Knifemaking

Frequently Asked Questions

 

I want to answer many of the questions that knifemakers are asked repeatedly.  Experienced knifemakers like to help beginners, it takes time to help and providing the same help repeatedly takes a lot of time.  The following questions are questions that are often asked by new knifemakers and I want to answer them for you now.  Hopefully it will speed up your learning and it will also assist the experienced makers by eliminating a lot of the repeat questions to them.  These answers are my answers and not every maker will agree with them.  Feel free to ask for other opinions and then make your own decisions with your new knowledge.  I refer to the knifemakers as “he” but it is acknowledged that there are many knifemakers that are women and they are included equally here as knifemakers.

-----Bob Warner

 

How long does it take to make a knife?

The time it takes to make a knife varies depending on several factors.  Is the knife made totally by hand or are machines used?  Does the knifemaker do the heat treating or is the blade sent to others?  There is no really good answer to this question because of the variables and also because different people work at different rates.  Knives for me take anywhere from a few hours for a small utility knife to several months for other, fancier knives.

What is “Custom?”

Custom is a term that gets debated a lot.  To me “custom” means out of the ordinary.  If I make a standard style of knife and a customer wants me to specialize it in any way, the outcome would be a knife customized for the customer.  If a customer wants to design a knife and specify materials, etc…, the outcome would be custom.  It was built to meet the previously stated requirements of the customer.

 What is “Handmade?”

Handmade also creates a lot of debate.  For me, “handmade” means that I controlled every aspect of the making of the knife. Nothing is performed by a machine without me being involved.  I use machines to assist me in my knifemaking.  The machine does not do the work, I do.  For example, my grinder does not grind the blade, I do.  The grinder does nothing but make a piece of sandpaper move quickly.  It is my ability, knowledge and skill that moves a piece of steel against this moving sandpaper to create the knife.  Machine made would be similar to putting a piece of steel in one end and having a knife come out the other.  Many knifemakers consider the use of CNC controlled machines to make a knife not handmade since the machine controls the operation.

 Can I ask a knifemaker if I can visit his shop?

Yes, if you go about it politely.  Contact the maker you are interested in visiting and introduce yourself.  Explain your goals and that you have questions that a visit to a shop would answer.  Ask the knifemaker if they accept visitors and if they do, under what circumstances.  I accept shop visits to my shop but only if I have no pressing orders.  You must remember that the goal of the shop is to make knives not entertain visitors.  I would think that most makers will let you visit if they have the time.  Many makers will not be interested in firing up all the tools and making a knife for you, nor will they want you messing around with their tools.  When you get there, ask all the questions you want and take notes.  Do not start turning tools on or picking thing up.  Only do what the maker invites you to do.  I may hand you a piece of steel and tell you to grind it, or I may try to get you to leave quickly.  It all depends on how you act at my shop. 

Will a knifemaker reply to my questions on e-mail?

Yes, if you go about it politely.  Contact the maker you think can help you with your question.  Ask the maker if there is a place to go to get your questions answered, then ask your questions.  Don’t ask 200 questions in one e-mail.  It takes time to respond to you and you must be aware that the knifemaker is answering you out of kindness not because he has to.  He wants to help but he does not owe you anything, you are asking a favor of him so please be polite when asking him to spend his time to assist you.  Be sure to reply after your questions are answered thanking them for their time.  It all depends on nothing more than just common courtesy.   

Is there a knife show in my area?

There are knife shows all over the country.  There are also a lot of Gun & Knife shows all over the country. You may want to look at the web pages of knifemakers and see if they have a page telling what shows they plan to attend.  Check several web pages and you may find some planned for your area.  You can also contact organizations such as The Knifemakers Guild or The American Bladesmith Society to see if they have shows listed.  Knifemaking magazines such as Knives Illustrated and Blade often list show schedules. 

Will a knifemaker repair my knife?

Probably not unless he made the knife himself.  The knifemaker wants to make knives, not repair them.  Repairing knives usually is done by people that have repair as their primary objective.  If your knife was handmade, you can probably get the knifemaker to repair it for you, either under the warranty or if you misused the knife, you could probably still get it fixed but at a cost.  If the knifemaker that made the knife has passed away or is not making knives any longer, you may be able to get another knifemaker to do the repair at a cost. 

What tools are needed to make a knife?

