Over the almost 10 years I have been making knives, I have gone from a newbie to beginner to finding my way to becoming comfortable in what I do as a knifemaker.
During the majority of that time, I have been overwhelmed by the amount of people seeking input during their journey into the knifemaking community.
This article is an effort to summarize advice I share with anyone wanting to explore what it takes to become a knifemaker.
5 Steps needed for making knives
Step 1 – Get to it
And begin is exactly what I mean: Start!
Everyone who has ever made a knife has gone from not making them to making them. Each one of them has struggled with the same hurdles of gathering technical information and what materials and tools to use.
The first thing to determine is the construction method that most relates to your idea of knifemaking.
Do you want to forge, stock remove or try kit knives to get started?
Deciding which process to use to create your knives will determine what materials to buy, as well as what tooling you will need to locate or accumulate. You won’t need as much as you might think. You may be able to find access to a metal-cutting band saw to rough out blanks, a drill press to drill holes for handle pins, etc.
I used a 4×6 wood sander and hand files to create my first knife. I borrowed the use of a band saw to rough out a stock-removal blank, and a small drill press to get the tang ready for pins to hold the handle in place.
I also invested a grand total of $35 for the 4×6 wood sander to angle the handle scale fronts, and even clean up the blade flats and bevels after hand filing.
Was what I had optimal for the fastest tools to use?
Not at all, but it was what I had and what I found that allowed me to begin.
All the planning and research won’t help if you don’t execute. No matter your level of knifemaking experience or skill, you have not tapped into it if you don’t do something with tools and materials. Everyone starts out with limited tools, experience, and money.
Don’t overthink it; get things happening with materials. You’re not supposed to know what to do, so jump in and start, and don’t let your brain get in the way!
All the planning in the world will not get you making knives until you throw caution to the wind and do.
Be resourceful and do what you can with what you have but continue to seek information. Ask people you know if they have equipment.
Show people what you are doing or explain to them what you want to accomplish. Someone you talk to may be the person who knows of an unused band saw sitting in an uncle’s basement. Whatever it takes, get materials and tools together and set “pen to paper,” so to speak, though make noise and sparks instead.
Step 2 – Do it again
No beginner will make knives like someone who has made 50 or 100 of them. Inside the first 50 are the natural mistakes you have to make to get to the next level. I always told myself each mistake was one less in the way on the path to where I wanted to be. That is still a concept I live by today.
Do it again is what it sounds like: Keep doing it again. Don’t waste time trying to correct mistakes that seem to only get worse the more you work on them. Instead, spend the time doing again on another knife.
The goal is to not repeat the same mistake on the next knife or sheath you make that you did on the one you’re working on now. Continuing to repeat the process allows your body to naturally correct itself, and your skill will develop just from the muscle memory that comes from repetition—like driving down a straight road and adjusting left and then right to stay inside the lines.
Traveling forward is possible because you are constantly correcting mistakes, and you no longer think while doing it. Your muscle memory takes over.
A good knife is made by avoiding drastic mistakes in each step of the process, not unlike driving down the road. No knife is ever void of mistakes, so don’t let the unavoidable prevent you from making knives.
If I had to create a perfect knife, I would never make another one— because I cannot create a perfect knife.
Your skill will strengthen with every knife you produce, so do yourself a favor: When you’re unhappy with the outcome of a pattern or execution of a knife, thank yourself for the mistake. Mistakes are how you learn to evolve what wasn’t right into a better-made knife the next time.
Step 3 – Finish
The best advice I received was to always finish the knife. Never let a problem knife hold you back to the point that you don’t finish it. The information and experience you will gain after the process is complete is the most valuable tool you can have in becoming a knifemaker.
Problem knives are often the ones makers hold as most precious among shop “tools.” Mistakes are what you need to have behind you to problem solve your system of knife construction. Learning how to finish each knife despite obstacles is what makes you a knifemaker, just as becoming proficient in creating a great meal with less-than-desired ingredients makes you a great chef.
Fear of failure is often a powerful restraint we place on ourselves, and failures are ever-present in creating anything. Don’t allow insecurities or nervousness to prevent you from finishing your process.
Every knifemaker I know has gone through the same journey you will. The only difference has been the path we each take to get to the desired outcome in finishing the job. Once you complete the process and have the knives you have built, you must do a few more things to push to a higher level and complete the circle from non-maker to maker.
Step 4 – Use your knives
Use your knives and know how they perform for their intended purposes. Only in using your knife will you get feedback on how well it performs.
Remember, feedback from both you and others who test your knives is the primary tool to improve your work. What needs to change will never be eliminated from the process, so enjoy the evolution you will go through, growing from novice to experienced maker.
Once you become an experienced maker, you have one unwritten rule to follow: to share with others what was shared with you.
If you meet someone in your journey who doesn’t help you improve or withholds information, go elsewhere—and never return to that source again. That is not how the knife community operates—end of story!
The knifemaking community prides itself on raising its members up no matter their skill level or type of production method. Sharing the process with others is the last step in becoming a knifemaker.
Failing to do this final step goes against everything I was taught and have experienced in the knife community. Simply put, by someone I call a friend, “I tell you this because I will be gone one day, and people will still need to know.”
I’m upholding a promise to my friend that he never asked me to make. He just looked at me and said, “I can see in your eyes that you will share everything anyone tells you, so ask me anything at any time.”
Take advantage of that unwritten rule. Ask knifemakers you come in contact with all the questions you have because they started out just like you—making one mistake at a time.
This article was submitted by Darryl Potter.
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