Your First Knife: Getting Started

Camp knife made from O1 tool steel

I’ve talked about hobbies in quarantine in a few previous posts. Having a hobby during the pandemic is important to staying sane and getting into knife making doesn’t have to be expensive. It has a very low cost entry point – one of its distinct advantages. The other distinct advantage is that it is one of the few hobbies by which you can accidentally set yourself on fire. It’s happened to me twice now, and it always makes for cool stories you can tell your friends. (But it has to be by accident, though, or it doesn’t count.)

Before I discuss my tips and recommendations for starting out in knife making, I’d like to talk about two books that I think any beginner needs to seriously consider:

Wayne Goddard’s $50 Knife Shop and Custom Knifemaking: 10 Projects from a Master Craftsman by Tim McCreight. There are a lot of books out there, and as you grow in the craft I’m sure you’ll want to get more. My own library has grown extensively, and I’m sure I will review more of these excellent books in future blogs.

But for someone who is just starting out or wants to do some reading before jumping into the craft, these are the two I’d start with.

Goddard’s book, as the title suggests, is focused on how to get into it on the cheap. He’s done it for $50 bucks (not including the price of his book). It cost me a bit more, but not much, and the point isn’t the exact amount but that it can be done very inexpensively. You can go the expensive route if you want and just go down to hardware stores and spend big bucks, but I don’t recommend it. First, you should make a few knifes before deciding if its really for you. Second, you might annoy your spouse spending too much money on a hobby. Third, its too easy to go to a store and spend money. Personally, I found it much more fun and satisfying to go to yard sales, estate sales, flea markets and find used second-hand tools.

The $50 Knife Shop describes how to do it all on the cheap. You will need a forge. You could spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on fancy brand new one, like they have on the show Forged in Fire. Or you could build your own. Goddard tells you how. You will need to do your own heat-treating (you can send your knives out for heat treating to a company that specializes in that – some guys do that – but that’s boring and missing out on half the fun of the craft. It’s much more fun to do your own heat treating and tempering.) Goddard describes how to do that. You won’t go wrong in following his steps on buying and building your own tools cheaply, and his step by step guide in making knives.

Forged blade from a leaf spring, with walnut and deer antler handle

The other book I recommend is Tim McCreight’s Custom Knifemaking: 10 Projects. His book is in the format of 10 knife making projects, as the title suggests. I like this book because his projects run from the simple to the difficult, and cover both of the major techniques: forging and stock removal.

Knife making and all the techniques fall into these two broad categories. Forging is the process of hammering hot steel on an anvil into the shape you want it. Stock removal starts with a bar of steel, and removing material with a grinder or file until it’s in the shape you want.

In each of his 10 projects, McCreight describes in great detail how to build a knife. The 10 projects cover all of the important techniques you will ever need to learn as a hobbyist. I’ve done several of the projects, and it is a great way for the beginner to get started in the craft.

In my next blog I will talk about forging, what kind of steel you can scrounge so you don’t have to spend money buying new steel, what you can do for a cheap (or free!) forge, and how to get started forging knives for fun.

I hope you will look into knife making as a hobby. We all need something to keep sane during these crazy times. It’s lots of fun and way better than talking to a therapist.

Stay safe, but above all stay sane.