How to Make a Bushcraft Knife

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Introduction: How to Make a Bushcraft Knife

About: I am Jake and I make. I build awesome stuff out of simple materials, mainly dealing in the dangerous. Knives out of RR spikes, guns made of plumbing pipe, flamethrowers with coffee creamer, a cannon that sho...

This is how I make my knives. Yes, it is exactly the same as any other knife Instructable on here. Do I care? Nope. And, neither do you, apparently. After all, you're reading it.

I haven't posted much on Instructables yet, but that doesn't mean I haven't made many things. Look on my blog for all my other projects.

Step 1: Design

As I said, this is a bushcraft knife. I could have drawn out the design myself, but instead I printed it off of the internet. This site has a lot of great knife patterns:

http://dcknives.blogspot.com/p/knife-profiles.html

Bottom line: get the design, and get it cut out.

Step 2: Get the Design Onto the Steel

This goes along with getting the steel. I used 1080 high carbon steel. It works great and is simple to heat treat.

Trace the design onto the metal with a permanent marker. It can be somewhat challenging, but you can do it. You have been training for this since preschool.

Step 3: Cut Out the Rough Profile

As the title says, it is time to make the hunk of metal look somewhat kinda not really barely like something that might possibly resemble a bushcraft knife. I use an angle grinder with a cutoff wheel for this part. I don't worry about getting it perfect, as I always find it easiest to grind it down with my bench grinder. So, just knock off the parts that are too difficult to do with the bench grinder.

Step 4: Bench Grinder, and Blade Edge Grinding

Now you can make it look like a knife. Grind it to perfection, and make it look better than you possibly can.

Or not, I really don't care.

Bottom line: Make it look like the design you traced out.

Then you need to grind the edge profile, I did a simple, imperfect scandi grind. I didn't get pictures, but you really just need to hold the blade at the proper angle to your belt sander, and grind grind grind.

Step 5: Drill Holes for the Pins

This is my least favorite part of making a knife. For some reason, drilling holes in metal just scares me. Probably because I always end up destroying the bits.

Anyway, get some holes in the tang where you want the pins to go. I also put a lanyard hole in bottom, but you don't have to, depending on the style knife you are doing.

The pins I used were 3/16 nickel silver from an online knife making supplier. You can also use brass rod, which most large hardware stores sell.

Step 6: Heat Treat

Then is my favorite part, the heat treating. What is heat treating? I'll tell you. When you get a piece of steel, it is very soft. That makes it easy to shape, sand, and grind out the shape. The downside is that it is too soft to be a knife. So you have to harden it. The best way to do this is to heat it up to glowing hot in the forge, and then dunk it in oil. The oil cools it down very quickly, the only downside is that it is now so hard it is as brittle as glass, and would break if you dropped it. That is why I then stick it in the oven for a couple hours at 400 degrees. By slowly heating it up again like that, it slowly softens the metal down, until it is the perfect hardness for a knife blade.

So that is what I did. I heated it up to 1500 degrees, then plunged it in vegetable oil, (making lots of awesome flames) and then stuck it in the oven.

If you are wondering, the easiest way to test if it has attained the correct temperature is to touch a magnet to it. If magnet doesn't stick, it has reached 1400 degrees. Stick it in the forge for a few seconds longer, then quench it.

Step 7: Handle Scales

The first step for the handle is to find your wood. I used Dark Walnut, because it looks pretty and I had it on hand, but you can use just about any kind of hardwood, as long as it is very dry. Why very dry? Because if it isn't, it warp and shrink later on and completely ruin your knife.

Anyway, cut yourself some rough scales, just larger than the tang.

Step 8: Drill Handle Scales

I haven't really found a good way to do this yet, because it is difficult to hold the knife onto the wood perfectly still, I usually end up messing it up in some way. Oh well, trial and error.

Somehow get the holes in the scales and make it all fit together.

Step 9: Epoxy!

This is one of the most nerve wrecking steps, for me at least. I don't know why.

