Top 12 Knifemaking Tools for the Beginner - CRATEX Abrasives
This article is part of Art of Knife Making series.
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Before we proceed to knifemaking tools, we need to explain a few things about the material you are going to use. There are a lot of things you should pay attention to while choosing a knifemaking steel, especially if you are just about to start and make your first knife.
There are several types of steel used by knifemakers. You need to know at least some basic information about those that are mainly used. You will choose different steel types depending on how you make knives: by stock removal or forging.
Every steel needs to be heat-treated. You probably don’t have a heating oven yet, so for starters, choose something simple, easy to heat-treat and work with. Common steel used for knife making is tools steel, stainless steel, and carbon steel. To gain a better insight about knifemaking steel types, visit this page. You can find a lot of steel comparison online that can help you decide. Below are most common steels found in knife blades.
- O1 Steel – great for beginners, easy to work with, very tough, oil quenched, wear-resistant and holds an edge very well; care needed to prevent rust;
- 1084 – also great for beginners, suitable for imprecise heat-treating; it can be bought everywhere; doesn’t need to be soaked for too long;
- 1075 – same as above; very affordable, great choice for beginner makers, since it can be heat treated with a blow torch (temperature for heat treatment is not very high, around 830 degrees);
- 1095 - a high percentage of carbon (95%); mostly used for knife making through forging;
- Stainless steel – more expensive, the blade won’t rust, so no maintenance is needed; you'll probably need someone to heat-treat it for you; easy sharpen.
Top 12 Tools for Knifemakers
If you are just about to start and you're looking at knife making as just a hobby, don’t invest too much in tools. Buy essential and cheap tools just to get you started. Simple projects need simple tools. Let's assume you want to make a knife by stock removal. This means you don’t need all that gear for working with fire, anvils, big hammers and oil. Check this list to learn more about top knifemaking tools.
Tool #1: File
Good old-fashion file. The best friend of many metalsmiths. You can do amazing things with this simple tool (except drilling a hole, of course). Files are cheap and one of the first tools you'll need to get. Grinding, finishing, smoothing – it all can be done with files that come in different grit sizes and different shapes. A lot of guys made their first blades out of an old file. Files cost less than $10 and you can buy them at every metal store. Although they require manual, work and there are a lot of power tools that can replace them and get the job done faster, you'll definitely need to have a set of files in your garage.
Tool #2: Clamps
You'll need something to hold the knife while you are working. Buy several pairs of clamps since you’ll need them in many situations. They are not expensive, so try to buy different types if possible. Start with welders and c-clamps, and then move on to pipe clams, bar clamps, one-handed clamps, etc. You can buy them online at Home Depot starting at $10 depending on type.
Tool #3: The Hacksaw
The hacksaw with a high-quality blade is also an important tool, especially in the process of cutting and shaping steel. Knifemaking process always starts with the hacksaw. Power tools can get the job done faster, but you can't use them in tight corners. Order a hacksaw at Amazon starting at $20 and make sure to order spare blades kit as well.
Tool #4: The Bench Vise
Everyone dealing with metal needs at least one bench vise. There are a lot of options when choosing a bench vise, but you can easily start with the one with a 360-degree swivel base adjustment, which enables you to change the orientation of your work. A quality bench vise can be found for $100, but if you think that is too much, you can buy a used one. Generally, all-around bench vise size is 5 inches, but you can go even with a bigger one.
Speaking of a bench vise, we need to mention soft jaw caps or inserts that are designed to protect your knife. They are usually made of leather, rubber, copper, plastic, aluminum and can be found on eBay for around $20.
Tool #5: Grinding Abrasives
Sandpaper, rubber abrasive wheels, cones, points and sticks all come handy when it comes to finishing work - blade fine grinding and polishing. A line of CRATEX rubber abrasives is a MUST for knifemakers that want to give a unique final touch to their work. You'll find more about CRATEX abrasives for knifemakers in the next chapter.
Tool #6: Drill
A drill press is a much more convenient and better option, while hand drill with some bits for drilling steel is quite good for a beginner knife maker. Maybe you can consider buying a used drill press with a drill vise. It will improve your precision and save you some time. A hand drill can cost you around $30. A 10-inch drill press at Sears costs around $121. A set of Cobalt drill bits will cost you around $30 on eBay. A 4-inch drill press vise costs $17 and will get the job done just fine.
Tool #7: Sharpening Stone
Sharpening is the last step in knifemaking process. There are countless options to choose from when buying a sharpening stone. The price range starts at $20 and goes all the way to $200, sometimes even more. A lot of brands, stone shapes, grit textures, stone sizes can be found on the market, and the price depends on the stone material. Knife makers mostly use diamond sharpening stones, but you can try ceramic stones, water stones, Arkansas stone, or whatever you find suitable.
