There are many ways to make a knife. People have been making knives and shart pointy things for a very long time. While times are good, we take for granted that a knife can be purchased for not a lot of money.
In fact, it is pretty amazing the quality you get for what you pay. But what if times got tougher or SHTF and you couldn’t just sit down at your computer and order a knife or shop via your cell phone?
Making a knife is not without dangers. Here are some tips to review before getting started.
- Wear eye and ear protection.
- Go slow
- Do this outside. Sparks can start a fire really easily. The video in this post and many of the pictures illustrate how many sparks there are and just how far they can go.
- Metal gets very hot during the cutting process
- Take care to avoid cutting yourself. There are many opportunities to do this due to sharp jagged bits of metal.
- Wear a dust mask when sanding
- Don’t get excited and sharpen your blade too early in the process. Wait until everything else is done and the handle is sanded and finished to sharpen. It is much safer to do the pinning and sanding without the knife being sharpened.
I saved a 10.25 miter saw blade to make a few knives with. Recently I finally found the time to make a few knives. My goal was to make a set of knives with what I already had around the homestead.
I decided to make a set that would serve for butchering and a variety of other tasks. One knife would be made in a bowie style while the other would be a “karambit style” knife with gutting and skinning in mind.
Sam’s Dad gave us a “Vietnam Fighter” bowie knife. It is very similar to the Ka-Bar Marine knives that the military still uses. I used this blade design as a template for the first knife.
The closest thing to the design I wanted that I could use as a template was a carpet knife that you can find at any hardware store. These are used for cutting carpet and vinyl flooring.
To trace out the blades I used a permanent marker. You could scratch out the pattern with a nail or similar if you really had to. I used a straightedge ruler to draw out the tang which is the metal part of the blade that extends into the handle.
My tang is 1/2″ wide. Anything less than a 1/2″ is not going to be strong enough unless you are using very thick metal. 3/4″ is probably ideal but anything more than 1″ is going to be too wide to fit into your hand comfortably.
After both blades were fully traced out, I clamped the blade to a table to stabilize it while I cut it with a metal blade/friction blade on a standard circular saw. It would be possible to use a rotary cutting tool like a Dremel or an angle grinder to do this as well.
An angle grinder would be fast but give you poor cutting control and a sloppy edge. A Dremel tool would be slow but give you precise control and a cleaner edge than an angle grinder. Cutting a blade with a hacksaw would be possible in a situation where you have zero access to power tools but it would be slow and labor-intensive.
Tracing design tip
Remember when you trace out your knife blade that you need to allow for what the saw and finish sanding, and sharpening will take away. A good rule of thumb is to measure and trace your design to be at least 1/8″ larger than you want the finished knife to be.
Cutting metal produces a lot of heat. If the metal you are cutting gets too hot you can mess up the temper of the metal which means that it cannot be sharpened well and the blade will be brittle and more likely to break.
There are two ways to keep your metal cool and you should just do a bit of both. First of all this is not something you want to rush. Take your time cutting the metal. Keeping the cutting surface wet and take breaks. I cut about an inch at a time and then rewet the surface, made sure it was cool to the touch, and then started cutting again.
Sometimes you got to improvise
As you can see, I added serration to the bottom half of the bowie knife blade. I did not plan on doing this at the start of the project. What led to this was that when I was cutting near the center of the circular saw blade, a stress fracture caused a chip to come out of that edge of the knife blade. The easiest solution was to finish it out with a circular saw blade and then add 3 more serrations below it.
I suspect that the stress fracture occurred because I was cutting near the area where the miter saw clamped onto the blade. If you are cutting a knife blade out of an old circular saw blade, I would advise staying an inch away from the center hole so you can avoid the area that has experienced that most stress from usage.
The Karambit Skinner
While I cut this blade out using the same tools and methods, I really didn’t follow the exact lines I traced out. I wanted to make it as large and hooked as possible using the outside edge of the miter saw blade as a guideline.
The closer the size of the wood to the finished handle design the less work you will have to do. You can achieve a handle by a combination of using saws, sanding, and whittling. Bone and other materials can be used but most people are going to have easier access to wood. It is preferable to use a hardwood like Oak, Hickory, or Cherry. Some people even like to use leather and glue or epoxy.
If you are in a real hurry or have limited supplies you can just wrap the tang in paracord, duct tape, cloth, electrical tape, or a number of other things.
