Learn how to build a utility knife, including a homemade knife handle, with these step-by-step instructions.
Knife making enthusiast Hank Will crafted these beautiful models in his farm shop.
Photo by Hannah Kincaid
The indispensable utility knife is, without argument, the most useful implement for tooling about a farm, homestead or shop. Whether you’re cutting baling twine or slicing an apple, you’re simply not equipped without a sharp knife.
To build your own beautiful utility knife, you’ll need a full-tang blade blank without a bolster or finger guard, wood for your handle scales (the halves of the handle that you’ll rivet to each side of the tang), some epoxy glue, and a handful of brass pins or cutlery rivets. You can source all the materials for the knife featured in this article, including the tools and handle material, from Jantz Supply.
1. Trace the handle area of the knife’s tang onto a piece of paper or light cardboard. Extend your mark to the blade and indicate where the sharpened area begins. Cut out your traced template, leaving 1/8-inch margins for your outline. To finish the handle’s mock-up, trace any rivet holes from the blade blank onto the template.
2. While the knife’s tang will determine the butt end of the template, you’ll have to commit a bit more thought and care into crafting a symmetrical, eye-pleasing blade end design. Start by measuring from the center of the rivet hole nearest the handle’s butt end to the bottom of the handle. That measurement will also mark the distance from the center of the hole adjacent to the blade to the blade end of the handle. Position the bottom of a glass or bottle against the blade end mark, with the outside of the curve pointing toward the blade, and trace the outline. This will define the blade template. Finally, punch out the centers of the rivet holes you traced onto the template.
3. To select a wood source for your handle, consider availability, grain pattern and hardness. Because I work in northeastern Kansas, I prefer species such as Eastern black walnut, black locust and Osage orange.
4. Trace the outline of the template onto the wood, mark the holes, and label the top. Next, cut out the handle-shaped piece with a bandsaw. If you don’t have access to a bandsaw, use a coping saw, jigsaw or other handsaw with rasps to form the shape. Finally, cut the wood in half — again, preferably with a handsaw — to create two identical scales, one for each side of the handle.
5. Match a drill bit to the size of the holes in the handle end of the blade’s tang. Next, carefully drill a hole at the rivet mark in one end of a handle scale (a drill press will work best). Use the bit or a pin to locate one end of the scale with respect to the hole in the knife tang. Adjust the scale until it’s aligned with the tang hole, and then bore the other two holes. Repeat with the other scale. Finally, use a drill bit — approximately the diameter of your cutlery rivets’ heads — to bore countersinks to the depth of the rivet heads into the outer openings of all the holes.
6. Clamp a hand-held sander upside down in a vise and flatten the inside surfaces of the handle scales. Clamp the two halves together to resemble the final assembly and shape and sand the edges that will face the blade.
7. Dry-assemble your knife handle to check the alignment of all the holes. If everything lines up, disassemble the handle scales and scuff the tang area of the scales with low-grit sandpaper. Work on a hard metal surface for best results. Next, mix epoxy and apply it liberally to the inside surface of one of the scales. Insert the female half of the cutlery rivet through the scale and knife tang, and set it on your work area or bench. Apply epoxy to the inside surface of the other scale, and install it on top of the female half of the rivets. Insert the male rivet halves and drive them home with sharp hammer blows, taking care not to spray epoxy. Wrap the handle with plastic wrap or wax paper, and then clamp it at each end and in the middle. The epoxy type will determine the glue’s set time.
8. After the epoxy has hardened, unclamp and unwrap the handle. Cover the blade with cardboard or painter’s tape, and get to work on the final shaping. Whether you clamp the knife blade to the bench or in a vise, use wood blocks to avoid marring the steel. Use a combination of rasps, files, power sanders and sandpaper to bring the handle contours flush with the edge of the tang. Round all the corners until the handle feels good in your hand. Finish with steel wool if you want a smooth handle. Finally, apply several coats of Danish oil to the handle, and buff with superfine (#0000) steel wool between coats.
After your friends and family see your handsome and handy blade, they’re sure to come your way for kitchen, farm and utility knives of their own. Just show them these simple instructions and they’ll be one step closer to the goal of self-sufficiency.
Special thanks to Massey Ferguson’s Farm Life Magazine for allowing us to reprint this article. — MOTHER
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