Construction and Maintenance Back to Main FAQ Page
 

The parts - Artwork Courtesy of Dr. Zox

1  Buttcap
2  Spine
3  Sword of Shiva - If the scrollwork and inlay in the Sword of Shiva had any meaning it has been lost in time. The scrollwork and inlay are the "khukuri system" which has been around forever. - Kami Sherpa

Years ago the scrollwork was etched in by the kamis before the blade was hardened. Later some smart kami made a die so he could punch in the scrollwork and that's how it is done today. It is usually done after the blade is hardened. The brass inlay would not hold up to the heat. - Bill Martino
4  Spine
5  Handle rings  -  Kami Sherpa thinks the rings and little ridge once had a definite meaning of some kind -- almost certainly to do with religion -- but he says today nobody really knows what the meaning is or was. He points out that the configuration is fairly rigid. A pair of rings down maybe 1/4 of the handle length from the bolster -- small space and another pair of rings -- then the ridge with a single ring in it -- a final ring just below the ridge.   Personally, I find it very interesting that almost all good kamis use the same configuration but none of them know why they put it on the handle or what it might mean. - Bill Martino
6   Bolster
7  Cho - It has various meanings according to various people. A few are: The clitoris of Kali, the penis of Shiva, Surya ra Chandra (sun and moon, symbols of Nepal), a "Kowdi" (cowtrack because the cow is sacred to the Hindus), a blood drip, a substitute guard, and on and on and on. Take your pick. The true meaning has been lost in time so today it is anybody's guess. - Bill Martino
8  Recurve
9  Belly
10 Tip

Measuring a khukuri
The overall length of a khukuri is measured from tip to butcap, in a straight line, unless otherwise specified.  When someone speaks of a 20" Ang Khola, this is the measurement they are speaking of.

Here are some other dimensions that are often referred to.

Khukuris are measured as the crow flies from the center of the butt cap where the tang is peened over straight to the point.
The handle is measured from where the tang is peened over to the center of the bottom of the bolster and the blade is measured from the center of the bottom of the bolster to the point. This sometimes causes a discrepancy between the over all length and the lengths measured separately.  - Yvsa
 

Care of knives HW

People use a number of products to keep their khukuris in good shape.

Marine Tuf-Cloth by Sentry solutions - This is easy to apply and effective.
There have been some reports of light rust spotting even after the application of Marine Tuf-Cloth, but
most people do not appear to encounter this problem.  Cliff Stamp uses Marine Tuf-Cloth on the blade, then coats with a layer of vegetable oil.

Renaissance Wax is a petroleum based wax that has a finer crystalline structure than natural waxes. It is clear and PH neutral. It was developed for use in museum collections where it is applied to all sorts of surfaces including photographs, wood, leather, metal and paintings. This wax is fairly expensive. I paid $25 for a small container. The wax will inhibit corrosion on the blade and the blade edge, help preserve the leather, and inhibit corrosion on the brass or silver fittings.

Paste Wax, beeswax, carnuba wax - Natural waxes have many of the advantages of   , but they may contain acids that will cause deterioration over time.  They also may not be clear.

Silicon Oil - My favored solution.  The silicon oil will not oxidize (turn rancid) as many organic oils will.

Mineral Oil - Available in any pharmacy, also does not turn rancid.

Vegetable oil Many forumites use olive, canola, peanut, or other vegetable oils.  These are readily available and inexpensive.  Some users report oxidation and the formation of gummy deposits with  organic oils.

Nothing You can just not worry about rust.  Regular use will keep the worst of the rust off.  The blade wont rust through in your lifetime unless you're using it for a saltwater dive knife.  Probably not even then.

I find that my khukuris fall into two categories. They are either users or display/weapons. With users, appearance is secondary. The primary concern in care is ease of care and preserving the life of the tool.
For knives in the display/weapon category I want to preserve the smooth bright finish and the sharp edge during long periods of nonuse. I don't mind investing some time in care initially, but I don't want to have to keep returning to the knife to care for it.

