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Curved Amputation knife

Posted: Wed Jun 25, 2014 10:01 pm
by Phoenix Rising
Been looking for a curved amputation knife, as it seems that this kind of knife was used for this task as it could go right round the limb in question. However, having browsed a wide selection of vendors, can't find anything like it.

Anyone know of any vendor selling these at all?

Re: Curved Amputation knife

Posted: Wed Jun 25, 2014 10:28 pm
by Will.S
Can't help on buying I'm afraid, but something like that would be very easy to make yourself. Nice wide sheet of metal cut to shape with a hacksaw then filed/ground down with a fine metal file (can get those for a couple of quid at most hardware/discount shops) to bevel the edges. The handle part of the blade (tang area) cut to a nice long strip and a wooden grip simply glued to each side then sanded/rasped to shape. May not need to peen something like that as it won't need to withstand much force but you could cold peen it (whack it down over the base of the wooden grip with a ball peen hammer to secure) anyway for authenticitys sake.

Would make a cracking first project, and may lead to more advanced stuff. You'd also of course benefit from having a totally unique piece.

I've probably made it sound more time consuming or difficult than it really is to be honest, but it could be a bit daunting if you've not done something like it before. I'm sure somebody will offer some info on buying one soon (always better to make your own stuff though ;) )

Good luck either way!

Re: Curved Amputation knife

Posted: Sat Jun 28, 2014 10:19 pm
by Phoenix Rising
Ta for that Will - might give it a try and see what I can make myself :)

Re: Curved Amputation knife

Posted: Sun Jun 29, 2014 8:50 am
by Scipios
Have you tried Anvil Art?

Re: Curved Amputation knife

Posted: Sun Jul 06, 2014 11:15 pm
by Phoenix Rising
No, haven't heard of them. I'll take a look - Cheers Scipio! :)

Re: Curved Amputation knife

Posted: Mon Jul 07, 2014 2:03 pm
by JG Elmslie
I had a customer asking about things like that recently, and was doing some research into the subject. Getting accurate reference material for the earlier dates is remarkably tricky, it must be said. Some of the examples are very curved, some are much closer to being straight, however.

Also such a tool would only have been used in conjunction with a bone saw, as depicted in this slightly later (16th C) woodcut:


I also would note that Will.S' suggestion for making one rather lacks a number of very significant essential elements - namely:
first, getting the right sort of steel and thickness (3-4mm carbon steel plate - sheet will not do, and the sort of mild steel you can buy from ebay or most stockholders will not do the job, as its is soft and does not have any spring properties - meaning it will not hold an edge, and if bent it will stay bent. Such steels cant be used as they cannot be heat-treated, you need something like 1070/CS70 spec steels which would do the job, and come in suitable plate for stock removal. O1 or EN42 would do it better, and could be forgeworked to shape.

Second, the actual shaping work would need to get a consistent bevel on the shape, (for which a file on a concave edge is going to be an absolute nightmare without a lot of experience) so its going to need to be linished and cleaned up.

Third, and the most important stage would be the heat-treatment of the steel to harden the blade by heating past its austentic point, (ie, glowing orange-yellow hot) and quenching ( most likely into oil for most of those carbon steels, a water quench would be likely to crack the steel.) and then tempering to make it less brittle. And of course, after which all the finishing work to polish it and surface the steel would need to be done to clean up and turn it from some ugly "muddyevil" bit of blackened metal into a nicely finished blade that looks accurate.

Edit: if you are DIY-ing it, and the idea of delving into the black art of metallurgical heat-treatment and forges leaves you rather daunted, you can get pre-hardened CS80carbon steel plate in 3mm or 4mm thicknesses from Steve Sawford at BSS Steelstrip for about £70 for a sheet 90cm x 30cm in size. That's easily enough for 2-3 such knives with plenty left over for smaller tools. But be warned, file-working that sort of metal in its hardened state is likely to be an absolute nightmare. I would struggle with doing that, and I have a £1000+ industrial linisher that's built for making steel blades. With just a file, it would likely prove impossible - the file will mostly skitter off that and not bite. you would need power tools like a grinder, dremels, and the likes to shape it.)

