Custom knifes are a staple of most professional cooks and chefs and can range in price from $200-$3000; however, you should be able to complete one knife for about $10 worth of steel and without power tools!
I wouldn't say that this is a very difficult project more that it requires a lot of patience and time, so get your audio books ready. Each knife requires about 20hr of work, there are ways to reduce this but it will require more money and probably more waiting.
***Just found a very good kitchen knife instructable that uses a whole swath of power tools to accomplish what took me a whole summer in just two weeks so it is probably worth a look if you have lots of equipment.***
http://gizmodo.com has a article about why you would want to buy a custom knife written much better than I can manage, so if you don't know why you would want to spend all this time crafting a knife I suggest a quick read (of at least the top section).
Custom knives that are almost identical to the ones shown in this guide can be purchased at:
For more information about knife making I suggest you visit the following website as it has a great deal of very specific information http://www.jayfisher.com/Chef's_Knives_Culinary_Kitchen_Cutlery.htm#Chefs_Knives_Blades
List of steps (^order is important):
Gather materials and/or tools**
Choose or create your own design^^
Order steel to according to your needs^
Shape the steel^
Heat treat the steel^
Sharpen the knife^
Carve a Wooden handle**
(**order isn't so important)
I will do my best to teach as much as I can while staying interesting. Thanks for reading, and please vote. Thanks- Lucas
Step 1: Safety
This is just a step proclaiming that I am not responsible for what happens to you, or others, while you follow these instructions.
This instructable deals with really sharp objects, really hot objects, and really flammable substances. Common sense should prevent all injuries, but please be careful.
With that out of the way let's continue
Step 2: Materials and Tools
So this is what I recommend you have to build a good quality knife:
Steel (I will go into a lot more detail in the next step)
Wood (Hardwoods work best, those free samples from hardware stores should work, I got mine from Lee Valley)
Brass Rivets (Lee Valley, )
Plaster of Paris
Steel Mesh (Hardware store)
Map Gas (or propane depending on choice of steal)
Metal File (Double-cut flat bastard)
Hacksaw and Metal specific blade (about 24 teeth per inch)
Hand Drill and Bits (Or electric if you prefer)
Permanent Markers (one very thin and the other very thick)
Nozzle (to burn the propane or map)
Metal or Plastic brush
Clear Varnish or stain
It will also be tremendously helpful to have a filling jig.
I based mine off the video above/below (this video was not made by me, but I have permission from the author to use it):
Step 3: Steel
The choice of steel will dramatically impact how your finished blade will perform, it is the most important part of a knife as a result it gets a whole step.
Basic steel is a combination of two elements, Iron (Fe) and Carbon (C). The more carbon a steel contains the harder it will be, harder steels can take a much thinner, finer edge that will last a long time, this will also reduce its toughness though, as it becomes more brittle.
Historically these two elements were combined when a blacksmith heated iron in a forge, the smoke coming off of the fire (primarily carbon) would coat the steel and would then be pounded into the steel as he (or she?) shaped the metal. This is were Damascus steel comes into play, the more layers in the blade the more times it was folded and beaten and therefore the more carbon it contained. Nowadays Damascus steel is produced by machines and is about the same as a high quality stainless/carbon,it does have a unique pattern that can be brought out with acid.
With the advances of technology in the last few hundred years you no longer need a full blacksmith setup in order to make high carbon steel knives (if you do want to make your own Damascus though check out this ible). Steel specific for knife making can now be ordered of the internet, it is these that I will focus on.
There are two classifications of knife steel stainless and non-stainless.
Stainless steel usually contains at least 13% Chromium this helps prevent rust and other stains from developing on the surface of the blade. Stainless steels are for the most part harder to heat treat, especially at home, so if you are set on a stainless steel you may wish to consider sending it away to be heat treated. My list from best to OK stainless steals goes like this:
(caps indicates steel I have personally used)
Non-stainless steel knives contain less than 13% Chromium, they are usually cheaper and easier to heat treat, they are just as sharp if not sharper than stainless, they will however rust and stain to varying degrees so be sure to keep them dry(20min is too long) My list for non stainless goes like this.
1084 TOOL STEEL
1095 TOOL STEEL
1075 tool steal
(there are a lot that are missing from my lists, please leave a comment if you would like to add one to the list or if you have a beef with the location)
http://www.wired.com/2012/11/chefs-knives/#slideid-506123 sums up the diffrence between stainless and carbon pretty well.
