Mankind has been making some sort of a knife since the stone age. This is something in our DNA that a lot of people are now trying to learn the craft of, rather than ordering some machine-made knives online. While you can purchase a good knife at a variety of convenient places, you can take a lot of pride and confidence from knowing how to make your own.
Even though it doesn’t have to be a complicated process, many people don’t make their own knives because they feel overwhelmed, lacking the know-how, or unprepared without the right supplies. In reality, making your own knife can be a satisfying and straightforward process if you bring the right tools to the table.
Depending on whether you’re a beginner or are advanced in your knife-making skills, we’re going to break down what sort of tools you’ll need to make a knife that you’ll use and love for years to come, or start selling for a nice side hustle.
Materials for Your Knife
Of course, you have to make your knife out of something! For beginner knife-makers, you’ll need steel for the blade and wood to make your handle. Your skill level will determine what specific materials you choose to make basic knives to more advanced and intricate blades.
For example, if you are an advanced knife maker and want to forge your own blade, you might choose a different type of steel from someone who wants to use a raw steel material blank and fashion their knife from it.
Carbon steel is the metal of choice for knife making kits because it’s not only dependable but also yields a nice, attractive finish that helps your knife look good as well as be efficient.
Regardless of your skill level, this list should help you determine which type of steel alloy is best for you to use.
When choosing wood to fashion the knife handle from, hard wood is the best choice for the durability and integrity of the knife over time. Oak, cherry, maple, and walnut are good choices because of their hardiness.
If you want to use wood you’ve harvested yourself for the project, make sure that it has been dried for a minimum of six months so that it doesn’t expand or contract after you’ve used it to fashion your knife handle.
If wood isn’t your speed, materials like resin, bone, or even fiberglass can be used. Regardless of your material, you’ll have to have it available in two scales, or pieces, that will adhere to the tang of your knife blade to form the handle.
Rivets, Pins, and Glue
You’ll also need somewhere between two to four rivets to hold the scales of your knife handle securely to the tang. These rivets or pins will vary in size depending on the size of your knife’s handle.
They can be either hollow or solid and come in metals like copper, brass, and stainless steel. They used to be the only method for securing the scales to the tang, but today, epoxy and other kinds of glue are used to make those joints more secure and durable.
So the rivets and pins can be sometimes considered to have more of a decorative purpose, although they do perform an important function. Since they can be decorative, you have plenty of options when it comes to customizing and choosing ones that fit your personality and style.
Basic Knife-Making Tools
Now that you’ve decided on and procured the materials you’ll fashion your knife from, it’s time to make the list of tools you’ll need to get the job done. We’re going to start with the most basic, foundational tools that you’ll need, regardless of skill level, to make your homemade knife.
The hacksaw is your basic tool for cutting your knife blade from your steel material. It’s not a precision tool by any means, but you have to start somewhere! The best quality hacksaws are fine-toothed, bi-metal, and not very expensive.
Hacksaws generally only make straight cuts, so the first step of this process will be the most labor-intensive, but a good hacksaw will start you off on the right foot. After you upgrade to a better cutting tool down the line, you can even use the steel from the old hacksaw to start your knife blade, too.
Use your hacksaw in conjunction with a vice or clamps. These keep your raw piece of metal held tightly in place so that your cuts can be as efficient—and safe—as possible. Because you’ll use these tools when working on your knife handle as well, you’ll want to have a variety on hand.
You can find clamps just about anywhere at reasonable prices. And of course, it goes without saying that you’ll also need a solid, steady surface to clamp your raw material to as you work on it. Your clamps or vice won’t be any good without a sturdy surface to work on.
After the rough shape of your knife emerges from the work of your hacksaw, you can take on some of the more detailed shaping using metal files.
There are a variety of types and sizes for each step in the process. But in general, they’re perfect for more precision work that focus on edges and help you shape the bevel of your blade.
Because your knife is likely to need a lot of precision work at this point to get it into a more refined form, choose a good variety set that has files that feature different levels of cuts.
These cut types are referred to as bastard, second, and smooth cuts. You’ll use them in that order to make rougher, more precise, and ultra precise cuts that remove corresponding amounts of steel from your blade.
Once you get your knife and tang shaped out from the raw steel material, you’ll need to debulk it and also drill holes to later assemble the handle. For this, you’ll need a good, high-powered, corded drill.
Your garden variety cordless drill sadly won’t have enough voltage to make it through steel, so a corded drill is your best budget option. To make the process easier, invest in a set of cobalt-tipped or high speed steel drill bits as well as some oil to make the process of drilling through metal a bit easier.
This is an inexpensive little tool that helps you get your drilling started. Without it, your drill tip is likely to waver and bounce, ruining the precision of your drilled hole. A center punch creates a small indentation in the metal that helps prevent the drill tip from wandering, keeping the formation of the hole steady and exactly where it needs to be.
