Making a Whittling Knife Workshop Projects

After finishing my striking knife, and being very impressed by the excellent quality of the steel used in making good sawzall blades, I thought I would have a go at making another knife. This time, a whittling (carving) knife. I’m not much into carving (or knife making, for that matter), but I do some basic stuff occasionally. Anyone that is, will have a full complement of knives and chisels for the task and this type will usually be in there – often referred to as a sloyd, it’s a general purpose knife, good for roughing and some detail work. It has a 2-1/4″ long blade with a curved edge and a fine point:

homemade whittling knife

The blade has a ‘full convex’ grind profile (no secondary bevel) which makes it well suited for carving and a snap to sharpen. The handle is sapele wood – I have a small piece of it that I’ve been using on small projects. I think is a great wood for knife handles.

I started with a small new sawzall blade and ground the teeth off. Using an old one is fine, as long as it hasn’t been bent or overheated, which often happens while using sawzall blades.

use a sawzall blade to make a knife
use a reciprocating saw blade to make a knife

I have water handy to cool the blade, to make it easier to handle. Also, since only the cutting edge of the blade is getting heat treated, it’s a good idea to keep the blade cool while working it.

Grinding the profile on the belt sander platform and then forming the bevels on the blade:

how to make a knife
how to make a knife

What I’m after is a gradual arc from the spine to the edge. The goal is to have a fairly thin edge with enough ‘meat’ behind it so that it won’t be too delicate. This is the trickiest and most time consuming part of the project but worth the extra effort, in my opinion.

how to make a knife
how to make a knife

I want to remove the deeper grinding marks and smooth the transition to the tang, so some further shaping and smoothing with wet / dry sandpaper:

The blade is then heat treated and quenched in motor oil.

how to temper steel
how to temper steel

I’m using a propane torch and this is less than ideal but should be adequate for what I’m trying to do: harden the edge and body of the blade but leave the rest in a softer, more flexible state. It would be nice to have a small forge for this and maybe someday I’ll set one up.

Checking the hardness after, I found a file would not cut into the blade, so the procedure was successful. I then cleaned the oil off of the blade and put it in the oven at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes – this tempers the blade to relieve stress and reduces the hardness of the blade slightly. Hardness is great for edge holding but the blade has to have some flexibility as well – tempering does this and leaves the blade less brittle and resistant to breaking. Of course, this is pretty much guesswork on my part, since I’m not certain about the exact composition of the steel used for these blades. Still, it seems to be a reasonably close estimate, as the finished blade has the qualities I was after.
Cleaning and polishing the blade is next and I did this with 1000 grit wet / dry sandpaper and some water. Nice to have that perfectly mirrored finish but it’s not strictly necessary and I only went as high as 1000 grit.

With the blade finished, I start work on the handle. I drilled a 3/8″ hole into a piece of sapele wood:

make a knife handle

I had a different idea for securing the blade in the handle that I wanted to try out.

Using a 3/8″ dowel maker to cut it, I made a dowel from hard maple. Then I split it down the middle using my small band saw.

make a knife handle use a dowel maker
cut a dowel in half

The idea is to have half of the dowel on each side of the blade tang and insert that into the handle.

Mixing up some slow set epoxy, I use a thin stick to coat the inside of the hole and the blade tang with the glue:

mix epoxy
how to make a knife handle

I then coated the 2 half dowels and slide these in beside the blade. The wood is very porous and epoxy squeezed through the end of the handle stock from the pressure of inserting the dowel.

how to make a knife handle
sapele is porous

After letting it set for an hour, I trimmed off the excess:

how to make a knife handle

The handle is sanded down to rough shape on the disk sander, then brought to its final shape on the belt sander:

how to make a knife handle
how to shape a knife handle

I stop to test the grip every once in a while. The handle has to be comfortable to hold and work with for extended periods, so getting it to the right shape for my hand was important.

Some hand sanding with 100 grit then 400 grit smooth it out, then a few coats of linseed oil are rubbed in:

how to make a wooden handled knife
how to make a knife

The oil finish gives some protection but leaves the feel and texture of the wood.

sharp little knife cuts paper

A fair test for edge holding ability is to do some cutting and see if the knife is still keen. Slicing easily through paper afterwards indicates a durable edge.

I made a short video of the whole experience:

A practical project, one that I’m sure will see a lot of use over the course of its lifetime.