Introduction: Lessons of a Knife - Making the Ultimate Bush Blade

"Which knife is best?"

Every adventurer, trekker, hunter, survivalist or geek gets sooner or later faced with that one, simple, haunting question: "Which knife is best?"

Believe it or not, but those four words chased me for many, many years. In the beginning, when I was a kid, I suffered in silence, trying to find answers and discovering that behind every answer at least two more questions were hidden. 'Kids have a carefree life', they may say. Really?

Then came the internet. But instead of better, I got worse. More questions, more worries. And even I didn't find any satisfaction or relief, at least there was one thing that eased my pain, a bit. Thousands Were Sailing on the same ocean as mine, apparently. I felt some comfort in the widespread discomfort. Websites, forums, groups, opinions, statements, words, total chaos.

The inability to decide which knife is best makes us, who are suffering, weak and helpless. And thus susceptible for evil forces, luring us with beautiful sweet blade porn. Page by page. Brands. Hundreds of brands. Thousands of designs. Many thousands of knives. Designers, makers, sellers, they all want our money. Always the same tantric keywords: survival, wilderness, outdoor, bushcraft, heavy duty, yak-proof.

I got lured like all of you. I bought, payed too much, broke, got heartbroken, and bought again trying to forget my previous disaster. Time & time again. Buying blades is a metaphor for marriage, somehow.

Whatever. I sailed through a lot of waters, worshiped a whole list of gods and experimented with quite a few designs, to end up here.

I'm quite down to earth, so I thought this experience might be useful. Somewhere, for someone.

In fact, my search ended in a place I didn't expect. Not in a showroom, not on a website, not at an exhibition, but at my local gear-store. Unexpected, but yet so logic.

So this is it. I'll show you how to make the best homemade price-quality knife you can get. No kidding.

Not even 10$, not even one hour of work, and a lifetime of pleasure. The world starts at your front door.

Step 1: Cool Vs Functional?

Blade porn is more about design than about content. We all tend to choose a knife for its beauty 'because I like it', 'because it's awesome, cool or beautiful'. That's normal, but it's the wrong state of mind - unless you're buying a knife to add it to your collection. To me, a knife that isn't used is simply not worth the buy. A knife is a tool, an extension of your body. So the question has to be 'What will I use it for?'. A trekker will have different needs than a survivalist. A hunter will need his knife for other jobs than a bushcrafter.

You'll discover that the beauty of a design is an excitement that won't last a lifetime. Yep, like falling in love, somehow. Too bad that initial burst doesn't last. Once you've lived together for a while you'll know if it's really the tool that you wanted (the metaphor was unintended, really).

So, try to get above the X factor of many designs. What really count is their functionality.

So, what for will you use it? Think about it.

In the picture: the real AXE for men.

Step 2: Fixed Blade Vs Folder?

I'm not going into a listing up of all kinds of knives. I just want to guide you into the right direction.

Folders, the so called 'pocket knives', are build to save space. Attached to your belt, in your pocket or handbag, in a survival kit, they're a lot easier to carry than fixed blade knives (knives without a pivot point).

My experience is that the more you're in dirty jobs, the more you'll need a fixed blade. Water, salt, resin, mud & blood are no good friends for folders. They will stick, their locking system might get stuck, the knife can break or you can get hurt.

Folders needs to be cleaned & oiled regularly to stay in shape. If you know that you won't be able to do this job for a while, don't choose a folder on your trip. The last thing you need is a folder that cuts your fingers off.

A fixed blade takes more space, right. But, also that is relative. You don't need it to carry like Crocodile Dundee, you can also attach it to the belt of your bagpack. When there's a need there's always a solution. Take it from the sunny side: a fixed blade will never let you down. You can get it as dirty as you want, that's why those knives are built for.

In the picture: my JACK and a Buck skinner

Step 3: Half Tang Vs Full Tang? Wood Vs Micarta?

