Knife Design - How to get started
Updated: Mar 1
It can be quite a daunting task trying to design your own knife for the first time, but I hope that this guide will give you a few pointers and help you feel more confident in planning out and drawing your knives.
Firstly you need to think about what purpose the knife will be serving. Are you designing a knife for wood carving, a kitchen slicer or a diving knife? Each of these has properties that need serious consideration when designing your knife. A dive knife for example should not have a sharp tip, whereas a wood carving knife may want a sharp fine tip for detail work.
Take inspiration from knives that you own, or have used that you enjoyed using. What was it about these that you like? Is it the proportions of the handle or the design of the blade edge for example? What would you change to suit your preferences better? Do you wish that the blade was wider, and thinner on your favourite kitchen knife? The blade length on your favourite carving knife was a little shorter?
It is important when taking inspiration that you don't just copy someone else's work though and that you put your touch to the design.
When designing the handle you need to think about how it will be used. A kitchen knife isn't going to be used in a reverse grip, but a bushcraft knife will so it is important to design a bushcraft handle that is comfortable in both forwards and reverse grip. A kitchen knife however does need careful consideration for finger clearance when chopping. No one wants a kitchen knife that will smash your knuckles into the work surfaces or chopping board.
Paper and pencil is a great place to start. Grid paper is excellent, as you will be able to use this to size your drawings, but you can also do this with a ruler. A nice set of French curves will also really help you get your lines to flow.
This is a set of French curves, these tools have many different radii that can be used to allow the lines to flow nicely when designing knives.
Coins are great for tight radii and a rubber will take out your many mistakes. Make sure you continue to refer back to your notes and pay special attention to the handle. It is very easy to make a handle both too long and too wide when just drawing, and neither of these is comfortable in the hand. Use your hand as a reference on the paper to see where your drawing fits against your proportions.
This is a photo of a drawing I made very early on, with a knife handle that would be far too big for the average person's hands. However, in drawing, you begin to realise the importance of proportions.
If like me you are not great at drawing then it is a good idea to learn how to use a vector graphics editor to transpose your drawings from pencil and paper to a computer image. I use Inkscape which is a free open-source application. I use this to transpose all of my freehand drawings and improve the flow of my lines. It is also excellent for designing folding knives such as friction folders. This will allow you to play with more natural lines, and get a nice flow to your drawings. You can save the file, and tweak it as you make and test your knives. You can print it out to scale, and then transfer this straight onto your steel. I simply cut around the image with a scalpel and glue it to the steel.
Here is an example of how a pencil drawing evolved into a knife I redrew in Inkscape, and then made into a knife. This model is my Forager.
The more you draw, the better you will become. All aspects of knife making are improved by content practice and drawing and design is the same. Just draw knives, get your ideas out of your head. For every 10 you draw you will probably only ever transfer 1 to steel, but it is that practice that will help you become a better knife designer and ultimately a better knife maker.
Have you now got the bug to start making, why not read my three-part series on how to make your knives here.