This is probably one of the most asked questions.  The answer, a file, and a sharpening stone.  That’s it, just that simple.  File a piece of steel to the desired shape and sharpen it with the stone.  That is making a knife at its most simple form.  Actually, and more realistically you need a file to shape the knife and to shape the blade bevels.  You need a heat source to heat treat and temper the knife and you need a drill or drill press to drill holes.  These things and some sandpaper and epoxy and you can make a very nice knife.  You can really go nuts buying tools but these are the only MUST HAVE tools. 

Do I have to spend all that cash on tools?

No.  Make the ones you can.  I have built most of my tools.  Tools are expensive, especially when you get into grinders and presses.  You only need the tools to speed up the knifemaking process so get the tool you feel will most benefit you.  After making a few knives, get the next tool that you feel will benefit you the most.  Let your knife sales pay for the next tool.  Eventually you will have everything you want. 

How big should my grinder motor be?

Belt grinder motors should be 1HP minimum.  The speed should be 1725RPM.  Probably the best motor, if you can find one or afford to buy one is a 2HP variable speed motor at 2500 RPM. 

Can I use 3-phase motors?

Three phase motors will not run on regular home type electrical connections.  MOST people do not use three phase if their shop is at their home.  You can use it with some special phase converters but most find it impractical to go through the steps to make it happen.  A simple search for phase converters on the internet will help you learn more about three phase use in a home shop. 

120V or 240V

Both are available to home shops.  240V uses less amperage and is therefore cheaper on the utility bills.  240V is probably not already wired into a garage or your workshop without you already knowing it.  To run 240V equipment you will probably need to run new wiring for it.  There are books available in home improvement stores or a search on the web can find what you need to know to wire up a 240V machine. 

What is a pin press?

A pin press is a vice made to squeeze the pins used in knifemaking.  Many people use a pin vice instead of peening the pins with a hammer.  It is made with a hydraulic jack and a metal frame.  The knife is placed between the jack (below) and the frame (above) and the jack is jacked up to squeeze the pins until they spread out and completely fill the holes they are installed in. 

What is a grinder?

The grinders use in knifemaking are different than the bench grinder your dad had with a stone wheel.  The grinders used for knifemaking are actually belt sanders.  Most belt grinders use 2” X 72” belts that run on wheels.  The knife is ground in different ways depending on where on the grinder the steel is ground.  A lot of the grinders used by knifemakers are home built.  Probably the best setup for a grinder would be a variable speed motor with a flat platen and a wheel so both flat grinds, hollow grinds and convex grinds can all be made on the same machine. 

What is an anodizer?

An anodizer is a machine that is used to color reactive metals like titanium.  The anodizer creates an oxide on the titanium that blocks different colors.  The thickness of the oxide determines the color that the metal will be.  Adjusting the voltage that goes through the solution determines the thickness of the oxide on the titanium and therefore the color. 

Treadle hammer?

A treadle hammer is a mechanical device that has a hammer and an anvil.  The hammer is suspended above the anvil and held suspended with springs or weights as counter balance.  The user takes hot metal to the trip hammer and places it on the anvil.  Using his foot, the operator steps on a pedal and the hammer comes down onto the hot metal.  The harder the operator steps on the pedal, the harder the hammer hits the hot metal.  Here is a picture of a treadle hammer that belongs to Jonathon Loose an artist and fellow knifemaker at http://www.jloose.com/studio.html

What is a power hammer (also known as a trip hammer)?

A power hammer is similar to a trip hammer.  The big difference is that the power hammer is motorized.  The harder the operator steps on the pedal the harder and faster the hammer hits the hot metal.  Here is a picture of two power hammers from www.anvilfire.com

50# Little Giant and 100# Meyer Bros.

 How big of an anvil should I buy?

Basically anvils are one of those “Bigger is better” items.  Get the largest anvil you can afford.  Knifemaking does not require a large anvil and many people don’t even have an anvil.  Many people just use a piece of railroad track as the anvil.  Just grind the top of the track flat and start forging.  All you really need it a big hunk of steel to forge.  An anvil has qualities that a big hunk of metal does not have like rebound and geometry and is definitely an asset.  If you have the opportunity to get an anvil, do so but don’t worry too much if you need to use a piece of track, a lot of good knives are forged on track.

 What is a surface grinder?

A surface grinder is a grinder that is designed to grind material flat.  The grinder grinds one side flat and then you flip it over and grind the other side.  The entire piece is then parallel on both sides and the thickness is the same over the entire length.  Surface grinding is not necessary but very nice if you have a machine.  When a knifemaker starts making folders is usually when he starts wanting a surface grinder.  Precision ground steel makes folder making a little easier.

