Knife Making Tools – What Equipment Do You Need To Start?

Are you a novice knife maker trying to find your place in the new world of knife making? If yes, one of the most crucial steps you should take in this journey is arming yourself with the right knife-making tools. But with no clue about the what tools to use, you can feel completely lost.

Luckily, we’re here to give you the complete list of all the basic tools you need to start making your first knife from scratch. We have made this list budget-friendly, so you won’t need to worry about spending a lot of money on your first set of bladesmithing tools.

11 Top beginner knife makers tools list:

knife makers tools

If you’re in a hurry, here’s the quick list of knife making tools for beginners:

  1. Bench vise
  2. Drawing tools
  3. Combination square
  4. Digital Vernier calipers
  5. Hacksaw
  6. File
  7. Drill press
  8. Sandpaper
  9. Sharpening stone
  10. Heat-treating equipment
  11. Safety gear

1. Bench Vise

One of the most important tools you’ll need in your new knife making shop is a bench vise. It acts as an extra pair of firmer hands that securely hold your knife, making it safer and easier to work on.

That said, bench vises come in a variety of styles ranging from bench-top, front, and end models, depending on how they mount on the bench.

Bench Vise

For knife making, we encourage you to get a bench-top unit. This type of vise goes to the top of your workbench. And it features extremely strong jaws that exert a lot of clamp pressure on the steel you’re working on to make it easier for you to work with.

How to choose the perfect bench vise for knife making:

  • Construction material: Cast iron is the most durable material used for making vices but its products come at a higher price. Steel is also great and durable material for making vices. However, it tends to give in to deforming under extreme pressure. Most beginners will go for a steel vise because it’s more affordable than cast iron.
  • Clamping size: usually expressed as jaw width, the clamping size gives you a clue about the amount of space a vise offers for clamping your knife. Different come in varying sizes, from as little as 3 inches to as large as 10 inches. The larger the jaw width, the wider the knives you can make with it. Anything between 4 and 8 inches will meet your knife-making needs.
  • Throttle depth: this is the distance from the top of the screw mechanism for the vice to the top of the jaw. And it indicates how deep a metal sheet you can clamp down inside your vise. Larger throttle depth lets you easily clamp wider pieces of steel towards the center, increasing the stability and holding depth of your workpiece.
  • Swivel rotation: look for a vise that comes with a 360-degree swivel base. Unlike a fixed base model, this unit gives you some versatility when it comes to changing the orientation of your work.
  • Anvil: a vise that comes with an anvil is a huge plus for you. You can use this flat surface as a reliable place to strike against, say when hammering your blade.
  • Quick-release: a bench vise that lets you quickly slide it into place and firmly secure your workpiece with a simple twist of the handle is a real timesaver compared to models that require you to makes turns and turns to open the jaws and clamp your knife.

Still, at this vise topic, you should also get some soft jaw caps for your new bench vise. These will ensure your vise doesn’t mar and damage your knife when clamped to its strong jaws. The aluminum and plastic soft jaw covers are readily available in all tools outlets and will cost you roughly 10 bucks.

2. Drawing/designing tools

For you to make a knife, you’ll first need to design it. As you already know, there are many different blade styles to choose from and you need to choose one design that you want to use for your knife.

If you’re good at drawing, then you can easily come up with your knife designs.

But most knife makers aren’t good at freehand drying.

So, will this become an obstacle to making your first knife?

Definitely not.

Drawing/designing tools

There are plenty of tools out there to help you come up with nice knife drawings and designs without a lot of effort.

One such tool is the French curves. These will cost you around 10 bucks and should have a curve for every curve you need for your knife

You can also use CAD (computer-aided design) to help you easily draw your knife. The KnifePrint.com is one such software specially designed to help knife makers easily create their desired knife designed.

When using this software, you can start from scratch or use customized existing templates. The best part about CAD is that you’ll get a visual of what your final product will look like. But a learning curve is involved to start using the software.

Alternatively;

You can go for ready-made templates. There are many free-to-use templates out there and you just need to choose the style of blade you want to work on. This can be a great starting point for you as you’ll get to make a great-looking knife and can be a great reference point for your own designs.

