Make a Custom Wood Carving knife
How to make a Spoon Knife
We’ve been making knives and tools off the grid since 1997.
This was the first article written on “How to make a hook knife” published on the internet in 2006 for the Outdoors-Magzine. It was published in both premier magazines, Canadian Woodworking in 2009 issue 58 and Woodcarving Illustrated summer issue 2014. Many hook/crooked and bent knives as well as straight knives have been made using the steps in this article. Many have used this article to write their own. The article is thorough, thoughtful and still is the best guide on how to make your own carving knife.
The tools you use are important. A special job. Make your own custom woodcarving knife. This set by step process deals with making a hook knife, crooked knife or bent knife from high carbon saw blade steel and could apply to a straight knife as well. The carving crooked knife, carving hook knife, bent knife and crook knife blades are all made with the same method described here. With this method you could make any small knife.
Let’s make a knife.
The method is simple but thorough for the woodcarver/woodworker who wants to make their own at home; find good carbon steel, cut with a mini grinder, anneal, hacksaw cut or grind your form, file to shape and then harden and temper.
When using reclaimed carbon steel and putting your own hardness and temper into the blade the annealing process is an important step. This is especially true with crooked knives because of the method of shaping the blades. We make all our wood carving knives and tools from saw blade, lumber mill carbon steel and leaf spring steel. Please use ours as examples. You can follow this method for any shape of woodcarving knife .
Hook, crooked, crook or bent knives, whatever you call them, are an exceptionally versatile tool. Carvers, craftspeople, and woodworkers of every stripe would benefit from having a well made and sturdy hook in their tool box. A strong hook gets into places nothing else will.
The crooked knife is the best tool for carving wooden bowls and spoons, ladles and indispensable carving organic shapes. It would be your main knife carving and finishing masks, wooden musical instruments and organically designed furniture.
A tool steel (01) bought from a steel supplier comes annealed and easy to work with. We recover lumber mill bandsaw blade, circular trim, gang and head saw blade. Most are high carbon steels (search "spark test for carbon steel"). Tough and strong steels that will hold a great edge.
Carbon must be present to enable the steel to harden. Carbon hardens the steel. Nickel improves the toughness of the steel, aids in corrosion resistance, helps reduce distortion in the quenching process. Silicon is added for durability, makes it last longer and hold tension longer. Manganese increases tensile strength and durability. Chromium improves wear resistance, resists softening in the temper process and will also increase hardenability of steel. Molybdenum, commonly referred to as “Moly” is for the control of the hardness of the steel when tempering.
When filers (mill working trade) toss out band saw blade they cut them up into 1.20 m (4’) lengths. If you can get some it is well worth using for knife blades. The exceptional tensile strength lends itself to an excellent edge. A crooked knife made from lumber mill band or gang saw blade steel makes for a great knife blade.
Of course, if it is made well.
If you're grinding or cutting your form have a bucket of water handy to cool the steel. To make a hook blade of medium size with a 3” blade using sawblade, cut a piece of steel 3/4” x 1/8” x 6” with a grinder fit with a cutting wheel (zip cut). Split a piece of 2 1/2" thick ceramic wool 10" x .10". Work in a medium lit environment (diffused light). Lay your piece of steel on half of the wool. By heating with a propane torch, you can bring the length of steel to a dull red slowly over 10 minutes. Keep it at that colour (soaking the steel) for a few minutes by passing from one end to the other. Bring the colour to a red. Use the other half of the wool to reflect heat back onto the steel. Cover the blade with that half so that the wool completely envelopes the red steel. Let it cool slowly overnight. In the morning you should be able to bend the steel with your fingers. If you can't it didn't anneal. You can repeat
Annealing relaxes the crystal structure of the steel.
It can now be filed, drilled, sanded and gently bent.
With practice you can start from scratch putting your own shape, hardness and temper into high carbon steel.
Now you have a piece 2.5 mm (1/8”) x 2 cm (3/4”) x 15 cm (6”) long and annealed. Dedicate the clearest side, the side with no nicks or scratches, as the back. Then designate one end as the your blade tip end. On both sides of your blank draw a line across the middle of the blade. This is the centre line defining the equal length of the tang and blade. Now there is a back, face and a blade and tang. Now draw a line lengthwise right down the centre of the blade, from end to end. This is your length line. From the tip end, draw 2 curved edge lines, one on either side of the length centre line. Using these two lines as guides, draw slow curves along their lengths. These will be your cutting edges.
On the tang, 2.5 cm (1") down from the centre cross line, mark your first bolt hole on the tang length line. Mark a second hole point 1.25 cm (1/2”) up from the end of the tang on the centre length line. Drill both points for a #8 pan head bolt. Drill over each hole 1/2 way through with a 5/16" bit to countersink #8 pan heads flush to the bottom of the tang (or use a countersink). Now cut out the pattern with a hacksaw and file to the curved lines. You can grind but have a can of water beside you to cool the steel.
