Building a Custom Knife
The first step in designing a custom knife is to recognize the need or want for a new cutting implement. The next step is to answer a few crucial questions:
1.) What is the primary use of the knife? Determining this will help determine the type of steel best suited to the user such as Stainless, High-Carbon, Damascus, San-Mai, etc. It also narrows down the correct type of knife tip to provide the best function for the knife such as a strong tip on a utility knife. The third answer we get is the approximate length and width of the knife blade and the knife in general. This is also the time to determine the best type of edge grind to use.
2.) What handle shape is the most comfortable and what handle materials will be used? How the knife fits into the operator's hand is one of the fundamentals of custom cutlery. Only by trying many configurations will the most comfortable handle-to-blade configuration will be found, however, final handle shaping will come once the overall feel of the knife has been achieved. Another important consideration is what type of handle material will best fit the use of the knife. Will stabilized or exotic woods fit the feel of the knife, or does the intended usage require G-10 or Micarta instead.
3.) What type of sheath is best suited to this knife? Depending on the answers to the above questions we can determine if a leather, Kydex, or combination sheath best suits this knife.
Once these questions have answers, the next step is to break out the pencil and paper and start the process of combining all of the above considerations into one cohesive design.
In this phase I combine all of the answers from the above questions into a single design. This process takes multiple attempts to get the right feel for the knife. Every nuance is considered, down to moving a grind line 1/16" of an inch up or down or adding an extra pin hole. Once a design has been agreed on and is determined to be the best solution to the questions posed, its time to bring out the scissors and cardboard.
Cardboard, Paper, Scissors
The next step is to cut the pattern out of paper and cardboard. This step allows the operator to determine if the finger guard is to big or small, if the thumb raiser is to far away or too close, even if the handle is too long or short. At this point we also determine if the grip-blade angle is appropriate for the intended use of the knife. All of these changes are added to the design, the pattern is re-drawn and reproduced in cardboard as many times as necessary until the operator is comfortable with the knife profile. The next step is to create the blade!
From Paper to Steel
By this point all of the tough questions are answered, and the solution is here. Now comes time for a final decision on the handle materials and shaping. Will G-10 or Micarta provide the required corrosion or impact resistance needed? Or does this knife just call for some highly figured exotic hard woods? Does this knife get liners or spacers? If so what type? All of these questions are answered and the implemented in the next phase, building and shaping.
Handling the Guard
Next is to transfer the shape of the blade, pin hole locations, and the intended shape of the guard onto the handle material. This ensures that the best parts of the handle material are front and center once the blade is pined and glued. Added effort in this stage pays off tremendously in the finished product.
Drilling and Pinning
After taping the pattern onto the handle material, and taping the blade to said material, it is time to drill the pin holes. Any wrong move or slip of the clamp could result in a disastrous outcome for your handle. One of the best ways to ensure alignment is to use your pins as place holders. This is especially critical when making a knife with handles made from multiple materials, and the seams must line up perfectly. Once the pins are temporarily in place, it is time to shape the guard nd sand it all the way through the grits. This may seem out of order, but it is very difficult to try and sand the guard after it is pinned.
Arguably the most simple step in this process is to pin and glue the handle scales to the blade. It is a straight forward process that includes introducing the pins through scale A, gluing A to the blade, introducing the pins to scale B, and gluing scale B to the blade. The tricky part is to do this in rapid sequence before the glue dries to much. After pounding the pins and fully seating them into the scales and blade, it is time to put as many clamps on as possible with the maximum amount of pressure possible. Next is to let it sit for 12 hours before shaping.
Shaping and Sanding
Once the glue has been allowed to dry completely, it is time to move into the shaping and sanding phase. This portion is comprised of two main categories: power sanding and hand sanding. A great deal of time and effort is spent in this phase to ensure the best fitting handle possible for the operator. once the shape is achieved the material is hand sanded through the grits and buffed to a nice sheen if requested.
The Completed Blade
All the hard work, time, effort, planning, sweating, sanding, re-sanding, cramped fingers, and more had payed off and a beautiful and functional tool is ready for use.