In order to preserve the bright finish and sharp edge of display/weapon knives with minimal effort I have arrived at the following process.

1. Sharpen blade to desired state.
2. Wipe blade down with Marine Tuff-Cloth.
3. Let blade dry.
4. Buff off cloudy residue with a cloth.
5. Coat blade, handle, karda, chakma, and sheath with a thin layer of Renaissance Wax.
6. Buff waxed surfaces with cloth.
7. Put blade away until needed.

This treatment will preserve the finish and the sharp edge on a blade that is not in use for some time.

Using blades see frequent use around the house and in the field. They are handy tools but I don't devote a lot of attention to them. They get an initial wipe down with Marine Tuff-Cloth when I first get them. After use I wipe the crud off the blade with a scotch-brite pad, then wipe the blade dry and put it away. This treatment only requires a 20 second stop by the sink on my way into the house. The finish on these using blades quickly becomes a dull gray.

I occasionally treat the wood handles of the users to a rubdown with linseed oil. The horn handles receive rubdowns with lanolin or Hooflex occasionally. If I am going to put one of the users away for some time I may give the blade a protective coat of mineral oil or wax.

Hooflex is a hoof treatment available in feed stores. It is made of pine tar and lanolin. It smells good and shines the horn handles right up.
 

Blueing a Khukuri

I use Birchwood Casey products, because they are easy to obtain at my local Wal-mart.
The trick to "Cold Blueing" is to get whatever you're blueing warm to the touch.
The directions say room temperature, but steel always feels colder when first picked up.

You must get the steel scrupulously Clean!!
I wash it good with a dish detergent like Dawn using rubber gloves. Then I clean it further with rubbing alcohol. After cleaning it I always keep it on paper towels or anything that won't let even a speck of grease or oil on it.

Then I either heat the steel if it's small enough in a pan of water that is just showing the bubbles before it boils or run the hot water out of the tap until the steel is hot enough to evaporate the water when taken out from under it.

Then I follow the directions on the bottle and using cotton balls wipe the blueing chemical on. I do this until I think it is about the color I want before using the steel wool on it to bring out the color.
I am betting the Scotch Brite pads will work better than steel wool, because it doesn't shed.

When I get it the color I want I Gently wipe a Thin coat of oil on the piece and let it set for 24 hours. It takes that long to "set" up and harden.
I then buff it out with a soft cloth and if it needs more "Blue" I repeat the process. Yvsa

Tightening a buttcap
I just dealt with this problem on my Ang Khola. I felt the same concern you did, as the crack was very small. I mixed up some epoxy and picked it up with the end of a toothpick. Then I touched the epoxy to the crack, and drew it away, meanwhile guiding the thin string of epoxy over the crack. In this way I put a string of epoxy all around the handle. Jiggling the buttcap helped to get the epoxy farther into the crack. Finally I wiped off the excess epoxy with a rag, and let it set up.
The buttcap is now rock solid. Ive been out chopping kindling with it once since the repair, and it shows no sign of loosening.

Howard Wallace
 

Here's another method that's quicker but it doesn't work every time so you may have to end up using epoxy anyway. Hold the buttcap over a candle until the Himalayan epoxy starts to bubble at the seam of buttcap to handle. As soon as you see bubbles appear immerse the handle in cold water.

BILL MARTINO

Finishing a Wood Handle

Wood Handle Finish - Gunstock Style
The materials are all available at WalMart - no plug intended, just convenient:
Birchwood Casey Tru Oil
Armor All
Fine Needle File
#0000 Steel wool
Old, Soft Toothbrush
Round Toothpick
600 Grit (not any coarser) Silicon Carbide Sandpaper
BLADE WRAPPING!!!
One or Two Old T-Shirts

FIRST wrap the blade. You will be handling it across your lap, probably, and constantly turning it to work the handle. You may forget exactly where the edge is. It won't forget where you are.