Lastly, there is the fact that for any knives between 1000 and 1375-1400, it would certainly not be made with two pieces of wood on either side of the tang, (a scale tang construction), but would in fact be a whittle tang construction, of one single piece with a slot into which the tang of the blade was attached. No examples of scale grips exist prior to about 1375.

If you'll excuse a website of my work, these knives should give an example of what handles would've looked like:

the top two knives in that pic, with wooden scales are distinctive of the 15th century - cherry and holly scales pinned in place using brass/latten or bronze pins respectively, and with small bolster plates soldered onto the blade that the plates line up with. The bottom two knives are earlier, 13th and 14th century fashion, and consist of boxwood (which is what most scale grips would've been made from too - particular in England.) and from horn and holly on the bottom one. As you can see, unlike the top two knives, the tang of the handle isnt exposed, but has material all around it, and it is driven into the handle (which is pre-drilled and then shaped to fit) and secured with cutler's resin.

Hopefully that'll give you some pointers in what is needed for making such equipment. If you'd like more advice, or if you'd like to talk about such an item being made properly, I'd be happy to chat about it.

Re: Curved Amputation knife

Posted: Tue Aug 12, 2014 11:30 pm
by Phoenix Rising
Thanks JG - only just seen you're post so apologies for not replying sooner - think I'll give the DIY route a miss, as I don't have the time really at the moment (nor the skills, I think), but thanks for all the info you've given, really good stuff and very informative - shall be reading over and inwardly digesting! Many thanks! :)

Re: Curved Amputation knife

Posted: Wed Aug 13, 2014 10:23 am
by Will.S
Pffft!!! I wasn't expecting him to make one to be used. I didn't think he'd be doing any actual surgical work with it, so I made it super simple for a quick n'easy display piece!

My point was it's always better to have a go first, if anything to become autodidactic, rather than just buying everything and never understanding how things are made, or how they work.

I was trying to avoid it being offputting and overly daunting (which I'm afraid to say your post was) so that Phoenix would want to give it a try. If you've got a certain skillset, and somebody shows an interest the worst thing you can do is make it sound impossibly difficult. Hand-craft skills are disappearing I think, so the more people inspired the better.

If somebody came up to me and asked how to make a warbow from a piece of yew, I wouldn't rattle off a list of reasons why it's difficult. I wouldn't tell them about laying the bow out across different types of grain, how to negotiate pin knots that might not need to be worked around, how to identify the changing colours of the heartwood to identify potential hidden flaws, how to tiller without relying on a long string, how to perfectly pike the tips to match medieval examples of horn nocks, how to keep within a certain ratio of heartwood to sapwood or width to depth etc. I'd give them a stave, some tools and some basic dimensions and tell them to have a go. It'll probably go wrong the first few times, or the bow would come out too weak, or badly tillered but at least they've made the first vital step to trying it themselves, while learning every time they do something why they're doing it, or why they should have done something else.

Otherwise they'd never want to have a go because their head would be full of why it might go wrong, or why they're not good enough, or don't have the necessary skills.

I think as a "maker" our job is to guide those who don't make things into trying. At least then they can decide if it's too much for themselves, rather than being told from the start that it's "best left for the experts." Your post wasn't quite that bad, but it gave the impression that to achieve any result Phoenix would need to know a huge amount of metal working techniques just to get close. I don't think that's the case - unless the goal was to have (on his very first attempt) a perfectly usable, safe amputation knife that he could walk into an operating theatre with and perform surgery.

Anyway, g'luck Phoenix, hope you find one.

Re: Curved Amputation knife

Posted: Sat Sep 20, 2014 2:16 pm
by RheinJie
Made from steel with an ebony handle, this surgical knife was used for amputations. Its curved shape was typical of amputation knives of the period, when surgeons tended to make a circular cut through the skin and muscle around the bone before that was then cut with a saw.