Here is a picture of a modified commercial surface grinder that was modified by Master Bladesmith Ed Caffrey of www.caffreyknives.net

Here is a home built surface grinder made by full time knifemaker Gene Osborn from www.centercross.com

 What is a post vise?

A post vise, sometimes called a leg vise, is a vice that is shaped a little different than most vices.  A post vise is designed to be mounted on a post instead of a table.  There is a leg that extends down to the ground.  The vice can be used for hammering on metal and the shock of the hammer blows goes through the leg to the ground.  This is a very useful piece of equipment and if you can find one, I recommend you get one.

Here is a picture of a 6” post vise that belongs to me.  www.warnerknives.com

 

I have some money, should I get a press or a power hammer?

Personally, I like the press.  I decided to build a press instead of look for a power hammer because the press is more versatile.  The power hammer is faster at drawing out the steel but the press will do it also.  The press will help greatly with making Damascus and that is why a lot of makers want presses. 

What steel should I start with?

 I recommend that you start with carbon steels.  I personally like 1084 because it is not difficult to work with and makes a very good knife.  You can heat treat it yourself.

Can I make a knife out of a chainsaw bar?

Yes.  Chainsaw bars make decent knives.  A lot of knifemakers use them and make very good knives.  You need to be sure what the steel is so you can heat treat the blade correctly.

Can I make a knife out of a saw blade?

Yes.  Like chainsaw bars, many great knives have been made from these also. You need to be sure what the steel is so you can heat treat the blade correctly.

Can I make a knife out of a file?

Yes.  Files are probably the most used steel by beginner knifemakers.  Files are handy and most people have them in their possession.  A lot of people have heard from their grandfathers or fathers that someone made a knife out of a file and therefore more people are aware that files can be used more than most other recycled material. Not all files make good knives, you need to use old Nicholson files.  You need to be sure what the steel is so you can heat treat the blade correctly.

What is Damascus?

Damascus in modern day knifemaking is actually pattern welded steel.  The steel is made by layering different steels together and welding them into one large piece.  These pieces are folded or twisted to mix up the layers of different steels.  After the steels are mixed as desired by the knifemaker it is either forged or ground into the shape of a knife.  After the knife is ground to final shape, the blade is put into acid and the acid attacks the steel and eats away at the metal.  Since the steels are different inside the blade, the acid attacks them differently.  The result is the pattern of the steel starts to show like the grain in wood.  Damascus is a very popular steel to use and can be made in many patterns.

 Can I use leaf springs or coil springs for knives?

Yes.  Most steel used in American cars are made with either 5160 or 1095 steel.  Both are excellent steels for knives.  Like chainsaw bars, files and saw blades, you need to know what the steel is so you can heat treat it properly.  1095 and 5160 need to be treated differently and if you don’t know the steel type, you may not get the right treatment.

 Railroad Spikes for knives?

Railroad Spikes make some great looking knives.  Unfortunately they are not made of good quality steel.  They are very low in carbon and therefore do not harden when heat treated.  They do get harder but no where near the hardness needed for a quality knife.  Use them and make knives out of them, I do but be sure your customers know that they are novelty items only and should be displayed or used as letter openers.  They are a cheap source of steel for forging practice.  There are some marked with “HC” on the head and it is claimed that they are high carbon but they are still not as high as good quality knife steel.  Here is a railroad spike knife hand forged by me, www.warnerknives.com

 Can I copy someone else’s design?

Designs have been copied for many, many years.  The Bob Loveless 4” drop hunter is probably the most copied knife of all of the handmade knives.  A very large number of makers have copied this knife for several reasons.  It is a very good looking knife and it just “looks right.”  Many people have seen this knife and it has been imprinted in their minds as how a knife should look.  Some consider copying a design as a way to honor the designer, others do it just because they want to.  In general it is hard to come up with new designs since knives are all basically just a handle and a blade.  Coming up with new designs is difficult because those that made knives before we did were so creative.  Copying a design is generally frowned on but copying a style is not as bad.  Trying to make an exact copy of the Loveless knife would be frowned on but the basic shape of the knife would not.  If you make a knife that looks similar to another makers knife, give that maker a credit for the design.  Here is a picture of a Bob Loveless 4” drop point hunter design.

 What is an integral?

An integral knife is a knife where the blade and all metal hardware such ad bolsters and pommel, are formed from one piece of steel.  Here is a knife made by Ron Leuschen that is a very good example of an integral.  Ron is a Canadian maker that can be contacted at www.littlehenknives.com

 What is file-work?