My recommendations for making your first knife at home would be either of the two steels that I used to create the knives in the opening picture. 01 tool steel and 1084 tool steel. After you have made one or two I would recommend paying more in order to get cpmD2, (if you can find it), it is a semi-stainless steel that has a reputation for really sharp edges that last a long time.(1095 gets a lot of recommendations from other sites but I was told by the people whom I bought my steel from that heat treating it needs to be very precise.)
For more info on steels and other people's opinions check out any of the following websites:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_blade_materials(surprisingly helpful as of sept 1st 2014)
Now that you have hopefully decided on a type (or two) of steel its time to decide on the dimensions.
My first knife was 9" x 3/32" x 1.5" 01 this is the kind of thickness and width that I would suggest for a first try, length is up yo you.
My other two are 1/8" x 2" 1084 these two are a little too thick for a kitchen knife so I wouldn't suggest getting 1/8".
If you can get it 5/32" x 2" is an ideal size for kitchen knives.
As for ordering if you live in Canada, particularly Alberta, I would really suggest https://www.knifemaker.ca/ they have great service.
If you are in the states or elsewhere consider http://www.knifemaking.com/category-s/99.htm
Step 4: Initial Shape
The designs of kitchen knives vary based on there intended purpose, I have based mine on a very versatile hybrid Western Japanese chefs knife. Look around and find a design you like, I would then suggest a cardboard cutout to test how it feels and make sure you have enough room for you knuckles, this will allow you to make any size adjustments you need before transferring the design to metal.
http://www.seriouseats.com/2013/12/equipment-the-best-chefs-knives-gift-guide.html has some good information on how the shape affects a knife's behavior.
After you have decided on what shape your knife should be I would suggest ordering a piece of steel that can accommodate your design, keep in mind that the larger the knife the longer it will take to complete it so I suggest you start small.
When you get your steel transfer your design onto it using a thin permanent marker (or a scribe if you have one).
If you are using a vice to hold your knife during cutting, (I would strongly suggest doing this), it is best to have a couple of pieces of scrap wood between the jaws of the vice and the steel to prevent damage to the steel as it is annealed (soft) at this point in time.
Use the hacksaw to cut out the outline, this takes a reasonably long time. Properly using a hacksaw isn't difficult, but it is different from a woodsaw, be sure to have one hand on the handle and the other on the far side (near the wing-nut), apply even pressure and you should be able to cut much quicker than if you were using it like a woodsaw.
Step 5: Initial Bevel
There are usually two bevels on a knife, sometimes three. The first goes all the way up the blade and the second, which is the one that is polished and makes the knife sharp. There is a variety of bevels each with there own strengths and weaknesses. I will concentrate on the most common three, and the only ones you can make with the filling jig.
Full Flat Grind (FFG): Both sides of the knife taper evenly until the top of the blade. Very common as it is a good combination of sharpness, durability, suction and drag.
Double Bevel: Both sides of the knife are angled however there are three bevels. The lowest at the very edge which gets sharpened, then a higher angle that usually extends about half the way up the blade, and then either a final slightly higher angle or just flat edges. This grind is a little less sharp than a FFG; however, it has more durability and less suction. It also doesn't take as long to finish as a FFG.
Chisel Bevel: Only one side receives a bevel, but all the way up like a FFG. These are sharper, and more precise as the one side stay flat. Not very common in western knives but prevalent in Japanese cutlery. There is a small sacrifice in edge durability, and it will both look and behave strangely to those who are unaccustomed to it. Fastest of all three to complete and it is very easy to sharpen.
http://zknives.com/knives/articles/knifeedgetypes.shtml and http://backyardbushman.com/?page_id=13 both have good information and graphics for more detail than I have here.
Once you decide what type of grind you want to have on your knives it's time to start on the longest and most arduous of the steps. Be prepared to spend at least two hours per side for a 3/32 FFG, more time as the steel gets thicker. Refer to the video in the Materials and Tools step for making and using the filling jig.
I created a slightly different jig that sits in the jaws of my sawhorse and was a little cheaper to make but the processes is almost identical to that described in Mr. Gough's youtube video. After making three knives I have a few extra recommendations.
