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How to Make a Skeleton Knife

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A skeleton knife is a steel knife with little holes cut out of the tang. It’s a very simple knife to make and a lot of fun for a basic type project. It doesn’t have handle scales, bolsters, pins, or a guard. The steel should not be narrower than an inch and a quarter (1.25in), so that you have a little room to play with when you’re drilling all the various holes that are involved.

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First, lay out the design on the piece of steel and stain it with layout fluid. You can use a paper layout to guide you in the process. If you need a template, you can find the design plan on Walter Sorrells’s Patreon page.

There’s a ton of drilling involved, but anyone can do it with a variety of tools. It all depends on the approach you want to take. You just need to hold your guide in place, so that you can punch or drill the holes in the correct location. Even though the final width of the knife is an inch, you need wider stock to give you clearance for some of the drilling operations.

You can file the jimping by hand or skip it entirely; it’s up to you. Spot all the holes, then use a 1/8-inch drill to drill through the steel. If you’re supporting the stock with parallels, make sure that you slide the parallels back, so that you don’t drill through them. Next, profile the blade on the belt grinder and use the worktable to rough out most of the edges and the radii. Some curves can be made using various wheels on the grinder.

Chamfer the edges of the handle holes using a countersink and a hand drill, then grind the bevels after marking the center line using a scribe to maintain symmetry. Heat treating is the next step to harden the knife, then oil quenching. Results will differ depending on the type of oil. Regularly check the blade with a small handheld magnet and evenly heat the blade.

When everything looks right, plunge either just the blade or the whole knife into the heat treating oil. If you submerge just the blade, the handle will be soft and shock resistant. After putting it in the heat treating oven, ground the blade into the final shape and sand it to remove tool marks from chamfers inside the handle holes.

Lastly, use an abrasive blasting cabinet and you can add a Cerakote finish if you want. The final result is nothing fancy, but the skeleton knife is a light functional unobtrusive blade that can be carried easily, kept in a bag or glove compartment, given a cord wrapped handle, or just left plain.

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