Shop Setup 101

Oct 22, 2012
I'm really itching to get into making knives. I have just a bit of experience with forging and furnaces, and almost none with power tools. With that said, I'm really looking for some advice in two different directions. I've looked through the stickies several times, but they seem to be a bit disjointed with more tips than comprehensive information in this arena.

First, I'd like to hear recommendations on going with a standard shop setup, from top to bottom, files and drill bits to saws, milling machines, and belt sanders. I know some things I'll need, like files, a drill press, etc., but I'm looking for a complete list with recommendations as to brands, types, etc.

Second, given my lack of experience with power tools, I'd like advice and opinions on going for a completely hand-powered shop. For this, I'd go with things like a bit brace over a drill press (or a manual press), traditional forge and rotary blower over atmospheric furnace, etc. I know this would be much harder, and inevitably involve looser tolerances, but my aversion to power tools up until now means I don't know what I'm missing, and it would seem to be easier to do now rather than later. It would also be cheaper as an initial investment, which is paramount for me right now.

So, that's it! I'm not looking for recommendations on going powered or non-powered, but simply recommendations on equipment for either or both. I plan on starting with 6-12" (Overall) modern and traditional fixed blades and moving on from there if it takes.
Jul 13, 2009
First, I'd like to hear recommendations on going with a standard shop setup, from top to bottom

You've not going to get a comprehensive post.
Firstly, there is no such thing, you always need one more thing.

Secondly, if someone was inclined to type that all out, they would publish a book.
Just one book doesn't cover it all either.

Have a look at this with particular attention to the book and video list.
If you go through ALL of it, maybe then you will have a complete list.

Start here, I think you will find this useful

(Split into 2 posts because I hit the 15,000 character limit.)
Jul 13, 2009
The Count's Standard Reply to New Knifemakers V30

The answer to a 13 year old student is different than a 60 year old machinist
We have members worldwide, you may have a local supplier, hammerin or helpful neighbour.
Please join our community and fill out your profile with location (Country, State, City), age, education, employment and hobbies so we get a sense of where and who you are.

Look at the threads stuck to the top of the page.

The basics in the simplest terms
Absolute Cheapskate Way to Start Making Knives-Printable PDF-Right Click and Save

Web Tutorials
Detailed instructions by Stacy E. Apelt

The Things I Advise New Knife Makers Against-Printable PDF

Handle Tutorial - Nick Wheeler-PDF

Bob Egnath how to

A list of books and videos

BladeForums - E-books or Google books

Books I like:
David Boye-Step by Step Knifemaking
Tim McCreight-Custom Knifemaking: 10 Projects from a Master Craftsman
Clear, well organized, widely available and inexpensive.

Knife Design:
Think thin. Forget swords, saw-tooth spines, guthooks, crazy grinds and folders for your first knife.

Start with a drawing and show us, we love to comment on photos.
Then make a cardboard cutout template & draw in handles, pins and such.
Use playdough to shape a comfortable handle, good handles are not flat.

How to post a photo

Google books thread for Lloyd Harding drawings, Loveless book & Bob Engnath Patterns.

Bob Engnath Patterns in a PDF

Forging Books:
Lorelei Sims-The Backyard Blacksmith - A modern book with colour photos - forging - no knifemaking.

Jim Hrisoulas- Check for the cheaper paperback editions.
The Complete Bladesmith: Forging Your Way to Perfection
The Pattern-Welded Blade: Artistry in Iron
The Master Bladesmith: Advanced Studies in Steel

Machine Shop Basics -Books:
Elementary Machine Shop Practice-Printable PDF Http://

The Complete Practical Machinist-Printable -1885-PDF
Right Click and save link as.
It’s being reprinted now if you prefer paper books

The $50 knife Shop
This book has a great title, but is NOT gospel. It confused me for a long time.
Forging is NOT necessary; you can file and grind to create a knife (stock removal)

Forget the Goop Quench BS, Even back when they used whale oil, it was still liquid oil.
Use a commercial quench oil & match oil speed to the steel type;
Grocery store canola oil works for some steels like 1084.

Junkyard steel requires skill and experience to identify and heat treat it properly.
Forget Lawnmower blades and railroad spike, start with a new known steel.
Good heat treating needs accurate temperature control and full quench.
You can buy proper steel like 1084FG from Aldo very cheaply, and quench in Canola.

Cable damascus is an advanced project has no place in a beginner’s book.

The grinders are the best thing about this book, but 2x72” belt grinders free plans are now on the web.


Don't be this guy

Heat Treating Basics Video-downloadable
Right click and save this. Watch it once a day for 10 days.

Right click and save this. Watch it once a day for 10 days.

Many knifemaking videos are available, some better than others.

