Introduction: Creating a Bush Knife With Layered Wood Handle

Picture of Creating a Bush Knife With Layered Wood Handle

This documents the process of creating a 'bush knife' from scrap steel and wood, to the finished product. The aim was to produce a useful tool for one of my favourite pass-times, wild camping. It was designed to meet the following criteria:

Be light enough to be carried as part of my regular kit, replacing my heavy hand axe.

Be sturdy enough to take a bit of abuse, using it to split small logs, function as an improvised hammer etc

Be something that looks like I can be reasonably proud of making it.

Fit my hand perfectly, I don't like blisters.

Have a tip delicate enough to do a bit of wood carving

Hold a sharp edge

I deplore the prospect of knives as weapons, if you have any comments along those lines, please keep them to yourself, I don't want to know.

Asides from that, I'd love to know your thoughts. This is my first attempt at such a project and I have likely missed a few vital steps.

Step 1: Materials and Tools

Picture of Materials and Tools

Steel, at least 3mm thick.
Wood, a couple of different kinds, I used pine and redwood
Threaded rod and nut, for fixing the handle in place

You can probably get away with less powertools than I used, so I'll list them in order of importance

MIG welder
Pillar Drill
Disk sander

Wood Glue
Anti-rust primer
Polishing wax
Cloths and rags

Step 2: The Blade

Picture of The Blade

This is going to be a through tang/stick tang knife, so the same steel that forms the blade runs through the handle.

Mark out the shape of the blade, leaving at least a 2cm wide handle.

Start cutting. If you are using a hacksaw then you have my sympathy...It's worth a new bandsaw blade to save all that effort. And most bandsaws are capable of cutting metal of this thickness, just take it slowly.

If your metal had a coating, grind it off, we'll be heating and welding later and bare metal is preferable.

Step 3: Metal Work

Picture of Metal Work

Now you have a knife shaped piece of shiney metal, it's time to give it a edge. Not sharp, but taking off the square edge while it's still unpolished.

I used an angle grinder for this step, very carefully and lightly brushing over the edge until it was at the right kind of angle. Then turning it over and doing the same on the other side.

The masking tape was intended to act as a visual guide, but didn't really help much.

Do this until you are happy with the shape and blade angles, then temper the metal with the method of your choice.

I opted for the quick and dirty method of heating and quenching a few times. With no forge to hand, I used a blowtorch to heat the metal before dropping it into a bucket of water. My intention was to focus the heat on cutting edge of the knife, there seems little point in making the whole knife harder and more brittle. Some flexibility will add to the durability and strength.

Step 4: Welding and Polishing

Picture of Welding and Polishing

This seems like a good point to practise my MIG welding skills, as you are about to see, they need a little more work.

The hilt needs to be welded in place, if you have a perfect fit, then only weld from 'below'. But if, like me, the slot is a little larger than the tang, weld all around and grind down the excess metal afterwards.

At this point I had the idea of using a threaded rod and a nut to hold the handle in place, so I cut a slot from the end of the tang, and welded a length of threaded rod (a.k.a, bolt with head chopped off) in place.

While the handle is still bare metal, you may want to clamp it in a vice and start the long process of filing/sanding/polishing the balde. Just work through the grades of (glass) sand paper, finishing with a wet fine grain texture.
I spent a few hours doing this, but didn't get anywhere near a perfect finish. In the end I decided that it was a working knife, not a display piece, so a mirror finish wasn't necessary.

Step 5: The Handle

Picture of The Handle

I saw this technique years ago on a documentary, the craftsman was using slices of bone and antler as well as wood, but those aren't easily available to me. I chose to use hardwood, (I think it's some kind of redwood) seperated by strips of white pine.

Again the pillar drill comes in useful for cutting the slots in the wood...To do the pine strips I taped them all together and drilled the whole lot at once.
The hardwood chunks were done individually, but using the same method of drilling five parallel holes and then knocking through to form a slit. A larger drill bit was used to widen the slot to allow it to pass over the threaded rod.

The process from here should be fairly obvious, slip each layer onto the handle, smear with glue and repeat.

I'd reccomend the top and bottom pieces being of the harder wood, as these will take the most wear and tear.

Tighten it all up, then leave it 24 hours to set.

Step 6: Finishing the Handle

Picture of Finishing the Handle

Basically start cutting lengthways down the handle, work it into a basic handle shape. I used the bandsaw for this, but it's not particually safe to do so...fingers in vunerable places.

Work it down with a file or rasp until it fits comfortably into your hand.

