The following is a simple tutorial of how to make a survival knife. Unfortunately I do not currently have the necessities needed to heat-treat this blade but I may update the instructable at a later date with instructions on how to do so.
I have recently posted a more in-depth instructable of how to make a knife but wanted to post this tutorial also for the following reasons:
1) This is a different design to the last knife I made, this one has been designed specifically for outdoor use as a survival tool.
2) I still had some metal left - I will be using all the remaining metal flat bar to make knives anyway, so why not make another instructable?
3) I posted my last instructable too early to be entered into a competition, so this instructable is solely for the purpose of entering that competition.
Step 1: Step 1: Materials Required.
- Metal flat - I used 20mm x 3mm, 304 grade stainless steel flat bar, not the best metal for a knife - as I have explained in my other tutorial - but it is all I had at the time.
- Material for handle scales - I have used wood for my knife but you can use paracord to save time if you want.
- Metal rod - I used 3mm diameter aluminium rod, this will be used to make the handle pins - not necessary if you use paracord for your handle.
- Epoxy resin - This is to help hold the knife together, epoxy is recommended over other high-strength adhesives because it forms solid and transparent when fully cured. It can also be sawed and sanded whilst retaining its shape.
- Danish oil - This is to finish the handle (if you are using wood) and also stabilise the wood slightly.
- WD40 - This is helpful for cleaning, polishing, buffing, or used as a very fine abrasive.
- Superglue - This is for the finish on the handle, if you decide you want a mild sheen to high-gloss finish.
Step 2: Step 2: Tools and Equipment Needed.
- Hacksaw - Or alternatively as I used, a reciprocating saw to make all the cutting less work.
- Angle grinder - You will need both a grinding wheel and a sanding disc with a range of sandpaper grits 80-600ish.
- Dremel - For delicate grinding and polishing.
- Drill - You will also need a 3mm and 4mm metal drill bit and a countersink.
- Ball-pein hammer - For flaring the handle pins.
- Bench vice - This will be essential throughout.
- G-clamps - A pair of G-clamps will be useful at a couple points in this tutorial.
- File - A flat and curved, metal file would be handy for the shaping of the knife.
- Saw - A regular 12-14 TPI wood saw for rough cutting the handle scales.
- Pencil - Useful for drawing the design or drawing on the metal piece to mark positions and locations of points.
- Sandpaper - Or better yet, Wet and Dry paper in the following grits: 120, 240, 320, 400, 600, higher if needed.
- Cloth or rag - For wiping down the work piece.
- Brush - For applying the oil.
- A set of disposable brushes - For applying the superglue, they will only last one application each.
- A set of detail files - These are perfect for filing any slots or grooves in the design.
- Safety equipment - This includes goggles, a decent respirator and possibly even gloves.
Step 3: Step 3: Design.
First step is always to doodle.
Sketch a few designs on a piece of paper, use existing designs off of the internet if needed, but try and think about the following criteria:
- Aesthetics - No point in taking on a knife project if it is just going to look crap in the end.
- Purpose - Think about the knife's purpose and what characteristics are essential for that use, for example: a machete needs to be thicker than a knife, typically with a fairly simple design and a slight curve to the blade. Whereas a stiletto boot knife generally needs to be small, slim and straight.
- Materials and Availability - My design was limited by the 20mm x 3mm flat that I had, you may experience similar limitations with what is available to you.
- Practicality - Eccentric designs with wildly exaggerated features and pointless patterns aren't suitable for a real-life scenario.
- Difficulty - The simpler you make the design, the easier creating the knife will be.
I have included a labelled diagram of a knife with the proper terminology for some of its features for reference if needed - I do not own the rights to the image, they are exclusive to the original author.
Think of the features that may be useful in different scenarios. So a survival knife might have a serrated edge or a skinning hook; a tactical knife could have a finger guard, might be corrosion resistant, it might be black, or have a matte finish; a throwing knife would need to be well balanced, possibly symmetrical; a machete might have a lanyard hole or moulded grip for comfort etc. Think what could happen in a particular situation and what might help, then incorporate these features into your design.