Part 2 Setting the tang into the handle.
You now have a roughed out, annealed, medium-sized hook blade form with holes drilled. Start making your handle now so that you may set the tang into a handle. Working on the blade will be easier.
Cut a block of hardwood 3.75 cm (1 ½”) x 4.5 cm (1 ¾”) x 28 cm (11”). Birch, cherry or yew work well, They are easy to carve and strong enough for hook knife handles.
This will end up being a well balanced handle capable of fitting one or two hands comfortably. Draw a line 15 cm (6") from one end of the block taking off the bottom corner. Please refer to the picture. Make sure the new bottom surface is flat and true. Create a surface on top parallel to that new surface on the bottom 2.3 cm (7/8") thick.
You can shape the block into a handle using these pictures as a guide after the blade is finished.
The block has squared sides and fits nicely into a vice.
File the sides of the blade tang so they’re straight and true. Place the tang on the new surface up to the centre cross line marked on the blade. Outline the tang tight with a sharp pencil. Carve the tang into the block so that the tang is sunk 1.25 mm (1/32”) below the surface of the block. You want it to be a perfect fit with depth forgiveness for later when you’ll finish the handle. Mark the bolt holes through the tang onto the wood. Drill 2.5 cm (1/8”) diameter holes straight through the block. Place your tang into the block. Screw in two 3.75cm (1 ½”) #8 stainless machine bolts and snug the blade and handle together with square nuts to make sure it fits. Now trace the nuts onto the block and countersink them 1.25 mm below the surface.
Part 3: putting the edge on.
This style of hook knife has a double bevel, straight edge with a sturdy hook and a long handle for control. The annealed roughed out blade for the hook knife is now ready for the edges to be put on. The success of this technique and the one to follow, in part 4, depends on how well the steel is annealed.
Put the blade in a vise securely with the clearest side down. You’ll need files: a 20 cm (8") flat bastard and a 15 cm (6") mill bastard. The idea is to file an edge bevelled to the centre line, from the tip of the blade to the cross line on either side of the centre line. As you flat file down the side, leave the blade with a gentle curve up and off, starting your exit 2 cm (3/4") before the cross line. Gently drop the outside end of the file, lift up and off.
Now there are filed cutting edges on both sides of the centre line (mirroring each other). Repeat the technique with a graduation of sanding sticks. Use a series of six sanding block sticks, each 2 cm (3/4") x 3.5 cm (1 3/8") x 30.5 cm (12"), and square, crisp corners. I wrap each with a sheet of no-fill sandpaper, starting from 100 grit and ending with 1000. Wrap the sheets tight and put 3 staples on an edge. Staple the two ends and the middle. Using the sanding sticks like files, finish the blade. When that is complete, sharpen the bevelled side edges only (face side) on a stone. Sharpen the blade to a razor edge, just taking the burr off the back. Softly run both edges across your stone to remove the wire edges.
Pa rt 4. Putting a hook on your blade.
The success of this step really depends on how well the steel is annealed. Tool steel won't give if it’s not annealed, or if it’s not completely annealed it will be stiff which is when there is the risk of fracturing or breaking the blade. Sawblade steel, on the other hand, will be a bit stiff even when it’s annealed because of its alloy content. The alloys gives saw steel some of its tensile strength which lends itself to a superior cutting edge. Set the tang into the handle, set the nuts into the handle then screw in the bolts snug and then give them a quarter turn more. For this hook use a 3 cm (1 ¼") diameter x 30.5 cm (12”) piece of hardwood dowel secured in a vise. Square the dowel just for the vise on 2 sides so that it sits into your vise secure and snug. For a smaller hook use smaller diameter dowel. For a custom hook,shape your own.
Place the tip of the blade on the dowel parallel to the floor. Using a small wooden mallet, begin to shape the hook with even, rapid taps, bending it evenly around the dowel. Start at the tip with a soft touch, strengthening your taps as you feed the mallet the thicker blade until the steel begins to give. Move the blade slowly into the mallet over the dowel. Make sure the mallet taps are square on the blade, otherwise the razor edge will get bent, creating more work. There are as many variations of hook shapes and sizes as you can imagine.
Step 5, Hardening
While the blade is still in the handle, hone it as sharp as possible. Wrap a sheet of 600 grit wet/dry sand paper around a piece of dowel (30 cm or 12" of broom stick works well) and hone the inside of the hook. To deal with any damage to the edge and for sharpening the hook after it is hard, make two more dowel sanding sticks with 360 and 240 grit. Use dowel sanding sticks for the inside of the hook and straight sanding sticks for the back. Cone and flat stones are more expensive. If you have them, use them otherwise the sticks work great and are inexpensive.
A carving knife one could make custom for the job at hand. At this point the blade is sharp and very soft, and ready to be hardened and tempered.