PRO TIP: Regardless of the method you employ to obtain your knife design, we always encourage beginners to save the original templates. You might want to make the knife all over again in the future and you don’t want to struggle with recreating the design from your memory or even a poor sketch. Just save your designs!

3. Combination square

Yes, you’ll also need the combination square to make those precise markings on your piece of steel.

You’ll quickly learn how valuable a tool the combination square will be when you enter the layout stage for your knife. It will help you create perfect 45- and 90-degree angles, easily measure circular objects, and easily find the depth or distance.

Combination square

If you don’t have one within reach, you can easily get a new one from your local tool store.

What to look for in a combination square:

  • Construction quality: since your combination square will be going through a lot of use and abuse, you should make sure you get something designed to last. Look for a square made from rust-free and scratch and bump-resistant materials. The square should also be extremely smooth to allow the lock to glide through hassle-freely.
  • Accuracy: the perfect combination square should also get the 45- and 90-degree angles with high precision. Look for thinner pins for better accuracy. The bubble should also be optimized for accuracy. Check what other users are saying regarding the square accuracy.
  • Ease of use: an easy to use combination square should have a pre-calibrated blade and head. Its vial should be easily readable. An easy-to-use square will let you fully focus on your blade-making task and improve the quality of your results.

4. Digital Vernier calipers

You’ll also find digital Vernier calipers a highly useful tool for making a knife. It lets you easily and quickly get the thickness of a given piece of steel as well as the thickness and evenness of your ground edges.

Without this important tool, you’ll simply be doing a lot of guesswork in your knife making work—sometimes you get it right, but other times your blade looks too thick, too thin, or uneven.

The reason we suggest going for digital calipers is that they tend to measure up to a thousandth of an inch. This helps increase your precision level when making measurements.

Digital Vernier calipers

Don’t have digital calipers? Don’t worry. The quick guide below will show you how to choose the best one for your needs.

How to choose the perfect digital calipers:

  • Construction material: digital calipers are made using varying materials including carbon fiber, stainless steel, and plastic. Stainless steel is used for high-end calipers since it is strong, durable, and stain-resistant. Carbon fiber is lightweight and moderately durable but it’s not stain-resistant and can easily deteriorate with time. Plastic calipers are the most affordable, but their durability is questionable.
  • Accuracy: digital calipers generally come with high accuracy. However, the electrical components used to translate the distance between the outside and inside jaws have a great effect on a unit’s overall accuracy. Polished stainless steel calipers usually let you make more refined adjustments. A large, textured driving wheel also allows for easy measurement adjustments.
  • Jaws: for high accuracy in your measurements, make sure the inside and outside jaws of a caliper have strong and sturdy construction quality.
  • Display screen: a digital caliper with a large display screen will make it easy for you to read the measurements.
  • Ease of use: taking detailed measurements can be a hard task, so you want to make sure you choose a caliper that comes optimized with user-friendly features like polished stainless steel parts, large and textured thumbwheel, locking screw, and large LCD display to make it easy for you to use.
  • Additional features that make a great digital caliper include a reset button (Zero button), locking screw, automatic display shutoff, and data transfer portal to let you upload your data to any specialized app.

5. Hacksaw

Making knives involves cutting sheets of steel. Steel is tough and not easy to cut. But a good quality hacksaw blade will cut through steel like a dream.

Besides cutting, you can also rely on a hacksaw to help you shape tricky steel parts like making the corners and removing any imperfections on your blade.

Hacksaw

A hacksaw is highly affordable and a good one should cost you not more than $20. We suggest getting a few blades and keeping the extras as spares, in case you damage the first one.