My survival knife design makes use of several features I think will be useful in a survival situation: Choil and finger guards to prevent slipping and cutting your fingers; a moulded handle for grip and comfort; a dual-edged blade as one side might blunt; a lanyard tube so that a wrist-strap can be attached, or so that the knife can be tied to a bag or item of clothing; full-tang configuration for simplicity, strength and stability; another choil but specifically for use with a ferro-rod for fire starting; large pommel, or butt, for hammering tasks; additional lanyard hole (slit) on base of blade for attaching to a pole or stick and making a spear.
I spent a little time researching what common features can be found on survival tools and what their purpose is, and I tried to integrate as many of these features as possible without reducing the designs' simplicity. I did want to include a gutting/ skinning hook and a serrated edge, as both features would be very useful for survival, but I didn't for two reasons: The metal flat I was using is only 20mm wide so including a gutting hook would reduce the blades width even further and make it very flimsy; also, I do not own the necessary tools to make such features feasible - I could do it, but it would take much longer than it would for someone with the relevant tools, and I probably wouldn't be able to get a particularly decent finish on either the gutting hook or serrated edge.
But once you have your design and you are happy with it, you will need to draw the design once more - taking a little more time and care to get it exactly how you envisage it - this will give you something to refer to and work from, it will give you an idea of how the finished product will look and give you the opportunity to scale the knife to your hand.
One last note, during the manufacturing process of the knife you may encounter certain problems and have to alter your design; sometimes you think of additional features you want to incorporate, or features that aren't necessary or are too time consuming with little benefit - expect such problems to occur, no design is ever set in stone.
Step 4: Step 4: Cut Out the Shape.
Transfer your design to the metal you will be using and then rough cut the knife using a hack saw. Leave a 1-2mm border around the knife in case you need to alter the design whilst cutting.
Once you have the rough shape of the knife and are happy with its' layout, reduce the border all the way to the drawn lines and grind all the edges to a smooth finish using combination of the file, angle grinder and dremel.
When you have the exact shape you want, gently run the dremel across all of the edges to remove any burrs or harsh/ sharp sections. Finally, drill the handle pin holes with the 3mm drill bit and then lanyard hole with the 4mm drill bit. Use a succession of drill holes to hollow out the second lanyard hole (or slit) and then smooth the inside with a set of various small files.
You should now have a piece of metal that vaguely resembles the knife from your original design.
Note: Referring to my pictures, at this stage I have already altered my original design slightly. The ferro-rod choil for fire starting was a too time consuming for no real benefit to the design, a ferro-rod could be used with any section of the knife to spark a fire so I removed the pointless feature and extended the blade instead.
Step 5: Step 5: Give the Blade an Edge.
In case you haven't already, you will need to draw the extent of the blade bevel onto the work piece before starting - this gives you something to work to and will help you keep the blade bevel constant.
For this step, you will achieve the best results by hand cutting the edge with a file - the work is incredibly slow so you can really focus on keeping the bevel uniform along the entire length of the blade - but I'm not a very patient person so I brought in the bevel half the way using an angle grinder and sanding disc, and then focused on getting the uniform angle by hand-filing the rest of the way. If you do this the lazy way like me, make sure you don't let the blade heat up too much or you'll alter the hardness of the blade edge.
A lot of knife makers will do one complete side before starting the other, making the half-bevels meet in the middle, but I found that you get much better results (and more accurate results) by constantly flipping the knife over and bringing in both half-bevels gradually so to keep them even in relation to one another.
Another thing I found was that moving the blade across the angle grinder is much easier than moving the angle grinder across the blade. A lot of people place the work piece in a vice and grind the edge that way, I find that you get a much neater edge by laying the angle grinder upside-down on a bench and then dragging the knife across the spinning disc - it gives you much more control over the angle and pressure exerted, and you wont tire your shoulders out from holding the angle grinder at a particular angle for ages.
