How to Make a Bushcraft Knife

How to Make a Bushcraft Knife - Terran Marks - DIY Knife Making - Bushcraft Knives

How to Make a Bushcraft Knife

I made the knife in the above photo as I wrote DIY Knife Making – Bushcraft Knives.

The goal of the book is to simplify and clear up the steps of stock removal knife making.

There are some parts that might seem confusing or complicated. Heat treating is usually one of them.

Together in this post we will go through how to make a bushcraft knife from start to finish. Selecting the right steel through heat treatment and handling.

My name is Terran Marks, the blacksmith and owner of Brown County Forge.

Let’s get started!

Step One: Selecting the Right Steel

Bushcraft Knife Making - DIY Knife Making - Bushcraft Knives - Terran Marks

To get the best results, we will want to start with a suitable steel.

Steel with carbon content under 0.30% need not apply. Any steel under that percentage won’t heat treat properly.

You also don’t want steel that is Ultra-High Carbon. It’s great for knives, but it can be difficult to work.

It’s not a steel group for beginners.

For the knife in the book, I used 1084 cold finished steel. It has 0.90% carbon putting it at the top of the High-carbon Steel range.

Step Two: Gathering Knife Making Tools

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need expensive tools to make knives.

You don’t even need a forge or anvil. (Sadly, since working with both is a lot of fun.)

For this how-to we will focus on common items that are easy to get and that you might already have.

Knife Making Tools:

  1. Something to cut steel
  2. Something to shape steel
  3. A heat source for hardening (this can be as simple as your wood stove or campfire)
  4. An oven or hand torch for tempering
  5. A quench container
  6. Safety gear (Eye and hearing protection)
  7. Hand files
  8. Rasp and coping saw
  9. Epoxy for attaching handles
  10. Clamps

Some of the items listed above are fairly broad. “Something to cut steel” could be a hacksaw or an angle grinder with a cut-off wheel.

It comes down to what you already have or what you want to spend money on.

My general rule when it comes to tools is:

If it saves me a lot of time, I’ll buy it. Especially if the price tag is a small multiple of my hourly rate.

For example, if a $59 angle grinder can speed up my production time by 3 hours. And my hourly rate is $25, then it makes sense for me to buy the grinder.

Step Three: Cutting, Grinding, and Shaping

Making a Stock Removal Knife - Brown County Forge

The shaping of your bushcraft knife comes down to a few things:

  1. Having it securely clamped – Either with hand clamps or in a bench vise.
  2. Following a template – These can be found by doing an internet search or in DIY Knife Making – Bushcraft Knives  (Instant PDF download)
  3. 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:

Scandinavian Grind Bushcraft Knives - DIY Knife Making

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:

  1. Mark 1/2-inch in from either end and then split the difference for a total of three holes.
  2. Use a center punch to mark and indent these points.
  3. 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:

  1. Hardening first.
  2. Tempering second.

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:

Hardening

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.

Tempering

Bush Knife Tempering - DIY Knife Making

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:

  1. Trace your knife blank on to your two pieces of wood.
  2. Using a coping saw, cut out the rough shape of the handle.
  3. Next, use a rasp to get the curves and contours right.
  4. Finish the handle scales with finer and finer grits of sandpaper.
  5. Add epoxy (Gorilla Glue clear is great) to one knife scale and clamp your knife to it.
  6. Let it set at least 2 hours.
  7. Drill through the pin holes you set (if you did) in the steel to make the holes in the wood.
  8. Repeat for the other side.
  9. Shape to your desired feel.

Drilling Pin Holes - DIY Knife Making

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.

Using a Rasp to Make a Knife Handle - DIY Knife Making

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:

DIY Knife Making - Terran Marks

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.

If you would like step-by-step instructions in a Full Color book you can hold in your hands, I wrote DIY Knife Making – Bushcraft Knives for you.

Learn how to:

  • Select the right steel and judge carbon content.
  • Use a template to create your own custom knife.
  • Make knives with all of the guesswork taken out of it.

The book is available on Amazon here.

