Some people delay getting into knifemaking because of the expense, and other people rush out and buy a lot of expensive equipment that they don’t necessarily need. In this Blog we talk about how to get started and not break your bank account. We suggest three different Set-Ups: Starter Set-up, Advanced Set-up, and Forging Set-Up.
Essentially if you can understand your needs and purchase equipment as you develop your skills and knowledge you will find knifemaking enjoyable and financially sustainable in the long run.
Some knifemakers start with a small amount of upfront money and as they make and sell knives they invest in equipment and supplies. Gary Greer, the long-time knifemaker who we profiled in January, said that he has equipped his entire shop with the money he has earned from selling his knives.
Before we get into the Set-Up we want to emphasize “Safety First”. Knifemaking involves equipment and sharp objects so you are bound to get some cuts and bruises along the way. But preventing as many as you can and serious injury is the best way to go. You will need eye and ear protection, a mask or respirator when grinding, gloves, and protective clothing. Also, always keep a first aid kit and fire extinguisher in your shop. Remember your eyes, ears, hands, and lungs are important to protect at all times. This safety equipment can be purchased at Home Depot or Canadian Tire. Now let’s get started.
You can get into knifemaking for less than $400.00 with a basic set-up and sending your blades out for heat treatment or using a basic heat treatment method. This way you won’t waste money if this is your first venture and you don’t know if you are going to continue.
Basic Starter Set-Up ($380.00 - $780.00)
If you don’t have any tools the list below tells you what you will need to get started.
Equipment – $300.00 - $700.00
- Bench Vice ($50 - $100)
- Small drill press or hand held drill ($150 - $300)
- Set of files for shaping the bevels ($20)
- Angle grinder ($60)
- Angle grinder discs for cutting out shapes ($20)
Materials - $80.00 or less
- Sandpaper 120, 220, 320, & 400 Grit
- Handle material – hardwood or G10 (easy to work with)
- 1084 steel or 1075 or 1095
- Pins (for securing the handle)
- Adhesive (for gluing the handle)
There are many good resources on the internet and YouTube. Many people say going to a knifemaking course or having an experienced knifemaker as a mentor has propelled their skills and knowledge tenfold.
Once you have spent time making your initial knives you will have developed your knowledge and skills and you will be ready to move onto the next level. This is significantly more expensive but if you are able to make some money selling knives you can invest in your shop and produce higher quality knives.
Advanced Set-Up ($2,600 – $7,200)
This Advanced Set-Up enables you to make more knives in a shorter time and gives you the opportunity to learn more advanced techniques. It assumes that you have acquired the Starter Set-Up and then it builds on that with a Variable Speed Belt Grinder and a Disc Sander.
- Variable Speed 2”x72” Belt Grinder ($1600 - $3200)
- Disc Sander ($1000) (9” variable speed disc sander)
- Heat Treatment Kiln ($3,000) (you don’t need a Kiln if you have a good Heat Treatment Service)
There are many grinders on the market and we recommend that you invest in the best one you can afford. A good grinder will speed your knifemaking and last for a long time.
When you make your initial knives hand sanding is a good way to start learning how to work with metal. But after a while, you will want to spend your time learning new techniques. A disc sander will save hours of time and sweat. But keep in mind expenses. Sandpaper will last for only one to two blades before it is good for use on handles only. For best results use spray glue to attach a thin layer of rubber gasket material to a disc, then use the spray glue to attach the sandpaper to the rubber.
If you are considering buying a grinder and sander you may want to think about getting a variable speed controller. You can purchase grinders and sanders with integrated speed controllers. The more cost-effective option is to use a Variable Frequency Drive (VFD) speed controller. If you purchase the grinder and sander both with three speed motors you can use the VFD with both units saving you money. Also the VFD will save you money on belts because it maximizes belt life.
After you feel that you are getting proficient with your equipment, various materials, and have learned a variety of techniques as you develop your skills you may want to try forging. Forging isn’t necessary to make a knife nor will it produce a better blade than stock removal but it provides the ability to make Damascus and learn more about combining steels and metallurgy.
Forging Set-Up ($2,500 – $4,000)
The Forging Set-Up allows you to work with hot metals and provides the ability to do welding and heat treatment. This set-up is assuming you already have the Starter Set-Up and the Advanced Set-Up. In addition you will need the following equipment.
- Forge ($1000-$2,500)
- Anvil ($1,500)
- Tongs (relatively inexpensive)
With this Forging Set-up you will be able to make your own tools such as tongs, hammers and other tools you may find useful.
These three Set-Ups will enable you to develop your knowledge and skills of knifemaking in a variety of ways. As you grow your expertise you can expand into sheath making, Damascus steel making, and engraving to mention a few. Your knifemaking interests will determine what equipment you will need in the future. Some of the additional equipment you may like to purchase is listed below.
- Bandsaw – used for both steel & wood ($500 - $1,500)
- Kiln - Heat Treat Oven ($3,000 - $5,000)
- Hydraulic Forging Press ($5,000 - $10,000)
- Power Hammer ($10,000)
- Rockwell Hardness Tester ($2,000)
Taking courses, learning from YouTube and other internet sources, and talking to other knifemakers will help you determine what equipment you need and when to invest in it. But by reinvesting the money you make selling knives is a good incentive to expand your horizons with techniques and equipment that both challenges you and is enjoyable.
Photo: Fuzzy Fletcher Buffalo Bladeworks