This step is probably the most important for making a knife so take your time; expect to be grinding, sanding and filing for at very least an hour, more likely 2-3. To get starting, if doing it as I did, place the angle grinder upside-down on the work bench and make sure you have the sanding disc attachment on it. Use a 80 - 120 grit initially (maybe higher once you've started bringing the edges in), and with the sanding disc spinning, hold the knife at the desired angle and lightly drag the blade toward you. Do this 2 or 3 times and then flip the blade over and repeat for the other side, keep changing sides and slowly work your way up to a 120-240 grit until the two half bevels almost meet, at this point you will need to fix the knife to the work bench with a couple G-clamps and hand-file the rest of the way - when hand-filing really take your time, one screw up here and the blade's buggered. To decide on your angle of bevel please refer to my other tutorial, with a more in-depth analysis of how to choose the correct blade angle and what factors influence your decision. Once you know the angle in which you need for your knife, you can work to it when hand-filing.
Finally, you will need to use a 240-320 grit sanding disc to shine up the blade edge and blade flat, it can be polished later on. Use the same method as before of lightly dragging the blade across the spinning disc, you will need to remove all large scratches on the blade, don't worry about sanding the handle section any higher than a 120 grit as it is only going to be covered by the scales anyway. The blade section can be sanded to a 600+ grit if you really want a high-shine finish, but for now I recommend leaving it as is, It will be polished once finished anyway.
Step 6: Step 6: Making the Scales.
For this I used a section of tree branch, but you can use anything: A block of timber, a block of stabilised wood, a block of some type of plastic, animal bone or horn, more metal, or even paracord and cyanoacrylate(superglue) to form a block.
I cut a section from a branch that I used in my last knife tutorial, which was from a dead twisted wych elm in my neighbour's garden. This again, was just because I didn't have anything else suitable at the time, and this particular wood actually turns out really nice when finished.
Anyway, roughly measure to the size of your handle - but overcompensate - and cut the block to size. Then cut the block length-ways, down the middle to form a pair of scales. Place your knife tang onto one scale and draw its outline and position of all holes, then flip it onto the other scale and repeat. Cut the scales down close to the tang outline but don't bother shaping them just yet. Then drill all the holes in the scales with a 4mm drill bit and countersink the outer side of the each hole. All the holes in the wood are drilled with a 4mm drill bit and countersunk to allow for flaring of either end of the handle pins when we get to attaching the scales to the tang, if we did not allow for this expansion then the wood would most likely split.
Now that the holes have all been drilled, we can sand the inside faces of the scales smooth - this will remove the recently drawn outline of the tang position but it wont matter now as the pin holes can be used for locating the tang instead. And now that the inside faces of the scales are smooth, it is time to reduce the outside faces of the scales to the desired thickness. When doing this, regularly stop and place the metal knife section in between the two scales and hold the entire assembly in the palm of your hand, this way you can see and feel how much more is needed to be removed in order to meet the desired total thickness on the handle.
Once this is all done, you just need to prepare the handle pins and then you can assemble the handle.
**Note: I messed up one of my scales right at the last part of this step, so I had to make a new scale from a separate piece of branch. Despite saying earlier that to make the scales you should cut a single branch/ block of wood in half to form two scales, I have found that using different sections of the tree branch allowed for me to show two very different grain patterns in my handle, and consequently this has allowed me to make a much more interesting looking handle - I got to use the best section of two separate pieces of wood. I don't necessarily recommend doing this if you are using a block of expensive and exotic wood, but if you are using wood from a plentiful source then I certainly would recommend doing it, each side of the handle is now distinct and individual.
For the second scale I actually used a branch tee - the part where a branch splits in two - this gave a very intricate and unique pattern to the scale - so buggering up one scale actually led to me making a better one.
Step 7: Step 7: Affix the Handle.
To do this you will first need to make the handle pins, and to do this you will need to cut some 3mm diameter aluminium rod to about 4mm longer than the width of the entire handle assembly (scales and tang placed together) - this extra length is what will be smooshed down and flared out to clamp the scales to the tang. You can alternatively use brass, steel or nickel rod, but I like the colour that aluminium gives when it is all polished up.