Filework is created by taking files and filing areas away on the knife to create a design.  Filework can be difficult to do and can greatly improve the look of the knife.  Here are two pictures of filework.  The first picture is filework done by Gene Osborn at www.centercross.com and the second is Ron Luschen at www.littlehenknives.com

Can I do file-work on a knife after heat treating?

Yes.  You will need to use carbide bits in a Dremel or Router but many people do it after heat treating.

What is the easiest grind?

Probably a flat grind would be the easiest for a beginner.  It can be done with or without a grinder.  Since most new knifemakers cannot just go out and buy all of the tools they would like to have, they have to make due with the tools they have.  A flat grind can be accomplished with nothing more than a file and some sandpaper.  It takes a lot of work but a lot of knives have been made this way for many years.  Hollow grinding is difficult to do without a grinder. 

What grinder should I get?

Many people have different opinions on this question.  After having built my own grinder and also using other grinders of various brands I personally just bought a KMG-10 grinder from www.beaumontmetalworks.com it is an excellent grinder and I am very happy I got it.  Rob Frink builds the best grinder going in my opinion.

How do you get the plunge cuts to match?

Plunge cuts are best made by making the plunge cut further up the blade than you want it.  You grind your knife blade and then work backwards towards the handle until your plunge cuts are right where you want them.  When you do the other side, you do it the same way and work until they match.

What are the different types of grinds?

There are three basic grind types. 

Hollow Grind        -   Created by grinding against a wheel.  The wheel creates a curved grind where the curve goes into the blade.

Flat grind            -   Created by grinding against a flat platen on a grinder or by filing. The sides of the blade are flat but angled towards the edge.
   
     And end view of a flat ground blade would look like the letter “V”.

Convex grind  -       Convex grind is the opposite of the hollow grind.  This grind is created by grinding on a slack part of the belt on the grinder         creating a slow curve from the spine to the cutting edge.              

 Can I grind AFTER heat treating?

Absolutely.  The only problem with grinding after heat treating is that you don’t want to get the steel hot.  If you get it too hot you will ruin the temper and then you will have to heat treat it all again.  When grinding hard steel, run the blade across the grinder and then go directly into a bucket of water to cool it off.  Cool it after each pass on the grinder and it will be fine.  If your steel gets hot and turns blue, you need to heat treat again.

 What is a tapered Tang?

Tapering a tang simply means that the tang of the knife gets thinner as it progresses towards the butt of the knife.  Tapering a tang is not required but it serves several purposes.  One benefit is that the handle is lighter.  By removing metal from the handle it moves the balance point of the knife towards the center of the knife.  This creates a better balanced knife that feels better in your hand.  There is a great tutorial on how to taper tangs that was written by fellow knifemaker Don Cowles.  Don explains in detail how to taper the tang and has many pictures to show you how it is done.  Go to the tutorials listed at the end of this FAQ and look for the one done by Don.

How thick should I leave the cutting edge before heat treat?

This is a question like many others that is hard to answer.  You first have to determine what use the knife will be for and then the type of grind the blade will have.  Then the type of edge needs to be determined.  As an example on the most copied knife ever, the Bob Loveless drop point hunter.  Bob Leaves 25 thousanths for the edge prior to heat treat.  This is a hollow ground stainless steel blade that is designed for hunting.

How big should my contact wheel be?

There are several factors involved in determining this.  Do you want a deep hollow grind?  Do you want a shallow grind?  How wide will your grind be?  Like many other things, what you want for a final product will determine many of the things you do.  There is a way to determine wheel size, just go to Beaumont Metalworks web page and look at the information Rob Frink put together.  Here is a link to the info http://www.beaumontmetalworks.com/wheelsize.html

 What is the difference between stock removal and forging?

Stock removal, simply stated is to take a flat bar of steel and grind it into the shape of your knife.  Forging, simply stated is to take a piece of steel either flat or round and heat it up.  While the steel is hot, use a hammer to pound the steel into the shape of your knife.

I want to start forging, what type of forge should I get?

Forges come in several styles and shapes.  There are propane forges that are made from round tubes of steel that are lined with either a ceramic blanket called Kaowool or Inswool or they are lined with castable refractory which is basically cement that is designed to handle high temperatures.  The castable refractory will be the best way to go if you want a propane forge.

Coal or charcoal forges are also very good.  My first two forges were coal forges.  I like coal forges.  You need to learn to tend the fire but there have been more knives made in a coal forge than any other type of heat source.  Coal forges are easy and inexpensive to build.

Coal, charcoal or what?