How to choose the best hacksaw for your bladesmithing needs:

  • Quality: when shopping for a hacksaw blade, ensure it comes with the term “bi-metal” on its packaging. This type of blade is known for being extremely strong and durable. It is designed for optimal strength and can easily cut through steel. Unlike low-quality hacksaw blades that easily crack with hard use, bi-metal blades don’t break easily. They can only bend but not crack!
  • Blade length: hacksaws come equipped with blades of different lengths from 12, 14, 16-inches, and so on. We suggest getting a longer blade for cutting steel because it lets you cut the steel faster with just a few strokes than the shorter blades.
  • Tooth set: the best hacksaw for cutting steel should feature the raker-type tooth set. This is where the blade’s teeth come grouped in three which is ideal for cutting a durable metal like steel. The wavy tooth set might not work well for cutting steel.
  • Ease of handling: get a hacksaw with an ergonomic blade to make it easy for you to handle cut your knife steel.

6. File

For many decades, files have enjoyed a lot of use as a crucial tool for all metalwork precision.

The knife-making field isn’t an exception!

A file will come up in almost every part of your knife making stage. You’ll need it to profile the shape of your blade and handle, bevel the blade, chamfer the edges, and add decorative touches like groves and coils.

Depending on the features you plan to add to your knife, you’ll need to arm yourself with a set of files containing files of different shapes. You can choose from a square file, flat file, round file, triangular file, and even half-round file.

You’ll also need to choose between single cut and double cut file designs.

The single-cut file is great for smoothening, refining, and finishing blade steel with its single teeth surface. A double cut file, on the other hand, works great for removing material with its double-teeth design. This file comes in handy when you want to remove more material from your blade.

File

You can also get the jewelry file for adding finer details to your blade.

For easy knife making experience, go for round or flat-file; you can get one with single-cut and the other double-cut to help you get most of the jobs done.

Files are generally cheap and will cost you less than 10 bucks. They’re also readably available in any metal shop within your locality.

Files also tend to last for years and years provide you take good care of them, so you won’t be buying a new set of files every now and then.

7. Drill press (and drill bits)

You need to make circular holes on your blade steel, wood, and other materials and you can’t think of a better piece of equipment for this job than the drill press.

If you don’t have a budget for a drill press, however, you can start with an electric hand drill. But the problem with a hand drill is that it might not give you the stability and precision as good as a drill press. But it can get better with continued use.

In case you have a hand drill, you can look for a drill press frame with a clamp to hold your hand drill. This is a cheap investment and will help you save money while mimicking a drill press.

Drill press

TIP: If you can’t afford to buy a brand new drill press, you can get a used one that’s still in good working condition. If you have the budget, however, getting a brand new drill will be easy for you.

As you continue advancing in your knife making skill, however, we strongly urge you to get a drill press as it will dramatically increase the precision and quality of your drilling.

To ensure you get a good solid drill press that actually fits your knife drilling needs, follow the simple and quick buying tips below.

A good solid drill should meet the following criteria:

  • Design: drill presses usually come in two main types—benchtop and floor standing models. The benchtop is smaller than the floor model and sits on top of your workbench. It is ideal for light to moderate drilling tasks.
  • Swing: drill swing indicates the largest piece of metal or wood a given drill can hold when drilling at its center. Drills with larger swings hold larger pieces of metal. Keep this in mind to ensure you get a drill that accommodates all your workpieces without any problems.
  • Spindle travel: also known as stroke distance or quill travel, spindle travel, spindle travel is a measurement of how deep a hole your drill can make without having to stop midway to adjust your workpiece or the drill press table. A drill with around 4" spindle travel will meet most of your knife making needs.
  • Speed: A drill that offers variable drilling speed is also a great consideration as t lets you easily adjust the speed for different materials. Most models come with two-speed options—low speed for metal and high speed for wood—enabling you to set it to the right speed for blade and wooden handle.
  • Safety: a drill press that comes with safety features is also worth considering. You’ll get units featuring safety features such as safety keys and bump-off switches to ensure you safely operate your drill. These features can also help safeguard your curious kiddos from the drill dangers.
  • Additional features: some laser guides come equipped with laser guides pinpoint where the drill bit will be landing, making the drill easy for you to operate. Some models also feature extendable arms to enable them to easily accommodate materials of varying sizes.

Drill bits

While still on the topic of the drill, you’ll also need to get the right drill bits for use with the material you plan to punch holes in.

