Introduction: How to Make an M-1 Astronaut Survival Knife
On season 6 episode 21 of forged in fire, the contestants had to make an m-1 astronaut survival knife to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. When I saw that episode, I thought it would be fun to try and recreate one myself. I made this project to show more people how fun the hobby of knife making was, and hopefully encourage them to try it themselves.
I hope you enjoy this project!
15-17 inches of high carbon steel
3/16 inch diameter brass rod
5 minute epoxy
Quench tank (optional)
Canola or corn oil (optional)
Polishing and Grinding Belts
Grinding and Cutting Grinder Disks
Drill press or handheld drill with 3/16 inch drill bit
Propane or Charcoal Forge (optional)
Sharpening Stone (optional)
Step 1: Finding the Right Steel
Because this knife was meant to be used for survival, it had to be strong and reliable. To make it strong, it had to be made from a certain kind of metal called high carbon steel. The reason it is important to use this kind of metal is because it is able to be hardened with a process called quenching, which I will explain on step 4.
The easiest way to test if a piece of steel is high carbon or not is by spark testing. Spark testing is where you use an angle grinder to make sparks on a piece of steel. If the sparks have a bushy pattern (much forking) that starts at the grinding wheel, then it is most likely high carbon steel. (If you only have mild steel, you can use that too, but your blade wont be as strong)
Step 2: Drawing Out the Shape
This step is very important to me when I try to recreate certain types of swords and knives. It is important because if I don't do this, my knife usually will turn out not so great. I usually draw out the knife shape on a piece of paper first, and then draw out the shape on the piece of metal to use as a guideline while grinding and sanding.
Step 3: Cutting and Grinding Out the Shape
Remember to always use ear protection, eye protection, and a dust mask while working with metal.
To grind and cut out the shape, I used an angle grinder with a cutting disk and and a belt sander with different grit belts, from 40 grit for grinding up to 600 grit for polishing. After I had cut out the general shape with the angle grinder, I simply sanded the metal down until it matched the lines I had drawn. Also, Drill the holes in the tang before the next step using a 3/16 inch drill bit. (drilling through hardened steel is nearly impossible to do.)
Step 4: Quenching (optional)
(You can skip this step if you don't have access to a forge)
This is one of the most important parts in the knife making process. This step is important because it is where you put the strength into your blade. The way you quench is by heating up your blade to between 1050 and 1090 degrees Celsius (1922 and 1994 degrees Fahrenheit). If you cant measure the temperature, just heat it up until it is a red to orange color. You can heat it up using a propane or charcoal forge, or use an oxyacetylene or propane torch for an edge quench (Advantages of an edge quench over a full-blade quench include making the blade less brittle, as well as the blade having a reduced risk of bending or cracking, but edge quenches are much more of a hassle.)
The material of your quench tank is also something you should take into consideration. Do not make your quench tank out of anything flammable like wood, or anything that could give off toxic fumes if exposed to heat, like PVC. The ideal kind of quench tank would be a ammo can, because it has a lid that can be closed if the oil catches fire, and it won't burn or give off toxic or harmful fumes if exposed to heat. (I recommend using corn oil to quench, because it smells better than other oils and is not toxic)
Step 5: Making the Handle
Picking a Handle Material
Picking the right handle material while making a knife handle is very important. There are a lot of different types of handle materials to choose from. I usually use walnut because I think it looks good when you finish it, and it is also pretty strong. One of the best materials you can use though, is micarta because it is very strong and looks nice. (Traditional M-1 astronaut knives used a white synthetic handle, because it was reliable)
Assembling The Handle
To assemble the handle you will need your handle material, 3/16 inch brass rod, and 5 minute epoxy. First, you mark out the shape of the tang on you handle material, and mark the holes on the tang. after cutting the handle scales out, drill holes out on the markings that match the holes on the tang. (make sure to use a 3/16 inch drill bit) Then, cut two pieces of brass rod to about 25 mm each. after that, put the two pieces of brass rod through the handle scales and the tang, and glue it all together with 5 minute epoxy. (Clamp it while the epoxy is drying so it is extra strong) After the epoxy drys, use a belt sander or an orbital sander to round off all of the uncomfortable edges until it feels good to hold.
Step 6: Adding Serrations and Sharpening
Sharpening a knife can be very tricky to get right, but is also a very important step in the knife making process. To sharpen my knives, I simply use a belt sander and slowly taper down the cutting edge until it is sharp enough for me. Although this is the easier way to do it in my opinion, you can also use a tool called a sharpening stone. A sharpening stone is harder to use than a belt sander, but produces a sharper edge. I don't know much more about sharpening stones, but there are plenty of people online that do, so I recommend looking up how to use one online if you are interested.
This kind of knife was meant to be a multipurpose tool, so they added serrations on the back so it could be useful for sawing. To make the serrations, I used a belt sander to add the bevel, then used a Dremel tool to put the serrations in. Then I used the Dremel again to make the serrations look evenly spaced apart. If you don't have a Dremel, then you can use a file, and it will simply take more time. The length of serrations can anywhere be from 4-7 inches. (Or more, depending on what the length of your blade is.)
Step 7: Finish Work
You don't have to finish your knife, but it is always more satisfying when it looks nice. Here are two things you can do to finish your knife.
One way to do this is by polishing. The way I polish my knives is by starting with about a 120 grit sanding belt, and slowly working my way up until I reach a polish that I am happy with.( If you don't polish your blade, it will rust very easily)
Another thing that needs finishing on a knife is the handle. To finish my handles, I usually hand sand with a high grit sandpaper (120-220 Grit) until it is smooth and there are no spots that are uncomfortable in my hand. I also used olive oil to darken the handle and make it look nice. Another way you can darken it is by charring, which is where you use a heat source to char the handle and make it darker. (This method can damage the handle if you aren't careful though, so I recommend you just use olive oil at first.)
Once you finish this step, you are done!
Thanks For reading, and I hope you enjoyed this project!
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