In general, kits are a fun way to start on a new hobby.
They are generally inexpensive and have easy-to-follow instructions.
Whether it’s beer-making or open fire cooking, many kits meet or exceed expectations.
One type of kit that has become pretty popular in recent years is the “knife making” kit.
One kit in particular seems to stand out above the rest:
Man Crates Knife Making Kit
In today’s post, I’m going to break down what’s bad and what’s good about Man Crates’ Kit (and other kits like it).
“Not Knife Making” – Customer Review on Man Crates’ website
If you go through the reviews on Man Crates Knife Making Kit, you will see a cascade of five stars.
Many customers had a great time handling their knives.
BUT that’s really all it is.
The steel portion of the knife is already shaped, sharpened, and heat treated.
All you need to do to “make your knife” is attach your wood pieces and pins with epoxy and shape the handle.
From that review above:
“This isn’t a knife making kit, it’s simply a knife handle making kit. The blade comes already shaped and sharpened. Just not as cool.”
You should be the final judge of the quality and value of the kit, but at $149.99 it just doesn’t seem worth it (in this professional’s opinion).
Note: Their Folding Knife Kit (Amazon affiliate link) seems to fair better in terms of Reviews. This could be due to the added skill involved in attaching the handle and dealing with the locking mechanism. Folders are more complicated than fixed blades.
Other Knife “Making” Kits
Jantz Supply in Oklahoma also offers knife making kits through their website: knifemaking.com.
Most of their kits range from $5.95 to $19.95 with a few rare exceptions over $100.
These are usually large specialty blades. Example: Their 13-inch long Carina Chef blade in V10 Damascus.
With that knife kit, you’re paying for the quality of the material more than anything.
But again, if you want to actually make your knife from start to finish, this is a Knife Handling Kit.
Nothing against Jantz Supply and their well-crafted products. They have been a leader in knifemaking education and supplies since the mid-1960s.
How to Make Legitimate Knives from Start to Finish
Exercising patience – If you go too fast, you can make mistakes. If you use a hacksaw, it can be frustratingly slow.
When I cut out the shape of the knife, I left a bit of material outside the lines.
This ensures that I don’t take too much. I can always grind it away later.
Once I have the basic shape cut out, I either use hand files or a bench grinder to tighten up my profile.
You can also use an angle grinder with a flap disk for this. (Flap disks are great for polishing and shaping steel. They’re less aggressive that the standard angle grinder wheel.)
Put the Bevel on Your Knife
The proper bevel for a bushcraft knife is the Scandinavian grind.
It’s a short, fairly steep bevel that is meant to cut well, but also hold up well under heavy use.
You can compare the uses of a Chef’s Knife and this knife to get a feeling for grinds:
Chef Knife – Full flat grind. This is great for slicing, piercing, disjointing, and all of the other chef tasks. However, by grinding from the spine all the way to the edge makes it very thin. This makes it less suitable for heavy outdoor work.
Bush Knife – Scandinavian grind. Also good for cutting and piercing, but has more “meat” left so it holds up to heavy work.
Here is the Scandinavian grind on our knife:
You’ll notice that the grind is only 1/4-inch wide from knife point to where it will almost meet the handle.
The angle is approximately 20-degrees on both sides, meeting in the middle of the knife edge.
To achieve this, you can use either the flap disk mentioned above or a Fine Metal File (also called a Mill Bastard).
This takes patience as well to get it right so take your time.
Mark and Drill Your Pin Holes (if desired)
Since we’re using very strong epoxy to put the handle on later, we don’t need pin holes.
But if you’d like them and you have access to a drill press or hand drill, here is how I do it:
Mark 1/2-inch in from either end and then split the difference for a total of three holes.
Use a center punch to mark and indent these points.
Drill through using a 3/16-inch bit. This is the same size your pin stock will be.
Step Four: Heat Treating
Once your knife is all shaped up and your grind is set, it’s time to heat treat.
There are two components of heat treating:
You harden a knife to strengthen it. You temper it to make it durable.
Think of hardening as making it tough, but brittle.
