Knife usage dates back to prehistoric times; they have been extremely efficient versatile tools that have helped humans in a bunch of different situations.
And, believe it or not, the very first knives were made out of flint! They resembled daggers more than anything else, were asymmetrical, and it was quite hard to hold them since they lacked handles.
Needless to say, we’ve come a long way since then, and knife forging today is more of an art; you don’t just buy a knife these days. Rather, you can join thousands of knife enthusiasts in their hobby of making their own knives!
Certain handmade pieces sell for jaw-dropping sums of money. So, whether you plan to forge knives as a hobby or as a side hustle, this easy guide will definitely help you learn how to forge knife. You can even take it a step further and learn how to throw knives, just be careful!
Required Tools and Materials Needed for Knife Forging
There are a ton of different tools and varieties you can use to participate in the art of knife forging. The more experience you get, the more you’ll know, and the more you’ll explore.
Nevertheless, these are the basics you’ll need when starting and the tools that’ll stay with you no matter how much of an expert you become in knife forging. So, make sure to get all of them.
Also, keep in mind that tools like anvils, hammers, and whetstones can be pricey, so a good idea would be to get them second-hand. Just make sure that you buy from a reputable source or test them out before purchasing them.
Here are the tools you’ll need:
- Round or Forging Hammer (also known as Cross Peen / Pein Hammer)
- Forging tongs
- Fuel (charcoal, gas, coal)
- Leather strop
- Bench drill
- Bench vice
- Wood glue
Safety First Before You Get Started!
Safety is paramount and must always be your priority. That doesn’t just include “dangerous” hobbies like blacksmithing, but any other physical activity that you intend to participate in, such as woodworking, pottery, and even cooking.
You must take proper precautions to protect yourself and ensure that your hobby session doesn’t end in the ER. These are the main precautions when it comes to knife forging:
Eye & Ear Protection
First, of course, you’ve to protect your eyes from the heat, shards, and the possibility of anything bouncing back towards your face.
There will be a lot of pressure, a lot of banging, and a lot of heat, so wearing protective goggles is vital. They very well could be the last line of defense separating you from the absolute darkness.
Additionally, as we’ve said, there will be a lot of banging, and if you’re constantly blacksmithing, investing in professional earmuffs will save you a lot of deterioration in the quality of your hearing over time. If you can’t afford the professional earmuffs, then at least use a pair of earplugs.
All the heating you’ll be doing means the air around you would be full of fumes, shards, and minute metal particles, and breathing in that air is very harmful to your lungs.
Nowadays, and courtesy of Coronavirus, disposable masks are available in almost every household, and everywhere you go. Hence, you can utilize them for this specific hobby. Still, we’d recommend more durable masks or even a respirator for the benefit of complete isolation.
There are no devices included in the art of knife forging. Everything you do, you’ll do by hand. And all of that forging means using hammers, sandpaper, whetstones, and leather strops. Not to mention that installing handles will be entirely made by hand.
Subsequently, wearing welding gloves is definitely the best way to go. Also, don’t forget that you’re working with extreme heat and boiling oil, which makes hand protection not an option at all, but a must!
Again we’re back to the shards and sparks and the damage they can inflict. First of all, you must always keep a distance between yourself and these sparks. Nevertheless, some of them are bound to land on you, and if you’re wearing cotton, things would be all right.
On the other side of the spectrum, other fabrics, specifically synthetic ones, can easily catch on fire. So, stay on the safe side.
With all of these flames, heat, and sparks going around you, accidents are bound to happen, even if you’re ultra-careful.
And, yes, having a fire extinguisher is required at home anyways, but you must strategically place your extinguisher within your reach. That way, you’ll be able to nip anything right at the bud before it turns into a catastrophe.
9 Steps to Follow for Knife Forging
Now, it’s time to discuss the actual steps that follow the preparation we’ve already covered. Keep in mind that this is a complicated, detailed process, and it might take you a few trials before you reach the result you want. So be patient, don’t override steps, or get too aggressive with your materials, as that can be rather dangerous.
Step 1: Heat Until Yellow
Before you start anything, just make sure that all the tools that we’ve listed above are laid out and within your reach. You don’t want to leave ongoing fire and sharp metal unattended to fetch your hammer or tongs.
Start by holding your piece of metal using the forging tongs, then heating it inside a furnace or a forge until it reaches the temperature of 2100-2200°F (1148-1204°C). Now, the question is, how do you know you’ve reached the required temperatures before moving on to the next step?
It’s all about the colors. If your steel is shining a red hue, that means that you have a temperature of about 1400°F. When that red hue turns orange, then we’ve reached 1700°F. And, the heat range that we’re looking for (2100-2200°F) produces a bright yellow color.
