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Knifemaking FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions about Making Knives

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In this video, Walter Sorrells answers some of the most frequently asked questions on knife-making. He says he gets thousands of questions every month, so he’s just going to do the ones he gets most often.

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The first question is where does he get his steel? Sorrells says there are many different sources on the internet for buying knife steel; the important thing to remember is that the steel should be highly specialized, meaning they should be bought from reputable vendors of steel specifically for knives. Admiral Steel is one, as they have plenty of options in knife-making steels, but there are also others that he presents in a list. These guys can answer all questions buyers might have about knives and steel.

The next question is, “Do I need to heat treat my steel?” The answer is yes, absolutely. All knife makers heat treat steel, because they won’t harden and won’t hold an edge otherwise, and you’ll end up with a knife that won’t be functional.

The third question is, “Can I use this or that steel to make a knife?” The important thing to remember is that there are so many kinds of steel, but only a very small list of steel for knife-making. Common steels that people run into every day, such as 303 stainless, welding steel, structural steel or A36 are not actually suitable for making knives. But there are some common steels that can be used to make knives, such as 440C, 1080 and W1 – just make sure to check first.

Next, “How do I treat this specific kind ofa steel?” Sorrells said that as mentioned, there is a wide variety of steels that have to be treated in different ways. The first thing any knife maker should learn is how to heat treat steel, the single best starting place is in the technical data sheet, which is something every piece of steel has. This data will provide information on how to heat treat, harden, etc.

Another question is “How do you make your hamons?” This is one of those questions that is quite difficult to answer; it’s not something that can be answered quickly and needs a lengthy explanation as it’s a complex process. But Sorrells summarizes by saying he puts clay on the spine of the blade, quench it in water and that causes a difference between the hardened portion, which is the edge, and the spine which remains soft. Beyond that, he says a video that tells everything.

Next question is, “Do I need that fancy belt grinder to make knives?” Sorrells answers that the basic thrust of the question is if a professional belt grinder, a power hammer, a forge press, an anvil – basically all of these fairly expensive pieces of equipment – are necessary. The short answer is that these are not necessary in getting started, just the basics. But as you get more skilled and more committed, then you can advance to better, upgraded tools and equipment.

He says he gets a lot of questions regarding which tools he specifically has in his shop. He gives a list of what he has, plus the specifications for each item. Related to this is the next question asking where cheap tools are available. The reality is that you get what you pay for, Sorrells says. The better you pay, within a certain range, the better the outcome. But this does not mean you can’t work with a budget, but you will have to acknowledge the limitations some cheap tools have.

He wraps up that there is a lot to learn out there, and you don’t have to know everything all at once. Just get started, learn from hands-on experience, have fun, don’t be afraid to make mistakes and remember that practice makes perfect.

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