How to Make a Matching Knife Handle and Sheath

Introduction: How to Make a Matching Knife Handle and Sheath

So I got an old hand me down knife from a friend, and decided it needed some TLC. It's an old stainless steel blade and was a real pain to sharpen, but it all turned out pretty well. Most of the tools I used are not expensive, but it does take some skill and experience with power and hand tools. Remember to use proper safety equipment and precautions. Anyways, here's how I did it.

Step 1: Clean Up

I took off the old stamped steel handle, and buffed off all the rust on the belt sander. You could also use some regular 80 or 120 grit sand paper.

Step 2: Get Out Your Tools

Here is the wood I used, a piece of spalted maple about 2"x3"x10" left over from a bowl turning blank. Above that is my knife sharpener and a few other tools I used to remove the old handle and clean up the blade, including honing oil.

Step 3: Cut the Scales

I have clamped my block of wood to the table and have ripped it into 4 scales, about 5/16" to 1/4" thick. The thicker ones are for the sheath, the thinner for the handle. I cut most of the way with a circular saw, and then finished with the jig saw in the picture.

Step 4: Draw It Out

Next I traced the tang (the part of the blade that goes down in to the handle) onto one of the narrower scales.

Step 5: Draw the New Handle Shape

And now I've drawn the basic handle shape that I want to go around the tang. 

Step 6: Cut It Out

I cut the rough shape with a jig saw, and then shaped the finger grooves with a little drum sanding bit in my trigger locking drill, which I have clamped in the vice on the table so I can use both hands to move the wood. If you try this, don't crush your drill.

Step 7: Duplicate

Next I traced the handle shape on the other half...

Step 8: Just Like Making a New Key

I used the first one as a pattern to shape the second one on the belt sander and then the drill sander. They should match pretty well, but if they're not perfect, don't sweat it, the final sanding and shaping will come later.

Step 9: Now the Hard Part

Now I've started cutting the space for the tang. The depth must be the same as the thickness of the tang. I used a flat diamond bit to cut in the outline.

Step 10: Be Very Careful

I used a variety of chisels and my trusty drill sander to carve out the handle so that the blade fits in flat when we look at it from the back edge. This takes quite a while, and must be done very carefully, checking the fit often. Hope you're patient.

Step 11: Make a Sandwich

If you're sure the blade fits well sandwiched between the 2 handle scales, it's time for glue. I like this 2 part epoxy. When you use epoxy, make sure to read the instructions, especially the workable time and curing time. Also, make sure to use even amounts of both parts of the epoxy and mix it well, otherwise it will set up too quickly or will not cure at all.

Step 12: Mmmmmm...

I have spread glue on the inside surfaces of the hollowed out scale, so that the tang is glued in as well as all the edges around it.

Step 13: Clamp It!

Clamp it to cure. If you use metal clamps, be sure to put some padding or scrap wood in between to protect your knife handle from being crushed and cracked. These are plastic, and I applied just enough force to squeeze out some glue, but not enough to crush the wood. Don't worry about the glue that squeezes out, it will be sanded off once the glue has cured.

Step 14: Final Shaping of the Handle

Once the glue is dry (usually about 8-10 hours), the final shaping can begin. I used the drill sander to round out the finger grooves and sanding sponges to smooth and shape everything. Working my way through 120, 220, 320, 540, and 1500 grit sand paper, I worked the handle to a satin finish. Once again, patience is key.

Step 15: Admire Your Work So Far

Not too bad if I do say so myself...

Step 16: Give It Some Teeth

I decided I wanted serrations, so I clamped the handle (carefully) in the bench vise, and cut them in on both sides with a 1/4" diamond bit. If you try this, brace your hand against the blade and try to maintain a steady angle, about 20 degrees.

Step 17: Draw the Blade

Now for the sheath. This will be almost exactly the same process as the handle, except when we come to gluing. 

Step 18: More Carving

Now we cut out a space for the blade................................Keep checking the patient and careful, and when you're chiseling toward the tip end of the sheath, be careful not to slip and gouge out the end. I have screwed a couple of blocks to the table to brace against so that my hands stay behind the chisel blade. 

Step 19: Rough Shaping the Sheath

I've drawn a rough outline of the sheath around the blade, making sure that there is about 1/4" all the way around. This will leave plenty of room for finish sanding and shaping. 

Step 20: Very Carefully

I have hollowed out the space for the blade and the handle, as well as rough shaped the outside. Now the other side can be shaped out just like the handle. Once you think you are done, loosely clamp the to sheath pieces together as if they were glued and check to see how well the blade slides in and out.

Step 21: Last Chance

Last chance to check everything before it's all glued together... 

Step 22: Make Another Sandwich

Be very careful to apply your epoxy only to the outside edges of the 2 sheath pieces. You don't want glue squeezing in the the space for the blade and gumming everything up. You can check this by inserting the blade and checking to see if it comes back with glue on it. If it looks like too much, pull the pieces back apart and wipe out the excess glue from the inside. Re-apply glue as necessary,  re-clamp, and re-check. However, don't leave the blade in while it cures.

Step 23: Final Sanding and Finishing

The final sanding and shaping can be done once the epoxy has cured, and you may also want to seal it with stain or wax or oil. I like Danish Oil which is a mix of boiled linseed oil and beeswax, and is also non toxic. You can also use regular old Minwax stain. Good luck, and I hope this instructable was helpful!

1 Person Made This Project!


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2 years ago

Very nice, put a belt loop on it.


8 years ago on Introduction

Wood can be unforgiving as a sheath material, but I think I've heard of people using an appropriately sized forstner bit to allow gluing a thin rare earth magnet to help keep the blade in place.


Reply 6 years ago

That's a good idea. I cut the opening of the sheath to fit the handle tightly enough to hold it in place. After several years, I still can't flip it upside down and shake the knife free.


6 years ago

Nice job! Makes me want to do another, it's been a while.


9 years ago on Introduction

I really like the matching wooden sheath idea !


9 years ago on Introduction

I really like the matching wooden sheath idea !