Do you love knives as much as pizza? Do you want a knife which feels as if it’s crafted just for you when you hold it in your hands? Prefer to toil for many hours over the weekends to get things done instead of chilling out over an ice-cold beer?
If your answers to these questions are affirmative, we know we have a potential knife Nazi reading this article. So let’s stop wasting time and let’s get down to the nuts and bolts of how to make a knife.
Step 1: Set Your budget
Let’s say you saw your dream knife with the perfect blade length for your needs and an exotic wood handle. And it’s a staggering $300. You scoff at that price tag as you know that you’d be able to craft something equally stunning with a modest budget of between $50 and $100.
Moreover, that sense of achievement, the pride of craftsmanship and owning the bragging rights that you craft your own knives are quite phenomenal.
Step 2: Tools You Need
If you’re already the handyman kind of person, you’d probably already have the following:
- hand drill
- flap wheel
- A vise grip, belt grinder and drill press are good-to-haves and will speed up the process of knife-making. However, don’t sweat it if you don’t have them.
Coupled with the willingness to invest time and wick a little sweat, you’re all set to learn how to make a homemade knife.
Step 3: The Design
This is where you can let your imagination and creativity take flight. However, if it’s your first foray into making your own knife, bear in mind that less is more. The bells and whistles can come at a later stage when you’ve mastered the basics of knife-making.
For your first few masterpieces, minimalist Scandinavian knives which boast great beauty and fantastic functionality could be the most practical design to emulate.
Step 4: The Blade
The fun of making your own DIY knife starts here. You may start drawing the size and shape of your ideal knife blade on paper. Do a top view and side view. Draw your blade as closely to its actual size as possible to make it easy for its construction later on.
While it’s great fun to explore different blade designs, keep usability and practicality in mind. But first, let’s learn a bit about types of knife blades. Common types of knife blade shapes are:
The clip point blade design is used commonly on pocket knives, fixed blade knives and Bowie knives.
- Sharp and easily controllable point
- Great for piercing and slicing
Disadvantage: point can be weak and narrow.
The drop point blade design is often seen in hunting knives as its controllable point avoids cutting the internal organs of your game accidentally and has a large slicing area.
- Strong, sharp point that’s easily controllable
- Big slicing area which is great for slicing
- Point not as sharp as the clip point blade
- Less suitable for piercing
The spear point blade design boasts an extremely strong point and is a popular design for throwing knives.
Advantages: strong, sharp point with easy maneuverability.
- Point not as sharp as the clip point blade
- Not suitable for slicing due to small cutting edge
Think about how you’ll be using your homemade knife when deciding how long its blade should be.
For instance, a long blade makes butchering game, slicing bread, light chopping and other food preparation a breeze. On the other hand, a short blade is great for woodwork and carving. A medium-length blade is a good all-rounder.
Step 5: Design The Knife Tang
This is the portion of the knife which extends from the blade into the handle. It’s a continuation of the steel from which the blade is made. A full tang design is the easiest to craft and it’s known to be strong and versatile.
When you attach the wood or material of your choice on each side of the tang with rivets later on, the handle of your knife is formed.
Step 6: Choose Your Blade Material
We know you want to craft the perfect homemade knife with the perfect material. Alas! There is no such thing as a perfect material for knife blades – every material has its own pros and cons.
Carbon steel (an alloy of iron and carbon) is easy to work with, very sharp and easy to sharpen. However, bear in mind that carbon steel is susceptible to rust and stains. There is a range of types and grades of steel out there, so it’s crucial that you choose the right type for your knife.
A good choice for knife-making is 01, a well-loved type of carbon steel that’s easy to douse when hot. Try to get a slab of 01 carbon steel ranging from 1/8” to 1/4” in thickness.
Keep in mind: You should avoid using stainless steel for your DIY knife. Though stainless steel can withstand rust better than carbon steel, it’s not as easy to work. Moreover, stainless steel blades are not as sharp as those made of carbon steel and are not particularly lightweight. Do you want to always wield a heavy knife? You decide.
Step 7: Transfer Your Blade Design onto Metal Slab
Using a marker, carefully trace the shape of your knife blade and tang onto the metal slab. This forms the guide for cutting the steel.
Step 8: Trim Down The Steel around The Traced Blade
Using your hacksaw, cut out a rectangle around your tracing as it’s easier to work with a smaller piece of steel than a larger piece. This rectangular piece of steel with the blade traced pattern is what you’ll be grinding down in the next step for the blade profile.
Step 9: Grind The Blade Profile
Secure the rectangle steel in a vise. Using a flap wheel, carefully grind and follow the blade tracing to eventually get the outline of your blade. Go slow on the grinding as too much can ruin the blade, forcing you to start all over again.