Take the wax finish down to the wood with steel wool, sanding any rough spots, and then polishing them with the wool. When the surface is clean and smooth, apply the first coat of oil.

Apply the oil with your fingertip (if allergic to solvents, turp, etc., use a Q Tip, but watch out for lint coming off the cotton). Use the absolute least amount you can get on your fingertip, and spread it as far as possible on the wood surface. I usually dip mine out of the cap - a dip into the bottle attracts far too much, and begs for a spilled bottle. Before setting it up for the first coat to dry, rout out the grooves with a toothpick. They will contain dust from the final polishing which will detract from the final result. If there are places where the groove is uneven, or there are hard deposits of dust, clean/even them up with the needle file, trying to keep the sides and bottom even. Just make light clean-up passes with the file.

Set the blade aside and forget it for at least one day. If you are in a high humidity area, drying time between coats may be as much as three days as the finish builds.

When the first coat is dry, steel wool down to the wood (not really - just until the wood appears to be bare. I won't be. There will be a very fine layer of oil that has penetrated the surface, and mixed with what was left of the original wax. Oil it again, just the barest coat, spreading the least amount of oil over the most surface possible. Then, "spit shine" with just a drop of Armor All on one fingertip. This will smooth out the damp coat even farther, and penetrate, thoroughly bonding the two coats. Drying time is again at least one day, more if the humidity is high. The test is whether the surface is hard or tacky to a light touch. The rest is all repetition - Steel wool, oil, Armor All, Dry, Dry, on and on.

How many coats? four minimum for me. Depending on your patience and what you begin to see as the grain begins to come out and the surface deepens, you may begin to wonder just how much more another coat will reveal. I once put 70 coats on a Hogue grip, a piece of Pao Ferro that must have come from down in the root system somewhere. Finished, it showed Black, Gold, Tan Caramel and just a hint of Green that must have been a mineral somewhere in there. It also had a black, spidery thread that ran through all the rest. The Saatisal isn't that varied, but some of it is that dramatic. The level of satisfaction depends on your patience, but even four or five coats will drastically change the looks of your blade.
Walosi 06/01

Laha

The laha which I prefer to call Himalayan epoxy is collected from trees by what Pala called "jungle men". Pala and almost all shops and kamis buy the stuff commercially rather than trying to collect it themselves. It is basically tree gum. It is boiled and then poured into the desired places of the khukuri. The advantages it has are it sets up very quickly, allowing the kami to continue working on his khukuri without setting it aside for 24 hours to let the epoxy set up, and it is also quite strong.

KAMI SHERPA

Pala told me that some kamis mix some animal blood into the Himalayan epoxy.

Bill Martino

Hardness

You shouldn't make too much over the relative hardness of the edge. Bura usually has his edges at around Rc60 with a slight fade on either side of the belly, especially on the larger blades, to Rc58. Old GR's blades (from my experience of seeing only two of them) seem to run about Rc58 at B. to Rc56-57 at point and recurve. Does this make one blade better than the other?......No it does not. How the blade was forged, i.e. how often was the steel heated and how hot; how the smith beat it into shape (several techniques can and are employed here) and at what temperature it was hardened all play a more important roll here than a couple of Rockwell points on the edge.
Which brings up another point: Blade design. A blade with a thinner cross section in the area of the edge from the beginning of the bevel to the edge will be harder higher throughout up to the grind line. Real thick bevels may, in fact, have a much softer core with the outside of Rc61 and be Rc 56 in the middle. That's why when a blade or other tool that is heat treated in the manner of the Kamis reaches a certain point of wear from what ever source whether intentional (sharpening) or from use in an abrasive environment (like a snowplow blade) it seems to disappear at a faster rate. The harder outer shell is gone.
A higher hardness on a blade edge is a trade off (like almost everything else) While it will cut for longer periods without sharpening, it also takes longer to sharpen. A slightly softer edge wears faster and requires sharpening more often, but doesn't take as long.
Harder edges are more prone to chipping and softer blades tend to roll and dent. Harder edges and steel with the smoother finish resist rust better, but a softer blade cleans up easier.
Chicken or egg? It doesn't matter which came first. What matters is: Do you prefer eggnog or drumsticks?
Dan K.

