Introduction: Knives From Files

So I'm: Sheltering in place, fixed every squeaky door and window in the house, have a dozen or so files in the garage that I've picked up from estate sales and garage sales, work is dead slow and I've been binge watching Forged in fire for days now.

So I decided to finally try making a couple of knives from files.

I have another instructable that I made a knife from a leaf spring but I figured I'd post this to maybe give folks some inspiration to try something new.

So my design parameters -

Everything has to come from what I have in the garage - no runs to the hardware store or ordering stuff

Spend maybe 10 hours max making a knife - start to finish. Make sure I finish what I start - no more new half finished products laying around.

So I made fourknives - A M3 like knife, a John EK copy, a Seax, and a Kwaiken style knife.

Are my knife making procedures the best - not likely - especially when it comes to heat treatment but they all hold their edge and I'm happy with them and I'll take the lessons learned and apply them to the next projects.


Supplies -

Old files purchased at garage sales

I plank of walnut

brass rod, steel rod

Tools -

Grizzly 2x72 grinder

1" belt sander

angle grinder - with cutting wheels - Essential tool!

Harbor freight grinder/buffer/wire wheel with pedistal mount.

Lots of other files!

drill press, torch for heat treating, bending, cutting, etc.

Step 1: The M3 Knock Off

So I watched the Forged in Fire Armed Forces finale and the project was to make a M3 like knife

I figured I would do the same. No planning, no sizing, no thinking it through. Not the way to do it....

took a picture of the tip of an M3, printed it out and took it out to the garage.

Heated up the knife to a glowing red to take the temper out of the knife.

Cut the corners out of the tip of the file with the angle grinder with a cut of wheel, made some cuts in back - I was initially planning a peened over pommel like the original - but on the first pass ended up with something else.

Cut a piece of 2x4 at a 20 deg angle and clamped the knife to it so I could grind the edge.

Marked the center line on the edge with dykem and used the calipers to mark the center.

Then I started grinding the edge.

Once that was done - getting the edge pretty close on both sides, plunge line didn't match up (something I have to work on) but it looked ok. Clamped the knife in again to work on the false edges

Cleaned up the tange making sure that the top - by the blade was wider than the base so I could mount the guard.

For tempering I (since I don't have a forge) i decided to edge quench and did my best to get the length of the edge to the right temp (cherry red) and plunged it into a warm pan of 10-40 oil. Ended up with some warp to the blade that I would fix after tempering.

For tempering I cleaned the knife up really well with solvent and soap and water and stuck it in a oven at 400 deg for an hour, let cool and did it again. Blade was hard again on the edge. Took the bend out by slightly heating it and straightening it.

Initially I used a brass guard and decided I wanted to show the stamp at the back of the file - which ended up causing me some grief -and to re-do the handle guard again.

From there, without a clue what I wanted the handles to look like I ended up with what you see in the first picture. That is a two piece handle that I had to sand the center out on the two pieces and epoxy together. Not happy with the results at all.

Tore those off. Made a new guard out of mild steel (only what I have in the garage) and decided on a walnut handle that had a slight curve towards the back with all the corners filed down at a 45 degree.

I like the second handle guard better but overall, not happy with what I made. But this is what happens when you don't plan things out first.

Verdict: It will set in a drawer for the next 1-2 decades and some family member will sell it at a garage sale for like a buck after I'm gone.

Step 2: John Ek Copy

John Ek knives have a interesting history. Started in WWII manufactured in various places in the US and carried by soldiers from WWII to current day the link below is a good read.

History of John EK knives

I picked this because it looks like it was pretty straightforward to make.

I decided to PLAN what I was going to do this time, draw a pattern that I wanted and work through the details before things went side ways.

Scanned an image of a pattern I liked into Rhino 3d, cut it out with my eBay laser printer and bolted it to my file.

(I took the temper out of the file prior to this). Turns out there was not a lot of grinding to get the shape of the knife.

From there, I bolted & clamped it to a 2x4 cut at a 20 degree angle. Put a extra screw in place to keep the knife from moving, turning, etc.

It didn't take much time to grind the angles into the blade. Ground the false edge into the blade as well. Got the edge close and heat treated it. This is a 1" file so I was able to heat up the whole knife pretty well before dunking it in the pan of 10W40. Tempered the same way as the M3. 1 hour at 400, let cool, one more hour at 400 cool again.

After that I brought the edge in close enough on the grinder to be able to sharpen.

Made the guard out of 1" mild steel and carefully marked where the slot was to be cut. Turns out the blade is thin enough I had to use a baby file and needle file to get the slot opened up. (Have blisters to prove it).

with guard ready I started on the handles. Ek knives have their signature handles with the grooves cut in them so I wanted to do the same. I had a plank of walnut laying around and I started to learn how to grind those groove.

Turns out it took me almost 7 attempts to get a set of handles ready to glue on the knife. I would cut them down so they fit the knife - bolt the handle in place and attempt to grind in the grooves. 4 grooves each side - 8 total.

Spent a part of a day doing and re-doing this. When I finally-finally think I had it correct, I epoxied the handle on only to realize that I cut the walnut so the grain ran across the handle and not down. man... Well I had been fooling with this and applied my rule - 10 hours or so max to finish - so I left them as is and made my for real attempt to grind the groove in the handle. They came out - kinda ok....

Knife sharpened up real well - shave sharp.

Verdict: It will recycle boxes

Step 3: The Seax

Always wanted to try one of these. Pretty straight forward looking and big.

I had picked up a Farrier's rasp at a garage sale. Never owned one before and I don't think I will have any use for something this big. So it was the candidate.

