Introduction: Knife Making Without Tools

About: Tim Anderson is the author of the "Heirloom Technology" column in Make Magazine. He is co-founder of, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output devices. His detailed drawings of traditional Pacific I…
Here's how to make a hunting knife from a butter knife by rubbing it on wet pavement and wrapping the handle with cord. It looks and feels good in the hand.

This project was inspired by a family I stayed with in Kenya. The only utensil they had was a sharpened butterknife shared by about twenty people.

Select your "blank":
Test your butterknives by bending the blade with your fingers. The farther you can bend it without it staying bent, the better it is.
Instead of a butter knife, you could use a saw blade or any piece of metal.

WARNING: I will be showing a bunch of OPTIONAL steps using tools.
For purist "no-tool" knifemaking, just skip all the steps using tools.
Or just substitute "with a rock" for the name of the tool.
Your knife will be fine.

Step 1: Optional: Drill Holes in Each End of the Handle

These are to tuck the ends of wrapping cord through.
Skip this and the wrapping is the same and 95% as good.

Step 2: Optional: Countersink and Smooth the Holes

I'm using a countersink and some sandpaper to do that.
This will keep the burr on the edge of the hole from biting the cord or your hand.

Step 3: Optional: Melt and Taper the Cord End

This will make it easier to poke through the hole. Unnecessary if you skipped the holes.
Get your fingers wet so the melted plastic won't stick and burn you like napalm.

This is 1/8" nylon "parachute" cord. 1/8" Polyester is better because it doesn't get loose when wet. Get it at a chandler. (marine supply)

Step 4: Start Wrapping

If your cord is nylon get it wet first.
If it's cotton or other cellulose fiber, make sure it's dry first.
Nylon shrinks when it dries, cotton shrinks when it's wet.

You don't really need the hole, that's just something to make it look less like a butter knife.
If you drilled holes poke the cord through one of the holes.
Leave a tail a few inches long.
If you skipped the hole just lay down the tail and wrap over it.
Wrap over the tail until you get halfway up the handle.

Step 5: Lay Down a Loop

Eventually we'll need a way to pull the far tail back under the wrapping.
To do that we'll lay down a loop of thin cord and wrap over that.

Step 6: Put the Tail in the Loop

We've gotten to the end.
If you drilled a hole poke the end of the cord through it.
Put the end of your cord through the loop.

Step 7: Pull!

Wrap the thin cord around something you can pull on, and pull hard.
Pull the tail of the wrap cord under the turns of wrapping.

Step 8: Pull the Tails Tight

Use needlenose pliers if you have them.
Otherwise use a stick.
Twist and pry on the tails to tighten them.

Step 9: Handle Is Finished

Cut the tails as short as you can and poke what remains under the wrappings.
It looks and feels good.

Step 10: Design Your Blade

I like a knife blade about the same length as my pinky finger.

Decide what you want and first mark, and then scratch that shape in your blade.
I'm going for an asymmetrical bonsai-utility tip.

Step 11: Shape and Rough Sharpen the Blade

Fortunately it's drizzling a bit and the pavement is wet.
I rubbed the blade on the edge of a curb til it was cut through enough to break off at the length I wanted.
Then I rubbed the rest of it on wet pavement til it was sharp and there was a bit of a burr on the edge.
It goes pretty quick. Cement is a good abrasive.

Look for smoother concrete if you want a better finish on your knife.
Or rub a rock or piece of cement on your working abrasive surface to smooth it first.
A rock, brick, broken flower pot, or any other rough ceramic item make good abrasives.
Hard wet beach sand can be a miraculously good abrasive.

The blade got a bit hot even though the pavement was wet.
I dipped it in a puddle from time to time to cool it off.

Step 12: You Have a Knife!

It's ready for finish sharpening as demonstrated here.
Here's how to make a paper sheath so you can carry it safely in your pocket.

That was quick!
It took less than an hour according to my photo EXIF timestamps in spite of interruptions such as rain and repeatedly hitting my camera with a hammer (canon s30 "E18 error").

Use your knife safely!
As my Granddad used to say, "Don't cut toward yourself and you'll never get cut!"