What Is Needed To Make A Knife? | Jonas Blade

What Is Needed To Make A Knife?

What Is Needed To Make A Knife?

Crafting a knife is always an adventure for me. I start out with a nondescript bar of steel, a block of wood, and maybe a few other bits and pieces, and then I end up with something that is beautiful, elegant, and useful. A lot has to happen in the middle, and the longer I’ve worked at my craft, the better I understand why throughout history, bladesmithing was often regarded as a pseudo-mystical art.

The Tools 

For much of the history of this art form, a knife (or sword) would have been crafted by a team of artisans rather than by one individual. There would have been a smith for the forging, then a blade grinder, a separate artisan for the furniture, a cutler for the grip, often a specialized polisher, and then someone else to make the sheath or scabbard. In the world of modern custom bladesmithing, the work is done by a single individual with access to incredible tools that make each operation much easier.

One of the things that I love about hand crafting a knife is the tension between the access to powerful tools and the concentration and care required to use those tools without messing up. For example, I use a 2”x72” abrasive belt grinder to shape and refine my knives after forging. When I grind a bevel, using hundreds of passes on each of the two sides, 

I have to maintain the position of the knife exactly against the abrasive alongside a vertical axis, a rotational axis, and a planar axis. Additionally, this is through a grit progression from coarse to fine that includes at least four separate grit levels. It is very easy to make an unrecoverable mistake with the sheer power behind the grinder where it can happen in a small fraction of a second. When I’m crafting a small batch of knives, I’ll sometimes spend days on the grinder. Every touch has to be perfect.

While it is critical to maintain my focus on crafting the knife, there is also a whole body of technical knowledge that I must keep in mind. Metallurgy is the branch of science that deals with the composition and properties of metal. The metallurgy of steel is fairly unique. The earliest archaeological evidence of mankind’s metalworking career dates back to about 8700 BC, and in the ensuing 10,000 plus years, we have learned a great deal about metallurgy. Most of the metals that we use are softened by heating and quenching to cool them very rapidly. This is true of copper, bronze, brass, silver, gold, and many other common metals. 

Steel is precisely the opposite. If steel is quenched from the right temperature, it will get so hard that it will break almost like glass. This ability to harden is what makes steel so useful and allows us to control its performance with extreme accuracy. Most metals can be sharpened to an extremely fine and sharp edge, but unless that metal is hardened, the edge will dull almost instantly. Steel works so well for knives because it can be hardened predictably, and its edge-holding power is borderline miraculous. If it is too soft, the edge will not hold up. Also if too hard, the edge will chip, or the whole blade may snap. It is up to me to find the proper balance. I take advantage of this every day as I craft my knives. 

Crafting a knife is a freeing and empowering experience because of the effort and focus required. Modern tools and techniques make the processes just rapid enough that it is feasible for a single craftsman to engage in the entire process, and it feels like a privilege for this particular craftsman to be able to have that range. 

About The Author

My name is Zack Jonas. I am a craftsman, and I take great pride in my work. There is nothing like the satisfaction that comes from turning raw, humble materials into an elegant and powerful work of functional art. I started Jonas Blade & Metalworks in 2007, and I have built it from the ground up as I worked to master my trade. I achieved the rating of Master Smith through the American Bladesmith Society, making me one of only 120 in the world. I see the achievement as a jumping-off point, a place to begin. There is so much more to learn and master, and a big part of my drive comes from a thirst to know more.

Learn about the process

Come take a peek behind the curtains and learn a little bit about the work that goes into my knives.

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About Zack Jonas

I won’t bore you with my whole life story, but if you would like to know a little more about me, here’s the abridged version.

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