How to Make a Modern Tanto

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About: I'm not an expert in anything. I just enjoy making things sometimes for the process sometimes for the end product.

I've always wanted to make one of these knives. I ran across a video on the Koss Youtube channel, Koss Modern Tanto Video , where he shows his process and also graciously shares his template for the blade. His blade is exceptional and an absolute beauty. Mine on the other hand is passable at best. In making this I realized how badly compounding errors can be when it comes to final fit. I had a couple of sit backs while making this knife that I hope will serve as future lessons. I free handed all the bevels which was also a challenge. I had to remake the brass piece a second time and then I had to remake the wood handle and sheath parts because of a poor job clamping the pieces up. While my final blade is far from perfect I am pleased that I was able to finish it. I could fix the errors or rather hide the errors but I will leave them so that they will always remind me to try harder and get better with each blade I make.

Build video:

Step 1: The Blade

To make the blade I am using 3/16 inch 1095 steel. I cut out the template supplied by Koss in his video description and traced it on to the piece of steel.

Step 2:

I used the portable band saw table (Portable Band saw Table Build) to cut out the rough shape of the blade.

Step 3:

I used a combination of my belt sander and hand filing to refine the shape of the blade.

Step 4:

Once I was happy with the shape I used my belt sander to flatten the blade. I use a welding magnetS to hold the blade while applying downward pressure on the blade to get a uniform surface. At this point I am only worried about getting the mill scale off and revealing the shiny metal. I repeat the process for both sides until they both look uniform and flat.

Step 5:

I used the template as a reference for the bevel. Here again I used my file to ground in the rough shape of the bevel. Once I was happy, I took the blade over to my 1x30 belt sander and try to perfect the edge and clean up the file marks.

Step 6:

With the bevel established I go back to the 4x36 inch belt sander and clean up any marks from making the bevel. I use the same method as before I use a welding magnets to hold the piece while I run the blade on the sander.

Step 7:

Now that the blade is cleaned up and relatively flat I move on to the brass fitting. I use the tang of the blade as a reference to mark the size of the hole for the brass fitting. I make sure to use a center punch to mark the location of the holes I will drill. Next I move the piece over to my drill press. I make sure to secure the brass in a vice and begin drilling the holes to make the slot. The last pic shows the rough hole left from drilling.

Step 8:

To clean up the slot for the tang I use a small hand file and remove material a little at a time. I constantly check the tang for fitment. This is actually the second one I made, the first brass fitting was ruined when I made the hole too large so I scrapped it and made another. Once I am happy with the fitment of the fitting on the tang I cut the brass piece in to a more manageable size.

Step 9:

Next comes the hand sanding. I sand the blade up to 400 grit trying to remove any nicks or deep scratches before I heat treat it. I feel like this is one of those steps that pays off in the long run by doing all of the prep work before hand it makes clean up in later stages easier. I also make sure to clean off the entire blade with some Acetone before heat treat.

Step 10:

Next I fire up my mini forge (Mini Forge Build) and heat the blade until it is no longer magnetic and then I quench it in peanut oil. This process makes the blade very hard and brittle so be careful and don't drop it because it could break in half.

Once its cool I use a file to check the hardness. If the file skates across the edge then the blade is hard if the file removes material and bites in to the edge then it did not get hard and will have to be heat treated again.

Next I clean up the blade again using 400 grit sand paper. I make sure to wipe the blade clean using some Acetone.

Step 11:

Now its time to temper the blade which removes some of the hardness. This is important because the heat treating, as I stated earlier, and quenching makes the blade very hard and brittle, too brittle. So tempering the blade makes it less hard but less brittle as well.

I place the blade in a pre-heated 400 degree Fahrenheit oven for one hour, and I let it cool down to room temperature in the oven.The goal is to get the blade a nice straw or dark straw color. At that stage the blade will still hold an edge but it will also be somewhat flexible.

When its cool I hand sand again to remove the temper color. Again I use 400 grit paper, you can higher if you want and get a mirror polish if you go up through the grits.

Step 12: Time to Make the Handle and Sheath

I chose to use some curly Maple for the handle and sheath. I cut the maple in half length wise.

Step 13:

I position the blade in the center of one of the wood halves and trace the shape. I do the same for the opposite side of the blade. I first use a razor blade to cut out the perimeter of the shape staying as close as possible to the actual pencil line. I use the razor to make cut in a small shallow groove. Then I use my handheld router to remove the bulk of the material, the depth of the bit is set to about half the depth of the blade. I do this for both halves.

Step 14:

I use the razor blade to finish and clean up the cuts. I check the fitment by putting the blade in the cut out and holding the piece upside down, I lucked out and got a nice tight fit. Its a nice friction fit.

Step 15:

I mark the length of the handle and use my hacksaw to cut the handle from the sheath. I use a hacksaw because the blade is thin and will remove the least amount of material. I put the blade in to check the fitment.

Step 16:

I use 5 minute epoxy to glue the wood handle pieces to the tang and clamp them together.

Step 17:

I did not notice the small gap when I clamped the pieces together. The gap was too noticeable and unacceptable so I broke off the handle, which was not easy, epoxy is some tough stuff let me tell you. I had to clean up the tang by removing all the hardened epoxy and remake the handle portion using new wood.

The last pic shows how I clamp the second handle to the blade, it turned out much better. I let the epoxy cure over night.

Step 18:

In order for the sheath to secure the blade I cut two pieces of leather, the brown strips in the pic, that will fit and press against the edge of the blade. They act as a friction fit of sorts. I glued the pieces of leather to the sheath using 5 minute epoxy. Once the epoxy had cured I used a knife to trim the leather at an angle trying to mimic the edge of the blade. I trimmed a little at a time and would check the fitment of the blade after trimming to make sure it was a snug fit.

Step 19:

Now that the leather was trimmed and the blade had a tight fit in the sheath I glued the two halves together again using 5 minute epoxy. I clamped the pieces together around the blade. Once the clamps were tight I removed the blade and wiped off any excess epoxy. I repeated this several times to make sure the fit was correct but also to make sure the epoxy was cleaned out of the sheath. Each time I made sure to wipe the blade with acetone to remove any residue of epoxy. Then I let the epoxy cure over night.

Step 20:

After the epoxy dried I trimmed off the excess wood on my band saw. I used my belt sander to clean up the entire piece. I added bevels to the wood using a hand file and then used sand paper to clean up the bevels. I sanded everything up to 400 grit.

Step 21:

I used several coats of Danish oil to bring out the figure of the Maple. Before the last coat I sanded the piece with 600 grit sand paper and applied one last coat of Danish oil. I let that coat completely dry and sprayed the entire piece with Shellac. I sanded in between coats of Shellac with 600 grit sand paper. and buffed with a cotton rag.

Step 22:

This is finished piece. It is not perfect by any means but I am really happy that I challenged myself. I learned a ton along the way and appreciate the art of knife making that much more. I hope you all find this helpful. Thanks for checking out my Instructable.

Build video:

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    4 Discussions

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    billbillt

    5 days ago

    GREAT JOB!... I JUST PREFER O1 OR A2 TOOL STEEL FOR BLADES... THE HEAT TREATMENT IS MORE THAN SUFFICIENT... IT IS EASIER TO CONTROL THE HARDNESS, I THINK...

    0
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    BenM251

    5 days ago on Step 22

    Really great work and Instructable! It looks like your blade is missing the chisel point design that would really qualify it as a "tanto" but, nevertheless, it's a wonderful piece that you should be proud of. Thanks for sharing!

    1
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    winneremerald12

    12 days ago

    This is really neat.
    These pics were either taken during the night or in a really dark place.

    1 reply