I’ve always been interested in good quality knives and already own several mass-produced variants. In spite of my appreciation for them, I can’t justify spending hundreds of dollars on a custom knife. When there’s something I want but don’t have, that gets the wheels turning: it’s not impossible to make my own. There are a lot of amateur knifemakers scattered on the internet, and plenty of forums to scour for details. A little research, gathering up my tools, and some minimal investment in materials — and time, of course. But there’s always time.
I first read Squawsach’s post on Rimfirecentral forum. Though I’ve read through a number of other sources by now, this still seems to be the most generally useful for someone trying to do this with super basic tools and a limited budget (me).
The grades of steel that are easily accessible to a beginner aren’t so amazing: you’re basically stuck with but being my first knifemaking attempt I can’t argue. I’d rather save some money and refine the skill set than throw down a couple hundred dollars that I could have spent on someone else’s expert design.
Well, apparently I’ve been preparing to be a master (hobbyist) knifemaker all my life, as I had a good number of the tools required.
I have a basic hacksaw and a jigsaw with some metal cutting blades. I’m a bit worried about what the metal will do to my jigsaw, and I really like it so I’d rather not have to replace it. So, I’ll likely stick to the hand-powered wonders of the hacksaw. Might need a new blade. We’ll see.
Files seem to be the primary method for refining the profile. I happen to have a few flavors, including flat and half-round profiles of various coarseness. I’m guessing this is going to be a bigger topic for another time.
The next level of shaping is sanding, primarily to remove the tool marks left over from the files and give a good polish. I have some sandpaper from 60 grit down to 440 grit, but I’ll need to fill in the gaps past that. I have multiple sharpening stones that could serve that role, but I’m not quite sure I want to sacrifice them — I’d really like to be able to sharpen the knife when it’s done.
I’ll also need to make use of my drill press for pins and weight removal in the handle. Probably have to get some cutting oil to help keep my bits lubed.
Clamps. Lots of clamps. I seem to have as many as I’ll need, and then some. One thing to highlight, many knives aren’t very large, so while I have a lot of larger clamps for woodworking, I’ll probably end up using the couple of smaller C clamps that I haven’t used much beyond some welding projects.
This is going to get interesting, as you need to heat the steel (at least, the 1095 I’m planning to use) to about 1500°F as part of the heat treatment. Some people seem to do it with a torch right on the workpiece, but I’m hoping to build up a small forge with a cast iron pipe and some fire bricks, plus a propane or MAPP torch. Hopefully for free.
Initally, I’ve purchased some CRA 1095 steel in x2″x32″ bars, 3/32″ and 5/32″ thick. These came from Jantz Supply. They seemed to be one of the few places with appropriate thicknesses and types of steel.
I considered just taking a chunk of steel from the junkyard but that really seemed like it would be a waste of time. First, I’d have to figure out how to anneal it; that’s just softening by applying a high heat with a slow cooling cycle, but I don’t have a heat source yet. Second, I wouldn’t know what the exact material is so I’d be shooting in the dark when it comes time for heat treatment. Sometimes easy outweighs cost.
Design, or How to Fail at Knifemaking
Starting out on the design, I’m thinking something along the lines of a pretty general purpose fixed blade. I started with a sheepsfoot as I don’t own one, but I pretty quickly mucked that up:
I’m not particularly happy with the initial design. I think the blade is a bit too squat, and the handle isn’t very interesting at all. I was trying to let function win, but I’m not even sure I accomplished that. Well, back to the drawing board.