USAKnifemakers Stage 1 knife kit Tutorial

Josh Dabney

So You want to make a knife...

The purpose of this tutorial is to assist you in accomplishing this goal. I'm here to show you how to utilize commonly available tools to turn this kit into a great knife-

The Kit contains all the materials needed to build a complete knife and sheath from scratch. In addition to the Kit all you'll need are some basic tools and the drive to follow the project through to the end.

The Goal of this tutuorial is that you build a knife and sheath from start to finish doing all the work yourself. Having doubts ? Cast those doubts aside and trust me that YOU CAN DO IT !

Some Notes on SAFETY

Knifemaking is alot of fun. Let's not end the fun by ignoring good working habits and injuring ourselves during the process. We're going to need to stay especially vigilant in the protection of our EYES FINGERS and LUNGS

Rule #1. We will be wearing our safety glasses AT ALL TIMES. Non-negotable JUST DO IT !

Rule #2. We will not be wearing any of the following items-

-Gloves (with the exception of during the hardening stage)
-Anything that dangles like necklaces or bracelets
-Long hair... Don't cut it off of course but keep it under a hat, bandana, or otherwise tied up and our of your eyes. The last place we want that long hair is wrapped around a drill chuck or grinding wheel or near sources of very high heat !

Rule #3 While using powered grinding equipment we will protect our lungs. A Resperator should be part of every knifemakers safety routine. Paper dust masks are better than nothing.

Rule #4 Work smart and trust your safety instincts. If at any time you find yourself thinking... Is what I'm about to do a safe operation ? or Is this the proper use of this tool ? The answers to these two questions are ALWAYS NO !

Rule #5 If we happen to be inexperienced with the use of power tools learn their proper use WITH SUPERVISION from someone experienced.

Rule #6 RESPECT the power of the tools you're using. Even a seemingly harmless tool such as my hand drill can easily break or otherwise mangle up a finger or wrap up a loose article of clothing. Bump a turning drill bit into your hand and you'll be amazed at the efficiency it'll have in drilling a nasty hole.

Rule #7 FOCUS on the task at hand. If your mind is wandering to other things or you're tired it is NOT the time for knifemaking. Turn off the tools and come back another time

Do you know what the 3 most expensive words we do not want to say are ?





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The process of making a knife from scratch can be a little overwhelming at first so let's begin with some discussion on exactly what we'll be doing.

Let's break our process down into 4 main stages with multiple tasks performed in each stage. The 4 stages are 1. Pre-Heat Treat, 2. Heat Treating, 3. Finishing, and 4. sheath making.

STAGE 1. Pre-Heat Treating. During this stage we'll do the following

-Design- We must know what we're going to make before we start making it !

-Profiling our knife- This is the process of getting our 1 1/2" x 9" steel bar into the shape of our design

-Bevels- We'll file and/or grind then hand sand the sides of the blade to prepare for hardening

STAGE 2. Heat treating

-Harden the blade

-Temper the blade

STAGE 3. Finishing

-Clean up the blade from the heat treat

-Thin the edge to final thickness

-Fininsh sand

-Mark the blade with a makers mark


-Install and finish the handle scales

STAGE 4. Sheath Making

-Make a pattern

-Cut our pattern from leather



-Dye and finish

-Sharpen our new knife and cut some stuff up :)

Simple enough right ?

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Now that we've clearly defined the process we'll be following let's get our hands dirty and make us a knife !

Here's a pic of my Kit as I recieved it-


I sketched out a couple designs made to make full use of steel and have what I consider to be a great general use edge profile. With a couple options I settled on this design for my build.



Before we move on to profiling we need to transfer our design from the drawing to our steel. Many makers will cut their design out and paste it right to the steel which is a good method for transfer. I do not do this for one reason only. I do all my design work in a sketchbook which I like to keep in tact for future reference so I follow a different routine for transfer.

I trace my drawing on tracing paper then cut that out and use that to make a pattern from a manilla file folder.



