Curious about how to make a knife? Despite how essential the tool is, crafting a knife is often seen as a big undertaking. However, making a knife is not nearly as impossible as one may think. This comprehensive guide will detail the materials needed, processes required, and safety steps. Here you will learn how to craft a simple, quality blade ideal for camping, cooking, and more.
- Paper and Pencil
- CAD Software (Optional)
- Annealed 01 Carbon Steel Sheet
- Wooden Handle Scales
- 2 Corby Rivets
- Variety of Sandpaper (Coarse to fine grit)
- Wood Finishing Oil and Sealant
- Sharpening Stone
- Motor Oil
- Mineral Oil
While retailers craft knives using a wide variety of materials including bone, plastic, ceramic, glass, and more, we are going to utilize classic wood and steel as such materials are very accessible and easy to work with.
Taking proper safety precautions is absolutely essential when crafting any tool, but especially a knife. When not handling or working with the blade, be sure to sheath it. A homemade one can be fashioned easily using duct tape and cardboard. When filing, drilling, and shaping, wear proper safety goggles. Gloves are also recommended for this project, as you will handle both wood and thin metal. When heat treating your blade, only handle using a protective face shield and heat protectant gloves, as well as heat-treating tongs.
The first, most critical step in crafting your own knife lies in design. While you don’t have to be an artist, a rough illustration including measurements and the desired shape is necessary. This guide will explain how to make what is called a “fixed-blade” knife- literally meaning a knife with a blade that doesn’t move. This is a great design for beginners as it is only composed of two direct parts- the handle and the blade. For inspiration, see our list of best hiking knives.
When sketching your knife, it is important to remember that every user has different proportions. If the tool is a gift, consider the recipient’s hand size to determine how long the handle should be. If the knife is a personal endeavor, you might want to utilize other store-bought knives for comparison- how long is their handle? How does it fit in your hand? Making a 1:1 mock-up of your tool on paper will ease the measuring process significantly, as it can simply be traced onto your raw steel material.
CAD, or Computer-Aided Design, is also another useful tool to use when determining one’s design. Though entirely optional, if you are familiar with the technology, CAD can be extremely helpful for visual learners as you can render a 3-D model.
Attaching your handle to your blade is arguably the most difficult aspect of crafting a knife. This manual will detail one of three methods: the full tang. A full tang describes a knife that’s metal blade extends fully into the handle from tip to end, secured with pins, screws, etc. Other options include a partial tang, in which the metal of the blade extends partially through the handle, and the hidden tang method, which is similar to the full tang as the blade runs from the tip to the end of the tool. However, the hidden tang does not show any part of the blade in the handle- even the screws.
Cutting the Blade
After cutting out your illustration, use it as a guide for your blade, tracing a thin outline onto your steel sheet. Then, use your hacksaw to approximate the outline of the blade. Make sure to leave room around the design to file. It is even recommended to cut a rectangle around your outline. Once clamped into a vice, grind the blade until you reach the outline of your design. Accuracy is key here, as the full tang connects the blade and handle throughout the knife.
Drilling the Blade
Here, the amount of fixing points will be determined by the size of your blade. For this tutorial, the knife we are crafting consists of two holes for the rivets. The handle scales (which combine to serve as the handle of the tool) are held in place by the Corby rivets, which must be identical in size to the holes. If one desires, you may also drill holes for bolsters, which improve the strength of the knife as a whole.
Give the blade one final sanding before the heat-treating to polish out any marks made by the drilling or filing process. Using the coarsest of material and continuously decreasing grade until the blade is filed with the finest of sandpaper assures the precision of the blade.
Heating the Blade
Heat treating your blade is arguably the most difficult part of the crafting process. Forging in a fireplace is a popular and accurate way to heat your knife. Heat the steel until it develops an orange color, then submerge it in motor oil to cool and harden it. When the blade is placed into the oil, there will be fire. Please refer to the safety measures at the beginning of this article to assure safe practice. After the oil bath, you must air cool it. Repeat this process a total of three times. Finally, evenly heat your blade at 420 degrees celsius for one hour.
Now that your blade has been heat-treated, remove the oil residue using the coarse to fine sandpaper method as completed after the drilling process. Make sure to sheath your blade for the final steps to avoid hurting yourself while attaching the handle.
Attaching the Handle
Align one of the wooden handle scales flush with your blade and clamp it with a vice. Drill a hole in the wood in line with the Corby rivet holes using the same drill bit as before. Repeat this process with the other slab. Apply epoxy on the steel handle and the wood. Once in position and glued, attach and tighten the rivets. Try not to overtighten the screws as you risk cracking or splintering the wood. Wait until dry (about 24 hours) to begin shaping.
Shaping the Handle
Using a wood saw, carve away the excess wood, but leave a rough shape. Then use the rasp to carve more precisely. Once mostly satisfied, finish with the coarse to fine sandpaper method.
Polishing and Sharpening your Knife
Use the wood finishing oil and sealant on the handle. Make sure to apply the sealant on all parts of the handle with a cloth. Let dry and sand away, repeating this process three times. Rub the finishing oil on the handle in circles, leaving it to dry for half an hour. Then rub off. Repeat this process also three times.
Of course, the final, albeit most vital step is sharpening your knife. After laying out your sharpening stone, oil it with mineral oil and replicate a cutting motion against it with your new tool. Repeat until desired sharpness is attained.
How to Make a Knife: Conclusion
Crafting tools isn’t an impossible feat, however, the task does require time. Each knife is unique and carved with the crafter’s own artistic quirks and characteristics. While there are several different materials and methods in crafting a knife, its essential functionality remains timeless.
Written By: Brittany Rogers