• Matt - Selfe Made Knives

How did I start making knives

Updated: Mar 1

Two main factors contributed to me starting to make knives. The first is the need to occupy my spare time, I am terrible at being bored. In the past, this had been filled with playing in a band. However, after 10 years of sharing festival stages and sticky pub floors with other amazing bands I had hung up my guitars and mandolins leaving myself with a void to fill.

The second is The Only Way Is Essex. My wife had begun to watch this drivel, and my response on sitting through about 10 minutes of it was that if she was going to watch this crap I was going to buy myself a shed. The next week it was back on our telly, and before the end of the episode, I had bought a shed.

What tools did I start with?

I was lucky enough to pick up a multitools grinder in a group buy on the long-extinct British Blades forum. This attached to a bench motor and took 2x36” belts. I had picked up a 1/4hp bench grinder at a boot fair so that was my grinder sorted.

I bought a large sheet of O1 tool steel. Too large in fact, as it made cutting out knife blanks with a hacksaw hard work. I would recommend buying bar stock as close to the height of the blades you want to make when starting as there is a lot less cutting to do. An angle grinder would have made this easier, but at the time I only had a hacksaw.

I had access to a pillar drill at my dad’s house. I did have a hand drill, but I struggled to drill straight holes through my handle material so would often drive to my dad's to use his drill. I think he got fed up seeing me though, as he bought me a pillar drill for Christmas that year!

Gas bottle forge

I built a forge to heat treat my blades. I cut off the top of an old gas bottle and used this to hold the charcoal. I then attached a hairdryer (again picked up at a boot fair) to a pipe to blow air up through the coals. This was not a great success as it made the centre of the forge very hot to the point that it melted one of the blades I put in! I found that blowing the hairdryer on top of the charcoal in a circular motion worked much better.

Handle materials were bought from eBay, I bought pre-cut scales as I did not have access to a band saw and knew I would not be able to cut straight enough with a hand saw. I also bought vulcanised fibre for liners, although I do not use this material anymore as it is prone to movement.

So what did I make?

At the time I was heavily into Bushcraft, so you can guess what I made. I drew influence from two Bushcraft style knives. The Nessmuk and the Woodlore. Neither were straight out copies, but I wanted to try making knives that I knew worked before I started designing my style of knives.

They were rough and full of mistakes but every one of them was a lesson that I could learn from. My bevels were not even, one side was flat and the other side convex so I had to work out what I was doing differently when grinding each side of the blade and adjust my posture to change the outcome. The pin placement and lanyard hole were not to my liking, so I was able to change this. With each knife, I learnt to shape the handle in different ways that made it more ergonomic to hold.

My first knife blades
My first finished knives

To say I was hooked would be an understatement. You don’t need much to start making knives, and we will cover that in the next article…

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