Now I've got my pattern made I get a much better preview of how my design on paper is going to work in real world use


My handle design will have the front two fingers on the curved section of handle and I'm concerned about a "Hot Spot" being created because this area of the handle isn't quite long enough for a comfortable fit. To address this I'm going to make the curve a little deeper at the front arrow and extend a little further back at the rear arrow.


Those slight changes to my pattern will have a profound affect on how this knife funtions in real world use and should result in a comfortable finished hande without "hot spots" that would rub a blister on the middle finger under extended use. In a nutshell I modified my pattern to fit my own hand specifically


With my pattern completed I'm ready to transfer the pattern to my steel. The first step of the transfer is to color the steel with a sharpie marker


Now I'll simply tape the pattern to the steel and scribe around the pattern with a utility knife. I'll also scribe a cross at each pin location and the lanyard hole


Now I've successfully transferred my design to my steel and can move forward to profiling the blade


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Now I'm ready to begin profiling but lets first talk a little about workbenches or suitable alternatives.

I'm using this short scrap of 2x4 as my makeshift workbench. I've got it C-clamped onto my actual workbench but a picnic table or sturdy deck railing would be a nice alternative. Pretty much anything stable can provide a suitable working surface and our 2x4 will protect what you've got to work with from damage.

We want our steel to be held in place for drilling. Here I've got my steel "trapped" to my 2x4 with 4 screws. The screws are DeckMates only because that's what I had laying around.


The first holes I want to drill are my 3 pin holes and lanyard hole. To keep the drill bit from "walking" center punch each hole location before drilling.


Now I'm ready to drill these 4 holes. The pin holes will be drilled with the 3/32" bit that came with the kit and the lanyard will be drilled 3/32" for a pilot hole then drilled out with a 1/4" bit. My drill is nothing special just an 18v Dewalt Cordless drill.

A Note about drills- Use what ever you've got available. If used with good technique pretty much any drill will work. If your going to purchase a drill consider skipping a hand drill alltogether and go for a benchtop drill press. In my local area these come up on Craigslist all the time in the $30 to $50 range.


Now drill the holes


Holes drilled and scribed my profile better so it's easier to see


Now I want to drill a series of holes around the entire perimeter of my blade. Since my drill bit is 3/32" I want to drill my holes 1/2 that distance outside my scribed lines. The first step is to draw a parallel line around the scribed lines with a pencil


Now I'm using the shank end of the 3/32" drill bit to mark out my hole locations around my pencil line. I do NOT want any holes to touch another hole. If I center punched exacly 3/32" apart the drilled holes would touch so I'm using the bit as a guage to make certain my holes will be very close without touching one another.


Now I've layed out every hole that needs drilled in pencil. I'm going to be using the Swiss Cheese method for reducing the weight of the tang to achieve a better balanced knife. These holes in the center of the handle will all get drilled at 3/32" then drilled out to 1/4".


With my layout done I slipped the steel back into my "workbench" and drilled a random Swiss Cheese hole out to 1/4"


With two 1/4" holes now drilled I can switch to these short screws and screw my steel down solidly to the 2x4. This way I can work on my blade without the screws trapping the blade sticking up and in the way.


Now center punch each hole


You can see here that my center punches are far from perfect lines but they're gonna work fine


Here you can see I got one of my center punches too close to the previous hole


No problem, just skip that center punch and punch another a little further away or skip it all together



Stay tuned for more tomorrow !

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Drilling the blade's edge side holes now. The further away from the hold down screws my drilling gets the less secure the steel is held to the 2x4. This is allowing my steel to flex so when the bit breaks throught the steel it is being lifted off the 2x4. If the steel pulls up high enough to bind The drill bit will snap like a twig so I need to remedy this situation before I move on.