The instant PDF download is available here. (Save 64%)

DIY Knife Making - Bushcraft Knives - Terran Marks

How to Make a Serbian Chef Cleaver

Serbian Chef Cleaver - Brown County Forge

Our latest custom blade is a Serbian Chef Cleaver made out of 1084 carbon steel.

A local contractor requested it. He does a lot of camp cooking  and liked the style.

Here’s how Terran Marks, the blacksmith at Brown County Forge, created it for his client from start to finish.

How to Make a Serbian Chef Cleaver

The first decision you have to make with any blacksmithing project is the steel.

Picking the right steel with the right carbon contact can mean the difference between success and failure.

For this cleaver project, I picked a common, easy to work carbon steel grade: 1084.

Steel Stock Size

The cleaver needed to be pretty wide: At least 4 Inches from spine to knife edge.

I bought a 36-inch long piece that was 3/16-inch thick from Jantz Knife Making Supply for $81.89 (includes shipping from Oklahoma to Indiana).

Based on my measurements I knew I could get a few knives out of that single piece. It justified the cost.

Step One: Knife Design Layout and Stenciling

Cleaver Layout - Brown County Forge

The steel took a few days to arrive from the Okie State. (Not unexpected due to how busy those folks are.)

I took it over to the shop and started sketching my basic design on a piece of wood first.

I like to start with scrap wood because it’s:

  • Easy to cut.
  • Easy to correct.
  • Inexpensive.
  • Sturdier than paper or cardboard so I can reuse it.

You can see from the photo that I had to make some adjustments to the tip of the knife.

It looked too stubby at 9 inches long. So I added another inch and continued the slope of the spine.

I like to add in the rough positions for the handle pins so I can visualize the whole blade better.

Note: I traced my wood stencil in a way that would waste as little material as possible. This makes it tricky to cut, but worth it if you’re trying to get multiple knives about of a single piece.

Step Two: Cutting the Basic Knife Shape

Cleaver Stenciling - Brown County Forge

I used a DeWalt 7-Amp Angle Grinder with a 4-1/2 inch cut-off wheel to cut out my knife shapes.

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

 

Butcher Knife Annealing - BCF

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.

Knife Pebbled Texture - BCF

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.

SImple Blacksmith Touchmark - Terran Marks

Step Five: Hardening and Tempering

Twin Serbian Cleavers - BCF

Hardening

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.

Tempering

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.

Tempering Colors In Steel - Brown County Forge

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.

andle Glue Up Cleaver - BCF
Gluing and clamping the knife scales.

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.

Glue Up

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.

The epoxy/glue I recommend: Gorilla Glue Two-Part Clear Epoxy

I’ve put knife handles together with regular Gorilla Glue and it works. However, when it dries the glue is yellowish, hard, and puffy-looking.

Clear epoxy is a much better result.

Handle Shaping

Oak Knife Handle Rough Shaping - BCF

You can spend hours working on a handle. Sometimes it takes longer to make the handle than it does to forge the knife.

To shape it, I used a standard wood rasp and a 2 x 36 belt grinder attachment from MultiTool.

If you have a standard belt sander you’ll be in good shape.

Keep in mind that you will be grinding metal and wood simultaneously (the pins and the handle).

Step Seven: Handle Sealing and Final Sharpening

You probably noticed the blue tape in the last photo.

This protects the blade while we work on the handle with rasps, grinders, and stains.

I used a Medium Dark Natural Danish Oil on the handle for a light look.

It also allows the customer to darken it if he chooses to.

I let that set over night before pulling off the tape and doing my final polish and sharpen.

When he saw the finished cleaver he loved it.

Here it is:

Serbian Cleaver - Brown County Forge

Want to Learn How to Make More Custom Knives?

I write new books on blacksmithing and knife making every year. The latest book, DIY Knife Making – Bushcraft Knives, is available now in Full Color paperback and on Kindle:

DIY Knife Making - Bushcraft Knives - Terran Marks

  • Full color, step-by-step instructions for making your own custom bushcraft knives.
  • Detailed heat treating specs (Rockwell hardness, color temperature, and more)
  • A full chapter on Handling knives the traditional way.
  • Access to a printable template to use in designing and creating your knives.