The best beginner videos I have seen:
“Steve Johnson-Making a Sub-Hilt Fighter”

"Ed Caffrey - Basic Bladesmithing-Full DVD-ISO"

“Custom Knife Sheaths -Chuck Burrows - Wild Rose”
-(Paul Long has 2 videos, his sheath work & videos are fantastic, but more advanced-with inlays, machine stitching)

Green Pete's Free Video
Making a Mora bushcraft knife, stock removal, hand tools, neo tribal / unplugged heat treat.
Use a piece of known steel, not a file. This as an example of doing it by hand with few tools.
"Green Pete" posted it free using torrent files.
Be sure to look at the other titles I mentioned too - spend some time searching.

Greenpete Knifemaking Basics-on TPB

How to download that video

See a list of videos for rent and read the reviews, Some are good, some bad, expect to wait weeks or months

Draw Filing Demonstration
YouTube video -Draw Filing-for a flat finish

The “welding steel” at Home Depot / Lowes… is useless for knives.
Forget about lawnmower blades ,files and other unknown junkyard steels.
For all the work involved, it is very cheap to buy and use a known good steel.

If you send out for heat treating, you can use
Oil quenched O1, 1095, 1084
Or air quenched A2, CM154, ATS34, CPM154, 440C, plus many others.

For heat treating yourself with minimal equipment, find some Eutectoid steel and quench in Canola oil.
1084FG sold by Aldo Bruno is formulated for Knifemaking, Cheapest & made for DIY heat-treat.
Phone # 862-203-8160

Suppliers List

Heat Treating

You can send blades out for heat treating at $10 or $15 per blade for perfect results, and avoid buying the equipment.

Air Hardening Stainless Steel Only
Buck Pau Bos -Be sure to check the Shipping and Price tabs.

Oil Hardening Carbon Steels and Air Hardening Stainless Steel (Canadian)


1095 is a good carbon steel, but a bad choice for a beginner with limited equipment.
1095 is "Hypereutectioid" and needs very precise temperature control and proper fast quench oil Like Parks 50 or Houghton K
Kevin Cashen - 1095 - hypereutectoid steel

If you are sending one or 2 knives out for heat treatment, use 154-CM or CPM-154 or CPM-s35vn and ship it out to TKS -Texas Knifemaker Supply
It's the cheapest way to do 1 or 2 because of HT minimum charges.

(Darrin Sanders now offers HT on single blades in oil hardening steels)

Quenchants for Oil hardening steel
Forget the Goop Quench and Motor oil.

Use commercial quench oil & match oil speed to the steel type;
The best explanation and classification oil speeds I've seen

Grocery store canola oil works well enough for your first knife-if you use the right steel like 1084

Brine and water are cheap, and technically correct for "water hardening" steels W1 and 1095 but a fast oil like Parks 50 or Houghton Houghto Quench K are less likely to give you broken blades
If you use water or brine, expect to hear a "tink" and have a cracked or broken blade

Glue – Epoxy
Use a new package of slow setting 30 min to 1 hour, high strength epoxy to attach blades to handles and seal out moisture.
Slow epoxy is stronger and gives you time to work with it.
Surface Prep is vital, drill tang holes/ grind a hollow, roughen the surfaces with abrasive or blasting is best.
Ensure the surface is clean and no oil including fingerprints.
Use Acetone & Alcohol, or Blasting.
Don't' over clamp to avoid a “glue starved joint” when all the adhesive is squeezed out.
Brownell's Acraglas
West Systems G Flex
JB Weld

Grinder / Tools

Hand Tools
You can do it all by hand with files and abrasive cloth like the Green Pete video.
Just use 1084 instead of a file.

Stacy - 10 Tools

Photo of a nice bevel filing jig

In my opinion, variable speed and a small wheel attachment are essential on a good grinder.
You can almost always improve tracking with more belt tension. It needs to be way tighter than you first think.

Entry Level Grinders
Sears Craftsman 2x42 belt grinder

Low Speed Modification Craftsman 2x42 belt grinder

Commercial Production 2 x 72” Belt Grinder Reviews

DIY 2 x 72” Belt Grinders

KMG Clone Free Plans

NWG No Weld Grinder

EERF Grinder (EERF =“Free” backwards)

Buy the kit

What Belts to buy?

VFD Variable Speed made simple

Step pulleys are not as cheap as you may think
Maska cast steel pulleys are good and well balanced $75 EACH here plus shaft, bearings, belt

It all adds up to about 1/2 the price of a KBAC-27D

I like direct drive with no belts using a VFD and 3 phase motor for about $200 over the price of the step pulleys with much finer control.

Yes you can get cheaper NEMA 1 VFD’s and build your own enclosure
You may find them cheaper at other retailers and on Ebay direct from china.

