How I Make Knives

I learned the craft of knifemaking from master knifemaker Gil Hibben so I use the methods that he taught me. That is not to say that my knives will all look like Gil's knives but we do have very similar tastes in styles. I did start out using some of Gil's designs before developing my own  style.

Even a "simple" fixed blade knife may take as many as 29 separate steps to create.

  1. Design the knife on paper or a computer model

  2. Layout the design on steel bar stock

  3. Cut the blade blank form the steel bar stock with a steel cutting bandsaw

  4. Smooth the edges and refine the profile with a disc grinder

  5. Surface grind the sides to remove scale

  6. Mark the center lines  for the cutting edge

  7. Coat the blade blank with machinists dye and mark the grind lines

  8. Rough grind the blade

  9. Mark and drill holes for the handle pins

  10. If applicable, drill and tap or cut a receiving hole for a butt cap

  11. Heat treat the blade to harden

  12. Temper the blade, usually twice

  13. Surface grind 2nd time to remove scale and flatten blade

  14. Finish grind the blade

  15. Sand and/or polish the finish of the blade

  16. Mill the guard, bolsters, and/or butt cap as applicable

  17. Sand or polish the guard, butt cap and/or bolsters

  18. Solder the guard  or bolsters in place

  19. Cut and shape the handle material

  20. Cut pins to attach the handle

  21. Attach the handle

  22. Attach the butt cap if applicable

  23. Peen and grind the handle pins flush to the handle

  24. Sand and finish the handle.

  25. Make the sheath and coat with water protection

  26. Final finish and polish the entire knife

  27. Hone the cutting edge

  28. Coat the knife with a coat of Renaissance Wax

  29. Photograph, package and ship.

Folding knives and more complex models may require much more and sometime take weeks to finish. Here is a brief overview of how I make a knife.

Here, I start the knifemaking process with a piece of annealed 440C stainless steel bar stock.

I coat the blade with a blue dye so I can scribe lines in the dye to make a pattern to follow while cutting out the rough shape of the knife.

Next, I use disc grinders and belt grinders to clean up the rough edges and complete the profile of the knife. This will be a little boot knife based on a Gil Hibben design.

Now I grind the sides of the knife perfectly flat and remove any surface scale and pits.

I then "rough" grind the blade. I grind my blades freehand using a belt grinder.

I will finish grind the blade after heat treatment. I drill the holes for the pins that will be used to attach the handles at this stage. After treating the steel would be too hard to drill.

Here, I am jumping ahead a little bit. At this stage the steel has been heat treated, the blade has been finish ground and polished, and the I have added some decorative filework along the spine. It is now time to make the guard and the handle.

I choose a set of desert ironwood slabs for the handle and I cut the guard from a piece if brass bar stock.

The guard is fitted to the knife and the handle slabs are attached with pins and high strength epoxy to insure that it is a watertight fit. In this case, I used some black spacer material between the wood and the steel. Since the blade has been polished at this point, I have covered it with tape to protect it from scratches while I finish the knife.

Here, the handles and guard have been attached and I have cut away some of the excess wood with a bandsaw.

Now I shape the guard and handle using a belt grinder.

I check the shape, feel and the balance of the knife.

After I do some finish sanding by hand with fine grit sandpaper and emery cloth, it's time to buff the handles and finish the knife. Buffing  is by far the most hazardous part of knifemaking. If I am not extremely careful, these buffers can jerk the knife out of my hands and throw it back at me in the blink of an eye.

The finished knife. In my opinion, you can't beat the beauty of ironwood handles. Ironwood is a rare and extremely hard natural wood with beautiful grain patterns.

The knifemaking process varies somewhat depending on the type of knife I am making and the materials being used but this is an overview of what it takes to make a custom handmade knife.

As you can see, many hours of work go into even a small boot knife. It took a lot of practice to hone my freehand grinding skills and I cannot say enough about the expert guidance offered by mentor and friend Gil Hibben.  

I would also like to thank my good friend Rhonda Hubbuch for taking many of the photos above.

If you want see how some individual knife projects progressed, see my CUSTOM JOBS PAGE HERE

If you would like to see how I make a fold-over sheath, CLICK HERE.

A tutorial on how to antique brass is HERE.

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