In case you're tending towards a fixed blade knife, there are a few things you need to know. Some things about that part of the knife hidden in the handle aka the 'tang'.

Here dirt is not a criterium, it's brutality. The more brutal the job, the more tang you will need.

In a full tang knife the blade goes all the way in the handle, most of the time two plates bolted to the handle side. Yep, like a sandwich. Those plates (wood, bone, micarta etc) are in fact just decoration. Yes they will contribute to the comfort of the grip, but they don't have a functional role.

Full tang knives are build to resist. Dig with them, hammer, throw & mishandle: they will survive.

So isn't the case with the so called 'half tangs', 'hidden tangs' etc. Yes, the handles are often more beautiful, and more solid like in full tangs. But, to be honest, who cares about a solid handle? What you need is a solid everything. Beauty is just a sidenote. Beauty is coolness, see previous step.

To every survivalist: get a full tang!

Big advantage of a full tang: by removing the plates you can transform your knife easily in a spear by inserting it in a groove cut in a wooden pole. Yep, you'll need a screwdriver.

Wood versus micarta or plastic? Wood is ephemeral beauty, it'll rot & split with intensive use. Yes, I made a few knives with beautiful wooden handles. But I never used them outdoor. I didn't dare... It's kind of a paradox in knife making: wooden handles are often so beautiful that you don't use your knife for what it's designed for.

So the question is: do you really need a decorative handle?

In the picture:

1. a full tang counterfeit AK-47 bajonet & a rooted (or hidden) tang Bowie-blade - my first knife ;)

2. two rooted tang knives: Bear Grills survival knife & a puukko (still one of the best designs ever)

3. a puukko & two rooted tang file knives in the making

Step 4: Big Vs Small?

If you simply look at a few of my knives, you'll notice that there's an evolution from dinosaur to mouse. First I was into cool, big knives aka Rambo style. Now, gettin' older and hopefully wiser, I appreciate simplicity and compactness.

Right, if you're going to the jungle you'll need something with a longer blade than when you're peeling potatoes in the army kitchen. The keyword is precision. The more you need precision, the more a big blade will be ballast.

Precision? Skinning animals, cleaning roots, carving & crafting, that kind of stuff. Blade length? 3 inch, you don't need more. Razorsharp.

In the picture: a full tang kukuri Gorkha knife, a half tang Bhai and my latest bush design.

You like the last? Great - go straight to step 6.

Step 5: Cheap Vs Expensive?

A knife is nothing but a sharpened piece of steel. What counts is the quality of the work you're making with, not the price you payed it.

I prefer a cheap carbon steel blade over expensive chirurgical steel. If I loose the first, no big deal. Loosing the second will definitely ruin my day. Yes it might rust, but it'll stay sharp a very long time and if oiled or greased regularly it'll stand its time. Take care of your gear and you're halfway.

In the picture: the making of the WASP.

Step 6: Build a Bushcraft Aka Survival Aka Hunting Knife

Having put all this knowledge together, a while ago I came up with my answer to the question "Which knife is best?"

A friend had given me a few 'glaziers knives' - specially designed knives to hack away the putty from old-school windows. These knives are made of 4mm carbon steel, forged, and quite cheap (no even 10$ - that's what I paid for it...).

First I made a few WASPS, and then I started experimenting to hack them into a decent knife. I wanted to do some bushcraft, and after some 30 years of blade porn I discovered that I had no knife for this job. All I had was or too big, or too unpractical. Sobering experience.

So here's the design I came up with. Like I said, it's initially a bushcraft knife: great for precision work, but sturdy enough (4mm carbon steel) for heavier work thanx to the full tang and the long handle.

Get yourself one of those knives, and a grinding wheel.

Step 7: Shape the Blade

Grind away the tip of that knife and shape it round 'skinner style'. Initially I intended to make a pointed blade, but since a 'tanto' inspired tip has a great advantage for hacking & digging I decided to remove even less.

Low speed, cool the blade often in oil to keep the temper. Aim is to modify, not to change it's hardness.