Steel

When we run low on springs some kami will hop a bus to India -- always the cheapest bus which is full of chickens, goats, pigs, people, merchandise and about everything else imaginable. They have their favorite junk yards they visit and will pick up old junk leaf springs.
First choice -- Mercedes Benz
Second choice (almost never available) --Saab
third choice -- Japanese cars
When they accumulate enough springs for a hundred or maybe 150 khukuris it is back to the shop.
They almost always ride atop the bus, never inside. Against the law here but a common practice in Nepal and India.
BILL MARTINO 12/19/98


Here is our basic steel -- springs from a Mercedes heavy truck or bus. It will be heated and cut into appropriately sized billets for various khukuris.

The fellow holding the spring (which is so heavy I can't lift it) is Pradeep. He is assistant shop manager and a good one. He is being groomed to take Gelbu's place when I get Gelbu here to groom him to take my place.

Pradeep is a high school grad, rare in Nepal, about 26 years of age and a really nice boy. He is intelligent, dedicated and a hard worker. He is one of Gelbu's best friends and lives with Pala. We pay Pradeep 10,000 per month, about three times a school teacher's pay and give him free rent. I have high hopes for him.  BM 2/2000

Here is Prakash making three handles and bolsters for forumite John Powell. John has some old khukuris whose handles were in total disrepair due to age so sketched up three handles and asked us to make them. You can see the sketch in the pictures.

Prakash is about 30 and has 17 years experience. He is a journeyman of high capability but he tends to be somewhat unreliable -- women problems! Probably too many wives.

You see him putting the finishing touches on the handles. He has a special rig for making the bolsters -- block of wood into which he drives the spiked end of three different little form anvils. He cuts a strip of brass from a sheet, experience telling him just what dimensions it should be for the respective handle. Then he solders the strip into a circle and forms it into the desired bolster using hammer and the little anvils in the block. BM 2/2000

Replacing a handle

The traditional method of "gluing" on the handle is the use of what I call Himalayan epoxy. It is an awful concoction of tree gum, beeswax and I don't know what else. It is brought to boiling point (about 250 degrees F, I'd guess) and poured into bolster, handle, and buttcap. It sets up in seconds and looks almost like very dark varnish. This will soften enough at 212 degrees to make it sort of sticky -- you can pull the handle off if you work quickly after you've boiled it in water for ten minutes or so. If it has buttcap you'll have to remove this first. If this fails you can always chop it to pieces with a chisel.

For rehandling use some good grade US epoxy.  Size a block of wood a bit bigger than you'll need for handle. Drill your hole for the tang and fit the block to the knife. Then use a rasp or sander to fashion the handle. Your new handle should last for years.

BILL MARTINO

Repair of a defective tang

My cuz is a welder and a day-umed good one too as you an see.  He wound up welding the tang twice.  He is just like me when it comes to fixing things right.  We both have had to put up with that "hurry" thing the boss (?) likes to put out. We are of the same mind that if there isn't time to do it right the first time, then where is the time going to come from to do it over.

The tang & blade gave him some problems in the way the metal welded.  He said there were small puddles of what looked like glass that would 'blow out' when it became molten.  He said in all his years of welding with acetylene that he had never seen anything like this. We still have no idea of what caused it. We have wondered that perhaps some silica had somehow been introduced in this area.  It didn't show up under magnification, but you could tell this steel was very, very hard. Much harder in fact than what 5160 should ever be possible to get. In my experience it had the appearance of broken tool steel !!!  It would have been interesting to find out what the Rc was on it, but that wasn't possible.  I am just going to leave it as one of the mysteries of the Kamis.  The steel didn't show any areas of porosity under magnification and the crystallization was magnificent!!