Tempering takes some of that brittleness back out of the blade. This makes it so it will hold up to things like splitting kindling.
How to Heat Treat a Bushcraft Knife:
Using your heat source, you will get the blade up to a bright reddish orange color. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 1200 degrees for 1084 steel, but not more than 1500 degrees.
If you have a magnet handy (even a fridge magnet will do), you can test the steel for magnetism.
This is an old blacksmith trick to see if the steel is ready for quenching.
If it does not attract the magnet, it’s ready.
Put it back in your fire for a few more seconds to account for heat loss on your way to the quench container.
Quench it in your tub full of oil for 8 seconds. I use a mixture of vegetable and canola oil for my quenchant.
I don’t recommend motor oil due to the health hazards and fumes.
After you quench, set the blade on a non-combustible surface where people won’t mistakenly pick it up.
When it is completely cool to the touch (15-20 minutes later), you will polish it to a shiny silver.
This is so we can see the temper colors come through.
In tempering we rely on steel color to tell us when we have hit the right temperature.
You can see the proper temper color in the photo above. This is right at 450 degrees or amber in color.
To get this temper, you can use a propane torch to gradually heat up the polished steel.
As it gains temperature, you will notice that it takes on a light golden color.
Pay attention here because we are getting close to the right color.
Once it hits that amber color, we will quench it again in our tub of oil.
Set it aside to cool.
Step Five: Handling Your Knife
Now that your knife is heat treated, it’s time to put a handle on it.
I like to stick to local wood types most of the time.
There are great manmade materials and composites out there, but I prefer the old-fashioned way.
I chose Oak for this knife. It’s readily available at the local hardware store and it’s inexpensive.
Steps for Handling a Knife:
Trace your knife blank on to your two pieces of wood.
Using a coping saw, cut out the rough shape of the handle.
Next, use a rasp to get the curves and contours right.
Finish the handle scales with finer and finer grits of sandpaper.
Add epoxy (Gorilla Glue clear is great) to one knife scale and clamp your knife to it.
Let it set at least 2 hours.
Drill through the pin holes you set (if you did) in the steel to make the holes in the wood.
Repeat for the other side.
Shape to your desired feel.
Drilling the pin holes. You can see the bit of epoxy that expanded into the back hole.
This is fine since it can be drilled out and cleaned up.
The results of working with the wood rasp. You can see it’s as simple as following the traced lines you made.
After you’ve shaped up your handle, you can seal it with stains and lacquer or leave it more natural.
I tend to stick with natural, beeswax-based finishes.
So for this knife, I used a beeswax and orange oil wood conditioner to seal the handle:
And now your bushcraft knife is ready for use!
Want to Learn All the Nitty-Gritty Details?
This post should get you started on the process of making your own knife.
Getting in between the two cleavers was tricky. When I do it again I’ll leave more space between the two so I can “fudge” a little more.
After they were cut out, I smoothed and ground down any rough edges with a standard bench grinder. No need for anything fancy, here.
Step Three: Forging the Serbian Chef Cleaver/Normalizing
This knife is a combination of the two types of blade making: stock removal and forging.
I created the basic shape by cutting away (removing stock) and finished it by hand-forging the edge.
I also added a pebbled texture at the request of the client.
When forging 1084 you should work it hot. The recommended minimum temperature is 1500 degrees Fahrenheit. (cashenblades.com)
After working the blade edges and texturing the steel, I set them on a concrete block to cool/normalize.
Step Four: Edge Grinding/Adding a Touchmark
When the knife is cool and unhardened, it’s much easier to grind and manipulate.
I used two main tools to add a refined edge to it:
Angle grinder with medium and fine grit flap disks.
Fine grain bastard file. One of my favorite tools for sharpening.
There are many different ways to grind a knife edge.
For a handmade butcher knife, I like to keep it simple: 1/2-inch wide bevel at approximately 20-degrees. We’re not filleting or paring with this bruiser so no need for scalpel-level precision.
I also added a simple touchmark in a hidden spot.
Touchmarks are the traditional method for blacksmiths to sign their work.