Hold it with bare hands. As long as you feel no pain, no steel will be burned.

Step 8: Shape the Forefinger Sink

What's the difference between a good knife and an excelent bushcraft knife?

The forefinger sink!

Huh?!

Bushcraft is about precision. Precision is about good feeling between hand and knife. A knife that fits like a glove will allow you to do great work. Customise it to your hand. Grind that sink, you'll be amazed.

Step 9: Rawgrind the Cutting Edge

Since you modified the original design, you'll need to correct the angles in the cutting zone.

15° or 20° - sounds good!

Step 10: Fill the Handle

Those glaziers knives sometimes have two grooves to measure & cut glass thicknesses.

Since I wanted to cover the handle with some cordage those grooves had to be filled up. Two bolts, some hammering & some grinding.

Dirty, but functional.

Step 11: Cord Covering

This step isn't really needed since the less material you add to the handle, the higher the precision of the handling of your knife. That's why I asked in one of the previous steps 'Are you sure wanting a decorative handle?'

Since adding a few lengths of rope to your gear is never been a bad idea, I wrapped the whole handle in line-cord & polyester rope - line-cord is great for bushcraft, btw, full natural & it smells great. Whatever, the cord gives you a finer grip, and at least you're sure always to have a few meters of good rope with you.

Fine paracord or even fishing rope is okay, just don't wrap it too thick (two rounds is okay).

Fishermens knots, as usual.

Step 12: Bacon for the Belly

I agree, it's not the cutest bird in town, but given it's price it's definitely the best for the job. Carving, skinning, slicing, digging, hacking & even spreading nutella or peanut butter, it's all bacon for the belly of this bird. Do you really know much knices that are multifunctional like that?

Full tang, 7 inch long, 4mm carbon steel, sharpened carefully. Quality doesn't have to be expensive.

No more blade porn for me. This one's a keeper.

Hope you enjoyed it as much as me, and thanx for watching.

Step 13: About That Sheath...

I feel that sooner or later someone will ask me a question about that redneck-sheath I made. In fact, it started as an experiment but it turned out really nice - my opinion. No rivets or other leatherworking gear needed, and so again doable for everyone.

Just take a piece of wood and cut it in slices (or take two planks, thus two pieces of wood). Draw the outline of the blade to one of them & router it out (I really need to change the router-bit). Glue the second one to the routered one - it even works the way round - and clamp the whole. After a few hours: declamp & design & just don't forget to make a groove on the handle side. Oil it, stain it, soak it in whisky or black tea - it's your sheath, you can do with it what you want to do with it.

Organise a piece of leather (you can even hack a piece of an old boot), wrap it like a taco around the wooden wooden sheath and use some cordage to fix it very tight. Yep, that's what that groove was for. Wet leather is better. Clamp the handle side for a while to mold it somehow around the handle, make a few holes (use a small metal tube - pencil - and hammer on it) and use a length of paracord to make a nice corset-style something.

Done!

Not bush-proof? I know, it'll rot & be ruined in very few time - if I were stupid enough to leave it ouside this winter. I'm sure you can do a lot better than me. Suggestions welcome.

Comments

author
LarsJK (author)2016-04-30

This is cool, you should change from a chisel to a Scandinavian grind on the front.

author
sagariwa (author)2015-08-02

in our tropical cilmate, we soak natural hemp strings in paraffin so that they last longer as handle material. really nice and very practical knife you've got there.

author
psycho.maggot (author)2015-06-12

i prefer using full tang rather than half tang, cuz mostly i must cut down the branch to make a fire while camping on the forest

author
GraphixS6 (author)2014-09-19

I have also been tormented with the eternal question of what blade is best. Your's looks great for survival/bushcraft, but I'm looking for the ultimate craftsman knife. What grinding? Chisel grind is sharper, but harder to sharpen the other side. Hollow grind is sharp, but doesn't slide through lots of material. Gah! All the different possiblities!

