My interest for knives drove me to attempt the crazy and get geared up with tools and materials to try my hand at building a few knives.
Before starting I did the usual research, read books, and browsed the discussions out there on the subject matter. I had a lot of help from Last Resort Blades … I believe I wore the guy out with my 100 questions a day. Jason was a good sport and guided me thru the trial by fire that were and still are my first knives.
Steve Johnson of Johnson Adventure Blades was also a big help! The man is an engineer when it comes to just about everything knives! Constantly reminding me to not over think it!
I believe it important to give credit were credit is due. I am just getting off the ground but I wouldn’t be were I am with out the help of the two mentioned above.
So I headed out to buy me some equipment. Going after the stock removal technique ” figured it would be the most DIY friendly ” I listed my needs in order of what I thought important.
- Grinder – You can not remove with out a remover. I dug deep here. A professional grade grinder can be thousands of dollars. The last thing in wanted to do was go there and find out this wasn’t for me. I looked at all options. After all this was number one on the list.
- What I learned . Grinders are a big electric motor with attachments . These motors can be single , double phase. Double phase means they can vary current and thus speed.
- Precision– The upper end professional grade grinders are built to high tolerances. They are high and tight and it will show in the work . Symmetry in plunge lines, bevels, and handles are a mark of pride amongst the top knife makers. You really do get what you pay for in this area.
- I settled for a Grizzly. Reason for that was the $699 price point and the fact that I noticed a lot of them sitting in back corners of knife makers shops on YouTube videos. Its not a bad starter grinder at all. No attachments that I know of and tracking is terrible out of the box but with a little tuning she does okay. I would recommend grinding the graphite off the platen. It wears uneven and causes waves to form in your bevels. A lot of guys weld some harden tool steel to the platen to make a better one. I have not gone down that road yet. The steel is too valuable to me right now . One could argue that logic.
- Grinder Attachments – the more the better. You do not have to have all the bells and whistles to make a knife but the more intricate knives need the different drive wheels and fun stuff to achieve those angles and radiuses. Don’t fear for every attachment you do not have there is a hand tool to get you by.
- Drill Press – I almost believe you have to have one. Especially after my first couple knives. If those holes don’t line up its a bad time getting everything on the knife. The good news is a drill press doesn’t have to be expensive. I bought a mini-drill press for 75 bucks. She is bare bones but gets the work done. I’ve actually found the rudimentary of the drill press an advantage at times.
- Eyes– at the minimum wear safety glasses but a grinding shield is ideal in my opinion. it also helps blow the dust around your respirator .. speaking of that.
- Respirator – metal dust and handle material dust are no joke. Some exotic woods can even be toxic. Protect your lungs. Some guys use the little cloth masks but I do not feel that is enough. Take it from a guy who’s wife treats cancer for a living.. don’t take chances with your lungs.
- Files– Also a must have. If you had the time to burn even a bevel could be scratched in with a file. A chainsaw file works great for radius and tight spots. A set of files , different shapes and sizes only cost $15.00 or more depending on how precise you want to get. I started doing file work to the spines of my blades. I’ve had a lot of fun with trying new patterns. I screwed some things up but its all part of learning I suppose.
- Abrasives – belts and sheets it is part of it and a costly one too. Get used to it, you are going to burn thru abrasives at a consistent pace. I started with 60,120,240 grit belts. I might have jumped down one more to a 30 looking back but I did okay starting my blades with 60. Sheets I went all the way up to 1000 for finishing handles. I go with the inexpensive aluminum oxide belts. They do not last as long but I can get a lot of them for a handful of bucks.
- Forge– This one could be argued. The reason I list it ” for stock removal ” is I like the challenge of heat treating my knives. There are professional out there that will heat treat your knives and get the most out of them. So its not a must and really in the short term, you are better off. Me, I like the punishment of a warped blade from time to time. I’m getting better. Every knife I learn something new. Ultimately you want to get a heat treating oven with a digital control. Its the crockpot of the knife world set it and forget it! The forge will never be as consistent but way more fun!
- * if you decide to heat treat your own blade it might be a good idea to find someone who has or buy a Rockwell tester. The file test are better than nothing but not as definitive as a Rockwell tester. I did end up buying a used one. Lucky for me it works. I tested it on a known RC from a production blade. “thanks for the idea Jason! ” but buying a calibrated piece of equipment like that is always a gamble.