When you have the correct number of handle pins you will need to champfer either end of each pin to remove any burrs from the cutting process and then place the pins through their designated holes in the tang to check they fit snugly.
Now you need to create a 'key' in the tang for the epoxy resin to adhere to; simply scratch up the handle section of the metal - and only the handle section that will be covered by the scales - until you can feel the small abrasions on the surface, but not enough to wear the metal down at all. Then wipe the surface clean with a damp cloth and dry off thoroughly. By scratching the surface of the metal up you can double the surface area that the epoxy can then adhere to, creating a much stronger bond.
Next, grab one of the scales and lay it down with the inside facing upward, grab your epoxy resin and apply a generous amount onto the inside face of the scale - applying a liberal amount to the handle pin holes. Thoroughly mix the two liquid solutions together for about 30 seconds to ensure they are evenly combined and then place the handle pins into their designated holes. Use the now erected handle pins to locate the position of the tang and place that over the top of the glued scale, repeat the process of applying the epoxy resin and mixing thoroughly on the other scale and then place that one over the top of the tang, sandwiching it in place.
Hold the handle together firmly and then place the entire assembly onto a solid, preferably metal, surface with the pins touching that surface - an anvil or such would be a perfect surface. Use the ball-pein hammer to strike the protruding heads of the handle pins 4 or 5 times, then flip the knife over and do the same again for the other end of the pins. Keep repeating this step until both ends of the rods have evenly flared out and hold the scales firmly to the tang, now wrap the handle in paper and clamp tightly in a vice for at least 24 hours to fully cure. Don't worry if the pins still protrude slightly from the work piece, they will be sanded flush with the wood later on, just make sure that the metal has flared enough to fill the slightly larger, 4mm hole in the scale.
After an absolute minimum of 24 hours - though many knife makers will leave it an entire week - remove the knife from the vice and test its strength by gently trying to move the scales about. If there is absolutely any play in them at all then wrap the handle back up, put it back into the vice and leave for another 24 hours to allow the epoxy to fully cure. The handle should then be completely solid and ready to be moulded.
Step 8: Step 8: Mould the Handle.
Now that the handle is sturdy, you can begin moulding it to match the metal tang without worrying about it falling apart. Use a sanding disc attachment on an angle grinder and a 120 grit disc to initially start shaping the handle, once the general shape has been obtained you can go over it again with the higher grits - 120-240-320-400-600-800-1000+. I used a dremel with a sanding drum attachment as well at this stage for the finer details and awkward sections, to go over these sections with higher grits I had to use wet and dry paper and do it by hand. Another way to mould the handle would be with a belt sander or linisher, these would most likely be easier to use but I do not have access to one currently - I will however, be purchasing one for my workshop, along with a few more additions, to be used in future tutorials.
Regularly hold the knife in your hand to check its grip and fit, you are most likely going to use this knife yourself so make it comfortable for you.
When the handle is as you want it you will need to go over it sanding by hand with some wet and dry paper, starting from about a 400 grit and work your way up to a 600, maybe even 800 grit. At this point the wood will be very smooth to the touch but may have small indents or pores in the wood, these will be filled in during the treatment of the wood.
**Note: I managed to mess up the previous step also - I'm on a roll - when flaring the pins heads to hold the scales in place, I didn't take my time and ended up bending both handle pins causing both the scales to deviate from their correct position. This was partly because the new scale I made had a soft section in it, right next to where I decided to drill my handle pin hole, but it was mainly due to my rushing the last step and not checking my progress often enough. I have managed the reduce the damage this caused somewhat by sanding the scales much thinner than I originally planned, bringing the pins slightly more into alignment, but they aren't as they should be and this has ruined my knife handle.
I have also had to re-drill the lanyard hole in one scale as it no longer lined up with the holes in the tang and other scale, I now have a random hole in one of my scales which I will have to try and fill... brilliant.
Step 9: Step 9: Treating the Wood.