Of course this is a simple fix. Drill a 1/4" hole for a hold down screw on this end of the steel and problem solved


I have completed drilling the perimeter holes and I'm ready to move onto the Swiss Cheese holes in the middle of the tang. I'll drill a 3/32" pilot hole in each location then drill these out with a 1/4" bit. With all these holes at 3/32" it would be VERY EASY to drill one of my pin holes out to 1/4" by mistake. That wouldn't be the end of the world but I'd rather avoid it so I put a small piece of masking tape over each pin hole to avoid a mistake while drilling


All my 3/32" Holes are drilled. This is 118 holes drilled with only my cordless drill and the drill bit included in the Kit. If I can do it YOU can too :)


Now we open up all the Swiss Cheese holes with the 1/4" bit to complete the drilling step of profiling


Here is where I currently am with my steel drilled out. In the next step of profiling I'll use a hacksaw to connect-the-dots and remove everything that doesn't look like a knife.


Since I didn't destroy my original drawing this is a perfect time to take a little break and realize how far I've already come and compare my work with my design. REMEMBER- Plan Your Work & Work Your Plan !


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Excellent Josh, Very well thought out and presented, I'm going to enjoy following this and have learned a few things already.

I thought I should mention for EVERYONE to please feel free to post any questions or ask for clarification during the tutorial or after it's completed.

The type of knifemaking we're doing here is known as the Stock Removal method. We begin with a bar of steel and remove everything that doesn't look like a knife. To accomplish the removal we'll drill, cut, file, grind, and sand until we've got our blade from our bar.

Many knives have been made with little more than a hacksaw and file. Draw filing the bevels in the blade will work well if you've got the time and patience needed to complete the task.

To speed up the process for profiling and forming the bevels I'm going to be using a Bench Grinder. These are pretty commonly owned tools and you probably have a friend or relative who would let you borrow or use theirs for your knife project.

Instead of borrowing from a friend I decided to purchase one for a couple reasons. Mainly because I'll find continued use for it in my shop long after this tutorial is finished. The other reason is I may want to modify the tool to better suit my use.

I also chose this particular grinder for a couple reasons.

-Availability- Ryobi is a Home Depot brand so a trip to your local store or ordering online can get you this exact same machine. I picked this up this morning for $69.95

-Returnability- If I run into any issues I can return or exchange the machine in a 5 mile round trip.

-Useability-This model has some nice features like built in lights and a magnifier in one of the chip shields.

-Affordability- At $70 this is neither the cheapest bench grinder available or anywhere near the most expensive.

-Motor Power-8" Diameter Wheels- For this project I believe a 6" wheel machine would've performed adequitely but I have ideas for a future belt conversion and I think the larger motor will be beneficial if used in that capacity. Home Depot did have a Ryobi 6" Ginder on sale for $29.95 but I figured the motor upgrade was worth the price in the long run.

That all said here is the brand new Ryobi 8" Bench grinder in the box-


Unboxed and ready to assemble the work rests and spark shields-


A few minutes of assembly and she's ready to go to work-


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I've got my shiny new bench grinder bolted to the bench and have a coffee can screwed to the bench for use as a quench bucket. The grinder does have a "Coolant Tray" built in but it very insufficient for our use on making blades.


I'll begin by grinding a "lead in" grind at the closest holes to the edge of my bar. These areas will be ground off anyway and doing it first will make getting my hacksaw cuts MUCH easier to get started. You'll notice the discoloration around the grind area. This is a product of heat and any heat high enough to discolor the steel like this WILL BURN YOUR FINGERS :) This is the reason for our quench bucket. Dunk the blade often to cool it down from grinding.


Lead in grinds completed around the entire blade. Hacksawing will now be a snap to accomplish


Now I'm ready to cut off the excess steel. This is a high tension hacksaw which is a pleasure to use. Quality tools are ALWAYS a good investment ! The blade is a Nicholson 32T-12 This meas 32 teeth per inch of blade length and 12" long. Just what I happen to have on from previous use but will work fine for cutting steel. I've got my bar screwed down and ready to cut


This hacksaw will hold the blade either verticle in relation to the frame or 45 degrees in relation. I switched to the 45 position to keep the hacksaws frame from binding up against the steel druing the cutting. This is not mandatory just makes things easier.


