Use A File To Make A Handcrafted Knife
Popular Mechanics South Africa|Popular Mechanics March/April 2021
Use a file to make a handcrafted knife
Alex Hollings

GETTING STARTED

Knife making can be complex, but it doesn’t have to be. You can create some incredible pieces using things you either already have lying around or that are cheaply available at your local hardware store.

While there are lots of companies out there that specialise in selling high-quality steel forged specifically for knife making, a more affordable place to start is at the bottom of your toolbox, says Paul Brach, a knife maker for more than 30 years. Old tool files, in particular, make for great knives because they tend to be made out of higher-quality steel and are already formed in a workable shape.

Plus, there’s something special about working with what you have. ‘There is a certain satisfaction that comes from giving new life to these things rather than letting them go to waste,’ Brach says.

DESIGN YOUR BLADE

For your first attempt, Brach recommends a standard survival knife shape similar to the US Marine Corps Ka-Bar design. This shape’s long cutting edge is bolstered by a tapered edge on the top of the blade, making it well suited for both cutting and piercing. The steel of the blade extends through the handle (commonly referred to as ‘full tang’), and it retains its full thickness along the spine of the blade, making it very strong.

Sketch out your shape to scale on paper by tracing an existing blade or drawing freehand using a reference image. The sketch doesn’t have to be perfect, but it should resemble the profile of the knife you intend to make. Cut the drawing out and trace it on to your file using a permanent marker. Save the cut-out – the marker will fade under heat, so you may need to redraw lines as you work.

GRIND THE PROFILE

Put on your safety glasses and either clamp the file to a sturdy table or place it in a vice. Use the cut-off wheel on your angle grinder to begin roughing out the basic shape of the knife. Cut straight lines that are slightly outside the curved shape of the blade.

Once you’ve removed as much material as you can, swap in the grinding wheel. Begin shaping the steel into the final profile of the blade and handle.

CENTRE-SCRIBE THE METAL

Lay the knife flat on your workbench or table and then lie the drill bit next to the blade, with the tip of the bit facing what will become the knife’s sharp edge. Leave the bit flat on the table as you press its tip into the edge of the metal, and scrape a line down the length of what will become the cutting surface of the knife.

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