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The Absolute Cheapskate Way to Start Making Knives - The Cheap Knife Tutorial ;-)

This tutorial was originally posted here [link will open new window] and was written by a knifemaker named Scott Jones. Enjoy and please thank the author by clicking the link to his site. Thanks and good luck!!!

Let me start by saying that I am a newbie and I don't have all the answers, but I can tell you how to have a little fun making knives.

If you absolutely have the fever to make a knife and you are without machines, here is a small list that will help. I realize that these may not be the best materials, but it will put a grin on your face when you finish your first knife. Follow these instructions, and you will have a dependable knife that you can use for years to come.

  • A piece of 5160 steel from a spring and axle shop; about $1.80 a pound or so. They also have a metal muncher to cut it to the length you want. Sometimes they will give you a piece free of charge. Be sure to get a new flat piece, not an old car spring. Get the thinnest piece they have. My spring shop has material as thin as .212 and 1 1/2" wide. This is thick for a small blade but it will work.
  • Now, head over to the lumber section of your local hardware store (Home Depot, Lowes, etc.), and find the strips of oak. A 1/4"x2"x3' piece costs about $4.00.
  • One 1/8" brass brazing rod from the welding department; $1.50
  • Two 1/8" drill bits; $2.00
  • One 1/4" drill bit; $2.00
  • Two files: one flat, and one half-round. The largest and most aggressive ones you can find; $7.50
  • Two sheets of wet/dry sand paper 120 grit; $1.00
  • Two sheets of wet/dry sand paper 240 grit; $1.00
  • A cheap hacksaw and a couple of fine tooth blades for it
  • A C-clamp large enough to clamp your blade to a table or bench. If you don't have a C-clamp or bench we can get around that too, no problem. The saw, blades, and clamp are going to add about $10.00 to the total but I'll bet that most of you already have some of these things.
  • An electric hand drill. Borrow it if you don't have one, you're not going to do any damage to it anyway. You'll just be drilling a bunch of holes with your own bits.

We're at about a $30.00 price tag, and I'm going to show you how to make your knife, finish it, and even heat-treat it!

For your first blade, keep the design simple. 3-3 1/2" long for the blade as you will be using a file to make the bevels. A Wharncliffe blade profile is about the easiest to start with because the cutting edge is straight and easier to file in a straight line. It's a good idea to keep the handle design smooth too, and don't have a lot of fancy finger grooves and guards.

I have taken some pictures to explain the next steps. Much of the following information I acquired over the years through magazines and books and just adapted them for that first inexpensive blade.

The first picture is the shape of blade drawn with a marker. I used a 1/4" drill bit and drilled around the profile. It takes a lot of the hacksaw work out of it. Be sure to drill just outside the profile line that you drew. Next, drill the 1/8" holes for the pins in the handle and the 1/4" holes in the handle to allow you to screw to the bench to work on the blade portion.

Now, screw the blade to a bench or stump or whatever you have, and cut out the handle portion first. Remove the material, and then file the handle to shape. Do the handle first because you won't have any way to screw the blade to the bench if you cut out the entire blade.

Once the handle has been filed to a satisfactory shape, remove and screw the handle to the bench and cut out the blade.

I drilled all around the profile of the blade. This really makes it easy to use the hacksaw to cut out the profile. I just unscrewed from the bench and repositioned as need to cut off the excess for the handle. I drilled the 1/8" holes for the pins in the handle and the 1/4" holes in the handle to allow me to screw to the bench to work on the blade portion. I have the handle filed and added a couple of finger grooves for the heck of it. I am ready to saw the business end now and file the rest of the profile. Be patient, it takes time with the files. In this picture, I have the handle filed and added a couple of finger grooves for the heck of it.

Here, the knife blank is cut out and the edges filed. It is starting to take shape.

Mark the edge of the blade using a 1/4" inch drill bit. Blacken the edge using a marker so your scribed lines will show up well. To mark the edge, slide the drill bit point along the edge and it will scribe a line. Turn the blade over and then scribe the other side. You will get two lines about .025 to .030 apart. If the lines are too close, re-blacken the edge with the marker and roll the drill bit to move the point up or down accordingly and then rescribe. The lines will be about one half of the thickness of a penny apart.

Next, using those handy-dandy deck screws, fasten the knife flat on the bench top. Make sure that the edge of the knife overhangs the edge of the workbench a little, as show in the illustration. Then, start flat filing the blade's bevels. The object is to join the scribed line and the top edge of the blade at the same time. This is going to require a lot of hard work and patience. You might find that you will need a few refreshments along the way.

To help you file flat, you may want to use the marker. Be sure to file very slow and try to keep it flat. The marker will show you the high spots that you need to bring down.