Notching the Handle To Accept The Tang
This was a little bit tricky. I had a 1 1/2″ x 1 1/12″ piece of Red Oak to work with. I measured and marked the halfway point. I had to set the depth on the circular saw to 3/4″ to cut halfway through and create the notch that would accept the tang.
The Blade Guard
A good blade guard is important for safety. This blade guard was cut out from the same saw blade and was made to be quite substantial so it offers better protection. I traced out a 1 1/2″ x 1 1/2″ square and cut it with the metal blade on the circular saw. The center hole for the blade was cut out using a rotary cutter on a Dremel tool.
Attaching the handle, blade guard, and blade together.
I put the knife into the handle and used JB Weld because that is what I had on hand. I used a thin piece of metal wire to get the epoxy deep into the notch on the handle. Make sure to apply liberal amounts of epoxy in the space where the tang goes through the blade guard on both sides of the blade guard.
You can use any epoxy or some other heavy-duty resin or glue as long as it is labeled to bond wood and metal. Make sure to allow to dry well before proceeding.
JB Weld or another epoxy is something that you might want to keep on hand for a long emergency anyway because it is really handy stuff for doing repairs and such and doesn’t go bad as quickly from air exposure as a lot of commonly available glues.
Sanding the Handles and Blades
The sanding down of the handles was very time-consuming. A smaller block of wood used for the blade handle could have saved some time but I was using what I had on hand. About a 1″ inch wide handle is the standard size for a commercially made fixed blade knife. The thickness of the handle is around 3/4″ on average. If you have an odd hand size and don’t find regular knives comfortable, you can always adjust the finished size of your homemade knives.
To do the rough sanding of the handles I used a belt sander with an extra coarse sanding belt. When you have a lot of wood to sand through, it is good to use very coarse sanding paper. The detail sanding was achieved with a Mouse sander and medium grit sanding paper.
Sanding the blades
Since I was using an old saw blade, there was some rust, paint, and a thin plastic rustproof coating. To make the metal nice and clean I use the Mouse sander with medium-grit sandpaper to get the rust, paint, and coating off the blade.
Sharpening The Blades
To sharpen the blades I used the belt sander at first and then used my Dremel tool with a blade sharpening wheel. I finished it off with a coarse and then a fine sharpening stone. The complete blade sharpening process not counting the serrations took several hours in total.
Sharpening the Serration
For sharpening the serrations I used my biggest chainsaw file and it worked well. It was a bit time consuming to do this just to give you fair warning. It probably took me an hour to sharpen the serrations.
Pinning the blade to the handle
To really secure the blade and tang to the handle, pinning is an important step. Pinning was done after the rough sanding of the handle but before any fine finish work occurred.
The first step is to mark where to drill holes through the handle and tang. This can be tricky. Please take your time and do not rush this step. You can ruin everything you have done previously if you get in a hurry.
To determine where to drill the holes I used the measurements of the handle and tang. I knew the handle to be an inch wide and the tang to be 1/2″ wide and that the tang was centered. Since I knew the tang was in the middle of the handle, that is where I marked and drilled.
I used a 1/8″ drill bit and drilled about 1/2″ inch from the blade guard and then another hole 2 inches from the blade guard. I could have drilled the second hole further down in the tang since I had another 1 1/4″ inches to work with. To avoid splitting your handle, make sure to not drill any holes closer than 1/2″ from the blade guard.
For these knives, I used 10g copper electrical wire for pinning because it is what I had on hand leftover from building projects. You could use steel wire or even a nail with the tip and head cut off.
The 1/8″ drill bit was a little larger in diameter than needed for the 10g wire to go through so I filled the hole with J-B Weld. A thicker wire would have reduced then need for this but even if your fit is tighter you will still want to use some epoxy to hold the pin in place.
After the epoxy on the pins cured, it was time to do the finish sanding. I used the Mouse sander with a medium grit and it actually got really smooth.
Wood Staining and Finishing
You can finish the wood on a knife handle a variety of ways. I had some Natural Min-Wax wood finish on hand. I applied one coat with a paper towel and that was it.
Other options for finishing a wood handle include linseed oil, walnut oil, mineral oil, or shellac. Thompson’s Wood sealer, deck stain, or paint could be used as well. If you intend on using a knife for food then you may want to use something that will not chip off so you would be better off using something that will never chip off readily.