Again I took the heat treat out of the file with the torch, did up another paper pattern in Rhino and decided to lay the pattern down and spray paint around it (it was too big to cut in my laser cutter in wood) - from a picture I seen on the web. Turns out this isn't a good way to do this. When the metal gets hot enough - from cutting and grinding the paint fades away and you are left free-handing the pattern! Not such a big deal since its pretty straight forward.

So I cut the pattern out, flattened out some of the sides of the rasp but not all the way.

Then I strapped it to a 2x4 that I cut at a 25 degree angle (read somewhere that camp knives for bigger tasks should have a steeper angle)

Set to grinding the edge and at 25 degrees the plunge line only came up like 1/2 of a inch. Not so good looking. So I figured I would try 15 degrees (for kitchen knives...) and see what happened. re-cut the 2x4 and started back grinding the edge. Aesthetically it looks better. But I was worried with my crappy heat treat and 15 deg edge it was gonna just roll the edge over or chip when I decided to really use it.

So with the edge pretty much ground I decided to heat treat it. This was way to big for me to do with a torch but I didn't have a choice. I again decided to just harden the edge of the blade. I couldn't get consistent heat across 10" worth of edge but I did the best I could and quenched it. It came out with a pretty big warp to it. Edge was hard though. Did the tempering and to straighten out the warp I put it in the vice and heated the back of the blade where it was bent to straighten it out.

I had little confidence in this one so I decided to go Forged in Fire on it.

I wrapped a paracord handle on it and decided to give it three different tests Forged in Fire like tests.

#1 Chopping into a hardwood block

#2 Stabbing into a hardwood block

#3 And to test tip strength, opening up a beer bottle with the tip.

I fully expected a complete fail - but as it turns out it did really well! No chipping or warping of the blade beating it against the hardwood and I was able to pop a beer using the tip of the knife with out it snapping or rolling over!

So for the real handle I again used walnut with brass pins. I had a handle design all picked out but once I hit the sander/grinder/files/sandpaper I ended up with what you see. I knife that belongs in a Viking grandma's kitchen drawer.

Verdict: It will end up in the camping box and will get a good work out when we go camping next time.

Step 4: The Kwaiken

For the next one, I chose a Kwaiken style knife using another 1" file. This time I decided not to un-temper the steel since I could grind everything in pretty easily. The blade is super thin and I figured untempering/re-tempering would cause it to just turn into a major warp...

Again drew the pattern in Rhino, laser cut it in wood and laid it over the file. I drilled a hole at the end so I could align the pattern on the knife and not have to completely rely on clamping the pattern to the blade. I also needed the hole to run the paracord through for the handle I was going to make. The 2nd hole in the photo is a screw up. Not paying attention right from the get-go.

I clamped it tight and got on it with the angle grinder with the cutting wheel. When I got close enough, finished the pattern on the belt sander.

I had zero confidence that I could pull of the grinding of the edge and false edge without completely melting the tip off but hey, I'm into this for like $1.

I chose to use the 15 deg angle again for this one since it's going to be yet another box re-cycler and letter opener it's going to have a easy life.

So I carefully started to grind the edge on it. With the tip that thin I couldn't put a lot of pressure on it because the steel was turning blue - super hot, (like hot enough just curl up and burn off the knife hot). Also as the tip narrowed it wasn't laying flat on the wood and was flexing - causing me to have to take more passes at it to get it ground to an edge. I'm sure the file lost a lot of its temper here towards the tip. I managed to bring it in close enough to be able to sharpen (getting better on my technique).

for the false edge grinds on the top I practiced on some 1" mild steel stock to get the angle and hand motion I would need to get those ground. I was also totally worried about just losing the tip if I bobbled grinding it at all.

Turns out it worked..

After binge watching knife making videos on youtube I decided to flat sand the blade on this one. got a wood block stuck it in the vice and clamped the knife to it. Got another wood block, wrapped 60 grit around it and started sanding. Note to self - try to have the whole blade on the wood block, just in case you slip and run the tip into your hand..

So spent like 2 hours sanding, went from 60 to 120 to 220 and was happy with the results - and blisters on two of my fingers in the process but that's part of it.

For the handle I wanted that Samurai eel skin kinda wrap (Tsukamaki - something like that) but I wasn't going to order the proper cord or eel skin. So I ended up super gluing some sand paper to the handle and wrapping it with paracord with the inner strands removed. Dusted off some of my paracord skills from back in the day and after a couple of tries pulled off a gaucho knot then a simple criss-cross wrap trying my best to center the crosses.

Check out Weavers of Eternities paracord tutorials. Most of the knots I've tied over the last couple of years came from his site.

The Weavers of Eternity Paracord Tutorials

I really don't know what I'm going to do with this thing. It's too dangerous to have just sitting around and I have quite a few box recycles hanging around. Also I have no idea how fragile the tip it since parts of thinner part of the blade got pretty hot during grinding - and I didn't re-temper or heat treat the thing. Got it wicked sharp though. But I'm happy with the results - learned quite a bit during the process.

Total time - 2 days part time

Total cost - $1.00

Results - It will look good sitting on my desk for the next 10 years collecting dust.

Step 5: Summary

Things I learned (and re-learned)

If you don't have a plan when you start, chances are you won't be happy with the result.

When grinding on the steel - or working on the handles. Always be aware exactly what you are doing otherwise you can mess the whole project up or cause yourself a lot of work to fix it.

Write down what worked and what didn't and always try the next time you are going to do something, to try to improve on it. For me (every part of knife making) but on plunge lines and making handles - which is a huge challenge for me.

When trying to tweak something small on a handle - do not use the belt sander! use a file/sandpaper

Stop mixing 10x times the epoxy you need to glue something up

What to build next -

Build a mini-forge - heat treating with the torch doesn't work for anything bigger than say 6 inches long.

What improved -

Overall grinding - I'm much happier with how the grinding turned out - much better than past attempts - I have a fair sized fail pile of work~