flat to hide the fact that rivets exist, assuming they are the same material as the base), so I did two flush rivets – one hollow and one solid. With that complete, I could turn my attention to the design of the letter opener. I knew I better keep it simple to have a prayer of completing it in 3 classes, but as usual, I vastly underestimated the time required to complete such a project.
I had come across a picture of a Strider MK1A Tanto knife a few years ago, and really liked the lines of it. Rather than pay $450 for one, I thought it might be fun to try making my own (being a simple tanto grind with paracord grip). I took the photo, dropped it into SolidWorks, and traced around the edge to create a 2D profile. I then ordered some flat ground O-1 oil hardening metal stock in the requisite size, and… …that’s as far as I got. So for this letter opener project, I thought it might be a nice profile to try, though I had to shrink the size a little in order to fit it on the supplied piece of nickel sheet. I then needed scales – while hydraulic pressed scales would have been really neat, I’d have to cut my own die from acrylic block, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get it right on the first try. So I went the simple (ha!) route and sketched out rounded scales over the blade profile that while ergonomically unsound, at least looked interesting.
Then I tossed in some locations for rivets into the drawing, and determined coordinates for them. With all the math out of the way, I went to the shop, slapped two pieces of brass sheet onto the nickel sheet secured via strips of carpet tape, and started drilling out locations. The next night I drew the profiles onto the pieces using the holes for location, and bolted the two brass pieces together so I could shape them identically. After sawing the nickel and brass to a rough outline, I went at them with the belt sander. This got me to this point:
I wound up going with more margin on the scales (in order to help cover up some mistakes made along the way), which makes it even less ergonomic than before. Oh well. As for the riveting, I thought I’d give the grip even more depth by raising the brass slabs up on standoffs. This required cutting 20 tiny little pieces of brass tubing, and I was cursing myself for making so many blasted holes in the first place. Hopefully I can have all the pieces ready for assembly in time for the open workshop, and maybe I’ll even be able to complete it.