I made the butt slightly crooked, and added some subtle grooves for my fingers and thumb. This is for my use, so it may as well fit my hand perfectly.

Once you're happy with the shape, start sanding. Try a long thin strip of sandpaper, pulling it back and forth around the handle to smooth out the curves. An occasional wipe down with a damp cloth helps reveal which areas still need work.

To strengthen the butt, I added a steel plate, made slightly smaller than the wood, which was then sanded down to fit the metal. Smear some rust protecting substance (wax?) under the metal before tightening it up for the last time.

Once you're happy then apply some polishing wax or oil to seal the wood and bring out the colours.

Step 7: Finished, Future Improvements.

Picture of Finished, Future Improvements.

I could keep on polishing and sanding for hours, but at this point it looks reasonable enough for photographs.
It's not yet sharpened, but several other instructablesseveral other instructables cover that in detail already.

Future Improvements

A sheath, preferably real leather, with a strong belt loop.

Initials, when I find the metal letter stamps, I'll stamp my initals on the base of the blade.

Tempering, I suspect it could be done better...Maybe a forge is a good investment

Better wood, the pine will eventually wear down, leaving grooves in the handle.

Final point
In the UK it is illegal to carry a fixed blade knife in most, if not all, public places. Check with your local law enforcement. I usually keep all such items stowed away in bags until I'm actually out in the countryside and away from roads.

I was unsure about publishing this, but there seem to be several other 'make a knife' instructables already. Please, be sensible.


mlocke (author)2014-07-03

My handle is oak with brass, aluminum, leather and copper giving it a striped pattern.

smurfsahoy (author)2008-10-04

Redwood is not a hard wood. It shouldn't really matter when making a knife handle, I guess, but just saying.

ameyer10 (author)smurfsahoy2012-06-14

You should not choose a wood based on whether or not it's labeled as a hardwood. I say this because hardwood describes the tree, not the strength of the wood. Balsa wood, which is about as strong as a cracker, is classified as a hardwood because of the leaves on the tree it comes from. Does Balsa sound like a good idea for a knife handle?

shadow wave rider (author)2011-06-20

how long is the blade

Belzebebpr (author)2009-09-20

Looks GREAT, I don't have ANY of the tools needed, but would love to try this. And the colors of the wood look great once treated. I really look forward to trying this. Keep it up.

spylock (author)Belzebebpr2010-01-06

I made my first blade with a hacksaw ,a file,a drill,useing the blade from an edger,it dont take a whole lot,just the desire,give it a shot,youll be better for it.

sculptur (author)spylock2011-01-16

is the edger blade made of high carbon steal or just cheep stuff

Kaiven (author)2010-02-04

Where can I get the steel though? :/
Neither of my hardware stores have any...

punkhead58 (author)Kaiven2010-05-12

I believe this project used with scrap metal, as do all of mine.

However, if you insist on buying metal, I suggest

Kaiven (author)punkhead582010-05-12

 Thanks for the link!

weloveclover (author)2010-02-17

Having made a few knives myself I highly recommend that you DO NOT use an angle grinder to put in the edge as it leaves dents which take for ever to file out.

punkhead58 (author)weloveclover2010-05-12

I agree. Trying to do precision work with an angle grinder is like a bull in a china shop. Although you can get relatively accurate results with a bench grinder, I recommend taking the time to use the good ol'e steel file.

punkhead58 (author)2010-05-08

lol cud u liek kil sum1 wit dis???!!1

*Don't fret, my friend, I was only kidding.*

Anyway, I've just finished the blade for my dagger-style Bowie knife. It has a full tang, and I was exploring different handle designs. I like the looks of the layered wood handle, however, ergonomics is my primary concern since I intend on wrapping the handle in paracord for increased comfort.

profpat (author)2010-04-19

 very well explained, very good instructable, here in the Philippines, we use scrap leaf springs from old vehicles, may require oxy-acetylene cutting, but the forming of the blade is pretty much the same as what you presented..this is great... 

spylock (author)2010-01-06

It looks to be a pretty nice blade,Im making a bowie,8'' blade and will be 13'' overall,I will be useing brass for my blade gaurd and pommel ,walnut,on the outsides and stag in the middle with 7 brass pins and a little E-6000 for extra support on the handle,though I dont think Ill need it.I think for your first attempt,its a hellova good job and the quality only goes up with the number of knives you make,keep it up.

nickweaver77 (author)2009-10-18

i came up upon this and this is really cool. i have a dad that's a machinest and i was already making a blade out of o1 steel. im going with this now to make it a little better.

peterlonz (author)2009-08-03

Depending upon the steel chosen its highly likely that a competent welder would have difficulty in executing a decent weld. The welding rod has to be selected for compatibility with the blade steel & needs to stay tough enough for knife duty after the whole welded joint has been heat treated. I'd be very reluctant to suggest such an approach unless you have proven the technique in practice & can offer specifics to achieve a suitable weld.