You will need a two part epoxy, preferably with a long set time. I can't stand the five minute ones, they add to the stress. I used JB weld, but any two part epoxy glue should work. Sorry I didn't get any more pictures of this, but I was in a hurry at the time and just clean forgot. It is fairly simple, just mix the epoxy together on something separate, like a square of cardboard. Then, using a popsicle stick or something like that, scrape the epoxy onto the scales, the tang, the pins, and all over the rest of your workspace. Then clamp it up, clean up the mess, make sure that the blade of the knife is clean, and wait for the specified drying time. (In my case 24 hours)

Step 10: Rough Handle Shaping

So now we have the handle scales and pins all glued up, now it's time to make it look like a knife handle. I start by using my angle grinder with a sanding flap wheel, it takes off material very fast, so you got to be careful, but it works great for this step. Basically, at this point you are trying to grind the scales down till you can no longer see any epoxy.

Step 11: Rounding and Refining the Handle

I didn't take enough pictures of this step, but it's simple. Using the angle grinder sanding flap wheel, carefully begin to round the handle scales. Then go to the belt sander, and further refine the shape. Once you are satisfied with the shape, hand sand till ya' can't no more, working down to a very fine grit.

Step 12: Finishing the Handle

Sorry I don't have any pictures of this step, but there isn't much to take a picture of.

Cover the handle with the wood finisher of your choice, I used beeswax and boiled linseed oil.

Step 13: Knife!!!!

Congratulations, you just made a knife. Now take some awesome pictures and go use it.

This knife is tough, holds it's edge, and sharpens easily. It works as well as any other knife I have bought.

As you can see in the finished pictures, I also made a kydex sheath for it. I'll eventually make an Instructable about that, but at this point, just look it up on YouTube.

BTW, sorry if the pictures aren't the best, the lighting in my shop stinks.

I am new to knife making, so constructive criticism would be appreciated.

Thanks!

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Tips

You may want a little more pronounced finger groove behind the choil. Cold weather brings about cold fingers with reduced sensation and dexterity.

Questions

52 Comments

Very good point. I agree. Looking back on this knife now, I see a lot of mistakes :)

Well done on the effort and the outcome.

A good looking knife.

I've got only one concern - the heat treatment.

You do know that it's not that simple, right? Every type of steel has a data sheet from the manufacturer that gives you the right temperatures to temper it to.
And in such a DIY furnace you cannot control the temperature not to mention how fast/slow you heat it up for how long and how does it cool down.

my best suggestion is to find a local knifemaker with a professional tempering furnace and ask him to temper your knife according to the data sheets for that steel type.

8 replies

Hmmm, very true about the heat treatment, but let me remind you that I am using 1080 steel, which is very easy to ht. There are some steels out there that I wouldn't attempt heat treating though. Yeah, my forge is horrible, and I have since built a bigger, better one that heats better.

One thing I think you are forgetting though, almost ALL custom knife makers heat treat their own knives. Did I do it perfectly? Absolutely not. I still have a ton to learn about ht. But the knife is strong, takes a razor sharp edge, and holds it for good while. Pretty good for my poor methods. Love 1080.
Thanks.

Don`t get me wrong. I admire the effort you've put into making the knife.

My point was that if you want to get the maximum out of the steel (as in properties) you should temper it in a good forge. I have a friend who's a knifemaker and he started just like you did. Once he started getting into the market the demand for clear info about the heat treatment and the hardness of the knife he started using another knifemaker's forge until he was able to buy one for himself. And as a plus you can use the forge to temper several blades (if they are made from the same steel that is) at once which reduces the manufacturing costs even further. He was paying about 20$ per use of the forge which when divided by 3-4-5 blades makes them even cheaper and you get a knife made with all the necessary tools which can then be sold at a higher price.

You get my point. If you want to start selling and making custom knives you need the proper equipment and knowledge.

It's a good start though. A very good one at that.

P.S Have you tried making a birch bark handle? They're awesome for outdoor work. Don`t get slippery when wet, smooth to the touch and almost doesn`t require threating with oils. The birch bark's got a lot of oils in it.