When treating your wood you have a plethora of options to choose from depending on what you want the end result to be - stains, paints, dyes, polishes, waxes, oils, stabilising agents, or a combination of the aforementioned. But personally, I have found that Danish oil gives a really decent finish; it accentuates the grain pattern and colour of the wood, it fills in a majority of the pores of the wood, and most importantly it stabilises the wood, leaving it with a slightly more weighty, sturdy feel. At some point I plan to either buy, or more likely build, myself a vacuum chamber so that I can impregnate and stabilise wood myself using a proper stabilising agent, but for now the Danish oil will be more than sufficient.
Danish oil is a combination of natural oils - usually tung oil or polymerised linseed oil - varnish and spirits; this allows it to deeply penetrate the wood before the spirits evapourate and leave the oil mixture behind, the result is a hard-wearing, water-resistant satin finish that exaggerates the grain pattern and accentuates the natural colours of the wood. It leaves the wood looking natural and not synthetic - unlike most paints, dyes and stains - and it can also be polished up really well if you want a high-gloss finish without losing the grip.
Some woods take to treatments better than others so give a quick google search on what is recommended for what you have used, if you haven't used wood then there are still options available but again, you will have to search these up yourself.
If using Danish oil though, you will need a Tupperware tub of some sort, a fine brush (a small gloss brush works well) and some Danish oil - obviously. To get started pour a fair amount of oil into the tub and place the brush in it to start soaking, grab your knife and wipe off any wood dust or dirt with a rag of some sorts. Once the knife is clean, place it into the oil and lather the wood completely, really working the oil into the wood. Apply the oil for a couple of minutes then let it sit for a few minutes more, apply more oil in the same fashion as before and then leave the knife sitting in the oil for about 20 minutes. Come back to the work piece every 20 minutes or so and thoroughly smother the handle again, do this routinely for the next few hours - go off and do something else, then come back, apply more oil and go off again. After several applications the wood will start to darken slightly and the grain pattern will appear more vivid, this means that the oil is penetrating the wood - this is good. Keep applying more and more oil until the wood looks as if it can soak up no more, then give it a few more applications just to make sure. Leave the knife sitting in the oil for another 20 minutes or so before giving it one final coat, wipe of the excess oil this time with a rag and clamp the knife, by the blade, in a vice at a slight angle so any seepage can run off the handle. Place the tub beneath it to catch the excess oil that might seep out of the wood and leave the knife for a full 24 hours absolute minimum. If your workshop is cold and damp then the oil will most likely not fully cure, so ensure it is in a fairly dry and moderately warm environment for the curing process.
When you come back, wipe the handle once again with a rag to get rid of any remaining oil residue and then leave for another hour or so. When you come back the wood should have significantly increased in weight and stability, this is because of the varnish content in the danish oil. Now you will have to smoothen up the surface of the handle again as the oil often leaves a slightly rough texture when dry.
This time start at a 240 grit wet and dry paper and lightly hand-sand the surface until all of the bumps have been removed, then wipe the handle off and go over it with a 320 grit. After this use the 400, then the 600 grit, wiping any dust off every so often. If you want a mild sheen, satin finish to the handle then stop sanding around the 400-600 grit mark, if you want a high-gloss finish then you will need to continue to a 1000+ grit.
If you opt for the high-gloss finish then use some WD40 with the wet and dry paper from about a 800 grit upwards, this creates a really fine abrasive paste that delicately removes the surface imperfections and even polishes it slightly. Ensure that you completely wipe the surface clean of WD40 at the end though.
**Note: In my pictures, the oil I used is very dark and murky, this is because I tried mixing the oil with a little stain to darken the wood slightly, unfortunately the stain was water based and didn't mix with the oil - creating a horrible cloudy mixture that left globules of stain on the handle that had to constantly be wiped away. In the future I will stain the wood prior to treating it if I want to achieve a darker finish, or alternatively use a white spirit based dye - that I have read is the only way to mix it with danish oil.
