The art of Making knives is a very rewarding hobby if you are a hands on kind of person. And one of the great things about this hobby is that you end up with something that is very functional when you are done making it.
And just like any other hobby there are a lot of different ways to go about making knives. For some ways you need a forge and anvil. This is where knife making would overlap with the hobby or craft of blacksmithing. (I have an introduction to blacksmithing here). But you can make knives without a forge and anvil. And you can make perfectly professional knives this way. In this introductory tutorial I will explain to you this method of knifemaking and show you the tools and materials needed. I also have two videos right on this page that you can watch. They show the complete knifemaking process. They are at the bottom of this page.
This picture shows a knife I made using the stock removal method. The picture also shows several pieces of wood to be used for knife handles. From left to right the handle woods are cocobolo, mahogany and burl wood.
The two major methods of knifeMaking
Knife Forging Method- When we think of making a knife this is how we most often think of it. As a blacksmith forming out a knife with a forge and anvil. This is of course a great way to make one but it can be time consuming and rather expensive. In this method the blacksmith takes a piece of steel and hammers out into the shape of a knife. It is brought to just about the finished shape then finished with a few tools like a grinder and sharpeners.
The Stock Removal Method - This method is much more basic and requires less of a financial commitment. Although it still take some time. What happens is that the knifemaker gets a piece of steel in the correct thickness and in a size larger than the knife desired. He then uses cutting and grinding tools to get the completed shape of the knife. You just remove all the excess stock until the only thing left is a knife. From there the steel is hardened and tempered then it is polished and sharpened.
Handles, Grips, and More
There is also an aspect to knifemaking that I particularly like. It is the aspect of handle design and making. In this aspect of the hobby you have a whole lot of choices and you can have a whole lot of fun. This aspect is pretty much independent of how you made the actual blade of the knife. So whether you smith it or stock remove it you can make any kind of handle you like.
A Quick overview of the process
(This process is for the stock removal method) The knife pictured at the top of this page was made using this proces.
- You draw out the exact pattern of the knife you want to make - to scale
- Transfer this pattern to a piece of steel
- Cut out the steel with a variety of tools including grinder, hacksaw, jewelers saw until the profile or outline of the knife is correct.
- You use files to get the bevel of the blade and do any detail and fine work
- Harden the blade with a heat source
- Temper the blade with a heat source to soften some parts of it
- Make your handle out of wood or other material
- Attach your handle and finish it by shaping and sanding
- Polish the blade and the handle
A look at the tools and materials needed
Materials - The most important thing is the steel you are going to use to make the actual knife. If you are doing the stock removal method you have limited options. If you were forging a knife you would be able to take just about anything that was steel and reshape it into a knife. Things like a railroad spike or an automobile leafspring would work well for this. Even an old file.
But, I recommend you get yourself an official piece of steel that is perfect for knifemaking. There are many different type of steel and they all have different characteristics usually dependant upon how much carbon is in it. But for our purposes I recommed you get a piece of 01 steel. It has excellent knife characteristics and it is reasonably easy to work with.
Here is a perfect piece on amazon.com It is tool steel that is 1/8 inch thick and 18 inches long so you could get either one very long knife or two nine inch knives out of this: Tool Steel O1 (Oil Hardening) Flat Stock, Ground, ASTM-A681-94, 1/8" Thick, 2" Width, 18" Length (This is the exact piece of steel I purchased to make the knife for this tutorial)
This kind of steel is available in lots of places. You can search for 01 tool steel. Just remember that it has to be large enough for your knife and the thickness is important. This one is 1/8 inch thick which makes for a nice sturdy knife.
Wood for the handle
You need a piece of wood or other material to make the handle. You can buy something called a knife scale which is a piece of wood sized and selected for knife making. Often times they already come cut into two pieces for each half of the handle. For this tutorial I used this here: Amboyna Burl Wood Knife Scale
You have some flexibility here and you can improvise a lot depending on what tools you have. But as a basic start you will need a hacksaw to cut out the major shape of the knife.
Hacksaw, mill file, bench grinder, wood rasp
Then you will need some kind of a way to get it finished to the correct shape. A hacksaw only cuts straight lines so you need some other kind of tool to get those curves. A bench grinder works perfect for this. But if you don't have a bench grinder you can use a good mill file. It will take a while though. So if you are using a hacksaw and mill file I recommend you do as much hacksawing as possible to make the filing easier You will also need a wood rasp to get the shape of your handle. .
The raw piece of steel is no good as a knife until you harden and temper it. Hardening means bringing the temperature of the blade up to about 1,500 degrees F. And tempering brings it up to between 450 and 600. You can achieve this heat with a small backyard forge like I have or you can just use a bernzomatic torch like plumbers use. You can buy these in any hardware store.
