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Knife Construction - "Tool Talk", Sourcing, etc


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I've had a LOT of feedback on the knifemaking and Ghurka modification pages. Most of it consisted of questions regarding what kind of tools I used. I decided that I really needed to put up a page detailing this stuff, so here's some advice on tools, metal sourcing, and techniques.

Texas Knifemakers Supply:   -A supply house for almost everything a knifemaker could need, but they primarily sell blanks (pre-shaped blades - you add scales, bolsters, handles, guards, sheath etc and then do final sharpening and finish). This could be what you need as the blade comes pre-shaped, BUT, I was not all that impressed with their large blade assortment. I think they will sell steel in billet form, but I'm not sure, and there's better sources - see below.
Jantz Supply:   -Another good resource for materials and tools, but still lacking in billet stock from what I remember.
Admiral Steel:   -This is one of the best sources for steel billets that I have found (aside from the local junkyard for leaf-springs, etc). They stock pretty much everything AND they offer laser cutting, but I don't know how much they charge for it. I assume that this service is for multiple billets (10 or more blades at a time).
 If you check out Admiral Steel's online blade steel store, you'll see that you can pick up a 36" bar of HR1095 in 1/4" x 2" stock for about $17. You could get 2 or 3 good sized blades out of that.

The Basement Blade Shop

   As for power tools to shape blades, you could spend anywhere from a couple hundred dollars for a rudimentary knife shop to many tens of thousands for an elaborate setup. I'm guessing that if you're reading this, you're the latter and (like me) are a hobbyist and are looking to have enough equipment to make some very limited quantities. You will probably need (at the very least), an angle grinder, a belt sander, and a drill (preferably a drill press), and a few accessories like a propane torch (for hardening your edge). I use a gas forge, but a torch will do quite well. Make sure that you know your quench medium (air, oil. water, etc). You'll also want a bucket of water. I keep the bucket of water and a towel next to me while shaping the blade. After each couple passes, I dunk it to keep the whole blade cool during the shaping process. This is VERY important if you're reworking an existing blade (as in the Ghurka project). These blades have already been tempered, and you will ruin them if you get them too hot!).

Here's how to set up a rudimentary knife shop for under $200,  This excercise assumes you already have a workshop, tool bench, a vise and some basic hand tools. I've sourced everything here from Harbor Freight mainly because they're CHEAP and they have just about everything for 1 stop shopping.

I'll cover each tool in turn and what you'd use it for:

The angle grinder can be used to cut stock to length, make some gross cuts and grinds towards your final shape, and even to start on your flat grind (tapering to the edge).
For a VERY cheap angle grinder try this:     (about $10)
       Add 10 Metal Grinding wheels for it:     (about $10)
The belt sander is used with coarse grits to do rough shaping, medium grits for finer work, and fine grits for polishing, honing, etc. It is probably the MOST USED TOOL IN MY SHOP!
For a VERY cheap sander, try this one:     (about $40)

Don't forget extra belts!  You'll want some 60 or 80 grit belts to do rough shaping with fast stock removal, some medium grit (120 or so) to do cleanup, and then some fine and/or very fine (180-220 range) belts to do honing. 

             (about $2 for 5 coarse grit belts)
             (about $2 for 5 medium grit belts)
I've found that the fine belts, especially once they've been well used, are good at essentially buffing the final edge to shaving sharp. I have a couple that are at the perfect state of wear that I keep for that specific purpose.

One thing to note is that shaping and sharpening on a belt sander takes a little getting used to, so you may want to start with some other hunk of metal and practice a bit. You'll find that lots of faster passes are better than fewer slow ones.
The drill press ( or a basic hand drill if you want to rough it! ) is used not just for adding the holes for the handle, but for using sanding drums to add finger grooves in the handle and other curves in your shape. A good drill press doesn't have to be expensive:    (about $90)
Here's a nice set that includes the sanding drums and several sleeves:    (about $10)
Everything I've linked to here can be had for under $200. If you already have some of it or all of it, you're on your way.
I started out with pretty much what I've shown here, and have since added items like the forge, a bigger, wider belt sander (something like this: ) , and a buffer, but these are merely time savers, not necessities.

In short, you can make a blade with nothing but hand tools, but it would be like mowing your lawn with scissors. I'll take the power tools anyday!

SPEAKING OF POWER TOOLS, I just bought a Grizzly Knife Grinder, and holy crap what a tool. It mows through carbon steel like a milling machine!

Here's a video showing what a gutsy belt grinder can do to steel - VIDEO

I hope this page has helped, and I'll continue to add to it as I get questions.


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