Introduction: 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

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.

Step 3: 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

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

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

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.

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.