Pick up your copy here.

 

Forging a Twisted Railroad Spike Knife

Twisted Railroad Spike Knife - Brown County Forge

Blacksmith Project Breakdown: Twisted Railroad Spike Knife

Students forge railroad spike knives in class every weekend at Brown County Forge.

From time to time they opt for the twisted handle look above.

In this post I’ll go through the steps it takes to forge a twisted railroad spike knife.

The Basic Steps:

  1. Forge the blade.
  2. Twist the handle.
  3. Clean up the knife profile and grind the rough bevel.
  4. Harden.
  5. Temper.
  6. Final polish and sharpen.

Step One: Forging the Railroad Spike Knife Blade

Railroad Spike Knife - Brown County Forge

Get the railroad spike up to a nice glowing yellow-orange color.

Start hammering half way up the spike and out towards the tip.

By starting halfway up you’ll leave enough room for a handle and have plenty of material for your blade.

Depending on your hammering stamina and hand-eye coordination, this thinning process can take some time.

Usually it will take anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours for a beginner.

Step Two: Twist the Handle

Railroad Spike Knife Close Up - Brown County Forge

Twists look great, but I’ll let you in on a secret:

They are one of the easiest techniques to do.

Due to the thickness of the material, we need to do one quarter-turn per heat for the railroad spike twist.

For each quarter-turn you will put the heated spike into your vise blade down.

You then grab just under the head of the spike with a pair of locking vise grips.

Keep the grips level and pull toward you for one quarter-turn.

Reheat and repeat.

Step Three: Set Aside to Cool and Then Grind the Profile

Now that you have your basic knife shape forged and the twist made, set it aside to cool completely.

When it’s cool to the touch (about 20 minutes later), use a hand file, a bench grinder, or an angle grinder to clean up your rough edges.

You can also start cleaning up and polishing the flats of the blade.

As you do this you will see just how consistent your hammer blows were.

Your goal at this stage is to get smooth, clean lines and the final shape of the knife.

If you want a bowie railroad spike knife, you will grind in the bowie anatomy.

If you’re looking for more of a skinner, you will grind in skinner lines.

The grinder is your friend. =]

Step Four: Hardening

Hardening a Blade - Brown County Forge

Now it’s time to reheat the knife to just above cherry red.

The reason this color is important is that it’s our visual signal that the knife is approaching non-magnetic.

We want it to lose its magnetism before we harden it.

This is an additional sign that the molecules in the metal are aligned properly for hardening.

(Want to see this in action? You can sign up for Online Classes here or take a class in person!)

When it’s hot enough and nonmagnetic, we quench it in oil for a count of eight seconds.

Then the knife is set aside to cool.

Side Note: We use vegetable oil as our quenchant in the shop. It does a great job and isn’t as toxic as burning motor oil.

Step Five: Temper

Tempering Colors In Steel - Brown County Forge

After cooling, the knife is ready for a polish to help the silver of the blade shine through.

This is necessary because we need to see the temper colors as we apply low level heat to the blade.

To temper we use a propane torch and apply heat to the spine of the knife.

Making steady passes across the spine, we gradually heat the blade up.

When it is a light straw color (the color all the way to the left in the photo above), we quench it once again in the vegetable oil.

(Click here for a full breakdown of tempering)

Step Six – Polish and Sharpen

You don’t have to leave the temper color on your blade.

When it’s completely cooled down, you can take a piece of sandpaper and sand it back to silver.

Some people like the “Man With the Golden Knife” look, but it’s up to you (bad James Bond reference).

Now it’s time to put the final edge on your twisted railroad spike knife.

I prefer to use a 10-inch Single Cut Hand File.

If you have experience using whetstones you should use what you’re comfortable with.

Proper sharpening with hand file involves these five things:

  1. Only file with forward motions. NEVER saw back and forth.
  2. Start with a steep angle to make your two bevel sides meet. Then go shallower for your final edge.
  3. If the file is screeching, adjust your file’s horizontal orientation.
  4. If you over-sharpen it’s not the end of the world. Knock the burr down with light strokes against the grain.
  5. Test carefully as you work. Don’t slide up and down the blade to test. Lightly pull across the blade edge to feel for sharpness.

