How to Design and Build a Knife

How to design and build a knife with a bone handle, including shaping, instructions, diagrams, heat treating, polishing, and sharpening.

| April/May 1996

  • Building a knife 1
    1. Rough shaping blade on grinding wheel.
    PHOTO: MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • Building a knife 2
    2. Fine-shaping on belt.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • Building a knife 5
    3. Shaping antler handle on belt.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • Building a knife 6
    4. Final fitting handle to blade.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • Building a knife 3
    5. Making a full-tang riveted handle.   
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • Building a knife 4
    6. Shaping on disc sander.  
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 155-056-01-im10
    Handmade blade with one-piece handle and two-part neck sheath.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • Building a knife 7
    7. Riveting scales to blade.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • Building a knife 8
    8. Polishing on sand block.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 155-056-01-im9
    Skinner, walnut scales, and mountain man silver-studded sheath.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 155-056-01-im11
    Trade knife and belt sheath.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 155-056-01-im15
    Fastening sheath with sinew, using two needles at ends of thread.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 155-056-01-im12
    Parts for a 16 inch "Bowie": blade blank, scales marked on red oak hilt, brass rivets, and sheath.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 155-056-01-im14
    Punching holes for sewing the sheath.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 155-056-01-im13
    Cutting sheath leather with wheel knife.
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF
  • 155-056-01-im16
    Hunting blade, stag antler handle and stitched sheath. One plain and one with steel awl/punch and "palm."
    MOTHER EARTH NEWS STAFF

  • Building a knife 1
  • Building a knife 2
  • Building a knife 5
  • Building a knife 6
  • Building a knife 3
  • Building a knife 4
  • 155-056-01-im10
  • Building a knife 7
  • Building a knife 8
  • 155-056-01-im9
  • 155-056-01-im11
  • 155-056-01-im15
  • 155-056-01-im12
  • 155-056-01-im14
  • 155-056-01-im13
  • 155-056-01-im16

First lessons in the Old-Time cutler's trade. Design and build a knife using these step-by-step instructions. (See the homesteader's knife photos in the image gallery.)

How to Design and Build a Knife

A minor but sudden and distant family emergency had me rushing toward a boarding gate at Boston's Logan Airport, a few essentials hurriedly thrown into a suitcase, and still wearing old jeans, field boots, and Levi's jacket. I emptied my pockets on the conveyor beside the metal detector and walked through the arch without setting off any alarm that I could hear. But suddenly I found myself surrounded by uniformed cops with little radio-phone-plugs in one ear. Feeling like a perplexed Harrison Ford falsely accused in a movie mystery, I had to produce ticket, boarding pass, IDs and all before learning that I was suspected of trying to board a civil aircraft carrying a lethal weapon.

"Lethal weapon?" I said. "You mean the knife?" My pocketknife was sitting beside keys, loose change, and assorted country-pocket junk on the conveyer.

A cop reached for the knife with a latex-gloved hand and nodded grimly.



But "I ... I live ... in the country" was all I could say. I showed them my hands with their assorted scars, a couple of finger-ends lopped off by farm machinery, and purple urchin spines under the skin from when I skin-dived after conch and rock lobster in the Caribbean. "Its not a weapon;" I said. "Its a tool. I use it to do everything;" and I started describing how I'd been splicing up a rope halter and lead for my daughter's new pony when called away.

Fortunately, one cop had been raised on a Connecticut truck farm and another's grandfather was a retired fisherman out of Newport, Rhode Island. Both understood how essential a knife is in life outside the city limits. So I was shortly on my way in time to make the flight ... knife back in my pocket.






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