Tool #8: Safety Gear
Always use safety gear when cutting metal, grinding and heat-treating steel: safety glasses, dust masks or respirators, and gloves. Safety equipment can prevent serious injuries and protect your eyes, lungs and hands from heated metal hazard dust particles. Glasses and gloves are quite cheap, and a respirator is always a better solution than a dust mask. You can get high-quality 3M Respirator at Home Depot for $100.
For knifemakers who make knives by forging steel, a fire extinguisher is required. A 5lb rechargeable fire extinguisher will cost you under $50. It is a small investment that could save your working space from catching fire.
Tool #9: Dremel or Another Rotary Tool
Dremel is not an essential tool but can be useful for cutting material, detail grinding, rust cleaning, jeweling or customizing with mounted abrasive cones, small rubber or cut-off wheels, points and bits. Dremel 400, is the first choice for many knifemakers, and it can be found online for $77. Search eBay to find the best deal. Along with a Dremel tool, you can buy a handpiece or flex shaft attachment, which is a very convenient accessory, since you won’t have to hold the motor unit in your hand.
More Advanced Pieces of Equipment
At one point or another, you will need all previously mentioned tools. Hobby knifemakers can invest less than $1000 and have a solid foundation. However, if you are somewhere in between, in a transition from a hobby to a full-time knifemaker, you'll need to invest a lot more. Tools described below are the ones you'll need to have in your shop or a garage in case you are striving to become a master knife maker.
Tool #10: Belt Grinder
We are not talking about small bench belt grinders here, but 2" x 72" industrial knife belt sender made for professionals. Buying a smaller 1" x 42"(belt dimensions) belt grinder shouldn’t be an option here. If this tool is too much of an expense for you at the moment, then hold off on buying it. Don’t waste money on a grinder that’s not capable of getting the job done.
Belt grinder prices can vary a lot depending on many factors: motor power (don’t go below 1HP if you tend to grind tick and long steel bars), motor speed (variable speed control is a fantastic option to have), wheel speed, wheel size (usually 8", but you can get any dimension you need), body material, accessories, ability to quickly change belt (quick-release mechanism), tracking adjustments, etc. All powerful and professional belt grinders have very similar specifications.
An affordable belt grinder for knifemaking can be found for around $600 plus shipping. High-end models can cost even up to $3,000. Search online to find a used one that's in a good shape. We recommend the following brands: Grizzly, Bader, Kalamazoo, Coote, KMG, Wilmont and NRT.
Tool #11: Heat-treating Oven
As mentioned before, steel needs to be heat-treated. Heat treating is the most demanding and most important process when making a knife. You can outsource heat treating, as shops that sell steel usually offer heat-treating services as well. However, if you want to be serious in knifemaking, you'll need to have a heat-treating oven (some call them heat-treating furnaces or kilns).
You can definitely heat a 2-inch stainless steel blade with a torch, but heating a 5-inch or a longer blade at the constant temperature of 1000 degrees can be quite tricky. You can have the right temperature in the center of a blade, while the other blade parts stay cool. Inconsistency in hardness can lead to failure, as blade simply won’t hold the edge. This is just one of the reasons why you need to invest in a heat treat oven.
What is the most important thing to know when buying heat-treating furnaces? The main function of the oven is to heat the blade to a precise high temperature and to keep the temperature constant. Thus, it must have digital or manual temperature controls and a reliable temperature controller. The size and the capacity of an oven will depend on the blade you'll need to heat. The highest temperature it can achieve is also very important, and temperature standards are 2350°F and 2000°F.
The oven is not a cheap piece of equipment and the price depends on the size. An oven with chamber size of 6.5” W x 4.25” H x 18” D will cost you around $1,200. A trusted brand of many knifemakers in the US is Paragon.
Don’t forget to buy ceramic racks and industrial stainless-steel foil as well. You will need a rack to position blades in the oven, and the heat treat foil will protect blades and prevent from scaling and discoloration.
Note: Heat-treating ovens are electric and will draw lots of electricity.
Pro Tip: TOOL #12
Beer? No. Pizza? No. AC/DC soundtrack to listen while grinding? No.
Tool #12 is INSTAGRAM or some other social media channel! Promote your work, your new project and have fun. Ask for opinions and advice. Follow or Like other knife makers. Try to learn something new, something different. Steal some ideas and improve them. Share your knowledge. Ask about new tools. Learn some new knife-making techniques. Give valuable info to those who are searching for new handle materials, looking for heat-treating services, or just need help choosing the best steel for their project.
Record videos while working and upload them to YouTube. Help others learn new things from you. Be a part of a large knifemakers community. Learn from others and help others to become better knifemakers.