author
Sogzilla (author)GraphixS62015-04-07

Scandi grind and sabre grind are the best grinds you can get for bushcraft. Hallow grinds and full flat grinds are very sharp but are weaker. Compound grinds have a lot of edge retention but are harder to sharpen in the field. I myself prefer a knife with a convex grind. It all really depends on what you are going to be doing with your blade.

author
cristoph (author)2014-12-05

What is the blade called in English

author
cmikles (author)2014-11-19

Great instructable! I carry a glazier blade myself. I love how small yet beefy it is. I need to make myself one of the wasps. Also I think that ak bayonet might be from a Mauser.

author
PaleHorseRider (author)2014-11-18

I find it that the knife that you had made is perfect for skinning & gutting. It doesn't have a point so it won't puncture an organ. Though I might curve the edge a bit more up for a shorter skinning time . and so that way I can attach a gut hook to it without bending the metal majorly.

But I plan on making a crescent moon knife. This is for skinning and cutting. Also they sell for a good bit as well if made with quality.

Yes I know that I'm young and all but still. Everyone whether you live in the country or in the city has wanted to try smithing.

author
zorroplato (author)2014-11-13

Really think this was a great lesson in knife making. I think I can do this too and will try this in the future. Thank you for sharing.

author
bricobart (author)zorroplato2014-11-13

You're welcome friend, show me some pictures when you're done!

author
Jake_Makes (author)2014-09-25

I must say, you are right, and you are wrong. (In my own opinion, which may not be fully correct) There are mainly two different kinds of good survival knives, which are made to accomplish different jobs. There is the giant hatchet/knife/machete thing, and then there is your bushcraft blade. Both are extremely necessary in a survival situation, the difficulty is combining brute strength and hacking power with the precision of a small knife. And in a survival situation, i think that the most important is the hacking. You will need to chop down trees and branches to make a fire, shelter, and other stuff. This guy says it best: http://www.m4040.com/Knifemaking/REVIEWS/FieldBlad...

While he says it a bit strongly, I definitely agree with him. The knife that we need is a combination of both: big and heavy enough chop through anything, yet able to do those skinning, gutting, and precise cuts perfectly. The answer? I have no clue. Very depressing. However, until then I will carry two knives, my Morakniv heavy duty and my awesome Cold Steel kukri machete. And yes, you NEED that kukri machete. it is a beast.

By the way, this is one of those few, perfect instructables that we all love and want to make! Great job!

author
bricobart (author)Jake_Makes2014-11-06

Hi Jake,

Like I already mentioned in previous I'bles, I always carry my small crazy hatchet when I'm going off-road. That, in combination with this bush blade, has been a winning team for years. So I agree totally with you that just a small blade often isn't enough and I agree with what your friend said - the kind of no-nonsense talk I like.

In our regions a machete-thing isn't necessary, that's why I prefer a hatchet, but I won't carry it in jungle conditions.

Thanx for your comment and support, and be careful with that kukri ;)

author
Alums888 (author)2014-09-24

In my experience, the best knife is always the one you have on you when you need it.

author
Darthorso (author)2014-08-26

This is a great one Brico, thanks for posting!

I'm a trekking maniac, if I have some free weekends, I love to go to Sestola (a mountain location near my city) for some long walks. The best thing about Italy is that you only have to drive for less than 2 hours to reach mountain from the seaside! :D

I have a little folding knife and I was thinking about a fixed blade. Obviously my eyes were on a super-expansive, military like knife xD (Extrema Ratio, an Italian high-end military brand).

But after your complete and beautiful guide, I'm more than considering this option!

Thanks again, I shared your project on my twitter, too! :)

https://twitter.com/Darthorso/status/5041994096606...

author
bricobart (author)Darthorso2014-09-05

Thanx my friend, I'm really looking forward to see your - Italian twisted - build! ;)

Just back from the mountains, btw, always heartbreaking... :(

author
Darthorso (author)bricobart2014-09-06

Yeah, I know... :( Thanks again brico, stay great! ^_^

author
ZaneEricB (author)2014-08-20

What is the base knife? Model #? Place i can get one?

