Essential Tools For the Beginner Knife Makerlewis.yoole
Article written by: David Grinter
Essential Tools For the Beginner Knife Maker
Whenever you ask this question, you are liable to get an answer of anything from files right up to a power hammer – good stuff, but the word here is beginner.
The best way to start out in knife making is known as the stock removal process. This means taking a workpiece and taking away material until you have the shape you want. If forging is your thing, see our forging articles here, but even with forged blades, there will be elements of stock removal.
When you are starting out, you may not have all the tools you need (or want), but initially, you don’t need to invest a fortune. You might want to try working from a kit where all the components you need to complete a knife are supplied and will cost as little as $34.64 complete with instructions and can be done with hand tools. Or you might want to start from a blank piece of steel and choose your own handle materials and fasteners. However you choose to start, here is a list of basic hand and power tools.
Safety Equipment – Essential. Protect your eyes, ears and lungs at all costs. See our Safety Article.
Files – A good set of files in round, half round and triangular profiles will get the job done. A chainsaw file is a good thing to have if you intend to make a knife with a choil.
Screwdrivers are something most people have and if you intend to use Corby Bolts you’ll need one. Hollow-ground screwdrivers are a good choice because they are less likely to jump out of the screw-slot and gall the edges.
Hacksaw – This will cut away the waste from your blank a lot faster than you can file it.
Vise – A decent 150mm vise is good enough for most of your work-holding needs. Soft jaws will stop the gripping surface ruining your blank, and these are easy to make or cheap to buy.
Workbench – Anything that is sturdy enough to take a bit of filing, sanding and pounding is good enough.
Abrasive paper – You’ll need various grades as you go from stock removal to finish on your blade and your handle. At a minimum: 100, 180, 240, 360 grit. They go all the way to 3000 grit and beyond, so the choice is yours depending on your choice of finish, starting at ‘brushed’ through to a mirror finish.
Drill Bits – A must have tool for through-tangs or pinned scales.
Clamps – Spring or screw clamps will keep your scales in place during gluing. They can also be used to secure your workpiece to your bench if you don’t have a vise.
Sharpening Stone – The sky is the limit on these, but a basic hardware store double-sided stone is a good start.
Drill (Preferably a Drill Press) – for drilling your holes for handle pins or Corby Bolts you need a way to drill holes and while a hand held drill will do the job – for the best result a drill press will give you perfectly straight holes. A small bench mounted one can cost less than $150.
Angle Grinder – A 100mm angle grinder with thin cutting discs will get all your blank-cutting done much faster than a hacksaw and they are usually under $100.
Belt Grinder – This is where you will start to spend money, but the benefits are well worth it if you are serious about knife-making. What could take all day with a file can be done in seconds with a belt grinder and the right choice of abrasive belt. There are various makes out there and we stock some of the best specifically made for knife-makers. A belt grinder has the advantage of being able to change belts and grits in seconds and is far more versatile than a standard bench grinder. For hollow-grinding, they are essential. See our article on belts for the lowdown on belt choice.
Let’s face it – the Vikings and the old Japanese smiths did not have power tools, so don’t feel you can’t make a good knife with hand tools. Yes – hand tools are slower and more painstaking, but all knifemakers still use them for finish work.
For a look at how an experienced knifemaker completes a knife from a kit and from stock – hit the hyperlinks.