My knife making journey

In this blog, I’m going to write about my knife making journey. Starting with a general interest in all things shiny and sharp, to where I am today as a maker of over 7 years. I’ll then write another on how I would recommend people get into it as a hobby, giving some pointers that I’ve learned along the way

I always loved knives as a child. I can still remember being given my first knife by my Granddad, a small Victorinox pocket knife that I still own. I used to carve pointed sticks, and take the bark off, simple things like that. Being trusted to use one, and having one to use was a significant thing for me at that age (so long ago I can’t remember how old I was!). Visits to the Royal Armouries Museum and various castles with swords and knives on display further cemented that interest for me.

It’s not something I can explain easily, but I think it’s something a lot of people can relate to, after all, sharp tools have been crucial to us as a species for around 2.6 million years. They look hugely different now, but the function and the purpose remains the same. I think it’s the simplicity of them, how easily they manage a task and the beauty in their design. They’re just generally very pleasing.

I’d always enjoyed making things too, like wooden swords in my Granddad’s workshop. I would say my journey was sparked while I was a child, but started as an adult.

Having watched Ray Mears and Forged In Fire etc on the telly, and being interested in Bushcraft and the outdoors, I started looking into Bushcraft knives. On one night shift at a boring job I decided to have a go at making one, after all, how hard can it be?

I decided on starting with buying a blade blank and making a handle. I ordered an Enzo (now Brisa) Trapper 95 blade and some Massur (curly) Birch, some red liners and brass hardware. I went back to the workshop and set to putting the kit together. There’s a lot of conflicting information out there on the internet about knife making and the best way to do it, what tools you absolutely need, and what’s rubbish, but I just sort of went with it.

I finished my first knife, and I was thrilled with it. I bought a Japanese Whetstone and spent a long time sharpening it, getting a mirror polished edge. What do I think of it now I know better? It’s a bit pants, actually. The blade itself is great, perhaps not the best steel, but the size and shape are great. The handle is bulky and square, the fit and finish leaves a lot to be desired, but I still love it. It was my first ‘proper’ knife and I’d had an input on making it. It was a brilliant way to get started, and that’s how I’d recommend people take it up as a hobby.

The Enzo Trapper 95 (above & below) It’s a brilliant tool, but it’s more sentimental to me than something I’d hang from my belt. Image Patrick Storrar

My grandparents found an article in a local magazine about a company making kitchen knives in Derby. They cut the article from the magazine and passed it to me as an interest piece. My job at the time meant I had some mid week days off, so I emailed the company and offered to volunteer in exchange to learn how to properly make a knife. This went so well I was offered a full time job, and I spent the next 5 years there, until the Covid pandemic had it’s impact on the world.

During those 5 years, I had the proper equipment made for knife making, I learned the process from start to finish, not just from a ready made blade to finish, everything. I had developed some new products, refined the processes, introduced new processes and materials. I had access to a forge to craft some knives from lumps of steel, rather than nice even sheet steel. Every step of the way I got to see, learn and understand the effects of each step, of each decision. It became a hobby as well as my full time occupation. The approach we took was referred to as the stock removal method. You start off with a piece of steel the right thickness, cut it to shape,  drill your holes, and in this case, heat treat them and then grind the blades and fit the handles to end up with a very efficient cutting tool. We started off with sheets of metal and blocks of wood and other materials, and worked it all into a knife. We made the mosaic pins for the handles, I even treated the wood with a process called Stabilising. We did the lot, all by hand and by eye. We could make around 4-8 knives a day each, 5 days a week for 5 years.

This was my first forged knife. It started as a leaf spring from an MG car, with the handle being rippled Walnut.
Image Patrick Storrar

I decided to set up my own knife making venture when the business had some wobbles, purchased some equipment, and set up back in my Granddad’s workshop. I now had more time and flexibility to try even more materials, different steels and handle material, make some more changes to the processes and generally experiment. I still make kitchen knives, but I’ve also been looking at making my own Bushcraft knives.

Some prototypes that I was trying, I took quite a lot of inspiration from some American makers. They’ll all get finished – one day Image Patrick Storrar

I’ve now been with Woodland Ways for around 2 years, and in that time my knowledge of using a Bushcraft knife, and the attributes they need has grown massively. At the time of writing I am in the process of making a knife which will accompany me on our expedition to paddle the Yukon River. I have a selection of blades which were all part of developing my ideal Bushcraft knife, but each one is a learning experience.

RWL-34 Stainless steel at 2.6mm thick, with a Scandinavian grind. Fitted with G10 scales and stainless hardware. A weather resistant knife which will perform beautifully out in Canada. Image Patrick Storrar

The knowledge on knife making I’ve gained over the last 7+ years still only gets me so far. It’s truly a vast subject. There are thousands of grades of steel, which need treating in different ways to get different results. There are loads of different ways of turning that steel into a knife, which then needs a handle, of which there are thousands of options. There’s a lot of different construction methods, then there’s blade geometry, the profile and a minefield of choices to be made. There are so many combinations that there is no such thing as a perfect all round knife, which is why we’ll always ask what you want to do with it when you come in to speak to us about knives. 

This is one of my Carbon steel Chef knives, with Walnut scales accented with fibre liners and a Richlite spacer.
Image Patrick Storrar

It’s a very rewarding hobby, and it was a very enjoyable profession too. It takes a lot to get it right, it’s not an easy 15 minute job. If you can picture that as a professional full time maker I could make 4 a day on equipment built for knife making, in a workshop laid out for efficiency, having several years of practice under my belt, hopefully that can give an idea.

Two of my kitchen knife designs alongside my latest Bushcraft knife project, all hand cut from a sheet of steel.
Image Patrick Storrar

It’s my aim to introduce some knife making courses in the near future, and I’ll also be doing some more blogs on the subject, to offer my advice on how I make knives so you can enjoy it as I have.

Two of my kitchen knives – a Santoku style, and a paring knife. Both in RWL-34, cut out of a sheet of steel by hand, heat treated and ready to be made into beautifully efficient kitchen knives. Image Patrick Storrar

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