How to make a professional looking knife?

Joined
Jun 13, 2012
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I've been making fixed blades for a while, and while I'm definitely getting better, I don't see my work looking as... finished... as I'd like. I have a couple specific questions, but any general help to give me that edge (pun intended :D).
First of all, how do you get such an even grind line? Usually I use my Work sharp (not meant for grinding, I know, but it kind of works) but it's hard to get a good tip on a knife with it.
Second, is there a kind of treatment or coating I can do to the steel? I use gun blueing sometimes but I don't like how it looks so much and it takes far too many coats to turn the blade darker.
Can't think of any more specific questions right now, but any help would be greatly appreciated.

My knives-
tumblr_mj9vgafgic1r99r4vo1_500.jpg

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Joined
Nov 29, 2010
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Maybe you could post some pics of your knives so we can critique them?

As for the consistent edge, if your bevel is different thickness, your cutting edge will be also if you're using a jig type sharpening system. For example, if your knife is thicker at the tip than the ricasso, then your edge will not be consistent.

If the steel of your knife is not meeting your expectations, there are several things you could do. Maybe take it to a higher grit. If you're only grinding to 400, then try hand sanding up to 800. Or perhaps try different types of belts. Trizact Gators leave a very nice finish as do ScotchBrite belts.

One of the things that really helped me judge my work is to buy knives from makers who's work you admire. Sure it can be pricey, but figure it as an investment. You can always turn around and sell them after analyzing them. I learned a lot by handling and using other maker's knives.

These are just a few thoughts I have. Once we see some of your knives and what areas you want to improve, you'll probably get more specific answers. Good luck to ya!
 
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Mar 5, 2012
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Maybe it's just me, but when a knifemaker(talking more about production knives really) coats theirs blades it's usually to cover up a finish they aren't proud of. Alot of makers don't do this alot, but try hand rubbing a blade with increasing grits of sand paper. I went to oreilly's and bought a 3m variety pack a few weeks ago. It had 220, 400, 800 and 1000 grit. I happened to have some 2000 grit laying around which helped too. I spent probably 2 hours on a 4 inch blade surface for one side. Then buffed it a ton with a drill wool ball. Led to a flawless mirror finish, but it's super easily scratched by random things, it's very impractical. For a next knife, I'm thinking of using a belt sander to sand to 400 grit. Using the belt sander is nice, because even though it's not a mirror polish, all the lines are in the same direction and it's looks quite nice.

Talking about the grind line from what you said, I'm assuming you are talking about the cutting edge grinding. If you don't buy a jig like Mudbug007 suggested, the consistency just comes with lots of practice and being careful. A good tip to remember I learned in basketball was this. Do an activity till you do it well, THEN you can speed it up.
 
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Pictures added. I'll look into a jig, maybe. I know that one problem is that I'm not sanding down each blank enough, because I left some deep grind marks from where my cutting wheel skipped over the metal...
 
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When I mentioned using a jig for sharpening, I meant a system that holds your blade at a precise angle while being sharpened, like a Real Sharp System, Work Sharp, Edge Pro, etc. I didn't mean a jig for grinding the main bevel, although that may help you keep your grinds consistent until you get good enough to freehand.

I'm looking at your pics now. The first knife looks pretty good actually except for the squarish handles. I'd round them more. I don't mind a dull blade like that, but I understand most buyers would want a brighter finish. Spend more time grinding or hand sanding until there are no more scratches in it. Be patient, don't get in a hurry. I'm very familiar with wanting to get a knife done so you can see what it's going to look like. But take any amount of time to finish it until you're satisfied with it. Tell yourself if it takes two days to hand sand it, then you'll take two days and then another if you have to.

I like the cleaver, although I can understand it wouldn't be for everyone. I see a little inconsistent grinding on the handle at the lower section where it meets the blade. Again, I'd round the handle a little more. As for the steel, you just need to spend more time finishing it out. Either with Gator's, Scotchbrites or hand sanding with higher grits. Make sure you start with lower grits and work your way up. Don't try going from a 120 grit to 400 or something crazy like that. Progress up the grits and don't go higher until the grit you're currently using is as flawless as you want it.

Stay with it, I think you'll see improvement in your next blades if you stay patient and just spend more time sanding/grinding to a higher finish and round those handles more!
 
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You can cut years off your learning curve by going to hammer ins. The same is true of visiting a knife maker in your area. Most people in this field are pretty friendly and generous. I am always willing to pay for a maker's time if I am asking for lessons. If it is just a visit to watch, at least find out what type of beverage he or she likes:)

The next best thing is to get some DVDs. Some take a knife from start to finish, others (like those filmed at hammer ins) cover one or two specific subjects. Both will show you many things that might take years (which is to say lots of frustration and money) to figure out through trial and error.
 

Stacy E. Apelt - Bladesmith

ilmarinen - MODERATOR
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What your knives lack is being finished......... that is the biggest thing that separates an amateur blade from a pro blade.

The handles are squared off blocks of wood attached to the knife.....round them to an even curve so the cross section is oval or egg shape.
Rivets should be crisp and clean.
Any changes in direction or curvature of the surface on the handle need to be done smoothly.

Blades need to be smoothly curved, and edges need to be straight, Yours have dips and swells.
The blade surface needs to be sanded to a perfect plane. There should be no marks, dips, gouges, etc.
Go to 400 grit before HT and have it dead flat. After HT, start again at 220 grit and progress to at least 1000. If you want a satin finish, go back down the grits from 1000 until you like the look.
 

jll346

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Definately need cleaning up and some handle shaping
 
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Jun 16, 2012
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I'm still a learner too so bare with me and don't think for a moment that its an accomplished maker giving advice :p , but this is what I've picked up.

