Creating an Athame

If you can't buy a suitable piece of steel, use an old file or chisel and work with that. Whatever steel you have, it is going to be hard so your first job will be to soften it for working. Heat the steel till it is a dull red. If you have no other way of doing it, lay it on the burner of a gas or electric stove. You may have to leave it there, with the control turned full on, for several hours but it will eventually heat up to a dull red. Once it has reached that color, turn off the heat and let it cool down naturally. That's all there is to it. It will now be softened and easier to work.

Mark on the metal, with a pencil, the shape you want it to be (see Figure 3.1). With a powered band saw (if you have one), or a simple hacksaw, cut out the profile and file off any rough edges. Then start shaping the blade for sharpness. A grinding wheel would come in handy here, though you can work with rough and smooth files. The blade is going to be double-edged, so you are aiming for a diamond-shaped cross-section (see Figure 3.2). Finish off the blade with two grades of wet and dry paper.

Now your blade will need to be hardened and tempered. Heat it up again, this time until it is red hot. Then take hold of it with a pair of pliers and plunge it into a bowl of tepid water (not cold, or the blade will crack) or oil. Allow it to cool off then clean it with wet and dry paper.

Next, to temper it, reheat the blade to a dull red. Again plunge it, point downwards, into the tepid water or oil, moving it up and down in the liquid. Clean it with wet and dry paper, then heat it up again. Watch the blade carefully this time as it changes color. It will go to a bright, light, straw color, then to a medium straw color. Immediately plunge the blade into water and let it cool off (don't let it get past the straw color; it would go on to blue, then purple and green). Watch the point as that will change color first. At the first sign or "bluing" on the point, plunge the blade into the water. Note: The colors appear quickly. Keep the point the furthest from the heat.

Once the blade is cold take it outside and plunge it into the ground a couple of times. Now you have moved the blade through the Heated it with Plunged it into and Showed it to the air, fire, water, and earth.

For the handle, take two pieces of wood. Draw around the tang (the handle part of the blade) on each of the pieces of wood (see Figure 3.3 and 3.4). Then chisel out the marked sections, each one to half the thickness of the tang. When finished, the two pieces of wood should lay together perfectly with the tang inserted between them. When you are satisfied they fit well, slightly roughen the inside wood and then spread a good epoxy resin glue all over. Put the tang in place, press the two wooden handle halves together and clamp. When clamping, put on the pressure slowly so as to give a better "spread" to the glue. Leave clamped for at least three days.

When removed from the clamp, draw a profile of the handle you want on the wood and start cutting/carving it to shape.

Some traditions call for certain signs to be carved on the handle. Even if yours does not, you may wish to add some decoration. I would certainly recommend at least putting your Craft name or monogram on it. You might also like to etch something on the blade. This is not too difficult to do.

Marking in Metal

Melt some beeswax and cover the blade with it. Then cut into the wax with a sharp inscribing tool (a sharpened nail will do the trick), in the way you want the inscription to look. Make sure that you go right through the wax to expose the metal of the blade. Then pour on either sulfuric acid, iodine, or a similar etching agent. Leave for a few minutes then hold under running water. The acid will eat into the metal — "etching" it — where you have inscribed but the wax will protect the rest of the blade. After washing off the acid, clean off the wax and you have your etched knife. It would obviously be a good plan to practice first on some scrap metal of the same type as the blade, to judge the exact amount of time to leave the acid before flushing it away.

It is possible to purchase an "etching pen". This looks like a ballpoint pen but contains acid for marking. It will work on steel, brass, aluminum and copper and has replaceable cartridges. One such pen is manufactured by the Fowler company and should be obtainable from any hardware store.

An alternate to etching is to engrave the blade. This doesn't give as solid a marking as the acid etching but is nonetheless effective. Engraving is done just like writing with a pen or pencil, but you use an engraving tool instead. You can purchase one in a hobby store or, as mentioned, simply sharpen a nail to a fine point on a grindstone. A problem many people have in engraving is in having the tool slip and score the metal in the wrong place (it is necessary to bear down hard on the tool, to make an impression, so control is not too easy). One way to avoid this is to place a piece of transparent tape on the blade and mark guide lines on it first with a pen. Then simply follow the lines with the engraving tool — the tape will be no barrier and will stop the tool from slipping.

A motorized engraving tool, such as a Dremel®, does a very good job.

There are many who, for whatever reason, are not able to make a knife, as described. Don't worry; you can adapt an existing knife. The main point is that there should be something of you in the athame. So, get a knife with a double-edged blade (or get one with a single-edged blade and then grind and/or file the second edge to it), such as a hunting knife, and remove the handle. Handles are fitted in a variety of ways. Some screw on/off directly; some have a pommel at the end, that screws on/off; some are even riveted on. However you have to do it, remove the handle. Now replace it with one of your own making. To do this you can either follow the directions I gave above, for making a handle, or you can pattern it after the handle you have removed.

Again, if you wish you can carve the handle or etch the blade with your Craft name (in one of the magickal alphabets detailed later) or your Magickal Monogram. Some truly beautiful athames have been made and adapted. I have seen, for example, an eighteenth century short bayonet adapted to become a magnificent athame. I have also seen handles made from deer hooves. Start work on yours now.

In some traditions of the Craft (e.g. Gardnerian) the knife may only be used in the Circle, for ritual use. In other traditions (e.g. Scottish) the Witch is encouraged to use the tool as often as possible, the feeling being that the more it is used, the more mana (or "power") it will acquire.

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