Introduction: Skinning Knife From Leaf Spring

In this instructable I am going to make a skinning knife from leaf spring. This was rather quick and simple to make but produced pretty good results. Leaf spring is a carbon steel that will either be 5160 or 1085 steel. The heat treating in this is for 5160 steel so if you want to make a really good knife you should buy a steel that you know what it is and look up how to heat treat it. But this knife is fairly alright and I am happy with it.

Carbon steel is very strong but rusts easily so you will need to take care to prevent it from rusting, especially if you get blood on it from skinning.

Step 1: Materials

Some leaf spring or 5160 steel

A cutting implement, angle grinder would be best

Some sorta forge thing

Material for your handle, I used deer antler


A chisel

A drill

A bench grinder


Sharp drill bits

Old oil preferably vegetable

Step 2: Flattening

Sorry I didn't get any pictures of the process my brother had the camera while I was doing this.

The leaf spring would be bent so to flatten it get a forge or a fire and maybe a leaf blower (be careful not to melt the end of it) to fan the coals. Once the metal is glowing, carefully take it out with some tongs and hammer it flat on a hard flat surface, preferably some sorta steel. I cut the blade to shape before flattening, but it is probably best to flatten it before cutting to shape.

Step 3: Cutting and Grinding to Shape

Draw your design of how you want it on your leaf spring. You could draw it on paper first but I just drew it straight on. For my design I looked up a list of the best skinning knifes and I chose the one I liked the most and used that and changed it too suit me.

After drawing the design I used an angle grinder and a hacksaw to cut out the rough shape of the blade. Then I ground it all to shape on the bench grinder.

Step 4: Adding Some Detail to the Knife

Cut the gut hook into the knife using a cutting blade with the angle grinder, then use a slighty thicker grinding disk to make it the size you want.

To drill the hole use a center punch and make a dint where you want your finger to go. Then get a sharp drill bit and start drilling the hole. Increase the size of the hole with several drill bits until it fits your finger nicely. File the edges of the hole down to make it smooth.

Grind the edge of the knife on the bench grinder to get a blade on it. Make sure you grind it evenly on both sides.

If the leaf spring is really rusty you may need to clean it up on the bench grinder and then sand it or you could soak it in vinegar.

After cleaning the blade I found some letter and number punches in the shed and decided to put my name on it.

Step 5: Sharpening the Blade and Gut Hook

The gut hook and blade will need some smoothing down and sharpening after rough grinding. To do this use a needle file or whatever fits for the gut hook and just an ordinary flat file for the blade. After filing sand it down to make it all smooth. Use only a coarse sandpaper like 80 grit. You can use finer grit sandpaper after heat treating.

Step 6: Making Your Handle

I made my handle parts before I heat treated the blade to make sure that I could do it and it would fit because the deer antler slabs I cut out for the handles looked a bit small.

Sand flat the side of the antler you want attached to the knife.

Drill the holes in where you want your pins or bolts to go in the steel first. After drilling in the knife clamp the knife and antler together and drill through the antler. Bolt one slab of antler on and rough cut it with a saw. Do the same for the other antler and then bolt both together and sand down till the handle is how you want.

Step 7: Building the Forge

If you have a lot of bricks you can build a vertical forge for the knife. I used 4x 6 brick layers to build the main part. At the front I pulled 2 bricks out a little for some added airflow and the leaf blower. Then in the centre I put a squashed metal pipe in for the knife to go in.

On both sides of the forge I put some garden stakes in the ground to make an x shape and on the top angle I added another stake (I later changed this too a star picket cause the wood was burning). This was so I could let the knife dangle in the pipe to allow it to heat evenly and not lose heat through touching the ground.

Inside the forge I put a mixture of coals and wood. For best results it is best to wait until the wood burns to coals or just use only charcoal or even briquettes.

Step 8: Normalising

Before heat treatment you need to normalise the blade to get the grain right and relieve the blade of any stress from forging, grinding and drilling. To normalise the blade you need to heat it up evenly till it is slightly past non-magnetic in a forge or fire. To do this get a metal pipe that the knife will fit into and hammer it flat with some sorta sledge hammer. Then place the pipe vertically in the fire and put a little bit of wood or wood shavings in the bottom to stop the knife from forming scale. Then put the knife in the pipe and heat it up until it is non-magnetic then bring it up a little brighter. Repeat 2 more times and on the last time let it completely cool down.