Step 10: Step 10: the Optional Cyanoacrylate Finish.
This step I wasn't going to include until I discovered how well it worked on my previous knife (despite thinking that it hadn't worked at all). This is the superglue finish.
It sounds strange to put superglue on a knife handle but it coats the entire handle in a rock-solid, transparent exterior that gives the wood a slight 'wet look', further accentuating the woods natural beauty and can also be buffed to a super high-gloss finish (or a mere mild-sheen).
To get started you will need some cyanoacrylate (superglue) and a bunch of disposable paint brushes, make sure the superglue is the medium to low viscosity (thin) liquid, and not the quick drying stuff - this doesn't work as well.
First, clamp your knife in a vice by the blade and use a clean rag to clear the surface of the handle from any dust, dirt or oil. Then apply a moderate amount of superglue to the handle and use the brush to work it into the wood; the idea is to fill the remaining wood pores and gaps in the handle as much as possible while you can, so proper rub the glue into the wood the first few times you apply the glue. You will need to apply 2 - 3 coats of superglue to the handle in this fashion, allowing approximately 20 minutes to an hours drying time between coats.
After these priming coats you will need to 'paint' the glue onto the handle as you would normally and allow at least an hours drying time between every coat. Apply a further 5 or so coats in this fashion, more if you want a super high-gloss finish. Scott Slobodian, the inventor of the superglue finish, said that he applies about 50 coats or so of superglue and then sands down 20 to get the look he wants - and they are very impressive.
Once you have applied the sufficient number of coats, you will need to let the glue cure for at very minimum, a full 24 hours before sanding.
Sand with 400+ grit wet and dry paper to remove the bumpy texture of the glue, then use a 600 grit wet and dry paper to sand completely smooth. After this, use some WD40 and at least a 600 grit paper to lightly sand over the already smooth surface, the lighter and longer you sand the handle using WD40, the shinier the end result will be. If you are going for the super high-gloss finish then use this method of WD40 and light sanding, but all the way up to 1000+ grit again - at which point it will be starting to polishing the surface.
Step 11: Step 11: the Finishing Touches.
Now the knife is pretty much finished, but you may want to polish it up a bit for aesthetic purposes. If so, use a metal polishing compound and a cotton buffing wheel for the blade, then wipe off any excess, and hand-buff, with a cotton rag. The metal polishing compound usually comes in different colours for use with different metals, providing you know what metal you have used, you can find out which compound you need here - there is a table that covers a majority of metals and compounds.
For the wood, the most common products to use at this stage are either a wax or a wood polish, but I just used some more WD40 and a cotton buffing wheel - it takes a little while longer but gives just as good a finish. A lot of knife makers recommend using Bee's wax and a buffing wheel for the final step but I prefer to leave it as is, do a little research and find out what works for you.
You will also need to further sharpen your knifes blade edge, for this I recommend using an oil stone and really taking your time to finish the blade to be razor sharp. For help on how to do this simply google 'how to use an oil stone correctly', there is more to it than you would think.
Some good sites to help you are any knife making forums - such as www.britishblades.com,www.bladeforums.com, or www.theknifenetwork.com, which I found to be really helpful - any metal-working forums - such as www.iforgeiron.com or www.ukworkshop.co.uk - or any informational sites, of which there are hundreds.
Congratulations you have now designed, constructed and finished your very own survival knife! This blade will only be for light use as it isn't suitably heat treated, but check back soon and I may have updated this instructables with additional steps on how to do so.
Also check my page for upcoming instructables as at some point I will be doing an tutorial on how to design and make a proper tactical/ survival knife or zombie apocalypse machete from start to finish - including a full break down of annealing, heat treating and tempering, and how to build a forge to do so. I will also recommend metals, woods and treatment products and show you where you can purchase them yourself. I may even have a vacuum chamber at this point, so will stabilise any wood I use myself and provide details of such. I will also be uploading an on-going instructable of my new workshop as I build it and what equipment is essential for any engineer, blacksmith, knife maker or DIY enthusiast.
Thank you for reading!