42ndOddity (author)peterlonz2009-08-04

Nope, no chance, I am not a trained welder, but I am happy with the weld, it's tolerated some abuse and not shown any signs of weakness yet. If you look at the length of the tang you will see the tang-rod weld is very close to the butt of the handle, so there is very little stress at that point as it's protected by the stiff handle. Perhaps it helps that I used a MIG welder which heats quite a specific area, rather than a stick welder which heats up the whole lot. If you want instructions on tempering the blade then look elsewhere, this is just an instructable for making a nice handle.

skimmo (author)42ndOddity2009-09-23

i agree i think on a project this small i dont think the weilded bolt isnt going to make much of a difference, its not like your banging it onto stuff and sword fighting with it, its just holding the wood on the end. and the main problems you have with weilding swords is vibration

thyyt1 (author)skimmo2009-10-18


MoreBeef (author)2009-09-10

Nice first effort. I would make a suggestion to help future attempts and perhaps even improving the current tool. Buy the book "$50 Dollar Knife Shop" by Wayne Goddard. It's not expensive at all and will make your knife projects so much better. Has details on how to construct a single brick forge, as well as how to make a (scrapyard) coal forge. Everything is done on the cheap with found objects/rummage sales/thrift stores/ etc. The chapter on heat treating would be especially useful to you.

diocite (author)2008-09-30

A nice looking knife. What type of steel was the blade made from? It may not hold an edge as well as you would like because certain steels are not as heat treatable as others. I usually use O1 tool steel which is readily available and relatively cheap. Leaf springs from truck also work if you specifically wanted to make it from scrap. Also unless you heated the entire blade red hot all at the same time then your quench will not leave the blade evenly treated. I have had success with a charcoal chimney and natural wood charcoal (not briquetts). Bring everything to red hot, drop the blade into oil or HOT water, sand it till shiny, then heat slowly over the charcoal till the edge of the blade is yellow. Or alternately heat the blade from the back edge with a torch. -Diocite

42ndOddity (author)diocite2008-09-30

So far as I can tell, it's just mild steel. In all honesty I like making the handle more then the blade, so it was a little neglected. If (When) I do this again though I will certainly take that into account. I have lots of tool steel handy, but all in small pieces unfortunatly, blanks for lathe tools. A trip to the local scrapyard may be in order...Also I'm intrigued by the case hardening process, heating the blade and smothering it in carbon powder. If I manage to do that then I may publish an instructable to extend this one. Thanks for the advice.

Possum Living (author)42ndOddity2008-10-02

Try lawn mower blades. I think they are something like 1055. Tough, easy to resharpen; good for a rough-use knife.

Boy Scout (author)Possum Living2009-08-06

Used lawn mower blades work very well as they are already in a rough blade shape. Plus they cost next to nothing. You can usually get a maximum of 2 knives from a lawn mower blade.

the only downside to that is that theres a hole in your blade then.... i made mine out of a edger blade.. i didnt even need to harden it

dj_nme (author)42ndOddity2008-10-01

If you have access to a furnace which can reach 1100C, then you can case-harden using carbon/charcoal granules and an air-tight heavy-gauge metal (steel or stainless, NOT aluminium) box. The alternative is to flame harden the surface of the steel using an oxy/acetylene heating torch set to a carburising flame. LPG or natural gas is not an option, because it is always an oxidising flame which will ruin the surface rather than adding carbon to it. Whatever way you decide to try, it is a very good idea to have an experienced tradesman (boilermaker or blacksmith) on hand to either help or do it for you.

diocite (author)dj_nme2008-10-02

I don't think you would get even a very thin layer of case hardened steel without heating the object for a very long time using a torch. Have you had much success using this method?

thoraxe (author)diocite2008-10-25

case hardening is a complicated and painstaking process. it requires the steel to be kept at yellow hot for hours on end in a sealed iron or stone box with a charcoal packing surrounding the steel. The goal is that hopefully some of the carbon from the charcoal will find its way into the outer surface of the very hot steel, but it would only be hardened to maybe 1/32 of an inch, depending on the time spent and heat achieved.

dj_nme (author)diocite2008-10-03

I have used this method to make a cold-chisel from a mild-steel bar. So, yes it does work. Just not very quick, only 5 to 10 minutes. But this can seem like an eternity when all you want is the finished product. Furnace case-hardening is an "overnight" process, so it is glacial by comparison and so not really for the impatient.

biolethal (author)dj_nme2008-10-02

i think that if you have a blacksmith on hand, it wouldent really be
but thats just my opinion


dj_nme (author)biolethal2008-10-03

"on hand" doesn't have to mean "right beside you guiding your hand" or "doing it while you watch", in this context I mean "that can easily be contacted to find out the straight dope". Having some-one who is skilled in what you want to do available so that you can pick their brains for info is a very good idea.

would a wood saw blade work?