- * thermocouple — knowing your temp in knife making is always good. I picked one up for $60.00.
- Clamps – buy one after another . You can never have too many. #thehardway
- Epoxy– Liquid glass , Devcon… and on and on. Everyone has their favorite. I used what had high reviews on Amazon. The Devcon is a two part Epoxy as most are, has worked well for me. I’m sure there is better out there but for right now I keep my variables to a minimum. It works, and when I get a few things mastered I will do some experimenting .
- Steel – the 10X steels are great starters, but I highly recommend O1 for anyone starting out. O1 is easy to heat treat and fun to grind in my opinion. Its performance is exceptional for what it is and holds an impressive edge in my opinion. If you are going to send your knives off to heat treat, then I wouldn’t much worry about what steel you are going to use but do consider what the knives intended use is and do your homework. There isn’t one steel that can do it all from all the makers I’ve talked with. I’m sticking with O1 right now. As I mentioned , until I master a few things , keeping variables to a minimum helps keep frustration levels down. I learned this on a square of D2..
- Handle material– again, purpose should a considered first. There are all kinds of materials out there but one thing I would stress is start out with the least expensive woods and work your way up. Unless you are an experienced wood worker then a few scales will end up in the trash. Don’t go out and buy mammoth tooth and drill a bad hole.
- Pin material – Brass, Copper, Mosaic and all sizes. I started out using the small stuff but learned quickly the larger pin stock has its advantages. Mosaic pins always bring up your knife a notch or two but like anything can be over done on some knives. Do what makes sense , a tactical knife doesn’t like panties.. it wants combat boots.
- Liner material. Not necessary but I find a nice touch and helps bond wood to metal by having a fibrous medium between the two. Liners also help with uneven handle material or cupped metal on the handle. Both should be removed with a little sand paper and elbow grease but that does not always happen. I went with a multi pack of colored sheets but next round I will order the colors I want individually. I bought colors in the multi-pack that just flat out suck and I will not use.
The number one resource I cannot stress enough is finding someone with a little experience making knives of blacksmithing. I know I mentioned it early on in this post but seriously, its a time and money saver. If you do not find or know anyone get on the forums or even take a class. They are not cheap but consider reinventing the wheel is going to cost you twice as much time and money as paying for the class. Unless your a natural .. then why are you reading this anyways you lucky bastard you!
Day 2) ” this if figurative if you have not picked up on that yet”
Be ready to fail forward!
So I was all excited , my equipment started coming in and the world was good. I will give myself credit for listening to the pros on all the YouTube videos and started with a very simple design.
My fist observation was new belts blow a lot of abrasive into your face. Second observation… the pros make plunge lines look easy. Its actually not easy , not at all. There is also no trick to doing it , you just have to practice. The grinder comes into play here too. My grinder isn’t a precision machine so I have to learn its limits and capabilities.
I have yet to do a laser straight plunge line . Very close but not perfect. That is okay because I realized I can make that up with a file and some sandpaper. Still not as good as the pros but some day dammit! I am committed to learning to grind my blades by hand but I judge nobody who choses to do bevels with a jig.
I mean, it is really kick ass if an artist can draw a straight line free hand but who turns their nose up at a guy who throws a rule down and draws a perfectly straight line with ease?
All that said I actually did well with grinding profiles and bevels. I have always liked working with metal and found it fun. I have yet to make one perfect but have received some compliments, even accused of buying blanks and putting handles on. Pissed me off at the time but thinking back on it, what a compliment. Just one way you can turn an A$$ hole into a hero. ha haa. Do not get me wrong, I’ve a long ways to go to be where I want to but one day at a time!
Handles and Scales !
This is where the struggle gets real for me. I probably have set a record for most scales thrown in the trash by a rookie. I still struggle with them. I know a lot of guys that think this is the easy part , but for me … not so much.
Really the struggle is what keeps me going and a lot of the fun for me. I could care less how good or how fast others learned the craft. I’m on my own journey and having a blast doing it.
Just when I thought I had the handle thing licked I was humbled once more. I drilled my pins too close to the edge of the blade and so in sanding my scales to profile , exposed the pins to the world. Dohh !