My personal recommendations are:
Mark the centerline with a drill bit of the same diameter as the thickness of your steel and with as fine a point as possible.
Leave extra thickness on the first pass if you want to make a double bevel.
Paint the blade with sharpie every time you begin a new angle
Work in broad strokes, this is really important otherwise it is very easy to end up with lowspots that are very difficult to remove and only show up later as you begin to polish.
Put a small block of wood under the end of the knife if possible to reduce flex and movement.
Listen to an audio book preferably one that is long. Both the Lord of The Rings series (by J.R.R Tolkein narrated by Bob Inglis) and The Kingkiller Chronicles (by Patrick Rothfuss) are great choices.
Be patient and use as rough a file as you can find
Be very sure to use a Double-Cut file otherwise the chance of deep and very difficult to remove marks goes up.
Brush of the knife and the file every 2-5min with a brush.
Cross-file every time you change angles so you don't end up with large ripples
Step 6: Polishing
Polishing the blade of knife not only makes it look better but it will help with corrosion and staining. The smoother you can get the surface the less likely water is to stick and stain the blade. I used a set of three stones to polish my blade. I started on a rough stone (300-400 grit), then moved to a finer stone, (800 grit) and finished on the finest stone I have (1200 grit). This result is shiny but not mirror shine.
If you are looking for a full mirror polish, or don't have stones I would suggest emery cloth or wet dry sandpaper.
The process is simple just rub the blade on the stones, or rub the sandpaper on the blade. Do this until the whole surface is evenly rough/fine and then move up a level in grit. If you are using stone I would suggest keeping the blade on the last inch or two of the stones as this will help keep them level. Keep alternating which side you are doing not leaving one side or the other wet and in the air for very long, if you are using wetstones. If you are using stones that can accept oil then I would recommend using it as it will prevent staining. This will take a long time, but not as long as setting the grind.
Step 7: Drilling Rivet Holes
In order to attach the handle scales to your knife you will need to have two holes drilled in the tang to put the rivets through. It is important to do this now before the heat treat. I suggest assembling a test rivet to see how much it will expand when the two pieces are put together.Be sure to use a center punch to indent the metal, this will help stop the drill bit from wandering and will help it bite into the steel. Then select a drill bit that is the same size and drill two holes in the tang(handle) of the knife. Using a hand drill will reduce the risk of snapping drill bits. I used an electric drill and broke two different metal bits. The hand drill doesn't even take that much longer than an electric, ten minuets tops.
Step 8: Making a Forge
In order to heat treat your knives you will need a way to heat them up to austenization temperature, at this point the internal structure of the steel changes, this happens at around 750C (1400F). I have seen some people use an oxy-acetylene torch without a forge, but I have never tried it myself and can't speak to the results.
I would recommend making your own forge, but if you don't feel comfortable, or you have chosen to work with a more complicated steel (stainless) there are companies that you can ship your blade to that will do a heat treat, (cryo?) and annealing for you:
https://www.knifemaker.ca/home.php?cat=301 (Again I would recommend these guys)
So if you do decide to do the heat treat yourself you will need a forge, you could buy one, but I think that most of the people reading this would rather build there own. My forge is based of of fellow Instructables author NightHawkInLight's instructable Soup can forge, however I made mine larger to accommodate chef's knives. I used the same home made firebrick material, sand and plaster of Paris, but instead of a can I used a steel mesh that was cut and then "sewn" together with copper wire. You can test to see if your forge gets hot enough by trying to melt common table salt (NaCl) as it melts at around the same temperature needed to treat the knives.
There are however other options:
The very popular and easily made Two Brick Forge (made by fellow instructable's member makingcustomknives)
More difficult Atmospheric Gas Forge
And the biggest and most complicated Freon Forge
Step 9: Heat Treat
Heat treating a knife is the process that brings out the knife's true characteristics, up till this point the steel has been relatively soft and "easy" to work with. After this point the blade will become much more difficult to work with so be sure it is the way you want it.
A heat treat has two main steps hardening the steel. Then softening it to the right amount, this is called tempering and it will relieve some of the stress created during the heat treat and increase the knifes durability (less brittle).