If the pipe does not heat it evenly try putting it on the coals but it needs to be heated evenly.

Attach the magnet too something solid so you don't burn yourself trying to get the knife off the magnet.

*Do not over heat the blade. It is better to not heat it enough then to over heat it. Overheating can damage the knife.

*It is best to do this in the dark so you can see the changes of colour in the knife.

Step 9: Quenching

To harden the knife you need to quench it. To do this heat it up the same as in normalising. Once heated up try to keep it at that temperature for about 5 or so minutes. This is called soaking. If you can't do this without overheating the blade don't do it as over heating is bad. After soaking take the blade out and dunk it vertically in oil. Preheat the oil to about 55°C or 130°F to lessen the likelihood of the blade breaking. I used motor oil but vegetable oil would be much better because motor oil can give you cancer if you use it too much. It is best not to agitate the blade as this is liable to warp it. For best results use about 24 litres of oil per 1kg of steel. You could use less oil but it will result in it being not as hardened.

My knife weighed about 114g so I used about 3L of oil.

After quenching run a file over it to test its hardness. If the file runs over the blade without digging into it it is hard enough but if it digs into the knife you may need to requench it.

*If you are using motor oil try not to breath the fumes, they can give you lung cancer.

*Do not over heat the blade. It is better to not heat it enough then to over heat it. Overheating can damage the knife.

*The steel is really brittle after quenching so be careful not to break it.

*It is best to do this in the dark so you can see the changes of colour in the knife.

Step 10: Tempering

Tempering softens the blade after quenching to make it usable. To do this put the blade in the oven for 2x 1hr cycles, allowing it too cool in-between. Heat the oven at about 170°C or 340°F. Before putting it in the oven clean the blade up of any crud from quenching. Test the blade's strength and if satisfactory you can go on to attaching the handle, but if it is too hard temper it again in the oven at a sightly higher temp or temper it for a bit longer or if it is too soft you will need to requench it and temper it at a lower temp.

Step 11: Final Sanding and Other Stuff

After heat treating you can sand the knife down till it is really smooth. I personally didn't care that much so I didn't sand it down too much but if you want it smooth and shiny sand it down with 80 or 120 grit paper. Then progressivly sand it with smoother and smoother sandpaper. Go up to about 400 grit or more too make it really good. Keep the part where you are attaching the handle rough but clean it of scale. This will help it glue together better.

Step 12: Attaching the Handles

Before attaching the handles sand the antler down too a really smooth finish much like sanding the knife blade but you could probably have more violent changes in grit for the antler. Make sure your hands are clean because you don't want the antler to get dirty.

For attaching the handles I used 5 min set epoxy. If you are using pins to hold the handle together it is best too use long setting epoxy because the 5 min epoxy is weaker, but I used bolts so I am using the quick set stuff.

Before glueing make sure everything fits together nicely and is completely ready for putting together as the epoxy will dry fast and you will only have a short time too put it together and if there is a problem it will be hard too fix. Now mix the epoxy and spread along the antler slabs and lightly clamp together or screw the bolts in. If your antler has holes or pores in it you can use any left over glue or mix some more up too give it a thin coating of epoxy. This will also help it too retain its colour.

My epoxy was gray so I only filled in the big holes with it.

Step 13: Care for Your Knife

Carbon steel rusts a fair bit so it is necessary to protect from rust it especially if you get blood on it from skinning. Too do this you can keep it oiled, spray some WD-40 on it or force a patina on it.

Too force a patina on it get some white vinegar and soak a paper towel in it and then wrap the blade with it. Leave it in the paper towel for a few hours. You can use other weak acids but be careful that they don't etch to quick. Too make the process quicker you can put it in warm or boiling vinegar and take it out when you like the patina.

You can also add cool designs to the etch by wrapping some string soaked in vinegar around it and put the paper towel around it.

You can redo it whenever it wears off.

If the knife gets rusty soak it in vinegar for a few hours then wipe the rust off.

Step 14: Have Fun

Well now you know how to make a skinning knife from some old leaf spring.

Be safe, don't kill anyone and have fun.

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