I took the time to drill all those holes and now the task of sawing is a breeze. It took all of about 30 seconds to cut this off


The hacksaw is not going to cut around curves or corners so it will be necessary to take some cuts in "bites". Cut the scrap off straight to the edge of the bar to clear the way for finishing the cut


To get around the belly of the blade we'll cut from both directions and meet in the middle of the curved section. Cut one side


Just like when drilling the holes, The tip of the blade is wanting to lift up while sawing so I moved my C-clamp from on the 2x4 to the tip of the blade to solve the problem.


To get our saw blade to make this turn and continue cutting along the edge area we just cut in as far as we can and then make an extra cut from the edge of the bar ot nip a small section out. Now we can zip right through the rest


Same technique for the bottom of the handle section. Cut from each side and meet in the middle.


And there we are. A few minutes with the hacksaw and we've removed the excess steel and our bar is nearly a blade


It's always a good idea to visually inspect your blade from time to time throught the process to catch any issues that may pop up. Using this method of screwing our blade down to an old scrap 2x4 works great to hold the piece securely. However the 2x4 is FAR from being a flat surface and we've developed quite a bow in our blade as a result.


The fact that the steel is soft, the screw down method, and the swiss cheese method are all contributing factors to our now "bent" blade. Before moving on we're going to straighten our blade. I don't need perfection at this point because I'll be using the screw down method some more but I don't want my blade looking like a banana either so we're going to straighten the blade now.

This technique is the Three Point Method for straightening. Eyeball your blade to see where the bend is. Now create two points by laying out cutoff pieces on the 2x4 to use as the outside points. The screw will be the third point and screwed through a hole between the other points. The further the screw is driven the more bend you'll get.


Here's a measurment from the 2x4 to the top of the blade surface in the relaxed position before tightening the screw.


And here we are after tightening the screw down. I'd advise using a screwdriver for greater control instead of the drill. The Three Point Method gives great control over the bend. The spacing of the outside points can be adjusted from wide for a bow to close in for a kink and the amount of force applied is controlled by the screw


To straighten were going to typically need to bend a bit past straight in the opposite direction of original bend


This is a simple method for straightening and with just a little trial and error you'll be a pro straightener in no time.

Now that we've got our blade straight again it's time to move to the grinder and grind the entire profile down to our scribed lines.


Now let's compare to our original design. It's not 100% exact but with careful work it is awful close.


This is a pic of the blades flat resting against a straight edge. Notice the the actual profile grind is far from perpendicular to the flat sides of the blade.

Properly adjusting my work rest would have reduced this problem but even then it would not be a true flat due to the surface of the wheel being curved. This is just the sort of issue that can arise when getting familiar with a new tool.


While we are at the grinder we're going to deal with this profile issue and also address the burr's that are left around the drilled holes on our handle.


This shows what's left on one of my drilled perimeter holes. I do not need to grind this off completely. When I get my profile down to perpendicular this will be removed.


To deal with the profile grind not being perpendicular I flipped the blade over on the work rest so the left side of the blade is facing up.


By doing this I'm now grinding the "high" side of the profile off. We're removing very little material with this operation so extremely light pressure against the grinding wheel is used. The result of this is a peak running around the middle of the profile which we'll take care of with hand work.


Now my profile grind is as good as I'll get it on the grinder so I'll move on to working on removing the burrs left from drilling. My goal is NOT to end up perfect with this operation with the grinder but to merely save myself some work hand sanding.

YOU DO NOT WANT TO GRIND INTO THE PERIMETER OF THE HANDLE WHILE DOING THIS OPERATION ! The perimeter of the handle will need to be perfectly flat where it meets the handle scales if we are going to end up with a seamless fit between handle scales and tang.

Again go VERY LIGHTLY here. We don't need to grind into the handle here just remove the burrs.




I am now completely finished grinding on my blade and will move on to hand work with files and sandpaper.