A coal forge can burn different fuels. You can burn charcoal that you create yourself.  You can burn charcoal that you can buy in the form of charcoal for your barbeque or you can burn pure coal that you can buy.

 Propane or natural gas?

Both of these fuels can be used for forging.  However, natural gas does not burn as hot a propane.  If you decide to make Damascus, you will need to weld in your forge, Natural gas may be difficult to get hot enough for welding.  Therefore propane has proven itself as a very good fuel for gas forges.

What about MAPP gas, it burns hotter than propane?

Correct but it is difficult to get in bulk and you cannot run a forge with those small bottles you get from Walmart.  Also, propane can get up to temperatures that exceed your refractory, therefore getting hotter is not necessary.

Castable, kaowool or inswool?

Castable refractory is probably the best refractory for your propane forge no matter what you plan to make in it.  The castable is durable and holds up well against the flux which eats the ceramic blanket refractories with ease.  Castable also withstands accidental damage from poking it with your knife blade during forging.

 How do you get mosaic patterns in Damascus?

Ed Caffrey is probably the best knifemaker I know that makes mosaic Damascus.  Ed creates mosaic damascus by creating a pattern lengthwise in the steel.  If you were to look at a bar of mosaic Damascus from the end, you would see the design.  Then  you have to figure out how to get that design to repeat itself over the length of the blade.  To do that, Ed has created some pictures showing his method.  Ed Caffrey shares this and other forging knowledge on his web page at www.caffreyknives.net .  Here is how Ed gets the pattern to repeat itself over the length of the blade.  After the steel is forged flat, it is forged into a knife.

 What is heat treating?

Since this FAQ is for the beginning knifemaker, I have written the following in a VERY basic manner to get the point across on heat treating.  This includes hardening, tempering and WHY we have to do them.  I do not explain anything technical that is going on in the steel, just a laymans way of explaining it so that the point gets across to the new knifemaker.  After you understand what it is, you can look up the info on the technical info on your own.

Very often people will ask questions about how to temper a blade because they did this or that to it. But being new, they are misusing the terms and getting themselves confused. Therefore, when they ask a question to the more experienced people the answers, although correct, are not really right because the wrong question was asked.

This VERY unscientific explanation may help. I am not going to talk about the steel components and how they react, you can get that later in more detail. I just want to help people understand hardening and tempering so they can ask the right questions and then understand the answers they get back.

Lets pretend that steel has a hardness range from 0 to 100.

0 is the softest steel can be while in a solid state.
100 is the absolute hardest steel can get.

So 0-100 range is where we have to work our knife steel, completely soft to completely hard.

Well, we know that 0 is too soft for a knife because soft steel bends easily and can get scratched up easy also.

100 would be too hard for a knife because hard steel is brittle. If you bend it a little bit it breaks right off like a glass rod.

Our dilema in knifemaking is to get a piece of steel that is hard, but not too hard.

First we have to learn how to make steel hard. To do that, we take a piece of soft steel and get it hot. We get it hot enough to change the properties of the steel. This temperature is different for each steel but we will just say that we have to get it real hot.

So we heat the steel up real hot, the steel changes it's properties (carbon steels loose their attraction to a magnet).

Now it is really hot so it is also really soft. Then we take that hot steel and stick it into some oil that is cold (about 125 degrees but cold compared to the steel). The steel is shocked by the sudden cold and cools off very quickly. When it cools off this fast the properties all change again. And the steel gets really hard.

The steel does not get to 100 but maybe to 80.

The process that we just did is to harden the steel. Some refer to it as heat treating it but for our discussion it is hardening.

Ok, so here we are with a piece of steel that is 80 in hardness. Too hard for a blade because it can break. We are going to have to do something to soften it up.

The way to soften it up is to heat it up again. But we don't want it really soft so we won't heat it really hot. Just a little, to soften it up just a little. Soft enough that it will bend if forced to do so but won't break. If you were lost in the woods, you would probably rather try to survive with a bent knife than a broken knife, right?

Ok, so we need to figure out how soft we want the knife. People like butchers and hunters know how to sharpen their knives and don't mind doing so. Therefore they want knives a little softer than a guy that can't sharpen his knife worth beans. That guy needs a harder blade so it stays sharp longer. We would need to make his blade a little harder.

If we take that hard blade and heat it up to 400 degrees, it would get softer, maybe down to 60 or 61.

If we heat it to 425 it will get a little softer, maybe 58 or 59.

If we go to 450 it will soften up to maybe 56 or 57.

This "Softening" of hard steel is called tempering.

