June 25, 2021 6 min read

Best Knife Making Tools

Quick Summary

If you’ve never made a knife before, there are twelve knife making tools that are essential for beginners. The right tools will help you develop the shape of the blade, keep it securely in place while you remove stock and heighten sharpness, give the steel the right degree of resilience, and keep you safe the entire time. Once you’ve mastered the essentials using these basic tools for beginners, you’ll be ready for next-level knife production.

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If you’re thinking about getting into knife making as a hobby or even a future profession, you’ll want to invest in the right tools.  This guide goes over the best beginner tools for knife makers, which can get you started and keep you going until you’re ready to buy more advanced pieces of equipment. 

It doesn’t matter whether you plan on making utility knives, a basic hunting knife, or something more complex like a Bowie knife- you’ll need the basics to get started. Before you know it, you’ll be making more than a basic project knife and will be well on your way to using more advanced techniques.

Tool #1: Computer 

Over time, your drawing skills may improve to the point where you can create a decent knife silhouette, but until then, a computer can yield professional-looking results that lead to a beautiful knife.

After deciding on a blade shape (for example, a hunting knife blade), you can use Microsoft Publisher or a CAD program to design it. You can also use this downloadable template of knife designs to profile the blade style you want. 

Once you’re satisfied with the results, cut out the shape, place it on the sheet metal, and trace the outline with a Sharpie.

PRO TIP:When designing a basic knife, allow at least a four-inch grip for the handle.

Tool #2: File

One of the first (non-digital) tools you’ll want to get is a file. You can use it to:

  • Profile the shape of your blade and its handle from various types of steel
  • Bevel the blade so that it becomes a potent cutting tool
  • Chamfer edges
  • Add decorative touches like coils and grooves

Although you will probably use a belt grinder (see below) to do heavy-duty cutting on your piece of steel, finer work done at close quarters will definitely call for a quality file. Double-cut flat bastard files do an especially good job of removing stock for a simple knife while single-cut files enhance the smoothness of the finish.

Tool #3: Hacksaw

A hacksaw with a fine-tooth and sharp blade can help you cut and shape different types of steel for handmade knives. Although power tools do a faster cutting job, you can’t use them when working with tight corners. When your hacksaw has served its purpose, you can even use it as blade material.

Tool #4: Calipers

Calipers are highly precise instruments designed to take fine measurements that might be beyond the scope of a ruler. Depending on your needs, you may want to buy the following:

  • Carbon steel calipers for taking rough measurements and making sure tapers are even, etc.
  • Stainless steel digital calipers that can measure within a thousandth of an inch. You might need this level of precision to detect variation on handle or tang thickness and avoid unsightly lines.

Tool #5: Clamps

You’ll need a clamp to hold the knife while you work on it. There are different types suitable for varying situations, and they’re relatively inexpensive, so consider purchasing:

  • Welder’s clamps
  • C-clamps
  • Pipe clamps
  • Bar clamps
  • One-handed clamps

At some point in your knife making practice, you’ll probably need all of them!

Tool #6: Bench Vise

When you work with metal, a bench vise is one of the most valuable tools. You have a lot of options to choose from, but can’t go wrong with a vise that has a 360-degree swivel base adjustment, so you can easily change the workpiece orientation as needed.

Most bench vises are around five inches, but you can go with a larger one. Whichever kind you buy, be sure to also get soft inserts or jaw caps that protect your knife steel from damage during work.

Tool #7: Drill

Once you start making more knives, you may want to spend the money on a drill press, but in the beginning, a hand unit with a drill bit appropriate for steel will work. You will use it to bore round holes for the knife handle pins. If you plan to make folding knives you’ll definitely want to invest in a drill press for greater accuracy, so bear that in mind.

Tool #8: Sharpening Stone

Sharpening is a critical step in the knife making process. Most knife makers use diamond sharpening stones, but you can also try the following types of material:

  • Water Stones:These stones are made from aluminum oxide and are softer, so the cut is faster. They’re cleaner to use than oil-based stones but, being softer, they wear out more quickly.
  • Oil Stones: Made from aluminum oxide, silicon carbide, or novaculite, these stones use oil to remove bits of metal for sharpening. Being hard, they don’t require flattening, but they tend to have a lower cutting rate, which means it will take you longer to sharpen your blade.
  • Ceramic Stones: High-quality ceramic stones are expensive, but they create a fine edge on your blade and rarely need resurfacing.

Tool #9: Belt Grinder

When you’re ready for an affordable belt grinder, you won’t go wrong with a 2-inch-by-72-inch belt grinder made for the pros. 

Here are some tips:

  • If you work a lot with long, thick steel bar stock, don’t go below 1HP in motor power. 
  • You should also think about using a Variable Frequency Drive (VFD) speed controller: if you buy a grinder and sander with three phase motors, you can use the same controller for both and save money. Variable speed controllers also maximize belt life, so you’ll save money on belts.
  • Attachments add more power and versatility to your machine. For example, a surface belt grinder attachment supports cleaning and smooth, flat surfaces.

Tool #10: Abrasives

Once you buy a belt grinder, you’ll need high-quality abrasives to go with it. Red Label Abrasives sells sanding belt kits for knife makers in seven different belt sizes. Your options include:

  • Ceramic grits for added belt life
  • Edgecore ceramic for premium grinding results
  • Ultra-fine grits for superior sharpening and polishing

A technician at Red Label Abrasives can help you select the kit that may be best for your needs if you’re unsure. We’re here to serve you and take great pride in offering technical support for all of our customers. 

Tool #11: Heat-Treating Oven

Your blade needs to be heat-treated. Many shops that sell knife making steel also offer heat treatment services, but if you intend to make more than a knife or two, you’ll want your own heat-treating oven.

Some knife makers prefer the simple method of heating their blades with a torch, but if your blade is over five inches, heat treatment at the constant temperature of 1000 degrees can be difficult. If there’s any inconsistency in hardness, the blade won’t hold its edge. You need a more reliable heat source as a beginner knife maker.

When you go shopping for an oven, be sure to also pick up a ceramic rack to position the knife inside and industrial stainless steel foil to protect the blade and prevent scaling and discoloration. 

Tool #12: Safety Gear

Always use safety gear (also known as personal protective equipment) when working with metal. At the very least, you’ll need safety glasses, a respirator or dust mask, and gloves to protect your eyes, respiratory system, and hands from metal dust particles. If you follow in the footsteps of advanced knife makers and forge your steel later on, you’ll also need a fire extinguisher.

Contact an Industrial Abrasive Specialist

Creating handmade knives is a time-honored craft, and Red Label Abrasives manufactures the abrasives you need to produce a sleek and reliable blade. We are well-known for the quality of our sanding belts, sanding discs, and related products, and work hard to bring value to each and every customer. For more information on how we can help you produce a beautiful knife, please call 844-824-1956 or fill out our contact form.