Find out how you should go about getting started in knife making. This post guides you through the equipment, the tools and the mindset.

Introduction

We are back with more tips for the beginner knife maker on how to get started with the hobby of knife making. We get a ton of mail from people who say that they want to start making knives, but don’t really know where to start. Well, this is a sort of short seem we practical guide on what you need to do in order to get started with this hobby. We also get a lot of mail from people who are interested in becoming professional knife makers. That’s not what we’re talking about here. The first thing we always say to those guys is “before you start thinking about making a living making knives, become a hobbyist. The money will take care of itself later.

First thing you got to do is stand in front of a belt grinder hour after hour, getting covered with dust, wearing a respirator, in a hot shop. If at that point you know you really want to make money at it, then go ahead and think about it. But first just focus on having fun with knife making.

Start Small

Okay so the first point we’d like to make is to start small. You don’t have to know everything there is to know about knife making on day one. The first time we got paid to make a knife was about a decade and a half ago, but we still don’t know everything there is to know about making knives. Not even close! It’s okay to be clueless!  That’s where you start! That’s where we started! And that’s where everybody started! Recognition that you don’t know something is the first step and learning to do it right. The whole key to learning any hobby is to recognize that you accumulate skill slowly, so focus on acquiring those skills. Wood and plastic are easier to work with than steel, so handles are a great place to start. Move on to steel when you feel ready.

Let’s begin by talking about your workspace. Obviously you do need a place to work, but it doesn’t have to be huge or elaborately equipped. Ideally though people like an indoor workshop. In some place like a basement or garage or a shed. The most important thing is that you need a stable counter table or workbench to work on. If you have lots of space, an air conditioner that provides ventilation is great, but it’s possible to make a knife at the kitchen table. Just don’t expect your spouse to love that plan!

Knife Making Tools

Next, let’s talk tools. People really get hyped up about tools there’s just no need for that, so don’t get freaked out about it. We have some posts that make some really simple knives with really simple tools. You watch a lot of YouTube videos or forged in fire whatever and you think “man, I have got to have that belt grinder, and a forge, and an anvil, and that guys got like hammers. I need them too!” All the equipment is awesome, and can make your job easier, but you don’t need all that stuff to get started. A hacksaw, a drill, sandpaper, a bench vice, and a file. That’s really about all you need to get started.

So basically, don’t get too caught up in the gear side of things. What’s always worked for me when learning a new skill is to focus on a project. And make sure you start with a simple project. Don’t try to make a katana or a Damascus steel. Come up with a simple project such as a throwing knife, a kit knife, a neck knife, a knife with a cord wrapped handle, or something you can really get your hands around. THEN figure out how to make it using relatively cheap simple tools.

Forged vs Stock Removal

So moving onwards; there’s a general split among knife makers, between the guys who forged knives, and the guys who make knives by stock removal. The first guys beat their knives into shape with hammers, so they have big fires and anvils and troughs full of oil. They also have a hell of a lot of gear.  We sometimes have a ton of gear, but it’s easier and simpler to start out on the stock removal side. If you get serious about it, eventually you’re going to want a high-quality belt grinder, but you don’t have to start there. Start with a file. Maybe move up to a small belt grinder, and once you start to get really serious, then spend a couple grand for that big one.

So moving onwards; there’s a general split among knife makers, between the guys who forged knives, and the guys who make knives by stock removal. The first guys beat their knives into shape with hammers, so they have big fires and anvils and troughs full of oil. They also have a hell of a lot of gear.  We sometimes have a ton of gear, but it’s easier and simpler to start out on the stock removal side. If you get serious about it, eventually you’re going to want a high-quality belt grinder, but you don’t have to start there. Start with a file. Maybe move up to a small belt grinder, and once you start to get really serious, then spend a couple grand for that big one.

So let’s just say you bought a knife kit, or maybe you’re going to replace the handle on a knife you bought. A bench vice and a couple of files is all the equipment you need. Maybe even a drill press if you want to get a little more ambitious.

Knife Making Materials

The next issue is materials. This is one of the areas that people get really kind of nervous about, because they’re bewildered by the amount of steel options. There are all kinds of specialty materials that you might use as a knife maker, but this is something that you can kind of strip down to some simple elements just for getting started. The bottom line at some point if you’re going to make a knife from scratch, you’ll need a piece of steel. However, you’ll need the right kind of steel. Welding steel from Home Depot won’t hack it. Good news is you can buy a piece of high carbon steel like from Admiral steel or other knife makers supply houses for very little money. You can even buy good quality steel on Amazon.

Stainless Steel

Bear in mind stainless steel is harder to heat treat, and you’ll probably need to pay somebody to do the heat treat for you. This is because it has to be heated up to screaming hot, and then cooled down quickly enough to cause a molecular change in the structure of the steel which causes it to harden.

Carbon Steel

With carbon steel, you can actually do this in a charcoal fire, but if that sounds too complicated go the stainless steel route and send off your knife to a professional heat treater. The same folks who sold you the steel often offer heat treating services.  We recommend checking out the websites of knife making supply houses. They have infinite amounts of materials that are used by knife makers: handle materials, woods pins, sheath materials, and much more. The good news is that beyond steel, most of this stuff is not super specialized. A lot of the stuff that you use you can buy at Home Depot. Later on you may want to get fancier woods and fancier pins, but this is not a material intensive hobby. While there is lots of tools involved, materials you can really use a very small list and make quite a nice knife.

Knife Making Mindset

All right final stop here is mindset. It’s ok to spend all weekend reading forums on the web and surfing through the pages of knife making supplier catalogs instead of doing useful things like making money, going to church, playing with your children, mowing the lawn, fixing all the crap that’s broken in your house, etc. That stuff’s for chumps!

Seriously though, we think a lot of people are not so much scared to try something new as they are afraid that they’re being self-indulgent. Where is it written slicing the top one and three-quarter inches off a bunch of grass in your yard is more important than making a knife? Nowhere! Don’t be afraid to be passionate about something that most people aren’t that interested in. Be an eternal student, always be learning. There’s an enormous amount of information out there. Absorb it. Bathe in it. Forums, YouTube, blade magazine, books, conventions, and the list goes on.

There’s so much out there. Maybe you could find a local knife maker and pay him a couple hundred bucks to spend a day or two showing you the ropes. We particularly recommend buying three or four of the basic knife making books, because they cover how to buy tools, basic metals, basic techniques, heat treating and so on. We have put together a list of the best knife making books around, so you can’t go wrong. It’ll be the best money you ever spend, and most of them don’t assume that you own a small machine shop.

Finally just take concrete steps. Buy a piece of steel for fifty bucks. That will get you enough steel to make five or ten carbon steel knives O1 Steel’s are all pretty good starter steels. Fifty to seventy-five bucks will get you enough stainless steel for a handful of small knives.

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