After he welded it the first time he wasn't satisfied with it and ground it completely out.
Bear in mind this was all done in over 102* heat, in a shop where the fans were blowing air that was registering 114* on the thermometer.  He welded it again and then heated the whole tang up to 'cherry red' and a little more and stretched it just a tad. When it had cooled to where he could handle it, he started beating on it with a 5 Lb. hammer.  He move it back and forth a few times a little and was satisfied that it would be okay.

That would have been fine for most people, but when he got home in the cool he started looking at in under magnification.  There was a small crack where the ground dent is.  He told me to check it out and if I wasn't satisfied he would grind it out an do it again.  I checked it and it looked kind of like one of the fold lines that spook Uncle sometimes.  It spooked me and I decided to grind it out as there was ample material. I found that it turned back on itself and it was indeed gone.

I took a pair of heavy thick gloves and proceeded to chop some hardwood chunks like the one in the pick except they are well seasoned and the one shown, although still hard is starting to go a little soft.  Chopping sets up a whole different set of vibrations in the blade and my cuz and me both figured if there ws any doubt, that the chopping would find it.

It done fine. I beat that blade every which way imaginable. I also done the hammer pounding on it like my cuz did.  I was able to grasp the blade with the gloves I have and beat the tang like I was chopping with it on the hardwood.  I knew after all this that the blade and tang was sound and would last for 10 lifetimes.

The handle was a whole different scene!  For those of you that haven't had an opportunity to check out the Himalayan Epoxy, I can tell you that this is some tough stuff!!  I had read where Uncle had said that if boiling didn't release the tang from the handle in 10 minutes or so, to let him know and he would think of something else. Well it took considerably longer to get it out than 10 minutes.  I boiled that sucker and the grasping it with a good sturdy well made hot pad I would pull out some of the sticky stuff.  It didn't take long before it was solid again and it had to go back to the boiling.

When I had gotten enough of it out I was able to bump the tang I had filed off to below where it was peened over enough to get a hold on the other end with pliers an it came right out.  The handle had a small crack about 1 1/4" long up the bottom and there were a couple of small chunks of the horn missing.  While my cuz was doing the welding I cleaned up the butt cap and the small diamond shaped piece of brass and the bolster and buffed them with the buffing wheel I have on my bench grinder.

I wasn't quite certain of what to do with the small crack in the handle.  I finally wedged a tapered piece of metal about the size of the tang into it sideways, opening the crack up a little. I put regular Super Glue in it because I knew it would run into all the unseen places. I took the wedge out and squeezed it together with a small clamp, being the right kind of material it set almost instantly.  There was another smaller crack I fixed the same way.  When this was done I had to clean out the inside where the tang was going to fit. I used a wood chisel and assorted files to clean out the excess epoxy. I believe this stuff could be used as a casting material and then finished using wood tools.  It might be a whole new form of sculpturing.

I used the buffing wheel again to polish the horn. This is where it gets a little tricky, because any kind of horn can 'burn.' (I have done this with my Dremel to and it is easier to burn with it I believe, because of the speed and small area.)  Use plenty of compound and go quickly, taking short burst of touching the wheel and getting off of it. I have found the wood Micarta burning the same way. I imagine it would apply to all the Micarta and similar products.

When I had everything as close as possible to 'new' or better condition I put it in a plastic bag to keep the brass from tarnishing.  This also works on silver jewelry and is an   'Old Indin Trick' (,just tzn. ) we use to keep from polishing what silver jewelry we might have. One of my friends the Silversmith that still hasn't got my ring done told me about this.

When I got the blade all cleaned up, which was a chore in itself I thought what is the best way to proceed now to get this all back together?  The first thing was to make sure everything went together well and looked as it should.  Everything was in the same kind of condition as to when it was first put together and fit nicely.