Drill bits

Carbide and cobalt drill bits are the best for drilling holes in steel while HSS (high-speed steel) bits are perfect for working on wood and similar materials.

8. Sandpaper

Trust me; you’re going to use a crazy amount of sandpapers. You’ll use soo many of them that you’ll end up losing count.

The sandpapers are a must-have since they handle the important task of removing file groves from your knife and make it shine after you have heat-treated and tempered it. You’ll also need them to work on your wooden handle.

Sandpaper

What kind of sandpapers should you use?

The most important thing to remember when ordering sandpaper is the grit size.

For the blade steel, you should go for sandpaper with at least 220 grit size. You can also go a bit higher –at 400 grit size—if you want to smoothen your blade to an even nicer finish. There’s no need to go for higher grit sizes, up to 800 or 1000 grit, unless you want to give your blade a mirror finish.

As for the wood handle, sandpaper with 150 grit size will work great for you. If you don’t think this size will get your handle in good shape, you can go for 180 or 200 grit sandpaper.

9. Sharpening stone

Sharpening is an important step for every knife making process. And there is plenty of sharpening equipment you can use to give your blade a sharp edge.

You’ll need to choose from 4 main types of sharpening stones namely water, oil, ceramic, and diamond stones.

Water stones are usually made from aluminum oxide. They are softer which results in faster cutting. But the softness also makes them wear out pretty quickly.

Many oil stones are made using novaculite, silicon carbide but you can also find some featuring aluminum oxide. The term oil comes from the fact that these stones use oils to sharpen your knife. They’re highly affordable and easy maintenance. They’re also harder and work slowly.

Sharpening stone

Ceramic stones work magic for creating a fine edge on your knife and offering durability. They offer high accuracy in getting the level right and rarely require any resurfacing.

Diamond stones are the most expensive of all the sharpening stones available. They’re pretty smooth and sharpen your knife faster.

When looking for a sharpening stone, you should consider the following:

  • Grit size: the higher the grit level, the finer it feels. If you’re sharpening extremely blunt knives with chips or burrs, you should go for lower grit (anything from 120 to 140-grit) stones. 700 to 2,000 grit stone is ideal for standard sharpening.
  • Size: the perfect stone should also offer you sufficient sharpening area for different sizes of knives, whether you’re sharpening a small knife or a large one. A 7" long x 3" wide x 1" thick belt will be a great choice.

10. Heat-treating equipment

Steel needs heat-treating to harden it and make your blade sturdier and long-lasting. For this step, you’ll need steel heat-treating equipment. Some top options to consider include a forge, torch, or heat-treating oven.

Heat-treating equipment

Forge

This is essentially a hearth and is regarded as the basic heat treating tool for knife makers. It is usually fueled by coal/coke/charcoal, and you simply put the blade you’re working on it for just a few minutes and hold it with a clamp or tongs for your own safety. The forge will give your knife a glossier finish while strengthening it. Forges have been used for ages and are highly affordable. They are also easy to set up.

Forge

Heat-treating oven

Unlike a forge, an oven offers you a spacious barrel where you put your knife for heat treating. You grab your knife with clamps or a pair of tongs and firmly cover it in the heat to treat it. using an oven is much easier for you and gives you the advantage of temperature control, so you can set the temperature you want to treat different steels at.

Heat-treating oven

Torch

A torch is the most affordable of all the heat treating tools and comes in a smaller size and for easy setup. However, it is harder to use and doesn’t give you the same hardening results as the forge and oven. When using a torch, you ought to keep the temperatures extremely high and keep the flame on the blade. This means clamping your knife firmly and then passing the torch flame over it.

Pro Tip: If you don’t have a budget for heat-treating gear right now, you can outsource heat-treating. Most shops selling steel also tend to offer heat treating services. But you should work on getting your own heat treating equipment if you’re serious about your knife-making hobby.

11. Don’t forget your protective gear

As you go into the knife making world, one thing you should keep in mind is that you’ll be working in a high-risk environment—picture metal particles flying in the air, fire raging at extremely high temperatures, sharp blades, and so on.