So, once you reach that, take your steel and move it to the anvil. Keep in mind that you should stay within the bounds of the yellow color throughout this whole step. If your metal starts turning white, it means that it’s way too hot to bend into shape because it’ll be generating too much spark.
By the way, you can use any type of fuel that you prefer or that is available in your vicinity to create such heat. Still, gas is the easiest to deal with, and it provides a more stable source of heat than coal and charcoal.
Step 2: Determine the Mass Distribution
Once your steel is yellow, move it over to the anvil using your tongues and make sure that it’s stable on your workbench. Then start creating the boundaries of your knife. Make sure that you are flattening out one side of it while the other is a little bit curved.
That way, you’ll have a cutting edge and a non-cutting edge. Also, the majority of knives have a tapered end. Hence, when creating the vertical contour of a knife, make sure that it’s narrower on one end than the other.
Lastly, make sure that you’re forging the blades by hammering both sides equally to prevent any side from bulging.
Step 3: Flatten the Blade
Now, once you’ve created the general shape or the first draft of the knife shape, you need to start focusing on the edges, as that’s the main point of any knife. Keep hammering on each side to make the sharp cutting edge and the curved spine of the blade.
The vital thing here is to carefully and thoroughly go through all of these steps, specifically the hammering, because hastening the process can easily ruin your steel beyond repair. Also, materials aren’t cheap, so you definitely don’t want to be wasting them.
Also, keep an eye out for any signs of curving or mushrooming, as both do happen quite often when continuously banging the metal. You’ll see such signs towards the edges of the knife, and you need to be quick with restoring them to a flat shape so that your knife doesn’t end upcurved.
Step 4: Heat and Cool
This is known as annealing, which means letting a piece of metal calm down slowly to lose all the stress accumulated in its molecules from the heating and the banging.
In simpler words, what we’re going to do is let your knife cool to room temperature slowly on its own. Once it does, make sure that there are no yellow, orange, or red traces on it, then place it back in your forge or furnace.
Let it re-heat till it reaches not a yellow shadow but a red one, so you don’t need to bring it all the way up to 2000°F; 1400°F is what we’re looking for at this point.
This is all done in preparation for sanding the knife to remove any last mishaps or bumps and to accentuate its shape to perfection.
In essence, the process of cooling down and heating the steel should be done three times before you place your knife on sandpaper or a whetstone.
Step 5: Sanding
Now, you need to grab your sandpaper, place your knife on your workbench, and, if needed, use your bench vice to keep it in place as you sand down any last imperfections.
While sanding, you need to create a demarcation line between the cutting surface of the knife and its tang, which is the bottom of the knife that goes into the handle you’re going to create later on.
The tang is mostly much thinner than the rest of the knife because it has outside coverage. Subsequently, you’ll want to know when the sanding will stop.
Step 6: Strengthen and Sharpen the Knife
Grab your forging tongs again, and re-heat your knife back to red. Then, quickly dip it in oil. Let’s take a moment to explain what we’re doing here.
Firstly, this process is known as “Quenching,” and it alters the molecular structure of the metal, making it much more robust and ductile than it would’ve normally been.
Just make sure that you transport the knife from the forge to the oil as quickly as possible so that you don’t lose the purpose of this process.
Step 7: Re-Heat
This is the last time we’re going to use heat here, and you’ll re-heat your already quenched blade to a much lower temperature. Why? To release all of the stress that must’ve built inside of it from the quenching process.
Step 8: Create the Handle
Now it’s time to use your bench vice, bench drill, and wood to create the handle of your choice. First, sketch the design of the handle of your dreams on a piece of wood, creating a contour that will ergonomically fit your hand, then cut it out on both sides.
Now, you can do some wood art by carving the design and creating any type of artwork to make your knife stand out. Next, fix your knife using the bench vice, and mark where you want your screws to go.
Then, using the bench drill, make the desired holes for the screws, and do the same with your blade tang.
After that, you’ll insert the tang of your knife between the two pieces of wood and secure them together with screws, wood glue, or whatever it’s that you prefer. Ensure that the knife is screwed rather snug for your own safety while using it.
Step 9: Sharpen
Now, we’ve reached the last bit of our knife forging journey, and that will require the use of either a leather strop or a whetstone to sharpen your new knife perfectly.
Remember, a dull knife is quite dangerous in the kitchen, and we want to avoid that. Just don’t go overboard with the sharpening, as that will lead to you losing a lot of material.
Although the process is rather complicated, it’s fun to learn, and the results are beautiful. Also, remember that the more you practice it, the more accustomed you’ll grow to the steps and the more muscle memory you’ll develop.
Then you can enjoy your unique knives, learn a few things such as knife throwing, and even start earning money from your hobby. Just make sure that you heed the safety precautions while making and using the blades, and you’ll be good to go.