The knife. Where would we be without it? One of the singularly most useful tools in existence. Sure you can buy a relatively inexpensive beautiful knife that will last a while, but...where's the fun in that?
Handcrafting mankind's most basic tool to fit your unique style and your hand can bring great joy. Other men will marvel at your manliness. Woman will hide their children and give you questioning glances. But fear not, you too can produce a beautiful knife that will make men weep with just a few basic tools and some elbow grease .
Step 1: Tools
You can go super basic here or use a bunch of power tools.
I went basic because I had to.
-I bought a $30 angle grinder to do most of the cutting and shaping. Of course you can just use a hack saw too but that's a lot of work. I used a metal cutoff disc for the rough cutting. For the profiling of the blade I used a backer plate with grinding sand paper shown in the pic. Buy them in a few grits starting at 60 grit. Or you can just get a few flap discs as shown in the pic.
- Files you'll want a variety from rough to fine and some either round or rounded on one side.
- Sand paper Get a variety of waterproof sand papers in a variety of grits from about 120-1000.
- Clamps I have a few quick clamps and a c-clamp to hold the knife as you work on it.
- Drill You can use a hand drill but it's easier if you have a drill press and some bits for drilling through steel
- Dremel Not essential but they come in handy for some of the detail grinding.
- Grill To heat treat your knife
- Coping saw
- Steel I bought a piece of CRA 1095 steel from Admiral Steel 5/32" X 1 1/4" X 96" for under $30 with shipping. Good blade steel for the price. 5/32" is nice and thick, good for a survival or hunting knife.
- Handle Material You can use a ton of different materials for your handle; wood, bone, micarta even horn. I prefer wood because I'm a carpenter by trade and love it. I bought a piece of Cocobolo for the scales (handle material) from Owl Hardwoods because I was nearby for a job.
- Pin StockYou can buy this online from knife making suppliers or just go to an Ace hardware and browse their brass or stainless steel bar stock. In the hobby section usually. I bought a variety of both.
- Epoxy 30 min. 2 ton. Don't try the 4 min. because you may need a little bit of work time.
- Linseed oil You can use this to finish the wood handle or you can put some polyurethane on it.
Step 2: Make a Pattern
First draw two parallel lines on a piece of printer paper that represent the width of your blade steel. Mine is 1 1/4". Design your knife in between these lines. Once you are satisfied with your design glue it on to a piece of 1/4" ply and cut it out on a band saw or with a coping saw.
Now's the time to make sure you like the shape and feel of your knife. Hold it how you would use it normally and see if anything needs to be changed. Remember too that the handle will be a little wider when you add the scales. Once you are truly happy with your shape transfer it to your steel with a steel pen or a sharpie. I made four patterns and made small variations of each one.
I was able to get 10 knives out of my 8 ft. piece of steel.
Step 3: Make Some Sparks
With your angle grinder and some cut off discs go to work cutting out your blades. Take your time and be safe. Gloves, respirator, safety glasses!!!
I got a sliver of aluminum in my eye once while siding a house. Not fun. Wear glasses.
Cut close to, but leave the lines if they aren't too thick. You'll grind them down to the final shape later.
Step 4: Shape Profile
I took a scrap piece of 1/2" ply and cut a slot in it the width of the steel. This allowed me to grind the edge of the blade by clamping it in the slot as shown in the pics.
Work all the edges you can keeping the grinder as flat as you can.
Step 5: Drill Holes
I don't have any pics of this step but it's pretty basic.
With your hand drill or drill press (preferred) and your steel cutting drill bits, drill the holes for your pins. Put some extra holes in it if you want to skeletonize it at this time. this cuts down on the weight a bit. I would have done more but my bits got too tired by then. Drill smaller holes first and then enlarge with bigger bits. Use some oil to keep bits from over heating and take your time.
Step 6: Grind Bevel
There are different kinds of knife bevels that you can do so I choose to do a variety of these.