Wayne Coe


3 phase 220v 1.5 HP motor, TEFC, frame 56 or 56C,
RPM is up to you many are happy with a 1700 RPM running at double speed.
Make sure it has a footed base for the KMG and NWG, or a C flange face mount for Bader, Bee, Wilton and GIB styles.
I get them on ebay, even with paying $80 for shipping to Canada I save $$$ on a used motor.

The 1.5 HP combination is the most common, as reported by Rob Frink
It allows you to plug into any 110vac, 15 amp outlet.
A 2 HP motor requires a 220vac input.

There are cheaper VFD units like the TECO, but the only VFD I have found that will run a 1.5 HP motor on a 110v 15 amp input is the KBAC27D

It is NEMA4, sealed from metal dust that can burnout the unit.
It has good community and company support, manuals, hook-up diagrams, photos and settings on Rob Frink’s website.

I like the fact that I can buy it from a local distributor in Canada.

Travis W reports running a 2 HP on a 110v circuit, but I haven’t tried it.

Hookup is dead simple

Safety Equipment
Protect your -Eyes, Ears, Fingers, and Lungs – remove jewellery and use safety gear.

Chronic lung disease and cancer really suck the joy out of life.
Goggle "Ed Caffrey lung cancer"
Wearing a mask on the top of your head doesn't count.

The minimum I would consider are silicone half masks with a P100 Filter
3M 7500

and North 7700

Use a VOC & P100 combo cartridge for protection against acetone and solvents.
Prefilters can snap over the main filter for longer life.
There are 3 sizes, buy one in person at a safety supplier and get it fitted.

For beards, pick one of these
3m Breathe Easy
Trend Airshield Pro
Air Cap II


This Google page searches BF and works well.

Can I get rich making knives ?

V30 June 3, 2013
Darrin Sander is no longer HT blades.
Last edited:
Oct 22, 2012
Thanks for the response. I appreciate the time you put into it. As I said, I looked through the stickies, but everyone just gave a list of tools they used to make what the made, and didn't comment much on a recommended setup or brand.
Dec 2, 2011
I cannot imagine using a brace to drill handles, YOU NEED A DRILL PRESS! Not saying it cannot be done, but....


Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider
Nov 27, 2011
What is a brace exactly?

Stacy E. Apelt - Bladesmith

ilmarinen - MODERATOR
Knifemaker / Craftsman / Service Provider
Aug 20, 2004
A brace is a hand cranked drill resembling a crankshaft. The bit is a spiral drill bit used to drill wood. A brace and bit is not a metal working tool.

No one can tell you how to set up your shop. That will take planning and research that is particular to you, your space, your intended knifemaking, and your budget.

A hand powered shop is a box of files, stacks of abrasive paper, maybe some water stones, and a good work surface with clamping features to hold the knives while filing and sanding.
You will still need a drill press to do anything beyond the most simple knives.
Dec 12, 2009
What a great resource. I've bookmarked it. I especially enjoyed "Don't be this Guy." Job has nothing on many of the patient experts that provide the rest of us with so nuch knowledge here. I'm just a guy who wants to learn a little more about what goes into making knives. Even if I never make one, you and others have helped me to appreciate and enjoy using my knives a little more.

Oct 22, 2012
I will check out those videos, thanks Widerstand!

As I said, I'm looking for recommendations on tools for either scenario rather than advice on which route to take. I have used files and sandpaper to regrind (not just sharpen) axes and a brace to drill holes in .125" annealed 1070 and 1085, so I know what I'm getting into by going with the manual tool route. At this point, I can take all the time I want with my knife making, and so it's no problem. If I were selling my knives as I hope to someday, I would be compelled to upgrade to a power shop in order to meet any sort of demand. I don't want to sound ungrateful to those who have already posted, as I value all advice given by those who are by default more experienced than me. Right now I'm looking for some tool recommendations and general tips such as setup, etc.

For example, I have a handful of Nicholson U.S.A. files right now, but they were my fathers and are already pretty worn, especially since I've began using them. I know that Nicholson is no longer U.S.A. made, and the couple of newer examples I've bought were a disappointment and would not even touch some of my rehardened axes. I'd like to know if any current production files equal or outpace the old Nicholsons. I'd like a fairly extensive set of shapes, cuts, and sizes.

