Creating a Bush Knife With Layered Wood Handle

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This documents the process of creating a 'bush knife' from scrap steel and wood, to the finished product. The aim was to produce a useful tool for one of my favourite pass-times, wild camping. It was designed to meet the following criteria:

Be light enough to be carried as part of my regular kit, replacing my heavy hand axe.

Be sturdy enough to take a bit of abuse, using it to split small logs, function as an improvised hammer etc

Be something that looks like I can be reasonably proud of making it.

Fit my hand perfectly, I don't like blisters.

Have a tip delicate enough to do a bit of wood carving

Hold a sharp edge




I deplore the prospect of knives as weapons, if you have any comments along those lines, please keep them to yourself, I don't want to know.

Asides from that, I'd love to know your thoughts. This is my first attempt at such a project and I have likely missed a few vital steps.

Step 1: Materials and Tools

Materials
Steel, at least 3mm thick.
Wood, a couple of different kinds, I used pine and redwood
Threaded rod and nut, for fixing the handle in place

Tools
You can probably get away with less powertools than I used, so I'll list them in order of importance

MIG welder
Bandsaw
Grinder
Vice
Pillar Drill
Hacksaw
Disk sander

Others
Wood Glue
Anti-rust primer
Polishing wax
Sandpaper/Glasspaper
Cloths and rags

Step 2: The Blade

This is going to be a through tang/stick tang knife, so the same steel that forms the blade runs through the handle.

Mark out the shape of the blade, leaving at least a 2cm wide handle.

Start cutting. If you are using a hacksaw then you have my sympathy...It's worth a new bandsaw blade to save all that effort. And most bandsaws are capable of cutting metal of this thickness, just take it slowly.

If your metal had a coating, grind it off, we'll be heating and welding later and bare metal is preferable.

Step 3: Metal Work

Now you have a knife shaped piece of shiney metal, it's time to give it a edge. Not sharp, but taking off the square edge while it's still unpolished.

I used an angle grinder for this step, very carefully and lightly brushing over the edge until it was at the right kind of angle. Then turning it over and doing the same on the other side.

The masking tape was intended to act as a visual guide, but didn't really help much.

Do this until you are happy with the shape and blade angles, then temper the metal with the method of your choice.

I opted for the quick and dirty method of heating and quenching a few times. With no forge to hand, I used a blowtorch to heat the metal before dropping it into a bucket of water. My intention was to focus the heat on cutting edge of the knife, there seems little point in making the whole knife harder and more brittle. Some flexibility will add to the durability and strength.

Step 4: Welding and Polishing

This seems like a good point to practise my MIG welding skills, as you are about to see, they need a little more work.

The hilt needs to be welded in place, if you have a perfect fit, then only weld from 'below'. But if, like me, the slot is a little larger than the tang, weld all around and grind down the excess metal afterwards.

At this point I had the idea of using a threaded rod and a nut to hold the handle in place, so I cut a slot from the end of the tang, and welded a length of threaded rod (a.k.a, bolt with head chopped off) in place.

While the handle is still bare metal, you may want to clamp it in a vice and start the long process of filing/sanding/polishing the balde. Just work through the grades of (glass) sand paper, finishing with a wet fine grain texture.
I spent a few hours doing this, but didn't get anywhere near a perfect finish. In the end I decided that it was a working knife, not a display piece, so a mirror finish wasn't necessary.

Step 5: The Handle

I saw this technique years ago on a documentary, the craftsman was using slices of bone and antler as well as wood, but those aren't easily available to me. I chose to use hardwood, (I think it's some kind of redwood) seperated by strips of white pine.

Again the pillar drill comes in useful for cutting the slots in the wood...To do the pine strips I taped them all together and drilled the whole lot at once.
The hardwood chunks were done individually, but using the same method of drilling five parallel holes and then knocking through to form a slit. A larger drill bit was used to widen the slot to allow it to pass over the threaded rod.

The process from here should be fairly obvious, slip each layer onto the handle, smear with glue and repeat.

I'd reccomend the top and bottom pieces being of the harder wood, as these will take the most wear and tear.

Tighten it all up, then leave it 24 hours to set.

Step 6: Finishing the Handle

Basically start cutting lengthways down the handle, work it into a basic handle shape. I used the bandsaw for this, but it's not particually safe to do so...fingers in vunerable places.

Work it down with a file or rasp until it fits comfortably into your hand.

I made the butt slightly crooked, and added some subtle grooves for my fingers and thumb. This is for my use, so it may as well fit my hand perfectly.

Once you're happy with the shape, start sanding. Try a long thin strip of sandpaper, pulling it back and forth around the handle to smooth out the curves. An occasional wipe down with a damp cloth helps reveal which areas still need work.

To strengthen the butt, I added a steel plate, made slightly smaller than the wood, which was then sanded down to fit the metal. Smear some rust protecting substance (wax?) under the metal before tightening it up for the last time.

Once you're happy then apply some polishing wax or oil to seal the wood and bring out the colours.

Step 7: Finished, Future Improvements.

