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Best Practices For Beginning Knifemakers

Aug 17, 2007
If you're a knife making beginner, you should probably start with a simple round-tanged Bowie knife. This consists of a blade with a round tang to insert into the handle; a pommel and a guard; a handle; and whatever fixative you use to hold it together. You really can't go wrong with this combination.

The first thing a novice needs to learn is safety. Wrap your sharp blade in masking tape. Beginners are more likely to cut themselves than old pros, so you should take every precaution not to do this. Remember that a knife is a dangerous weapon, and you want to live into old pro status.

Be certain to always wear safety glasses or goggles when working with a knife, whether you're sharpening it, drilling it, or sliding it into the handle. Knives do shatter. You should be aware that some carbon steel alloys have dust that is hazardous to your health when you sharpen the blade. You should have a breathing filter available for the times you must work with these.

Never force the tang into the handle; if it won't go, you're not removing the burs properly. Beginning knifemakers often make the mistake of not filing off the little spiky protrusions left on the tang end of a knife blade before sliding it into the handle. If your handle is pre-made (which is appropriate) and the tang is not going in, it's almost certainly the burs.

Purchase starter kits rather than trying to match the different components of a knife themselves. There are plenty of starter kits, from the simplest Bowie knife kits to more complex folding knives. By using a starter kit, you'll learn how knives are supposed to go together, and later your own custom knives will be more solidly designed.

There are several tools you should have. A soldering iron will make a much more solid join between your blade and the guard than epoxy, but it does require some finesse. You should have some sort of vise; you only have two hands, and some of the procedures you will be performing require an extra hand. Your vise is your extra hand. Always have files on hand, a whetstone, and sandpaper of differing grains.

Prepare a workspace just for knife making. People often try to work on the kitchen table or another inappropriate place; but since you're going to be clamping things down, generating dust, and otherwise polluting and damaging your workspace, in the interests of continuing on good terms with your wife or parents you should work somewhere it's safe to damage and/or pollute. Start with a sturdy table, preferably with a strip of steel bolted down or clamped to it; if the steel strip is thick and extends over the edge of the table, use this to clamp knives to while they use both hands to work with the blade, handle, or tang.

You have access to a vast variety of resources online. From online stores selling prefabricated knife making kits to books, videos, and internet how-to instructions on making knives, novices should be able to easily locate information they need. Read widely. Don't just read the how-to websites, either. Go to the different supply websites, and look at the different materials available, and the different knives people have designed. You will learn as much from reading about knife making equipment and materials as you will from a book, and maybe more.

Don't limit yourself to just reading about modern knives, either. You are participating in a long and venerable tradition, dating back to pre-human times, of tool making. As a beginning knifemaker, you should read about the history of knives, learn about important knives like the Damascus steel blades of the Crusades-era Saracens, and the Jim Bowie knife that helped tame the American West. These ancient and historical knives can teach you a lot about design. Keep an open mind about what kinds of knives you're going to make.

Knife making is a great hobby, and eventually, if you master the skills, you could even make money doing it. But as a knife making beginner, start small and slow. Learn your basics. Later, when you are a respected pro, you can try the really fancy stuff.
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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