Old hand saws were made from medium carbon steel. Somewhere in the range of .8%-1% with little in the way of alloying elements. O1 is .85%-.1% with a bit of manganese. Should work, but I think a saw blade would be too thin to make a knife of any significant length.

well, wat do u think is a something good that i can convert into a bush knife, because there is no way i can find the steel, so i can't build it from scratch.

You could use an old hacksaw blade.

Files, lawn mower blades, circular-saw blades, car leaf springs, garage door springs, springs of any kind, axles. Any steel that is temperable. Try flea markets and scrap yards. Yard sales even. You can test for temperability if you have a bench grinder. High carbon steel will throw a shower of really bright white sparks. Low carbon steel won't throw very many sparks and they should not be as bright. Compare the sparks of whatever you think might be high carbon to the sparks thrown by a common nail. - The preceeding paragraph was a rough summary of Chapter 2 of "The Complete Modern Blacksmith" by ALexander G. Weygers. I have not used this method and cannot promise that it will work for you. Also if you bring a section of steel up to red hot then quench it, if it is high carbon steel, it will get real hard. Take a file to it and if the file skates across the surface of the metal then it is temperable. This is a method I have had success with.

Where could u get O1 tool steel?

McMaster-Carr is where I get mine. A2 also holds a good edge.

milamber (author)diocite2008-10-10

u can buy knife steal called 1095 from steal reatailers it holds an edge of up to RC 58 and is easy to heat treat to that point

diocite (author)milamber2008-10-10

Another heat treatable carbon steel. Primarily used for springs.

Hardness comparisons for various steels are here:

1095 is toward the center, left. A2 and O1 are way right (harder) and will hold a better edge.

atombomb1945 (author)diocite2008-10-02

When talking about a Charcoal Chimney, would that be the chimnerias that people have in their back yards, or the ones that are used to start a gril?

diocite (author)atombomb19452008-10-02

I just use one that I would use to start the grill. I also use these to start my coal/charcoal forge (made from a large tractor brake drum). It makes starting the forge very quick.

uncle_fester (author)diocite2008-10-02

Diocite, if you havent already, it would be great to see a work up on your forge.

diocite (author)uncle_fester2008-10-04

I am away from home for a while due to work. I will see what I can do when I get home.

i made a thing out of a charcoal chimney that heats the coals really hot; hot enough to reach about 1000 degrees. use an old charcoal chimney, and attach a heat resistant metal hose to the base. attach an air mattress filler-upper to the other end of the hose. the air keeps oxygen going to all parts of the coals, making them super hot. also, you could (if you know how) attach some kind of airflow regulator; either an electric one attached directly to the blower, or (easier) attach a hose flow nozzle to the pipe. either way would work. :)

diocite (author)chunkymuggen2008-10-02

I don't even bother with a blower, though I do have one on my forge. I just light up the chimney and let the charcoal catch.

chunkymuggen (author)diocite2008-10-02

well, it'll be a lot hotter with a blower, but the coals will run out faster. also, i think there are coals you can buy that burn extra hot.

biolethal (author)chunkymuggen2008-10-02

those coals that burn extra hot are A:toxic to the environment because they have a bunch of chemicals in them.(but then again burning charcoal isnt eco-freindly either) B:they are allot more spensive... biolethal

chunkymuggen (author)biolethal2008-10-02

yeah, but you can get a bunch for expensive. anyway, if you would rather buy a real forge for a couple hundred, thats alright. unless you're poor, i dont think the slightly raised price should be much of a blow to your wallet. anyhow, i would rather get my steel really hot and get it evenly heated so it gets maximum strength. about the environment thing, I'm not a tree-burning, paper-wasting, littering, plastic-burning, earth hater; i just think earth is fine. i will probably be dead before the enviornment changes too much, but i dont thing burning some chemically-enhanced coal will cause the earth to explode. no offense by the way.

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