Plowshares into Swords: 11 knives made from repurposed tools.


I have seen ball-bearing knives, but this is the first I have seen from a bearing race (outer rim).

Up 75 from Knoxville is the Museum of Appalachia. It is a privately held collection, but was of a caliber that it was absorbed into the Smithsonian Institution as a satellite facility several years back. It is a cool place, and my favorite exhibit is “stuff turned into other stuff”. The pioneering folk in East Tennessee could not let broken tools go to waste. Busted buggy springs and plows were repurposed into all manner of other tools.

Reader AW1ED sent us a great article from Popular Mechanics. “11 Badass Knives That Used to be Busted, Old Junk“.

Among the eleven knives featured are ones made from the typical railroad spikes and wrenches, but there is one from a piece of steel cable which took on an amazing Damascus pattern in forging. My favorite one is pictured above, a simple but classic blade made from an old bearing-race. I am especially drawn to the the simple wrapped handle juxtaposed with the brass bolster and pommel.

All of the knives are pretty cool in my humble opinion. Which one is your favorite?

Thanks AW1ED for sharing it with us. If anyone comes across something that they think your fellow readers would want to see, please send it along to

Update: thanks to the Bossman for sharing this on the TTAG Facebook Page. One of the readers there reminded me of this amazing piece where a guy turns a shovel into and AK receiver.

BTW, we could always use a few more likes if anyone wants to follow the TTAK Facebook Page.  It would be greatly appreciated. Thanks – HCA


  1. PeterK says:

    I really want to make an old leafspring knife. Supposedly some really cool kukris are made from big tuck leaf spring in Nepal (all about that Benz baby).

    My Dad supposedly has some old files we’ll dremel down one of these days. 😀

  2. Spencer says:

    John Rice Irwin, the museum’s founder, wrote a fine book that I have and treasure; it’s titled “Guns And Gunmaking Tools Of Southern Appalachia.” My copy is the second edition, copyright 1983 and printed by Schiffer Publishing Ltd.

    Several years back I made a small knife from a commercial-grade Stihl hedge trimmer blade found in the street. It’s not much to look at but the steel is quite good.

    1. Cool that you had heard of the museum and Mr. Irwin. I wasn’t aware of the book, but I added it to my list to keep an eye out for while antiquing.

      1. Spencer says:

        Amazon sells used copies of Irwin’s 118-page book (with lots of black-and-white photos) for about $5.50, Clay. See

  3. AW1Ed says:

    Welcome, glad to contribute. I too liked the Damascus steel rope blade and the leaf spring; the ram’s head railroad spike is rustic art although I’d question it’s balance and utility.

    1. Biggest problem with spikes is their low Carbon content. Most spikes are 1020 steel. 1080 is considered the minimum for quality tool steel. 1095 is better still.

      Spikes are great (from understanding not yet experience) for learning to smith because they are cheap and plentiful.

      Railroad spike knives are like tying Wooly Bugger flies. Everyone learns by starting with them.

  4. Jeff O. says:

    I liked the damascus blade as well, and the concrete handles were pretty interesting. I had heard that Kukris are often made from old leaf springs, so seeing the machete was pretty interesting. Knives made from old files are incredible – high carbon steel which can be hardened and tempered really well – they hold an edge forever if done right.

  5. samuraichatter says:

    I really want to see a prop off of a plane or a boat made into a sword or knife.

    I have already seen a steampunk/dieselpunk looking flanged mace made out of a gear/sprocket. It was pretty BA.

    If anybody can make anything out of anything it is probably the folks over at Baltimore Knife and Sword.

  6. HiddenHills says:

    Museum of Appalachia is still owned by the Irwins as far as I know. Any sale would have been the talk of the town (I am a few miles away). It is a Smithsonian Affiliate Program member.

    1. Thanks, I wasn’t completely sure how the program worked. I was trying to make the point that a little place outside of Clinton, TN was of a caliber that it would be Smithsonian-worthy without diving into the weeds. I tweaked the wording a bit.

      I am actually be guiding the Clinch in the morning, so I will be in your backyard.

  7. dph says:

    I had a car spring Bolo knife that I got during a survival training course in the PI, alas I gave it to my brother and it has long since disappeared. That thing was very sharp and held an edge well, wish I had it back.

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Plowshares into Swords: 11 knives made from repurposed tools.

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