Tempering can indeed be done in the forge. It can be done with a torch. You have to be exceedingly careful not to overheat the spine. The trick is to bring the whole blade to 400°f x 1 hour (temp and duration depenent on steel alloy and required properties)

Thanks for the tips, and believe me if I got really into it and started selling knives I would get or build some real equipment. However, since I am just making them for myself, and kinda playing around with it, I am not worrying about doing it professionally, if you know what I mean.
The birch bark thing, however, has got me intrigued. Never heard of that before. How? Are the scales made of the bark? Can you diy it? Think I've got a birch tree on our land somewhere....

Get the birch bark. Preferably from a recently fallen tree. Don`t strip it from a living one. You can see a tutorial here:

also, you can skip the glue part. With a good enough clamp and a good screw-on cap for the back of the handle you don`t need to glue it all together. At least my knife's handle is not glued (pic is attached below).

Also take a look at google images search you'll get the idea.

Pekka Knife Birch Handle.jpg

Awesome. Gonna have to try that. Your knife looks great, btw, and I love the sheath. I want to get into leather, but my budget is a bit limited at this time, and man is that stuff expensive. Also, is it because you don't want to damage the tree that you aren't supposed to take the bark from a live tree? Or is it because dead bark is better? I've always heard that if that if you don't cut the bark off all around the trunk the tree will be fine.

The whole concept of not taking the bark off a living tree is not to damage it.

It's mostly because all kinds of fungus and insects can easily set into the tree and kill it for a season or two. And we all know how long it takes for a tree to grow. Stripping the bark of a dead tree is not better because with time it's losing its oils when the tree dies and the quality of the bark is not as good. That's why I wrote to take the bark of freshly fallen trees/branches. That way you don`t damage a living tree and get good quality bark for your knife.

Totally get that, and I will only use bark from a live tree if all else fails, and I'll make sure not to damage the too much. That is, if I ever get to making one of those in the first place. I have WAY too many unfinished projects as it is.... thanks for the tips and ideas, I appreciate your input.

I have an idea. What if you coated the blade, except for the edge portion with clay/mud, then heated and quenched. This would slow down the heat change on the bulk of the blade, making the steel a bit softer and more flexible, then rapidly cool the edge part so as to take a hard sharp edge. If I understand this would result in very tiny crystallization on the edge and larger on the body of the blade. This is part of what Japanese sword smiths would do. There is supposed to be great mystery about what temperature would be used for quenching but logically they did not have great air conditioning/refrigeration tech, so I would guess ambient temperature would be most common. So looking the average ambient temperature in Japan is about 50 degrees F. Also there is a legend that some smiths quenched their swords in condemned prisoners, so 98.6 would be a consideration (and that might be similar to a container of water for quenching inside of the smith's building. It would be fun to play with using some blanks that had not been fully worked, perhaps just stock that had been ground for the edge effect.

3 replies

Yeh, the bit about condemned prisoners is bovine excrement, and its not a real mystery you just want water just below its boiling point.

Like the part about condensed prisoners:)

The quench material also has thermal properties that differ. Water will dissipate heat at a different rate than oil, or blood for that matter, because of viscosity and content. So you can in effect get different tempers from a blade by what you quench it in regardless of the liquid temperature just because of the thermal dynamics of the liquid. How fast it pulls the temperature down. Like the difference in temper from slow air cooling vs fast water cooling. Just my two point six cents (adjusted for inflation) and possibly not relevant to anyone but me.

Used motor oil works the best when heat treating because it take the carbon out and turns the steel blue

4 replies

First of all, taking the carbon out of high carbon steel isn't possible, and if it was, it would completely mess up the steel making it unfit for a knife blade.

Second, heating up the steel makes it turn colors anyway, no matter what you quench it in. And it makes scale, which must be sanded off, so you couldn't retain the color anyway, unless you want your knife to look horrible.

It is indeed possible to remove carbon from steel, though not via the quench liquid. If you overheat the steel, you will "cook" the carbon out of it. I have seen this happen more than once with tool steels and heat treat ovens.

Really? I didn't know that. Just out of curiousity, how hot would the metal be to have that happen?

I am not sure on exact temperature, it likely varies somewhat based on the alloy. I have seen it with several different alloys, all of which had different temp requirements to harden.....and different quench requirements as well.