Then I ran into a problem. I knew I had some time because I wasn't using the quick set Epoxy, but there was one helluva gap between the bolster and blade. You can see this one your Khukuri and it is filled with the original product.  I pondered on how to fix this to where the American Epoxy wouldn't run out that gap!!

Duct Tape!!! It fixes almost everything!!  I put some on one side of the bolster about 1/2 way up where there was about 1/4" tape below the bottom of it.  I then put it on the tang where it needed to go and pressed the tape to the blade and carefully wrapped it around the other side. This formed a very nice neat, even pocket that centered the bolster and anchored it to the blade. I carefully covered the whole bolster anchoring it even tighter!!  Then I covered the blade with tape knowing how I am around glue. It always goes everywhere I don't want it.

The next step was to cover the handle with the tape everyplace it wasn't going to be glued. I put a small piece over the top so I could pour the epoxy into the handle without it running out. The butt cap was done the same.  I mixed the American Epoxy and poured the bolster almost full knowing there would be some displacement. I filled the handle the same way and turned it over onto the tang. What a mess. There is no one quick enough to keep it from running. The tape on the top of the handle remember?

Okay !! That hurdle was crossed!!  I filled the butt cap and had a little problem with it too, because of the same thing.  I got the diamond on and there was enough epoxy to set it.  Then I centered everything and left it to cure for a while.

I watched it carefully and when it had set enough to be pretty solid, but with some softness to it, I took the tape off very carefully not to pull or move anything out of place.  This was the most nervous time I think.
The endeavor was successful and I trimmed the excess epoxy away from the bottom of the bolster and around the butt cap. The handle itself came out perfectly with no glue on it at all.  I cut and cleaned the excess off the blade too.  Then I left it to cure completely. Almost done!!

I cleaned all the small spots I had missed and polished the blade with Scotch Brite removing all traces of the work done.  I then put it on the Buffing wheel.

I cannot stress strongly enough the importance of watching what you are doing if you try polishing a blade like this on a power grinder!  Being as careful as I warn you to be I polished the Sirupati to perfection.
I probably does look a little better than new, because I wanted to do it up 'Proud.'  Having it apart I was able to clean and polish some places the Kamis would have a hard time getting to and I had some tools they don't.  It wasn't because I did anything better, that's for sure!!

This chuck of wood is 11" across where the knife is stuck in it. The weight of the blade is what sunk it in. I didn't use any added force. Beautiful sight to see. The spirit is still in it. My Cuz feels it too.

What happened to it?  Well, ya see my cuz and me is the 'Black Sheep' of the family and we are more like brothers than cuzins.  I saw that gleam in his eye while he was admiring it even before it was fixed and he said, "This ain't no ordinary knife. It has a spirit."

Well, what else could I do?  He did the important part of the job and I love him.  He is ecstatic to be the new possessor of this Khukuri.

Yvsa

The use of Solvents with Himalayan Epoxy (Laha)

My tip came off the scabbard of my Gelbu Special. This is no big deal usually. You just glue it back on and keep going.
I put some glue I have called Weldbond into the tip, pushed it back on and wiped the excess off.  Problem solved.
The next morning I got up and checked everything out. Tip is nice and solid.  I pull the G/S out and there is a brown spot on the tip.  It is Hard! I scrape it off and find some pitting.  I polished it out and put it back thinking that if it was hard then it must be dry.  It wasn't, even though there was nothing on the tip after repeated withdrawals.  I had the same problem the next morning.  I polished everything out again and left the blade out of the scabbard. I will leave it so for a week and then check it again.

I used some super glue to repair a loose bolster a while back and mentioned that it melted the laha.  It seems the Weldbond does too.  It is probably the actions of solvents on a natural product.
It makes me wonder how many other glues might affect the laha.