Before you start grinding mark a center line on the edge of the knife blade that shows you the center of your bevel. Using the angle grinder and the flap disc shape the bevel. Don't shape to a fine point yet but leave the blade edge about 1/32" thick. If you don't your knife may warp when you heat treat it.
Step 7: File Bevel
Using a rough file continue to shape your bevel then switch to a fine file. Still leave the edge about 1/32" thick. Once your bevel is shaped then use waterproof/automotive sandpaper to start to smooth out the file marks on the blade and anywhere it will be exposed. Start with 80 grit and move up to 120 then 180 then 220. This will help prevent stress cracks in the blade during the heat treating.
Step 8: Heat Treat
You can use a small grill and some hardwood charcoal to heat treat your blade. You don't really need a forge to do this. I used a piece of cardboard to fan the fire and get the coals super hot. It would have been easier with a hairdryer and a pipe but I was lazy to go get that stuff. And it might have made my wife too happy.
Run a piece of bailing wire (not galvanized) through the handle to make it easy to pull out of the fire. Put the blade right in the hottest part of the coals once you have it going strong. Let it get bright orange (critical) non-magnetic. You can test this with an big old magnet like from a old speaker or something. Stick it back in the coals for a minute or two more. Then pull it out again and immediately dunk it in some oil to cool it (olive, vegetable, motor, transmission etc.) It's better if the oil is a little warm to prevent the blade from cracking.
Don't drop it at this point cuz it will break like tempered glass.
To take some of the brittleness out of the blade (also reduces the hardness a bit) you need to temper the blade. Just stick it in the oven on the middle rack at 350 degrees for an hour. After an hour just turn off the heat and let it cool in the oven. Repeat.
Step 9: Remove Scale
So your blade should be all black and gross at this point. You need to sharpen the blade edge as this was left a little thick in a previous step. Get out your files and sandpaper again and file and polish that baby up. It will be a more difficult to file the edge now that it has been hardened but this helps you to know that the heat treat worked.
When your blade is all pretty again wrap some cardboard and tape around the blade. This will protect the blade and you.
Step 10: Shape Scales
If you bought your scales online then they should already be a suitable thickness. I had bough a 1/4" piece of cocobolo that had to be surfaced down a bit because I was using 5/32" steel. Didn't want the handle too thick. Clamp the blade to one of the scales and drill the pin holes. If you have a drill press do it on that. That way your holes will be perpendicular. You can then put some pin material through the holes so it registers correctly and draw around your scales. Cut them out leaving the line with a coping saw or a scroll saw. Finish any of the edges that will be tight agains the blade and won't be able to be sanded later as shown in the last pic. I cut out a small section for a lanyard hole in this particular blade.
Step 11: Epoxy Scales
Cut your pins slightly larger than your finished handle dimensions. Dry fit your scales and make sure it will all go together easy once you have the epoxy mixed. Put the pins in one of the scales and epoxy it. Slide the knife onto the pins and then epoxy the other side and pop the other scale on. Put a bunch of clamps on and let it sit overnight.
Side note. You can make your own mosaic pins using brass or stainless steel tubing with different diameter rods of same or contrasting materials. The last pic shows some simple mosaic pins I made with 4 small brass rods in a small brass tube. Fill the tube half way with epoxy and shove the rods into the tubing and presto!
Step 12: Finish Handle
Once your epoxy is set take off the clamps and shape your handle. You'll first want to file your pins till they protrude from the scales just a hair. Then slightly peen your pins to help hold the scales on.
You can use a rasp, sandpaper and a dremel with a sanding drum attachment. If you are real careful you can use your angle grinder again to shape the handle as I did. Once it is fully sanded rub some linseed oil on it and let it dry in the sun. Repeat a few times. Or you can just polyurethane it. I like the feel of the oil.
Remove the tape from your blade and strop it. I use a piece of veg tanned leather and some jewelers rouge.
There you have it. A work of useful art that you can pass on to your son... or daughter.