This is a Guide for the basic tools needed in building a knife. This is for the beginner. You don't need thousands of dollars worth of tools. All you need is a few hundred dollars (or less) and you are on your way to building your first knife.
(pdf and Videos coming soon)
We will start with stock removal. This is the way you will learn how metal moves and feels. Doing this with basic tools is labor intensive, but worth the effort and experience. Nothing will teach you faster than a labor of love. Your first one is going to take some time. That being said....here we go.
The first thing you will need is Metal. Without the proper steel, none of the tools you buy will bear any fruit. People use junkyard steel and try to guess what composition it is.... DON'T DO THIS!! Unless you have extensive experience and testing methods, you won't even get close. Even with all that knowledge you will not know the exact composition. You are still guessing. If you have a supplier locally that carries high carbon metals, support your local business. If not, like most of us, I suggest New Jersey Steel Barron. I have purchased steel from quite a few places and found that they do an exceptional job. newjerseysteelbaron.com is the link. I would start with 1080/1084 or 1095 (1095 can be a bit tricky to heat treat but it is readily available). These are relatively easy to harden compared to some of the others. These steels have been used for years and, still today, make wonderful pieces. I use these in 80% of my work.
Second are a few basic hand tools. Purchase a good Hack Saw and a pack of good blades. You will use this to remove a lot of excess stock and shape your blade fairly quickly. Change your blades when they show the slightest wear. This will save a lot of time and frustration. Your forearms and hands and fingers and back and and and (you get the point) will hurt and cramp by the time you get your knife in any resemblance of a shape at all. Then, in the same hardware store, get a set of metal files. Don't buy the cheapest ones. Purchase a good middle of the road set. You will see which ones you use the most, then you can buy good ones of that type. Do not waste your money on things that are going to rust away in your shop, garage, basement or wherever you decide you want to start your new passion. If you can't afford a vise (4" is a good one to start with), clamps are the next best thing. Buy a couple that give you plenty of room to clamp your blade to your bench or table. It is next to impossible to saw or file without the steel being secure. If you have a disk grinder, all this will go much faster. You can pick one up very cheap these days. Buy a couple of grinding and cut disks for it (wear ear and eye protection). A drill and drill bit is needed if you plan to pin your handles or do a para-cord wrap. Next is sandpaper. Lots and lots of sandpaper. You need it in various grits. 60 (or lower) - 2000 (or higher). Make sure you get wet/dry paper. It is much easier to wet sand.
Something to heat with is next. Depending on the size of your first blade, you may be able to use a propane torch. A pair is much easier to get an even heat with. It will take quite a while, but if you are lucky, you can get the steel up to critical temperature for normalization and quench. There are many ways to get temperatures of 1500 degrees plus. An acetylene torch, gas forge, coal forge, or heat treat oven are just a few examples. You can also send your work off for the process. They will also temper it for you. You can build a coal forge out of an old BBQ pit (or even a hole dug in the ground) and a hair dryer fairly quickly and cheaply. There are many youtube videos on that subject. Then, after you have hardened your blade and actually have the start of a knife, put it in your oven at the specified heat and time for tempering. I will provide links and charts to all this farther down. Don't worry about all the terms I am using that you have no idea what they are or entail. We will get to all that when we start our build and walk through it together. This is just the basic tools you will need. You will also need a pair of long handle pliers or something similar to hold on to your steel while it is red hot....
Oil is essential for quenching your blade. You can go spend a ton of money on specialized quenching oil. I researched this forever before I found out that I could go to the grocery store and buy a gallon of peanut oil. It does a great job. It has a higher flash point that a lot of other oils, but Canola or Vegetable oil will do the job too. Skip the motor oil and things like that. They give off harmful gases that we don't want to deal with. You will also need a metal canister deeper than your knife. Once you get into making a lot of hardenable objects, then spend the money on specialized oil for quenching.