I do know the laha by itself isn't corrosive or it couldn't be used like it is to mount the handles on the Khukuris.  I just wanted to let everyone know so they wouldn't have this kind of problem.  Be careful using excess amounts of glue where there is laha.

Yvsa

Magic stones,

I finally found out from Kami what this magic stone process is all about and now it makes sense to me.
He brought some "magic stones" with him and it looks like granite mixed with some quartz and mica. It is collected on the higher slopes of the Himalayas.
The kamis wash the stone in water first. Then they pound it to dust. In years gone by the kamis would take a strip of leather or strong cloth such as canvas and put it in hot wax. Then they would run the strip through the pile of magic stone dust allowing it to collect generously on the leather-cloth strip. This could then be used in final edging and finishing. The guys were making their own form of emery cloth strop! They add some "white powder" (which they refer to as "cement" but I know it isn't) to the dust before applying the dust to their strop.
I can now see how this thing works and why they would use it...but the kamis insist that this ancient process has magic involved and improves the quality of the blade significantly. After examining some of the latest efforts from shop 2 I will not argue the point with them. They are doing something very, very right.
Interestingly, in shop 2 the kamis have figured out a way to use a bench grinder with a buffing wheel to take the place of the leather-cloth strip in the using of the magic stone.

BILL MARTINO

A kami's tools

During the forging process the basic tools of the master kami are small hammer and tongs only.
Adjustments to keep the blade straight and headed in the right direction are done by the master kami himself throughout the process and this is done by the small hammer. He will keep this hammer right at his side for easy access. When he determines that the blade is close enough to completion the big hammer is no longer used and he will bring the blade to as near completion as he can using his small hammer. Then he moves to various small hand tools and file to get the blade into final shape and ready to harden.
He will then harden the blade and check his success. He hits his mark most of the time and then grinds the edge and touches up the blade with grinder and file. He fits and sets bolster, handle, buttcap and if it is an HI khukuri off it goes for polishing and final finish.

BILL MARTINO 8/16/99

A traditional drill.

A traditional Grinding Wheel

Time required to make a khukuri prior to the introduction of power tools in shop two.

Since we make everything from a 9 inch to a 38 inch it's tough to generalize or average. Further, we have forgers who forge the blade and other people who make handles, still others who make bolsters and buttcaps and still more who make scabbards. Plus, we have to make the karda and chakma for each khukuri.
Let me answer like this. We have about a dozen people working very hard and long hours and they have a difficult time to produce more than two khukuris per day.

BILL MARTINO  1/29/99

Here are the three basic hammers of all kamis.

Big one is 5 KG
Medium one is 1.5 KG
Small is .5 KG

Most kamis will have a couple more of various size and weight, usually one small one for work on bolsters and buttcaps.  BM 2/2000

This photo was taken on the day of my "official" welcome by the kamis of BirGorkha -- thus the reason for the leis and large tika on my forehead.

I figured I'd get things started off on the right foot so I took to the forge and anvil right away. The kamis were shocked and amazed that I'd stoop so low as to do kami work. What I did started forming the bond I made with them -- making them my brothers. Caste, color, religion, nationality, fame, fortune mean nothing to Uncle Bill. It's what you've got inside that counts.

The anvil is a chunk of about 6 by 6 steel. It's been pounded on so much the top is mushroomed over. This is a common type anvil in Nepal. The knives against the wall are all Kumar's stuff -- long blades of some type. This is his forge and anvil I'm using.

At first there were the wide eyes, shocked looks, and some whispering among the kamis. Then they started to giggle -- probably because I was so poor at the job.
One of them said, "What kind of man is this American Bena? He can speak Nepali, acts like a Nepali and is not afraid to pound steel!"

I got a huge kick out of it. They were surprised to say the least.  But, they thought I would never make a good kami, brother though I might be.

