How to Make a Bushcraft Knife

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Introduction: How to Make a Bushcraft Knife

About: I am Jake and I make. Knifemaking, metalworking, fashion design (AKA the duct tape tie), writing, filming, prop making, fire. Typical teenage maker. Check me out on Youtube.

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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58 Comments

0
r_suend111
r_suend111

8 months ago

When I make my knives I kind of cheat by buying the knife blank and adding the handle.I've built knives from the Casstrom Swedish Forest Knife kits,puukko knives,and Jeff White knife blanks that all are preheated,ready made knife blanks.It's alot of work involved in making a good handle.I usually use birch,canvas micarta,and from burl woods.For puukkos I buy knife blocks,the other knife handle types are from scales.I use a Dremel cutoff wheel to shape the handles,or to cut a knife block down the center for puukko knives.Finally I sand the handles then add a coat or two of wood finish,preferably semi-transparent golden pecan.

DSCN3848.JPGDSCN3999.JPGDSCN3886.JPGDSCN3984.JPG12bush (17).JPGDSCN3951.JPG
0
steve.fenster.5
steve.fenster.5

5 years ago

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.

0
Jim L.
Jim L.

Reply 8 months ago

That's a differential heat treat. By insulating with clay (bentonite clay [kitty litter]), the covered area is slightly more resistant to temperature change. The result is having an homogenous piece of steel that will have targeted areas with different characteristics.

Areas that cool more slowly will have a less brittle character as well as resistance to oxidation.

20150822_054825.jpg20200310_172017.jpg
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Jim L.
Jim L.

Reply 8 months ago

Sorry, I don't know how to edit those pics with my PAD. The first shows a blade after initial clean up. The darker part of the hamon is harder. This particular blade was made as a hard use chopper of the yard work variety. The vast majority of the bevels into the spine is less brittle and slightly more resistant to shock. The area closest to the cutting edge is slightly harder so it will hold an edge better.

The second pic shows a differrent blade that was made as an every day user. It illustrates the three phases or crystallization structuring. I always thought it was interesting how they form. The white or "silvery" line that forms between the sections forms as they interface together. I'm sorry, I don't know the terminology behind this technique.

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MandalorianMaker
MandalorianMaker

Reply 5 years ago

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

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Jake_Makes
Jake_Makes

Reply 5 years ago

Like the part about condensed prisoners:)

1
Too Many Projects
Too Many Projects

Reply 5 years ago

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.

0
abeimers
abeimers

5 years ago

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

0
Jim L.
Jim L.

Reply 8 months ago

Actually, carbon would travel to where there is a low level (my understanding of how case hardening works). The steel would recieve the carbon. The blue comes from oxidation from a specific temerature range.

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Jake_Makes
Jake_Makes

Reply 5 years ago

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.

0
JoeF4
JoeF4

Reply 5 years ago

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.

0
Jake_Makes
Jake_Makes

Reply 5 years ago

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

0
JoeF4
JoeF4

Reply 5 years ago

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.

0
Jake_Makes
Jake_Makes

Reply 5 years ago

I personally don't use motor oil because it stinks, is messy, and from what I have read, doesn't work quite as well. But it does work, and a lot of people use it.

0
Jim L.
Jim L.

Tip 3 years ago on Step 4

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

0
Jake_Makes
Jake_Makes

Reply 3 years ago

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

0
Jim L.
Jim L.

Reply 8 months ago

Wow, three years to reply. Im getting old in my slow age.....( 😁 ). I see no real mistakes. I see what appears to be a well built tool with pleasing aesthetics. As far as mistakes are concerned, I've always thought of them as a building point for a lesson. Well done young Sir.

0
JohnBradley79
JohnBradley79

5 years ago

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.

1
Jake_Makes
Jake_Makes

Reply 5 years ago

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.

0
JohnBradley79
JohnBradley79

Reply 5 years ago

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.