I could keep on polishing and sanding for hours, but at this point it looks reasonable enough for photographs.
It's not yet sharpened, but several other instructablesseveral other instructables cover that in detail already.

Future Improvements

A sheath, preferably real leather, with a strong belt loop.

Initials, when I find the metal letter stamps, I'll stamp my initals on the base of the blade.

Tempering, I suspect it could be done better...Maybe a forge is a good investment

Better wood, the pine will eventually wear down, leaving grooves in the handle.

Final point
In the UK it is illegal to carry a fixed blade knife in most, if not all, public places. Check with your local law enforcement. I usually keep all such items stowed away in bags until I'm actually out in the countryside and away from roads.

I was unsure about publishing this, but there seem to be several other 'make a knife' instructables already. Please, be sensible.

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    171 Discussions

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    mrwonton

    10 months ago

    at first the thumbnail looked like a really stubby knife ._. wow i was wrong. great looking knife

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    mlocke

    4 years ago on Introduction

    My handle is oak with brass, aluminum, leather and copper giving it a striped pattern.

    2014-07-03 20.54.59.jpg
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    smurfsahoy

    10 years ago on Step 5

    Redwood is not a hard wood. It shouldn't really matter when making a knife handle, I guess, but just saying.

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    ameyer10smurfsahoy

    Reply 6 years ago on Step 5

    You should not choose a wood based on whether or not it's labeled as a hardwood. I say this because hardwood describes the tree, not the strength of the wood. Balsa wood, which is about as strong as a cracker, is classified as a hardwood because of the leaves on the tree it comes from. Does Balsa sound like a good idea for a knife handle?

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    Belzebebpr

    9 years ago on Step 7

    Looks GREAT, I don't have ANY of the tools needed, but would love to try this. And the colors of the wood look great once treated. I really look forward to trying this. Keep it up.

    2 replies
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    spylockBelzebebpr

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    I made my first blade with a hacksaw ,a file,a drill,useing the blade from an edger,it dont take a whole lot,just the desire,give it a shot,youll be better for it.

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    sculpturspylock

    Reply 7 years ago on Step 7

    is the edger blade made of high carbon steal or just cheep stuff

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    weloveclover

    8 years ago on Step 3

    Having made a few knives myself I highly recommend that you DO NOT use an angle grinder to put in the edge as it leaves dents which take for ever to file out.

    1 reply
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    I agree. Trying to do precision work with an angle grinder is like a bull in a china shop. Although you can get relatively accurate results with a bench grinder, I recommend taking the time to use the good ol'e steel file.

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    punkhead58

    8 years ago on Introduction

    lol cud u liek kil sum1 wit dis???!!1

    *Don't fret, my friend, I was only kidding.*

    Anyway, I've just finished the blade for my dagger-style Bowie knife. It has a full tang, and I was exploring different handle designs. I like the looks of the layered wood handle, however, ergonomics is my primary concern since I intend on wrapping the handle in paracord for increased comfort.

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    profpat

    8 years ago on Introduction

     very well explained, very good instructable, here in the Philippines, we use scrap leaf springs from old vehicles, may require oxy-acetylene cutting, but the forming of the blade is pretty much the same as what you presented..this is great... 

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    spylock

    8 years ago on Introduction

    It looks to be a pretty nice blade,Im making a bowie,8'' blade and will be 13'' overall,I will be useing brass for my blade gaurd and pommel ,walnut,on the outsides and stag in the middle with 7 brass pins and a little E-6000 for extra support on the handle,though I dont think Ill need it.I think for your first attempt,its a hellova good job and the quality only goes up with the number of knives you make,keep it up.

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    nickweaver77

    9 years ago on Step 1

    i came up upon this and this is really cool. i have a dad that's a machinest and i was already making a blade out of o1 steel. im going with this now to make it a little better.

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    peterlonz

    9 years ago on Step 1

    Depending upon the steel chosen its highly likely that a competent welder would have difficulty in executing a decent weld. The welding rod has to be selected for compatibility with the blade steel & needs to stay tough enough for knife duty after the whole welded joint has been heat treated. I'd be very reluctant to suggest such an approach unless you have proven the technique in practice & can offer specifics to achieve a suitable weld.

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    42ndOdditypeterlonz

    Reply 9 years ago on Step 1

    Nope, no chance, I am not a trained welder, but I am happy with the weld, it's tolerated some abuse and not shown any signs of weakness yet. If you look at the length of the tang you will see the tang-rod weld is very close to the butt of the handle, so there is very little stress at that point as it's protected by the stiff handle. Perhaps it helps that I used a MIG welder which heats quite a specific area, rather than a stick welder which heats up the whole lot. If you want instructions on tempering the blade then look elsewhere, this is just an instructable for making a nice handle.

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    skimmo42ndOddity

    Reply 9 years ago on Step 1

    i agree i think on a project this small i dont think the weilded bolt isnt going to make much of a difference, its not like your banging it onto stuff and sword fighting with it, its just holding the wood on the end. and the main problems you have with weilding swords is vibration