The temperature to which a steel will have to be heated to achieve it's maximum hardness will depend on the steel, carbon steels are generally lower than stainless. For more information and the science behind this process check out the Wikipedia Article or The University of Cambridge's Poster
Start up whichever of the forges you decided to make, if you went the plaster of paris rout it will probably take about ten minuets to fully dry out the material for the first time. You want to have the flame moving towards the rear of the forge and in a spiraling motion, this will help to evenly heat the steel. ware gloves as being this close to such an intense heat could do serious damage, plus its not very comfortable. Keep the blade moving to ensure the whole blade reaches an even temperature. The steel will begin to change color, when the blade reaches a bright red place it against a magnet. If the magnet sticks then it is not hot enough, if it doesn't then you have reached the correct temperature, you also now know what colour the steel needs to be at, when the whole blade is the same colour you can quench.
Most of the tool steels require an oil quench, old motor oil works well; however, it is almost guaranteed to burst into flame when you quench the blade. If you don't want to have to deal with an oil fire canola, or olive oil works great. Either which way it is good to be prepared for an oil fire so have a fire extinguisher, or box of baking soda, on hand. NEVER TRY TO PUT OUT AN OIL FIRE WITH WATER!!! There needs to be enough oil to fully submerse the blade, the tang(handle) doesn't really need to be heat treated in a chef's knife so don't worry about it. The container should be fire proof/resistant, no plastic or wood, a metal container works well cylindrical if possible. I used an old artillery shell.
When you quench the blade move it like you would to cut something forward and backward, don't move it side to side as that promotes warping. having a layer of baking soda on top of the oil will help with fire prevention, if you are by yourself. Keep slicing for about two minuets after that the knife can come out of the oil. Be gentle with it because at this point is very brittle and might crack or chip if dropped. Give it a wash in soapy water to remove the oil. There will still be a black scale on the outside of the knife, but that is normal, don't bother removing it yet. If you haven't treated a knife before try rubbing a file against the newly hardened blade, it should skip over and leave little/no marks. If it bites into the blade then try heating and quenching again.
Now it is time to temper the knife, this reduces the hardness, but increases the flexibility of the blade. The amount of hardness to brittleness is decided by the temperature and the time that you select for tempering. Most steel companies have a chart showing what temperature and time to "cook" the steel at to get the desired hardness. Hardness is measured using the Rockwell Scale and for a high quality kitchen knife we want about a 60-64.
I have included a picture of the tempering scale taken from http://www.bucorp.com/files/aisi_o1.pdf in this step it is for 01 Tool Steel. Clearbrook Forge has a very good article covering the heat treat and tempering of 1084. USKnifeMaker also has a good page dealing with varying high carbon steels. I put my 1084 blades in the oven at 200F for two hours. My 01 was 300F for two hours.
After the blade has been tempered it can be given it's final polish, this will be much faster than the first time around because it is mostly just taking of the scale, go straight to a very fine grit sandpaper or stone.
(I apologize for the poorly aimed video, it is very much a time sensitive process)
Step 10: Sharpening
Sharpening knives is an art that takes a lot of practice to get right. There are systems that can help you start out though. I would recommend attaching some Lansky Hones (don't get the kit as it doesn't have a setting for the kind of angles that are used in fine chef's knives) to the filling jig I showed earlier if you are not comfortable with making the investment in purchasing whetstones. You can also use two pennys stacked under the end of the blade to get a consistent and appropriate angle. I don't recommend any of the products that have angles already set (eg. Things that look like this) they will most likely not be at an angle suitable for the types of knives we are making, and they generally don't perform as well. You could also send your knife to a sharpening service, Knifewear is pretty good, but some won't deal with knives that don't already have an edge so check before you send you creation away.
The way that I sharpened mine knifes is more or less the traditional way, repeatedly sliding the blade along a whetstone at a consistent angle in order to first grind and then polish the edge. It isn't as hard as you might think because you get to set the angle, so you will know how to hold it, you won't have to try and match an existing angle. I have uploaded a little video clip of me sharpening one of my 1084 knives, try and follow the same motions, keep the angle low (most Japanese knifes are at around 11 degrees) so this is what I was aiming for. The lower the angle the sharper, but more fragile the edge will be. Once you can feel a bur, it is time to switch to the other side, one a bur forms again switch, but this time do far less strokes. Continue to flip when you can feel the bur and keep decreasing the amount of strokes until the edge is centered (about three strokes a side). Then move up to a higher grit stone. I finish my knifes with a 3 micron diamond polish (approx 8000 grit) on a piece of glass. I showed a test on paper because it is very common and doesn't vary much from place to place (the skin on tomatoes does), all three of my knives will Comfortably shave hair. I have also incleuded a video of standard "stainless Steel" filet knife trying to perform the same task, this knife was proffesionaly sharpened about three weeks ago and is now completely dull.