Any other advice on tools would be much appreciated.
Feb 15, 2010
Here is a good start on files:

Nicholson 05307 16" half-round Bastard (Brazil) $25.79
Nicholson 05194 14" half-round Bastard (Brazil) $19.83
Nicholson 05258 14" half-round Smooth (Brazil) $22.95
Nicholson 05059 10" half-round Smooth (Brazil) $13.90
Nicholson 04828 6" half-round Second (Columbia) $9.06
Nicholson 04762 4" half-round Smooth (Brazil) $9.11

Nicholson 12248 14" round Bastard (Brazil) $13.03
Nicholson 12134 12" round Bastard (Brazil) $9.15
Nicholson 12199 12" round Smooth (Brazil) $11.37
Nicholson 12019 10" round Bastard (Brazil) $7.32
Nicholson 12051 10" round Second (USA) $7.78
Westward 1NFT5 8" round Smooth (India) $10.49

Nicholson 13343 12" square Second (Brazil) $14.80
Nicholson 13229 10" square Second (Brazil) $11.11
Nicholson 13262 10" square Smooth (USA) $11.96
Nicholson 13000 6" square Second (Brazil) $7.68
Nicholson 12824 4" square Second (USA) $9.02

Nicholson 07941 12" flat Magicut (USA) $13.18

Nicholson 11214 10" pillar Bastard (USA) $10.84

Nicholson 42030 5-1/2" hobby file set (China) $24.29

file card/brush combo (USA) $14.00

General No.890 tool handle (USA) $6.51

total item count..........................................................(22)
total estimate for low retail cost................................$283.17

You may also want to check out this link:
Oct 30, 2002
I think you would have a bit more success soliciting the advice you're looking for if you gave more parameters. First, make a list of things you know you NEED for general shop tools (files, abrasives, drill bits, high-tension hack-saw). Next, make a list of the things you know you need for a forge setup (hammers, tongs [what types?], forge [what types?], bellows/fan, hardy tools, anvil). Then start researching those items. Once you have some thoughts on what you think you need and the brands you are interested in, it's a lot easier to get people's opinions.

Carbonsteel has given you a pretty comprehensive file set list that would be handy for doing a lot of hand shaping. I'd probably add a needle-file set to that list to round it out. Also, for wood working, various rasps would come in handy for speedy stock removal.

For abrasives, a lot of makers recommend Rhynowet redline. You can find it at places like Tru-Grit.

Check out places like Blacksmith Depot (Kayne and Son) or Blacksmith supply for tongs (I especially like Tom's tongs), forges, hammers, and bellows/fans. For tongs, you'll want at minimum a good pick-up tongs, stock-holding tongs (flat and round/square), and probably a good set of wolf-jaws. I use my z-box tongs more than just about any other for the flat stock I work with. You can probably start with a basic blacksmith hammer from Sears, though there are plenty of better hammers out there.

Anvils you can find possibly locally by checking Craig's list or the want ads. Any earlier anvils will usually work. You'll want at least 100# for basic bladesmithing, more for blacksmithing. Stay away from cheapie import anvils. If you want to spend some money, Nimba makes a great anvil here in the states.

You'll also want to pick up plenty of clamps. I like quick-release bar clamps of various sizes, C-clamps of various sizes, and I really like twist clamps.

A large vise will come in very handy when mounted to a solid workbench (which can be easy enough to build yourself with 4x4's, 2x4's and MDF sheet and all thread).

Anyway, this is just a start to suggestions. Like I said, do the work to make yourself a list, and then you can ask questions about suggestions for the various items.

Oct 22, 2012
Thank you guys, I know it's a tall order, but I appreciate your advice.

I have 2 old USA-made anvils, but they're only 40 and 50#. I had been using a 100kg anvil that my grandfather used, when I first got into blacksmithing (I was still in high school and only made a couple pairs of tongs and some horseshoes), but it was stolen for scrap (I was actually surprised they could get away with it, 20" hickory stump and all, it weighted at least 275lb). I'll have to invest in a new, larger anvil it seems, but shipping is the killer there.

I will follow up on those file recommendations, maybe I just got a couple duds from Nicholson.

I'm scavenging things like hammers and vices from flea markets and family, in addition to a few tools I started with years ago. Tongs will be a problem, I just have crucible tongs right now, which are useless for smithing.

I'll be back when I have some more solid questions, thanks again everyone!
Nov 2, 2007
Just because your files don't work on a re-hardened axe doesn't mean they won't work with annealed steel.
Feb 5, 2010
How DO you anticipate making knives? You going to put on a knife making show at the Renaissance Festival? You going to do it in a backwoods shed, far from civilization?

Also, what type of knives do you want to make? Full tang? Hidden tang? Folders? Illegal constructions?
Jul 17, 2011
I've developed my shop over years of trying to do better and easier. If you are 25 and in good shape, go the hand tool route. If you're fifty, you'd regret it. Go to the hammer-ins and look at pictures of other people's shop. Develop around YOUR interests. One way will have a stronger appeal, then..... cut your fingers and mash your fingers, figuratively of course, that's how you learn best.