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How Our Knives Are Made

How it all Starts

I start all my knives with high quality steel in bar form. The steel is then coated with Dykem (I prefer the blue colored version, but I really like blue!!) and the pattern scribed onto the steel.

Cutting the blades out of bar stock

I rough cut the blade blanks on my metal cutting Milwaukee Portaband with SWAG Off-Road table.  Cutting some of the larger pieces off of the blade blank makes grinding the profile easier later on.

Grinding the Profile

The profile of the knife is ground on my 2X72” belt sander.  This takes all the rough edges from bandsawing the blanks and makes them nice and smooth.  There are also areas and curves I can not cut with the bandsaw, the belt sander does a great job with these areas.

Marking Pin Locations

The hole locations for the pins are then marked to be drilled.  I made a small plexiglass template to help make this process go much faster.  It works out very well for most of the knives I make.

Drilling Holes

The holes are drilled into the tang of the knives.  Some of these holes in the tang are for the pins to help hold the handle scales on.  Other larger holes are to help lighten the handle portion of the blade to help achieve the balance in the blade that I want.  These larger holes are also very helpful in creating a epoxy pin that goes from the handle scales through the tang.

Laying out the Edge

I use a file to smooth out the edge of the knife.  This makes it easier to see the scribe lines in the next step.

Layout Scribe Lines

The edge of the knife is then measured and scribed. This is to help make sure the same amount is ground on both sides of the knife.  Usually I like to leave 0.020″-0.030″ at the edge for the secondary bevel.  Flipping the blade over insures that the lines are centered on the blade.

The lines are scribed with 0.020″ in between them.

I grind the 45º chamfer up to the scribe line.  This helps to see how much more I need to grind when doing the bevels on the knife.

I grind the knives to have a 45° chamfer on the edge because this helps the belt to last much longer.  When the belt is grinding against a hard 90° edge that edge acts as a scraper to remove the grit from the belt.  This grit is critical for grinding the metal you want to remove from the knife.

Grinding Bevels

The next step in the knife making process is one of the most important, grinding the bevels of the knife.  I like to use a push stick to do this operation on the work rest.  It gives me a lot of control without burning my fingers when trying to remove metal fast.  I like to use end pieces of G10 or Micarta for a push stick.  I buy my handle material in sheet pieces and I usually end up with 1/2″ to 1″ pieces left over.

Stamping the Knives

The knives are then stamped with my initials, the knife serial number, and the material type is stamped on the knife.  Depending on the knife design, the locations of these stamping locations change.

Creating the Filework

If the knife gets filework, I do that before I heat treat the knife.  I do this with a combination of my Foredom TX and and files.  This is a step that take quite a bit of time and effort to do, but the end product makes the knife really stand out.

Wrapping the Knives

The knives then get cleaned and are ready to put in stainless steel foil packets for heat treating.  The stainless foil is cut to the appropriate size. Then the edges are folded over twice on all sides to help keep air out of the packet.  This is so the carbon does not come out of the stainless steel during heat treating.

Heat Treating the Knives

The knives then get heat treated.  This is the most important parts of the knife making process.  If this is not done correctly, the knife will not hold an edge properly.  If a knife does not hold its edge you will constantly have to be resharpening the knife.  Also, if the knife is not hard enough, you might not even be able to cut what you are trying to cut.

The knives are then removed from the foil packets and are tempered.

Checking Hardness

The knife is then checked for hardness. This is to make sure the heat treatment of the knife went correctly.  If the knives don’t meet the hardness I want, they get discarded.  My 154CM knives that I heat treat usually end up between 59-61 HRC.

Finish Grinds

After they are checked for hardness they are finish ground.  Sometimes during heat treating the blade warps some.  Sometimes you are able to straighten it out right after heat treatment but sometimes you have to correct it on the grinder.  The blade is ground to its final dimensions and its final finish.

Handle Scales

Now the blade is ready for a handle.  Usually the handles start at either the table saw or the bandsaw.  The different layers are cut to size from sheet material or blocks.  If the handle gets different color liners, those get cut to accent the outside layer.

Flattening Scales

The handle scales are then flattened on the granite surface plate.  This plate is 18″ X 24″ X 4″ thick and weighs about 180 lbs.  I take a piece of sandpaper and use some spray adhesive to hold it to the granite.  This works out very well to get layers to fit up great and not have a large glue line to fill later.

Scale Glue Up

The layers are then glued together.  I like using some waxed paper under where I am gluing.  This helps to keep your workbench clean and not have any glue drops on it.  Columbus usually likes to make sure I do this process right.  He usually watches me the whole time I am in the basement.

Now that the layered pieces are glued together I sand all the layers flush.  When gluing two or more layers together, they don’t usually match up exactly.  I mark the top of the layers to keep them from getting flipped around later on in the process.  The lines are not that critical for uniform materials (G10 or Micarta), but for woods, it helps to make sure the wood grain lines flow from one side of the knife to the other.

I then take the handles and position them with the knife.  I use blue painters tape to tape the knife to the blade.  This holds the blade in position while I drill holes for the pins.  The handle scales need to be very parallel for this process to work correctly.  If one scale is tapered and the other is not, your holes will not line up correctly.

Handle Pin Holes Drilled

As I drill each hole, I put a pin in it.  This is to help make sure everything lines up as I drill all the holes.  If the blade shifts slightly while performing this process, the handles have to be remade.  These pins are down pins with micarta, Nylon, or G10 pieces epoxied onto them.  I have made a lot of these pins in different lengths and diameters.

Finishing the Front of the Handle

Once all the holes have been drilled the front of the handle is sanded to shape.  If this area of the handle is not finished now, it is very hard to finish sand it later and not scratch up the blade.

Handle Glue Up

I then clean the blades one last time to make sure there are no oils where the handles will get epoxied on.  I also use wax paper under the knives for an easy cleanup.  I also make sure I have everything laid out (pins, lanyard tubes, etc) so that the handles don’t get mixed up when assembling the knife.  Once you mix up the epoxy, you are working against the clock to get the knife assembled before the epoxy starts to harden.

Clamping the Knife Handles

The epoxy is then mixed up and spread on the pins and handle scales.  The handles are held together with c-clamps while the epoxy cures.  Keeping pressure on all the parts helps to make sure the glue joint is how I want it to be.

Start of Handle Shaping

Once the epoxy has cured the pins and excess handle material is sanded away.  The profile of the handle is matched up with the tang that goes through the handle.

First Contours Sanded

I use a 8″ rubber contact wheel to put the preliminary contours in the handles to help make the handles more comfortable in your hand.  Flat handle scales feel good on some knives, but I usually prefer a more contoured handle on my knives.

The dust collector helps suck up a ton of dust when sanding handle.

Rounding the Handle

Once the curves from the 8″ contact wheel are how I want them.  The handle is smoothed out and rounded with a small wheel attachment.  The handles are finished to approximately 220 grit at this point on the belt sander.  Sanding them to 220 helps to lower the time hand files and sanding by hand.

Hand Finishing the Handle

After the grinder files are used to further refine the shape of the handle.

After the knife handle is further refined with hand files.  I start hand sanding with sandpaper.  The knives are usually finished to somewhere between 800-1500 grit and then polished with light grey and white scotch-brite pads.

The Finished Knives

Once the handles are finished the knives are then sharpened and are ready to get shipped to the customer or get ready to get a sheath formed around it.

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