Two bills or not two bills, that is the question
You can spend as little as ten dollars on a knife that will be a serviceable blade, or up to several hundred dollars on a knife that will supposedly be a cut above the rest. Oh, I just HAD to say it. I guess I’m just a sharp fellow. But let’s cut to the chase, and get to the point. Can you tell which of the knives pictured below cost $10 and which one cost $140? I will give a hint. One of the $10 knives had an ugly sheath, and it was my wife’s, so I made her a nice leather sheath.
The Riddle of Steel
One of my all-time favorite movies was Conan the Barbarian with Arnold Schwarzenegger. In that movie, James Earl Jones played the evil character, Thulsa Doom. In one of the scenes in the movie, Jones mentions the “Riddle of Steel”. You have to keep in mind that 1000’s of years ago, steel was like a magical thing constructed in fire while the swordsmith most likely muttered a prayer over it.
Common as the Cold
Thankfully, today steel is really not that big of a deal to come across in countless common everyday items. The biggest problem with using “found” steel to construct a knife is that a lot of the times you won’t really know the quality of the steel you are using. You won’t know if it will properly temper until you do it. Then at that time it either did, or it didn’t, and that’s it.
Of course, being careful in your selection of steel is very important. You can identify good, quality steel (like axles for example), that can be forged into a high quality weapon. The biggest problem with that is, what if you don’t have a forge or even know how to forge steel into tools and weapons? What do you do then?
A Good Quality Forgery
If you can’t forge a knife, whether because you don’t know how or because you don’t have a forge, you can still make a knife. A forge is the blacksmith shop containing an anvil, various hammers, various tongs and pliers, etc. However, there is another way that you can make a knife.
Even without a forge, you can still make a decent knife. If you can get your hands on some flat steel-like bar stock, or something similar, that you can cut a piece from, you can make a knife. Start by drawing the shape on a piece of paper, or cardboard. When you have the shape refined to your satisfaction in paper, then all you need do is:
Materials/tools you will need to make a knife:
- A piece of steel (to make the blade from)
- A hacksaw (or jig saw, or band saw would be even better but I used a hacksaw to cut out the blade)
- A file or grinder (for refining the edges)
- A belt sander (not a must but a huge help, to polish the blade and bevel the edge)
- Drill/bits (to drill rivet holes through the tang and handle scales)
- Sandpaper (for sanding the parts)
- Handle material (wood scales, plastic, etc, I used genuine bone)
- Brass or softer steel rivets (I used brass rivets to attach the handle scales)
- Gorilla glue or two part 15 minute epoxy (I glued and riveted the handle scales for extra strength and durability)
- A gallon or so of oil (new or used, vegetable or petroleum, whatever you have. This is for quenching the blade to temper it. I used used motor oil, that’s why my blade turned so black. It was a pain to clean all of that carbon off of the blade)
- Piece of brass or aluminum for the hilt (you can use the same steel as the blade if you have to, I used a piece of brass)
- Heavy leather gloves
What to Do
Tape the paper onto a piece of steel, then using a black marker, some chalk, a crayon, a pencil, or a scribe to trace the pattern (a scribe scratches the surface so it won’t wear off like the others can):
Cut the shape out with a hacksaw, or whatever you have to do it with. I used a hacksaw. Cut close to the line, but leave a little so that you can final grind it to the line. If you try to cut it perfect, you are bound to cut through the line and mess it up. Drill the holes in the tang for the handle scales NOW before you harden the steel, as it will be MUCH easier to do so now.
Using a grinder or a file, or a rock if you have to, grind the edges down to the line and refine the shape of your blade. I used a grinder to get within 1mm or so, and then switched to the file. For the final pass, I used the belt sander on all edges.
Create a fuller (blood groove) in the blade by using a fuller tool when you heat the blade to temper it. If you don’t have a fuller tool, you can make one. You may opt to grind the fuller in the blade with a small stone. Grinding goes easier if you make some type of a guide to keep the line straight:
Here’s a video of a guy grinding a fuller, I just used a Dremel tool to do mine:
The next step is to put a bevel on the edge of the blade, so that it can be sharpened easily once hardened. This step goes best if you have a belt sander. Clamp the belt sander in a table vice to hold it still and steady. You can use a stick as a guide to maintain an even angle.
Here’s a video using a belt sander to sharpen a knife:
Grind the bevel holding the blade nearly flat onto the belt sander to get a steep angle. This will give you a sharper finished edge. Start with 200 grit, then use 400, then 600, then 800, then finally 1000 grit. Sand the entire blade, as well as create a bevel.
Once you have the shape cut out, the holes drilled in the tang for the handle scales, and a bevel ground on it for an edge, you are going to heat treat it to temper the blade. To heat treat the blade you will need a heat source.
I used a small electric kiln but you can build a fire to do it, whatever it takes.
The blade should be glowing cherry red and a magnet will NOT stick to it, this is ready for the quench. To quench the blade in a tube, hold it by the tang and insert it straight down into the tube of oil.
There is likely to be fire, so wear heavy gloves. To quench the blade in a tray, hold the blade by the tang and hold it beveled edge down. Insert it into the oil evenly. Fire will likely come up from the oil. After the blade has cooled, take it back to the belt sander for cleanup and final sharpening.
The blade is now ready for the hilt. Wrap the blade in paper, and tape it up so you don’t damage the edge or finish, and to minimize risks of cuts from the sharp blade.
Cut out the shape of the hilt the same as the blade. Close to the line but not to it, then finish grind to the line. Mark the center, then drill a series of holes then finish the slot with files to slide over the tang. The slot should fit tight enough that you must tap the hilt on with a wood block.
Rough cut the material you plan to use for the handle. Cut the piece larger than the tang. Make a good, square cut against the hilt. Then clamp one side to the tang. Drill the rivet holes. Repeat with the opposite handle scale. Now using a larger bit, countersink the rivet holes on the outside of the handle scale, so that when you smash the brass rivet it can expand and create a head in the countersunk hole.
Now use some Gorilla glue on the scales and put the brass rivets through the handle scales to line everything up. Then wrap with cord, or use a quick grip clamp, or similar, to hole the scales tight. Let the glue dry.
Finally, hammer set the brass rivets using great care to not break the handle scales.
Grind the handle scales to fit the tang. Shape the handle to your hand as desired. You can cut finger grooves if you like. Finally, sand the handles. If you used wood material, a final stain and sealant will finish it off.
You now have a handmade DYI knife. A knife that you have made by hand and you can be proud of. This method of knife making is more simplistic than forging a knife, but it requires fewer tools and still produces a quality product at the end.
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