My Homemade Knives – by ChuckN
While growing up in the construction industry, my Dad taught me the ins and outs of metal repair and fabrication. I spent many an afternoon torch welding broken tools back together. My parents are also huge history buffs and were part of several re-enactment groups. To maintain more of an authentic feel, my Dad would hand forge period tools. We could have just bought modern stuff, but making the tools by hand just made it feel right.
And it wasn’t just us; many people just knew when something was made by machine vs. made by hand. When my Dad was teaching a group of students or just the curious, knowing everything he had was made in traditional ways just seemed to give his words more weight.
So of course I tried making knives and axes as soon as I could. While some came out okay, most ended up as scrap. It didn’t take long to figure out that making a knife from scratch can take about as much practice and talent as a scrimshaw artist. Over the years, I would continually experiment with every aspect of knife making: different forges, holding tools, steels, pins, hammers etc… Even when I found something that worked, I’d change it just to see what would happen. In short, it was trial and a whole lot of error.
Now a few words of warning/wisdom to would-be knife makers. Knife making can be exceedingly time consuming. If you’re just starting out try to limit yourself, partly to save yourself physically but mostly to keep you from getting frustrated. If you decide to hammer forge, learn to use both hands. Using only one arm in a repetitive motion can seriously screw up your body. If one forging method doesn’t work, you don’t have to stick with it. There are dozens of combinations of ways that will give you the same result. Practice and pick the way that works for you.
You’ve been looking at several pictures of three of my latest knives: a short coffin handle bowie, a skinner, and a roach belly. They may look a bit rough in places but each of these are working knives and have been put to some hard use.
The bowie is 11 inches with a finger guard and coffin handle. The 6 inch blade is made from an old Nicholson file. I used gun blue to color it and coated it with a clear epoxy (that’s why it looks a bit rough). The tang extends about 3/4 of the handled and is pinned and epoxied in place. The handle is maple. I use this one quite a bit during hunting season, and he thin point and the guard give great control for doing fine work.
The roach belly is 9 inches with a 4 inch blade. The blade is from a kit I picked up at a yard sale so there’s no telling what the steel is. It not only takes an edge but keeps it well, though.
The handle is one I designed for shiv boot knife but it just seemed to work. The wood a cherry colored with a homemade mahogany stain. The handle has about 4 coats of varnish over it. The varnish keeps the wood sealed and gives a good grip when wet. Great for when I’m in a canoe.
The last is a skinner. It’s modeled on a Green River skinner. The curved blade is about 5.5 inches long. I started with a 1/4 inch file and hammered it down to 1/8 at the back base, thinning to less than a 1/16 at the tip. The sides have a flat grind from spine to the edge.
Everything just seemed to mesh for this blade: the metal, the forging, the quench, etc… It gets sharp, like straight razor sharp. The handle is two sandwiched pieces of oak. The tang extends of 3/4 of the way and is notched into the handle. Everything is held in place with epoxy. The handle itself is not quite finished. I’ve been slowly hand sanding away to get the best finger groves for my hand. Eventually I’ll sand it to lighten the color then coat it in urethane to make cleanup easier.