This is really something you should have but not absolutely necessary. You use a variety of grits ranging from 100 to 600 to clean and polish the blade. I used 100-600 at 100 grit intervals to polish the blade in this tutorial.
Some miscellaneous other stuff
Doing this kind of work does take a few different tools that you can scrounge up or improvise including clamps to hold things down, tongs or pliers to manipulate your blade while heating and tung oil to polish the handle. You also need some kind of rivet and glue to attach the handle to the blade. I used 1/4 inch wooden dowels. You can also use brass rivets.
How to make the knife
This is a quick overview with pictures of the process.
You draw out your knife on paper to the exact size and scale. Then glue it down to your piece of steel as shown. See how the steel is big enough to fit the whole knife? And notice how I have placed it along as many edges as possible. This minimizes the amount of cutting I have to do.
Now use whatever tools you have to cut out the knife. This is called profiling the blade.
I used a hacksaw to do the major cutting. But a hacksaw only cuts straight lines so I finished the profile with a bench grinder.
After that I moved on to using a mill file to get the profile just to where it is supposed to be.
This is what you end up with. The profile of your knife. You can also see that I drilled two holes so the handle could be attached.
Next you use the mill file to file in the bevel of the blade. This is the part of the blade that will be sharpened. And it is on both sides of the blade.
Now for the heating and tempering - You use some kind of a heat source to bring the temperature up to about 1,500 F. This is where it will glow red orange. How you know it is at the right temperature is with the magnet test. You frequently test it with a magnet. It will stick until it reaches the proper temperature. Once it no longer sticks you quickly dip the whole knife in a bucket of oil. This locks in the hardening.
Tempering - Once it has cooled to room temperature in the oil you clean off all the black scale that has formed and heat it again. This time only partially. You want to heat it so the back of the blade turns blue and the cutting edge turns wheat color. This tempers it to be softer along the back and hard along the cutting edge so it will retain its edge and sharpness. If you use a torch you can paint with the torch to get the colors right. If you use a fire like I have in the picture you place the knife near the heat with the back edge closest as shown.
Once you get the color temp correct you quench it again in the fire. It is hardened and tempered.
At this point you can go ahead and clamp that blade down and go through your emory paper grinds starting at 100 to get the finish you want on the blade. No need to emory the tang. It will be covered by the handle.
Now let's make and attach the handle. You use the tang of the knife as a template to rough cut your handle. And slice it in half if necessary so you have your two halves. But make this preliminary handle larger than needed. And peg it snugly to the knife. You will be unpegging it so don't make it a hard fit.
Now clamp that knife down and use a wood rasp to get the handle just about to it's final shape. You will of course often have to move the clamps and find different holding positions. Get it to almost its final shape.
Remove the pins, apply an epoxy glue to both handle halves and glue it down, repinning it. Once it dries you can then rasp and sand to get the final shape of the handle.
I used a 5 minute two part epoxy gorilla glue.
Now you can go ahead and apply multiple coats of tung oil or boiled linseed oil to polish up the handle. Sand lightly between coats and dryings.
Ok, sharpen your knife on a sharpening stone and you are done!
Knife Making Videos
This is a series of two videos that show the complete process of knifemaking from start to finish.
In part 1 of this tutorial I show you how to select steel, and how to do all the cutting, grinding and profiling. We get this knife ready for the hardening and tempering.
In this part of the knifemaking tutorial we complete the knife by hardening and tempering and making/attaching the handle then polishing and grinding.
Resources, Books and More
This is a series of two videos that show the complete process of knifemaking from start to finish.
Spanning the gap between pre-cut and 'art' knives with step-by-step illustrated instructions for unique and beautiful knives. Learn how to make projects, or designs of your own: Kitchen paring knife; Full-tang all-purpose knife; Partial-tang carving knife; Through-tang skinner; Wilderness knife; Forged camp knife; Kitchen chopper; One-blade pocket knife; Lockback folding knife; Damascus steel dagger.
-Reveals secrets to crafting durable knives without spending a lot of money -Speaks to a ready audience: BLADE Show -- largest custom cutlery show in the U.S. draws 10,000 people each year -Presents simple, expert instruction in full color photos
Knife-makers, veteran and novice, know and trust Wayne Goddard's techniques and teaching, and it shows in the level of craftsmanship featured at the nation's knife shows. The very book that changed the face of bladesmithing is revamped, with full color photo instructions and the tried-and-true format knife-makers will refer to for years to come.
-Tools needed to make knives, and outfitting a personal workshop without breaking the bank.
-Forging and heat-treating techniques, to help improve existing bladesmithing skills
-200+ color photos demonstrate basic knife making techniques
The easiest guide to making knives is Wayne Goddard's $50 Knife Shop, Revised.