I definitely love the design and simplicity...if i were more awake i would have more and better things to say..so...

AWESOME!...to sum it up :)

author
bricobart (author)ZaneEricB2014-08-20

Thanx Eric! You can get them here

http://www.home-boulevard.com/couteau-a-colle-couteau-a-mastiquer/21012-couteau-a-demastiquer-4047000-savy-3087914047007.html

(I didn't find a US site yet).

Goodnight, btw ;)

author
chrislebeck (author)bricobart2014-09-01

that's my problem too. can't find one in the usa

author
steampunkpotato (author)2014-08-20

Yayy, you did it!

author

thanks

author

Thanx to you, in fact. You asked for it!

author

indeed I did. lol

author
ardnon (author)2014-08-30

very nice

author
willybham (author)2014-08-21

very long intro for such a little project XD haha but i like it. Great instructable.

I made a small survival knife once for a DIY kit using a medium sized butcher knife. It functioned as a can opener, spear, saw, shovel, small axe, and was very shiny so a signaling mirror. the handle was acctually another smaller blade with a hole and it inserted into a well fashoned bolted removable stainless steel pipe with a storage compartment (survival kit). That held flint, arrow heads, mini compass, hooks and other survival gear. The handle was wrapped in one braided layer of camo paracord 550. Then using a heating gun, pvc pipe, and a tutorial for the case (found on youtube) I made a sturdy, snug case that the knife locked into. i completed the best invention for any survival situation which i delivered to a friend (a survivor junkie) for his birthday. Still using it to this day.

Great read tho btw. And hopefully everyones "tool" isnt reading this hahaha. XD

author
bricobart (author)willybham2014-08-24

Thanx willy, I even liked the covered sarcasm ;)

Do you have pictures of that build? Wanna see! Still into blade porn, in fact... ;)

author
loompiggytutorials (author)2014-08-20

This is a very informational instructable! I like it a lot! Very clear pictures and you obviously know a thing or two about knives=P

author

Thanx, glad you like it!

author
kbc2 (author)2014-08-20

nice ible! cool knife! i agree with function vs price, though i do have pride in my daily carry SOG folders. i have some 304L stainless 1" x 1/4" flat bar, do you think i could form out of it?

author
bricobart (author)kbc22014-08-21

Stainless steel is not really a good source to make a knife, it's better to upgrade an old blade. Old butchers axes, for example, are good stuff. Easily available on every flee-market!

author
tetra28 (author)2014-08-20

It is usually best to have multiple knives for different jobs, (skinning, carving, survival, defense, etc) but i find that a simple clip point folding knife and a large, robust bush knife should suit many needs. Also, i would suggest a full tang because (and i know from experience) than they are a LOT easier to replace a handle on, should the handle split.

author
bricobart (author)tetra282014-08-21

Agreed! On my most recent bush trips I'm also carrying two blades: this one above and that small hatchet you see on the half of my pictures.

author
Jobar007 (author)2014-08-20

Once again, you put out an excellent instructable that is well thought out.

"Beauty is just a sidenote."

I completely disagree. Beauty is found in function. Utilitarian objects are beautiful because they are practical.

I was wondering when you would post about this knife. I saw it in your stump-vise instructable and I scanned back through your other instructables for it, but it wasn't there. I'm glad to see you posted it.

author
bricobart (author)Jobar0072014-08-21

Thanx Jobar, once again! ;)

I agree with your disagreement, of course. It's a bitsy the problem with 'beauty' - difficult to define but you know it when you see it, or when you got the idea behind it.

Thanx for the compliment on my last creation. Creating & making this felt like a kind of relief, no more blade porn! ;)

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Bio: I made a beer mug with only a knife & a hatchet. I think that says a lot about me.
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