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.
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Step 1: 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

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.
smurfsahoy5 years ago
Redwood is not a hard wood. It shouldn't really matter when making a knife handle, I guess, but just saying.
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?
how long is the blade
Belzebebpr4 years ago
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.
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.
is the edger blade made of high carbon steal or just cheep stuff
One.3 years ago
Kaiven4 years ago
Where can I get the steel though? :/
Neither of my hardware stores have any...
I believe this project used with scrap metal, as do all of mine.

However, if you insist on buying metal, I suggest
 Thanks for the link!
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.
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.
punkhead583 years ago
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.
profpat4 years ago
 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... 
spylock4 years ago
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.
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.
peterlonz4 years ago
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)  peterlonz4 years ago
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.
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 skimmo4 years ago
MoreBeef4 years ago
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.
diocite5 years ago
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)  diocite5 years ago
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.
Try lawn mower blades. I think they are something like 1055. Tough, easy to resharpen; good for a rough-use knife.
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
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 dj_nme5 years ago
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 diocite5 years ago
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 diocite5 years ago
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.
i think that if you have a blacksmith on hand, it wouldent really be
but thats just my opinion

"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.
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

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