You will need a coffee can (or something that holds at least 1 litre, 4 is best) 2/3’s filled with olive or canola oil warmed to body temperature, a propane torch set into a small bucket of sand for stability and safety, your pieces of ceramic wool, and a pair of vise grips. Have a bucket of water around in case something that shouldn't starts burning. Have the can with oil and the torch in sand on opposite sides of the wool placed on your work table. If you’re right handed have the torch on the left and the oil on the right. If you’re left handed do it with the torch to the right of the oil. This way when you have your hook at the right colour you can secure it in the grips and quickly douse it in the oil without losing the temperature.
Take the blade out of the handle and place it on one split half of the wool. Take the other half and lay it beside the blade for heat reflection. Always be aware of the razor sharp, thin, soft edge. Warm the oil in the can to body temperature on a stove. Have the vise grip adjusted to hold the blade securely and ready. Do a practice run smoothly and quickly attaching grips with one hand to the end of the tang, from under the flame, off the wool to where it would land into the centre of the oil can, like a perfect dive but don’t go into the oil. When the real quenching in oil happens try not to touch the sides or bottom of the can with the blade.
You want to achieve an even cherry red in the blade down to the first bolt hole. Light your torch and start passing the flame over the blade. The cutting edges are thin and the tip is particularly vulnerable, so when passing over the blade be aware of spending more time on the thick centre.
Move the flame from the bolt hole to just below the tip. The metal will begin to turn pale straw, straw, bronze, brown, purple, blue, blue green. Spend more time at the centre line, and shadows will pass over the blade. It will begin to glow cherry red. Keep the cherry red and make it grow towards the tip, constantly evening out the colour. At this point the tip and thin edges are vulnerable. If you let it get too hot or glowing orange you're burning out carbon. At yellow you're ruining the metal and there is distortion. This situation happens very quickly so watch that tip closely. Once it is in a cherry red evenly across from tip to tang, attach the vise grips to the end of the tang, get ready, and in one smooth motion douse it into the oil customy stirring until the blade can be handled.
Wiggle the blade vigorously, tapping the sides of the can with the vise grips and always keeping the blade submerged.
The blade right now is as brittle as glass. Now it is ready to be tempered. Wipe off the blade and clean the tang bright. Test for hardness by passing a file across an inside edge. If it skates, you've got hardness.
If you don’t get it don’t worry - just wipe your blade and repeat this process.
Part 6 Tempering a Hook Knife
If you draw too much hardness out, it can be corrected. The blade would have to be re-hardened so you would repeat the hardening process. You want to avoid this because there would be a good chance of damaging your blade. I think the main points are breathe, relax and have patience.
Clean the back side, tang and blade, to show the brightness of the steel. Temper in a preheated oven at 235 C. Set your blade, back side up, into your oven. Oven mitts are good. Place your blade tip up in your oven on a middle rack, making sure you have a clear view of the brightness of the steel. Temper the whole blade and tang the same – the colour of straw. Check the colour by quickly cracking open your oven door and looking at the blade colour after 10 minutes (View your blade with goggles on or you will lose your eyelashes). If it is not a straw colour close the door and give it a bit more time. It’s best to temper in a very well lit environment so that you can see the colour change clearly. When it reaches a straw colour set it aside to cool to room temperature. After it cools (help with water) repeat the process. Double temper.
Now take some hardness away from the tang to assure the blade won’t snap at the handle. Turn a front element on maximum and place the tang end up to the first bolt hole right on the element. When the tang begins to turns blue, take the blade with an oven mitt and douse the whole thing in room temperature water. This technique is called differentially tempering.
The hardening and tempering process is tricky but you will be able to carve hardwoods like maple and oak, and fruitwoods like cherry and apple without losing the knives’ razor edge.
-a propane torch.
-1 black marker.
a 20 cm (8") flat bastard and a 15 cm (6") mill bastard files.
-A drill press or drill.
-5/32, 1/8, 3/8 inch drill bits for steel.
- stove with an oven
-High carbon steel, preferably a piece of lumber mill saw blade steel, gang or band saw.
-25cm x 25cm x 6cm piece of ceramic wool. Kiln supplies.
-a block of hardwood 3.75 cm (1 ½”) x 4.5 cm (1 ¾”) x 28 cm (11”). Birch.
-2 x 1 ½ inch #8 pan head, stainless machine bolts with square nuts. Fastener company.
- 6 sanding stick blocks: 2 cm (3/4") x 3.5 cm (1 3/8") x 30.5 cm (12"), and square with crisp corners. I wrap each with a sheet of no-fill sandpaper, starting from 100 grit, 240,360,500, 800 and 1000 grit. ( 80 cents each).
-3 cm (1 ¼") dia. x 30.5 cm (12”) piece of hardwood dowel.
-1 litre coffee can filed 2/3 with canola or olive oi.l
-10 litre bucket filled ¼ with sand.
-10 litre bucket filled with room temperature water.
An indispensable wood carving tool. From British Columbia, Canada.
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