I would also recommend sharpening the knife (at least partially) before you put handle scales on. The "mud" that is generated by the whetstones penetrated the wood of my second knife's handle scales and made it much darker than the others.
Some great guides for sharpening knifes are http://www.japanesechefsknife.com/howtosharpen.html (picture aren't great but the info is there, this shows the two penny approach) and SeriouseEats (very good, written much better than I can manage).
Step 11: Handle Construction And other Finishing Touches
Depending on the style of knife you decided to make you will either be making a hidden tang handle, or the more common handle scales witch lie flush with the tang. The knife I documented in this instructable has handle scales. My smallest knife had a hidden tang, meaning that wood fully enclosed the metal that protruded after the blade, it has an octagonal shape common to Japanese knifes. Both of my other larger knives have more western handles were the wood is shaped the same as the tang and then fitted with rivets to hold them on the sides. These are the types of handles that I will show in this guide but if you want to know how I made the traditional Japanese handle please leave a comment or message me.
Start of by cutting to slabs of wood, preferably a hard wood that has a nice grain, they should be somewhere between 5mm and 10mm, at least this is what feels comfortable for me. You can decide on your own thickness depending on the size of your hands. Once you have a thickness in mind use the miter box to make straight cuts so that both blocks are identical (in thickness anyway). They don't need to be the same in the other dimensions as long as they can fully cover the tang. I made my handles a little shorter than usual because I like to be able to feel the steel when I am doing fine cutting.
Once the slabs have been cut line the tang up and make marks for where the holes for the rivets should go. Then drill these holes out. start with a drill bit that is the same diameter as the top of your rivets, drill this hole a little deeper than the thickness of the head of the rivet. Proceed to drilling the next hole all the way through,the drill bit should be a little smaller that the diameter of the rivets this will compress the wood and help keep the handle scales tight in the future.
Now it is time to put the rivets into the handle and permanently attach the handle scales (which should still just be blocks). Use a vice to press the rivets into each other stop when you reach the wooden scales with the jaws of the vice (otherwise you end up with more sanding to do). Next take a nail and hold it in the vice, place the rivet on top of this nail and then another nail on the opposite side with the nail head contacting the opposite rivet. Hit the top nail with a hammer, this should countersink the rivets slightly, depending on how deep you drilled the larger holes.
Once the handle scales are on use either a coping saw or a hacksaw fitted with a wood blade to cut away excess. Then you can either use a knife, or a dremel( wouldn't suggest this as it usually leaves a wavy pattern). Using a sharp blade will leave a very nice finish that can be smoothed out later with sandpaper. If you are very careful though a knife can be used all on its own.
After you have it shaped the way you want, I usually put a slight taper getting wider towards the back and smooth out the edges and then have the handle scales slope down to the steel at the front. Then either go straight to a clear coat (varnish), or use about a 220 grit sandpaper to smooth out any inconsistencies left by the shaping.
When the handle is smooth and comfortable to hold you can apply either a stain or varnish depending on the type of wood you are working with. If you like the look of the wood grain by itself than use a clear varnish to protect the handle from moisture and eliminate warping. If the wood is rather plain experiment on a scrap piece to find a stain that you like, follow the directions on the can to apply the stain. After it is stained apply a clear coat.
Your new knife is now completed, however there may be some other personalizations that you might want to add I will list some engraving and etch instructables below.
lasersage's Knife Etching Instructable (Plan on doing this later) If you don't want to deal with high amperage and water (I know I don't really want to) You can take a liter jug of common white vinegar and boil it down to about 250ml to get a strong enough solution to etch knife blades.
ElmarsM also has a knife etching ible' (this uses stronger acid)
If you don't have a knife block, or you want to keep this knife separated MrBippers has a great instructable for Making a Wooden "Sheath" for chef's knives.
So you just saved about $200 and have the satisfaction of using a high quality tool that you made, have fun and be safe. Thanks for reading, all votes and comments are appreciated- Lucas