Draw filing - where you clamp the blade and work it with files to create even planes and clean things up. How to - http://youtu.be/Dec78RQsokw?t=54s (skip to about the 1 minute mark, its on a gun but the process is the same)

Handle Sanding - Much the same, clamp the knife the other way around. Use a file to remove any large amounts of material and give the general shape you want, then use either a belt from a belt grinder turned inside out OR emery cloth. You form one of those shapes like those cancer ribbons around the knife and pull alternatively with each hand, thats how people make their handles rounded. You do all of that after the handle is attached - Just remember to get the areas you wont be able to get to BEFORE you put the handle on. To do that you put the pins through and do both at the same time. I put the sandpaper on a surface and work the knife sort of like the way you sharpen a knife instead of putting the sand paper to the wood which wont give even surfaces unless you use some sort of sanding block behind the paper. I put the sand paper on marble or a hard surface if I want sharp edges, a mouse pad to soften edges.

Also a belt sander is a god send. Takes some time to learn and develop the skill but it works so much faster that I don't get exhausted or bored and start cutting corners. Can finish a rough profile and do the bevel in under 30 minutes. You can google up a coupon code and get the cheapy craftsman for under $200 shipped.
 
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Equipment and experience. Try to think of taking off even amounts of material with every stroke or pass. Consistent speed and pressure. As far as the finishing, sand paper, elbow grease, and a picky sense of your art. Don't settle for good enough, make it better.... every time. And you have a better start than me because you're in the Valhalla of intricate knowledge on the subject of cutting edges. Don't read, absorb. These guys are the stuff, no kidding.
 
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May 19, 2009
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Ehh...I wouldn't say equipment is part of the solution. A good maker can make an excellent knife with basic tools. Good equipment only speeds up the process.

There's been some good advice so far. The only thing more I can say is don't skip steps. If you see that your grinds aren't even then don't move on to the next step; take the time to make them even before you think about refining the finish.
If your handle shapes don't look good then just keep working on them. When I do handles I look at them from many angles. If the profile from that angle doesn't look right then remove whatever you need to to make it look right, then do the same thing from a different angle. Basically if you rough shape the handle from the side of the knife, the back of the knife, then from each quarter view of the knife then you end up with an octagonal cross section. From there it's a simple matter of smoothing out the smaller high spots. I like to use half inch strips of sand paper using the shoeshine method to shape and finish my handles.

Just keep at it. If it doesn't look as nice as you want then identify what doesn't look right and fix it before you go to the next step. Your knives need work but they aren't horrible. You'll be turning out pro quality in no time if you pay attention to details and make corrections as you go along.
 
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I suggest you hook up with a local knife maker, they can help you develop the methods needed to get your fit and finish up to par. It is really tough to do it on you own, many makers do not mind a visit from a newby if they really want to listen.

One think I dont think you mentioned, is how much time you spend. A good finish requires a few hours, so you may need to look at effort as well.
 
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The comment about attending hammerins is a very good one. I'm posting a link with information on one that's not really far from Charlotte. I've been attending this one twice a year for 10yrs. now and can vouch for the valuable information you can get there. It's all designed for hands on participation and you'll get to meet and sit down with some of the best knifemakers around. Here's the link:http://www.bladeforums.com/forums/showthread.php/1043896-Hammer-in-Notice
 
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What Rick said.. ^

Go to hammer ins, ask questions, and pay a LOT of attention. You will be amazed at how much it cuts your learning curve and improves your finish work.

Robert (Who is still as rough as a corn-cob)
 
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My problem is that I'm 18 and don't really have a way to get anywhere much further than the general Charlotte area. I met with Mr. McRae of Scotia metalwork (great guy) once and learned a lot about forging after one hour or so. However, I haven't been able to get ahold of him since then. Also, he has a forge, while I'm limited to stock removal.
 

Fred.Rowe

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What Rick said.. ^

Go to hammer ins, ask questions, and pay a LOT of attention. You will be amazed at how much it cuts your learning curve and improves your finish work.

Robert (Who is still as rough as a corn-cob)

Well said, my friend:)
 
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My problem is that I'm 18 and don't really have a way to get anywhere much further than the general Charlotte area.

Hoss, if you are only 18, then you have the whole world ahead of you, and you can make it or break it. Even though you might not be able to travel at this time, you can still ask your friends/family to give you some feedback on your knives.

Look at photos on this Forum. Look at photos on various maker sites and ask yourself, "How did they do that?". Study, ask questions, take the answers for what they are worth and move ahead. Never give up. If you have the inner-passion, you can get to where you need to be.

Sometimes a phone call to a fellow-maker can not only help, but can possibly make a life-long friendship.

Hang in there Hoss.......... Life is good if we give it a fair chance.

Robert
 
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Hoss, if you are only 18, then you have the whole world ahead of you, and you can make it or break it. Even though you might not be able to travel at this time, you can still ask your friends/family to give you some feedback on your knives.

Look at photos on this Forum. Look at photos on various maker sites and ask yourself, "How did they do that?". Study, ask questions, take the answers for what they are worth and move ahead. Never give up. If you have the inner-passion, you can get to where you need to be.

Sometimes a phone call to a fellow-maker can not only help, but can possibly make a life-long friendship.

Hang in there Hoss.......... Life is good if we give it a fair chance.

Robert

That's just how I came up with the design for my first knife, just looked at the sellers area for a few minutes. Found a few blades I would buy If I was into buying blades for that price and morphed them all into one.
 
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