To finish our profiling of the blade we're going to do two things.

1. Draw file the profile to bring it down to flat and perpendicular

2. Hand sand at 120 grit to clean up the file work

Get started by screwing your blade onto the side of your 2x4 and get out some files. These yellow handled files are from Harbor Freight. They are the cheapest of the cheap and very coarse. That said though they remove steel which is exactly what we want them to do.


To Draw file hold the file handle in one hand and the tip of the file in the other. Position the file perpendicular to your work surface and apply a little downward pressure while drawing the file towards you.


Any time you want to see exactly where you're removing material just color the area you're working on with a sharpie


This is that same drill hole I showed before. You can see some of the sharpie still on the right side of the blade here. When I get filed down to flat this hole will be gone and I didn't take any more material off my profile than necessary.


Now I've got this area filed down flat and perpendicular. Before I reposition my blade I'm going to also hand sand this area with 120 grit sandpaper. Here you can see the deep scratched running down the length of the profile and the 120 grit scratch pattern running 45 degrees across the profile


Anything hard and flat will make a sufficent sanding block. This is just a piece of Maple scrap leftover from a cabinet. I cut a piece of paper roughly 4" wide and just hold it to the block and scrub the blade with it. Going in a 45 degree direction allows us to see that we've completely removed the file marks and achieve a true 120 grit surface finish. Use a section of paper until it's loaded and no longer cutting then move your block over to get some fresh paper.


Once your at a 120 finish reposition you blade and continue around the rest of the profile


The flat file and sanding block will work well for flats and outside curves. To get into these inside curved areas I'm using the half-round file for draw filing and the smooth section of a 1/2" bolt for a sanding block.


It will take some time and effort to get this tight curve smoothed out and finished but persistance will payoff. When using the bolt sanding it will have a very tiny contact area so it will cut agressively but only for a couple seconds. You'll need to reposition your sandpaper accordingly.


This sanding block is one of my secret weapons. I use it somewhere on every knife I make. It was given to me by a friend so I've got no idea what it is. It's a very firm rubber though but is still flexible. I used this to finish off my curved sections here. I ground an angle on one side and the other side has a rounded corner and a square corner. If you can fins something similar it's a great little tool.



This brings us to the end of the Profiling stage of our build.

Here we are still extremely close to our file folder pattern



Fantastic level of detail for the aspiring knife maker..
Appreciate the comments fellas :)

With our profiling complete we're ready to begin working on our bevels.

I'll start with the plunges. Here I've cut my file folder pattern to use as a template for marking my plunge location


Mark both sides of the blade with a sharpie



Now I need to locate and scribe my edge thickness so I color the edge of the blade


The ability to create extremely flat surfaces is very important for knifemakers in many situations. This is what I used for years as my bargain priced surface plate. This is a single granite floor tile I picked up from Home Depot. They are sold in single pieces for around $4.


Hold the blade down flat on the tile and scribe along the edge using the point of our 3/32" drill bit. Flip the blade over and repeat. Now we've got 2 scribed lines centered on the blade


Nearly ready to file in my plunges with this 5/32" Chainsaw file. Need a file handle ? I keep this old handle from a broken rake layine around for this purpose. Use your hacksaw and cut a piece for our handle


Eyeball the handle to find the center and drill a deep hole with the 3/32 bit.


Tap the file shank into the hole and vio-la a file handle


Secure your blade to the 2x4 and start you file cut on the edge side


My scribed lines are a tiny bit further apart than where I want my edge thickness to be for heat treating so I intensionally cut my plunge a little deeper than the scribed line


First plunge nearly done. Now that I've got a nice deep cut I can "push" my groove back a little to true it up with my layout line


Repeat for the other side of the blade


Plunges done


Occasionally it's much easier to explain something with a drawing. This is the process I'm going to follow for grinding the bevels






Here we go grinding our bevels


I'm grinding edge facing up with the blade resting on the tool rest. When approaching the grinding wheel lightly touch the steel to the wheel and move back to the plunge side THEN begin applying pressure against the wheel and make a pass from the plung side to the tip.


