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Getting Started in Knifemaking

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  • Getting Started in Knifemaking

    This forum isn't about HOW TO MAKE A KNIFE. There are better places to learn that, the best being the Newbies Forum on http://www.knifeforums.com. There you will find new makers helping other, newer makers learn how it's done and guiding them through the process. This forum is about things you should know while you are learning, the things you don't learn in school but will make your beginning efforts more productive and maybe even more fun. It's my belief that anyone, given time and effort, can learn to make excellent knives. It's not easy and it's not fast, but if you ruin enough steel, destroy enough handles, mess up enough finishes, you'll get there. I promise. Without any useful guidance at all, it took me about 10 years of on and off effort to get to the point where I made a knife I thought I could sell, and did. I pray none of those early knives ever appear in public again, because they were pretty bad, but I did it and someone else thought they were better than they were, good enough to pay money for them.

    If I make one point in all the posts I make in this forum it is this. Don't try to make what you see in magazines or online. Your first knife, and maybe your first 30-40 knives should be simple, uncomplicated, utility hunters with a 3-4" straight blade and simple slab handles. Once you make one of those you think is good enough to sell, THEN move on, but only then. First, you need to lean how to make a GOOD knife. I know this is a very tough hurdle I've set, but if you're serious about becoming a knifemaker, this will give you the best shot at doing so. It's intended to teach you how to make a GOOD knife, how to get comfortable with the equipment you're using, and how to avoid becoming frustrated and disappointed with your progress.

    I'm well aware that designing your own knife is probably what draws you to knifemaking more than anything else, and taking that away destroys much of the appeal, so we won't take it away. We'll redirect it so that designing and making are not part of the same process for awhile, until you gain the skills needed to make what you design. Learn to make knives in steel, working on that utility hunter until you really like the results. Meanwhile, work on your design ideas, making them only in wood. You can buy 1/4" thick wood stock at Home Depot. Make that your design medium and shape those knives until they are just as close to perfect as you think they can be. Don't settle for pretty good, demand they be GREAT. Make one, critique it, find its flaws, things that aren't quite as they should be, then toss it and make another, and another, and another... When you're satisfied that design will kick one of my designs all over hell's half acre, set it aside and start on another design, using the same kind of philosophy as with the first, and using what I'll be discussing in the Design Forum. Focus on function, focus on the engineering of a useful knife, focus on making something you will be proud of. Tweak the design, again and again, until you just don't see any way to improve it. Set it aside, and do another. Meanwhile, your skills are building as you continue making that utility hunter in steel. At some point, and you'll know when you get there, you'll be able to take the simplest of your wood designs and begin fashioning them in steel. At that moment, you'll suddenly understand why I've written this. Because while you can make a great utility hunter, going beyond that is a lot tougher than you might think. And that's why a lot of new knifemakers start and quit, never having made a decent knife of any kind. Or they continue and make seriously uninteresting designs that look like everyone else's seriously uninteresting designs. Don't do that. Follow this system, and you WILL become a knifemaker, better than many who waste their money getting tables at knife shows, and go home with little to show for all the work they put into their so so knives.

    Share photos of your utility hunters here so we can see your progress, maybe make a few suggestions. Share your wood designs in the Design Forum where we'll do the same. Keep both of these aspects of knifemaking fun and your progress with both will amaze you. Rush it, and you'll be reminded of what you just read here.

    Have fun!!

  • #2
    If you were to quiz new makers as to why they made a specific knife, a lot of times the answer would be"because it's cool". To me thats an odd answer. I started making knives 'cause I couldn't find one tailored for my specific needs, ie skinning /dressing multitudes of deer and wild game. I make a knife, even now, I'm thinking of how it will be used and what conditions it will undergo.
    Just me , I guess.

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    • #3
      "Cool" is the defining influence for a lot of new makers, and I guess I can understand that to some extent, but it's at odds with learning how to make knives. Cool inevitably means odd and odd shapes are the most difficult to profile and even more difficult to grind properly. And the simple truth is a well shaped and nicely ground 4" straight blade will do almost everything you want to do with a knife, short of chopping wood maybe.

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      • #4
        That approach definitely makes a lot of sense Jerry - start with the basics, with a design that's simple and uncomplicated, get good at that, then move on to more complex designs. I'll have to think about that some... I'm just getting started, and thus far have been approaching it a little differently. With other things (for example both software, which is how I make my living, and martial arts, which is really my passion) I've always felt that I personally learn faster and have a better feel for a subject or skill in the long-run if I use something more of a broad-spectrum approach - so rather than step-by-step, ground up, starting with the basics before attempting anything complicated, when left to my own devices, I try to approach things by learning as much as possible about as many different aspects as possible right from the start, doing hands-on experimentation of different tools/skills/techniques, as well as watching more experienced people, looking at what they do and how they do it to see what's possible, and then trying to replicate what they did as best I can to understand how they made it work. I often take on a project right from the start that is overly complicated (sometimes by choice - simply because it interests me, sometimes out of necessity). So - in part because it's how I'm accustomed to learning new skills, and in part because I've been making a living behind a keyboard and haven't spent a lot of time making things with my hands in years - I've been taking that sort of approach with knifemaking as well, learning both forging and grinding, learning basic pattern-welding to make damascus, just trying to sort of soak it all in and get a feel different aspects of working with steel. I expect that once I feel like I've got the tools and skill-set to really get started on my own, I'll likely follow your approach though - start with a single simple design, refine it and rework it, and reproduce it until it's perfect.

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        • #5
          No rules apply to everyone, but some do. Almost everything I post here will be based on my experience in knifemaking, looking back on what did and didn't work. Others will have different experiences and can travel other paths, but what I post is what I think will work for MOST new knifemakers, because some of it worked for me at a different stages in my career. I know this for certain. Simpler knives are easier to grind and you will learn more grinding the same knife again than grinding a new knife for the first time. On the design side of this, it is a lot easier to throw away a piece of wood, than continuing on, profiling, grinding and finishing a knife that didn't deserve to be made. Wood is easy to shape, easy to reshape, easier to toss out and start over. Steel? Steel we hang onto too long and make things we shouldn't make for that reason alone. I know, I've made these mistakes and often still so.

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          • #6
            I have several boxes of....... what didn't work. Sometimes I pile 'em together to make something that works..... sometime :-

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            • #7
              Yeah, I have a pile I call the "elephant's graveyard". Why ever did I make something that looks like THAT!!

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              • #8
                There's a ton of experience 'speaking' here and I appreciate the words of wisdom. I thank you all for sharing. I hope to learn half of what you already know.

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