How to Make a Knife
How to Make a Knife
The art and science of making knives is one of man’s oldest crafts. Anyone with a few shop tools, the skills to use them, desire and time can create their own knife. Knives can be made from “scratch” using a metal blank for the blade and wood or other materials for the handle. Knives can also be made from purchased kits. “Made from scratch” knife blades are made by one of two methods: stock removal, or filing and grinding; or forging, also called “bladesmithing.” Stock removal is the easiest to do in a hobby shop and can be done with a few hand and power tools. Forging requires much more experience and tools.
We show making a fixed blade knife with a full-tang handle design. The design as well as step-by-construction details are from my son, Michael Burch, a full-time, custom knife maker (www.burchtreeblades.com). Although Michael has a full shop with machines built just for knife making, he shows how to use simple hand tools and a few “tricks” to build your own knife. “Knife making can be very dangerous,” says Michael. “Always wear full safety goggles, not just glasses, and if power grinding, wear a respirator and hearing protection.”
A knife can be built using only a blade, handle blanks and pins, as well as a few hand tools. Power tools, however, make the chore much easier and quicker.
DIY Knife Making: The Right Materials
Michael is using a 1-1/2-by-7-1/2 inch piece of 1095 barstock. “Numerous types of steel are available, but 1095 is cheap, easy to work with, and if properly heat-treated; makes a great blade. Purchase hot-rolled or annealed if available as it is easier to work. Do not use soft steel that can be purchased at local big-box stores, as that steel is made for welding.”
The knife utilizes crotch walnut wood blanks for the handle. The best woods for knife handles are hardwoods and even better; professionally stabilized wood. Stabilizing fills the wood pores with a chemical that protects the wood from deterioration. Stabilized wood not only lasts longer, but is easier to grind and easier to finish. Stabilized wood can be purchased from knife-making suppliers or you can “stabilize” your own wood using Minwax Wood Hardener. Create a stabilizing tool with a mason jar and a brake line bleeder, available at auto-supply stores.
Wood used for handles should be stabilized using Minwax Wood Hardener. A homemade stabilizer can be created from a Mason jar and a brake line bleeder.
“Install the bleeder through a hole in the jar lid and make an airtight seal,” says Michael. “Place the wood in the jar, add the wood hardener and pump the handle until bubbles come out of the wood. This means the wood pores are filling with wood hardener. Do this very slowly and carefully. Do not overdo the vacuum, and always wear safety goggles. Release the vacuum, then remove the blanks, wrap in plastic wrap and allow the wood to dry slowly.”
The knife shown also utilizes 3/16-inch stainless steel rod for the pins, and 1/4-inch stainless steel tubing for the thong hole. Both are available at full-service hardware stores such as Ace Hardware.
While the wood is curing, Michael starts on the blade blank. “Create a full size paper pattern of the blade and trace it onto the blank using a felt-tip pen. Using a metal punch, create starter dimples for a series of holes around the outside edge of the outline. The dimples should be spaced a little farther apart than the full diameter of the drill bit and half the diameter apart from the outline. Then using a Cobalt drill bit in a drill press, bore the holes. Work slowly, keep the bit lubricated with cutting oil and do not allow the metal to get too hot or you can ‘work-harden’ the steel. Again, wear safety goggles and make sure the blank is clamped solidly so you don’t get ‘helicoptering’ when the bit catches in the metal. Mark the locations of the pin holes and the thong hole, and bore them as well.” Michael uses a chamfer bit to slightly chamfer the holes.
(Left) First step is to create a pattern for the blade. Note that the knife shown has a full tang blade. (Right) Use a pin punch to mark locations of successive holes to be drilled around the outline of the blade.