Manual center punches can be used with a hammer to create the indentation and therefore are both cheap and easy to use.
Regardless of whether you choose dry sanding, wet sanding, or both, you’ll be sanding a great deal during your knife-making project. For the blade and the handle both, you’ll want a variety of sandpaper grits.
At the most basic level, sandpaper itself is fine to use manually or in conjunction with a hand-held wooden block or dowel-type tool. As with the files, choose a variety that offers lower grits for rougher work and higher grits for finer work.
Any grit above 220 is a micro-grit that’s best for use after the blade has been heat-tempered and treated.
Ball Peen Hammer
This is the tool you’ll use to drive the rivets and pins for the stability of your handle. The ball peen hammer offers a gentler and more precise result than a traditional hammer, so it’s a good idea to go ahead and get one of this variety, as it can be used to embed the rivet into the wood and do other jobs during your project.
Varieties that are four or eight ounces are the perfect weight for the type of detail work you’ll be doing while making your knife.
Heat-Treating Oven (or Toaster Oven)
When it comes down to heat-treating and tempering your knife to ensure the hard and durable nature of the steel you’ve chosen, you have several options. For beginners, the budget option is one that anyone is likely to have on hand.
While some beginners resort to using a torch to heat their metal, this can yield inconsistent results that show in the quality of the finished blade. A kitchen oven can provide a much more controllable heat-tempering result. However, using a kitchen oven can shroud your whole house in smoke.
The best option is to use a toaster oven which can be set up in your free-standing shop, shed, or garage. It heats the knife blade evenly and controllably, and it’s an inexpensive, mobile, and generally risk-free option.
The toaster oven option is a great idea to save a lot of money when you’re first starting out. Once you make a few knives and feel that knifemaking is a hobby you’ll stick with, then you can consider building or buying a real heat-treating oven or a forge.
Of course, safety is non-negotiable! Any time you work with metal and heat, you want to minimize any risks to your safety.
Make sure to have some N-95 masks (or a respirator) on hand to reduce your exposure to fumes and metal/saw dust. Adding a pair of safety goggles, ear plugs, and heat-resistant gloves will cover all your bases and keep you safe during the process—as long as you remember to use common sense and caution along with them.
Advanced Knife-Making Tools
If you’re a little more skilled or are looking for a more precise or advanced result from your knife-making project, consider some of these tool upgrades that can make the process quicker and easier.
Angle Grinder or Bandsaw
Instead of a hacksaw, try out an angle grinder or bandsaw. A good, quality grinder with cut-off wheels will make cutting down your metal blank faster and more precise, all while saving you some elbow grease.
Bandsaws are a little pricier although they’ll yield even faster and more precise results that can cut two or three of the basic steps down into one, smooth process. It does take up more room, though, and is best for veteran knife makers.
When you’re ready to upgrade from the long and labor-intensive work of grinding down your blades with a metal hand file and sandpaper, a belt sander will likely be your favorite purchase ever.
High speed sanding belts quickly grind away the metal to make the perfect bevel on the sharp edge in a fraction of the time it would take to do by hand. They can also be used to quickly sand down and shape the handle.
The most popular size belt grinder for knifemaking is the 2x72 inch size, preferably ceramic. A 1x30 belt grinder is used by some knifemakers, but professionals usually lean towards using 2x72 sanding belts for knifemaking. Ceramic is a favorite sanding belt for making knives from the beginning to the end of the process, but many people like to finish off use a silicon carbide sanding belt for knife sharpening.
Another tool that demands extra room and a workshop to store it in, a bench vice is helpful because it maintains a stable, sturdy surface on which to work. It will also provide a wider variety of angles at which to clamp your blade or handles while you’re working on them, saving you time, effort, and probably frustration.
Once you’ve worked hard to make your knife, it’s only natural to want to make it and keep it as sharp as possible. There are some simple methods for this, but if you’re interested in investing in a quality sharpening system, choose one that utilizes sharpening stones, as these offer greater precision tha guided manual sharpening files.
Measuring the thickness of your blade and the scales of your handle at different points of the knife-making process is crucial. If you’re off by even a small amount, it could ruin the finished product.
Since precision is the name of the game, you’ll want a tool that can help you stay as precise as possible. Digital calipers are extremely accurate and will help you obtain the consistency you need to make a good-quality knife.
Forge and Anvil
For the most die-hard of knife makers who want to forge their own blade from the ground up, a forge and anvil are required. While it’s not necessary to forge your own blade, veteran knife-makers might want to venture into this bladesmithing territory. Be advised, though, that these advanced pieces of knife making equipment can be expensive.
If you’ve wanted to make your own knife at home and felt too daunted by the task, then hopefully our list has helped. With a handful of basic tools, you can get started creating your own knives that you can use and display with pride.