Don’t forget your protective gear

With this in mind, you’ll need to put on some protective gear to protect your eyes, mouth, and hands.

Here’s your list of protective gear for knife making:

A good pair of forging gloves

A good quality pair of grinding gloves will go a long way in protecting you from cuts and burns that are highly possible with knife forging. The best blacksmith gloves should protect you from the metal of the heat treating oven when reaching in as well as the embers in the woodstove.

A good pair of forging gloves

This is how you can easily find the perfect gloves for knife forging:

  • Look for Kevlar gloves as opposed to other materials like rawhide and cloth. Kevlar copes quite well with moisture and heat, the two aspects you’ll be dealing with more often.
  • Ensure the gloves are cut-resistant to prevent sharp objects from getting an easy entry into your hands and injuring you.
  • Ensure the gloves snugly fit your hands. Otherwise, if you go for large gloves, they will feel uncomfortable and won’t offer you the best hand protection. And if you get too tight gloves, they might cut off blood circulation around your hands. The best gloves should fit snugly to offer you high dexterity and make your hands feel comfortable while in there.
  • Above all, make sure the gloves are flame and heat resistant to keep your hands cool and safe when working with the heat treating equipment.

Safety goggles

You’ll also need to don safety goggles for the obvious reason—to keep particles flying in the air from landing into your eyes, getting you irritated and probably getting distracted.

During the grinding and buffing stage, parties and shands can get loose and fly right into your eyes. This is never fun!

The best safety goggles should protect your eyes from direct impact since the fragments from your grinding work can easily fly into your eyes from all angles.

Safety goggles

When choosing the perfect safety glasses for knife making, you’d want to focus less on the aesthetics and more on the protection part.

Look for glasses with perfect fit without sliding off easily (not loose, and not too tight). This is to ensure they stay on and offer you maximum protection. It’s always a good idea to try different sizes until you find one that fits you well.

Glasses that come with large lenses, side shields, and rubber/foam lining for your lower eyes will maximize protection for your lower eyes.

A rubber lining around the eyes is also a good thing for securing the glasses to your face.

If you can’t seem to find a pair of safety goggles, a face shield in combination with any old safety glasses will protect you. The shield will offer even better protection if you’re doing welding and heavy cutting near your knife workshop.

Dust mask

Dust is inevitable in your knife making shop. And breathing in these fine debris can damage your lungs with time. You’ll need to protect your lungs from these harmful dust particles as you work intron of your grinder by putting on a respirator.

Look for a high-quality respirator that gets the job done when it comes to filtering most of these particulates. A simple N-95 disposable mask will work for a beginner. It offers you a close face fit while perfectly screening most of the airborne particles.

Dust mask

As you advance in your blade crafting journey, you can invest in the higher-end respirator that doesn’t need often replacements. These high-end respirators offer an even better seal around your nose and mouth and include replacement filter canisters for advanced lungs protection.

But keep in mind that the higher-end models will cost more than the simple N95 masks.

Blacksmith apron

A good apron will act as a barrier that protects you from sparks and hot fragments that are likely to cause fire during knife forging.

It can also be a convenient piece of cloth to wipe dirty hands on, or even use it to wipe clean your store tools.

Not to forget, an apron will give you confidence as you feel it is protecting and you can focus on creating a quality knife. Just like a bulletproof vest gives a soldier confidence when in the line of battle, so does a good apron to a knife maker.

Blacksmith apron

If you have no clue where to start when looking for a perfect blacksmith apron, these tips will help you:

  • Material: choose an apron made from thick, durable material like cowhide leather for longevity and excellent protection against sparks and fragments. Denim or waxed canvas are also great choices.
  • Design: most knife makers complain about their aprons causing neck pain. To avoid, this, we advise you to go for an X-strapped apron as it doesn’t put a lot of pressure on your neck and is comfortable to wear for longer periods of time.
  • Pockets: you can also consider getting an apron with pockets. But this will mainly come down to your personal preferences. In case you go for one with pockets, be sure not to put your phone in there, especially when working close to a hot forge.
  • Ergonomics: A good apron ought to hug your body to reduce interfaces with your movement or working process. It should not limit your basic blacksmith movements in any way.
  • Quick-release straps, easily adjustable straps, and easy cleaning aprons are additional factors to consider when looking for a good apron to use when making blades.