Using hardened steel stamps of their shop logo or their name, they made an impression in the steel.
For these pieces, I went with a simple “T” for my first name on the underside of the handle.
Step Five: Hardening and Tempering
Hardening temperature for 1084 should not go above 1500 degrees.
The blacksmith’s trick for finding the proper hardening temperature has two steps:
Heat the piece until it approaches cherry red in color.
Test with a magnet.
If the piece still attracts the magnet, gradually heat it more and test again.
As soon as it no longer attracts, heat slightly more to compensate for the heat lost during testing and then quench.
I use canola oil as my quenchant. It’s pretty quick making it ideal for 1084 sections under 1/4-inch thick. Above that thickness, water or brine can be used with extreme care (you risk cracking and micro-fractures).
I did an edge quench into my metal tub of oil, keeping the majority of the blade out of the oil.
I performed what’s called a draw temper on both cleavers to reduce the “as-quenched hardness” from 65 HRC (Rockwell Hardness) to something softer and easier to sharpen.
This involves applying heat toward the spine of the blade and watching as the color changes and moves toward the blade edge.
The idea is that you have enough time to catch the color before it goes too far.
I tempered the two blades to around 400-degrees or the Light Gold color to the far left of the above temper scale.
Tested with a file you can now feel it “grab.” This indicates that it can be hand-sharpened.
Step Six: Handling the Serbian Cleaver
After the heat treat (the hardening and tempering cycles), it’s time to go to work on the handle.
Handling is an art in and of itself. If you’re handy with woodworking, this will come naturally to you.
For my handle material I chose a nice piece of oak for its color and grain.
I rough cut the scales of the handle after tracing the shape of the full tang.
Matching up the holes can be tricky so err on the side of too much material than too little.
You can always rasp and grind away the excess wood.
Since the steel handle section was kept out of the hardening cycle, it was easy to drill.
I measured my three pin locations and marked them with a center punch before drilling them out.
This is much easier if you have a drill press to use, but can be done with clamps, a power drill, and steady hands.
I got all of the holes lined up and put them together dry to make sure it would be smooth before adding glue.
Then I took it apart, wetting the pieces of wood per instructions and added the glue.
I clamped it all together using two hand clamps and my shop vise and let it set up overnight.
Terran Marks teaches weekly blacksmith classes at Brown County Forge.
The classes come in two formats:
Beginners Class – This class focuses on five fundamental blacksmithing skills: drawing out, scrolling, quenching, bending, and twisting. The class is project-based meaning each student starts with a fresh piece of metal and forges it into a finished piece.
Knife Making Class – This class is also project-based, but it’s more specific that the Beginners Class. Each student takes a standard railroad spike and turns it into a functional knife.
When Are Weekly Blacksmith Classes?
The Beginners Class currently starts at 10 AM on Saturdays and wraps up between 12 and 1 PM.
The Knife Making Class begins at 2 PM on Saturdays and ends by 6 PM.
These are the set class times each week.
However, time during the week is available for private lessons/special appointments.
Terran would be happy to set up a class time Monday-Friday with you.
Classes run from early March through mid-December. (February in Indiana is usually just too darn cold.)
How Much Do Classes Cost?
The Beginners Class is $120 per person for the single session.
The Knife Making Class is $220 per person for the single session.
Can Beginners Take Either Class?
Both classes are set up for complete beginners. No prior experience is required.
Out of the 581 student projects coming out of the shop, 98% of them were made by beginners.
How Old Do You Have to Be?
For safety reasons, the minimum age is 14 for both classes.
A parent or guardian must be present during the class. However, they are not required to participate.
How Dangerous is Blacksmithing?
On a scale from sitting on the couch to jumping out of an airplane:
Blacksmithing is less dangerous than using chainsaws.
It’s also not as dangerous as driving a car.
The biggest difference between driving a car and blacksmithing is the variability of other people.
In blacksmithing, at least at Brown County Forge, your environment is carefully controlled.
Terran takes great care in mitigating risks in the shop and explaining what can happen.
Where Can I Find Out More About Weekly Blacksmith Classes?