No big deal, it wasn’t the end of the world, the blade and handle were still good and structurally sound. I did not expose all the pin just more than I wanted. Really, I might use this down the road as something different on a knife in a more exaggerated and intentional manner. My point is , look for the upsides on your mistakes.
For the Love of YouTube
In all the hours of video I watched the rule of ego still stands. Some need fed , others feed. Making a knife is an intimidating process but once you get the hang of it, it is not that bad. I have noticed that the Knife community has a lot of guys more than willing to help a rookie out. This is more the norm than the exception.
There are also those that want to make knife making sound so complicated that you or I in, our limited capacity, could never achieve such levels of skill. This level of douchebaggery is exceptional and self-serving. Keep scrolling thru until you find a video with a guy who’s goal is to teach and not preach.
I swam thru the endless sea of advice and used what would work best for me. For example heat treating- there are all kinds or recipes out there for heat treating O1 . So I created a spreadsheet and found all the commonalties. That would be my starting point. Over the next several blades I refined my recipe based on my equipment and observations. I’m still experimenting with the end goal being to be as consistent as I can be given the variables I can control with a gas forge and some quench oil. Sure, a digitally controlled heat treat oven would get me there quick but what’s the fun in that? That and I’ve spent enough on the first round of tool best let my pocket book heal.
My first blade.. didn’t harden.
I thought it did but comparing it to my last blade, is far from where my blades are now. I would much rather prove myself wrong because I know that improvements have been made and the process is going down the right path. I call this an easy win and you need those to keep the train going. It was easy because only small adjustments were needed to drastically improve the hardness of the metal. The hardness tester proves or disproves my progress. I was very lucky to find one as inexpensive as I did.
I did run into warping issues. I first observed my little gas forge was tight and thus creating hot spots on the blades. Without even heat I learned the metal would deform in the area of the excessive heat. So I pushed the blades further into the forge past the burner. This heated the blades more evenly and faster.
Still , I was getting some warping. Not as bad as previous but enough to cause problems. I started heating my blades up to color change and letting them cool off 3X , the last time I didn’t let the blade cool completely and started the knife on the way to critical temp. Results were better but not perfect. In talking with a friend , he mentioned making sure I put the blade in the oil- tip straight down. Any angle other than straight down could cause problems. So the last blade took the plunge nose first and bingo.. straight blade.
I probably could have attended a workshop or two and saved myself some heartache. However, I feel like in the end, it was a greater accomplishment and I know why the knife will do what it does because I have seen it first hand! Sure there are probably better ways to build a knife than what I’ve shared. Eventually I will discover those techniques or maybe even find a better way.
Damascus Kitchen Knife
The start of the previouse knfie
O1 Kitchen Knife
Second Knife- 10″ blade made from a twisted damascus pattern
Japanese style knife made for slicing big cuts of meat. I sent to my brother so hopefully he test it out soon.
I hunt so this knife was made to take meat off the bone or a de-boning knife as its called in the field. The sweep in the blade helps catch tissue and cut connective tissue. I think it looks too much like a steak knife so i will have to make some revisions on the next one
This is where the pins were placed too close to the edge of the scales. Expsoing the sides of the tops of the pin.
First try with D2 profile looked good
Handles warped decided to break it just to see what the crystal formation . Per gusy that know better it was a hot spot in the handle that created the warp.
Hunter in the works
So to put this post to bed I want to discuss knife making as I see it. For one, yes you can make a knife from files , saws, and sandpaper. We have all watched the videos. Its possible, but not practical. The truth of the matter is if you are serious and want to make a knife faster than one a month , then expect to spend a couple grand on mid-tier equipment. The next thing is , its going to take a lot of time and practice to make great knives. its all muscle memory, experience, and skill. You cannot pay for any of those three. You will have to become a student of the craft.
You have to be okay with never knowing it all. I have talked with a lot of guys who say every blade offers something in the form of experience.
Make what you like. If you are a hunter and love hunting knives , make hunting knives. Every knife will take a good number of hours from start to finish. You might as well be enjoying the knife you are making. If not I believe the hobby becomes a job and will show in your work.
These are just my observations of my limited experience making knives. Nothing I say here is the bible. If you know better let me know on anything in this post. If you have anything to add, every suggestion is welcome!