If you’ve never done it before it will take some time to get good.

All of this is a patience game.

Thanks for Reading!

Twisted Railroad Spike Knife - Brown County Forge

Sword Sharpening Service in Indiana

Did you know that Brown County Forge offers a sword sharpening service?

Terran the Blacksmith is happy to sharpen any bladed tool from knives to axes to longswords.

Sword Sharpening Service in Indiana

Sword Sharpening Service Indiana - Brown County Forge

New customer Beck brought in his longsword this afternoon.

His goal is to have it competition-ready with a clean edge and a new polish.

The sword is almost four feet long from pommel to point.

The Sword Sharpening Process

First, Terran assesses the condition of the blade.

He observes these key points:

  • Any chips or hairline fractures.
  • Bluntness along the length of the blade.
  • Nicks and gouges on the flat of the blade.
  • Any visible rust.

Beck’s blade is well-cared for so all it needs is a sharpen and polish.

To get it ready for competition, Terran follows these steps:

  1. Hand-filing the edge from hilt to point. Maintaining a micro-bevel along the length of long blades takes practice and patience.
  2. Any marks and scratches are polished out using finer and finer grits of sandpaper.

Sword Sharpener Indiana - Brown County Forge

Next Day Service

The sword is ready for pickup the next day.

Most bladed tools will be ready within a few hours. If you arrange to drop it off in the morning, it will be ready by afternoon.

Axes or knives in very poor condition may take longer. Terran is happy to provide quotes on costs and timelines.

How Much Does It Cost?

Sharpening swords properly takes time. For a sword like Beck’s that is in good shape, it will take an hour or so.

The shop hourly rate is $45 per hour for most services.

There is a sliding scale depending on exactly what you need done and your budget.

The most important thing to Terran is that you have a functional edged tool.

Sword Sharpening Blacksmith - Brown County Forge

Want to Learn More About Blades?

We cover knife making basics every Saturday throughout the year.

You will gain the knowledge you need to take care of all of your bladed tools.

You can get more information on the Classes Page.

Metal House Number Review from a California Customer

Metal House Number Review California - Brown County Forge

A Recent Metal House Number Review

When I hear back from customers with their feedback, like the metal house number review below, it means a lot.

I really enjoy designing metalwork for customers and making sure they get exactly what they need.

To give you some background, this house number plate was ordered through the Brown County Forge Etsy shop by a gentleman from Northern California (Sacramento area).

From the beginning we had good communication. I was able to correct a situation that could have been challenging for him.

The number plaques I offer are made out of 1/8-inch thick stainless steel. This helps them hold up against all weather conditions.

They won’t rust or corrode whether they’re near saltwater or in the desert.

The situation we ran into was related to mounting holes:

  • I prefer to leave the house number plates without holes to have a smooth finish, but I’m happy to drill out mounting holes.
  • He was looking for a plate with mounting holes.

Here’s the Review:

Metal House Numbers Review California - Brown County Forge

“We had been looking for metal house numbers for a bit. Brown County Forge’s stainless steel sign was perfect for us. I erred in not asking for the pre-drilled holes in the corners (make sure you specify if you want that). Terran (the owner) could not have been cooler about speedy communication, receiving the item back, drilling the holes for me and sending it back at no extra charge. Overall, I could not be happier with the purchase.”

What Happened

I had already shipped the number plate and sent him a note with mounting instructions.

After reading instructions that didn’t include screws or mounting holes, he contacted me to clarify things.

I then realized the miscommunication and offered two options:

  1. I laid out how he could drill the holes himself.
  2. He could send the house number plate back to me as soon as he got it, I would drill it out, and send it back at no additional delivery charge (I refunded his return shipping).

Ideally, these situations wouldn’t happen, but it’s all part of doing business.

You won’t always get it exactly right on the first try.

I’m grateful that the California gentleman was gracious and allowed me to create the perfect number plaque for him.