Boy are these some UGLY grinds ! I'm not attempting to get close to finished size here just removing bulk to save me some filing time. I ran these grinds straight down the blade and will grind the belly of the blade sperately



Starting to work on the belly and tip of the blade


Using the edge of the work rest like this to make these grinds


Done grinding this side of the blade


The other side


Wow... this is almost the exact process I used when I started out... an amazing amount of work can be accomplished with a bench grinder, a few files, sandpaper, and elbow grease... not to mention a healthy dose of stubborn determination! It didn't occur to me back then to use the drill and hacksaw, I just went straight to the grinder, but this method may save a bit of time and a lot of burned fingers... :)
This is always one of the exciting times while making a knife. Creating the bevels in my mind is where our blade is born. This is where we'll shed the feeling of working raw materials and transform to working on a KNIFE !

I got myself prepared for filing by moving my 2x4 into a more comfortable working position. Notice that the tip of my blade IS NOT sticking out beyond the end of the 2x4.

Having the tip of the blade hanging past the 2x4 is a very dangerous scenario and you'll be more likely than not to get cut. This is one of the more common reasons knifemakers get an injury so just DO NOT DO IT !

If you ignore this warning please know that what you'll very likely get will not be a scratch but more of a deep puncture wound that'll take super glue or stitches to fix.

With Safety in mind I colored my blade with my Sharpie and I'm ready to get to work.


Just a stroke or two with my file and you can really see how rough my ground surface is


A bit more work with the file and I'm mostly flat. I intentionally stayed away from this area with the grinder. It's going to take quite a bit of work with my files to bring this area down to the level of my plunge but I should end up with a nice clean end result


Use your Sharpie often to see exactl;y where you're removing steel. I want to avoid gouging my plunge area so I'm filing from the edge side and working my way up just like I did with the chainsaw file


Work in front of the plunge a bit then go back to draw filing with the length of the blade to check your progress. I'm getting closer but not there yet


Again, I want to keep my plunge nice and round so now that I'm getting very close i want to blend my flat rignt into the plunge. To do this I went back to the chainsaw file. Get the chainsaw file lined up in the plunge and lightly draw file out from there.


Now I've got my plunge blended out and my entire edge thinned down where I want it with my files I got out my sanding block and some 120 grit sandpaper and started sanding my bevel to smooth things out and see just how rough my surface is. You can see here that I have removed a great deal of the file marks with my paper. In the world of scratches on knife blades though some of these file marks are CANYONS and I do not want to waste my time and abrasives trying to hand sand these out (although it could be done)


To work these file marks out another file with a finer cut is in order. I switched to a Nicholson triangle file and draw filed the entire blade to rid my blade of the canyon deep gouges. You can tell from the shavings that this file is a much finer cut and was just the ticket for refining my surface after the large rough files.


And here we are completely draw filed with the triangle file and will have a MUCH easier time getting the bevel sanded smooth with the 120 grit paper


Using my maple sanding block I'm now sanded out to 120 grit finish and all file marks have been removed.


At this point I'm not concerned about the "flats" of the blade, Only the bevel and plunge. This bevel cleaned up nicely I think


Josh, my friend, the tutorial and WIP that you have done here is ,by far, the best I have seen. It is concise, interestly described with easy to understand directions. You are not merely a "teacher" you are a man of knowledge with the desire to share that which you know. So many of our present day teachers today are presenting hear-say knowledge without any practical hands-on experience. This is not to be faulted as experience is often diffiicult or impossible to attain in this era.

What you have shown here has me looking closer to my method of teaching the craft I so dearly love. Your attention to detail goes far beyond that which I have considererd as adequate. Now I do not consider my standard as sufficient and shall endeavour to emulate what you do so well.

Your teaching how to make a knife has extended much beyond that purpose, Josh, you have taught a teacher how to teach----my congratulations and gratitude.----------------Sandy