Trying to keep with the cheapo theme, here is our sanding block, a paint stir stick. I first sanded along the area that would be called the plunge. I used the stir stick and 120 grit to clean this area up. Then I started sanding lengthwise, plunge to tip, until all of the rough file marks are gone. This will also make it flat. Use a little soap and water as a lube to keep your sandpaper from loading up. Be sure to wipe the blade down dry when your done or you will have rust tomorrow.

Start sanding the flats and handle area. Don't take out all the imperfections; just remove the scale until you get some bare metal. It will add a little character to the finished knife.

Here, the fire is started. I used hedge for a fire in the back yard. We have a fire pit already so that's what we used. Hedge burns hot and we have a slight breeze that worked in my favor. In the picture are the things you're going to need to work with the blade. I got the magnet from my boys toy box. I struggled with the tong/cheap issue, and ended up using two pieces of 1/2" square tube 3' long and stuck an old set of pliers in the ends and beat the metal around them to hold together. Here is the quench solution. It's top secret but here's a hint: Those are old oil filters from the last oil change on the vehicles.

First, preheat your kitchen oven to 375 - 400 degrees. Then, put your blade in the hot coals. It will take about 10 to 15 minutes to reach the proper temperature depending on how many and how hot the coals are. Since this is your first blade, pull it out and look at it for a couple of seconds every 2 or 3 minutes and check it with the magnet on the cutting edge from tip to plunge. If the magnet has a pull on it, it is not ready to quench. Put it back in the coals and let it get cherry red. Try not to heat it any longer than is needed by checking every minute or two when you think you are close.

It is time to quench in the secret oil when the magnet does not stick and the color is sweet and you have drool running down your chin.

Quench the blade by putting about two thirds of the blade, cutting edge down, in the oil. Hold it there until the flame is gone, about a minute or so, and then slowly place the rest of the blade in the oil until it is covered and there is no more smoke.

Now, pull it out and it will be covered with black and look nasty. I dipped mine in a bucket of water to get the temperature down so I could hold it in my hand.

Now you're saying, is it really hard? Well, check it out. Using the file you can run it at about a 30 degree angle with a fairly light touch, not too hard, and the file will slide off the edge with out trying to grab. You will be able to feel it because you have just done a bunch of filing. If it slides off the edge wipe it down with a rag clean off all the oil. You can use soap and water, just wipe it down afterwards.

If the file grabs, then you need to go back to the fire and do it again.

Assuming the blade is hard after your file test, we need to draw some of the hardness out of it so we don't have a brittle edge and point. Files are very brittle and the edge of your knife is just as hard as a file right now.

Place your knife on the rack of your preheated oven and bake the blade for 45 minutes. Then, let it cool to room temperature and then repeat the baking process again for another 45 minutes at 375-400. By the way, the reason you need to clean off all the oil from the blade is so you don't smoke the house up. After the baking process, you are ready to clean up your blade. So, get sanding and get ready to put the handles on this baby.

Place the knife on its side on your bench, and then cut two pieces of oak for the scales. Place the knife near the top edge so you don't have a lot of filing on at least one edge.

I have the brass pin material cut and ready for the next step.

Drill the holes for your pins into the scale. Then, put all three pins in and mark the outline of the knife on the slab of oak. Decide now where the front of the slab will be when you epoxy and pin the knife. I'm sorry for the bad picture, but I think you can see the desired look with the black line on the blade. I mark the start and finish of that line onto the wood, and then draw an arc to join the lines.

The left hand scale has been filed and sanded at the front where we won't be able to do a lot of forming after they are epoxied to the blade.

Now, pencil the shape of the left scale to the right, mainly the front area.

Check to see that the left scale is good and flat, and flush to the metal. If you need to, flatten it on sandpaper and the kitchen counter top. Formica is usually pretty flat. Match up the scales, and then shape them with a file and sandpaper until you get mirror images of each other. Again, I am only referring to the front edge.

Check them with a test-fit on the knife.

At this point, if you have nice flat scales with no gaps between the scales and the metal, then you are ready to cut some pin material. You'll need just enough to stick out past the scales on each side. Degrease the blade well where you are going to place the scales. Dish soap and hot water with an old toothbrush work well. Then rinse it very well and wipe it dry. It's a good idea to hit it with a hair dryer for a few minutes if you want to make sure it is completely dry.

Cut the pin material and sand the rough edges off so they go through the wood without causing splinters when you tap them through. Use clear epoxy to cover the inside of the scales and then place them on the knife and drive the pins into the holes. Wrap the whole thing with four fat rubber bands and wipe as much epoxy off the area where the slab meets the flat of the blade near the front, and then let it dry.

Here is the finished knife.

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