And if you’re a handyman, you can easily build your own custom forging apron that perfectly fits your expectations.

Ear protection

Cutting steel sheets, hammering, chiseling, and forging are all key activities surrounding knife making—they make knife making a “loud” affair.

Continued exposure to this noise might end up interfering with your hearing.

Ear protection

So, how do you protect your hearing when working in your knife shop?

For a beginner, earplugs will be great for blocking most of the noise. If you have louder machines, however, you might need to get earmuffs for better hearing protection.

Experienced knife makers even recommend putting on both the earplugs and earmuffs to maximize protection from loud noises.

Bonus tool: Knife belt grinder

A knife belt sander is a crucial gear for knife makers and we feel we need to mention it in our list.

However, we label it as a “Bonus” tool because it is not a must-have for a beginner maker.

The knife belt grinder/sander helps you establish an edge, produce a mirror-shaped edge, sharpen a blade, and even shape and smoothen the handle—you’ll be using this tool in almost every stage of knife making!

That said, belt sanders come in different sizes but the 1 to 2-inch models will handle all your knife and handle shaping needs.

Knife belt grinder

The 1x30-inch belt sander is ideal for absolute beginners and will help you sharpen and shape your knife edge.

2x72, on the other hand, is regarded as the standard model for professional knife makers and will do a much better job than the 1x30 model. If you’re serious about knife making, this is the model you should go with. This sander will also cost you a bit more than the smaller 1x30 model.

When shopping for a belt sander, size is just one factor to help you choose the right model. Other factors to consider are listed below.

Factors to consider when choosing a knife belt sander:

  • Motor size: motor size determines how much power a unit outputs for knife grinding. The larger the belt size, the more grinding power it needs. The rule of thumb is 1HP for every 1-inch belt width with a 72-inch length. Thus, the best motor size for a 2x72inch sander is 2HP.
  • Wheel speed: The speed at which the motor drives the belt is expressed in FPM (surface feet per minute) and is another important consideration. The best speed for working on steel should fall between 4100 and 7000.
  • Variable motor speed: some models offer you variable speed, which enables you to control the belt speed for various jobs. This is a great feature because it can go a long way in improving your precision when working on a knife.
  • Construction material: you should also ensure the unit you pick is made from durable material for maximum longevity. The most durable grinders usually feature cast-iron construction. Grinders with an all-steel frame also deliver excellent strength and sturdiness.
  • Noise level: you don’t want a grinder that’s too noisy as it can end up damaging your hearing. Look for quieter models that produce low, acceptable noise levels.
  • Ease of use: look for a belt sander that’s easy to use right from assembly to change the belts. A quick-release arm and tool rest will help you easily change the platen, wheel, and accessories without using any additional tools.

Don’t forget knife making belts:

Using a 2x72 inch belt grinder will require you to get some good quality 2x72 inch belts for knife making as well. The most important thing to consider when choosing the belts is the grit size.

knife making belts

We advise you to use grit progression that starts with a coarser grit and finish up the finer grits. You can start with 36-grit to eat away up to 80% of the metal. Then move on to a 60-grit belt if you still need to smoothen up things with your knife. And finish up with finer 100 or 120-grit belts. These are sure to clean up your bevel and give it that nice finish.

For handle grinding, you can start with a 60-grit alumina belt and finish up with 220 and 400-grit belts.

Final Verdict

There you have it! The complete list of the basic beginner tools you need to start making knives. All the 11 tools we have just listed here are quite affordable and will not be hard on your wallet.

If you have a tight budget, you can omit heat-treating equipment for now and outsource this service. You also don’t need the knife belt sander tool as a beginner.

As you continue advancing in your knife making skills, however, you’ll need to get these additional tools as they will go a long way in helping you craft quality knives.

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