Knife Making is a skill that many want but few possess. I will discuss how to make a knife. It is actually a quite simple process to make a knife, which is why many experienced makers would recommend that you start making them now with whatever tools you have and very basic knife designs. I am no experienced knife maker, but I would say that it is easy to get a book that will show you how to handmake a knife blade with “old fashioned” tools and follow that. We have an advantage these days with all of the available online content that can show us the basics.
I know of one guy that says that he recommends getting some reclaimed steel and some wood out of your own back yard in order to make the blade and handle. Now, I know that I said the process was simple, but that doesn’t mean easy. It is time intensive, so if cost is the reason you want to make knives, you may want to just buy one. Even if you get a high dollar name brand knife with a great reputation, it is still probably cheaper that making your own, if you add the cost and time cost together. So the only reason that anyone should want to make knives, would be that they want to know the process, or they have a fascination with the skill.
For most knives, the anatomy is similar. Each blade will have a tang, which is the portion that sticks into the handle. Each handle will have a pommel (at the butt end) and a guard that attach the blade to the handle on each end. The guard also keep your hand from slipping onto the blade. The handle is a component that many new people mess up on, because they make it too short. The Choil, Ricasso, Spine, and Fuller are all “non edge” components of the blade itself. The edge components may be the primary grind, belly, secondary bevel, and clip. I could describe these components in detail, but a photo would be much better.
Now for the basic process of making one. I got this from a forum post and thought it was extremely helpful:
“After discussing all the options, tools, skills, and time he would need to build a knife he decided on a simple skinning knife. Since we also figured out he was broke, and to keep cost low he went with reclaimed steel. Using only hand tools he was able to make a decent little skinner. The only item he needed help with was the hardening of the blade. He did all the rest himself on the cheap.
This got me thinking, I should post up a little something about very basic knife making. This is nothing too creepy or fancy, just cutting out and shaping a blade. I will recreate the process he used on his knife using only common hand tools and stuff that can be found in most garages. For the scales, that’s just a fancy name for handles, will be some wood from the yard. The material cost should be nothing. Just so you know why I say it’s cheaper to buy vs build, I will post a time total on this project. (time will be the total time spent)
First thing, find steel to reclaim. In this case… an old machete dug up when we were clearing cedar out back. (5m)
Next, figure out what shape you want the blade, use a marker and draw it on the metal then cut it out. Now put on heavy leather gloves. I used a cutoff wheel in a dermal tool… (55 min)
Shaping the blade. File work gets tedious and boring and that leads to mistakes. Mistakes with even a semi-shaped blade will require stiches, so wear thick leather gloves while being attentive. I have found the easiest way to shape a blade by hand is to mount it to the bench and file length ways. This keeps the bevel even and looks better when finished.(7h45m)
Sometimes you get lucky. The balance is going to be about perfect on this one.
After you have the shape you want and it looks right, it’s time to start the finishing. This is done by sanding it with 220grit until the finish is uniform, if you like the brushed look that is what most knifes have. I hope you still have your gloves on at this point. (11h5m)
If you like your blades super shinny you will need to polish progressively with 220 to 400 to 800 to 1500 to 2000 grit, bla bla bla its hard work, and if you are doing this by hand add about 30 hours to your job cost.
Alright, all we have left is to harden the steel, tempering the blade, and attaching scales. This will have to wait for a few weeks as I have been told that I need to paint the house and build a cabinet before I “play with my toys.” Not only that the FD gets uppity when I fire up the forge while we are under a burn ban.
To harden steel after working it you will need to make a few tools.
You will need tongs. I welded a junk set of pliers to 2′ long pipes.
Next you need a magnet on a stick. Well I use a magnet wired on a piece of rebar. The stick part is just a saying, I am sure a stick would not last long.
Last is a forge. A ground forge is basically a hole in the ground. I usual dig it about a 1’X1’X1′. In this hole you have a 2″ pipe that has been capped, with lots of 1/8″ holes drilled in it. The pipe extends out of the hole several feet. You then burn fuel (coal or wood)in the hole on top of the pipe. When the fire is going good you force air into the pipe, I have used an old hair drier, a lief blower, a shop vac on blow not suck, the hair drier did not have enough volume to work well. The air will need lots of adjustment, too little and your fire will not get hot enough, too much and poof your fuel gets shot into the sky. We want to keep the fire in the hole.
Take your blade in stick it on the fire, adjust your airflow until the coals are glowing. As the blade gets hot, it will start to turn red. At this point test to see if the magnet is still attracted to the metal (all checking is at the edge of the blade). If the magnet sticks heat it more. Keep testing often, AS SOON AS the magnet does not stick quench the blade ( I use used motor oil, watch out as it will burst into flames sometimes ) Do this by holding the tang with the tongs and slowly lowering the cutting edge into the quench. I will let the edge sizzle and smoke for a few seconds before slowly lowering the rest of the blade. I try and keep the tang out of the quench. Wipe off the blade and heat and quench again.
Now you want to scrub the blade clean, as you will be baking it in the family oven and the smell of burning used motor oil will really mess up your day. Bake the blade for 2 hrs at 425 let it air cool. Now your are ready for finish sanding, polish, and scales.”
Now, I wonder, since in the medieval days, they didn’t have shop vacs or leaf blowers, if a modern day rocket stove may be able to do the trick that a forge and bellows used to do… Hmmmm.
I hope this got your gears turning guys. I think that many people could figure out how to make usable “work knives” with this information. Thanks for reading!
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