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What You HAVE To Know Before Building Your First Knife

Aug 17, 2007
Beginners need to know the basics of knife making. Most beginners, in fact, start with knife making kits, and only from there move on to assembling their own knives from materials purchased or crafted themselves. This will include information on how knives go together, where to find the parts and other supplies, and how to keep yourself safe.

Safety first: knives are weapons as well as tools. Always wear safety goggles or glasses, and protect your hands by wrapping the blade in masking tape while you're working with the handle. When doing heavy-duty sanding, safety requires that you have a breathing filter available; some knives are made of types of carbonized steel that produces harmful dust.

To know your blade, you need to understand your materials. Knives are composed of a blade and a handle. Most kits come with a blade, handle, guard, and sometimes a pommel. Beyond these four items include an epoxy or other good glue to fix the blade in the handle, sandpaper of various grains, and files both to sharpen your blade and to get rid of burs left behind in the manufacture of your metals. Knife making kits will include the three or four main components of your knife, but you'll have to go out and buy the glue and sandpaper.

The foundations of this art also require that you know what you're getting when you buy your blade or kit. There are several methods used to make knife blanks - those are the blade/tang pieces. One is moulding, which is a form of casting; it may be blacksmithed (all Damascus steel is at least partly blacksmithed); or it could be made with a stock removal method, which is a cutting process. You should know the difference between the methods, and understand the advantages and disadvantages of all of them.

Knowing the tools are your next step. When you build your knife, tools will include a vise, a good table on which to work (preferably with a metal surface and a place to clamp your vise), an electric drill with sanding attachment for tedious grinding, and all your safety equipment.

Also in learning, you should read about the properties of metal, particularly carbonized steel used in knife making. Metal properties first require that you not overheat your metal; this can damage the crystalline structure that gives it strength and flexibility. If you overheat metal and then don't quench it properly, you wind up with brittle, easily blunted blades. This should include simple information on how to handle heat.

You'll need to learn about the different types of knives and metals available to you. Most knives are made with stainless steel or carbonized steel of some sort, with a few made of alloys like titanium. This will teach you that stainless steel is the softest and easiest to work with, but the higher grades make better all around knives. When learning the basics, start with stainless steel blades, not hard blades.

There are several types of knives you can make, but when learning you should stick with the simplest: a straight blade, something like a Bowie knife. Bowie knives are straightforward and simple: you prepare the blade, slide the guard onto the tang, fix the tang into the handle after ensuring they mate properly, and then finish the blade. You'll learn many skills while doing this, though: how to sand properly, the different issues that can come up when matching blade and handle, and safety.

More complicated knives will teach you more skills. For instance, folding knives require one of several types of springs; these springs are designed to keep the blade extended while in use, but easy to fold when you're done. Once you've learned this, you might want to tackle one of these.

Though it's not quite required to make a knife, you should also understand the law where it applies to the sorts of blades you might want. For instance, switchblades are illegal in many locations. Learn how the law applies to the blades you're making as well. It's no fun to make a great knife and then not be able to carry it around legally.
About the Author
Aaron Trubic offers knife making advice, tips and information for knifemakers of all skill levels at his website, Knife Making Supplies.
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