You harden a knife and then temper it to the desired hardness for the knifes proposed use. These two processes together are called "Heat Treating."

If you grind out a knife, then heat treat it and then start regrinding the knife to clean it up and get it to final polish. You have to be careful not to heat it above the temperature you tempered your blade at or your blade will get softer than you want it to. You would then have to repeat the entire heat treating process to get the hardness you want.

There are rules to follow depending on the steel you are using and how you do all of this, but hopefully the idea of why we make it hard then soften it back up makes sense.

There you go, a VERY GENERIC definition of hardening and tempering. This was prompted by the many questions I get and then the repeat questions do to new people not understanding the difference between hardening and tempering. After this explanation, most get the general idea and can then start asking more in depth questions related to their steel of choice.

 What is a temper line?

A temper line also known as a Hammond, line is a line on the knife blade that is created by differential heat treating the steel.  When you differentially heat treat the steel you harden only the edge of the steel as opposed to hardening the entire knife.  After hardening the edge only and then tempering the edge, there is a point between the hard steel and the softer steel that shows the transition between the two.  This line can be seen if desired by placing the blade in an acid solution for a few seconds.  The acid attacks the steel and begins to eat the steel away.  Since the metal is both hard and soft it attacks it at different rates.  After just a few seconds in the acid, the blade is removed and lightly sanded.  The result is a very nice looking blade with a very obvious line showing the transition between the hard and soft steels.  There is a knifemaker that I think has perfected this technique better than any other.  This knifemaker is a full time maker and his knives are very high quality.  Terry Primos is the maker and his web site is www.primosknives.com  this is a picture of one of his knives showing the temper line.

Spear Point Utility/Hunter

 What does it mean to Normalize?

Normalizing is for relieving stress in the steel.  There are different methods to do this and different knifemakers have different opinions on the effectiveness of the different methods.  One method is to heat the steel past critical temperature and then remove it from the heat and let it cool to black color.  Put it back in the fire and repeat for three times. 

What is Annealing?

To anneal the steel means to make it soft.  To anneal a piece of steel, you heat it up past it’s critical temperature and then let it cool as slowly as possible.  Many people put the steel in vermiculite because of it’s insulating properties and let it cool overnight.  The steel is soft for drilling, filing or grinding.

What are the components of different steels?

I don’t even need to try to answer this.  There is another fellow knifemaker named Terry Primos that has a great breakdown of this on his web page at www.primosknives.com so I will just provide this link to the information http://www.primosknives.com/articles/steelcls.htm

Quenchant?  Oil, water or air?

If you refer to the page of Terry Primos above he has information on steels.  There is a chart explaining what how to tell what each steel needs for quenching by looking at the letters in the steel name.  O1 has an O so it uses Oil, W1 uses water, etc…...

What types of handle construction are there?

There are two main methods for attaching handle material. 

On full tang knives, the handle is attached by putting pieces of the chosen handle material on each side of the tang and securing them to the side with pins or rivets and epoxy.

On hidden tang knives, the tang is made small and passes through the handle material.  The tang can be a short tang, medium tang or completely pass through the handle.

What glue should I use?

Epoxy.  Two part epoxy is the best in my opinion.  Use the two part, two ton epoxy that cures slowly.  I use 24 hour curing epoxy.  For some reason the longer it takes to set the better it sets.  After your epoxy sets and you start shaping the handle, be sure not to let things get too hot.  The epoxy will release if it gets hot.

Can I color the epoxy?

Yes.  The epoxy can be colored by adding a drop of oil based paint.  As long as it is oil based it will not interfear with the properties of the epoxy.  I have colored the epoxy in mosaic pins by adding colored chalk to it.  As long as your color additive is not water based, it will be fine.

What are mosaic pins?

Mosiac pins are pins with a pattern created in them.  They are made by taking a tube and putting pins through it to create a design.  Different sized pins in different configurations make the patterns quite interesting.  The entire tube is filled with epoxy and allowed to set.  The tube is then cut into pin length pieces.  Many knifemakers create their design in the tube and then use a vacuum pump to suck epoxy up through the tube, filling it completely.

What steel/metal for bolsters and pins?

Brass, copper, stainless steels, Damascus, mokume gane as well as others.  Some bolsters and guards are made of non-metal materials.

What machines?

If I were to suggest tools to a beginner by my preference as to what to get first and then what to get next.  My list would be the following:

First set of tools - 

This will get you through the creation of knives by filing the knife to shape.