Tip: to form the edge of your blade, use the flap wheel to carefully grind it into a slope, taking care not to let the slope go beyond the blade’s mid length. The slopes should be on both sides of your blade.
Step 10: Drill Rivet Holes into Knife Tang
Use a hand drill to make rivet holes in the tang. The rivet holes should be of an identical size as the rivets you’re intending to use. Make enough rivet holes that you think will hold the handle materials securely to the tang.
Step 11: Sand Your DIY Blade
It’s not likely that you or your loved one will be happy using a dull and lackluster blade even if you’ve spent hours crafting it. So sand the blade to make it shine as well as increase its quality. Use fine grit sandpaper of up to 220 grit and sand out scratches carefully.
Sanding tip: every time you use sandpaper of a different grit, sand in the opposite direction.
Step 12: Heat and Dousing Treatment
Heat treatment for knives is used to harden them so that they can stay sharp with repeated use and yet be flexible enough to withstand force without breaking.
Heat-treat your blade with a coal or gas forge. You may use a blow torch to work on smaller blades. For the cooling bath, it varies according to the kind of steel you’ve used for your blade. For 01 carbon steel, motor oil will do. Remember to use a container deep enough for you to completely dunk your blade in.
Keep heating your blade until it turns orange. To know whether your blade is heated up hot enough, see if it still sticks to a magnet. When steel is heated up to a certain temperature, the magnetic properties will be gone. Once you know your blade is hot enough, cool it by air. Do this process of heating and letting cool three times.
By the fourth time, douse the hot blade in your motor oil cooling bath instead. There will likely be fire as you plunge the hot blade into the motor oil, so wear appropriate fire-resistant gear.
Your DIY blade is now hardened, but it’s still very brittle and can break easily. So be very careful when handling it at this point in time. However, heat treatment for your homemade knife blade isn’t over yet.
Step 13: Preheat Your Oven to 425°
Place your blade in the hot oven and leave it in for an hour. After that, the heat treatment for your knife blade is now complete.
Step 14: Second Sanding for The Blade
This time, use sandpaper of finer grits of 220 to 400 grit. This will give your lovingly treated blade extra luster.
Step 15: Cut Out Materials for The Handle
Wood (put your enamored exotic wood with distinctive colors and grain to good use) is a perennial favorite for knife handles as it can be easily attached with rivets on a homemade knife. However, do note that natural materials are prone to moisture and cracking, so stabilized wood is a better choice for your DIY knife handle.
Stabilized wood has been treated with a chemical stabilizing solution to make it easier to cut, grind and sand – basically making it handier and easier to work with. Be it stabilized birch, walnut, maple, ancient bog oak, sycamore or Hawaiian koa, you may buy stabilized wood of your choice at a wood store.
Synthetic materials such as kirinite, micarta, and G10 make durable and waterproof choices for knife handles too.
Step 16: Attach Handle Materials to Blade
If your homemade knife is full tang, there will be one piece of your chosen stabilized wood (if you’re using wood for your handle) attached to each side of the tang. Sand and drill rivet holes that are in the exact position of the rivet holes on the tang.
Attach the pieces to the tang with epoxy glue. Avoid getting glue on your blade as it’s tough to remove. Secure your newly-minted homemade knife in the vise or under a heavy stack of books to dry overnight.
When your knife is ready to be riveted, place the rivets into the holes on each side, leaving just a little sticking out. Lightly hammer them in before filing them down. Finally, sand the newly-minted handle to give it a beautiful, natural sheen.
Step 17: Sharpen Your DIY Knife Before Its First Use
Just one more step before testing out the fruit of your labor for the first time – you’ve to sharpen your homemade knife first.
Coat your sharpening stone with a little honing oil. Honing oil is a light mineral oil that lubricates the sharpening stone as well as prevents the tiny shavings (by-products of sharpening) from clogging the pores of the sharpening stone.
Hold your new knife at a 20° angle and push the blade across the sharpening stone as if you’re cutting something. Make sure you sharpen the tip of the blade as well. Remember to sharpen both sides of your knife.
To test the sharpness of your creation, slice a vertically-held piece of paper all the way down with your knife. If you’ve sharpened your knife properly, it’s able to shred the paper effortlessly.
Sharpening tip: don’t hold your knife too tightly and avoid applying too much pressure when sharpening it. Always cut into the stone, never drag the knife back over the sharpening stone and maintain your angle. It’s said that a shallow angle makes a sharp edge that doesn’t last long. Steeper angles (17° – 20°) produce longer-lasting sharp edges.
Like many DIY activities, making your own knife is a time-consuming affair. However, we’re sure you and your loved ones will feel very happy when using the creations you’ve painstakingly crafted. We’re looking forward to hearing about your DIY knife adventure!