A POOR MAN'S GUIDE TO KNIFE-MAKING
OFFGRID|Issue 45
DIY Bladesmithing Your Own Knife at Home
Chad McBroom

There’s no doubt that every RECOIL OFFGRID reader understands the importance of a well-constructed knife. It’s arguably the most valuable tool in any survival kit. Whether out of love of the blade or an innate desire for self-sufficiency, many have considered putting their own hands to the forge only to be dissuaded by the expensive equipment and technical skills employed by modern-day bladesmiths. In this step-by-step instructional article, we’ll guide you through the knife-making process from start to finish, using a stock removal method and basic hand tools.

STEP 1: Select A Steel

The foundation of the knifemaking process is steel, so consider your options carefully. Choosing steel that has the right balance between hardness, durability (toughness), and corrosion resistance can be challenging, especially when you’re working with limited resources and technology. Many of the steels you might find at the local salvage yard or hardware store are mild steels unsuitable for anything more than a prison shank, while the many “super steels” used in high-end cutlery must undergo hardening processes that require specialized equipment and extreme precision. It’s best to stick with basic, high-carbon steels like 1095 or 1075. Some tool steels like O1 are also relatively easy to work with.

Whenever possible, you should purchase your steel from a reputable dealer that specializes in cutlery steels. This is the best way to make sure you’re getting correct and uniform materials. Plus, you can purchase the steel in the width and thickness you wish to work with, which will save you a lot of time and effort.

Mystery steel (any steel with unknown properties) should always be a last resort. In the event of a global meltdown or zombie apocalypse, a car leaf spring would be a fair gamble, especially in older models where 5160 or similar spring steels were commonly used, but with modern cars it’s still a crapshoot. Plus, repurposed steel, if not already flat, will require additional cutting, bending, twisting, and/or grinding to make it flat and usable.

STEP 2: Lay Out The Design

Once you’ve acquired your steel, the next step is to decide on the blade and handle design and then transfer that design onto the metal.

The easiest way to do this is to sketch your design on a piece of cardstock or cardboard with a pencil. Once you’re happy with your design, cut out the design and then trace it onto your steel. You can use a steel layout fluid-like Dykem to coat the surface and trace around the template with a metal scribe, or you can simply use a black marker on the bare steel surface.

STEP 3: Shape Your Blank

Shaping the knife blank with minimal tools will be the most tedious step in the process. This can be done with nothing more than a hacksaw and a file, but it’ll take time and patience. If you can introduce an angle grinder or metal bandsaw into the mix, it’ll be much faster with less tendonitis.

The process is the same regardless of the tools you’re able to work with. Use a saw or grinder to cut along the lines of your design. Once you get to tight spots like the finger grooves, make a V-shaped cut to remove as much material as possible.

Once you’ve removed as much excess metal as possible, use a file to straighten your lines, round your corners, and remove everything else that isn’t a knife. It’s helpful to have a few different shapes and sizes of files so you can fit into those smaller grooves and odd-shaped crevices.

Don’t forget to drill holes for your handle pins or cord wrap during this step of the process. It’s much easier to drill your holes prior to hardening the steel.

STEP 4: Smooth & Surface

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