Second set of tools - 

OK, here is where you need to decide how serious you will be. If you plan on making knives for a long time (not just 10 or 12 and give it up). 



For the REAL SERIOUS - 

How do I keep the drill bit from wandering around?

Without a doubt, every time you drill a hole, use a center punch.

What angle should the blade bevel be?

This depends on many factors and opinions.  The “Average” is probably around 25 to 28 degrees.

How do you do the Brass Rod test

The brass rod test is performed to test the knife.  The blade edge is held at an angle and placed on a brass rod.  The blade is then pressed down on the rod until the blade bends around the rod.  The blade is then moved forwards and backwards, rolling the brass rod against the table top.  The cutting edge should flex over the brass rod for the entire length of the blade.  After the test, the edge is inspected.  If the edge  is deformed, it means the blade is too soft and bent when moved over the rod.  The knife needs to be redone starting with the heat treatment.  If the blade has hairline cracks in it, your blade edge is too hard and broke as it passed over the rod.  The knife has to be remade.  Ideally the knife has no change at all.  Here is a picture I took of the brass rod test.  The brass rod is not brass in this case, I wanted contrast so I used a ceramic rod (not recommended).  You can see the blade flexed in this picture:

Where can I buy books?

Most knife supply places sell books on many knifemaking topics.

Where can I buy Videos?

Most knife supply places sell videos on many knifemaking topics.  I also would highly recommend a video by Gene Osborn called “How to make a hunter.”  This video can be purchased from Gene at www.centercross.com it is inexpensive and is over three hours long and packed full of information.

Where can I get a stamp?

Here are two places that I know of

www.henryaevers.com/
Harper Manufacturing, 800-776-8407

How big should the stamp be?

You should get a stamp that will fit on the smallest knife you plan on making.  If you only plan on making large blades, an 1/8” is about the largest I would recommend.

What is electro-etching?

Using electrical current to remove metal.  You use a stencil to identify where the steel will be removed.

What is better, stamping or electro-etch?

Depends on who you are asking.  Many makers swear by stamps and others like etching, some even engrave their names.  Some people think that stamping creates a weak place in the blade.  I have never heard of a blade breaking at a logo mark so I wouldn’t worry about it if the blade is correctly heat treated.  Electro-etching does not create any stress on the blade as far as I know.  Both logos could be ground off but the stamp could be recovered if it were absolutely necessary.  When a logo is stamped into a blade it makes the metal below the letters more compact and harder.  If the logo were to be ground or sanded off it could be “Raised” by putting weak acid on it.  The acid would attack the dense steel at a different rate than the rest of the steel.  The acid would eat away the rest of the steel and the logo would be “Raised” to a point that it could be seen.  This is how police “raise” the serial numbers on stolen guns that had the serial number ground off.  Not really a factor for knives but an interesting thing to know.

Where can I get a logo made for electro-etching?

There are many places that can make your logo.  This list was created by Mike Fitz while comparing products and services.

ElectroChem-Etch
545 A West Lambert Road
Brea, CA 92821
ph. 714-671-7744
http://www.ecemmi.com/

IMG-Electromark
P.O. Box 379
Utica, NY 13503
ph. 800-775-3824
http://www.img-electromark.com/
Contact: Patricia Bruno

Lectroetch Co.
5342 Evergreen Parkway
Sheffield Village, OH 44054
ph. 440-934-1293
http://lectroetch.com/
Contact: Dave in Sales

Marking Methods, Inc.
301 South Raymond Ave.
Alhambra, CA 91803
ph. 626-282-8823
http://www.markingmethods.com/
Contact: Customer Service

Martronics Corp.
P.O. Box 200
Salkum, WA 98582
ph. 800-775-0797
http://www.martronics-corporation.com/
Contact: Shirley

Monode Marking Products, Inc.
7620 Tyler Blvd.
Mentor, OH 44060
ph. 440-975-8802
http://www.monode.com/
Contact: Karen Wagner, Sales Manager

TUS Technologies
537 State Road
N. Dartmouth, MA 02747
ph. 508-997-3200
http://users.rcn.com/tustech/
Contact: Juergen Hallemeier

What etchant?

Call the company that you got your logo from and tell them your steel type, they will recommend an etching solution specially formulated for your steel.

Where does the logo go?

Anywhere you want to put it.  Basically there is no dedicated place, however there are places that are traditional places for marking you knives.  The blade is a popular place and is usually marked on one side.  The side that is marked is usually the side you see if you hold the knife in your right hand and point the blade tip to your left.  Another place to mark the knife is on the same side of the knife but right in front of the guard or bolster.