These are the buffing wheels that we use at BirGorkha. They are handmade of old clothes that have been patched so many times they can't be patched anymore. Nothing is wasted in a country as poor as Nepal!  When Yangdu and I had an apartment in Nepal I'd sit the trash can out by the door in the AM. I'd go back in an hour and it would be empty. Papers, cans, even scraps of food would be gone. Nothing is wasted!
We have a heavy duty sewing machine but the Sarkis do not make these wheels. We buy them commercially. I really liked them.
We use both magic stone and commercial compounds.  BM 2/2000
 
 
 

An apprentice applies a glue to a buffing wheel and rolls it in the stone. In primitive shops they use the stone by applying it to a strap of leather or canvas, usually using hot beeswax to get the stone to stick.
BM 2/2000

top -- Ramu files a blade.

center -- Gosai polishes a blade.

bottom -- Uvaraj polishes a handle.

Apprentices generally do detail work such as this and swing the 5 KG hammer for their boss. These boys are learning quickly and as apprentices working at BirGorkha earn more than most master kamis do working in other shops.  BM 2/2000

Work at the new Bir Gorkha facility.

Top -- An apprentice watches Bura pounding hot steel and tries to learn something.

Center -- Kumar pounds hot steel.

Bottom -- Sgt. Karka grinding away.

Sanu makes an adjustment to keep the blade straight.

Sgt. Karka puts the finishing touches on a khukuri.
 

Water was the quenching medium for 2500 years or so. It was used in Nepal "since the beginning" and a kami's skill is largely passed down from one generation to the next. The hardening of the blade is really an art rather than a skill.

Bura was giving me a lesson in hardening a couple of years ago --"setting the pine" they call it. Pine = hardness.

Bura lectured as he did the work.

"Color is very important. See this color? The blade is not hot enough. See this color? The blade is too hot. See this color? It is just right. See the color at the tip? See the color at the cho? These all must be just right before you start to pour."

When the blade color was just right he began to pour from his pitcher.

"You cannot pour too fast and you cannot pour too slow. You must pour just the right amount at just the right speed. Watch the blade change color. You will see red, purple, green, in various shades and then black. If you do not see the color change seven times you have missed and must begin again. See it has changed three times already. There, again. And again. Again, and now it is black. It is finished and the blade pine is just where we want it to be. It is very hard here (pointing to the chopping area) and not as hard here and here (tip and bottom of blade). This knife is perfect."

I took a file to check the blade and Bura chuckled. "You are wasting your time."

And I was.

BM 5/02
 

Shop 2 - original location

Kami Sherpa, the boss, inspecting a khukuri outside the shop in the sunlight.
 


 

The famous high tech HI hair dryer driven forge.
 

Kami is inspecting a blade and neither he nor the kami look too happy. Rework?

Because I have lived in Nepal and know the signs I want to share these observations with you. Look at the kami. He is wearing jeans and is dressed fairly well. He is wearing shoes and a wristwatch. These are signs of wealth in Nepal and I am most happy to see this. It tells me this kami is getting enough pay to live moderately well -- most kamis go barefoot, wear ragged clothes and only dream of owning a watch.

Bill Martino

Here is how we polish the blade in shop 2 and to the best of my knowledge we are the only shop in Nepal to use this method. The khukuri is polished using a power grinder with buffing wheel. They start with some heavier grit compound on the buffing wheel and get the blade into condition for final finish. The kamis then change the buffing wheel and then they make use of the "magic" stone. The kamis pulverize the "magic" stone into fine dust, use some wax on the buffing wheel, run the wax across the magic stone. The wax, of course, picks up the hand crafted grit, and then the final finish.  Handle is also polished on buffing wheel using the same procedure.  BM

Copyright (c) 1999-2001  by Howard Wallace, all rights reserved.
This FAQ may not be included in commercial collections or compilations, or distributed for financial gain, without express written permission from the author.  This FAQ may be printed and distributed for personal non-commercial, non-profit usage, or as class material, as long as there is no charge, except to cover materials, and as long as this copyright notice is included.