What is stabilizing for handles?

Stabilizing is the process of taking a piece of handle material and removing all of the air and water in it, then filling these voids with resin.  It is a fairly complex process but can be done in a personal shop.  You can also have your handle material stabilized by various companies or you can just purchase their pre-stabilized material.

Is there a school for learning knifemaking?

Yes.  The Bill Moran School of Bladesmithing in Old Washington, Arkansas, and Texarkana College

Will a knifemaker close to me give me classes?

Possibly.  Just contact a maker you would like to train you and ask.  Many are willing to train new people.  Pricing will vary.

Where can I sell my knives?

Most beginning knifemakers begin selling their knives to family, friends and people they interact with daily.  Search out your hunting and camping friends.  Word will spread if you are making good knives.

How much should I charge?

This is a difficult question to answer.  You cannot charge by time and expense and come up with a decent price.  You also cannot charge by the hour or you will go broke.  Most knifemakers complete a knife and just look at it and ask themselves, “What is it worth to me.”  That becomes their price.  As you get better, your prices can raise but you need to be realistic.  You may be able to make a better knife than Bob Loveless but you can’t get the same price as Bob Loveless.  The reason is the history of Loveless and the lack of history you have.

 Sell knives on E-bay?

Some makers sell their knives on e-bay.  Remember people bidding at an auction are looking for a good deal so you may not get the prices your work deserves.  Be ready to get your feelings hurt when someone will not bid higher than $20 for a knife you value at $400 dollars.

Can I get a patent on my knife design?

Sure, if it is a unique design.  You would apply for a design patent that would protect the design of your knife.  Someone could make a minor change to your design and would not violate your patent.  A design patent protects your design only if someone copies your EXACT design.

Can I get a patent on my tool design?

Sure, if it is a unique design.  Then you have to decide if you want to patent the design or the use.  If you want to patent the design you would do it like you would for a knife.  If you want to patent your tools use (utility), you would need to apply for a utility patent.  This type of patent is more difficult to get.  You have to show that your tools utility is new and useful and is not already been invented.  You also need to show that there was an inventive step in the creation of the tool.  Utility patents can be difficult to obtain and can also be quite expensive.  I have three utility patents for tools that I created for companies that I have worked for and they take about three years to get through the patent office to be granted.  These are difficult to obtain but you may want to give it a try if you believe in your invention.  There are two books that I recommend if you are interested in patenting your tool or knife.  “The Inventors Desktop Companion” by Levy and “Patent It Yourself” by Pressman.

Do I have to join a Guild or Association to be a knifemaker?

No.  Many very well known and successful knifemakers do not belong to any organizations.

Why would I want to join a Guild or Association?

Some collectors will not buy knives from anyone other than members of these organizations.  Some people can get higher prices for their knives after joining some organizations.

Will it hurt me not to join?

Hard to say because you don’t know for sure it would benefit you if you did join. 

Can I be a Journeyman or Master Smith if I don’t join?

Not one that would be recognized by these organizations.  Organizations have been formed and testing has been determined as a method for a knifemaker to prove his skills to others.  After proving these skills, the person is awarded a status of skill by that organization.  There are many knifemakers that do not belong to any organization and therefore have not been awarded a status by them.  There are makers that don’t belong to organizations that are better than those that have been awarded status by organizations.  If you consider yourself a “Master Smith” and say so, you may get challenged by people to prove you have been awarded that status by an organization.  I personally do not have a skill level rating from any organization.  A good friend of mine passed away and he had my very first knife and also the very latest knife I made before he died.  His brother too these knives and mounted them into a frame and put a label on it stating they were made by “Master” knifemaker Bob Warner.  He bestowed the title on me.  Will it be honored by organizations?  Probably not.  Does he believe it? Absolutely.

What Forums are there?

There are many and a simple search on the internet will find several of them.  The only one I personally spend a lot of time at is the Custom Knife Directory located at www.ckdforums.com .  I am a moderator there and frequent it because I believe it to be the most professionally run forum on the internet.  This forum is there to exchange ideas and to assist other knifemaker by proving a place to ask questions and discuss all areas of knifemaking.  It is run with respect and candidness.  There is a lot to learn here and by reading the prior posts, almost anything you want to know can be found here.  If not, just ask your question and someone will try to help.  There is a tutorial section that can be accessed by clicking on the “HOW TO” link at the top right of the screen.  There are step by step instruction on how to do many knifemaking tasks as well as other information.  It is well worth your time if you want to make knives to join this forum.